Edudemic Magazine built for the iPad Educator

The editors at edudemic.com have released their Edudemic iPad magazine, exclusively dedicated to the world of iPad in education. So far, they have published two issues, with Vol. 2 featuring an article written by us!

Download the latest version and tell us what you think.

 

The article, which we can’t link here because you have to download the magazine into an iPad, is entitled: Toward Meaningful iPad integration and deals with issues of app proliferation, equal access, and the future of app development in the age of Common Core State Standards.

“…80 percent correlation between being two years behind in reading at the 4th grade mark and dropping out of high school later.”

Holy what are we going to do if we can’t read, Batman?!

Well, according to this alarming statistic, 17% of African-American, 14 % of Hispanic,  and 25% of affluent students will drop out of high school 8 out of 10 times.   Not only that, but most of us also know that “they” also use this same statistic, 4th grade reading, to project funding for prisons.  It doesn’t take a fourth grade teacher to point out those context clues and draw a conclusion.

Luckily,  The Digital Teachers Corps: Closing America’s Literacy Gap policy brief moves on to explain that to combat this impending doom we should create a super teacher work-force that utilizes all forms of technology at our disposal.  Research shows that technology, used strategically, certainly gives students the authentic opportunities needed to develop language, hence, thinking, proficiency.  This could be huge for English Language Learners as well as Academic English Language Learners.  Have a by-gone perusal of the brief (only a nice 7 pages).

I guess I can lay my head down to sleep and know that folks are creating solutions at the public policy level that don’t have to do with replacing me by RoboTeach.

Good Game!

eLearn Magazine, Education and Technology in Perspective published What Makes a Good Learning Game? Going Beyond Edutainment in February of this year.  The author,  Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, outlines components in useful buzz words for non-techie educators and the sleek-edu-geeks alike to quickly evaluate the utility of the tons of “learning games” out there when looking for meaningful ways to integrate technology and curriculum.  The buzz words stay with you, and I can see them crossing my mind as I type ready to shoot them down with my semantic knowledge; ready, set, here we go.

1. Substantives – the signifiers and signified – the nouns that set-up the scene,

2. Verbs – the things learners have to do to meet the challenges and get the rewards,

3. Problem-solving – the challenges have to be interesting, and if I may add my two cents, culturally relevant,

4. Rewards – the rewards must definitely be culturally relevant,

5. Feedback – I remember an old mentor always used to say “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.”   So be weary of games that do not offer corrective feedback if the educator is not present., and

6. Alignment – while Egenfeldt-Nielsen doesn’t explicitly say to look for games that are tied to standards or even lesson objectives, I am.  If a game has all the first five components without this last one, you might as well just flush your professionalism down the toilet and admit you’re using gaming to baby-sit your class.

That said, Egenfeldt-Nielsen validates drill-and-practice games describing them as a “sound learning principle”.  I use drill-and-practice games aligned to standards and lesson objectives in order to pull small instructional groups for more support toward mastery. (Boy, o boy, a traveling tablet lab would be nice!)

Both drill-and-practice and mission-based games can be used to get that much closer to the Holy Grail of buzz words in education today individualized and differentiation.  So let the games begin!

Engage Your Student’s Brain with Dopamine

Reluctance is only one of the words that comes to many a teacher’s mind when thinking about letting students play video games in class. After all, video games ruin your brain, so they say. They turn you into passive, drooling vegetables and will ultimately ruin your grades and your life and nobody will ever want you.

But seriously, the idea that video games can be a beneficial and engaging tools in a classroom  no longer seems as controversial as before. Millions of students around the globe have learned their times tables by shooting rockets  at asteroids,  or learned their spelling words by guiding a frog across a river of drifting logs, or gone on web quests around the world collecting artifacts,  and learned a multitude of skills without even realizing they were learning,  simply by playing video games.

Recent studies have found that what makes video games so addicting and so engaging can also help in making learning irresistible.  The brain, according to Tom Chatfield in this TED Talk,  is rewarded  when put in a game environment. Those rewards are intrinsic in our chemistry, and if we as educators can learn how to tap into those veins, we can make students into learning junkies.

It all has to do with dopamine and how the brain craves more of something it finds rewarding.

Watch the video to find out the 7 ways in which video game architecture can be used to engage students, as I don’t want to repeat what he says. However the ideas he advances should be taken very seriously by todays education gurus. Here are a few points that I think could be furthered developed:

Experience Points

Current assessment models that track student progress are known for being obtuse and non-immediate. A student report card is usually a collection of grades weighed with different considerations in mind like homework, test results, effort, etc.  They are mere summaries of a grading period and especially in the elementary grades, provide very little feedback.  Instead, students academic progress should be measured by experience points, starting in Kindergarten and ending at graduation. These records could follow a student throughout her or his educational career and would provide a greater motivation than simply getting an A here and a B there, year after year. It would make learning into a cohesive continuum in which students move at different speeds and accumulate points as they move through life.  Furthermore, a student would not be limited to gaining these points by attending a particular school  or completing a regular course, but in theory they could accumulate them through other means, as long as they prove they master the essential steps (in our case academic standards). They could learn from home, or accrue more points though real life learning situations. A whole variety of programs and curriculum would exist to permit students to play and gain points though video games, simulations, brick-and-mortar learning,  digital portfolio evaluations, and even peer review.

 

Learning Missions

Chatfield mentions that engagement is greater when there are mini-missions to complete. Huge tasks are overwhelming, but smaller, more manageable ones are a lot more fun and will give the brain a better “high” in the end. These mini missions would essentially replace the typical lesson.

“Today, class we will work on dividing decimals by two digit whole numbers. Take your textbook and turn to page 89!”

or

“Today we will see how well you can use conjunctions in a sentence with correct punctuation. Open you practice books and try not to fall asleep.”

Quotes like the ones above will hopefully be a  thing of the past one day.

“Today we are going to play a game with some students in Singapore who are challenging our class to divide decimals in order to escape a labyrinth they made! Make teams of five and log on to…”

This example shows how students could complete a quest as part of a team (this part is key) and move through to the next level only if they problem solve and use the skills above. They could complete the mission at home on the Wii, or on their mobile device, in the learning lab, or in their portable holographic projector while they run on their treadmill. (Hey, learning does not mean sitting on your butt).

In fact a student could go on a hunt and take pictures, video, and gather evidence, to later present to their peers and show how they were able to use decimals and conjunctions and earn a digital “badge” like scouts.

 Learning Teams

Students should not have to be limited by their particular school in order to make progress. They should be able to connect to students at the global level and work on solving problems in teams, like in the virtual worlds described by Chatfield.  I would also expand this to include a peer-teaching component. It is no secret that students often learn faster from each other.

Any sort of online learning collaboration should, as a fundamental part, include an element of peer review and instruction. Those students who have more experience points can team up with those who are starting out and lend them a hand.

Competition could still play a role, but students would be compelled to make sure everyone on their team was up to task in order for the team to complete a mission.

Bright Horizons?

The challenge in all of this is not merely to change the way we teach our children. Many of these ideas are already permeating the educational world in smaller, more limited settings. Others are still in their infancy. What is truly worrisome is that these changes will arrive and that they will become centralized and monetized for the for-profit world.  The last thing we need is for all of this to be handed over to Pearson or some other large conglomerate whose only concern is reaping a profit and who see our students not as the leaders of tomorrow, but as items on a quarterly report.

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Also of interest is a study by Stanford Medical School that found that the male brain is more likely to be rewarded by video games than the female. Hmmm…definitely throws another wrench into the equation!

Also, check out this podcast for some funny insight on the world of video games:

A Life Well Wasted

 

 

NY Times Not Sold on Digital Learning Outcomes

Perhaps some of you have had a chance to read the recent article published by the New York Times,

In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores

written by Tech correspondent and novelist, Matt Ricthel. It is part of a series called “Grading the Digital School” which looks critically at how schools are drinking the technology Kool-Aid, buying all sorts of equipment, laptops, Smartboards, etc, without waiting for any proof that those things actually translate into higher achievement. I won’t summarize the article, as it should be read by anyone who purports themselves to be a tech-savvy educator, not because the article’s findings are a definitive answer to the question of whether technology can have a positive impact in learning, but because of some of the  issues it raise are quite provocative.

His main conclusion is that so far, technology cannot be considered much of a cure-all for the country’s educational woes, and that results are currently a far-cry from what proponents of digital learning hope for and promise. Some schools he featured in his piece actually recorded a decline after switching to a more tech-based system of learning.

So, how is a tech-savvy educator to respond to this piece? Should we pretend it doesn’t exist, or that the author is biased against technology, or not looking at the right schools? Is he ignoring some that have shown success while focusing on the ones that have shamed themselves after making costly investments that only seemed to have benefited the chip makers of the world? Is he going against the conventional wisdom to play devil’s advocate or to shine a light on a deeply held misconception?

To his credit, it should be noted that Richtel comes with some pretty impressive credentials. He has a Pulitzer Prize to wave around and has written extensively about technology and our culture. And in all honesty, his article makes a compelling case that very often schools and districts are going whole-hog buying gadgets and expensive upgrades without doing their homework first. It would be naive to assume that there did not exist a whole cabal of technology companies which salivate at the thought of  tech-based classrooms/markets blossoming around the country ready to stake it all on their digital wares.

Simply throwing iPads and other gadgets at students will never produce truly meaningful educational outcomes unless a series of factors are first put into play:

Too early to tell

First, we need more time. Many teachers don’t know what to do with technology and rely on the students to handle even as simple a task as printing a document. If there is going to be any sort of progress in the field, any measurable progress that is, we have to wait a few years. The current population of teachers is simply not ready to implement the newest educational technology advances at the mass level. It is amazing how many teachers still cling to the old technology out of sheer habit, even when the new stuff sits in their classrooms. Don’t assume for a minute that just because a school or a district has “gone digital” that the instruction that happens in a particular classroom reflects that reality.

New technology, new yardstick.

The obvious thing to say in this case would be that we need a new test. If it seems too obvious it is because it is. Everyone knows it, the testing regime carved into granite with NCLB  is from almost all of its angles, wholly inadequate in measuring a student’s learning. Standardized tests are a lead balloon handed to us by our political masters, who tacked on the most unreasonable goals and provisions to it hoping to have something to sing about back home.  It was baby kissing on a massive scale and after all these years people at the top are finally beginning to inch away from the law’s most unpopular components. The need to reform it is part of the regular education chatter coming from DC.

There are  currently plans to revamp large-scale, high-stakes student assessment at the national level.  The U.S. Department of Education is pumping money into new avenues of assessment, hoping to take advantage of computers and the internet to move away from the once a year, fill-in-the bubble monsters that plague our sleepless nights. The new tests are coming. Some states hope to give them several times a year, and get a more balanced average of a students score, while other states are going the adaptive route, letting the test change difficulty to match the tester’s skills. And they will both be on a computer.

Great things are coming, it seems, but the question remains about whether these tests will actually produce meaningful measures and whether those measures will be used for good aims. Will they measure writing skills in the same absurd way? How many wonderful writers fail when given an awkward sentence completion multiple-choice assessment? And how ridiculous is it anyway,  to try to assess a person’s writing skills with multiple choice? Until the Reading and Writing portions of the test  get a radical face lift, we will continue to get limited results, regardless if the test is delivered through pixels or pulp.

A new testing system needs to exist altogether. We need more carrots and less sticks that are keeping educators cramming standards into test items, when those standards could be approached on a whole variety of ways, including ones and zeros. They should be measured like rungs on a ladder, where a student moves through the grades gaining points, or levels, like the very video games they play. Students should be allowed to master them at their own speed and to focus on areas that they are better at. They would be encouraged to work collaboratively to solve problems and help each other reach common goals.

Computers (in all their incarnations) give us the option to bundle many standards together and package them as quests, games, or complex tasks that would force a student to rely on and develop a multitude of skills along the way. Their ability to move through these modules could be measured and the student could receive immediate feedback, and he or she could  receive up-to-the minute remediation both digitally or in person. The goal of the assessment would therefore not be to rank schools and to see if they were “making the grade,” nor to make decisions with high-stakes outcomes, like a teacher’s salary or the funding a district receives, but to actually help a student make progress in the areas most at need.

Training

Perhaps related more to the first point, the issue of teacher training is central to the success or failure of any educational revamping involving technology. For this to happen, clear goals have to be set by districts and schools as to the proper use of technology. Many schools and districts see it as a way to boast on their websites that they offer this or that technological enhancement, and gladly dish out the money, often at taxpayers expense, without the follow through.

If a teacher is handed some shiny new device and is told that the students will love it, she or he is more likely to use it if they get proper training. They have to see it at work and they have to become comfortable talking to other educators across broader networks, sharing ideas and getting feedback on lessons and strategies.

For technology to really make a lasting impact in the way students learn, the teachers have to be trained on how to best combine their  very interpersonal delivery of standards,  or the human connection, with the digital, screen-delivered,  multi-sensory experience offered by computers, which can correct your spelling, point out a sentence fragment,  count the words you’ve written, and even estimate the ‘grade level’ of  some piece of text, but they can’t judge a writer’s voice, nor the effectiveness of an opening line in a story, nor critique you for relying excessively on clichés. For that we will always need our teachers and peers.

We all look forward to the evolving discussion, and await a verdict on this issue which still remains unresolved.

-Francisco Nieto Salazar

Mobile Tech in Classrooms Boost English Learners – New America Media

Mobile Tech in Classrooms Boost English Learners – New America Media.

This past summer  New America Media  featured a zapaTECHISTA classroom in a news piece about the benefits and uses of mobile learning devices in a classroom filled with English Language Learners. Jacob Simas and Vivian Po, two reporters for NAM, the collaborative journalism project that brings together over 2000 ethnic media outlets, visited our Hayward, CA 6th grade classroom as the year was winding down to interview students, teachers, and the principal to get a handle on the issue of whether using mobile devices in classrooms can really begin to bridge the digital divide.

Here is a link to the full article:

From the Congo to Your Classroom: Conflict Metals Offer a Great Opportunity to Teach Kids About Technology and Social Responsibilty

Conflict metals. You might you’ve heard about them, but perhaps chose to ignore the issue, hoping that it will go away. After all, the thought that a whole village in Africa  was burned and its female population systematically raped to help make your cell phone is not just unpleasant, its down right revolting.  But what are we to do? What can anyone do about it short of giving up on the devices that fuel our economy and sustain our 21st century lifestyles?

The answer lies with education. What better issue to bridge the gap between our love of technology and social awareness than the issue of conflict metals?  To those to whom this is news, conflict metals is the term given to those minerals that are the bounty of bloody civil wars in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions. Countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and their neighbors have been torn apart in recent years as militias and armed groups fight over the right to control access to precious mineral deposits and trade routes.  The metals in question, often called the three Ts ( Tin, Tantalum, and Tungsten) as well as gold, form part of an often bloody global supply chain that take these metals from African mines to factories in Asia and eventually to places like your neighborhood Best Buy and Apple store.

Students should and must be the ones who take on this challenge. And every technology-loving teacher and administrator must take the lead in helping their students understand the interconnectedness of our global society, as well as the conflicts that arise out of the inequalities in our world.

First, begin by sharing with your students the resources on the RAISE Hope for Congo campaign  Here they will find videos, slide shows and other multimedia content to explain the causes and severity of problem of conflict minerals. RAISE Hope for Congo, by the way, is a project of the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank and advocacy group. To be clear, these materials are best suited for middle and high school students, and even beyond, and they are a great way to touch on standards ranging from Language Arts ( letter writing, reading ), global trade and economics, science (periodic table), and geography.

A link to some videos is here. Have students watch them and discuss them either with other students or at home. Many of them will have no clue. Some may not care, and some may pretend not to care, but there will by many who will connect with the issue and want to do something about it.

Share this PDF From Mine to Mobile Phone. If you are dealing with English Language Learners, then have students break into groups and jig-saw the article; or teach the lesson as a cause and effect, or sequence of events lesson, simplifying the material with the sidebar material.

Next they can write a business letter, which is a lesson in itself and send it in through this form telling business leaders that they pledge to buy only electronics and devices that are conflict free.  They can sharpen their persuasive letter skills, either in individual assignments, or as a whole-class guided writing activity, to convince CEOs of companies to get behind efforts to help make the process of certification more transparent and reliable.

Students can also look into the devices and phones they already own and see where their manufacturers stand in supporting conflict free minerals using these rankings.  They can also write the letters to those particular CEOs and official company spokespersons either  expressing disappointment with slow pace of action on the issue, or with encouragement for those companies that have done more than others.

Furthermore, students can pressure their own districts and administration to make better purchasing decisions. There are many campaigns geared to the college-level students to raise awareness on campus. Why couldn’t these work at the high school level, or even in middle school?

Finally, for a more in-depth, critical approach to the conflict mineral framing of the issue, see conflictminerals.org and Friends of the Congo.  The issue is incredibly complex, and after reading a few of these blog posts, it is evident that the issue demands more than just signing a petition, or supporting legislation that does not address the sovereignty rights of countries to export these minerals in a safe, and sustainable way. In other words, simply banning minerals from the Congo only benefits one mining interest against another, and does nothing to ensure the longevity and well-being of the residents of the conflict regions who demand that “the West” come up with better solutions than the recently passed Dodd-Frank bill that forces companies to disclose and audit the origins of materials that come from the Congo.

There might be some that find this sort of curriculum to cross the line into advocacy and even “indoctrination”. Surely these are valid critiques, but for those caught off-guard, consider these handy retorts:

1. Students need to be able to apply their communication skills to the real world.  Authentic context makes learning more meaningful.

2. Students need to know the origins and trajectories of the products they buy. Learning about supply chains and the effects of the global technology industry can only make them more informed global citizens.

3. Students are already being indoctrinated by powerful forces. Companies like Apple and Nintendo spend billions trying to convince them to act and spend for their benefit. Asking students to address these issues in the classroom is part of a balanced media literacy  and empowers them to make wiser decisions.

4. Nobody complains when the assignment is to write a letter to an author, or to a fictitious character of a novel. Why should there be a problem to writing a letter to a real-life mover and shaker like a Steve Jobs? Let him worry about it and put his PR people to work.

5. Students should also remember the full rE-cycle which also includes poor, Chinese workers working with harsh, toxic materials as well as harsh bosses.

6. Properly rE-cycle electronic waste.  Find out more information on http://conservationreport.com/2008/04/01/e-waste-for-bay-area-residents-recycling-e-waste-is-a-5-minute-drive/