Coding for the Future

My recent involvement in a student Code Camp run by Code Avengers opened my eyes to the benefits of coding with kids and the reasons why we, as teachers, need to offer more opportunities to code in school. With direct links to math and language, along with the fact that coding promotes problem solving, logical reasoning and analytical thinking, there are more than enough reasons why teachers should be introducing this skill to their students.

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ICTLT2012 Round-up

The last two days at ICTLT2012 have provided me with some unique insights in to the Singapore education system as well as current educational trends. The conference has given me a chance to reflect on (and feel good about) the position that I am in currently. I’ve been disheartened by the number of teachers who are still marvelling at the potential of educational technologies.

However, what I have appreciated the most is how each of the terrific presenters here no longer focus their presentations around this or that tool, but around the way that educational systems need to change and around learning. Teachers need to step back and give students more control, we need to allow students to connect, problem solve and evaluate each other more often, we need to provide constant feedback to allow students to grow as they learn, we need to let students learn about what they want to and when they want to, we need to teach learning skills… And all of this can be achieved and enhanced through the use of information and communication technologies. Each presenter has spoken about learning first and how technology fits in to make learning better, not technology and how we can adjust our teaching to work with technology. Nice to see.

Some points that particularly resonated with me include:

  • the future is tablet: no other platform has so rapidly been implemented in to schools like the iPad has over the last few years. It is a device that is still in its infancy and so too are the apps that run on it. There is no doubt that as touch computing and its apps continue to develop, devices that allow for such personalised learning anywhere, anytime will continue to find their way into classrooms and begin to redefine education. However, as Tom Daccord explained, the move to such platforms will not go from textbook to apps only. It is likely that textbooks will be the transitional step towards a redefined learning platform. Tom showed one particular textbook that already exists (the name of which I forget now) that, as you would expect, includes more than just text and pictures to include 3D interactive models, videos, built-in dictionaries, etc. However, the feature that exists already and will begin to redefine how education works is the ability to connect textbooks and comment, collaborate and discuss the learning. Does your current textbook do that? Does your laptop offer that? It’s easy to see this extend into assignment submitting, collaborative problem solving tasks, and connections to others around the world.
  • plan in reverse: Backwards by design is not a new concept for many schools, particularly those focussed around inquiry learning or the International Baccalaureate. It was nice to see Tom Daccord (again) apply this model of planning to the integration of technology. As teachers we need to focus on the objective of the learning. What do we want students to achieve, learn or understand? From this, we then need to decide on the skills necessary to achieve this. Finally we can decide on the best tool (technology or not) to help us help the students achieve the desired outcome. From this we are able to begin to assess the skills and processes students work through to create and share their learning, and not just the final product itself. Students to are able to be more thoughtful in their learning process and decision-making. Let’s move away from the wow factor of technology and towards the learning potential of technology.
  • shared vision:  it is critical for a shared vision to exist within our schools. Immediately, one probably lumps the lack of this shared vision on the leaders of the school. While this is important, one element of this shared vision that is often told about the shared vision rather than asked to help develop it is the student body. As teachers and schools, we need to begin to ask our students what education should be for them and to allow the students to help us to develop the shared vision within the schools. I guarantee that when posed the question, students will demand that they should be able to learn when and where they want and about topics that interest and are relevant to them. So how do we cater for this? Through technology.
  • allow students to participate, not submit: our students operate in a ‘participatory world’. They participate in networks, they create and share ideas through blogs, videos, and more, they comment on others’ creations (whether they know the creator or not)… In essence, they participate in the world around them, often through technology. Yet, our schools often ask them not to participate, but to isolate and submit. We want them to create by themselves, submit their work to the teacher who is the only one to see the work, and then accept the judgment made upon them from their teacher’s one voice. We need to allow our students more options to participate as a learner and advisor, not submit into being a student.
  • we have to think about the world that they grow up in, not the one we grew up in: Now, where do I begin with this? … Larry Johnson, in his final keynote, spoke very articulately about ‘the network’ that surrounds us, helps us, and ultimately is us…. well, at least is the students we teach. The network, while a wonderful ‘new’ advancement in our lives, just is in our students’ lives. It is everywhere, it exists to allow them to learn and connect, essentially it is a part of their lives. They don’t know a life without a network that provides information, media and connections whenever and wherever they demand it. So, we need to stop thinking about a world where the network is optional, as something we can control, filter, switch off, because this is not how it is for our students. An un-networked world is not their world – it is a foreign place that they don’t belong in. As teachers we need to think in this way in order to solve the educational dilemmas that we are seeing around the world. Those of disconnected, disinterested students who see school as a place where they are forced to slow down their learning.

photo credit: flickingerbrad via photopin cc

Are you teaching half-speak?

‘Half-speak’ is the term that I give to the relatively new ability to type with predictive text in mind. That is, learning to expect and accept predictive words before having to type the whole word. For example, if I want to type the word February I actually only need to type febr before I can then touch the spacebar to accept the full word.

I’ve recently been working in some grade 1 classes where we’ve been using the iPads to publish some stories that they’ve recently written and it was during these classes that I realized the students, although most have used idevices before, were not sure about what to do with the predictive text. From this, a just in time teaching experience occurred and the kids were amazed by how this feature made their typing easier.

As this technology continues to enhance, I can see it learning our personal preferences and writing styles. So much so, that predictive text may move beyond predicting a particular word to finishing sentences for us. Whether predictive text reaches this level or not, I can see users learning to type only half a word before hitting space, hence the term ‘half-speak’.

So, are you helping your students to use technology to their advantage? What other technology features do you think are important to teach out kids?

Students using iPads to document their learning

Teacher: “What’s one thing you’ve learned from today’s lesson?”

Grade 2 Student: “I learned that iPads can be used for learning and not just for playing games”.

With the addition of 50 iPads to the elementary campus just before the December break, we have been exploring exciting and innovative ways to enhance our learning.

In grade Grade 2, the students have been given the opportunity to use iPads in their classrooms to help them record their learning, ideas and questions about their Unit of Inquiry. Each classroom has 3 iPads permanently stationed within it. Groups of 6 or 7 students are sharing the iPads and making use of a few specific apps to help to record any new learning they have made. The methods of sharing their learning can occur through photos or videos using the built-in camera, an ongoing mindmap using Popplet or by demonstrating their understanding using ScreenChomp.

There are a number of benefits in allowing students to record their thinking and learning in this way. Firstly, a record of learning is kept throughout the unit, which will show the progress of each student from beginning to end. Secondly, the teacher has an opportunity to reach every child in the class at any time of the day. The teacher can then review the documentation from that day after school. This then allows the teacher to identify any misconceptions and prior knowledge that can be used to help plan the next learning experiences. Students are given the opportunity to express their learning via a number of ways including text, speech and illustration. Finally, the motivation for students to think about their learning is enhanced through the opportunity to then share this learning using an iPad.

We are very excited by the possibility that this technology tool will bring to the students. Stay tuned to see how this trial unravels.

An app to do it all…

Sorry to be misleading in my title… I am looking for an app to do it all, I don’t have one.

Some background… I have some keen staff who want to be able to use the portability of the iPad to allow them to document student learning. Unfortunately, documentation of learning isn’t in one clear-cut, easy manner. Ideally we’d like to be able to capture video and photos as well as add text. Now, that’s not so hard. Pages and Keynote work beautifully to do all of that, but the problem then lies in being able to do something with the file at the end of the week, unit, year, etc. especially so that it is compatible with any platform. Trying to email this document will turn the video into a still image in all formats except .pages. However, .pages documents are only compatible on Mac computers with Pages installed. Not so useful when we are currently running a Windows PC platform.

This same situation exists in some slightly older grade levels where the teacher wants to have students keep a track of their learning journey throughout a unit using many forms of media such as video, photo, text and perhaps even sketches. Again, we’d then like to be able to get this off the iPad and into a format that is compatible on any platform.

I need your help… does this app exist?

UPDATE: Via twitter, I have had a few suggestions, one of which I think may have solved the problem…

via @allanahk, Evernote was suggested as you can, as the website says, “Capture anything”. Unfortunately the Evernote app only ‘captures’ text, audio and photos.

via @dragonsinger57, a set of private spaces at Posterous can provide a space for each student and these can be added to via the Posterous iPhone app. This includes text, photos and videos. The space can then be viewed via any web browser. I think this might be the solution… for now. Thanks @dragonsinger57!

Integrating ICT into the classroom

Finding the right blend to support technology integration can be difficult.

Recently I started in my new position of Technology Integration. I’m working with teachers and students from Early Childhood Education to Grade 3 with limited technology and varying teacher attitudes. Starting the year I was nervous, yet enthusiastic. I’ve been very fortunate to be moving into not only a new position for me, but a totally new position for the school. This has meant loads of flexibility and no expectations of how it was ‘done last year’. As a result, I was able to develop a model of integration that I think would work best. In this post I’d like to outline the major (and successful:)) parts of the model that I’ve worked to implement.

Flexible schedule for me and the computer labs:

 One of the most disheartening aspects of technology teaching in schools is seeing the ‘technology time’ scheduled in to class schedules. Imagine your life if you were only allowed to use technology at 1pm on Tuesday for 40 minutes and then again on Friday at 11am for 40 minutes! This isn’t how technology works. We all use technology to serve a purpose and we use the technology when we need that purpose met, so why do we insist on telling students when they should and should not use technology.

Now ideally, we would have enough technology for students to use it when they need it and put it away when they don’t. Unfortunately we don’t have this flexibility, but we have implemented a flexible booking system for both our computer labs and the in-class support from me. Teachers make use of Google Calendar to book in the times when the technology is needed or when the support is needed, giving greater ability to use the technology as it’s needed.

Priority grade levels:

Currently I am working to support 43 teachers and their classes (approx. 800 kids), plus our single subject teachers. To try to equally share this support each week would be impossible and ineffective. Instead, a key element to ensure technology integration is to work with teams to identify the strongest and most demanding units of learning (in terms of new skills and time) where technology fits in best. These grade levels then become a priority for me. I will work with that grade level intensely over a period of a unit of learning to help the teachers and students meet their goals. Throughout the year, each grade level will have at least one ‘priority unit’. As we believe all teachers are technology teachers, the classroom teacher is responsible for integrating technology into other areas of their curriculum as they see fit and are comfortable to do.

Work with what’s in place:

My goal when helping teams plan their units is to work with what they have in place and to then tie in the technology where it fits best. Let’s consider the example of our grade 3 team who had a heavy focus on research skills for their current unit. As our school makes use of Google Apps for Education, we saw this as a great time to introduce the kids to Google Docs as a place where research groups can keep shared notes on their research questions and inquiries.

Being mindful of teachers’ workloads:

Building on the example from above, I was cautious not to overload teachers with more ‘stuff’ they need to teach. With that in mind, I left the planning meeting with the objective of building a technology unit that would coincide with the unit of inquiry already in place. Some of the key elements were:

Central idea: Technology can help us to work together.

Assessment focus: How well do students use Google Docs to take shared notes with peers?

Inquiry areas:

  • How do we use the Internet to research?
  • How do we stay safe and act responsibly when online?
  • How to we use Google Docs to work together?

My job is to then allow teachers to book their time with me to help them work through the process. With the flexible booking (and a little encouragement or reminder here and there), teachers were able to build the technology skills alongside the unit of inquiry so that students were ready to use Google Docs for their note taking at the time that they were ready to begin their group research.

All in all, teachers have been happy with the many aspects that have been built in to allow for more genuine integration of technology in to the classroom learning experiences. How does technology work at your school? What are the upsides and what are the downsides?

Using your iPad in the classroom

This week, I’d like to focus my entry on some great apps that you can use on your iPad to enhance the teaching and learning within your classroom. These apps are more so for the teachers out there whose schools don’t have class sets of iPads for their students’ use, but who do have their own iPad that they’re happy to use in the classroom. This list could go on for a long time, so I will keep it to 3 built in apps and features this week and add to the list as I go.

Built-in Features and Apps

multi-language keyboard input on ipad

International Keyboards

  • With over 50 languages and dialects to choose from, you’re likely there is a native language keyboard input for that new ESL learner who doesn’t have word of English in their vocabulary yet.
  • Go to Settings -> General -> Keyboard -> International Keyboards
  • When the keyboard slides up in any app, press the globe icon, usually in the bottom row, until you find the keyboard input that you need.
  • Great when used with Google Translate or to promote writing in mother tongue. Also great for English speakers who are learning an additional language.

Maps

  • What a powerful tool for the basics of map reading skills – particularly the map reading of the 21st century. Gone are the days of grid co-ordinates, page numbers and index searches. Build critical thinking skills in your students by exploring alternative routes to those given in ‘directions’, use street view to follow verbal directions from students or to explore a venue for an upcoming field trip.

Books

  • My favourite elements of Books are when using epub books (as opposed to pdf books). With epub books (which you can create using Pages on your Mac computer/laptop) you can embed video, audio and photography into what was once a fixed page.
  • Highlight a word or phrase to ‘look it up’ in the dictionary or by searching Google or Wikipedia for more information. Or, highlight that important line. Even take a note that can be viewed later.