Ninety percent of the discussions I come across on technology literacy, is about visual literacy, the use of Apps, and invariably ‘tool literacy.’
Yeah, yeah, there are wikis, and Skype, Prezi and Audacity, blogs and Pinterest around which one could easily design a curriculum . But I am interested in broader, deeper technologies that sometimes give young minds a break from the mouse and screen.
But when you think about it, technology in education could involve a lot more devices that tend to get overshadowed. Such as:
- How could you turn a year’s work in biographies into a mini-book – on a lowly photo-copier?
- How could you build your own telescope –and why are ‘scopes’ so important in science?
- How could you use a digital camera to take retro black-and-white pictures?
- Build your own Wi-fi antenna out of a tin-can
Why would we teach students about such things? I could give you a long answer about how problem solving outside work-sheets has a direct bearing on math and scientific thinking. But my favorite short answer is that we sorely need a future cadre of engineers, designers, risk-takers, infrastructure builders and innovators.
Don’t take my word for it. Read James Gentile’s observation using two experiences: discussions with leaders at the Office of Science and Technology at the White House, and another at a science fair in a school in Tucson Arizona.
It’s been a great year to be in science and technology.
My school, Salt River Elementary, was reently selected as one of the seven schools to receive the Helios STEM School Pilot program. According to the SFAz press release:
Seven sites will receive a total of $1.85 million in financial and technical support to implement STEM programs and activities during the next three years.
Helios (an education foundation), and the Arizona STEM Network (led by the Science Foundation of Arizona) will assist our school with Common Core State Standards, and Next Generation Science Standards.
The focus is largely on Science, Tech, Engineering and Math – or S-T-E-M.
I’ve been pouring over the Next Gen Science Standards, (NGSS) and find two points in sync with what I try to do in my class:
‘Cross-cutting Concepts.’ We need to focus on how different strands of knowledge intersect, despite the fact that students see classes (and therefore subjects taught in each class) as siloed.
The ‘Systemic’ Approach. Connected to the multi-disciplinary approach, NGSS makes a god point on bringing out the “‘artificial boundary” between what’s being studied. In other words, looking at how whole systems interact.
If you cannot visit the planetarium, I’m going to try to bring the planetarium to you, I promised my students in the middle of the school year. With the help of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, that dream came true with the visit of StarLab to Salt River Elementary School last week.
This is how the ‘lab’ arrived.
There were so many sides to Avnet Tech Games last Saturday.
My students were invited to a ‘competition’ that was more of a demo. The challenge was quite good. Unlike the FLL tournament challenge, with a complicated field mat –where they had to run many missions– this one involved two tasks, built around Line Following. If you know anything about sensors added to a Lego NXT brick, you’ll know how fussy these things are when a color sensor has to ‘read’ a line on a surface that has a few wrinkles.
But therein lies the challenge, not just in robotics, but in the real world for which we try to prepare our students. You can’t create perfect conditions, you can’t always give them ‘Buckle Down’ type practice runs. Life throws you a wrinkle, and you better be prepared for these imperfect conditions!
That’s one reason why I loved these Games. I can’t remember how many times I repeated the work ‘trouble-shoot.’ And trouble-shoot they did – 4th and 4th graders.
The other reason: This event was broader than Robotics. Much older kids, budding Junior High and College-level engineers-in-the-making were working on more complex bots, with dozens more moving parts.
Outside I bumped into another slide of the Games – the solar challenge. Sponsored by Kyosera Solar, the college-level students were given a basic kit and asked to build a solar-powered water pump, right there. The specs were neat: the pump had to move a certain volume of water, shut off, and trigger a light. One team I spoke to used a Styrofoam ball, that floated to the desired level. But it was wrapped in foil, so as to trigger the shut off switch. Crude, fussy, but a simple, low-cost idea that could be implemented almost anywhere. Anywhere there was sun of course.
And what if there wasn’t enough sun, I asked. (An unheard of problem for us in Arizona!) The exec from Kyocera whose company sponsored the challenge smiled and said some of teams would resort to creating a reflector out of the low-tech tinfoil.
Life throws you a wrinkle! Whether you are in robotics or solar, it’s our job as teachers to teach them to trouble-shoot.
Yesterday, at Salt River Elementary School, our students got to experience astronomy in a whole new way. We had StarLab here for two days.
It’s impossible for any kid to sit out this lab!
This 2-day experience was made possible through ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. (Don’t I sound like a line from NPR!) Translated: We have some really smart, passionate post-doc students working with StarLab to conduct 8 sessions each day.
Two things StarLab struck me about bringing an inflatable planetarium to a school.
- This is what the whole ‘pop-up’ phenomenon has taken after. If you’ve not heard, there’s a new fascination with ‘pop-up agencies’ and pop-up marketing booths at events such as South By Southwest.
- The notion that planet Earth is so tiny when compared to the universe, and how much in science is left to be discovered.
For students the latter could be a powerful catalyst, incentivizing them (even wide-eyed first graders) to consider a career in the sciences.
As for the former, just the fact that you could view galaxies and constellations in a portable space like this, smashes that stereotype that science is boring, and/or hard.
I just heard last evening that my robotics team was invited to participate in the Avnet Tech Games next week.
This is wonderful timing, since my students -mostly 4th and 5th graders– have been in game mode for the past few weeks. I broke them up three teams and gave them mini challenges to build three complex bots:
- Voice-controlled robot
- Mini rover
- Spider bot
They figured out how to modify the unit (using the Mindstorms program) to make the robot do their bidding!
Avnet Tech Games will expose them to real world technology, not just robots. Previous years have had challenges such as cell phone app design, solar devices etc.
I’m not sure about your class, but I’m not the least bit bothered by a slow Internet connection.
I refuse to upgrade to the highest gigabit speed at home, even though I am involved in all kinds of social media initiatives. We here in the U.S. have been lured by speed as if we don’t have enough time for anything. It’s one huge fallacy that we pass onto our kids. We have time to bust 90 minutes on a so-so TV show, but don’t have 10 minutes to read a magazine? We have 15 minutes to spend at a coffee shop, but don’t have 45 seconds to download a PDF?
Give me a break!
Last week our computers went down. Students were logged on, and had to wait patiently till they came back. So what? We used this down time to talk about what exactly a server is, and why technology is not fail proof. This class is not just about the latest tips and tricks for using Publisher or how to master Lego Mindstorms.
This is about the human-machine interface they had better learn about; this is about engaging the brain before engaging a mouse; the Web 3.0 world in which machines will be talking to machines as a default system. Humans will need to have the patience –and time– to work through the glitches, which will be a norm. These young people we unleash into society will need to find the space to be creative and to collaborate, with or without a broadband connection. Indeed, many of these interactions will be in real-time. But alongside this real-time, they need to learn to handle situations that won’t always provide instant gratification.
We better teach them that now –as in second and third grade!
Ain’t it odd that we see stories such as School Districts Seek Faster Internet Connections, as if the Internet speed is a prerequisite for everything? It’s a problem only if we let people make us believe the speed-limit lie. Here’s one of those non-issues that are made to sound profound – in that Education Week article.
“Creating a network and buying broadband is a lot more complicated than buying pencils.”
— EducationSuperHighway spokesperson
Teachers are often enticed with the latest shiny new object as if it would change learning overnight. I like to see stories about school districts seeking broader, deeper library research material. Or a statement like this:
“Creating information literacy is a lot simpler than dropping tablets into a classroom.”
Over spring break I had my class reconfigured.
It’s been eight months since I took up the position of teaching computers and technology at Salt River Elementary School.
The first thing that struck me was how inadequate the classroom experience was, (left) with computers facing each other and sometimes, the teacher.
We know from research what engaged learning involves.
The new configuration, as you can see here (right) is, or course, conference-style.
I write about and speak out about engagement and conversations, so this is more than an experiment. This is how young people live – in constant communication and engagement. We are used to habit of keeping students quiet –to zip it up and listen. This doesn’t work for me, and what I teach.
I also teach robotics, as I have mentioned before. The whole thrust in robotics is teamwork and collaboration. Therefore the large robotics table, dead center in my classroom, is on purpose. When not used as a robotics table, it is the demo area for science, technology and engineering – for conversations!