As teachers, coaches, and administrators being to wrestle with the idea of how to evaluate the use of technology in classrooms, there are a number of models that can be used as a guide. SAMR and TPACK are two commonly referenced frameworks. These focus on the depth of the experience, not the minutes logged. Anyone who has worked with students, or even observed their own children, can agree that screen time does not necessarily equate to learning!
I have developed my own framework that I use to evaluate and recommend digital tools and resources. It stems from a classic commercial from Wendy’s in the 1980’s where the sweet old woman would continually ask the question, “Where’s the Beef?” In that context, she was asking this question to the person taking her order at other fast food restaurants, referring to the small size of the hamburger that was on her sandwich. In some ways, we can use this question to investigate how technology is being used by teachers and students, and to assess the depth of understanding that comes as a result.
To further apply this phrase, I converted the word “BEEF” into an acronym. My message to teachers and students is that if technology doesn’t make the experience Better, the job Easier, the workflow more Efficient, or allow the process to be completed Faster, it need to be sent back to the counter. My rule of thumb is that a tool or resource needs to address two or more of these to make it into my arsenal.
Now I realize that better, easier, and efficient are all pretty subjective terms and are difficult to quantify, unlike faster, and they are all going to be relative to how fluent a user is with technology. There is also value in giving a new tool an adequate trial period. Then again, sometimes we just know it’s a frog, right? Not every new technology turns into a prince!
What are some ways that we can characterize the term “better?” One way that I applied this trait can be found in my adoption of using Symbaloo as a bookmarking tool. I started using an online bookmarking tool called Delicious a number of years ago. I used this for my own convenience as I bounced from device to device. I then began using it to provide a dynamic resource for my students to easily access, for guided research and supplemental instructional support. Then, Symbaloo entered my life. Honestly, the first time I saw it and tried it, I did not like it. I didn’t see the power of it until revisiting a few months later. Yes, in its most basic form, it was still an online bookmarking tool that I could share with my students. The feature that put it in the “better” classification was that I, and my students, can now search for other people’s Symbaloo pages based on topics. If I want to see a list of (presumably vetted) assistive technology resources, I can search for it. Perhaps I am looking for a collection of OERs (Open Education Resources) or computer science and coding websites. One search takes me directly to someone else’s Symbaloo that they have chosen to create and share. Aesthetics can play a role in “better” as well. The versatility and ease of use of Symbaloo as compared to other similar tools knocks it out of the park for me!
I prefer to expend my brain power researching, solving problems and developing work flows. I don’t like using it to complete cumbersome tasks or difficult processes to simply use a tool. As an example, I don’t characterize myself as overly talented when it comes to graphic design. I sometimes spend too much time trying to visualize what I think something should look like and try to make the product match my vision, only to find that the finished product had the opposite impact on the audience. I have used everything from the “Paint” application in Windows to Publisher to Google Draw and the steps involved in creating a visually appealing product always resulted in low-quality or were never finished. I learned about a few user-friendly, professional grade tools called S’more and Canva at a conference a few years ago. Within seconds, I was able to create rather amazing designs that could be used as publications, within Social Media, or for advertising. I lack the design vision, and these tools fill in those gaps. These tools allow people like me (or anyone for that matter) to get the message across using more effective layouts and styles. Tools like these allow users to focus on the ideas, information, and message without having to go through the cumbersome process of creating the product from scratch. Now, I know that there are many critics out there that may feel that shortcuts, templates, and head starts are the easy way out and that it stifles creativity. I agree, however I know my own limitations and I know how to appropriately choose tools that are easier and allow me to better execute other jobs, such as problem solving, researching, and developing work flows.
This is sometimes a difficult word to define. I see it as a combination of faster and easier. Sometimes it can be more of one than the other. At the heart of the idea of efficiency is minimizing the steps in a process, not necessarily skipping steps. If I were baking cookies, leaving out the sugar, flour, and not mixing it does not make the process more efficient, even though I eliminated steps. A key characteristic of efficiency is that the end product is as of equally high quality, if not higher. That can only be done by revising the process or the steps within. In the cookie analogy, it means preheating the oven before starting, gathering all of the ingredients and putting them in the area that you will be working, and having easy access to the utensils and pans you will need. It means putting the cooling rack and bowl of batter next to the oven, so that when you take the cookies out you can remove them from the pan, put them on the rack, and immediately spoon your next batch of cookies onto the pan. Eliminating the unnecessary steps of moving around the kitchen, and constantly relocating the pans and bowls makes it a much more efficient process. How does this relate to blended learning? All I can think of now is that I want a cookie….oh yeah, now I remember!
My most widely applicable example of efficiency made possible through technology is the spirit of collaborative documents. Whether you’re in the Google camp or Microsoft Office 365 camp (or like me, a member of both) you know exactly what I mean! Here is an example that paints the picture:
A building principal has taken the lead in the development of a School Improvement Plan. Let's assume that he is starting from the ground up, although the same concept applies if the building is revising an existing plan. He creates the master version of the plan and puts the headings in for each area, such as School Technology Plan, Parent Involvement, Facilities, Emergency Plans, etc. He sends the original document in Microsoft Word as an email attachment out to each of the lead contributors for each section, with instructions to fill our their part and then send the document back. The Principal receives eight copies of the original file. He must then open each individual file and copy and paste each section back into the original. The next day, the head of the Emergency Plan committee realizes that she left out critical updates to the plan. She must either email those to the Principal and he will add them to the master, or, maybe there were significant changes, so he sends her the whole document and she downloads it, makes the changes, and emails it back. I think you are beginning to see the issues. Without a doubt, one of the biggest problems is with redundancy. How many individual versions of this document are in existence? There would be way too much wasted time and energy trying to find the right version and effectively communicate about it.
With collaborative documents, such Google Docs or Word Online, the Principal could create the document, share it with the committee heads, and allow them to edit it to add their sections. When the needs arose to edit and revise, this is done on the live document, not a copy. It would be accessible from any device by anyone who was given access. If the team wanted feedback from the rest of the staff, they would be invited to access the document. They could pose questions, make comments, and provide feedback using the comment tools. My contention is that this is a better use of resources, specifically time and energy, and would result in a higher quality product.
Faster does not always mean better. It may not be easier or more efficient. But if you find that a tool allows you to more quickly get the job done with a end product that has the the same, if not higher, level of quality, you may be onto something. Speech-to-text, automatic citation service like Cite This for Me or Easy Bib, and Google Translate make the underlying processes faster. I also place formative assessment tools such as Quizizz, Socrative, and Kahoot in this category. By assessing student comprehension using these tools, I can more quickly gauge the need to reteach, intervene, or extend. I don’t have to wait to grade traditional assessments to get this information. The same is true for the feedback cycle. By providing high-quality feedback to students via comments on digital assignments or messaging within an LMS, student are receiving actionable feedback sooner. As we know is often the case with students, once they are done with an assignment or even an individual problem, they have likely moved on. If we can leverage technology to provide real-time feedback, we stand a better chance of students actually making adjustments based on the comments.
As you have probably seen, these four traits are similar in nature and interconnected in many ways. The reason I share this evaluation framework with teachers and students is to allow them to reflect on and evaluate their current practices to identify areas that technology may stand to provide improvements in one of these areas. It is also important to think of technology, instructional technology in particular, as fluid. The only way to keep from being swallowed up by digital quicksand is to resist stagnation. We must always be moving. We need to know how we are going to deal with obsolescence, because it is inevitable. This framework can be used to help us decide if the next new tool (or even old ones) are helping us to be more effective by either making the product better, the job easier, the workflow more efficient, or the process faster. If it’s none of these, send it back. If it does one, give it a chance. Two or more? Now you’ve got a Wendy’s Double Cheeseburger! What? McDonald's has a “Grand Mac???”
Today's ideas come to us from Mr. Kevin Schamel. Kevin began teaching in 2006 and become one of RCS’s eLearning Specialists, where he has been helping to support and coach teachers, students, and administrators since 2014. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from Miami University and his M.Ed from IU East. Kevin comes from a family of educators, is married to a middle school math teacher, Kristin, and has two wonderful boys at home, Jaxon and Greyson.
Here at the high school, we’ve been fortunate to have our e-Learning Specialists set up a Canvas course for the entire student body.
A whole host of possibilities emerged. We posted announcements to help spread awareness of the spring blood drive. We used a Canvas quiz to have students submit nominees for both Prom court and Snowball court. Students even used a Google Form to submit their applications to run for various student council leadership positions for the 2017-18 school year.
Other suggestions were also made for the future. Teachers who want to advertise their courses could create videos showing off what their class is all about and have them hosted in a course catalog section on the student course. We can create interactive discussions with principals engaging in the same course as students to talk about action steps for suggestions. It can be more than just a content delivery system where our students see announcements and more something that they actually get something out of interacting with teachers and principals for positive change and knowing that their voice was heard.
One thing that I’ve struggled with over the past three years as the student council sponsor is knowing just how much my kids are getting input from the student body. We want to empower students by amplifying their voices and giving them opportunities to speak about the changes they want in their school. Canvas has helped us bridge the gap, and while it’s only a start, it’s definitely a good start.
As we move into the next school year, teachers know that they have the ability to make their own Canvas courses—which includes personalized courses for clubs, student organizations, and sports teams. Cross country meets and academic team practices can be put on students’ calendars. Input for banquets (really, anything requiring student voice) can be requested as an assignment or given via a Canvas quiz.
This hasn’t happened yet, and my one fear is that we’ll cause the problem that we’re attempting to solve. If students are in a different course for each of their extracurricular activities and all of those activities have requests/responses/assignments that crowd out their other assignments, then we run the risk of drowning their academics in their extracurriculars. A tool that can be used to help a student organize themselves and prioritize assignments ahead of the night the assignment is due is also a tool that, when used to its fullest potential, could overwhelm.
I’m genuinely curious at this juncture. There’s so much potential for good! How do we find that happy balance?
Today's thoughts come to us from Mr. Hunter Lambright. Mr. Lambright teaches high school algebra and AP Statistics. He graduated from Ball State University with a BA in Psychology and from Earlham College with an MA in Teaching. Currently, he is the Richmond High School student council sponsor and is the assistant coach to both the cross country and track teams. He lives alone with his cat.
Butterscotch meringue pie. Being in the kitchen is not a place I prefer to be because I don’t view it as an efficient use of time. The ratio of time spent preparing food to the time spent eating food does not seem time-effective so I’d rather let people think I’m deficient in my cooking/baking skills. However, my mother did teach me at an early age the art of baking butterscotch meringue pies with the most fluffy, feathery, and light meringue. The key: patience.
To try new techniques in the classroom, especially those involving technology, takes patience (and persistence, and endurance, …) because time is needed to
Padlet is a virtual bulletin board of post-it notes. Teachers can create a customized bulletin board and pose a question to students, and then have them type their answer on a post-it note. Teachers can use it to pre-assess what students know about a topic, post exit ticket activities, provide homework help, and more. Teachers can pose questions and solicit more than one response at a time. Teachers can even have students post comments to each other.
Before using Padlet with content, I first want to familiarize my students with the technology itself and how to use it. As an introduction to Padlet, I have students share information about their name and birthdate so they can learn how to add their own post-it note with the given criteria. Students then search the wall reading others’ posts to find relevant information.
Once students become acquainted with using Padlet, it can become an effective tool in the classroom. It can help students analyze in advance of a lesson how prerequisite skills can be used to master another standard. For example, I have used a Padlet that helps students describe what shapes they have been using to find the net of a rectangular prism. Students then determine what shapes they think they will use for a cylinder and identify formulas that could be used to find the areas of those shapes. Students can compare and contrast their answer with others to determine what might be the best answer.
Recall, however, how patience is needed on occasion. My middle school students have to be reminded that posting answers to a question on a Padlet requires more formal language with an audience in mind, which means not using texting abbreviations, slang, or hallway salutations. My moment with Padlet that required the most patience was a result of having copied a Padlet I had created then wanted to use with other classes. I have six different classes so having one Padlet with all the students posting would create too many notes (almost 150) and make the board too cluttered for students to glean information from each other so I made one Padlet for a period and then copied (selected “remake”) it. Students in my first class completed the Padlet assignment with all going well, but when the second class began the students could not post to the Padlet wall. There were two options available: choose frustration (give up, boycott technology, be negative) or choose patience (look at the settings and try to find a solution, call someone else for help, be positive). If I had chosen frustration, I would probably never had wanted to incorporate Padlet into the classroom again and students would have only learned a lesson about quitting. Instead, I chose patience and learned that when I remake a Padlet it automatically changes the settings so those with access can read instead of can write. Once I realized that was the issue and changed the setting, all worked wonderfully for the rest of the day. Patience led to a positive, productive day.
What secret did my mother teach me to creating such fluffy, feathery, and light meringue? Patience in beating the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, and then add the sugar ever so gradually continuing until soft peaks. Not only is meringue better with patience, but technology is better with patience.
Lisa Wagner has been teaching math for 25 years at Richmond Community Schools and 5 years at Ivy Tech State College. She earned her Bachelor of Science (1991) and Master of Arts (1996) from Ball State University and is certified to teach math, English, and computers. She and her husband have three children. When she is not spending time with family, she enjoys taking her Golden Retriever, who is a certified therapy dog, to visit at a nearby youth center.
Education is a constantly changing world. We all know that. For those who don’t mind change, it’s easy to go with the flow and try out the latest craze. For others, change is not easy. They are always on the lookout for the “why” and searching to answer how it’s relevant to them. As for me, I see myself as someone who is on both sides. I like to find new ways to present information to my students, but I always need the “why” answered.
So let’s rewind about 150 school days (to the beginning of the school year for those of you who don’t know what the magic 180 number signifies) to when I heard about this thing called the NextGen Cadre. The NextGen Cadre was a chance to be part of small group of educators that would guide us on how to use an LMS (Canvas) as well as other types of technology in a blended learning environment. Okay, I thought. This could be interesting. I mean, I’m already pretty “techie”. I use a SMART board, some iPADs, occasionally try some things-I could probably do this. Feel free to laugh now. So at the last possible moment, I decided to apply. I was sure they wouldn’t select a kindergarten teacher. After all, my students can’t read yet, let alone complete work independently on computers. But I was wrong. I was selected to be part of this opportunity, but the questions of “why” and “is this really going to apply to me” started filling my head.
As I sat at our first Cadre meeting, I looked around to notice I was not just the only kindergarten teacher, but the only kindergarten, first, or second grade teacher. I was all alone in my primary world. As a kindergarten teacher, I’m used to always being the exception so it was very easy for me to start questioning why I should be doing this. I found myself instantly going back to the statement of “this doesn’t apply to me.” But, I decided to hang in there even though my head was full of skepticism.
Now, here I am almost to the end of the school year and looking back at how much my thoughts have changed. The skepticism I once had has slowly turned into a glass half full. The NextGen Cadre has been more than a class about Canvas. I have learned how to connect with amazing educators through Twitter, can rattle off numerous high- quality apps my students use on a daily basis, and have learned how to visually enhance my work to make it accessible for all learners. My students have learned how to independently take pictures or videos and upload evidence of their work using apps on the iPADs to a forum that both myself and parents can see. The list can go on and on.
I’ve realized this learning opportunity found me because of the uniqueness of the students I teach. Does everything in Canvas apply to my young learners? Not at all, but what I’ve figured out-its all about your mindset. I made the decision the day I left my first Cadre meeting back in the fall, that I was going to make this opportunity work for my students and for me. I wasn’t going to try and be the same as others. I was going to take their excitement for this new LMS and tweak it to inspire me and create my own excitement. I hope my colleagues see the power in a positive mindset and how a blending learning environment can be personalized to meet the needs of every student and every educator at every level
Today's reflections come to us from Ms.Melody Williams. Melody is a kindergarten teacher in her 8th year of teaching at Richmond Community Schools. She has earned a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from IU East and a Bachelor’s Degree in Middle Childhood Education from Wright State University. Melody has previously taught Reading Recovery and Special Education although her passion lies in kindergarten. In 2015, she earned REA Teacher of the Month and in 2016, was named Crestdale Elementary Teacher of the Year.Melody and her husband, Lee, have two young children, Kyson and Kynsie, who keep them very busy. In her spare time, Melody enjoys spending time with her friends and family.
I want to start by saying I am not getting paid for any of the comments in this blog supporting this AMAZING PRODUCT!
Two years ago, while attending our #RCSeLearn Expo one of the breakout sessions I attended discussed OSMO. While sitting there with a fellow fourth grade teacher, we both quickly fell in love with the product. Okay, I may have fallen hard and fast for it. The presenters explained how it came with this little mirror that attached to an iPad accompanied by two digital programs called Words and Tangram that include manipulatives; the apps were downloaded onto the iPad itself. As they explained further, I quickly realized how valuable the Words part would be for stations. I totally zoned out from there and started searching for the website.
Well, that’s all it took! I found out that if you purchased one, you could gift one to another teacher for free. HECK, that’s buy one get one free if you work with another teacher! So, my fellow fourth grade teacher and I partnered up, and we each ended up with two base sets of Osmo for the start of the year. That meant we had two bases for the iPads, two sets of Words, and two sets of Tangrams.
My first year with Osmo I utilized it in my reading stations allowing students to use the Letters App. (Along with computer, reading/writing, and folder games as other stations, I also had reading groups.) My students loved it! I had personally purchased two iPads to use with the devices. This meant that I could easily have four students using Osmo at one time (two on each iPad). The hands-on learning that was taking place was unbelievable. They were quiet at the station, other than the excitement when they got something correct or cheering a fellow student on! I was thrilled with the engagement of the students, and I had not even tapped into the lessons that were available for download yet!
What are these games exactly?
In Words, there are multiple ways to play, but in a nutshell students use picture clues to spell words either by themselves or against one another. You receive two sets of the alphabet one in red and one in blue. Thus, students can play on their own or compete against someone. Points build on the side; correct letters show up in the word at the bottom and incorrect answers hang in the air kind of like a cloud. If students are unable to guess a word, help is available one letter at a time as a timer shows up counting down until the letter appears.
Tangram is what we as teachers know and love. Picture puzzles that make our students think outside of the box, manipulating shapes that they have learned in math to form a bigger shape/object. Students can complete it on different levels from easy to hard and work their way through levels in what looks like a forest. Even after they have completed one, they can always go back and do it again!
Later that year, Numbers became available. This came with squares like the ABCs. One set has dots (like dice) and the other set has numerals. In Numbers students use strategies to add, subtract, and make different combinations of numbers in an underwater adventure. Students collect fish as they successfully make combinations. This addition to Osmo had me attempt math stations for the first time for a part of that year.
Student(s): "I like Coding and Pizza Company! In Coding, you have to tell the little guy what to do by linking pieces together so he will eat pies and jump. Pizza Company is like owning your own business! That’s why I like Osmo.”
The students begged to use it, not only in stations but also in indoor recess. Over this past summer Coding became available. Of course, that became part of my arsenal! By this time, my sister had also purchased one, and gifted one to me, and I had received another one from my principal! I was now up to four Osmos! I asked for another table in my room, and worked on getting two more iPads.
This current year I work with four Osmo stations, four sets of Words and Tangrams. I have three sets of Numbers, and two sets of Coding, and now two sets of Pizza Company. (Pizza Company works on money making skills!) I use Osmo in both Reading and Math stations. The students rotate through in their groups. They also have assigned days during indoor recess per their request. They just can’t get enough of the hands-on learning. I can put in each student and track progress as well, and I’ve started downloading new lessons from their lesson bank. If you don’t like their lesson bank, no big deal; create your own! Snap a picture and create your own words to go with a spelling unit, vocabulary unit, or a book that you are currently reading.
Student(s): “I like Pizza Company the best. You have to serve the customers what they want. Sometimes, it can be tricky!”
Are you an art teacher? Fantastic, there is an art side to Osmo as well. Check out Masterpiece on Osmo! I’m in no way, shape, or form an artist, but I sure could be with this! It makes you feel like a real artist. Use the built-in pictures or take a picture from outside that you would like to draw. There are also craft projects that you can do with the help of Masterpiece! You might also be intrigued by Monster. This is the only set I do not own for my classroom. This set is designed around drawing. At this point in my class schedule, I would only have time to allow the students to use it during recess. I do see potential for use during writing or reading to illustrate a piece that students have written, IF my iPads were linked to my printer.
STEM? Did someone say STEM? Sure thing! Besides the Coding, which my niece in 5th grade begs me to bring home on long breaks to play, there is also Newton which comes as a downloadable app. Here students will be guiding a ball towards a hole. They can use any object that you have laying around with this game! I suggest either having an extra supply of paper and markers or dry erase board here.
I’ve created my own “playing field” for my students using a placemat and one of the Osmo stickers. This is nothing that Osmo has to offer. I simply wanted my students to know where the pieces went, and approximately where the camera would pick them up. It also helps them keep the pieces they are not currently using “out of the way”. I also used painters’ tape in the middle of the table to create two halves. This way the students do not mix up letters or numbers with different sets. These tricks have worked out fantastically for the kids. One last thing that I did is that I purchased stools for the students to sit on instead of the regular classroom chairs this year. They love the alternative seating in the class. Some sit on one leg while playing while others opt to stand!
After investing in this product for my classroom I wouldn’t go without it. My students are constantly engaged and beg to use it. I will continue to purchase new pieces for my classroom as they become available and will probably even make complete sets for the ones I have. I highly suggest you look into Osmo for your classroom. As I write this, there is a 15% off deal! I’d even encourage you to follow them on Twitter @PlayOsmo. Osmo has something for everyone, keeps students engaged, and has them begging for more. If you don’t believe me, try it out for yourself!
Today's post comes to us from Ms. Kathy Benner. Born and raised in Richmond, Kathy Benner graduated from RHS in ‘97. She attended IU East and earned an Associate's Degree in General Studies and a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education. Kathy started her teaching career in Centerville, IN and came to Richmond in 2008. In 2011, she earned the No Excuses Award and REA Teacher of the Month. Kathy has taught Special Ed, 1st, 4th, 5th, but the majority of her career has been in 3rd grade. She loves working with technology: Spheros, Ollies, and Osmo. In her spare time Kathy enjoys singing, playing guitar, and putting together Lego sets
I first want to give a shout out to a Richmond, Indiana original: Wilbur Wright. Wilbur attended Richmond schools though he was born in nearby Millville. His family made that fateful move to Dayton during the spring of his senior year and he did not graduate here. So much about the Wright brothers is legend, but one significant fact is rarely mentioned and it bears directly on any discussion of disruptive innovation. The point of this blog is to discuss that factor, a condition that we all share in approaching new educational technology: prior knowledge.
Occam's Razor, sort of . . .
"When you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better." I mention Occam's Razor not because it explains everything. Or anything, for that matter. Sometimes a reasonable philosophy is simply comforting.
I grew up with nosy neighbors on telephone party lines. The vertical hold on our black and white TV seemed to need constant adjustment. My worldview relied on the grainy newsreels and Felix the Cat (the wonderful, wonderful cat) with his magic bag and his odd nemesis, The Master Cylinder. High tech? We believed in UFOs. They had high tech. We owned AM radios and Etch-a-Sketch. My relationship with this technology meant fumbling with brown knobs and beige buttons. Color TV finally arrived in our home and Disney's Wonderful World of Color blossomed in our lives.
The New Frontier would come along any day and bowl us over, but that was off in the 'near future', a prospect that got tangled up with our fears of nuclear war and Big Brother. You kept technology at arms' length because it just might make things worse. It was going to confound you, make a fool of you; it would suck your lungs out or, in the very least, make you a robot or leave you in the dark. Such was the backdrop of my brave attempts to move forward with computers, the internet, smartphones, and social media.
Decades later, I find myself designing modules for blended learning, pushing forward resolutely into that brave new world. But as I work a nervous inner child breathes into a paper bag.
The most recent assignment for our NextGen Cadre proposed that we redesign a lesson module for a group review. The lesson would be explained with a Voicethread. The Voicethread is a benign and friendly technology. Breath in, breath out.
So . . . put the module pages into a slideshow . . . record the voiceover . . . turn the assignment in. Simple, smooth.
Hmmmm. Maybe not so smooth. Something, a gremlin, a ghost in the machine keeps adding dead air to my recording. I try re-recording and it gets no better. Breath in, count 1,2,3,4,5, breath out slowly.
Try again. More dead air. It's the scream in deep space that no one can hear. It makes a fool out of me. I'm certain the problem lies embedded in the hardware, or it plays an obfuscating game in the software. Obfuscating. And my perfect lesson, my beautifully planned, wonderfully overwrought lesson; my monumentally overachieved lesson! It will plod along like a metronome. Worse. It will sound like this: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Where's the voice of reason?
Where is Jiminy Cricket when you need him?
In full panic, I call the experts. They'll know about gremlins.
They ask, Are you using Google Chrome?
Did you, uh, click the save button? *
At this moment I need valium or potent philosophy. I try philosophy. "When you have two competing theories . . . (but I have nothing). . . that make exactly the same predictions . . . (Occam never made a Voicethread!) . . . the simpler one is the better."
Think. No, stop thinking. What if I-- Just turn the thing in flawed! But what if? No, no, no, no Could it be? I'm hyperventilating. What if I record again and try . . . this stupid arrow thingy? Duck and cover! Could it be that simple? Big Brother is watching . . .
No way . . .
It works! It works! It works!
Check it out!
It's not perfect, not perfectly smooth, but it was sooooo simple!
Sometimes the prior knowledge we bring to technology should be abandoned for a satisfying foray into the unknown. If Occam could explain this, he would say that designers of our educational technology are not obscurantist geeks, but simple creatures like us. Their platform is designed to be used. Though it might be wise to keep a paper bag handy for those moments of terror, the best solution to the quandaries of blended learning is plunge in and noodle around until it does just what you want it to do.
(really . . .celebrate - Cue the overture from Fantasia!
* Not wanting to suspend the disbelief in the story, I add this note here. My experts are wonderful educators and incredibly supportive and wise.
As Every Schoolchild Knows,
The Wright brothers failed in their first business, a print shop, but the second enterprise, a bicycle shop, succeeded and supported the brothers through their other interests. Orville became a champion bicycle racer. But another challenge drove the brothers, and they plunged or should I say soared into aviation.
Many efforts were underway to get into the air and get somewhere. The Wright brothers didn’t invent aviation. Da Vinci launching flying machines off the heights of Fiesole toward the Arno River didn’t even do that. And the Wright brothers didn’t invent powered flight either. Dreamers with their heads in the clouds had been strapping engines on their fabric-winged creations for decades, often leading to distressing, if not fatal ends. This was a dangerous business. The Wright brothers, Wilbur, the methodical, older brother, and Orville, the intuitive, younger sibling, did something far more remarkable. They created controlled flight. Their Flyer could takeoff and return to the same spot, or to Detroit if they wanted and everywhere in between.
They brought something to aviation that no one else had connected prior to this. The Wright brothers knew something that you knew as a child and that every child understands.
Before the Wright brothers, inventors tried to steer aircraft by simply turning them left or right. The gauzy birds staggered and stuttered into these turns, and flopped, buckled, and failed. What the Wright brothers knew, the thing every child knows or learns painfully with applications of iodine and hugs, was that you can’t just twist the handlebar on a bike and expect it to turn. A bicycle must be leaned into a turn. It was the great Aha! that solved the problem for the Wright brothers. They designed a flyer that leaned into the turns. In aviation this is called ‘banking’. Problem solved. And prior knowledge allowed the Wright brothers to completely disrupt aviation.
We all bring our prior knowledge to educational technology. We already know what we want it to do. True, the solutions are often more sublime than we envisioned, but each of us brings our own information to the process. Which one of us will create the next great disruption in our classroom?
Lift and Drag
The conundrum for aviation engineers is creating enough lift to get in the air while minimizing the drag this feature (which is to say the wing) carries into flight. Old biplanes were wonderful at getting into the air, especially at a time when lengthy airstrips were not the rule and a lot of lift was needed quickly. But once in the air you had two big features scraping along through the ocean of air, keeping airspeeds for most biplanes well under 200 mph.
I have this great, big biplane of a lesson plan in place for my 6th grade artists: Op Art. I’ve got plenty of lift with this attractive imagery but simply splashing paint around and hoping to cover the topic was really, uh, a drag.
My 6th graders have already painted a Florida Landscape inspired by Florida Highwaymen of the 1950s. This project was completely studio-based with yours truly acting as a surrogate Bob Ross, leading the way step by step. Students were given plenty of choices in the process and the results showed a wide range of solutions. But it was teacher-driven. The students really liked the product, but they deserved more.
To take them and yours truly out of this comfort zone, I challenged them to forge their own vision and design and the Op Art project offered a good vehicle for this process. The plan was simple: take away the ‘wings’ of the project which for the time being meant the paint and brushes, and get them into the rarified air quickly and efficiently. This might require a rocket! And they needed to embrace the basic ideas of Op Art without some pestering influence (Who? Me?) dragging their ideas back to earth. For a veteran discipline-based art educator, this meant that someone other than my students needed to drop the heavy fabric wings and strap on a rocket pack. Yikes!
Canvas provided the launch pad for this game-changer. It allowed students to explore Op Art on their own, googling the topic, learning some of the well-known practitioners of the style, and appreciating the complementary color schemes and the ‘hard-edged’ painting style. They were able to choose what they liked about the style, decide what design ideas captivated them, and explore designs on their own, using online paintboxes. (I like sumopaint for a basic program and youidraw for a more sophisticated platform, but other programs are in play and are being investigated.)
The old aviator liked what he saw. In fact, the process took my breath away. Words like WOW and questions like HOW DID YOU DO THAT? bubbled up in the atmosphere of the computer lab. Clearly, I needed to get online and explore right alongside my students.
The Op Art project is in process. Students are currently translating their online creations to a studio version of Op Art, using real paint and real brushes, though it must be said that in a perfect cyber world the online galleries might justifiably be the final product. The project will include a student reflection through Canvas at its conclusion.
Student enthusiasm prompted me to offer these 6th graders an opportunity to create something special. Op Art Chairs. Prior to this, the chair project, introduced earlier as a fundraiser, was limited to my 7th and 8th graders at Dennis Intermediate. For these 6th graders, being able to decorate their own chairs is like landing on Mars. They voted to do this project over several other options which included a personal painting or a class mural.
Canvas has shown me that blended learning offers incredible growth for student and teacher alike. True, we must often bring our prior knowledge to gain momentum, but once students have gotten aloft, it is time to jettison the baggage.
John Henry Redux: A Parable of Disruption
(stepping away from aviation and education for this final comment . . .)
My brother retired from the MBTA (the 'T') in Boston and began a new career as a railroad consultant. Yes, he could build you a railroad spike by spike and then run it for you, but his specialty was a machine that assured that tracks were set at the proper design. Tracks not properly designed, that is, at the correct elevation and curve with the correct underbalance will inevitably cause derailments. A very serious matter. Dave began his railroad career early and by age 22 had a crew of 90 men working under him. He was a pick and shovel guy who grew in his profession to embrace its ever-changing technology. The production tamping machines he now operates had morphed from diesel, grease, and steel behemoths half the length of a football field into diesel, grease, and steel behemoths half the length of a football field controlled by ever more sensitive and complex technology. Railroads from colossal BNSF to small local systems rely on my brother to work his life-saving magic and train others to do the same with these machines.
He was called in to train machine operators at--let's just say --a major urban transit system. His presence coincided with the roll-out of a new set of high-tech tamping machines to upgrade a challenged existing system. The trainees he met in a classroom the first day turned out to be a surly group, many of them longtime 'gandydancers', suspicious of change and especially suspicious of some outside Bozo come in to tell them their business. Dave understood. He was once one of those guys. But the work needed to be done and he believed in what he was presenting.
The next morning, he arrived to start the machine training only to find that his onboard computer had been sabotaged. It would take a day or more to fix or replace the computer and other damaged components of the big machine. He told the crew of would-be operators, "I'll show you what we do when the machine is out of service." They broke out the picks and shovels and pry bars, headed out on the line, and did a day's work the old-fashioned way. Dave calculated the proper design with pencil and paper.
After this rugged day of railroad work, the machine was not tampered with again.
But don't get the wrong idea.
These folks didn't mind a rugged day of railroad work. It validated them. What troubled them was the horrible thought that this reliable experience might disappear and their very sense of worth might evaporate with it. When my brother took them out and showed that he didn't mind a rugged day of railroad work, the gesture changed everything.
Trust. It's something we all bring with us as prior knowledge. Or not and it must be earned. But there is not a more powerful disruptive force than trust and it must be built into the machine.
Today's thoughts come to us from Mr. Richard Green. Richard currently teaches art at Dennis Intermediate School in Richmond, Indiana. A native of Massachusetts, he taught in the Bay State for a decade before making his move to the Sunshine State. During his tenure in Florida, he spent a year in Nagano, Japan as an exchange teacher. This eye-opening, life-changing experience fired up his teaching with a worldview and the confidence that comes from pushing outside your comfort zone. Now a resident of Indiana for nearly a decade something just as awesome has happened. He found a home and a renewed clarity for teaching art. His passion for teaching, writing, and producing his own brand of art continues to rise.
Mr. Gabbard professes his love of Canvas in his February 14 blog entry here on the Next Gen site, but I will speak of an attempted break-up.
I’ve always hated making copies and standing at the copy machine. I hate seeing lots of papers piled up around my desk. So, one of my goals as a teacher is to try to use Canvas to reduce the amount of photocopies and paper. I was hoping to take a before and after picture showing you my messy area and then my tidy area brought about by a loyal relationship with Canvas. Here’s the before photo. Papers everywhere! Alas, there is no “after” picture! …yet! I’ve failed at breaking up with the copy machine. My desk, shelves, and horseshoe table look pretty much the same after three months of trying to break up.
Here’s why I still visit the copy machine:
Right now I am not efficient with Canvas, but I’ve made lots of improvements. It is part of our daily work, and I have cut back on some copier time. I do like Canvas, and I foresee that be there will be balance to the paper pros listed above. Here’s what excites me about Canvas:
My conclusion after three months of trying to use Canvas more is that it’s going to take more time for me to use it efficiently to teach, communicate, and keep records of learning. Right now, for me, blending paper tools for learning with online tools is a better option than completely breaking up with the copy machine. I will, however, continue to ask myself each time I feel like heading to the copier, “Could I convert this to a Canvas assignment?”
Today's thoughts come to us from Ms. Natalie Wise. Natalie teaches third and fourth graders at the Hibberd Program Building at Richmond Community Schools. She still hangs out with the copy machine sometimes