Embedded PD: Enhancing Learning Experiences for Everyone

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I love it when a plan comes together and this was a school history project was fun to work on. Check out the video a local reporter put together.  It’s always nice to work with great people especially when they understand the model of embedded professional development. Judy Wegman, the Extended Studies educator, at Council Rock Elementary School in Brighton took ownership of learning GPS technology. While the students didn’t actually see her learning she picked up the GPS unit and in a pinch, learned to mark waypoints (coordinates) on her own. As you can see in the video, she understands the importance of using technology that is embedded into learning experiences rather than as an extra and disconnected lesson.

This project solidified my thoughts about morphing professional development opportunities for teachers into more job embedded experiences. I’m inspired now to look at more examples of embedded PD and where else I can help provide such experiences.

Kudos to Judy, the teachers and expecially the students at Council Rock for their wonderful experience (not to mention making my job easier)!

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Mobile, Digital, Ubiquitous

Back blogging from NECC…

My conference started at a mobile device panel discussion. Julie Lindsay shared a video one of her students created and posted on YouTube…

Janice Kelly talked about how her students were using Palm IIIc handhelds. lashed the question to the group about whether anyone’s solving the mobile device access by seeking older, used devices. A woman suggested to the group to contact local corporations who might donate used devices to schools.

Graham Brown-Martin, http://www.handheldlearning.com, stated by mentioning the fact that many teachers and administrators who are skeptical about mobile devices in classrooms actually carry these devices with them.

Tony Vincent gave an overview of the most popular devices, Palm, Pocket PC (Windows Mobile), and iPods. Tony feels that wireless is important for mobile now. Interestingly. Palm has not present at NECC for 2 years.

He also mentioned that the Apple iPhone’s access to the web has people creating apps for the web that will work over the iPhone. This may change my thinking about the iPhone at this point. To be fair, I haven’t thought much about it lately, but with it’s emminent release coming out I ought to do some homework.

In summary, we are all facing the same issues, financial, shifting paradigms and access to the Internet when we are trying to build mobile device initiatives.


I’m not going to resist writing about this device, but I will riPhone from Appleeserve my kudos of Apple’s iPhone for a later time. As many of us that have been around mobile devices know, and as was discussed by Karen Fasimpaur and Tony Vincent at the Mid-Atlantic Handheld Conference last summer, the convergence of devices typically diminishes some of the best features of a device. Only time will tell. These are my initial thoughts on the iPhone after watching the keynote presentation.

I am curious about the iPhone because of what I feel is a strong point for Apple, they control the software and the hardware for their products. I must admit that a mobile device running OS X is definitely worth a looksee. The new technology involved with this device is definitely intriquing with sensors that respond to basic uses such as the accelerometer (is this the same accelerometer in the Nike+iPod?), proximity detector and ambient light sensors. These are great innovations for mobile devices, but hardly a selling point for education. My cellphone has been difficult to get audio files (read podcasts) loaded. Hence the reason I still carry three devices, hey, call me Batman. I do like my iPod and have been playing a bit with a pretty cool tool shared by Will Richardson called MogoPop, which has, dare I say it, potential for learning via iPods. I didn’t come across anything about the iPhone being able to handle documents, spreadsheets and other files through the multi-touch screen. Of course, I assume it can still be used as a drive to carry all sorts of files. The 4GB to 8GB is to be expected for such a device, but hardly compares to the 30-80GB iPods some students in the schools in our area carry to class to transfer audio/video projects.

Chew on this:

  1. The fine print located at the bottom of the iPhone page: “This device has not been authorized as required by the rules of the Federal Communications Commission. This device is not, and may not be, offered for sale or lease, or sold or leased, until authorization is obtained.
  2. Developers are not welcome. What is great about the Windows Mobile OS and Palm OS is that it allows for third party developers for applications, which is very important for educators using mobile devices.

Whatdya think?


StudyCell Mobile Flashcards for Cell Phones: Make Your Own or Download. Study Languages, Math, Science, Social Studies, Test Prep, Etc.

This is cool.  However, I haven’t actually seen it on my phone (another Verizon service victim).  My initial thought is that this could be very helpful for some students.  One feature I like is that you can share your “Flash Card Decks” with a “Study Group” that you have established. I can also see teachers using this to provide students who need help questions to focus on.  What else can be done?  I’m not sure at this point, I need to schedule a meeting with Verizon.

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Keeping Mobile Phones in Context

Context Aware Cell Phone Project may provide a ray of hope to those that see the use of highly ubiquitous devices like cell phones in K-12 education. The Media Lab @ MIT has a project looking at designing cell phones (among various wearable technologies) with “context awareness”.

If it were possible to build a phone that could determine the user’s circumstances or context, this information could be used to change the phone’s behavior in useful ways. Such a context aware phone could automatically switch profiles when the user enters a restaurant, sits in the driver’s seat of a car, etc.

I think context awareness is just what K-12 education needs to open the gates for use within schools (students already use them out of school for many reasons). What this might look like is having your cell phone detect such things as your location to determine the appropriateness or context of use. For instance, if you were in a public library, a sensor  would recognize that the library was an area that cell phone use for conversations was not acceptable and not allowed. Where the sensors in the lobby or outside the library would detect acceptable use. If schools and classrooms were outfitted to somehow switch user profiles and only allow use during class for web browsing, texting, sharing data/photo/video with teachers or other students within the class, the cell phone could be a more plausible solution to 1-to-1 computing.

Of course, there will always be the human aspect of teaching the etiquette of use… but that’s for a later time.

3 Strikes for DELL?

I am most disappointed.  I haven’t had my new Dell AXIM x51v for 2 weeks yet and it’s out of commission.  Yesterday, in it’s case, it was accidentally knocked from the table (~24 inches high) and the screen cracked.  This is the third, count them, first, second, THIRD AXIM that has a cracked screen for me.  (I’ll share a photo soon) I understand the first, a AXIM x3i, it was my daughter’s playing that damaged the used device.  Whiff!  The second one, an AXIM x30, was and still is a mystery.  I had used it, placed it in my computer bag, and went to the office.  When I arrived, I pulled it out and found a crack in the lower left section of the screen.  Whiff!  This third Dell, a AXIM x51v, was functioning okay and I was just getting it to where I wanted it (apps and settings installed, etc.).  I had taken a note, put it in the cheesy slip cover that Dell provides and a minute later it fell the 2 feet to the floor.  I couldn’t believe it!  Worse yet, there is a district that is looking to purchase this very model anyday now, for student use!  I’m thinking this is going to be a big problem.  These things are handhelds, we all fumble from time to time, why are the AXIM’s so fragile?

On a related note, I still have my Palm Tungsten T2 that is now my old reliable.  I wasn’t wild about it at first, but it has served me well between AXIM’s.  Why have I missed this reliability?  Oh, and if you are thinking whether my T2 has taken it’s lickin’, the answer is yes.

Ubiquitous Use

This is a cameraphone shot of a Symbol device running Pocket PC (Windows Mobile) to take orders at Aja Noodle Company in Perinton, NY. The waitress takes orders on the device and they are wirelessly sent to the kitchen where the orders are processed immediately. I have to say, we didn’t wait too long for our dishes at this place. Which was a good thing, my stepson and I were headed to Eastview Mall to check out a few shops, including the Apple store.

We arrived at the mall and headed directly for the Apple store to check out the latest and greatest devices and to play with some of the new Macs there. When I inquired about a piece 0f software that contained some relevant history content for my stepsons, I noticed the worker had a mobile device in his hand. This was precisely the same device I had seen at the restaraunt not an hour before. Funny thing was when I asked him what operating system it was running (Windows Mobile) he promptly told me he hated it and it was a piece of junk. I find it funny that the Apple store would use a device running Windows. Maybe not, as their machines can now run both Mac and Windows.

If you have seen handhelds in action in places other than schools send me an e-mail (photos welcome and encouraged) at mobileminded@gmail.com.

Reorienting Ourselves

I borrowed the title of this post from Marc Prensky’s latest book, “Don’t Bother Me Mom — I’m Learning”. Reorienting ourselves refers to the section on cell phones in education. Yes, I have been a proponent for traditional handhelds, Palm and Pocket PC devices, specifically. However, I am now rethinking what we are missing by not using cell phones in education. Here is a thought provoking passage from Prensky’s book about providing our students with mobile or handheld devices for learning…

A number of researchers are experimenting with mobile devices for learning — but they typically use PDAs, not cell phones. The former are often donated by manufacturers eager to find a new market for their devices.
There are fewer than 50 million PDAs in the world but more than 1.5 billion cell phones. Of course PDA-based research will be useful, but we will not be on the right track until educators begin thinking of using the computing and communication device currently in the students’ pockets to support learning.


…students are far ahead of their teachers on this. The first “educational” use students implemented for their cell phone was retreiving information on-demand during exams. Educators, of course, refer to this as “cheating.” They might better serve their students by redefining open book testing as an open-phone testing, for example, and by encouraging, rather than quashing, student innovation in this and other areas.

Prensky continues by stating that he is against cheating in schools. I don’t think I have to write that I am against cheating as well (but I did). I am for the celebration of the innovation that many students display in their schooling. Sadly, for the most part this innovation goes unnoticed by teachers, administrators and parents alike. Much of the argument against cell phones has been between distraction and safety. In June, the New York City Council banned cell phones in schools claiming they are a distraction to learning. Here’s what I got…

  1. NYPD officers are searching for cell phones in lockers – is this a productive use of tax dollars?
  2. 3000+ cell phones confiscated – That’s 3000 computers that are being taken out of schools.
  3. Students spending up to 4 hours traveling to and from school – Imagine these students on the subway train listening to lectures, podcasts, viewing videos or text messaging their responses to prompts or polls from teachers all related to school work on these commutes!
  4. No mention of cell phones for learning – If cell phones were welcomed into the school and the classroom as an additional tool to use for learning there might be, dare I say, more interest in student learning.

I think that what interests me most of all with cell phone use, and lack thereof in education, is the ubiquitousness of the cell phone. There are 1.5 billion cell phones in the world. In other countries, the cell phone out sells the desktop computer, not so in the “innovative and creative” USA. Let me wrap this up with another quote from Prensky’s book relating to new norms and ethics around emerging technologies:

Some people can remember how rapidly, in the 1970’s, the norm went from “It’s rude to have an answering machine” to “It’s rude not to have an answering machine,” or how quickly the world switched their search engine from Yahoo to Google.

As educators, we all can agree that learning happens all the time. So,
I wonder, why is it that when we teach we confine it to a building and the just
6.5 hours per day? Believe it or not our students are wondering as well.

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Supporting K-12 Learning Using Handhelds

Karen Fasimpaur joined the MAHC early and filled in for a late presenter cancellation. Palm and PocketPC users converged to learn how using handheld computers can improve instruction and learning for K-12 students.

Karen suggested that teachers and technology leaders consider the outcomes of using handheld computers prior to committing to a purchase. Keep an eye on Linux-based handhelds in the future. Interestingly, she mentioned that there was a buzz about NECC this year about devices called “student appliances”. I haven’t heard this yet, but it was decided that the term was referring to portable devices like the Nova5000 or the Ultra Mobile PC.

So why handhelds for K-12 learning?

One teachers said to me:
We don’t really use or textbooks except to flip through the pictures, because the content is not appropriate for our kids.

One Answer – Curriculum.

I think Karen spoke an interesting quote when she said “the technology needs to be the curriculum”. She elaborated by saying that if it’s one more thing that teachers need to learn, it won’t happen. Also, a sustainable handheld implementation is not about giving students a chance to “play” with the handhelds on a Friday afternoon.

An Approach that Works

  1. Identify a grade level and curriculum area.
  2. Start with existing content objectives or standards
  3. Look at what objectives are most critical and of which handheld tools lend themselves
  4. Develop, adapt, or license materials based on current curriculum. Build your own if necessary.

The Core Tools

  • e-books – teachers love books, Plucker
  • Web clipping – secure, guided web browsing
  • Audio & Video – powerful tool for differentiating instruction
    • Kinoma Player (Palm)
    • Windows Media Player, TPCMP (Windows Mobile)
    • Camptasia Studio – http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia.asp
  • Graphic Organizers – mapping the individual student’s mind, Inspiration
  • Writing – increasing writing opportunities
  • Worksheets – paperless classrooms
  • Quizzes & Tests – can’t escape these!

10 Critical Items for Success

  • Curriculum focus
  • Solid curriculum-based software and/or materials
  • Differentiation strategies (multi-leveled resources, vocabulary support, multimedia, “just in time” individualization)
  • A One-to-One model (there are various ways to implement a 1-to-1 model without breaking budgets)
  • Management tools – file management – how do you get files out to students and back again? SDExpress SD card that installs handheld applications from one SD card.
  • Students being allowed to take handhelds home – important to have parents in on the program, “students guard them with their lives… benefit is so much bigger… just take the leap and do it”

Sidenote: Warming up to the use of cellphones or convergent devices for educational purposes (I have been thinking about posting about this soon… stay tuned.)

  • On-going professional development and collaboration
  • Have an LCD projector
  • Administrative support – there is money there somewhere, administrators are using them
  • Teachers who want to do it