Virtual Worlds & Education

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I created a Second Life avatar about a month ago, but I initially had no idea what Second Life, or any Virtual Worlds for that matter were about. I made some fast judgements about Second Life based solely on the graphics and brief information I gathered from signing up. To me, it looked like a video game like the Sims. I thought to myself, “What place could this possibly have in the classroom?”

This past week, I had the opportunity to actually delve into numerous resources related to Virtual Worlds and to see how teachers have incorporated and used sites like Second Life in their classroom. Below are some of the coolest things I discovered about Virtual Worlds and the ways I could envision myself using them in my future classroom.

  1. Using educational games and simulations to allow students to explore key concepts and places. This stood out to me as the coolest application of Virtual Worlds. We can take our students on a couple field trips a year, but there are so many places and “worlds” that we can’t take them to. Virtual worlds does just that–it allows them to explore a virtual elsewhere that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to come in contact with–to see, for instance, The Sistine Chapel, Van Gogh Museum, Spaceflight Museum, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Island, and so many others. Even NASA has their own Virtual World for students to explore! What a great addition to a unit on Space. I could see my current third grade students getting so excited to explore these virtual locations and discuss what they discover.
  2. Using the virtual world to serve as a communication medium. I wasn’t as excited about this aspect of virtual worlds for my third grade students, but I could see upper elementary, middle school, and high school students gaining a lot from this function of the Virtual World. In particular, I think it’d be really cool for students to be exploring a similar location or idea and then be able to chat with other students around the country (and the globe!) about what they are learning, discovering, and wondering about.
  3. Designing and building things in the Virtual World. This is another feature I think could be really cool depending on the age and technological experience of the student. Students can design, build, and then adjust their creations. This could be a cool addition to a unit on Architecture, Engineering, or other Science topics like space travel.

I’m so happy I now know how other educators use Virtual World resources in their classroom & I’m excited to learn more and try to incorporate it into one of my future lessons.

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Technology Support

This has been a super frustrating week regarding technology at my school. At the end of last year, the entire administrative staff left the school and took the technology staff with them. Since last June, we’ve only had a technology staff-person hired for one week (after which he quit). Most classrooms in my school have one-to-one i-Pads, but unfortunately we have been unable to update the i-Pads all year (thus the apps on the i-Pads have not yet been able to be utilized). Every day this week, I, along with three other teachers, have been attempting to gather all the necessary technology, passwords, and information to update the third grade i-Pads. Day after day, we have reached a roadblock that has forced our project to a halt–we need another password we don’t have, the master computer can’t be hooked up to the cart, we need to access i-Tunes but can’t on our network’s internet, and the list goes on. It feels ridiculous that it’s almost the end of the school year, and we still have yet to be able to truly use the technology our school is lucky enough to have in its possession.

Yet sadly, our school is not alone in this problem. According to this article, “Tech Without Support“:

  • Sixty-five percent of K-12 schools do not have enough staff to integrate tech into classes.
  • Two-thirds do not have enough staff to plan for new technology.
  • More than half do not have enough staff to maintain their tech applications.
SOURCE: ESCHOOL NEWS SURVEY

If we wish to truly value and utilize technology in today’s schools, we have to also find a way to support its use. This means training teachers to use it and providing enough staff to keep it up and running. The article also mentioned an interesting alternative to hiring a full technology staff–use the students! Obviously this would work best at a college and high school level, but I even think that upper elementary and middle school students would be fully capable to learn many of the skills necessary to keep the technology up and running. This article, “Student-run Tech Support Programs Advance at the Speed of Technology” gives some really cool stories of schools across the country that are using this model.

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It will be curious to see how schools work to find the support they need to use the technology they have in these coming years.

Mystery Science

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One of my newly-discovered tech tools is a site called Mystery Science. My cooperating teacher bought a free one month trial & we’ve both loved using it as a supplement to our Science curriculum.

Basically, Mystery Science provides videos with questions related to an intriguing question that relates to a scientific phenomenon. It’s structured similar to the lessons we read and created in our Science course this year. For instance, we just completed the unit, “Do plants eat dirt?” In this unit, I began with students debating each other on this question as half the class firmly believed that they do indeed need dirt to survive, while others believed that they can survive with just water.

As students progress through the unit, they watch videos that show different science experiments, listen to an expert explain various concepts, and are given questions to answer. I had students answer the questions in their Science journals–writing for about five minutes per question. You could also have students discuss their answers with partners or with their table group. It’s cool because the questions have them make predictions and hypotheses about various science experiments and phenomenons. For instance, there is a picture of a Venus Fly Trap and students are asked to predict how the plant can get the nutrients it needs when there are none in the soil of its habitat. The questions are well-worded and are a nice set-up for great discussion and debates in class.

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It would be sad for me if students only did Mystery Science and missed out on trying the experiments themselves, but I like using it in addition to our own classroom experiments. One of the plant experiments in the video matched up to one we did in class (“Can Plants Grow Without Water?”), and students were so excited to already know what would happen. I definitely want to try to use this resource if I teach Science next year.

Creating a Professional Learning Network

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This weekend I expanded my Professional Learning Network on Twitter and I’m excited to use these individuals and groups to expand my knowledge of how to incorporate and utilize technology effectively in my future classroom. I picked a variety of different Professionals to follow–from teachers to Educational companies to government organization–so that I am getting information and ideas from a wide array of sources.

I haven’t used Twitter as a professional resource yet this year. I’ve used Pinterest a lot to get ideas for how to make learning fun and engaging, but I think that my professional learning network on Twitter will help me focus on the tech side of teaching.

I found a great list of 20 Tips for Creating a Professional Learning NetworkBecome a beacon of light.  PLNs rely on open sharing of information.  So if you know something, share it!  It’s best to start with a specific interest and then grow into other topics as time goes on. Become an expert in your niche by researching current trends.  This will draw a larger following on your network, because you can provide a novel source of information.  . Here are a few of the ones I want to make sure to follow:

  1. “Become a beacon of light.  PLNs rely on open sharing of information.  So if you know something, share it!  It’s best to start with a specific interest and then grow into other topics as time goes on. Become an expert in your niche by researching current trends.  This will draw a larger following on your network, because you can provide a novel source of information.”
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  After all, PLNs are all about learning.  But don’t ask questions that you can easily research yourself.  Try simple searches on TED talks, Wikis, blogs, or news articles before posting a question. Try to be specific and think of how a question might generate interest from others.  For example, you may want to refer to an article or research study when asking a question.  Be specific!  This will generate the best answers.”
  3. Remember to be polite and acknowledge contributions to the rightful owner. Show common respect for the people in your network.  This may seem like common sense, but can be a pitfall.  It took me some time to learn “web etiquette” over the years, but it has helped me tremendously.   Send thank you notes, acknowledgements, and use your true voice.  Not only does it make the other person’s day, but it will help you gain more meaningful connections.”

In essence, I want to be introduced to new content, learn new ways to use technology in the classroom, and stay up to date on new trends. I can’t wait to see what I learn from these various resources!

Education of the Future

Much of my reading over this graduate school year has been focused on the history of American Education & how technology is being utilized (or failing to be utilized) in today’s schools. This week, I stumbled on a fascinating BBC article entitled, “Technology in Schools: Future Changes in Classrooms” that outlines some potentials shifts and trends to occur in the educational landscape in future years. Below are some of the most interesting ideas I encountered through the article, with additional links to read more about each of these potential trends:

  1. Flipped Classrooms: Students come to class having watched a lecture, video, or done some pertinent reading related to the content of that day’s lesson. Class time is then devoted to students taking part in a workshop. During this workshop, “students can inquire about lecture content, test their skills in applying knowledge, and interact with one another in hands-on activities.” Another key distinction of flipped classrooms is the role of the teachers. Teachers serve as “coaches or advisers, encouraging students in individual inquiry and collaborative effort.”

“In the developing world where, according to some estimates, up to 57 million children are unable to attend primary school, the idea of children learning without much adult intervention is a necessity not a luxury.” -Jane Wakefield

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2. Classroom Games: One teacher, Shawn Young, has developed a role playing game to engage and motivate students to perform highly in his classroom.”The teacher teaches as normal. Teachers can offer pupils points for good behaviour, asking questions, or working well in their teams and it gives them access to real life powers,” Mr Young says. Many teachers have used Classcraft and have noted its success in their own classroom. I wonder if a similar game could be created that would be driven more by content and not by classroom management.

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How Is Technology Used for Education throughout the World

In most of my reading this year, I have focused primarily on how technology is utilized in American schools. This week, I decided to read about some different uses of technology throughout the world. Below are some of the examples I encountered in my research this week:

  1. Texting from home to the teacher in Pakistan:

“In the small village of Hafizibad in Pakistan’s Punjab province, a young girl is using her mobile phone to send an SMS message in Urdu to her teacher. After sending, she receives messages from her teacher in response, which she diligently copies by hand in her notebook to practice her writing skills. She does this from the safety of her home, and with her parents’ permission, during the school break, which is significant due to the insecurity of the rural region in which she lives.”

2. Dell’s literacy program spreading from India into fifteen other countries:

“It’s our belief that access to technology brings young people into contact with the broader world, opening up access to education and vocational training in a very cost-effective way,” says Deb Bauer, director of Dell Giving. “What we’ve learnt is that it isn’t enough to simply provide the hardware, it’s the quality the wrap-around services – the teacher training, maintenance of technology, reliability of power, which provides the long-term benefits and this is one of the learnings we’ve been taking forward.”

3. The Text to Change Project in Africa is a really cool project that has children and youth throughout the continent to share their dreams and ideas about the future through text messages:

The Text to Change (TTC) project in Africa recently launched the Voice Africa’s Future project, which aims to engage 150,000 young people across Africa by asking them to text what they think the future of their own countries should look like. In Ghana last year, a community of young people formed a netizens community and set up a hashtag on twitter – #GhanaDecides – to try and involve more young people and eligible voters to get involved in the general elections.”

But there are problematic sides to this revolutionary technology for children in developing nations as well. Many of these students haven’t been taught the proper rules regarding personal safety:

Initial research findings reveal that up to a quarter of children in urban areas and one in every five children in rural areas surveyed in Vietnam had shared personal information such as their phone number or name of their school with someone online. In South Africa, more than 70% of users on an online social networking site talked to strangers at least once a week. In Vietnam 49% of urban children had been exposed to indecent content online, while 20% of rural children reported having been bullied, threatened or embarrassed online.

Technology has the potential to be a huge force for good but it is not a silver bullet, a fix-all solution to how to fix the education and employment problems for young people in developing countries,” says Kenny. “Yet one thing is clear – it will undoubtedly play an increasingly important part of millions of young people’s lives across the world.‘”

It’s really cool to see how countries throughout the world are using technology to revolutionize how education is accessed by their citizens. I think it would be really interesting to have students find out how technology is used by students their age around the world.

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Utilizing Technology in My Future Classroom

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how I’d like to utilize and incorporate technology into my own classroom next year. Currently we primarily use i-Pads for Math apps during our Centers time & occasionally students do some research on them during Science. However, I’d love to find more ways for students to use i-Pads and other technology next year. Below is a list of some of my ideas for next year (but I’d love to continue adding to this list):

  1. Quizlet: use for reviewing material and playing review Jeopardy games (pair with Game Show Sound Board for a really fun review day)
  2. Have students create books with BookCreator or i-Books Author
  3. Share class photos using Instagram or Class Dojo so parents can view what we’re learning
  4. Facetime with “experts” on different topics or with other classrooms of students studying the same topic (or in other places in the world).
  5. Teach a lesson using a Prezi or Powtoon (and have students create presentations using these apps)
  6. Have students read and report on the News each morning using a news app or website (i.e. Scholastic News, TIME for Kids, PBS Newshour for kids, etc.)
  7. Have students share and explain their work using the Elmo
  8. Have students complete assignments and Exits on EduCreations (recording their written work and voice explaining how they solved the problem)
  9. Incorporate Science apps into class–Happy Little Farmer (plant cycle), Kid Weather (weather), Alchemy (genetics), Solar Walk (the Solar System)
  10. Use Math apps in Math class–TenMarks, Compass Learning, and ST Math

 

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Here are some great resources for me to use as I determine more ways to incorporate technology into my classroom next year:

-Edutopia article: i-Pad Teaching and Learning

-TeachHUB article: Technology in the Classroom: Amazing iPad Apps for Educators

 

 

 

 

I-Pads or Chromebook?

 

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The school I typically teach in has classroom I-Pads for every student. This week I was at another Elementary School in our network and the classroom I was visiting had Chromebooks for each student instead. The primary difference I noticed between the two devices (in the setting of a math classroom) was that students practiced their math skills on apps on the iPads and on websites on the Chromebook. However, as I read the Atlantic article entitled, “Why Some Schools Are Selling All Their iPads,” I thought more about the nuances and assumptions about learning that come from each piece of technology.

When I complete my schoolwork for grad school, I often use my iPad to read my virtual texts–after all, it’s far easier to quickly scroll through, highlight, and take notes, as opposed to my laptop. However, when it comes to writing papers, I have to use my laptop. Typing on my iPad is a major pain and I avoid it at all costs.

The Atlantic article highlighted some interesting comparisons between the two devices in a school setting, stating:

“While nobody hated the iPad, by any means, the iPad was edged out by some key feedback, said Joel Handler, Hillsborough’s director of technology. Students saw the iPad as a “fun” gaming environment, while the Chromebook was perceived as a place to “get to work.” And as much as students liked to annotate and read on the iPad, the Chromebook’s keyboard was a greater perk — especially since the new Common Core online testing will require a keyboard.

Another important finding came from the technology support department: It was far easier to manage almost 200 Chromebooks than the same number of iPads. Since all the Chromebook files live in an online “cloud,” students could be up and running in seconds on a new device if their machine broke. And apps could be pushed to all of the devices with just a few mouse clicks.

Hillsborough educators also tend to emphasize collaboration, and they found that Google’s Apps for Education suite—which works on either device—was easier to use collaboratively on Chromebooks.

“Our goal was [to find out] not really which device was better, per se, but which device met the learning goals,” Handler said.”

In other words, the capabilities of the Chromebook outweighed those of the iPad for educators in Hillsborough, in addition to feeling like more of a “serious” academic device. This article agrees as well, listing three reasons if you’d like to read more.

If I were teaching any class where students would be required to write papers or essays, I’d definitely go with the Chromebook. I suppose we’ll see if a new device becomes the newest trend in Ed Technology.

 

To Code or Not to Code?

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This cool infographic provides a persuasive list of rationale for upping the amount of time we devote in our schools today to computer programming/coding. In the third grade Math and Science classroom that I teach in, absolutely no time in the school day is spent on learning computer programming, let alone many basic computer skills (even something as simple as typing). I would guess that students would have no idea what I meant by the term “coding” if I were to bring it up to them. It seems a bit strange, as I reflect back to my own elementary school education–way back in the age when internet was just beginning and computers were only in the homes of some of my middle and upper class classmates–that I remember a fairly substantial amount of time devoted in the curriculum to learning not only basic computer skills such as typing, but also creating our own websites using all the HTML commands. So is this something we should be pushing for more of in our schools? If you just type “coding” into a google search, you will be greeted by a plethora of parenting articles and ads for free programming sites that command the answer, “YES.”

However, there are some dissenters. I read a fascinating article in the Washington Post entitled, “All Students Should Learn to Code. Right? Not So Fast.” In this article, Educational Historian, Larry Cuban, argues that this coding trend was something which was attempted in the 1980’s–and because it failed then, it will also fail today. Cuban writes:

“In a related post I pointed out the gradual disappearance of cursive writing from the elementary school curriculum as an instance of reformers abandoning a traditional subject because they see schools as engines of  economic, societal, and political change in the nation. They do not see schools as “museums of virtue” where cursive writing would be taught to every second and third grader. Instead, these reformers advocate  that young children and youth be taught programming languages as tools for computational thinking, a 21st century skill is there ever was one. I used the example of Logo, an innovation introduced into schools in the early 1980’s as an earlier instance of school reformers as “true believers” in teaching coding to children. They wanted to alter traditional teaching and learning. That innovation flashed across the sky like a shooting star and within a decade, had nearly vanished.

Now, the “true believers” are back. Even though the context and rationale for having K-12 students learn to code differs from then and now, the outcomes will be the same.”

It will be interesting to follow this trend and see if the outcome is as Cuban predicts, or whether computer programming will truly become an integral part of today’s math and science curriculum.

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Kids Teaching Themselves: Where Do We See This in Today’s Schools?

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One of my favorite podcasts of all time, “TED Talks,” is a one-hour radio show that focuses on new ideas, inventions, and ways of thinking about the world. Recently I listened to a fascinating episode entitled, “How Much Can Students Teach Themselves?” The first part of the podcast centers on a series of experiments by Educational researcher Dr. Sugata Mitra, entitled “Hole in the Wall.” The theory being tested by Mitra was whether or not students could teach themselves and each other, particularly in impoverished parts of the world that lacked proper schools or teachers.

Mitra’s revolutionary experiment is outlined on his website as follows:

“On 26th January, Dr. Mitra’s team carved a “hole in the wall” that separated the NIIT premises from the adjoining slum in Kalkaji, New Delhi. Through this hole, a freely accessible computer was put up for use. This computer proved to be an instant hit among the slum dwellers, especially the children. With no prior experience, the children learnt to use the computer on their own. This prompted Dr. Mitra to propose the following hypothesis:

The acquisition of basic computing skills by any set of children can be achieved through incidental learning provided the learners are given access to a suitable computing facility, with entertaining and motivating content and some minimal (human) guidance.”

Amazingly, the children not only learned how to use the basic computer, but also taught themselves how to use the World Wide Web, and gained a deep understanding of complex concepts such as DNA replication. It is remarkable what the children were able to do on their own, and this pedagogical method became called, “Minimally Invasive Education.”

According to Dr. Mitra, “If you allow the educational process to self-organize, then learning emerges. It’s not about making learning happen, it’s about letting it happen. The teacher sets the process in motion, and then she stand back in awe and watches learning happen.”

Here is a great visual to sum up the TED Talk:

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When thinking about not only how technology is utilized and taught in our classroom, but also how most learning occurs, I am struck by how much of our focus as teachers is on “making” or even “forcing” learning to happen. The process of learning is modeled by the teacher and then copied, often inauthentically, by the students. In light of Dr. Mitra’s experiment, I am left wondering, where are the crucial moments in the day or the lesson that the students are set free to discover and teach themselves? How can we shift the focus in our classroom, at least at times, to pushing the responsibility and creativity of the learning process onto the students? I believe that denying students that opportunity is denying them of both an essential life skill and the joy of discovering something on one’s own.