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!

 

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?

R.I.P. handwriting…

The age of teaching handwriting is finished!

With the continual development of technology features such as predictive text, autocorrect and speech recognition, along with the rapidly developing field of mobile technology giving us access to these tools whenever we need to ‘write’, it’s safe to say that we no longer need to handwrite. Well, at least not in length. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that students in the younger years of schooling need to learn to form letters as they learn to read them. However, gone are the days of cursive lessons, pen licences and dotted thirds. I believe that it is likely that handwriting will become a type of art form in the same sense that calligraphy is for my generation. 

So what does this mean for teaching and learning? Well, for anyone who has been the victim of a grammatically correct, yet contextually wrong, predictive text, or a ‘sometimes hilarious, sometimes awkward and sometimes downright embarrassing’ autocorrect (see www.damnyouautocorrect.com for examples of any of these), the skills associated with proofreading and editing are going to be (and already are) essential for our students. 

Here are some tips that students should be learning and using to ensure they are able to communicate clearly and accurately whenever ‘writing’ using modern technology: 

  • learn to touch type – or at least learn to efficiently track what you are writing as you write it so that you can check the autocorrects and predictions that your computer is making as you go (just as mine has done 4 times in this sentence).
  • learn NOT to hit send, print, publish etc – give it time, think it through and most importantly read it over to consider your purpose and to check for errors. Then hit send, print, publish, etc.
  • understand your grammar – in order to know whether the autocorrect or prediction is correct, you need to know what is correct.
  • know spelling blends – English is an awful language to work with. It’s full of rules that apply most of the time, but not always. However, if you know what that tricky spelling might be, then chances are auto-correct or spell check with help you out.
  • use your tools – further to the above point, making use of dictionary or ‘look up’ tools built in to many browsers, word processors and some operating systems will allow you to check the meaning to ensure the word you have is correct.
  • READ IT OVER! – did I say this already? Yes, but it’s just so important that it needs to be said again.
Spending the time on teaching these skills and giving your students the chance to practice them, rather than on handwriting, will be time far better spent for both you and the students. 

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!