Technology in Education Predictions. Up in the Clouds?

Patrick Ledesma writes an excellent blog, and this week’s post on “Technology for Online Standardized Testing vs. Technology for Teaching, Learning, and Creative Inquiry” is an excellent read. He was commenting on the Horizon Report.

He makes some big predictions, which you may or may not agree with, but they give us pause for thought. For example he sees the following happening in one year:

Cloud Computing, Collaborative EnvironmentsMobiles and Apps, and Tablet Computing

  • Regarding Cloud computing, he’s dead-on. I know of one school that lets students use software-as-services so well, that they will soon begin to not see the difference between client-based and web-based services. (BTW, I’ve got an aversion to the word ‘cloud’)
  • Mobiles and Apps: We are still a few years away because of privacy and bandwidth issues around BYOD.
  • Augmented Reality, which he places in the 4-5 year timeframe may come sooner. I was at an ISTE conference last year and saw some amazing breakthroughs that have begun to filter down.

Having said that, I have to agree with some aspects of what one of his readers, ‘Terry2449‘ made. The comments were not as Luddite as it may seem at first glance. Terry talks about the humanistic side of educating the rounded child. He puts it this way

“I am not sure I am ready to sever the relationship that we as humans have in order for students to operate a piece of unfeeling/unknowing technology. While I understand that technology is the wave of the future, books on tablets, programs built for students to access from anywhere their technology is I wonder about the socio-economic split that will deepen with the have’s and have nots.”

We (and I am part of this royal plural being a computer teacher) tend to get fixated on the devices and apps, and forget the broader, deeper goals. I have seen students who have mastered apps, or fly through Khan Academy, and not be able to problem-solve simple issues.  I have seen how screen-time (awarded by parents who give their child a tablet to play with in the car on the way to school) affects cognition and attention.

We are desperately in need of a balance, and I could see a time when we will have to build in offline moments into our children’s school day, just to get them to reflect and apply them to real life experiences that, as you point out, is described as a challenge in the Horizon Report.

Finally a thought on the other challenge it highlights: Media Literacy.  And I don’t media Tool literacy. Schools don’t spend enough time on this. If at all they do a ‘Wikipedia is bad’ type session because it’s just plain easy to do. At a time when pre-teens are overwhelming spaces such as Instagram, or using every kind of chat App, there is  plenty of media-related life lessons worth incorporating into any subject that is touched by tech.

I just began experimenting with a unit on ‘Is it True, or is it Photoshop?’ connected to the Civil War. Before we weigh in on cheating and BYOD, there are lessons we ought to preface it with, such as media ethics, copyright, bias etc. Why wait till middle school to do this, when elementary school students are being influenced and impacted by it?

You could download and read the entire Horizon Report here.



NASA’s one-year space experiment opens rich possibilities for teachers

This morning was the launch of the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft, carrying 3 astronauts. There are two Russian cosmonauts, Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka, and US astronaut Scott Kelly.

They will spend one year on the International Space Station! This will be the longest stay in space. NASA 'Star Wars' Expedition 45 Poster

To mark this momentous step – a step toward a human mission to Mars –NASA released this poster.

Scott Kelly’s twin brother, Mark will be part of a long-term study by NASA. Mark is a veteran astronaut, and the husband of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.

Given NASA’s sense of humor, I could see a lot of possibilities down the line, making science seem a lot more fun, and accessible. I am already planning a Photoshop class around this. Stay tuned!

There are plenty of Ed-Tech & STEM lessons we could build around this experiment. Such as:

Data collection. A class could monitor and collect data generated by NASA on this experiment, and generate hypotheses, charts, reports. They have already begun posting some ideas here.


Math/International Space Station report. The ‘habitable volume’ on the ISS is 13,696 cubic feet. How does that translate into cubic meters? Or in dimensions, what is its approximate size in terms of square feet?


Digital Storytelling/Video Editing. NASA has released B-roll of the ISS. I would love to get students to create a story using this footage, and some video they shoot. Perhaps do a fictional story of what they might do when (not “if”) they work for NASA!

ISS Orbit path


Plotting the orbit of ISS. I subscribe to ‘station tracker’ that send me a text message as to when the ISS passes over my city in Arizona. They could do so here, and get updates via email. Using this kind of data, students could learn not just about space, but also about compass directions, and use protractors and related math skills.

Digital Citizenship. Why Should You Care?

Last week, I began introducing the topic of Digital Citizenship.

It’s easy to see what it means to be a Digital Citizen, by looking at what happens when people have got caught not doing the right thing. Or why Google Glass, though useful to some, is upsetting. No shortage of these examples!

Plagiarism, bullying, and password theft are the big three in schools. But as more and more of students get into online sharing and commenting, we must think of Digital Citizenship in terms of how they perceive Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp., Twitter and SnapChat –and a slew of others coming right after these.

Alongside this unit, I am introducing something that gets 4th, 5th and 6th graders all fired up: Learning how to blog. This is a fun class, and not only because I’m a writer. Teaching students to publish content is a great way to recognize how language arts (the mechanics, even), connects with the digital skills they need to have. It gets them to consider what it means to have an audience!

It’s also fun because you don’t have to sweat bullets to make these units cross-functional, and multi-disciplinary –to be in keeping with the Arizona College & Career Ready Standards.

Here’s something that could be sent homeA Digital Citizenship ‘Family Contract’ for children to sign.

Coding in schools gathers steam, thanks to Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook et al

I began introducing coding to my 5th grade classes this year, and the interest level is truly inspiring. I was planning to up the ante in the next school year. Looks like my timing couldn’t have be better.

Many stories have begun to appear about how Coding is being pulled into the curriculum.

The latter piece (by Matt Richtel, 10, May 2014) weighs in on the pros and cons, especially wondering if there’s something iffy about having big-name backers such as Microsoft and Facebook. The insinuation is that they may have vested interests in this, and not be interested in the bigger picture of inspiring the science in computer science.

That’s being a bit too snarky. After all, the ‘career ready’ jobs that educators talk up so much are in such spaces that the present and future Gates’ and Zuckerbergs will create and nurture. I want these kids to glide into those plum jobs, ten years from now. That the runway is being paved with corporate dollars –and their sweat– is not necessary a bad thing, is it?

Also, teaching students to code is not trying to turn them into over-paid kids working out of a coffee shop. Making computer science a mainstream discipline, not a nice-to-have, is a place to start.

If you really want to know the grand plan of computer science, here is an illuminating document on Computer Science Standards for K-12 by the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA). Some of the points they stress:

  • CS’s role in “logical reasoning, algorithms thinking, and structural problem-solving.”
  • The value of being closely aligned with business people, scientists, artists etc.
  • Teaching students to work ‘cooperatively’ and ‘collaboratively’
  • Teaching ‘Computational thinking’ –from data representation to problem solving

Sounds a lot like Common Core to me. This is what educators in CS have thought through, calling for us to embed these skills as early as Kindergarten. This is not something that grew out of Silicon Valley.

It’s time we put it into practice. The kids are hungry for this!

From Magnets to Circuits – Making it Interactive

During this semester I try to cover a lot more STEM areas with my classes, and have begun engaging students a lot more with activities they could then build on – in documents, presentations, blogs etc.

It doesn’t take much more than a small coil of copper wire, a motor, flashlight bulb, and rudimentary switches to explain how magnetism and circuits work.

After a few hands-on make it/break it sessions, I let my third graders use this web site, Cleo, to try their hand indesigning their own circuit. Cleo is a British web site that promotes the use of rich media and broadband.

Like a white board with wires and batteries –a better description would be an interactive sandbox– it lets a student not just build a circuit, but run it to see if the device works. If it fails, great! Erase. Reconnect. Run.

I let them print out a working circuit and take it home for further discussion.

Cross-posting this from my school blog.

It Takes a Village meets “It takes a Generation”

Buried in an article appearing in the New York Times this week (by columnist David Brooks) is a reference to ‘Wrap-around Education.’

Brooks comes up with a novel opinion –that we have probably placed too many eggs in the early childhood education basket. I’ll leave that debate to the rest of the education heavyweights, as I don’t quite agree. That might be a biased opinion because my wife runs a Montessori, and I’ve read plenty of studies that point me in that direction.

But let’s unpack what Wrap-around Education is all about. The idea stems from Robert Putnam of Harvard, who has been called the most influential academic for a reason. His book, Bowling Alone, was all about the need to seriously invest in social capital.

Using mixed-media and Rube Goldberg in a STEM class

This year I began trying a series of mixed-media in my class, with Common Core in mind.

For instance, last week I began using Rube Goldberg as a point of interest through which to teach 4th, 5th and 6th graders both science and document creation. It’s impossible for young people to not be enthused by the simplicity and complexity of Rube Goldberg contraptions –a useful point to make, considering his belief that we humans tend to make simple tasks more complicated than they need to be.

What resonates with students seems to be the basic elements of one of these machines – ordinary objects lying around a home. I’ve even found it useful to get third graders to talk excitedly about forces and gravity, after demonstrating a crude ‘machine’ in my class. “Crude,” as in what appears to be a hastily put together contraption of a ball, some string, paperclips, and a ruler. Here’s what I did last week:

I tied a length of string to the door handle, and wrapped it around a computer terminal, then stretched it about 15 feet to a stool, tying that end to a ‘lever’ (made of Lego pieces).

When the lever is moved, it drops a ball onto a ruler balanced on a cardboard box. The ruler, when tipped (by the weight of the ball) sends another ball shooting into the air.

We tested it out; it was hit or miss. But when it worked, I picked a student to catch the flying ball.

What was fun, and unexpected, was when the teacher came to pick up the students, the contraption went to work, and the ball flew into the air. I don’t know what the teacher thought was going on in a ‘computer class’ but I think they have all come to expect that this is not just about hardware and software, but science and technology.

Rube Goldberg’s ‘machine’ also helps me draw out the larger lessons of STEM:

  • Problem solving and experimentation go hand in hand
  • It’s OK to fail -and learn something from your mistakes
  • The ‘laws’ of science don’t need to be memorized to be applied
  • Scientists are cool people. They don’t only work in murky labs with hazardous chemicals
  • Big Ideas haven’t all been taken. The world is always anxious for the better mousetrap!

Here’s another contraption I’ve begun using to teach…. animation in Powerpoint.



And what’s the connection between PPT and a Rube Goldberg contraption?

I get students to create one of their slides using shapes, and create a ‘machine’ using shapes –you know, cones, cylinders, slides, etc. and get a ball to ‘move’ through a sequence, almost mimicking the device they help me build and test.

It’s turning out to be a fun way to combine computer skills, science, and hands-on activity, and get them thinking deeper about the connection between a computer lab and science and technology.