Moving Target Technology

The inspiration for today’s braindump brought to you by the following tweet from the one and only Will Richardson:

Full disclosure, I have a Wordle project in my repertoire and I use it often. It is ideal for teaching students how to save documents, how to copy/paste, how to create screen captures, and how to crop images in GIMP. It is a one day lesson, if that.

I’d say all of those are basic skills. Most of them are fundamental for doing much more advanced technology lessons. Because of this, I will not say that lessons that make use of Wordle, PowerPoint, or even Microsoft Word are inherently bad things that should be avoided.

I will say, however, that if that’s all you’re doing in regards to tech integration, you are doing your students a disservice.

Look, claiming a PowerPoint lesson is tech integration is very much like claiming your class was in the pool because you had them dip their toes in the shallow end. Both statements are technically true, but involve little in regards to teaching students skills they can use outside of an academic environment.

I understand the hesitation to teach more meaningful tech integration, I really do. Problems with making sure the technology is available aside, most teachers I’ve met (and remember, I was a traveling art teacher so I’ve met quite a few) hesitate to teach lessons outside of their comfort zone. With so many pressures on us from all sides, we’d rather go for the sure thing of “it’s always worked before” over the gamble of trying something new.

Except “it’s always worked before” doesn’t cut it.

It never did, either. We just assumed that if a technique allowed 75% of our class to score well on a test then it was successful. For 25% of that hypothetical class, it wasn’t successful. They learned, because kids are always learning, but what they learned was probably that they didn’t enjoy the subject the way it was taught. If they’re lucky, they’ll have a teacher after you that instills in them a love for the subject that you ruined for them.

I didn’t, which is why I had several years of teaching experience before I learned to enjoy Math. *AHEM,* back on topic…

Hourofcode2014_2_5167

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Enjoy Code.org:

Sticking to comfort zones feels safe and reasonable. If I have 30 screaming 5 year olds (or 12 year olds) in my room, I may want to do a lesson that I know won’t backfire on me.  It’s why I avoided the annual Hour of Code event for so long.  I know HTML, and I know enough PHP and SQL to be dangerous, but I am far from what I would call a skilled programmer.

It took encouragement from my principal for me to get into it, and I’m so glad I did. The students genuinely loved the lessons, even the ones that seemed difficult.  In truth, the harder ones were much more satisfying to complete.

None of my students learned actual programming language from the lessons, that wasn’t the point.  Instead, we used websites like Blockly to practice thinking like a computer: Being specific with directions, learning when lines of code should be repeated (and when repeating code did horrible, horrible things), and so on. The more advanced even got to play with the fantastic “if/then” statement. Not bad for an hour’s worth of effort, if I do say so myself.

Actual coding still is outside my comfort zone. I won’t be sitting down and creating the world’s next FlappyBird clone any time soon, but giving precise instructions? Automating repetitive tasks? I can teach that.

There isn’t a hard line between “comfort zone” and breaking new ground. It’s more of a watercolor smudge, and those teachers who are actual life long learners don’t have to dive in the deep end. We can start with our toes, and swim out towards the deep end as our comfort zone increases.

Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking there’s a good place to stop.

Technology Integration is a moving target.

1994, 20 years ago, a PowerPoint lesson was the epitome of tech integration. That was also the first year Apple switched to using PowerPC processors, the year Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa, and the last year Nixon and Kurt Cobain were alive. (source) There was no iPhone, no X-Box, dial-up internet was the most common way to get online (though most people, including me, didn’t use the internet at all), and most importantly, NONE OF OUR STUDENTS WERE EVEN BORN.*

(*Unless you teach college, then maybe.)

We tend to stop thinking that something is technology if it’s been around longer than we have. Watches, calculators, and even pencils are technically examples of technology, but you won’t find lesson plans written about them under the heading of “tech integration.”  Does the activity you’ve labeled “tech integration” use tools that came about since the time your students were born? Remember, the internet is older than they are.

It’s not old, it’s “vintage.”

This is not to say that everything old must be cast aside. I am wearing a watch as I type this. Sure, my computer, phone and tablet can tell me the time, but I find my watch is more convenient on most occasions. Our school’s interactive whiteboards are older than our 1st grade students, but my school has a 1st grade teacher who can’t live without hers. If PowerPoint is the best tool for you to use, use it. Just don’t stop at PowerPoint.

I won’t say we need to abandon all the old stuff, but as we design our lessons and curriculum (assuming someone at a testing company isn’t designing our curriculum with poorly worded standardized test questions), we need to look at the world outside of academics for inspiration. That’s where are kids are looking, I assure you, and they’re not looking at 20 year old technology and saying “Wow, this is so cool!” They’re looking at it with the same enthusiasm I had for my Algebra II textbook.

Well, except for the Atari 2600. That console was awesome and all my students agreed when I brought it in to show them.

Academic Aesthetic S2 Ep 13: See What Sticks

Today’s episode was recorded on the drive home. No script, no notes in front of me (because “eyes-on-the-road,” obviously…), and plenty of engine noises from my own vehicle and those around me that Audacity’s “Noise Removal” filter couldn’t do enough to remove.

(If you’re new here, most of my podcasts are not recorded like this.  I’m just pressed for time this week, so I multi-tasked on the way home.)

Topics:

  • Throw stuff at the wall, see what sticks.
    • My hashtag idea didn’t stick.
    • Learning by doing sticks.
    • Turning a school event into a media production project sticks.
    • The “Undo” command sticks, because it means things don’t have to stick. (Wait, what?)
    • A willingness to take bad photos allows a few good photos to stick.
    • Google Drive for student use? Sticks. It REALLY sticks.

Academic Aesthetic S2 Ep 12: It’s JIF

In today’s episode, I have opening night jitters.

Show Notes:

Academic Aesthetic S2 Ep 11: Beans, Trolls, and #MDEduTech

Today’s episode is about social interactions, for good or for ill.

Show Notes:

  • EdBean Podcast
    • 3 teachers discussing a variety of teaching strategies.
    • Conversation is frequently NOT about the tech, but about best practices.
    • Most recent episode from last month. Assumption is the padcast is still active.
  • “Don’t feed the trolls,” but what if they feed themselves?
    • (NSFW due to language.)
    • Written by Kathy Sierra, reposted on Wired.com with permission.
    • Some people (mostly women) reach a status of recognition amongst trolls where they have no recourse.
      • Abandon social media, trolls win.
      • Ignore them, their antics escalate until they cannot be ignored.
      • Fight back, they escalate. See above.
  • #MDEduTech chat sessions
    • Start 10/20/2014
    • Every Monday @ 7PM EST
    • Target audience is Maryland teachers with an interest in technology, but we won’t chase you away.
    • First topic will be Digital Citizenship

Academic Aesthetic S2 Ep 10: Echo Chamber

Should the world put up with more than one of me?I’ve been thinking for a while about so-called “echo chambers.”

We tend to gravitate towards people with similar tastes and ideas to our own.  This of course is only natural – if someone thinks the same way we think, we’re going to like them more. If we like them, why wouldn’t we want to hang out with them?

The problem that stems from this is that when the only thoughts you hear mirror your own, you sometimes begin to think that those are what everyone thinks – no matter how far from the truth that actually is.  Suffice to say, if you spend your days hanging out in an echo chamber, hearing only voices similar to your own, you’ll end up with limited intellectual growth and possibly a misguided view of reality.

(I’m going to bite my tongue here and not make a political statement, but those who know me may certainly fill in the gap.)

For the past several years I have been doing my best to place myself outside the echo chamber that is the teacher’s lounge – both the one in my school and the virtual ones online.  I still “talk shop” with teachers on many occasions, but the vast majority of my interactions now involve people outside of my chosen profession.

The blogs I read, the podcasts I heard, I read and listened to them from the viewpoint of an educator (and frequently asked myself how I could apply them to my classroom), but they weren’t focused on education.

There was good and bad in that. On one hand, I found a lot of cool new things that I and my students thought were interesting.  ToneMatrix? BitBuilder Avatars? Light painting? None of these things came to me from other teachers. On the other hand, I am far from the only teacher finding and sharing cool things.  By limiting my intake of information to non-educational sources, I ended up missing out on a lot of neat things that I would have otherwise been on top of.  (For example, Gradecam.com hit me out of the blue. when my principal mentioned it to me. I’d never heard of it before. As a side note, my principal is pretty cool.)

This will not do. I’ve no intention of fully immersing myself in the education echo chamber for fear of missing outside ideas, but I at least want to keep one ear in there to know what’s going on.

Unfortunately … almost every teacher created podcast I used to listen to has faded away.  I’m not shocked by this, particularly when I look at my own … er … infrequent updates.

So in typical Web 2.0 fashion, I made a Google Doc and posted some tweets.

Less than 24 hours later, the spreadsheet sports 40 podcasts! (Though granted not all of them are by teachers.  I’m thinking I’ll migrate them off to a separate list rather than deleting them outright, as there are some real gems in there, too.)

Now that’s probably more than the average person could listen to in a student-filled day, but there’s always room for more. Do you know of an excellent teacher created podcast that isn’t on the list? Add it! Yes, go ahead. Anyone who can see the spreadsheet has editing rights, so just plop it on down in there.  Even if it’s your own creation, that’s fine.

The goal here is to create a teacher-curated list of teacher podcasts.  The more of us who get involved, the better.

Academic Aesthetic S2 Ep 9: The Real World Is Boring

Light Painting SampleIn today’s episode I complain that the real world is boring.

Well, it is.

(If you listen closely you can also hear me scratch my cat’s head.)

[EDIT: Previous link was to an older episode. This has been fixed.]

Show Notes:

Academic Aesthetic S2 Ep 8

In today’s episode I discover why I should click on links BEFORE I start recording.  (And better yet, before I try to use them in class.)

Seriously.

Academic Aesthetic S2 Ep 7

countbooks01.JPGIn today’s episode I do not cry.

Seriously.

Academic Aesthetic S2 Ep 6

2010-01-20 10.21.01Today’s episode includes the sound of me forgetting to mute my phone. Clearly I am a skilled professional.

Academic Aesthetic S2 Ep 5

2013-11-21 10.14.08Today’s episode includes bonus segments of my wife blowing her nose and our cat meowing.