Back to School with Making in the Classroom – Should I start now or wait?

You may have heard that it’s best to “ease” into hands-on project-based learning at the start of the school year. Maybe you feel your students aren’t ready, need some skills development, or just need to have a few weeks of settling down before getting started with more independent work.

Good teachers know that students learn a lot more when they get their hands on real materials, and get to do their own projects and experiments. But sometimes we get frustrated thinking about the students who won’t cooperate, don’t clean up, waste materials, or misbehave during our hands-on learning time. In my work as a science teacher and coach, I’ve seen teachers who decide to delay lab activities until behavior is rock-solid. Instead of starting off with a bang, they tiptoe toward inquiry learning.

from Teacher Magazine: Teaching Secrets: How to Maximize Hands-On Learning.

The author, Anthony Cody is an award-winning science teacher, and this article has some great ideas, tips and practical suggestions for all grades and subject areas. He goes on:

My experience is in science, but many teachers of social studies, English, math, and other subjects also have great success with hands-on, minds-on activities. I’d bet some of my colleagues in these other content areas also feel the urge to keep kids in lockdown mode until full teacher authority has been established.

I think this is a big mistake.

Here are his reasons:

  • You need to lead with your best foot.
  • When you introduce cool activities the first few weeks, you are setting the stage for an exciting year.

Be sure to read his full explanation and tips for getting the school year started off right with hands-on. Teaching Secrets: How to Maximize Hands-On Learning.

I’m also sure that many teachers feel that they have students who aren’t “ready” for a more independent approach to learning. However, how will they get ready if they don’t practice it? Many teachers tell me that students have to be “unschooled” out of practices like constantly expecting to be told what to do. So why not start to build those habits and expectations on day one?

That doesn’t mean that you have to start with a monumental project. Start with something small. Give the students time to explore, invent, and tinker sooner rather than wait. If it’s chaos, you can add some constraints, but don’t give up! Give them time to learn the tools you want them to get good at with smaller, more contained projects that will build their confidence and skills.

Empowering students to believe in themselves as capable of making things that matter, both in the physical and digital world, is a crucial part of learning.

So whatever you call it, making, project-based learning, hands-on, or inquiry learning – the time to start is always NOW!

Speak Up 2012 report: “From Chalkboards to Tablets: The Emergence of the K-12 Digital Learner”

“The results being released today show that we are indeed in a new world. And we as adults need to learn from kids in this instance. We need to learn from students about how they learn, where they learn, and how they seek information. I believe we must harness this information to give all students a 21st century skill set to prepare them for high-growth, high-demand jobs in the global economy.”U.S. Rep. George Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

Project Tomorrow has released the Speak Up 2012 report: “From Chalkboards to Tablets: The Emergence of the K-12 Digital Learner

This report is the second in a two part series to document the key national findings from Speak Up 2012. In 2003, The Speak Up National Research Project was born to give K-12 students a voice in critical conversations, and to hopefully provide their parents, teachers and administrators with new insights about the expectations and aspirations of these newly minted digital learners. Now in its tenth year, the annual Speak Up National Research Project and the resulting trends analysis provides a birds’ eye view of the changing environment for digital learning, both in and out of school.

Why is this important?

If you are working in a school, district, or organization planning your educational technology vision, you need to know the latest data on technology usage from the real users of technology. Don’t be satisfied with what you think you know about technology – find out! In fact, poll your own students on these same questions. If you are one of the smart schools that participated in the Speak Up data survey, lucky you! You are getting your own customized set of data for your own use. If aren’t participating – make plans for next year now!

Key Findings from this year’s report

  • With smartphone usage dramatically on the rise – 65 percent of students in grades 6-8 and 80 percent of students in grades 9-12 are smartphone users – a main concern among today’s digital learners is how to leverage the unique features of different devices, from laptops to smartphones to tablets or digital readers, and use them for certain academic tasks.
  • While only 21% of teachers in middle and high schools are assigning Internet homework on a weekly basis, 69% of high school seniors, 61% of high school freshman and 47% of 6th graders are online at least weekly to find resources to support their homework.
  • In just one year, the number of middle school students with a personally acquired, digital reader more than doubled from 17 percent in 2011 to 39 percent in 2012.
  • In fall 2011, 26 percent of students in grades 6-8 said that they had a personal tablet computer. In one year’s time, the percentage of middle school students with tablets jumped to 52 percent, a doubling over the 2011 percentage.
  • Despite this increase of mobile devices in the hands of students, schools are still reluctant to allow them. Among high school students with smartphones, only half say they can use their device at school and only nine percent of students say they can use their personal tablets at school. With 73 percentage of high school seniors saying they have a laptop, only 18 percent of the Class of 2013 say they are allowed to use their personal laptop at school.

Download both reports!

Sylvia

ISTE 2013 Roundup – Student Leadership, Hard Fun, and More!

IMG_1551
ISTE 2012 – GenYES students discuss education with the Malaysian Minister of Education

We are looking forward to another fantastic ISTE – the grandmother of all education technology conferences. This year ISTE will be in San Antonio, Texas June 23-26th, 2013. Generation YES will be there in force (meaning kids!) GenYES students from local San Antonio schools will be showcasing their teacher support projects in our booth on the exhibit floor, so please put booth 12226 in your schedule as a MUST VISIT!

A Big Announcement… Coming Soon We will be demoing our latest improvements to the GenYES suite of online tools and student leadership curriculum – more on that shortly.

Two MUST DO events to add to your schedule

Invent to Learn @ISTE 2013

Join me (Sylvia Martinez) and Gary Stager for an energizing day of “hard fun” as we invent, tinker, and learn how to incorporate hands-on project-based learning in the classroom. Participants will engage in a variety of projects using modern tools and technology – the perfect way to get ready for ISTE.  Sunday, June 23rd from 9AM-3PM.

Breakfast, lunch, and drinks are all part of the day at a great location right on the Riverwalk with easy, walkable access from all the ISTE hotels.

Also included is your very own copy of our new book – Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Click here for details and registration information for Invent To Learn @ ISTE 2013.

Spotlight Session

Tinkering + Technology = Authentic Learning. Combine tinkering and technology and you have a time-honored tradition that allows imagination and creativity to lead the way to real-world problem-solving and learning. Sylvia Martinez

  • Tuesday, 6/25/2013, 2:00pm–3:00pm, SACC 001A
  • Digital-Age Teaching & Learning : Problem Solving & Critical Thinking

Sylvia

 

2012 Most Popular Posts

It’s that time of year again! Here are the most popular posts (according to WordPress, anyway) from the blog.

  1. Khan Academy and the mythical math cure
  2. Games that encourage student teamwork and collaboration
  3. Happy Birthday Logo!
  4. 8 Big Ideas of the Constructionist Learning Lab
  5. Engagement, responsibility and trust
  6. Halo 3 shines harsh light on games in education
  7. Khan Academy – algorithms and autonomy
  8. Back to school – games for collaboration and teamwork
  9. Compare and contrast: using computers to improve math education
  10. Treasure trove for constructivist classroom projects

These are a mixed lot – for example, #3, “Happy Birthday Logo!” is about the 40th anniversary of the Logo programming language. As much as I’d like to believe that there is a massive resurgence of interest in children programming in Logo, it’s MUCH more likely that people are searching for birthday clip-art and stumble on this post. It’s also the case that for #6, “Halo 3 shines harsh light on games in education” the mere mention of the immensely popular game “Halo” drives a lot of traffic. There are some interesting statistics in that post comparing the sales figures of Halo to the expectations for educational software, but I’m assuming that’s not the primary draw.

However, the traffic for #2, 4, 8, and 10, are all pretty on target. I believe that these articles do reflect interest in constructivism and a yearning for information about how to make classroom activities more authentic. I can see that the time spent on these articles by the “average” visitor is much higher. Someday I’ll get around to calculating a different popularity metric for my posts, something like page views  multiplied by viewing time so that the really popular posts reflect viewer interest, rather than just Google searches gone astray.

And of course, two of my Khan Academy posts made the top ten. The debate about Khan Academy is still going on strong, and has made it into the mainstream of American mass media. Although it’s nice when an educational topic does make it into the mainstream, it’s not so good when it reinforces the blandest and least interesting  teaching myths. Oh well, I suppose we could all be reading more about the Kardashians!

Sylvia

Back to School 2012 – Start your “year of empowerment” now!

Start the year off with hands on
Think you need to wait for kids to settle down and learn the basics before you let them do projects and hands-on work? Not according to this expert teacher.

What tech vision will you share?
What message does your Acceptable Use Policy send when it goes home with students for them and their parents to sign? This year, change overly complex, negative language to language that celebrates the potential of technology – and students.

Games for collaboration and teamwork
Want to create a more collaborative, constructivist classroom? Instead of traditional icebreakers, try these games that encourage collaboration and teamwork.

What do students want from teachers?
Listen to what students say they really want from teachers. And no, it’s not “more recess.”

Student technology leadership teams for laptop schools
Are you getting more devices this year? Laptops, iPads, iTouches, netbooks or going 1:1? Do you have enough tech support? Enough support for teachers using new technology? Enough support for students? No? Well then learn how students can be a great resource in laptop schools to ease the burden on overworked teachers and IT staff – and mentor other students. Genius bar, anyone?

Ten commandments of tech support
Ten ideas for making technology support more learner-centered and less network-centered.

8 Big Ideas of the Constructionist Learning Lab
Last but by far not least, if you are looking for some inspiration to post on your wall, here are 8 Big Ideas of the Constructionist Learning Lab. These eight ideas give actionable advice to create opportunities for deep learning for all. (Also in Spanish)

Happy back to school!

Sylvia

Beyond Pink and Blue

In “Beyond Pink and Blue” on the blog site for The Nation magazine, author Dana Goldstein writes about children and gender norms. She quoted me for a part of the article about tinkering, and how that kind of hands on learning helps students grasp scientific concepts.

Sylvia Martinez, an expert on educational technology, has written about how all children need to reinforce math and science concepts through “tinkering”—interacting with the physical world, as opposed to just learning at their classroom desks. (For example: collecting water samples to test pH levels, or reinforcing math concepts by learning basic computer coding.) It doesn’t work, Martinez says, “to explain everything to kids without them having any basis in experience. I’m trying to expand the idea of ‘tinkering.’ It’s not just going down to the basement and playing with stuff. You can play with data, ideas, equations, programming.”

Parents can foster this type of experimentation at home, but schools should also do their part. The problem is that in an age of increased focus on standardized test scores in reading and math, many schools are canceling computing and science courses or cutting down lab time.

“We’ve created math and science in school as very abstract,” Martinez says. “We’ve taken away a lot of hands-on experiences from kids in favor of testing. We’ve reduced a lot of science to vocabulary, where kids are being given vocabulary tests about the ocean instead of going to the ocean or looking through a microscope at organisms. If we taught baseball the way we taught science, kids would never play until they graduated.”

I’m really glad she got the idea in there that tinkering goes beyond “stuff” and extends into playing with concepts too. I also am glad that the conversation is about “what’s good for kids”, not just “what’s good for girls.”

I’ll be exploring that topic a bit more in the coming months, it’s been on my mind a lot lately!

Sylvia


 

Survey reveals disconnect in online safety education

Survey reveals disconnect in online safety education (eSchool News)

  • 81% of school administrators, including principals and superintendents, said they believe their districts are adequately preparing students in online safety, security, and ethics
  • 51% of teachers agree
  • 33% of teachers said they believe their school or district requires a cyber safety curriculum be taught in the classroom setting
  • 68% administrators said they believe the same thing

Ooops…

I think what this shows is that the devil is in the details. Blanket policies about teaching online safety, security, and ethics get lost by the time these policies get to the classroom level. Now stir in the fact that 36% of teachers in this survey say they have received zero hours of district-provided training in cyber security, cyber safety, and cyber ethics with an additional 40% receiving between one and three hours of training in their school districts. Add a dollop of confusion about laws, policies, and the ethics of situations that didn’t even exist a year or two ago. Sift in parents who believe all sorts of different things about what school should allow kids to do online, and bake in an oven of stress about standardized testing in core subjects with no time for “extras” like citizenship, digital or others.

In fact, last year, Julie Evans of Project Speak Up said that students reported to her that teachers who get training in Internet safety restrict Internet access even more out of fear and confusion.

This is a recipe for confusion and confusion leads to paralysis.

I think the answer is evolving towards shared decision-making at all levels (including students), accepting that this is a rapidly changing situation and can’t be “finished”, and moving towards including these lessons into larger programs that address ethics, safety, civics, and community norms of behavior. The more we ghettoize “cyber” safety and ethics, the more likely it is to be misunderstood and dropped for lack of time.

Sylvia

Free access – Educational Leadership: Working with Tech-Savvy Kids

Working with Tech-Savvy Kids article in Educational Leadership

ASCD’s magazine Educational Leadership has opened up our article Working with Tech-Savvy Kids for free online access. We really appreciate this!

Today’s students are increasingly savvy about the role technology plays in modern life. Yet schools are not keeping up. Students can be valuable resources in the areas of training and support. Five models have emerged that balance the benefits of service learning and leadership with the needs of schools struggling to integrate technology: students as committee members, students as trainers, students as technical support agents, students as resource developers and communicators, and students as peer mentors and leaders.

The article gives five models of student leadership that can support 21st century learning in schools, with case studies from real schools who use students as leaders, teachers, mentors, and advocates. There is lots more in the article, but here’s a quick “Getting Started” list for student leadership teams focused on technology.

Getting Started

Creating a plan that includes students in school technology decision making and implementation is just the first step. Keep the following in mind:

  • Provide student access to training, hardware, and software as needed.
  • Give students adequate time and attention to help them grow into their new roles. They will not automatically know how to participate in these opportunities. Encourage a student-led culture with real responsibility that increasingly challenges students to step up and prove themselves. Reward proven responsibility with increased trust.
  • Don’t forget your younger students. It’s never too early for authentic learning opportunities, and these students can be surprisingly helpful with concrete, well-defined tasks.
  • Plan for turnover. Continually recruit and train new students. Allow veteran student leaders to mentor new recruits.
  • Look for ways to encourage long-term student involvement. Make student involvement part of a credit-bearing class, which counts toward graduation or service-learning credits. This involvement can also take the form of independent study or an internship.
  • Create an adult advisory position. This person should have a passion for student empowerment. The advisor will monitor participation, recruit and train new members, and facilitate group activities.
  • Be sure to include school administration and staff in planning for any for-credit student tech-support classes or similar courses. School counselors need to know that these classes will have high expectations for students to participate, collaborate, and be independent thinkers and leaders. Create a plan to recruit students and persevere, even if the classes are small to begin with.
  • Don’t mistake the ease with which youth today use technology in their everyday lives for knowing how to use it in education settings. Teach them the appropriate use of technology and its role in enhancing learning.

Working with Tech-Savvy Kids article (Educational Leadership) – Enjoy!

Sylvia

‘Research dispels common ed-tech myths’

Contrary to popular opinion, newer teachers aren’t any more likely to use technology in their lessons than veteran teachers, and a lack of access to technology does not appear to be the main reason why teachers do not use it: These are among the common perceptions about education technology that new research from Walden University’s Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership appears to dispel.

Research dispels common ed-tech myths – read it at eSchoolNews.com

I’ve found this to be true in the schools we work with. A teacher who has experience with a project-based classroom has a real edge in adapting and adopting technology. These teachers seem to have more of the “chops” necessary for a tech-infused classroom — juggling lots of things going on at once, managing the seeming chaos while still keeping things on track, and dealing with inevitable setbacks and distractions. And often, it’s the veteran teachers with these skills.

Another finding that could surprise some people is that a lack of access to technology doesn’t appear to be the main reason why teachers don’t use technology in their instruction. Only 29 percent of the teachers who said they used specific technology devices less than once a week in their classrooms cited lack of access as the primary reason, while 49 percent said the devices in question weren’t necessary for their lessons.

Again, this rings true to me. I’m not one to point fingers at teachers and say that just because they aren’t using technology, they are not doing their jobs. Sure I’ve met tech-resistant teachers. But I’ve also seen too many times where technology was purchased on a whim by someone enamored by some feature or marketing claim, without input from anyone. I’ve seen lots of closets full of “stuff” that can’t connect to the network, or other fatal flaws that weren’t noticed until too late. Teachers who resist such antics are being professional, not resistant.

As I’ve said before, “You can’t buy change. It’s a process, not a purchase. The right shopping list won’t change education.” (in Let me save you $6,162.48) “Stuff” doesn’t matter as much as if the technology is purchased with a coherent plan. And the plan has to have teacher input and ownership. It even works better when there is student input and ownership as well.

The comments on the article are insightful as well, including bringing up the question – what do you mean by “technology”? This is a subject I’ve addressed before as well, Educational Technology Doesn’t Work?

Does anyone expect that a new gradebook program will inspire a teacher to bring student-centered technology into the classroom? Even using their term “instructional tool” seems pretty loose. Is transferring overhead slides to PowerPoint using a technology as an instructional tool?

This study should be reviewed by all district and school tech committees to see if these “myths” and assumptions have fed into any part of the tech plan.

Sylvia

Do you sleep with your cell phone? Pew Study on Millennials

cell phone graphic

Generations, like people, have personalities, and Millennials — the American teens and twenty-somethings who are making the passage into adulthood at the start of a new millennium — have begun to forge theirs: confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.

They are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults. They’re less religious, less likely to have served in the military, and are on track to become the most educated generation in American history.

Their entry into careers and first jobs has been badly set back by the Great Recession, but they are more upbeat than their elders about their own economic futures as well as about the overall state of the nation.

from The Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change. – Pew Research Center

The latest Pew Study on “Millennials” (people born after 1980) is part of a Pew Research Center series of reports exploring the behaviors, values and opinions of the teens and twenty-somethings that make up the Millennial Generation.

These youth say that “technology” is the defining characteristic of their generation. And it’s not just use of gadgets, it’s the social aspect of how technology shapes their lives.

The obvious question is: How has school responded to this demographic shift?

Take the quiz: How Millennial Are You?

Sylvia