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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Skoolbo: Game based learning in elementary school

I recently read a great article, ‘Games for a digital age: K-12 market map and investment analysis‘ that has piqued my interest in the idea of game-based learning and how the evolving world of educational technology can be used to bring a new experience to game-based learning.

In the article, the authors define game-based in a number of ways, but ultimately explain that it must include:

  • voluntary participation
  • a goal (finish line, objective achieved, win/lose, etc)
  • rules to structure the game
  • feedback system(s), which can be in the form of rewards and incentives
  • (in the context of schools) knowledge or educational outcomes

Recently we introduced a trial of a relatively new app to our Senior Kindergarten iPads called Skoolbo. It is also available for download on Android devices, Windows PCs and Macs. It captured my interest because of its game based learning environment which fits in very well with our play-based inquiry learning philosophy. It’s been great! The developer, Shane Hill (former Mathletics developer) has done a great job of incorporating the elements of play based learning.

  • voluntary participation
    • students were accessing Skoolbo from home before the teacher was even able to set them up at school!
    • Access to Skoolbo in class is usually on a voluntary basis during ‘centre time’ where a variety of play-based learning experiences are available to students. They love it and are happy to play!
  • a goal (finish line, objective achieved, win/lose, etc)
    • Within each game, students race to the finish line in their plane or on foot by answering as many questions correctly as they can. The more correct answers, the faster they go. If they get three wrong, they’re out.
    • Another set of goals is provided via the rewards schemes… see below.
  • rules to structure the game
    • The rules are simple… the more correct answers, the faster you go.
    • The more you play, the more you are able to customise aspects such as your plane.
    • 3 incorrect answers and you’re out.
  • feedback system(s), which can be in the form of rewards and incentives
    • Rewards schemes are also cleverly built-in to the game to encourage short, mid and long-term participation. Such rewards include becoming a superhero after meeting a certain objective.
    • Indirect feedback is also provided in the adaptable question base. As students perform well, the questions get harder. As they begin to struggle, the questions get easier. Soon an average is met that challenges students at just the right level.
  • (in the context of schools) knowledge or educational outcomes
    • At this stage, the game hones in on core literacy and math skills. After pre-assessment on the first 4 games, the system cleverly adapts to the child’s ability.

To finish up, check out this little smarty in action!

 

email for 8 year olds… really?

This is a question that I often receive when I explain how our Grade 3 students are introduced to email. In fact, at our school we introduce Google Apps for Education (and email) to our grade 3 students. We do this for a number of reasons that I’m not going to go in to in this post. Having said that, one of the key reasons for introducing online tools to our students at such a young age is to have them develop the understandings of safe and responsible online use before they are online themselves and develop poor habits.

This week we (the Grade 3 teachers and I) have begun the process of this task with some of our classes by having students learn about digital citizenship. We began by dedicating a large amount of time for students to explore a range of websites, videos, games and posters that explore digital citizenship. This was followed by ‘homework’ and another 20 minutes in the next lesson with continued exploration. At the beginning of this I made it clear that the kids’ only responsibility was to be a thinker and think about how to be safe and responsible. No notes or questions were needed.

Following this, I introduced the tool of Google Docs by sharing an open document (so that they didn’t need access to their account yet) with the following questions:

  • Form: What does being online mean? What are some examples of being online?
  • Responsibility: How do I be responsible when online? How should I behave?
  • Reflection: How do I know when I should ask an adult for help?

To help prevent ‘getting in the way’ of each other on this document, the girls entered what they could for 10 minutes, followed by the boys for 10 minutes. Together, today’s class came up with four pages of information.

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Following this, we held a discussion to review what we had learned. We used wordle.net to copy the notes into to find common themes among the answers. During this discussion, it was evident the kids had a solid understanding of responsible and safe online behaviours.

Next up, we will develop an essential agreement/user policy for our email and Google Apps. The kids will also be involved in create digital citizenship posters to display in the lab, classrooms and on our in-house TVs.

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?