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Response To 10 Reasons Tech Is Important

Today, I read an article called, “10 Reasons Today’s Students NEED Technology in the Classroom.”   The author Danny Mareco, is not an educator but is one of the many technology  business owners who in the past 20 years has profited by convincing schools they need technology to become better educators.  As an educator I have always found it interesting that non-educators always seem to know more about how to fix the educational system then the professional educator.  In truth, today’s system is failing because technology has become a learning outcome.  Technology is no more than a tool.  I hope Mr. Mareco reads my responses and debates my answers.

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  1. If used correctly, mobile devices and the applications they support, will help prepare students for their future careers.

RESPONSE:  More important is teaching students how to solve problems when technology is not available.

       2. Integrating technology into the classroom is an effective way to connect with students of all learning styles.

RESPONSE:  Not true.  Most software applications are no more than electronic worksheets, and they do not connect to the seven learning styles.

      3. It gives students the opportunity to enhance the interaction with their classmates and instructors by encouraging collaboration.

RESPONSE:  One of the major complaints from STEM industries is that young workers don’t communicate or collaborate because technology forces individualism.  Watch a real computer lab.  Students are not interacting with one another or allowed to.

4.  Using technology in the classroom gives teachers and other faculty members the opportunity to develop their student’s digital citizenship skills. It’s one thing to use mobile devices, it’s a completely other thing to know how to use them correctly and responsibly.

RESPONSE:  Digital citizenship skills are simply common respect, courtesy, and good manners.  These skills always need to be practiced in the classroom not just when using technical devices.

 5.  Integrating technology in education helps students stay engaged. Most students today have been using mobile devices like tablets and smartphones to play and learn since they could crawl. So it only seems logical to align today’s classrooms with the way that your students want and are used to learning.

RESPONSE:  The fact that television has been around a long time, doesn’t mean that this is necessarily the best medium to engage learners.  Television, like many of today’s modern technologies are passive, one directional, with no responses available; and, for those devices that have pre-programmed responses they disable the key ability in asking questions.  Show me a device that will take a question and expound deeply on it!

6.  Combining new tech like VR (virtual reality) with traditional classroom instruction is one example of how the introduction of new technology can enhance the learning experience and create new opportunities.

RESPONSE:  Enhance learning…yes.  However, no one really explains exactly what “new opportunities” are.  It just sounds good.  Do non-educators really understand the learning process?   They do understand the process of making a buck.

 7. When mobile technology is readily available and performing correctly in the classroom, students are able to access the most up-to-date information quicker and easier than ever before.

RESPONSE:  The Internet can be a portal to instant information.  However, more important than the information are the sources.  Who wrote the information?   How was the information formed and developed?  Is the information the most current?  We need to teach students how to research their information and confirm the sources.

 8. The traditional passive learning model is broken. With technology in the classroom the teacher becomes the encourager, adviser, and coach.

RESPONSE:  Why is it assumed that all traditional learning is passive.  If any, it was interactive.   Passive learning is either reading or watching a video.  Active learning is where the students ask the questions, research the answers, and make the connections to problems their research can solve.

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 9.  Technology helps students be more responsible. Owning your own device or borrowing the school’s devices gives students the opportunity to improve their decision making skills as well as taking ownership of a valuable (and often times expensive) device. Again, this needs to be complemented by proper digital citizenship training to see the best results.

RESPONSE: So, owning a digital device will improve decision making skills?  Showing respect goes back to question 4.

10. Technology transforms the learning experience. Students have access to an incredible amount of new opportunities. From learning, how to code to learning how to better collaborate across teams and with their instructors–technology empowers students to be more creative and be more connected. New tech has super-charged how we learn today.

RESPONSE:  Since 1996, the Federal and State governments have invested over $60 billion dollars into Internet and digital infrastructures.  In those past 20+ years, the ROI on this return has been reported, by PISA, that the United States is still maintaining an average to below average in reading, mathematics, and science.  You would think we would be number one in the world.  On the other hand, we are rated average and below average compared to 72 nations tested.  The only super-charge, gain, or empowerment has come from industries selling their technology hardware, software, and projects to schools each year.  They are the winners, as their profits increase, while our students continue to lose ground for a better future.

Address the Real Issues

Awhile back, Education Week (online) posted in the Curriculum Matters, an article titled, “Study: Give Weak Teachers Good Lesson Plans, Not Professional Development.”  The study in question was done on 360 teachers in three Virginia school districts.  Not once in the article, did the authors of the study ever define what, in their research, the characteristics of a ‘weak’ teacher was.  Only, the so-called weak teacher benefited from purchasing good lesson plans.  Final analysis:  invest in giving weaker teachers lesson plans, but don’t spend time or money teaching how to develop a good one.  Duh!

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It was really no surprise to find the authors of Mathalicious backing up the study.  Of course, it’s money in their pockets.  You can read the article http://bit.ly/29FAdqb.  In fact, I suggest that every publisher who is having trouble selling their lesson plans grab this article, it might bring in a few more dollars into their pockets.

I’m being cynical of course!  I will agree, as most teachers do out there, that many of the professional development tortures that are endured are never totally created for the teacher.  The majority of teachers feel that their PD courses are useless, never really addressing their issues.  Why?   Rarely does anyone ask teachers what they need!

The authors talked about moving average-performing teachers, but never defined what average-performing meant, to 80th percentile—It sounds impressive but doesn’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. 

Weak teachers don’t need store-bought lesson plans.  They need mentors.  They need to be taught, yes even teachers need to be taught, how to put a well-developed lesson plan that teaches to the objectives.  Oops, I didn’t say test.  Darn right!  All lessons should have objectives, we should tell the student ahead of time what he is going to learn, learn how to teach students how to ask questions, how to analyze feedback, and how to create an assessment to find out if the objective was learned!  The test will take care of itself if objectives are met.

I’m tired of hearing Ph.Duh’s who have either (1) never been in a classroom, or (2) haven’t been in one for years, dream up their studies so that they can publish their article, keep their jobs, and have something to talk about at some roundtable lunch meeting.  The simple fact is weak teachers need mentoring,  a safe environment to question and get feedback,  resources, and the time to develop strong lesson objects.  Any Questions?

Let Pokemon. . .Go!

 

There is a story of man who was walking through the woods and spotted a target painted on a tree trunk with an arrow straight dab in the middle.  He was amazed at the archer’s accuracy.  He continued his walk and spotted several more trees with targets and arrows shot dead center.  As he continued, he met a man with a bow and arrow and inquired if he was an archer who had made those shots.

“Are you the archer who made those brilliant shots?” the man said.

“Yes, I am.” said the archer.

“I would enjoy seeing you make another shot if you would,” the man replied.

“Sure thing,” said the archer

Stepping back the archer pulled out an arrow from his satchel, attached it to his bow and carefully drew it back as he aimed at an unmarked tree.  Firing the arrow it lodge into the tree.  The archer then picked up two buckets of paints and brushes and proceeded to paint the target around the arrow.

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Finding new ways to motivate and engage students is the big buzz in education today. Many of the articles online are about how social technology can be used to solve these problems.  For example, in two recent online articles  from Edutopia,(July 22, 2016)“The Educational Potential of Pokemon Go” [http://edut.to/2bfHFPi], and (Aug. 2, 2016), “Pokemon Go…and Global Success Skills) [http://edut.to/2aIhld2] the authors present arguments as to the educational benefits that the Pokemon Go game could have in the Global Community.  The readership is encouraged to download the game, play with it, and figure out ways on how to incorporate it into a lesson plan or curriculum.  This is what I call, “Painting the target around the arrow.”  

Can Pokemon build reading skills?  It’s looking for virtual characters, so the answer is no. Will it help students better understand mathematics?  Again the answer is no.  What about language skills?  Not there either.  So how does this game build real-life skills?  The authors never say how the game will do this.  Why?  Because Pokemon Go does not address any important learning issues–it’s a game!

Many of today’s educational digital games are no more than electronic flashcards. Pokemon Go offers no learning challenges it’s quite intuitive to learn.  As for strategies, the only one I can see is not getting hit by a car while crossing a busy intersection, or falling into an open manhole while scanning for images from the user’s phone.  

The authors imply that this game can make students better global citizens?  Really?  Does it teach about multiculturalism?  Foreign languages?   Social issues?  No!    In truth, the game was designed to make money.  But there are some people both in education and in the game marketing industries trying desperately to draw their own targets around the arrow of ‘educational outcomes’ to convince teachers that their product or service will motivate and engage student learning.

There is a thread today that sings that education must be fun in order to learn.  I like it when learning is fun, but real learning is also hard, it challenges, and demands focus.  As educators, we are preparing our students for the real world, not the virtual world.  The successes and points in the virtual world pay no dividends in the real world.  As teachers in the classroom, our job is to encourage leadership, teach students how to question, how to evaluate failure and how to find alternative options.  Our quest is to open the minds of our students to the future where they will be interacting, working, raising a family, making a living, and contributing as a responsible and productive citizen in the Global Community.

In conclusion, games like Pokemon will probably not be here twenty years from now with the evolution of technology and gaming theories.   But the language, math, and thinking skills will be required to survive.   To modify a line from Gladiator, “What we teach today echoes in eternity!”

I encourage and welcome comments on this and any article posted.

 

 

Rethinking Pandora’s Box

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Image by HopeOnHope

This morning I was scanning my Periscope App to see if any of the teachers I follow had made any posts,  while doing a quick scan I came across a San Bernardino high school student’s post titled, “Our teacher hates kids.”  When I logged on, I viewed a live stream of a classroom where a male teacher was attempting to get the class’ attention while the student was streaming live.  As the male student streamed he answered other online viewer’s question, drew sexual symbols, and with his camera aimed it at the teacher and drew a swastika.

Teachers today, are caught in a technology dilemma. On the one hand, to incorporate technology as a tool for learning, while at the same time, prohibiting that same technology from creating abuse and an unsafe environment. Periscope and Google Live, are today’s most popular live streaming Apps. There are others.  There are all kinds of questions being written on privacy and public trusts issues with these types of technology.

Most teachers allow Smartphones in classroom for a number of reasons.  In a math class, students may be allowed to access a calculator app. In an English class, students may use their phones to access a dictionary or thesaurus. In a science class, students might use their Smartphones to access a periodic table, math conversion, or a science term dictionary. It all  sounds good and safe, but at the same time, technology, whether we talk about Smartphones, iPads, or iWatches can become a Pandora’s Box unleashing a multitude of problems and issues.

There are programs that will monitor classroom computers and even iPad technology; However, Smartphones present a unique and wildcard problem because they can’t be monitored from one source, and there lies the problem and solution.

There have been dozens of articles on everything from updating the Classroom with technology to Bringing In Your Own Device (BYOD).  The pros and cons have been logically presented to the public, but the jury is still out on both the benefits and issues.  So allow me to advance a couple of solutions.

If a computer lab is used, such as a desktop lab, or laptop\notebook cart, or iPad set then the teacher can monitor these units from one unit. This would maintain supervision, awareness of student projects, while maintaining a safe working environment. All that would be needed is the purchase of monitoring software and a few hands on lessons.

The BYOD scenario can be controlled, but it requires more student cooperation and teacher monitoring.  If students are in a ‘standard classroom of rows of seating, there is no way to monitor student activity. In these cases,  having students rearrange their seats in groups of four (fig. 1) reduces the walking and eye observations required by the teacher to monitor everyone’s activity.

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Fig. 1 Group Seating

 

A better setup that works well, is to have students arrange their seats in a ‘Horseshoe’ format (fig 2) where a teacher can monitor all students from one vantage point. The trick is to have the students sit on the inside of the horseshoe, that way the teacher can monitor from his strategic advantage in the center of the horseshoe. In fig. 2, I would turn desks around so that they face out from the horseshoe.  Teacher monitors in center.

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Fig 2: Horseshoe seating

 

These are a few of the strategies I used when I did not have a computer lab and was faced with students bringing in their own technology devices.  Between the two BYOD formats I feel the horseshoe is the best for monitoring all student activities.

I will post more strategies at LeonardosApprentice.org.

I look forward to any comments or ideas on this topic that you would like to share.

 

 

Once Upon A Time. . .

Once upon a time, actually last month,  I was asked to speak to a group of university students from the University of the Philippines, Manila, on the topic of Digital Storytelling.  The whole talk took place from my home in Southern California via the Net.  Digital Storytelling is really no different than any other storytelling except you are using digital tools to compose and create the story.  But, storytelling in itself, is a powerful tool that most teachers don’t take advantage of.

It is basically assumed that storytelling is for small children, or for entertainment like movies or plays.  It doesn’t belong in an academic classroom.  But I argue it does.  Back in the 1980’s, Barron Publishing printed a series of math story books.  The first was called, “Algebra The Easy Way.”  Before “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings”, the land of Carmorra existed with its carefree and happy inhabitants.  But like any good story, an evil presence appeared to challenge the King and his wizard on solving a problem or losing the kingdom.  159072843_926ce6Of course, math was the answer, and the story moves through a normal series of modern math chapters explaining in a story format how they could answer the Gremlin with math.  In the end–the Gremlin lost.  However, he returns in the book of Geometry, Trigonometry, and Calculus.  The key was students were completing a journey, an adventure, and learning math along the way.  What could be more fun!

I was introduced into math storytelling back in the mid-1970’s at Aviation High School in Manhattan Beach, California.  Originally hired as a math tutor, I was introduced to one of the math teachers whose subject was, “Alice in Wonderland.”   I was given a copy of the book to read and study.  On one page was the story of Alice, and on the opposite page detailed the mathematics that were hidden in the story.  I was so intrigued in how Lewis Carroll, a mathematician himself, created a visual representation of what was really quite a set of complicated mathematics concepts.

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You have to understand that the mathematics in the late 19th century was quite turbulent.  The discoveries of non-Euclidean geometries, development of abstract symbolic algebra, and imaginary numbers were all the rage in those cigar and pipe smoked filled rooms as mathematicians continued to argue for some of kind of normalcy away from the madness at hand.  Okay, you’re getting ahead of me.

The “Advice from a caterpillar” to Alice creates some interesting results as she tries to figure the correct proportions and positions of the mushroom, where the caterpillar sits on, which will bring her growth and proportions back to normal.  In fact, even the “Hooka” that the caterpillar smokes is a symbol of Arabic origin, like “algebra,” which meant al jeer e al makable, or “restoration and reduction.”  Al-jrbr in itself a medical Arabic term meaning may “Allah guide me through the unknown,”  a medical technique used to restore broken bones.  Of course, I am quite aware that during a test students will often pray to be guided through their unknown problems too!

Harry Potter was told to board his train at track 9 3/4.  Alice deals with the Mad Hatter’s hat size of 10/6.  Actually, 10/6 was not the hat size but the cost for the hat.  It stood for ten shillings and sixpence, which interesting enough in late 19th Century England was equal to £300.96 pounds.  You would have to be quite mad to pay that amount for a hat.  The symbols and math continue to move along throughout the whole story.

Could physics problems be explained easier with a story?  How about calculus?  I believe, if you really know your subject well, you can tell it in a visual story.  Consider it the next time you have a student to tutor, or a difficult concept you must present the class.  If you have told a story would you consider sharing it with me?

 

Tools of the Trade

Back in 1988, I took a photography class at Glendale Community College.  This was in PDA (pre-digital age).  Like my fellow students I brought in my brand new Minolta 35mm camera.  Our first assignment was to go around campus and take a composition picture in black & white showing textures.  Our teacher went out as well, taking his 1950 Brownie camera to take shots.  When we returned we all prepared our film, chose the best negative, developed it, and proudly placed it on a viewing rack.  We then voted on the best picture.  Okay, you’re jumping ahead, but you’re right!  The teacher’s photo won.  I still remember his words, “It’s the eye of the photographer, not the camera that takes a good or great picture.”  Years later, when I taught a digital video production class I passed on the same phrase to my students.  Composition is a communication skill that should not be left to the camera to decide.
TechInClRm2 My teacher’s quote can also be applied to today’s professional teachers.  The technology available for classroom projects, presentations, and experimentation is awesome.  But in the end, it is still the teacher not the tool that motivates a child.  Today’s teachers are graduating from the best universities coming out with knowledge and insights on how the human brain learns, memorizes, and thinks.  Neuroscience research has become part of the university’s curriculum with the newest information and studies on learning impairments, learning styles, cultural integration, and motivation motif’s.  And yet, not one class is set aside on the topic on current technology being used in the classroom.  Not one class discusses the best methods and procedures on how to implement any of the technology tools available into lesson plans that will engage and motivate young learners.
Some will say, today’s technology is quite intuitive, and there doesn’t need to be any training in it.  There is some truth in this.  My Canon Rebel digital camera can take good automatic pictures once I set the auto dials, then all I have to do is push a button, and instantly I get to see my taken image.  But professional photographers learn how to compose their own shots, manually setting their own speeds and lighting, using raw files instead of tiff files.  Pro photographers expand the envelope of their tools to invent and create new ways to communicate visually.  There is a difference between a candid shot and a professional shot.  But what has all of this to do with teachers?

Teachers who are not trained in how to manipulate the technology given them are limited to only the program instructions and device functions.  Student engagement and motivation becomes a reality when teachers are trained properly on what their technology is capable of doing.  An iPad device has access to thousands of apps, however, understanding how a child thinks and learns opens up opportunities in not just choosing the right app, but being able to manipulate it into a functional teaching tool.  Teachers need to be taught how to choose the right technology and software programs that will meet the student’s learning style.  There is no one size fits all here.  It is at this point we transform the classroom facilitator into a EduTech professional capable of changing lives, engaging students, motivating them to their highest potentials, and in the end, even keeping the bureaucracy satisfied with higher test scores.
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