Things That Edtech Makes Better (and Worse)

via Grégoire Lannoy on Flickr
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Education technology in the twenty first century has made some remarkable progress. The ubiquity of software tools with cloud-based computing, the significant drop in price of powerful computing devices, and the explosion of easily accessible content represent more significant quantum leaps than say the VHS did over 16mm film.

via Grégoire Lannoy on Flickr

via Grégoire Lannoy on Flickr

This new edtech is beginning to change what education looks like. There is more independent learning that happens. Have your kids ever watched a Youtube video to get inspired for an art project? Try searching Rainbow Loom. We all have access to creative tools that can make whatever we do look like the work of skilled artists. Ever mistake a friend’s Instagram post for an advertisement? And we can more easily connect all that we do to the people that matter to us, whether we have met them in person or not. Continue reading

16 Things to Consider When Going Google One to One

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world_bridge1. Ask Why?
There are millions of connected educators around the world who would be delighted to answer that question for you. You must answer it for your own education context. Best not to try doing so alone. Which leads to…
2. Engage a Diverse Array of Stakeholders from the Beginning.
Moving teachers and students to a digital workflow, and considering all of the associated infrastructure and cultural changes that come along with this switch, is a big deal. Bring in student and parent voices. And lift the voices of the classroom educators as facilitators whenever possible.
3. Identify and Communicate a Collectively Determined Set of Goals.
No goals = no go. There are hundreds of reasons to go Google and move everyone to a digital workflow. Long before devices arrive en masse, a community engagement process should be underway. Stop anyone in the hallway and they should be able to offer two or three reasons for making the move.
4. Research Models of Best Practice.
Why re-create the wheel? Get connected, if you are not already (Google Plus is a great place to start), and find a few schools or districts that share some of your demographics. Visit them or at least arrange some Google Hangouts to learn about their successes and challenges.

Read More at the Hapara Blog

Diligent Use of Cycles of Inquiry Makes Huge Impact

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Some of you are aware that in August of 2012 I began working with the Hapara team as lead educator. Since that time, all of my creative efforts have gone into that work. Only recently have I begun to blog again; still mostly within the context of my work at Hapara. I plan to re-post here when I think my Hapara projects will have broader appeal. This is one such instance.

Cycle of InquiryThe Manaiakalani cluster of schools in Auckland, New Zealand, serves a diverse array of students. In the United States we would call the cluster a district, and it would be classified as Title 1. In New Zealand the term is decile one. Their story is a long one, and one I hope to share more in time, but I thought I would pique your interest with the punch line.

Please read more at the Hapara blog.

Innovative New Schools in Africa Succeeding Without Edtech for Students

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BIA Kenya

The Bridge International Academy (BIA) came across my gaze this week in a feature article from Wired Magazine. Guest edited by Bill Gates, the issue highlights several of his philanthropic investments around the world.

What strikes me about the model of BIA is the conspicuous lack of edtech in the hands of the students. In stark contrast to frequently cited education experiments like Negroponte’s airdrop of tablets into Ethiopia and Sugata Mitra’s similarly hyped computer in a wall experiment, that emphasize the transformative power and compelling nature of computers for the learner, the BIA schools do not give students any new technology at all.

There is edtech, of course, but it is supporting instruction behind the scenes. This global network of schools uses frequent formative pencil and paper assessments, the results of which are compiled into the cloud by school personnel away from the students and assessed at a central office far away, to drive instruction and shape teaching practice.

The results are noteworthy. BIA schools serve more than 50,000 students in Kenya (with plans to expand in Africa and India) and outperform their local neighboring schools on nearly all measures of Reading and Mathematics performance.

Results

I have nothing but praise for the BIA team, founded and directed by former SV entrepreneur Jay Kimmelman, but I do have questions about whether the model would translate to the relatively impoverished and underserved in our industrialized nations. BIA schools are tuition schools. In a place where families make less than two dollars a day, BIA schools charge five dollars per month of tuition. Does this select for a more (relatively) entitled population that is likely to test higher anyway? Does the commitment a family makes when they pay for their child’s education have a psychological effect that increases performance? Regardless of the answers to or relevance of these questions, it seems that BIA is expanding quality education in places where it is scarce, and they are doing it with frequent formative assessment.

Google Glass Might Pose the Biggest Challenge Public Education Has Seen Since Desegregation

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Put aside for the moment that segregation of public schools in the United States is at its highest level since 1968; our country has backslid. During the more than three decades from 1954 (Brown Vs Board of Ed) and 1988 (peak desegregation in the US), achieving racial equality, or at least access to equal resources was arguably a more polarizing issue than immigration, gay marriage, and abortion are today. Currently, standards-based testing, and in particular, the changes that will be effected by the voluntary adoption of the Common Core, is occupying nearly all of the mindspace of educators, administrators, and education policy makers alike. Our obsession with testing will seem trivial, however, when we begin to confront the tectonic shift in paradigm that will be inspired by Google Glass.

I have argued before that all of the edtech we have seen in the last decade, cool as it is, has not significantly impacted how well we educate our youth. Few technologies, even expertly applied, have had an impact on the end product of K12 education. STEM scores have risen slightly in the last decade, though this is probably a result of myriad federal and state programs aimed squarely at placing more highly qualified STEM educators in classrooms. Diligently applied software programs to enhance reading ability and numeracy have shown some nice improvements on student test scores; though it could be argued that any mindful application of an educational protocol, employing technology or not, will increase student test scores.

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Common Core Assessment 20x More Expensive? What Can Edtech Do?

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The forthcoming Common Core (CC) Assessments are the next generation of standardized tests in the US, and will meet the testing frequency requirements of the most recent version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act also known as No Child Left Behind unless congress should act to change this, which is most unlikely. Forty six of the fifty states have signed on to voluntarily administer the exams that will be written to meet the standards of the Common Core. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is one of two consortia that organizes the architecting and contracting for the Common Core assessments; SBAC is responsible for about half of the member states, including California.

I have examined the SBAC’s RFP’s for testing design and delivery of the CC assessments, and the consortium managed to construct a guide for contractors that even Finnish educators would admire. It is difficult to tell from the website, but it appears that the SBAC employed work groups that engaged school practitioners, or at least retired practitioners, to shape the tasks.

The winning bids for exam design, delivery, and reporting for the SBAC, have all gone to Wireless Generation, a company turned down by the New York Department of Education at least in part because of the parent company’s (Newscorp) role in mishandling personal data. This actually concerns me less (for now) than does the challenge that the private, for profit Wireless Generation (WG) must meet to deliver on the promise of the Common Core.

I am hopeful that WG can construct a multiple choice administration tool that is adaptive and requires less time of students to assess what multiple choice tests can; namely, what a student does not know. Call me cynical, but less time spent taking multiple choice tests is a win at this point.

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One Year of Blended Learning One to One with Chromebooks

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Reflections on a year of Blended Learning with 1:1 Chromebooks

Physics teachers have a unique privilege in most high school settings. Most of us work with students that have elected to take our academic course, and with the exception of a growing number of physics first programs, we teach older students. Consequently, we tend to serve a population of learners that are more likely to match our enthusiasm for ideas, and entertain our whimsical diversions than might an average sampling of the student body as a whole. Many of us take advantage of the opportunity presented by this context to innovate with novel uses of technology in our practice. I am no exception to that rule.

When my idea of teaching physics in a one to one setting with Chromebooks was met with enthusiasm by both my colleagues and my administration eighteen months ago, I jumped in with both feet. Now, in April, at the cusp of another punishing two weeks of low quality standardized testing, it is time to reflect on the first year of the blend.

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