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MAKING THE CONNECTIONS || An Invitation to a Conversation

Back in March 1993, I was given an invitation by Caltech to witness a new development involving the Internet.  I was taken to a computer lab on Caltech’s campus where I heard a brief lecture, and then was shown the first web browser, Mosaic—images and text on the same page.  In 1993, there were only three websites in full operation.  One was located in Switzerland, the second in Chicago, and the third at Caltech in Pasadena, California.

Two years later, I logged onto AOL and aided in developing the Electronic Schoolhouse.  In September 1995, I developed and launched an educational program on the Electronic Schoolhouse called, “Space Island’s.”  At the time, I thought it would be interesting to work with two other schools on a common online project.  The first was a public school located in Sitka, Alaska, and the other, a private school in New Rochelle, New York.  I had no idea what was to come next.

The Space Idualringstationslands project was centering around a virtual space station, where students were given a virtual lab to conduct science, math, and engineering experiments regarding space travel and concepts of living in zero-g.  By March, 1996, I was spending 3- 4 hours every day answering emails from around the world.  The Los Angeles Times newspaper reported that AOL had recorded forty nations, which had become involved with the Space Islands program with an estimated 3.2 million students and teachers working on the project.  This obviously opened up AOL, and I was given a free account, but I still had not realized what I had done yet.  To me, this was a new way to interact with other schools and to create educational projects.

In June of 1996, I received a letter from Senator Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, informing me that my program, “Space Islands,” that I had pioneered, was being inducted into the Library of Congress as a historical event.  Historical event?!  It was labeled as the first long distance educational program ever done on the Internet.  It would soon launch, what we call today online e-learning.

It was the global interactions of students and teachers that was most compelling.  For example, students in Kuwait asked a simple question, “Where does the water come from when you are in space?”  This got students in Nebraska looking into the topic of growing corn in hydroponic experiments.  Students from Cambodia wanted to experiment on the same topic but conducting the experiments using rice.  At the University of Helsinki, Finland, university students saw an opportunity with all the nationalities and languages and created the first present tense language interpreter.  The lists went on from engineering concepts to developing the imaginary technology that would be used to build the engineering tools, and using math as an application in creating simulations.

In 2012, I took a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership online.  I enjoyed the courseware but was not impressed by the e-learning technology colleges and universities were using.  Considering the advances we have seen in the past 16 years, in both computer and online technology and engineering, I was surprised to see little advancement in e-learning connections.  Connections between students and facilitators (what universities and colleges call online teachers or instructors,) wasn’t much more than the e-mails and bulletin boards I used back in 1996.

connectionsfinalSo, here we are in the 21st Century where computer technology and software had advanced science fiction into reality with the pantology of historical developments and advancements, condensed literally, to one  2.25″ x4.75″ (5.2cm x 12.7cm) hand-held device capable of receiving and sending information almost anywhere on this planet.  And yet, there was a lack of efficacy in the technological hubris that attenuated educational advancement.  Why?

In those past 16 years, technology and software companies had evolved from manufacturing to sales, from sales to partnerships with educators, to memberships on school district Board of Directors dictating everything from curriculum development to pedagogy structures.  Educational publishers had also joined in, along with many other businesses. Educators had become nothing more than secondary employees and clients to the industries marketing and selling educational books, equipment, and software.

Now, the last paragraph sounds like an anti-tech individual with a pejorative agenda.  Nothing could be further from the truth. I hold two B.S. degrees in Information Technology, and taught at a secondary technology school for two decades.  So, has technology become an aberration to me?  No!  For the past three years, I have had an opportunity to take a step back from the daily teaching and department needs to see what is going on locally in other schools, as well as schools around the world, and I have found two interesting trends forming globally.  The first, centers on using technology as a motivator.  That will never happen.  The second group, tends to put technology in its place as a tool–no more, no less, which seems to be showing positive results.

I have to admit, Apple Corp was a financial genius in marketing to schools.  But, in the end, it wasn’t education and degrees they were hoping to increase–it was market shares and products.  It still is.  All manufacturers of “educational” equipment and software see big $$ to be made from both State and Federal educational programs.  In fact, many of these same companies pushed legislation by courting financially into several political agendas.  Common Core standardization was one of them.  Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to computers, cell phones, tablets, and the Internet I think standardization is very important.  It just doesn’t belong in the classroom where there are different learning styles, behavior issues, and socio economic situations to deal with.

In the next series of writings, I am going to be focusing on schools that are getting measurable results.  No, not higher standardized test scores!  Nor, from new ways to using apps on a cell phone, iPad, or tablet.  When the new Core Curriculum was voted in, the state officials said, “We will set the bar, how you teach it is up to you.”  What they added in smaller print was, “as long as you do it our way.”  This reminded me of Henry Ford who said, “You can buy any car with any color, as long as it is black.”  By the way, as a sidebar, Henry Ford’s industrial manufacturing model would eventually be the impetus to today’s educational programs.  But, that’s another story.

Image: VocWord http://bit.ly/1HHYkT5  Space Islands image from SI group.

Tools of the Trade 2

teachingtoolsBack in the 1990’s, the boys at the high school I worked at carried all their textbooks, notebooks, pencils and calculators in large duffle bags.  They had access to a locker, but students felt carrying their locker in one bag from class to class was better.  In any case, they got their weight training in early.  It was during this time the Dean of Technology, Dr. Jerry Waite, and myself were looking into e-books, originally called, “e-readers.”  This was pre-kindle.  We both came to the early conclusion that if educational publishers ever took on the task of converting traditional paper textbooks to digital this could save a lot of weight.  However, would owning an e-book increase student reading skills, comprehension, and output?  Would it increase literacy?  Would it motivate students to read more?  We weren’t sure.

This article is a continuation in a series I am writing about regarding the Tools of the Trade.  Teachers have access to more teaching tools than any previous generation.  How to choose the best tool for the right job is still an important question.  There is no one tool that fits all.  Hopefully, these articles will open dialog and direction that in the end will benefit our students.

In the world of marketing, both online (Social Media) and offline (newspapers, flyers, and even business cards) media are encouraged in getting the message out.  Likewise, in education it’s important that we embrace the new technologies while continuing to evaluate what we gain and lose with legacy tools vs. digital tools.  Certain questions have come to mind, which I believe are being ignored or overlooked.

Question 1:    What improvements in learning are achieved by integrating new technology into the classroom?

Lest we forget, the classroom is a learning tool, and the classroom as we knew it has been evolving.  Today’s classroom can be a dynamic learning tool for discovery, creating dreams, and empowerment provided we address three conditions:

  • IF, all the elements in the classroom are interconnecting and engaging the
    young learner.
  • iF, the teacher has been well instructed on how to use and integrate the
    technology into the curriculum, and
  • IF, the teacher is willing to push the technology envelope to find more ways to
    reach student learning styles.

exam-20I have read a lot of articles about the “New Skills” today’s technology will teach our students.  But no one has ever taken the time to make a list of exactly what those skills are.  LAUSD spent $1 billion dollars to purchase 600,000 iPads and WiFi infrastructures for it’s school district.  The only public reason given for this purchase has been that the California State Standardized Tests under the new Core Curriculum will now be taken online.  So I thought, what new skills are needed to learn on how to click on a bubble, or type in your answer in an assigned box?

childworkingonipadA week ago, I visited a fifth grade math class.  The teacher had several multiplication problems on her Smartboard that were being copied by students using their iPads.  As I walked around the room I saw student after student using his/her finger to write the problem onto a blank screen and carry out the computation.  Students could use the same finger to erase by tapping on the appropriate icon.  As the students continued to work, I asked the teacher a question, “How has the student learning outcomes improved by replacing pencil and paper for the new digital device?”  She replied, “We haven”t had much time to evaluate that question.” She continued, “However, it has saved our school quite a bit on paper purchases.”  Was saving paper or student growth the most important reason to implement iPad technology into the lesson plan?

The efficacy is further hindered with yearly industry system and software upgrades along with district demands not only to learn the new technologies but finding new ways to integrate them into current curriculums.  All of this creating a learning curves for teachers that are almost vertical on the graph.

So, how is this problem to be solved?  Base on my research, these six foundation questions need to be answered first.

  1. How will the technology being considered improve the content to be delivered?
  2. What projects will be developed from the technology demonstrate student engagement and self-motivation?
  3. How will the technology create collaboration between students?
  4. How will student communication improve?
  5. What creative projects can be created, that will utilize both traditional and digital technologies in solving a unique problem?
  6. How will the technology help to encourage learning outside the classroom?

Second, better assessment tools need to be created, not on the technologies, technologies don’t have learning outcomes, but on student learning outcomes.
Third, programs need to be re-evaluated for school mission efficacy.  Our school missions are the light houses that represent who we are, and what goals we have agreed to work on for the betterment of our students, not state rating or scores.

Supervision is unanswered question to iPad distribution

I have to confess I’m often amused when I read an article in the newspaper or the Internet about school districts that have given computers to students who then break into ‘secured’ areas or forbidden websites.  The real punch lines comes with the words, “this was unexpected!”   Really?

30 years ago (1983)

Wargames

Back in 1983, the Commodore International released its newest computer model, the Commodore 64 home computer that cost $595 dollars and had only 64K memory.  This was an 8-bit computer that could be hooked up to a modem (300 baud), and more importantly–programmed.  In 1983, the movie,”War Games,” with actor  Matthew Broderick, playing David Lightman a high school  student, told the story about a young teenage hacker who breaks into a government computer facility and nearly starts WWIII.  In 1985, a real fourteen year old boy from Escondido, California, was under FBI investigation after hacking into the Chase Manhattan Bank computer (Arrington, 2008).  Most security people at the time were surprised that a 8-bit computer could log into a million dollar mainframe computer.  Oh yes, he did use his Commodore 64 computer to do the job.

30 years later (2013)ipad-mini-creative-apple

According to a recent article (Jones, 2013) Bernadette Lucas, director of the Common Core Technology Project for LAUSD, purchased 50,000 iPads, at a cost of $678 each, and handed them out to 47 schools to test them out on program integration and security verifications.  Within a short period, 300 David-Lightman-type students breached security measures designed to prevent students from accessing websites such as Facebook and YouTube, plus in house security.  When the iPads were called in thirty iPads were missing.

“We’re learning from what’s happening,” was Ms. Lucas’ response.  Considering the history of computer hackers that have been well documented since the 1980’s, at what point does information become knowledge.  This becomes a serious question because the district goal to distribute 600,000 iPads to LAUSD students that will be in full force by next fall.

The Real Question

The iPad is a useful tool that can be used in very creative ways.  The key is not about allowing or not allowing students to have access to the technology hardware.   The real issue is supervision.  This is no different than having a teacher in the classroom or on the playground.  Unless LAUSD or any school district can guarantee total supervision, and 600,000 independent users is not in the mix for this security task, then the prudent solution is to keep the units locked up in school.  If school districts become responsible for incidents (cyber bulling, adult sites, or any questionable sites not allowed in school) created outside their school campuses by students using assigned school equipment, I think the solution is quite evident.  Use them only in the classroom because in the end the teacher, the school, and the school district are still responsible for giving out Pandora’s boxes to discoveries and potential future lawsuits to minors!  I welcome your comments!

Reference:

Arrington, Michael. “MySpace Cofounder Tom Anderson Was a Real Life “WarGames” Hacker in 1980’s.” Weblog post. TechCrunch. N.p., 30 Aug. 2008. Web. Oct. 2013. <http://tcrn.ch/aUNn13&gt;.

Jones, Barbara. “LAUSD’s IPad Problems Frustrate Those Involved in the $1Billon Technology Project.” Huff Post Los Angeles. N.p., 2 Oct. 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2013. <http://huff.to/16igCYc&gt;.

Point of Perspective

Question:  What does a 15th Century oil painting have to do with the development of NASA’s Augmented Reality iPad App?

I’m always interested in the connections that today’s digital devices have with history.  Take for example, NASA’s Augmented Reality App (http://bit.ly/GA82dS).  Imagine printing a simple image from your inkjet printer.  Then placing the printed paper on your desk, and then turning on your NASA app and iPad camera to scan the printed image on the desk (fig. 1).  Suddenly, as if by magic, up pops up a model of the Mar’s Rover, with the appearance of taking up space and volume, but no weight!? (fig. 2).  Finally, you have the ability to pick up the model and view it from 360 degrees, as well as animate many of its functions (activating its’ antenna, or moving it a few degrees.)  (see figures 1-3)

AR01

Fig 1.  Printed paper being scanned by iPad camera

AR02  Fig. 2:  NASA app locks on to image and Mar’s Rover pops up.

AR03

Fig 3:  Rover can be turned and viewed in 360 degrees.

 

 

 

 

As I viewed the image on my iPad and enjoyed the ability to see a 3D image that I could move and maneuver in the palm of my hand I marveled with the science fiction I was playing with.  In the palm of my hand was the result of years of science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and yet, one crucial element in history had been overlooked.  In order to appreciate the full visual affect I was enjoying with this Augmented Reality App I wondered if this was the same wonderment experienced by the few people who saw Filippo Brunelleschi’s painting of the Baptistry in Florence, Italy, 600 years ago.  Brunelleschi was a man who was an engineer, architect, artisan, mathematician, and inventor.

Prior to Brunelleschi’s work, artist’s painted and drew in a flat plane with figures that had no weight and sometimes seemed to float in space.  Perspective waCharlemagne and the Popes not important.   For example, the castle in the painting (Left) looks like some child’s doll house with no depth, no perspective.  The three figures behind the churchman also seem to have no order of depth–no perspective.

 

Brunelleschi’s work would literally change history and how people would view the world because of rediscovered geometry called “linear perspective.”  Without linear perspective today’s video games, movies, holographic  projections, virtual reality, and apps like Augmented Reality would not exist.   Brunelleschi was the first to introduced the geometry that would gave way to these discoveries and inventions.  Using a mirror, he was able to understand how all lines converged to one point.  Mapping this information out on a canvas he painted the Baptistry building in Florence, Italy.  People were encouraged to view the painting by looking through a hole made at the bottom of the canvas and placing a half mirror at a distance (see figure below) that would reflect the artists work and then give view to the real building.  The whole experience had a wow affect.  This new discovery would change how artists would paint, and even how maps were to be made.  In effect, our 21st Century GPS also has its history to this same event in history.  Art is another form of recording data and information, and yet it is many times over looked and shoved aside due to bias and ignorance.

brunelleschi

Leonardo da Vinci said, “There are three classes of people: those who see.  Those who see when they are shown  Those who do not see.”   It’s important to remember we see and think in images not words.  Technology won’t motivate, but Art has the power to motivate and create, and in the end, isn’t that what we, as educators, are striving for, ways to motivate and encourage our students?

The Forgotten And Most Used Tool

Would you consider a pencil a tool?  If you said yes, then it should have its own rubric along with the rest of the technology requirements being given to students today.

Pencil Rubric

   I had some fun putting this rubric quickly together.  Yes, it’s ridiculous, but so is the idea that technology will motivate students.  The 16mm films didn’t do it, nor the filmstrips, even with sound; and when television and VCR’s were put into the classroom that technology didn’t motivate students.  VCR were eventually replaced with DVD’s with the same results.  Computers are common place today, students are quite comfortable with iPads and e-books.  But, math scores are still low, reading is still average, and students are dropping out of school at all levels.

Bill Ferriter, who runs his own blog, recently did a simple hand drawing on the topic, “What do you want kids to do with technology?”, and posted on the Net (which got a pretty good response.)  He pointed out that today’s students are motivated by opportunities created by the students not the technology they are using.  I agree, and add that the mighty little pencil is still being used by the top designer, architects, and computer leaders today.

9223386478_20cf5bb693_b

AstronautPen Interesting enough during the 1960’s, NASA spent $12 million dollars to develop a pen that could be used in zero gravity.  Those pens were eventually sold by Fisher Pens and called, “Fisher Space Pens.”   I remember buying one, it cost $1.98, which was expensive at that time.  Meanwhile, our competitor for the space race, Russia, invested in pencils and mechanical pencils, and saved millions of dollars.  Considering there is no place on our planet that has zero G, unless you are falling out of an airplane and writing your Will on the way down, there is no way a Space Pen can give you any clear advantages or better grades.  But, better grades was one of Fisher’s selling points, along with the ability to close sales, think clearly, and clear up acne (Okay, the last one wasn’t in the original marketing makeup).

So, if you agree that a Space Pen, or any pen or pencil will not help you get better grades, what makes you think buying a computer, iPad, or e-book will?  Some might say, “Today’s technology has access to the World Wide Web, Multimedia, it’s interactive, it has the ability to cross communicate with all kinds of digital devices, it’s…it’s…it’s a tool!”  In the end, it’s simply a tool.  I’m open to comments, send them.

Apple Slicing Its Own Share Of The Pie!

young-math-science-boy-genius-writing-thumb16021029This past Sunday, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune’s front page focused on the New and Improved Core Curriculum story titled, “Raising the bar for education.”   The article centers on the release of some sketchy details to the new Core Curriculum.  I say some sketchy details because they are all still being worked out as we speak.  This is equivalent to preparing a full four course dinner, setting the table, and then sending out the guest invitations.  A year from now 44 other states are also planning to launch the Core Curriculum.  The goal, the article continues, “is to create new benchmarks for mathematics and sciences”, and in the end, they say, “to better prepare students for college and careers.”  Of course, the real underlining objective is to increase low achieving test scores and public opinion.

The story continues that in the new program educators will no longer be at the front of the room lecturing, but interacting with their students.  So, how is this to be done you ask?   By providing the top schools, students and teachers with iPad technology (600,000 iPads).   I guess walking around the classroom hasn’t been thought of yet.  The article reports that “The project (that is the iPad purchase) penciled out around $450 million dollars.”  Good idea to use low tech to explain high tech pricing.  Okay, so we know what the better schools are getting, but what about the poorer schools.  Thanks to a $1.25 billion dollar infusion from the State of California, these schools will be able to order tablets, desktops, and other technology.

This whole scenario is being played out across the board in both public and private schools throughout the State of California.  I recently interviewed for a position at a private school in Los Angeles where the position was to train both teachers and students on their new iPads and Mac Pro laptops.  Buying the technology first and then figuring out how it will be used has been going on for a long time.  I admire Apple’s move into the educational world back in the 1980’s.  It was a shrewd and intelligent undertaking to line up their product into education.  But, lest we forget, the Apple Corporation is not in business to educate, they are in business to make one thing, — larger profits.

For the past twenty years, the United States has invested billions of dollars to upgrade technology infrastructures, hardware, and software programs in its school systems.  All of this with the promise that the updated technology would motivate, stimulate student interest, increase learning, and in the end improve student test scores.  During this same twenty year period, the Programme for Student Assessment (PISA) has been monitoring 52 countries and their educational programs especially in reading, mathematics, and science.  From 2001 to 2012 the United States has consecutively placed AVERAGE in reading, and BELOW AVERAGE in the maths and sciences.  So, if technology hasn’t increased motivation, stimulation, and increased test scores in the past 20 years, why do the politicians and educators think putting more money into technology will do the job?

But soon I’m interrupted.  The article reports, “The technology Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 9.29.23 PMwill help students on the new California state standardized tests, which will be administered online and will reply on in-depth rather than multiple questions.”  So, students will learn how to take state tests by taking similar tests in the classroom.  “Another brick in the wall.”  That means teachers, who will now be called “facilitators” will be guiding students on how to do the test online.  Still teaching to the test!  The article ends with “the promise that the funds given by the state will cover the cost for Apple to train teachers on their new technologies.”  Well, after all, Apple wants their share of the financial pie.

What will the future report?  In the end, the politicians will get their votes, the technology companies will report high earnings for their stockholders, and the educational report will remain mediocre.   The technology panacea has already had 20 years to prove itself, it’s time that we put the teacher back in the classroom to fix what the politicians and computer companies have screwed up. It’s time that technology take its proper position as a supporting actor, and develop the real core of our future–our students, who should be the apples of our eyes.

Reference:  San Gabriel Valley Tribune. (2013). retrieved from SGVTribune.com