MEC – Phoenix, Arizona

Hello everyone!

I’m sitting in the student union at Arizona State University, using the free wireless to check my mail and post this. The annual Microcomputers in Education Conference (MEC) is Arizona’s state educational technology conference held on the ASU campus. It’s 90 degrees outside, but the technology in here is even hotter! Sessions on podcasting, GIS, blogging across the curriculum and Web 2.0 are packed. In fact, there are quite a few conversations here speculating about what 3.0 will bring.

Generation YES was well-represented here. Yesterday we did a session on technology literacy, this morning was a great session done by the students of Paradise Valley HS about their GenYES program, and this afternoon I’ll be doing a session on free and inexpensive software and websites that encourage student-centered technology – focusing on podcasting, blogging, open source options, and Web 2.0 tools. This session I’ll be ably assisted by two students from North Ranch Elementary school, also from Paradise Valley Unified School District.

The connection is a little too slow to post my handouts or slides yet, but I’ll upload those soon.


Back from CUE

The California Computer Using Educators (CUE) conference was this past weekend. There were over 3,000 educators there enjoying a little bit of sun in Palm Springs and a whole lot of technology. There were many, many podcast sessions, and the Google Education Tools seemed to be a big attraction for many teachers.

It was great to meet many of you California GenYES and TechYES teachers at the conference. The Generation TECH students from Borrego Springs High School were featured in the Student Showcase, showing how they help their district by doing tech support in their school. And a big special thank you to Krista Purdom from Woodland, CA, who helped out in our booth. Krista is a double-threat, she has taught TechYES and GenYES, so when teachers stopped by the booth to ask how students can help teach tech literacy, or how students can help teachers use technology in the classroom, she had all the answers!

Krista became a big fan of Hall Davidson of Discovery Learning while at CUE, and found his sessions about Google maps, multimedia, video, and mashups informative and inspiring. Hall’s session handouts and slides are posted online are really great tools!

Next year at CUE, it would be great to have more California Generation YES teachers submitting sessions about what’s happening at your school. I’ll send out reminders in a couple of months by email about how to submit a session for CUE. It’s easy, really!


Games and learning

Lots has been written lately about video and computer games and learning. It’s obvious that these games engage many students in a way that school doesn’t, so naturally people wonder if the two could be combined in some way. Some teachers actually use games in their classrooms. The question is, do games actually teach, and what do they teach?

I think the best thing games teach is problem-solving strategies. In a project-based classroom, games can be a great vehicle to help students “puzzle” out strategies that they can use in many subject areas. Let’s look at an example.

PLANned is a casual game that is completely web-based. It starts out simple and gets harder quickly. It takes planning and strategy to win each stage. As you play, you will soon figure out that there is a strategy to winning.

By introducing this game to students, and asking them to deconstruct the rules and winning strategies, you have a quick classroom activity that will challenge them to reflect on their own thinking and problem-solving skills. If you make this a group activity, it becomes even more powerful, requiring them to collaborate and articulate their thoughts.

This is a cross-curricular activity requiring mathematical skills (pattern recognition, planning, and analysis) and language arts skills (written and verbal).

Part 1: Rules

Show the students the game and allow them to play individually or in groups. Ask the groups to play the game, and then agree on the rules of the game. The entire class can then compare each group’s rules and see if they are all the same. (The rules can be seen on the splash screen of the game, but ask the students not to just copy them. Most students won’t read them anyway!)

Asking students to deconstruct the rules makes them think about their own actions. Putting these thoughts into words is a more difficult task than it seems. By comparing the group results, students can see how the same simple tasks can be described in a number of different ways. This activity should also result in a good discussion of using precise language, written communication styles, and the skill of technical writing.

Part 2: Problem-solving strategies

After students have discussed the rules, return to the groups and ask them to write down how these puzzles can be solved. You may want to have a discussion of the difference between strategies and rules. This is not as obvious as it seems! The nice thing about this game is it provides immediate feedback on whether your strategy is working or not. Groups can then come together and discuss their strategies as a class.

A final note – like many real-world problems, there is no “right answer” to these questions. Students may even decide that the rules that appear on the initial splash screen are not complete or exact enough. That’s fine. Let them write new ones. The goal is for the students to learn how their own thought process works, and be able to put that into words.

For older students, you may want to point out that pattern recognition is a field of math and computer science that is still developing. The human brain can recognize some patterns much faster than a computer can! You may have some students who want to program a game like this themselves. More on that in a future blog…


Including Students in Your Technology Plan

Does your district or site technology plan contain a vision statement like:

Our goal is to include all stakeholders in technology planning and implementation including administrators, faculty, staff, parents, business leaders, and community members.

Notice anything missing? The one stakeholder group that is not only the largest in size, but the one that is most affected by these decisions?


They are just too easy to leave out. It takes time and energy to engage them and include them. But ignoring your largest stakeholder group undermines all other efforts to gain consensus and build a collaborative community that can focus on shared goals and work to make your vision a reality.

School shouldn’t be something we “do” to students, it should be an exercise in community, citizenship, and practical action to achieve a shared vision.

How does this happen? Where do you start? How do you convince others to add their voices to yours? We have a new resource to help.

From Vision to Action: Adding Student Leadership to Your Technology Plan is an 8 page document that can help a district technology or site planning committee add students to the process. It offers research, models of student involvement, planning worksheets, and practical suggestions to get started. Download this PDF for free, share it, and let us know how you use it!


TCEA – Austin, Texas

Got back late Friday night from TCEA, the annual state conference of the Texas Computer Education Association. The conference was exciting and tiring as usual, but it was great to see so many friends and Generation YES teachers who stopped by to say hello.

A highlight for me was a session called, My First Year with Generation YES given by Lisa Rogers at Forney Middle School. It was a very early morning session, but quite a few hardy souls got up early to hear her tell about her journey with her GenYES students as they learned to help teachers with technology.

Lisa showed examples of student projects using web development tools, interactive PowerPoint quizzes, and video. One of the GenYES projects linked unitedstreaming videos to the career and technology textbook so that the teacher could easily get the videos as they taught each lesson.

It’s a great example of student-powered, student-centered technology. Not only did this teacher get a reusable resource that enhances student learning, the school got more benefit from a technology resource that they had already bought and paid for.

Thanks to Lisa and her GenYES students, Forney is really reaping the benefit of the technology investments they’ve made.

Later that day, I led a session called Students Providing Tech Support – The 21st Century A/V Club. It was a chance to have a terrific conversation with educators who are either thinking about having students help with tech support or already have something going. This is a fun session, because it is interesting to get people together who think that they are the only ones out there doing this! The dirty little secret is, lots of schools have students helping out informally.

Of course, I talked about our tools and curriculum to support student tech support teams, Generation TECH. But there are lots of things we discussed that are free that schools can do to create opportunities for students to help maintain the quality of technology.

You can read Wesley Fryer’s notes taken during the presentation at his blog, Moving at the Speed of Creativity. Wesley’s summary is kind of funny, a stream of consciousness ramble. I don’t know if he was taking notes by hand or not, but he’s FAST and got most of the big picture. Thanks, Wes!

It was great to meet Wesley in person and have a chance to talk about blogs and education. He gave me some very good advice about this blog as well! I hope to be able to implement some of the ideas in the near future.