Spoiling the Bunch

Apple, Inc. just confirmed Dr. Papert’s opening paragraph from Teaching Children Thinking.

“The phrase “technology and education” usually means inventing new gadgets to teach the same old stuff in a thinly disguised version of the same old way. Moreover, if the gadgets are computers, the same old teaching becomes incredibly more expensive and biased towards its dullest parts, namely the kind of rote learning in which measurable results can be obtained by treating the children like pigeons in a Skinner box.”

– Seymour Papert <strike(1980)(1970)*

Apple’s Classroom App

Apple is on the wrong side of history with its Classroom App. Everything about the app screams distrust. It’s heavy on content delivery (as if learners don’t construct knowledge), control (did I say you could tap that icon?), management (apparently, computer literacy is dead), locking out students (Johnny went to the Wiki one too many times), and shared devices (let’s call it collaboration!). Read the Getting Started with Classroom, it’s all there.

Alfie Kohn put forth a compelling case for being skeptical about announcements like this one in his post about The Overselling of EdTech:

There’s a jump-on-the-bandwagon feel to how districts are pouring money into computers and software programs – money that’s badly needed for, say, hiring teachers. But even if ed tech were adopted as thoughtfully as its proponents claim, we’re still left with deep reasons to be concerned about the outmoded model of teaching that it helps to preserve — or at least fails to help us move beyond. To be committed to meaningful learning requires us to view testimonials for technology with a terabyte’s worth of skepticism.

The less we trust students the fewer opportunities they have to develop the very agency over their own learning that we aspire for them. Our skeptical eye is much needed in these days of edu-preneurship, edtech startups and the dreamy influence of Silicon Valley giants.

*UPDATED: Gary Stager pointed out (below) that the quote is from 1970 though the paper I cited is from 1980. This further emphasizes that Apple and most other computer hardware/software companies don’t know history and continue to ignore research on learning.

Digsby

I try not to write about tools, but once and awhile it can’t hurt.  Digsby’s one of those tools that you just want to talk about and share.  The gist of Digsby is that it is a one-stop-shop for many IM, email, and social network sites that you use.  In my case, I’ve tied Google Talk, AOL, Gmail, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter into one tool with which I manage them all.

Digsby allows you to manage multiple accounts in each of the IM, email or SNS that you use.  For instance, I manage multiple Twitter accounts, one personal and one for NYSCATE. I can update each of these right from the System Tray in Windows as well as read, compose and manage email.  In addition,  just last night, I learned that you can make video/voice calls through Digsby.

One of the other great things is that I can now uninstall some of the applications and browser add-ons that suck up resources on my computer.  I’ve gotten rid of a host of add-ons for Firefox that allowed me to update my statuses, ask a question or read/answer emails. Now I don’t have to have a web browser open to do so, keeping me on task.  🙂

A downside, is that Digsby isn’t ready for all platforms yet, even so, keep your eye on it.

One of the biggest hurdles educators face in adopting an online presence for their own learning is that they don’t want to manage multiple accounts, usernames, passwords, applications, etc.  Is Digsby one of those tools can can help or is it just one more that adds to the confusion?

For my workflow and connecting with others it’s been valuable and I can see myself using regularly.  Digsby developers… how about a mobile application for BlackBerry and iPhone users?  🙂

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What’s Above Your Head?

If you are a Google Earth user and you haven’t updated lately, you might want to soon. Google released it’s latest upgrade, Google Earth 4.2 [get it here] with a significant feature, a Sky view. Here is a video I found on YouTube that features Sally Ride, the first American woman astronaut, being introduced to the new sky feature. You can learn more about Google Earth’s newest updates at the Google Earth Blog.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/SbiQBeDPT5U" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

This is just another of Google’s great updates to an already awesome application. I can only imagine this becoming a rich part of any astronomy curriculum and the millions of astronomy enthusiasts world wide.

Challenger Learning Center, Rochester, NY

I haven’t quite thought of how I might use it, but I wanted to pass it along to you all anyways. We have a strong Challenger Learning Center in our department that is run by some truly amazing guys. I’m sure they will get a kick out of the new feature an put it to good use during their space simulations with students. Oh, if you want an educational and entertaining podcast about “Earth, Mars and Everything in Between”, check out the Challenger SpaceCast.

God Speed.

iPods 1 — Handhelds 0

AP Photo/David ZalubowskiThat's the score when we look at this use for Apple's video iPod compared to trying to use a handheld. This is awesome. There is no question as to why someone would want an iPod over a "traditional" handheld when you consider what the Colorado Rockies (and I'm sure others) baseball team has done with collecting and downloading opposing hitters and pitchers video to their players iPods. What else would they use? These players are constantly on the go from city to city, bus to plane and have a lot of down time in the clubhouse and hotel rooms. Wouldn't you want your student's or student-athlete's time occupied with learning this way? This is ubiquitous learning.

It's only a matter of time before schools adopt this type of use of iPods. I can imagine it starting with athletics… I already have loaded my sons wrestling matches on his 60 GB device so he can watch and learn from. I can see football coaches loading "film" on iPods for players to study. It would then trickle to other areas of education as Tim Wilson writes at The Savvy Technologist. (I hope it happens in reverse, but as we can see MLB is ahead of most of education).

If you know me, I have consistently asked the question "why are schools choosing the iPod over a Palm or Windows Mobile handheld?" As I mentioned in my post "To iPod or not to iPod" I mentioned that storage size is a major feather in the iPod's cap. This doesn't mean that a handheld can't handle video, it simply can't handheld the quality or amount of video an iPod can at this time. It also means that handhelds have a way to go until they are as seamless as iTunes and the iPod. This sure to be discussed (and already has) further.

What are we waiting for?


Earlier this week I had the opportunity to attend a workshop at Erie #1 BOCES where we looked at the Handheld-Centric Classroom. The presenters were none other than Dr. Elliot Soloway and Dr. Cathie Norris of GoKnow, Inc. I got so much out of this workshop, I couldn't possibly put it into one post. I decided to post what I learned in chunks related to what the good doctors spoke about.

I can't say enough about the down-to-earth discussions I had with Dr. Soloway and Dr. Norris. Dr. Soloway was real, understanding and very curious as to what the group thought were some reasons why handheld computers were not more prevalent in our schools. Despite Dr. Soloway's correct statement, "they are not handheld computers, they are computers!", I choose to continue to refer to them as handhelds or handheld computers because they are not prevalent in schools at this time. Unfortunately, many teachers see them as just personal organizers or only good for games. We simply must to a better job on getting the word out to administrators, teachers and students.
Dr. Soloway suggested that there has been "precious little" impact of technology on K-12 education. I have to agree. Every where you look districts are throwing wads of money into hardware for classrooms. Has this method really changed anything? Even with the major money being thrown around they can't throw enough to reach the holy grail of technology integration, 1 computer per student . The typical ratio of students to computers is 5:1 (9:1 in urban areas) and is far from 1:1. Dr. Soloway and Dr. Norris believe as do I that handheld computers are the solution. (Remember they are computers)

A great idea is how some teachers are getting sets of handhelds, at very low costs, by looking for older used units. What's so great about this idea is that for just getting started with handhelds you don't need a high end unit. Many of the older (+/- 2-3 years) are capable of running most applications that are used in a classroom. Many of these applications can be found at Tony Vincent's web site learninginhand.com.

I want to publicly thank Michelle Okal and Jeff Dolce of Erie1 BOCES for inviting me to attend this workshop. Check back for more in the next few days as I run through the rest of what I learned from this great experience.

Primary Handhelds

While attending a Technology Summit for district TechnoCoaches I attended a session by Debbie Feasel, a 2nd Grade teacher at Plank South Elementary School in Webster, NY. Debbie spoke about moving from a one Palm classroom to a classroom set of Palm handhelds. She reviewed applications she has students use: GoKnow applications such as FreeWrite, Cells, iKWL, Sketchy, PiCoMap.

FreeWrite was used to write compositions. Debbie opted not to use Palm's Graffiti writing software, but the on-screen keyboard. She felt it was very important for her students to focus on her writing and not trying to learn another writing technique (they were learning cursive writing at the same time). Probably a good idea. Students would input responses to questions
about stories a partner read and beamed them to their partner in order
to provide feedback.

She found that students would follow directions on what applications to open and work with very quickly. This was encouraging as she need not go step by step each time they used the handhelds.

Cells is a spreadsheet application she uses with students to create lists, practice math facts, and for data collection. Students created lists of
different types of ants that they encountered while reading a book about ants. She would also beam a file with a list of adjectives in one column and
another column named "Examples" that was blank. Students would need to input examples they thought of related to the adjectives given.

She spoke about a struggling student who shined while using his Palm handheld. He was on task and produced the quality work expected of his
teacher. NCLB? Isn't this what's all about?

iKWL is a program that helps students organize their learning process. In addition to the iKnow, iWonder, and iLearned, students added words that they didn't recognize or know.

Sketchy was by far the most popular application for Debbie's 2nd graders.
Sketchy allows students to illustrate ideas and concepts that they are
trying to understand and learn. Students used Sketchy for learning about planets and weather. Their illustrations can be animated to display a series of pictures the students created. One student was so
creative and thoughtful he animated drawings of a recent haircut complete with opening and closing scissors and falling locks! Way cool.
I wonder if it would have won the Sketchy Contest! Other great examples of Sketchy was how Debbie had students create animations about how they
add and subtract using place values and demonstrating the water cycle.

One last application she uses with students is PiCoMap. Debbie used this with students after reading a story to get main ideas and to organize their thoughts after a field trip to
the George Eastman House.

Using the GoKnow applications, student work is connected through a web. For example, links to Sketchy animations, PiCoMaps and Cells files created by a student are accessible through the applications themselves and through the Handheld Learning Environment (HLE)

Debbie also used the To Do List to list objectives for students to achieve. (I have suggested to teacher's that this is a very good way to begin using handhelds in their classrooms.)

Other applications used in her class were Big Clock, Math Card, Match Who, FlashBoom, DataViewer, & US State Trivia.

Games were used as prizes. Cards indicating that students had earned a new game were left on desks the following morning. Game apps she
found useful were Froggy, Sorting Hat, Connect4, Checkers, and Chess.  Debbie finished up by saying this was a great way to foster
collaboration among students. She also mentioned that "students were
their own TechnoCoaches".

Moblogging Options

There has to be some simple blogging apps out there for my Dell Axim running WM 2003. I’m looking (or will continue to soon) for an easy option to the WordPress dashboard feature. I’m not knocking it afterall it is free and I like it. I just think I’d like to try something else a little easier for the kids, you know? I’d love to see a classroom full of kids moblogging to share ideas and thoughts. Think about that… kids moblogging from the bus stop, the cafeteria, school plays, field trips… anywhere, anytime, awesome! I want to do it.

“Fast & Furious”

TenGoRecently on his forum at Learning in Hand, Tony Vincent posted about a woman who describes herself as “fast and furious” because of the speed in which she types on a handheld using software called TenGo. TenGo ($$) is available for both the Windows Mobile and Palm operating systems. For the purposes of this moblog [see my About page] this might be quite handy.

I wonder if anyone has used this in a classroom yet? While being fast & the furious may not be desired, how do students take to this?