Brilliant Integration of the iPad

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disclosure: I am the Director of Educational Technology at Mulgrave.

This fall Mulgrave School in Vancouver, Canada, handed iPads to all the Grade 3 classes. Three weeks into the academic program and lead teachers on the project, Melanie Cannon and Shauna Ullman throw down one of the best uses of the iPad I’ve seen yet. Have a look at this Home Reading Clips post where Cannon exlpains how she has her students record themselves reading aloud–at home.:

This is brilliant work. I keep coming up with more reasons why I love this project:

  • The students are working in the safest of places–home (check out the clip with the student reading in his pajamas) so there’s no performance anxiety to mask real student ability. Indeed, Cannon and Ullman report a significant jump in overall engagement and intellectual risk-taking amongst the students after the introduction of the iPad.
  • The students are in control–they can shoot as many takes as they like and submit their best work.
  • They own their content and will be able to look back over their work whenever they like.
  • In a Digital-Learning-Farm-ish move, the students do the the heavy lifting, essentially doing their own record keeping. I think this will build ownership.
  • The teachers get a comprehensive video record of student development over the year which, as Cannon points out, will be far more valuable than a set of hurried notes take while the student is reading.
  • The activity makes classroom learning transparent to families.
  • The whole thing is so light; there’s nothing complciated here. Even a Grade 3 kid can do it!
  • It is teacher-generated, not committee- or department- or admin-generated. I think the best way to develop best practices in education is for admin and IT to creat a fertile ground for creativity and then give the teachers the opportunity–and responsibility–to innovate.

Cannon (@West_Coastal) and Ullman (@ShaunaUllman) and their students and families are on fire here. Their blogs–raw and honest–are worth following.

2 Simple Ways to Measure the Success of Your School Technology Program

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The pencil was, in its day, a disruptive technology. When the little pink eraser on the end was introduced it had educators throwing up their hands. Now, they said, no one will think before they write. The pencil is also an incredibly sophisticated tool. It took more than a century to perfect–Thoreau’s family was a player in the pencil wars of the early 19th century.

Yet, no one notices pencils anymore. They are a great example of the successful integration of technology in education. (By the way, no one I know considers correlating pencils to test scores as they did in this misplaced critique in the New York Times.) The marks of this success are ubiquity and invisibility.

A quick check on theses two scales let’s me easily gauge the success of any school’s technology program, however sophisticated the devices or applications they roll out.

cross-posted from my blog, A Stick in the Sand

BLC11 Big Take-Away? Problem-finding is the Next Big Thing

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One of the threads to emerge out of a number of terrific presentations at November Learning’s Building Learning Communities 2011 conference in Boston was the idea that we are shifting to a new pedagogy.

We might describe the old model of teaching–let’s call it “education 1.0”–as a problem-solving pedagogy. In it, students are asked to solve hundreds of trivial problems in textbooks and worksheets. Page-tall columns of algebra equations come to mind immediately, but we find equally dull work in other subjects, too: book reports in language arts classes, listing provinces and their capitals in Social Studies classes, for example. I realize I’m being a bit hasty here. There is a good argument for drilling in order to build skills. There is also great value in just knowing things. However, it’s not hard to see that if this is all we do we are in danger of creating a classroom of highly skilled but not very imaginative or creative students. This is the lament of China’s education leaders.

Education 1.0 was replaced by a problem-based learning model–let’s call this education 2.0. Here, curricula and student work are driven by relatively complex problems meant to give purpose to the sort of drilling that went on in vacuo before. In order to solve a problem, students–it’s believed–will naturally search for and hone the skills they need to solve it. The critique heard at BLC 11, quite loudly from Ewan McIntosh, is that these problems are artificial. The answers are already known by the teachers or some other authority so the problem is not in fact a problem to be solved at all. More importantly, as Dr. Eric Mazur and Dr. Steven Wolfram pointed out in their keynotes, this sort of contrivance does little to prepare students to be the life-long learners schools universally claim they are creating. Again, I’m aware I’m taking some liberties. It is indeed well worth the effort to walk through some old problems just to see how others went about solving them, to study their methods, as we say. This is what Newton meant when he said he stood on the shoulders of giants. He did not mean, however, that the purpose of that study was to add another hammer in the problem-solving toolbox. He meant the purpose of that study was to find where old methods were insufficient for cracking open knew knowledge.

So here at BLC 11, the buzz is about giving education 2.0 another turn turn to create a problem-finding pedagogy. Let’s call this education 3.0. Here we want students to engage with problems to which even the teachers do not know the answers, to engage with the “unknown unknowns” as Ewan McIntosh says.

 

It’s there in the terra icognita of knowledge that learning gets exciting. Discoveries in this area have genuine value not just to the student, but to everyone. I’ve heard many teachers express chagrin at the way students toss out their notebooks at year-end. But if those notes aren’t much more than a record of drills–the equivalent of a record of the pushups one has done all year–I can hardly fault the students. Indeed, I think we have a serious moral problem if we are compelling students to attend classes and don’t help them produce something of intrinsic worth.

Something else exciting happens when we pass the edge of the knowns, too, I think. Students are encouraged to work at a very high level of thinking when they are asked to analyze a collection of data, judge it’s worth, synthesize it and draw out a question for further study. (I wonder if structure of education itself inhibits, even excludes, higher-order thinking. That would make the efforts of teachers to encourage students to think more deeply and richly largely misplaced. If we want to change behaviour, we have to make sure the environment supports the new behaviour. It’s a study I’d like to pursue.)

Wolfram created his fabulous apps to relieve the students of the burden of trivial calculations so that they can apply there mental energy to finding the new problem in set of data. Marco Torres looks at apps like Thumbjam and Hex OSC Full  the same way, as tools that let the non-piano player get on with making a soundtrack for a video, for example. (Hans Rosling, not at the conference, created his Gapminder software for the same reason.) I am proposing a model workflow for a problem-finding school that could employ these tools and get on with finding new problems:

This is a sketch. I need to spend some time thinking about what this looks like in practice, especially across all the grades. But I’m suggesting that as the students consider the questions in the diamonds, they must do some hard thinking. They would also have to think carefully–critically–about where to get help. I can see links to building social networks and teaching social search here.

I am especially interested in the final question–“is it worth keeping?” That question, essentially, replaces the final exam. (There’s probably another loop in here that asks if we ran another iteration of the problem would we find a better answer.)

Students also have to consider how they will store that data for later use. I favour a bucket to hold huge piles of unstructured data that users can can reorder as they need, hence my note to tag rather than file. It seems the semantic web, which would be ideal here, is still a ways off, but there are ways to set up unstructured data collections even primary students could use. We had a custom-built prototype bucket at my previous school and I am pretty sure one can build a good workarounds using a combination of off-the-shelf tools. (More on that later.)

I’ll spend the next few weeks of summer tinkering with this plan and have it ready to run with my students when school starts in the fall. In the meantime, I’d appreciate any thoughts.

 Cross-posted in my own blog, A Stick in the Sand.

 

Purdue Launches Hotseat

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Alan November has mentioned the work of Harvard physics professor, Eric Mazur, on several occasions. Mazur pioneered ways to use social media and the backchannel in the lecture hall to improve his teaching and, ultimately, his students’ learning. See his video here.

Purdue University has announced Hotseat, a social networking-powered mobile web application that allows students and teachers to collaborate in near real-time using their Facebook or Twitter accounts, SMS or the Hotseat web app itself. It’s Mazur formalized. It’s not open to the public (yet?), but you can see more on the promising  Hotseat here.

Monkey-Mind

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Rahaf Harfoush told a great story about an experiment in which five monkeys were put in a room. In the corner of the room was a shelf on which sat a ripe banana. But, when a monkey reached for the banana, his pals would be hosed with cold water. It wasn’t long before the monkeys learned to beat the hell out of anyone who reached for the banana.

Next the researchers subbed-in a new monkey, who didn’t know the hands-off-the-banana rule. As you’d expect, the startled newcomer took a hard lesson form his pals. The researchers eventually subbed-in four more monkeys until none of the original monkeys were left. Nevertheless, none of the monkeys would go near the banana because they knew they would take a lickin’ from the others, even though the researchers had long since stopped spraying water.

Corporate policy–school policy–is too often informed by this monkey-mind.

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