NECC – 4 weeks and counting

Generation YES booth NECC 2006The National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Atlanta, Georgia, is about 4 weeks away (June 25-28) and things are getting exciting! For Generation YES, this is “the big one” — the conference that we really go all out for. We even have a yearly “theme” for our booth. For most conferences, we don’t really do much decorating, but for NECC, well, we try. Of course, for us, that means imagination over money! But that’s always more fun, isn’t it?

Last year was our tenth anniversary, so we went to the party store and bought party favors and decorations with a Happy 10th Birthday! theme. That was fun (and cheap!) The Generation YES students are always the best decoration, after all.

This year we had a tougher time, but finally, Megan’s southern picnic idea won the day. We plan to buy a roll of astroturf (cheaper than renting conference carpet) and find a picnic table to use as a meeting table (cheaper than renting conference tables – see a pattern here?) We’ll be back at the party store looking for red checked tablecloths and picnic accessories for decor. We want to use part of our booth to set up a “drive-in” theater, with blankets on the grass and a film projector showing some great student projects, videos, and other movies.

And of course, students will be there to “walk the talk” of student empowerment and ownership of their learning experience.

Constructivist CelebrationThe Constructivist Celebration pre-conference event is completely sold-out, so on Sunday, we will be playing in the Atlanta Botanical Garden with almost 100 constructivist educators and our partners from the Constructivist Consortium. We have students from nearby Barber Middle School in Cobb County coming to help out and show off the technology skills they’ve learned in their TechYES class this year. Tech4Learning, one of our Constructivist Consortium partners, has already sent Barber Middle School packs of their software so that the students could practice ahead of time.

At NECC, we have a full round of events, panels, sessions and of course, time spent in our booth, talking to people about student empowerment through technology. I’ll put up another post with the full schedule next week.

During the conference, the Constructivist Consortium will be giving away some amazing prizes–more on that later as well, this post is getting too long!

We love meeting old friends and new, and NECC is always a great place to do just that. Hope to see you in HOT-lanta, as they say, so come by and chill out with us at the Generation YES picnic!

Free and open source tools for student projects on Classroom 2.0

Alix Peshette has a nice post on the Classroom 2.0 blog about her favorite free and open source tools for the classroom or computer lab. Alix is in charge of technology at Davis Unified School District in California, which currently has seven GenYES schools.

She has tools and helpful comments for audio, graphics, a blog spellchecker (this I need!), video and web authoring.

Her top picks for audio are:

Audacity – Probably the most popular audio recording software in the K-12 tech arena. This software runs on almost everything; Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP, Vista, Mac OS X, and GNU/Linux.

Levelator – A great companion to Audacity for podcasting and radio theatre. Levelator adjusts the audio levels for variations from one speaker to the next. Levelator runs on Windows 2000, XP, Vista and Mac OS 10.4 (Tiger) or 10.3 (Panther)

Sony AcidXPress – It’s easy to create original music-even if you’re new to loop-based music software. The power of the application stems from its ability to take any audio loop and make it fit into the tempo of a project. This fully functioning freeware has some high-end features, but pop-ups inviting one to purchase companion software can be annoying. But hey – it’s free!

Thanks Alix!

P.S. If you haven’t visited the Classroom 2.0 group site, it’s a new social network of educators talking about the use of technology and Web 2.0 tools in the classroom. It uses a site called Ning that allows anyone to set up a social network (want to start your own MySpace?)

Classroom 2.0 has been an especially lively place, and it’s a really nice to practice blogging where you get feedback and comments. People are friendly and there are some great discussions going on. If you stop in, be sure to look me up and ask me to be your friend!

Hole in the Wall – Can kids learn computer literacy by themselves?

In India, several foundations are working together to build Playground Learning Centers – computers built for the sole purpose of providing Minimally Invasive Education (MIE) opportunities for poor children.

Minimally Invasive Education is defined as a pedagogic method that uses the learning environment to generate an adequate level of motivation to induce learning in groups of children, with minimal, or no, intervention by a teacher.
Hole-in-the-Wall website

MIE was defined and extensively researched by Dr. Sugata Mitra, in an amazing project called, “The Hole in the Wall.” This experiment began in 1999 with a single computer literally placed in a hole in a wall between the New Delhi office of NIIT (a computer training school) and the slum outside. The computer was accessible to children and became an instant hit. Local children, many of whom did not attend school regularly, quickly picked up how to use the computer tools, including word processing software and graphics programs and learned to surf the Internet. Some progressed to more complex skills. All of this without understanding a word of English or being able to read at all, even though all the programs and interfaces were in English.

Researchers and newspapers from around the world have documented the success of this first installation, and many more have followed, all with similar results. The impact on many impoverished children has been life-changing. The PBS show Frontline did a story, “One boy in particular, Rajinder, has become a computer whiz and a celebrity in India. “Mainly I go to the Disney site,” Rajinder tells FRONTLINE/World, but he also regularly visits news sites and likes to use computer paint tools. His teacher says that Rajinder is a much better student now: “He has become quite bold and expressive. I’ve got great hopes for this child.”

Computer in the wall

Articles, videos and research online

What about the usual worries? Security, inappropriate access, testing…
From the Christian Science Monitor:

  • In five years, across all locations, [Mitra] says, Hole-in-the-Wall computers have experienced “less than 0.5 percent pornographic access,” adding that the computers “are clearly visible to passing adults.” The fact that both boys and girls have access “completely eliminates pornographic or other undesirable access,” he says.
  • Despite this unconventional, unstructured setting, Mitra claims that, in the past five years, participants have been tested in controlled studies “many times,” and passed the government board examination with no other assistance, with the results documented in scholarly journals like the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology.
  • Hole-in-the-Wall has awakened new aspirations in some participants, who have gone on to take courses in preparation for high-tech careers, Mitra says. Many have changed their goals from say, rickshaw driver to engineer, and most now want to go to college.

Classroom Implications
Far from being a repudiation of classroom learning or an insult to teachers, the research on MIE shows that unstructured learning strengthens behavior that translates to classroom success.

Learning Dynamics

This doesn’t mean that teachers don’t teach, but can look for opportunities to leverage unstructured success into more structured academic success. By asking an interesting question or by providing a clue to a frustrated student, teachers can scaffold student learning more than by direct instruction. Allowing unstructured learning opportunities frees the teacher up from teaching basic skills to focus on the big picture and give individual help as needed.

“If computer literacy is defined as turning a computer on and off and doing the basic functions, then this method allows that kind of computer literacy to be achieved with no formal instruction. Therefore any formal instruction for that kind of education is a waste of time and money. You can use that time and money to have a teacher teach something else that children cannot learn on their own.” -Dr. Mitra

Many veteran Generation YES teachers tell us that their best experiences come when they “let go” and let students take the lead in the classroom.

In many new Generation YES schools, teachers want to spend time teaching application features to students with the the thought that once learned, students will be better able to tackle projects of interest.

From more veteran Generation YES teachers, however, we often hear that it’s better to do a quick intro and then jump immediately into project work, allowing for student collaboration and discovery. Rather than being chaotic and out of control, teachers report to us that it creates a unique classroom laboratory, where students share discoveries and go further, faster.

For some teachers, this is a leap of faith that students will gain the necessary skills for the long run. A peak through this “hole in the wall” might be convincing!


Treasure trove for constructivist classroom projects

Dr. Alice Christie from Arizona State University has a wonderful site packed with great resources and reading for constructivist educators looking for project-based learning resources. We know Dr. Christie well from her research on student collaboration and GenY, student voice, and many other student-centered papers, presentations, and resources.

The educational technology resource page lists subjects like geocaching, webquests, podcasting, multimedia, and more. Not only are there great examples and ideas, but links to many school websites showing these ideas in action.

For example, one subject that many of our TechYES teachers ask about is spreadsheets, and how to find interesting data for students to use. Dr. Christie’s site has data sources, example spreadsheets, lessons, ideas, articles, and more.

Finally, teachers and grant-writers looking for research to support student-centered, project-based programs like GenYES should definitely look at Dr. Christie’s research and publication page.

E6 Learning Model - Maximizing Constructivist Learning

My first Second Life lesson

I finally met up with KJ Hax (the Second Life name of Kevin Jarrett) for an office assignment and lesson about Second Life. Kevin is on a research sabatical to study Second Life, and has been working hard to form a group called CAVE (I blogged about that a few days ago). Kevin and I met at the appointed time and he showed me an office space I’ll share with Andy Carvin. Since I was there first I got to pick the nice corner with windows for my space and leave Andy with the windowless corner (sorry!)

Rotating the chair

Kevin gave me a desk, chair and a plant.

Then the lesson began. Moving objects consists of selecting them, clicking a “move” radio button, and then dragging them using arrows that form an x, y, z axis. To rotate objects, you select a “rotate” radio button and then a sphere appears and you can drag an object around. You can turn objects upside down and suspend them in mid-air, or move them up through the ceiling or push them through the floor. That’s not polite, I imagine.

Sitting on chairKevin showed me how to sit on my chair. Seriously, this sounds crazy, but that took a long time. You can sit on every object in Second Life, but depending on how complex the object is, you can sit on different parts of it. If you click on the back of the chair and select “Sit”, your avatar obligingly perches on the top of the back. If you are standing to one side, the avatar will sit across the arms. If the chair is too close to a wall or desk, you will get a warning that there is no room.

Couple of intial thoughts about this as a learning experience:

Growing the plant1. The system was training me. As I learned more about what the interface could and couldn’t do, I was internalizing the constraints of the system. The accuracy limitations, time lag, and clumsy way that the mouse and menu controls work are obviously a problem that people can learn to work around, but still are limitations. It’s like asking a student to do chemistry experiments with mittens on. Doable, and perhaps a noble challenge, but is it optimal? Of course not. Will this weed out people who can’t tolerate this learning curve, very likely. Will some people love the challenge — that’s obvious.

2. It’s a lot like programming in some ways (and I’m not even talking about scripting). The clumsiness of the interface makes you figure out what you can and can’t do. For a willing learner, being forced to work out the best way to do things is a great learning experience. However, I don’t believe that a clumsy interface is necessarily a valuable thing. A class would have to include time for students to play and share experiences to get past that interface. It had better be a REALLY exceptional learning activity to make it worth the time and effort.

Cone asks about blog

Back to building. I built a cone, turned it green and selected “glow”. Magical stars shoot out of your hand when you create things. Nice. There is a default script for every object, and I noticed that it said something when you touched it. So I changed the default to say, “Hello!” Pretty easy. I like my objects to be friendly.

Later, I ran into Doug Johnson again (Blue Skunk Blog) who commented on my hair (blue). He had a monitor in his office and David Warlick had given him a script that opens a web page when anyone clicks it. So I pasted that line of code in my default script and after two fixes to dumb typos, it worked!

I did notice that it was changing the colors of the script text as I made mistakes to alert me to errors, so that was nice.

Cone script

After that I played around a bit with the realistic physics options, but couldn’t figure it out. Everything I did just made the cone deflate into a puddle on the floor. I may have to read some instructions!

I wanted my cone to go on my desk, so I shrunk it a bit and moved it up there. After getting it positioned, it now sits there and links to this blog. So, a small mission accomplished.

Placing cone on desk

At this point, I’m still not quite sure what to do with a desk, or why I would sit at it! But I’d like to figure out what would be fun to make. I wonder if you could make a fortune teller machine. Something good for a party.

Final thought for the night  — learning about Second Life is different than learning in Second Life.

Looking in from the outside

Second Life

So everybody’s heard something about Second Life by now. Second Life is an online world that you can visit as an “avatar” – a 3D creature that you can design and control. Teen Second Life offers a similar experience for teens 13-17 years old. People purchase virtual land, build virtual homes, sell each other virtual clothes and services, companies have set up virtual shop (CNN – Real Cars Drive into Second Life), and probably every real transaction translated to the virtual world.

Virtual cars

So what’s the connection to K-12 education?

Educators are allowed in Teen Second Life under very limited conditions, so talking about the use of Second Life in K-12 education fall into two categories.

1. A meeting space for educators in the adult Second Life. ISTE and other educational groups have set up spaces to hold meetings, offer places for virtual collaboration, and experimentation. I’ve been invited to join a group called the Center for Advanced Virtual Education (CAVE) and am looking forward to the experience. Will Richardson, David Warlick, Kathy Schrock and others have been invited. I’m sharing an office with Andy Carvin, and hope to learn a lot. CAVE is a research project of Walden University researcher, Kevin Jarrett.

2. Islands in Teen Second Life created specifically for virtual educational experiences. The 3D building tools and interactive capabilities offer the ability to offer things like role playing exercises, building environments, scripting objects, virtual field trips and more. Suffern Middle School has done some interesting things.

I have to say I’m starting out from a position of skepticism for some of the benefits that people are talking about. I’m not here saying that I don’t see any value or that I don’t want to give it a shot. The truth is that I’ve been in all kinds of virtual worlds from Tapped In, to MUDs and MOOs, and a couple of the original 3D worlds, so long ago I can’t even remember their names. I remember hearing the same “this will change everything” talk back then too.

Things I get:

  • a collaboration space
  • meeting people you wouldn’t otherwise meet in real life
  • some fun building experiences
  • designing your own avatar and experimenting with the concept of self
  • student role playing, meeting spaces, programming, scripting, constructing and economic simulations

Things I’m suspicious about:

  • Unexamined optimism about the educational implications of Second Life. I’ve heard people say, “wouldn’t this be a great place to set up physics simulations.” I don’t see that yet. Besides –the history of educational technology is filled with great physics simulation applications that aren’t used. Why do we think they will be used in a virtual world? Just because you can let the kids have blue hair while they play with the simulations?
  • Yes, you can build things, but how easy is to create physical attributes like mass or density? You can set sizes of things, but can you measure them? Can you make a spring? How much math is possible? The scripting language is event-driven, meaning it’s best at reacting to user contact. Will this just mean that we move further away from the “computing” part of computers? I don’t know, that’s why I want to try things myself.
  • I fear our tendency to create canned educational experiences so that no one really has to learn the tools. What’s interesting is the ability for kids to make stuff. 3D click-and-explores are not.
  • People rushing to find reasons to use this technology in education just because it’s new.
  • Precious time wasted avoiding the hard work of teaching and learning in the real world.

I was just logged in and ran into Doug Johnson (Blue Skunk Blog) – he and I had a blog exchange the other day about “tinker toy” software, meaning tools that offer a “low floor and high ceiling”. Does Second Life meet this criteria? Not sure yet.

PS My “in world” name is Kay Idziak – say hi if you see me.

The future that never was

Paleo-FuturePaleo-Future is a very cool website that collects visions of the future as seen by people in the past. The motto is, “A Look into the Future that Never Was.”

Ideas for the classroom might be:

  • Use these as examples to create your own videos, pictures or articles about the future
  • Discuss what people thought would happen, but didn’t
  • Find examples of predictions that really did happen
  • Find out why these videos were made (eg was it a commercial, a contest, a prediction intended to warn people, etc.)
  • Find out more about who made these videos
  • Discuss the difference between technology change and social change, and why one might be more or less hard to predict
  • Look for examples of current commercials, books, or websites that predict the future. How far in the future are these predictions? What else might happen if they come true?

The Homework MachineHere are some fun places to start –

  • The Homework Machine is a good one. Chemistry done without actual messy chemicals and math drills – bad ideas never go out of style. Searching for things like “homework”, “classroom” and “textbook” provides hours of good finds.
  • 1999 AD and Online Shopping both have pretty good predictions about the use of technology in kitchens and for shopping, but the happy homemaker who controls all this and is a slave to her husband and children is pretty funny. She selects things and he pays for it, while grimacing at the picture of the handwritten bill on his screen. Why did they get some of the technology right (the appliances), some miss the mark (the handwritten bill), and the social stuff just completely wrong?
  • The Road Ahead: Future Classroom is from 1997– not that long ago. Cool technology, but does the student really say anything in his report?

Application triage to enable differentiated learning

Doug Johnson of the Blue Skunk Blog had an interesting post the other day about how to choose from the zillions of software and web 2.0 choices bombarding us every day. He called it – Application Triage.

His criteria:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Ubiquity
  3. Reliability
  4. Usability
  5. Affordability

In a comment, I suggested adding “Extensibility” – the idea that applications selected for students should have ways to accommodate more expert use, without compromising the simplicity and usability criteria. Doug asked if I could provide examples, saying, “I’ve personally always like what I call “tinker toy” software that lets me build instead of just use things that are already built. And a lot of kids do too. Not so sure about adults!

Unfortunately, there used to be more examples in widespread use in schools. Logo, HyperStudio and HyperCard were great applications that provided this “no floor, no ceiling” experience.

Good examples: hardware – cameras, computers, even ipods have hidden features that most people don’t know and don’t care about. You can click the button and get a nice picture or hear a song, but if you want to, there are settings and options that allow greater creativity and artistry. When you are ready, the hardware accommodates your new interest.

I think the key phrases here are: if you want to, and when you are ready

Tools with programming – There are a few programming languages very appropriate for students that offer easy entry and quick ways to do presentations and multimedia projects, but also allow for user control of objects (if you want to, when you are ready…)

For example, why teach PowerPoint when Flash is just as easy to learn, yet can be programmed AND do animations? I hear people say that PowerPoint is a good place to start, but it’s often the end as well. What a shame. For a student who has the potential to develop more expertise, PowerPoint is a limiting technology, not an enabling one.

Sure, use PowerPoint when needed, but it’s hardly worth teaching students endless lessons and activities to improve their PowerPoint use. Move along here, there’s nothing to see.

Or – Why not teach kids HTML instead of making them learn some “easy” editor. Most student web pages use 3 or 4 basic HTML tags. It’s hardly rocket science. I know, I know I can hear the groans from teachers everywhere.

But HTML (if you want to, when you are ready…) is the basic building block of every website from to your own school site.

It’s an unfortunate fact that many issues surrounding teaching technology reflect adult fears, not student ability or needs.

We talk about differentiated instruction, but that concept shouldn’t stop at the instructional door. Everything we put in kids’ hands should have the ability to offer differentiated and leveled experiences for kids when they want to, when they are ready


Speak Up 2006 – listening to student (and parent and teacher) voice

Speak Up Day logoThe Speak Up 2006 survey gave 232,781 students, 21,272 teachers and 15,317 parents the opportunity to speak out about their views on technology, education, and the impact on their lives. All the survey data is online at the Speak Up site, including useful podcasts and slideshows you can share with others.

One of the most interesting sections of this year’s survey reveled student interest in math and science.

  • Students want to learn science and math through real world problem solving, visiting places where science is in action, talking to professionals in those fields and using technology in many ways.
  • While 86% of students in K-2 are interested in specific careers in science and/or math, starting in grade 3 that interest starts to decrease. In grades 3-12 over 1/3 of students say that they are not interested in any careers in science, math, technology or engineering.

It’s not surprising that students are not connecting real-world problem solving and authentic science with the test-focused curriculum in their schools.

Students ARE interested in doing hard work–but interesting, engaging work, just like real scientists, engineers and mathematicians do. We are doing students a disservice by not listening to their voices, and not giving them a glimpse at the jobs that matter in this century.

Constructivist teaching – virtually

Here’s a video of a music teacher in Newfoundland who teaches students across the miles.

From a teaching point of view, there are many noteworthy things in this video that are applicable to any subject, whether virtual or not.

  1. The teacher’s personal passion for the subject.
  2. The teacher’s focus on connecting the student’s existing interests and experiences to the class material.
  3. The teacher’s interest in finding tools that allow students to construct final products that are meaningful to the student and that can be shared with others.

The fact that this teacher uses a particular blog tool or sound editor is not as important as the fact that he makes these choices to leverage the students ability to produce something beyond the blog and beyond the mere output of a sound file.

Blogging is not a magic tool. Just the mere act of blogging is not constructive, it’s just another way to write. There are blogs being assigned to students today that are the virtual equivalent of the 5 paragraph essay–unauthentic and completely lacking value in the real world.

Creating a constructivist learning experience still takes a teacher who can create a learning environment, virtual or not, that pushes students to see themselves as capable of producing something of value to themselves and to others, and then facillitates them doing just that.

Thanks to Kelly Christopherson who posted this (and where it’s from) on his blog on Classroom 2.0.