Leonardo's Apprentice

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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.

Alice.in.Wonderland.full.1451133

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.
TechInClassRm

MOOC’s Achilles Heel

achilles-heel1The ancient warrior Achilles had only one vulnerable spot, MOOC has three potential vulnerable spots.  MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) is not exactly new, but some of the participants running MOOC are.  I’m not talking about some fly-by-night business Website that is not accredited.   I am talking about prestigious universities that are offering free courses for credit:  MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Yale Harvard, and Duke and more.  All that is needed is access to the Web and some time.  And yet, the completion rate is low and the failure rate is high!  Duke University’s Coursera MOOC program, which registered 12,700 students, had only 350 finish the course–that’s a 97% drop out rate (Rivard, 2013).  A lot of students from high school to retirees are jumping on board, but leaving the educational train before it completes its journey.  Why?

The first MOOC was created back in 1995 in a project called, “Space Island’s,”  which was logged into the Library of Congress in 1996 as the first long distant online educational program ever done in history.  The course study was on space flight and space station research.  The courses and lessons were free, as today, and reached over 2.3 million students and teachers in forty nations.  I know this program well, because I’m the one who developed and managed it.  The program started out as a high school project but then exploded into global historical event.  Based on my past experiences and the evolution of the Web I think there are three vulnerable spots that MOOC needs to patched up.

Issue #1 :Student Knowledge Expectation
I took and finished my B.S.I.T. degree through the University of Phoenix online course.  The first thing I learned was the college’s posit that I had to have already knowledge and experience in the subject matter.  For example, one of my courses was programming in JAVA.  No problem for me, I had taught computer programming since the early 1980’s.  From FORTRAN to BASIC, Pascal to C, from C++ to JAVA.  When given a project to create a program in JAVA I was expected to know the software and how to program.  Several of my student colleagues went into panic mode when asked to develop a program they had never learned.  They expected the class to teach the course, when in effect the course had expectations of already knowing much of the subject matter.  I found this true in many of the online university courses.  In the words of Albert Einstein, “Information is not Knowledge.”  MOOC requires knowledge to succeed.  For the most part, the courses are not taught, they are designed to evaluate your knowledge in the subject matter.

Issue #2: Teacher vs Facilitator

dropoutOnline courses don’t have teachers they have facilitators.  In addition, many of the MOOC online courses have online videos lectures.  Now, there’s an innovation!  Okay, so you are a high school or jr. college student already bored with sitting in a class taking notes.  You read about a course you can take for credit on the same subject you are learning in school, and it’s free!  Unfortunately, you must listen and watch a 30 to 60 minute video.  Head goes down at this point.  The statistics gathered from MOOC (Flowler, 2013) shows the best attention span for a lecture is somewhere between 6-9 minutes.  Not new to elementary and secondary teachers.  But, college professors are not trained to be public speakers nor how to engage student learning.  It is expected that students will motivate themselves.

The video, if you are lucky, is probably the only visual you really will see.  The majority of the class interaction occurs on a message board.  Not much different than receiving a text or email.  The interactions can become stagnant when you find the only way you can express yourself is using the Bold key, CAPITALIZING words, or making the same graphic texting symbols you use on your cell phone.

Issue: #3:  Technology Evolution

When I launched ‘Space Island’s” back in 1995, the browser was just coming into existence, telephone modems (300 baud) were used to connect to companies like AOL and CompuServe.  Some people were still using their own television screens as monitors.  The interactions were still by emails, and many of the images were still being sent via FTP site servers.
However, 18 years later, technology has evolved into real-time interactions with the ability to access multimedia, hypermedia, and many forms of interactive and engaging technology.  Yet, I was still seeing simple and boring PowerPoint presentations, videos that were not streaming correctly, and communicating with the same black and white text formats in Times Roman I had used 18 years before.
Today’s students need engagement and interaction.  Even the Baby-Boomer generation has evolved into the new world of technology selections, and are learning how to use them.   Universities that are providing MOOC programming must realize what makes up their audience.  The age group, subject knowledge, background experience, and reasons for taking MOOC programs needs to be addressed.  Facilitators need to be replaced by teachers, and 21st Century visual interaction needs to be implemented to make these programs work.

Achilles was young, arrogant, and self-assured that he was invincible.  However, if MOOC’s efficacy is to prove out the above three issues need to bypass the hubris of college and university MOOC status quo programming and move from the inuring on-campus traditions to addressing ancillary 21st Century learning.   Comments are welcomed.

References:

Flowler, Geoffrey A. “An Early Report Card on Massive Open Online Courses.” The Wall Street Journal. WSJ, 8 Oct. 2013. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. <http://on.wsj.com/19gcXKX&gt;.

Rivard, Ry. “Measuring the MOOC Dropout Rate.” Weblog post. Researcher Explore Who Taking Moocs and Why so Many Drop out. Inside Higher Ed., 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. <http://bit.ly/10oGf7Q&gt;.

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;.

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