Web 2.0 – Share the Adventure with Students

Another K12Online 2007 Conference session goes live today – Web 2.0 – Share the Adventure with Students

For many teachers, Web 2.0 tools offer exciting opportunities for students to express themselves and take command of technology that stretches the mind and reaches outside school walls. For some teachers, these tools are like trying to take a drink from a fire hose – endlessly expanding into a bewildering array of choices.

It’s a daunting task to figure out all the options with Web 2.0 tools and choose the “best” one to introduce to students. But why should you have all the fun!? Share your Learning Adventure 2.0 with your students and you will all benefit from the experience.

Web 2.0 – Share the Adventure with Students is available both as a video and audio only podcast on the K12Online 2007 conference site.


Happy Birthday Logo!

The Wired Science blog this month featured Forward 40: What Became of the LOGO Programming Language?

The author relates his own personal experiences as a youth being able to program an Apple IIe.

As I remember it, LOGO was a triangular turtle that roamed across the monochrome screen of an Apple II in my first grade classroom. Wherever he went, a line of ink would follow him — it came from a pen that was tied to his tail.

My digital friend simultaneously gave me an intuition for geometry and how to think like a computer programmer.

Seymour Papert, Cynthia Solomon, Wally Feurzeig and others invented Logo in 1967. In contrast to many software packages and Web 2.0 tools these days, the Logo language was deliberately designed for learning. Logo gives students powerful experiences with math, not by drilling them, but by offering them control over an object called a turtle. The turtle, either on the computer screen or an actual robot on the floor, could be programmed to draw lines completely controllable by simple commands.

Logo was designed to be body syntonic – or related to what the learner already understands about their own body. It allows the learner to take something they are already familiar with (their own body and how it moves) and add new knowledge of geometry to that established base. By controlling the turtle with simple commands to go forward, turn right or left, and draw, the learner has an intuitive connection with the turtle. If you’ve ever seen a kid program in Logo, you can see that they feel this connection, and the youngest ones tend to get up and dance with the turtle.

This is no accident, but a deliberate design for the Logo programming language. I’m proud to say that I’ve met Dr. Papert and spoken to him several times. I’ve met Cynthia Solomon too. This year I met Wally Feurtzig at EuroLogo 2007. Meeting people like this makes me feel like a part of history. Dr. Papert was a colleague of Jean Piaget, after being forced out of his native South Africa as university student for his association with Nelson Mandela, and whose ideas were key to the current 1:1 laptop movement and the One Laptop per Child global initiative. That I know someone like this is amazing to me.

But back to Logo and the Wired article…

I would type FORWARD 50 and the turtle would move forward. When I gave the command RIGHT 90, he would turn sharply to the right. If I prefaced those two commands with REPEAT 4 and surrounded them with brackets, the turtle would draw a square.

I was learning, but my experiences didn’t feel like a lesson. It was fun!

While I sat at my desk one day, two of my classmates figured out how to overwrite the entire screen, which seemed kinda naughty at the time. They giggled, did it again, then giggled some more. From curious children, hackers were born.

I was desperate to know how they did it. Eventually, they told me. Their method made sense: Tell the turtle to repeatedly move forward a very long distance and then turn very slightly.

The next deliberate design element embedded in Logo is the idea that it supports a classroom that is collaborative and full of co-learners and co-teachers. The learning is in control of the students, who each have a different idea of what they want to do. They can rely on themselves, on feedback from the computer, or on each other to figure out how to make the next step, but it’s under their control.

When the author of this article writes about his aha moment, “Their method made sense” it meant that he was learning something because he needed and wanted to know it. The learning was situated in a meaningful experience under his control, when and where he was ready. Teachers call it “the teachable moment” and hope they are around to help a student when that happens. But what if the classroom is full of co-teachers who are ready to help a classmate with that teachable moment. Imagine the learning network ready to go in every classroom!

Stager.org Dreamtime Logo Project

The Logo programming language embodies an educational philosophy called constructionism. The idea is that knowledge is constructed based on the learner’s previous experiences, and the best way to make that happen is to actually construct something and share it with others.

This doesn’t have to be a physical thing like an art project, but can be a computer program. Seymour Papert once compared students programming animated snakes to how the same students worked on soap sculpture art projects.

They were using this high-tech and actively computational material as an expressive medium; the content came from their imaginations as freely as what the others expressed in soap. But where a knife was used to shape the soap, mathematics was used here to shape the behavior of the snake and physics to figure out its structure. (Situating Constructionism, with Idit Harel)

Towards the end of the Wired article, author Aaron Rowe wonders where Logo went and asks for readers to contribute their memories. The comments are worth reading — there are many memories carried into adulthood by people who found programming interesting and personally rewarding.

So –what happened to Logo? It’s still around. The language exists in many forms, open source, public domain, and commercial, and is still taught in many schools around the world. It may be rare in the U.S., but it’s alive and well in other countries. Along with it goes the educational philosophy of giving students interesting problems to solve and powerful tools to use rather than trying to stuff them with “content” or “information.” The hope is that this will create students who can problem-solve, create, and learn how to learn.

Many teachers who taught Logo took their experiences with the empowering nature of programming and turned those ideas into something else. Dennis Harper, who founded Generation YES was a Logo teacher and author of the book, Logo: Theory and Practice. These lessons live on in the GenYES and TechYES models where students are at the center of their own learning.

And teachers still teach it, it’s not dead! Gary Stager has a whole section of his website devoted to Logo resources and runs workshops worldwide for teachers. He tells me that he gets thousands of views a month on the page devoted to how to build a virtual pet in Logo, and regular emails from very young web browsers asking him how they too can build their own pets. Kids want to learn!

Virtual pet home

New versions of Logo are again getting some publicity, from Scratch to Starlogo TNG to robotics. These programming languages are being rediscovered by a new generation of teachers, and hopefully students looking for ways to express themselves using the computer. If only we actually thought learning to use this most powerful learning tool was important!

Technology Success Story

We are so proud!

Jonas Salk High-Tech Academy in the San Juan School District (Sacramento, California) is featured in the Sacramento Bee as a technology success story. Jonas Salk is a double-duty Generation YES school, using both the GenYES and TechYES programs. We’ve watched the amazing work their GenYES students have been doing to support teacher use of technology and how their TechYES students have stepped up to mentoring their peers in tech literacy to receive TechYES certifications.

The story, Technology reboots student interest: Test scores show a 33-point jump for Jonas Salk chronicles the turnaround of Jonas Salk from a campus struggling with high teacher turnover and low student achievement, to one where both students and teachers are eager to show up every day. For them, technology was the key. And guess what, test scores improved as a result.

She doesn’t read aloud in class, and she doesn’t read at home. Yet here she sits, working through her lines in a newscast at Jonas Salk High-Tech Academy.

Replaying footage of the March installment of “JSTV” — once broadcast to 600 students — is bittersweet for technology teacher Jamal Hicks. It’s painful for an educator to watch the girl, in seventh grade then, fumble her way through the cue cards, knowing that her reading ability was somewhere around the third-grade level.

But she has returned to his media class for another year. Something about the camera makes her want to read. No matter how hard it might be.

“It is empowering,” Hicks says of the technology being used in his classroom. “I look at this (newscast), and I tell her, ‘You’re my hero.’ “

But it’s not just about technology. A big part of the philosophy in the renewal of Jonas Salk was to trust students and give them responsibility for their own learning and the improvement of education for all. Incorporating GenYES into that vision means that Salk GenYES students are responsible for working with teachers so that technology benefits every classroom, regardless of the teacher’s level of comfort with technology. Trusting students to solve authentic problems and participate in the learning community means that teachers have more help to integrate technology in meaningful ways, and in turn, all students are empowered and engaged in learning.

“We believed in (the students), and they started to believe in themselves,” says Principal Jamey Schrey.

Jamal Hicks is the TechYES and GenYES coordinator at Jonas Salk. The No Child Left Behind Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) grant funded the GenYES program for Salk. By using GenYES, a structured model of student support for teachers using technology, Salk can report solid data back to the state to show success.

Jamal says, “GenYES has been vital to the success at Jonas Salk. Empowering the students through technology has really worked by giving the students an important reason to learn technology and to stick with it. Many of them are used to avoiding work when they find it difficult. But because they are responsible for teaching teachers about technology, they don’t want to give up. It instills high expectations and gives them satisfaction when they finish. This carries into their approach to other classes and their schoolwork.”

Congratulations to Jamal, the students and staff at Jonas Salk for all your hard work getting some well-deserved attention and respect!

RSS in plain English – Ideas for student-made help videos

Here’s a great video about RSS (Real Simple Syndication). RSS is the heart of how blogs work, and how you can easily get great content to come to you instead of searching the Internet for it.

If YouTube is blocked at your school – you can find the video here at the CommonCraft website.

Sure, you can show this video to students (or teachers) to explain how RSS works. But this is a terrific example of a video students can make themselves. Student-made help videos can be a vital resource to teach both students and teachers about how to use the technology your school already has.

You could set up a podcast (vodcast) library, put them on school or district portals, or burn them to DVDs and hand them out to teachers.

Things to point out about this video:

1. It’s short. There is a reason movie trailers are 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes long. If someone can tell the story of Star Wars in 2.5 minutes, your students can explain a concept in the same amount of time. Challenge students to edit, then edit again.

2. It’s low tech. This looks like sheets of paper taped to a whiteboard.

3. Audio is separate from video. Sometimes the audio part of making a video is the hardest part. This type of video can shot, edited, and completed with a voice-over.

4. It’s about your technology. A student-made help video will show exactly how YOUR technology works at YOUR school, not a generic example.

Finally, teaching is learning. Want students to learn more about blogging, podcasting, using the active whiteboard or other technologies? Making a video help guide will help them learn more as they figure out how to explain it to someone else.

GenYES teachers can find additional resources about student-made help guides (both video and printed) in the GenYES Curriculum Guide (Unit 10.)

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.