Is classroom technology good for learning or wasting time?

Posted by Michael Simkins on August 21, 2017

Elementary school students look at a tablet together.

In this article from the Dallas News, UT Austin professor Joan E. Hughes compares active and passive uses of technology.

Research has shown these passive uses of tablets are about as effective as a teacher’s lecture. Innovative, progressive teaching with tablet technology requires creative solutions.

She also highlights the issue of inequitable use—especially the tendency noted in some research for students of color, those from low-income families, or those who are low-achieving primarily to use technology in school to passively receive information while their more affluent, gifted, or advanced peers have more opportunity to use technology for active, creative and social learning activities.  Hughes encourages schools to take a look at how technology is being used in different classroom and instructional contexts and to be alert for such discrepancies.

This is a nice article to share in your school newsletter or with parent groups.

Source: Is classroom technology good for learning or wasting time? | Commentary | Dallas News

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Makerspaces: Re-making education

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on March 26, 2016

Photo of a makerspace in action.Makerspace has become one of the new buzzwords in education.  A Google search of makerspace will return approximately 400,000 results.  Makerspaces are showing up in schools across the country—but what is a makerspace and how does it impact education?

A makerspace is simply a do-it-yourself place where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. In schools, it’s a hands-on way to encourage students to design, build and invent.  Many think of these labs as technology centers focusing on robotics and high-tech fabricating, but a makerspace could include activities such as woodworking, cardboard construction or even sewing.  Materials to stock can range from simple items like craft paper, markers, crayons, glue, modeling clay,  and Legos to be more high-tech items like wires, circuits, batteries, resistors, switches, and motors.  Tools might range from sewing machines to 3D printers. (Here’s one example of an inventory list for your makerspace.)

Planning your makerspace

Before you start building your space, you need to first consider what types of activities and projects could be done there.  Administration would brainstorm with staff (preferably including math, science, art and technology teachers) who will or possibly could use the space.  Once it is determined who will be using the space, the next item to discuss is which tools are needed.   Depending on the ideas and activities brainstormed, the space required for materials and project storage can be firmed up.  Will you need a new structure or can you use existing space? Consider renovations such as updates to electrical systems, plumbing and safety equipment you might need.

Another key topic for discussion is who will have access to the space.  Will you have the community using the space and if so, who is staffing and managing it in off-school hours?  If you are focusing your makerspace on students only, you then need to decide if the space is open all day or perhaps students will visit in a dedicated class time with their teacher.

But why?

So, we have discussed how to create your space, but let’s look at why you would want such a space to begin with. That goes back to what a makerspace is: a place to “create, invent, and learn.”  In this environment, you will see students creating open-ended projects and collaborating with each other.  They will be engaged in creative expression and reflect on what they have created.  This curiosity and interest create the type of youth-driven culture for learning in your building that all administrators strive to create.  These spaces promote experimentation with a cross-disciplinary focus that engages multiple staff members.  Students see how the very same tools, techniques, and process skills are found and required in the physics lab, art studio, and auto shop.  Makerspaces are a powerful way to move from a “winners and losers” mentality to one of “every student succeeds!”

 

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Coding: The fifth “C”

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on April 8, 2015

Let’s face it. When exposed to it, most students take to coding. I’ve observed this in class after class. Regardless of grade level, students love the creativity, the challenge, and the control they can have over coding. Maybe the appeal for some is tied to gaming, but still; can we just think about the benefits of coding and its ability to strengthen the skills of creativity and problem solving?

Teacher introducing coding to students in an elementary classroom
Introducing coding in an elementary classroom

Coding is a great way to make things happen. When programming, students can make a robot turn in circles, a dog dance across a screen, or a penguin traipse over a bridge. Creativity is about finding inventive and amazing ways to make things happen.

Coding does a great deal to teach the skills of discovery. Kids move from following directions to controlling those directions. Teachers who know how to tempt and activate interest in students start with a bit of directions, just enough to get students started, but not enough to help them finish an assignment. Skills and their development are important, not the end result. Liken it to coaching an athlete in the triple jump: you want them to know where to hit their plant foot on the board and how to project off the first landing, but the distance is less important in the beginning than the form.

Empowering students

Coding can also empower students. Coding can spin off into an interest in building programs, designing creative presentations, creating games, and more! The programming in coding becomes a form of expression, a way to communicate and hit yet another one of those “Four C’s” we profess as so important for the generation of kidlets in our classrooms.

Girls at computers working on a coding exercise
Girls code, too!

Students exploring their interests? Yes, another result of coding. In order to really build their knowledge, to explore creative license, students need to have the tools and permission to control their world. Creativity may be a mindset, but it is one built in coding. As I observed 2nd graders during their first coding lesson, their teacher pulled me aside. “See that boy right there? He’s been computer phobic for two years. Doesn’t like to interact with technology. Look at him now! He’s moving the dog through the maze and he’s jumping the rolling containers.” They can create, they can explore, they can even overcome challenges. Bring on the coding!

As the superintendent of a small, innovative and progressive school district, I believe we need to focus on the “Four C’s” and more—the fifth, coding! The jobs that will someday welcome today’s students will call on their ability to problem solve and think creatively. Here’s to creating a #FutureReady generation, whatever that future may hold.

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Genius hour: We all need a little time!

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on March 29, 2015

Man studying computer screen.Ask any educator to name two or more impediments to innovation and creativity at their workplace. Almost without exception time and money will top the list. We may not have a great deal of influence over outside funding sources, but we do have some control over how we allocate the time we have.

In the belief that independent inquiry encourages students to engage in activities that support deep thinking and increased engagement, many K-12 educators regularly voice concern about the lack of available time for their students to pursue personal interests during the school day. One strategy that has gained traction among educators is called “20% time.” This approach comes from the technology sector where innovation and creativity are the industry’s bread and butter. I’d like to suggest that educators also need time to think, to explore new ideas, and work on projects in areas that are of interest to them; that we need to consider ways to restructure what time is available to make it possible for the adults to take advantage of some form of 20% time when needed. But I’m getting ahead of myself. What is 20% time and how does it work?

The practice dates back to at least 1948

Twenty percent time is a practice where personnel, usually knowledge workers, may opt to spend one-fifth of their regular work time tinkering with their own pet projects. Although Google often gets credit for originating the idea, this practice has actually been embraced for years in various formats by an assortment of innovative companies. For example, 3M has encouraged employees to use a percentage of their paid time to pursue new work-related ideas since 1948. Of course it’s difficult to imagine an educator being able to carve out 20% of the work week for creative pursuits, but there are ways the idea can be modified to meet the constraints of educational institutions. This lack of time for additional research and making real world connections worries many K-12 educators, leading them to seek ways to provide time during the school day for students to engage

It’s important to understand that 20% time is not usually a formal program in the business world. Participation is entirely optional and many employees never take advantage of this time. The specific design of 20% time for self-directed exploration isn’t rigid, either. The percentage of time allocated varies from one company to another. In addition to percentages of the work week, some firms offer year-long research grants (we used to call them sabbaticals) while others sponsor occasional events lasting anywhere from one day to a week (something like self-directed professional development).

Translating 20% time to education

How does this translate to education? For students, teachers are making opportunities for them to work on individual or small group projects during the school day. Often called Genius Hour, this program typically provides roughly 60 minutes per week for all students in the class to work on individual projects of their own choosing that have been approved by their teacher. Due to time constraints, the time for student Genius Hour is usually set and flexible scheduling for self-directed learning is not normally an option.

Sixty minutes, you ask? Would it be possible for the adults on campus to dedicate one hour per week for self-directed inquiry? I think so, particularly if it’s something a person can opt into, rather than being mandatory. Imagine inviting staff members who are interested to pitch an idea for an individual project that they could work on during the work day, say during PLN time or in lieu of a committee assignment. Of course, guidelines will need to be established to make this work.

Structure the program to meet the specific needs of your staff. Remember that business model schedules vary greatly. Offering sabbaticals may not be possible, but aside from that, the time frame can range from 60 minutes per week to one or more days per year. What options are available to you? Brainstorm some possibilities with staff or fellow administrators.

Some things to keep in mind

Once you have an idea of the schedule you can offer, consider the following as you develop a plan.

  • Self-directed projects are not time off. Establish guidelines that set clear expectations. For example, require that volunteers outline a project that you approve before they begin. You may even say that projects need to be related to school or district goals, or require that all projects include a tangible product and/or some type of presentation.
  • Individual projects may serve unique needs, but small group projects can allow participants to accomplish more together than they can on their own. Do insure that part of the procedure-planning process includes setting expectations for group members’ responsibilities.
  • Remember to be flexible. Even the best plans can be sidetracked by unanticipated challenges.

Part of the beauty of self-directed projects is that there is no right answer. Participants may find their inquiries lead to outcomes they had not anticipated. Encourage them to go with the flow.

Even given the scheduling constraints we live with, there are ways to support individuals who are interested in expanding and enhancing their professional skills through dedicated time for working on projects of their own design. Encouraging this level of autonomy will result in greater job satisfaction for educators and may lead to innovations you might not have thought possible.

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When Winning Isn’t Enough.

Posted by Geoff Belleau on December 31, 2014

It's not enough.As 2014 draws to an end, schools are reaching halftime in the Big Game of 2014-2015. Last Sunday, I watched the San Francisco 49ers win their last game of the year, and then bid farewell to a coach who has posted a winning record over the past four years. Twitter blew up with comments like “What are they thinking? Winning isn’t enough?!?” (And those are the nicer comments.) It made me stop to think, which led me to re-write this blog post.

What if winning isn’t enough? What if, over a span of four years, it’s not OK “just” to win and never fail? From what I read, the problem between 49ers management and the coach all boiled down to relationships; they just couldn’t get along.

Relationships matter

Relationships matter. Getting along is important. It is something we try to instill in students early on. “Learn to get along and play nice.” What does that look like today?

It seems to me that there are at least four things we can do as educators so we don’t end up in the same kind of situation the 49ers are experiencing: look for new ways to curate, create, communicate and collaborate.

Curate

First curate. There is so much out there today and so much content. As a school leader or leader anywhere, no one has time to read everything. Also, you don’t want a censored feed delivered. Two of my favorite curated content providers are Zite (now Flipboard) on my mobile/tablet and paper.li on the computer (emailed or tweeted). Only recently have I started tapping all that is available with my Amazon Prime with Amazon music and Amazon movies.

Create

Look for new ways to create and share content with those around you. With a camera (both still and video), recorder, and so many new apps/tools released every day, the possibilities are endless. Teachers are some of the most creative people I know. Who else would take a app designed to make comic books and use it to identify parts of a carburetor in an auto class or document a process using the storyboard feature?  Don’t forget augmented reality apps like Aurasma to create 4D. Or how about starting to asking questions that must be answered with video and students can work together and to record then post the video to your YouTube channel. Be sure to have them answer these three basic questions before diving into a new technology: 1. What training have you had? 2. How will this impact how students learn on a daily basis in your class? 3. How will you keep inventory control? This will help focus the creativity.

Communicate

It seems like we almost can communicate too much now, but it’s a glass half full or half empty view and how each of us views the way and amount of communication that goes on today . Start where we are and let’s see what else we can do! Use Cel.ly, Remind or Twitter to connect with others. Don’t forget classic channels. My family sent out a few printed Christmas cards and letters to those we care about but not in the digital world. There were some tablets, and other mobile devices that were under the tree. Find a way to communicate with those around you using them so that they are a asset and not a hindrance. If you wonder how many devices are in your school or in your district, go sit on a bench during passing period or at lunch on a campus near you and just be a “fly on the wall” watching what comes out of backpacks/pockets as students/teachers move around the campus. How can these assets be tapped instead of banned?

Collaborate

Finally Collaborate. How can this be fostered? What is the difference between collaborating and cheating? Let’s be honest; that is a question that many struggle with. It needs to be answered, though, and a way to do just that is to start. Start small with something like Google Slides and have everyone create a collaborative slideshow. What is your favorite tool/app for collaborating?

There are many things up in the air right now with school funding, changes in staff with retirements, and any number of other forces, but nonetheless halftime for the class of 2015 is right ahead of us. Before we know it, these kids will graduate and a whole new class of seniors will start in the fall—as well as a whole new class of kindergartners with backpacks larger than they are. The time to get busy is now.  It’s not good enough just to win, we also have to get along!

P.S. Share your favorite tools in the comments!

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