And That’s the Way It Is…

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The famous Walter Cronkite would always sign off with the catch phrase, “and that’s the way it is.”  News anchors through the years have delivered summaries of important world events.  From Cronkite to Rather and of course Peter Mansbridge, trusted reporters deliver the facts.  So Krista, Liz and I thought it might be fun to try a  news cast for our summary of learning.  They are both colleagues, part of my core team and an incredible support for me in my teaching.  We had never worked with green screens before and it was a great opportunity to learn some new tech and have some fun. This semester has been an incredible journey and a great learning opportunity.  Gaining a deeper understanding of the theories behind tech implementation in the classroom was a big part of my learning during this class.   I had some previous knowledge of theory behind education but my practice has changed now to the point where I analyze each activity using tech to ensure the usage of tech for the right reasons.  Theory has also played a role in the ways that I examine my current practice and the ways that I teach.  In addition, The course created a great community of teachers and learners interested and engaged in pushing each other further along the edtech path.  Also, It offered a great opportunity to learn some new tricks, tips and tech tools to help us in our professional lives.  I especially enjoyed learning about the new technologies that may one day be the norm for teaching and learning such as virtual and augmented reality.  It seems as though the more we learn about edtech, the more there is to know.  I resolved as I was reviewing the course to keep 4 things in mind in the coming year.

  1. Evaluate tech tools based on theory
  2. Design the task and accompanying tech with authenticity
  3. Master tech tools that are useful in your practice
  4. Don’t over extend, take your time

There is no rush to the finish line in learning about edtech.  We are each learning at our own pace and doing what works in our own contexts.  The constant shifting in technology will always mean that we are trying to catch up.  Never forget where tech started.  Pencils and chalkboards were once considered cutting edge.  So I’ll simply end by saying, that’s the way it is…”

Please enjoy…

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Disconnect to Reconect

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It is surprising to think that the little devices we carry with us have such a hold on us.  We constantly check in on our Facebook accounts, take photos, post them and check for likes and shares.  Very few of us go without cell phones for more than a few minutes let alone a few days.  The concept of unplugging has become a bit of a buzz word these days and the concept has been explored by tech wizards and numerous blogs.  Unplugging or detoxing has been lauded for it’s merits as an activity to cleanse the mind and the soul.  But is it all it’s cracked up to be?  Is it necessary to unplug when everything we do is linked to tech and social media?  Life is about finding balance and it just seems as though in the fight between screen time and living in the moment, screens are winning by a long shot.

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The reality is that it’s actually healthy to take breaks from social media and technology from time to time.  Many studies have shown that cognitive function and memory are affected by constant social media checking and idle web surfing.  The brain is like a muscle.  Although it doesn’t move, it does require time to develop and grow after new information is added.  We could consider this processing time.  In fact, studies have shown that taking a break from screens and tech periodically can recharge the brain and improve memory.  Here are some other interesting stats…

  • 84% of cell phone users claim they could not go a single day without their device. (source)
  • 67% of cell phone owners check their phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating.(source)
  • Studies indicate some mobile device owners check their devices every 6.5 minutes. (source)
  • 88% of U.S. consumers use mobile devices as a second screen even while watching television. (source)
  • Almost half of cell owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls. (source)
  • Traditional TV viewing eats up over six days (144 hours, 54 minutes) worth of time per month. (source)
  • Some researchers have begun labeling “cell phone checking” as the new yawn because of its contagious nature. (source)

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I think we’ve all experienced situations such as the ones mentioned during the debate by Dean, Janelle, and Kyle.  I still find it incredibly rude when someone is in the middle of a conversation and the other person pulls out his/her phone.  As stated above, you may have even compulsively pulled out your phone when you saw someone else doing it (much like yawns being contagious).  Now I am not saying that I am without reproach in this regard.  I too carry my phone with me almost all of the time.  I do try to keep it in my pocket when in social situations and having kids has really opened my eyes to the dangers of not living in the moment.  I have been at countless swimming lessons, soccer games and play dates during which not a single parent was actually engaging with their kids or watching them at all.  What could distract these parents from watching their 3 year olds having a blast in the pool or scoring a goal?  As I look around the field or pool deck I consistently see moms and dads hunched over cell phones and tablets, unaware of what’s happening around them.  I am not in a place to judge at all.  Maybe these parents are responding to urgent emails.  Maybe they are preparing something for work the next day.  But, I can imagine that at least some of these parents are engaged in social media activities.  Here is another viewpoint on unplugging shared by a teenager named Lane Sutton, a tech and social media wonderkind.

So, I practice being in the moment.  I make a concerted effort to be in every story, joke or activity with my kids because they are such little sponges.  They notice what we may not always perceive.  My little girl said to me the other day, “Daddy put your phone away and come outside with me.”  She’s 2 and she is already realizing that with my phone in front of me she does not have my full attention.  I realize that we will never be able to denounce technology.  It is now too ingrained in our lives.  Social media has a stranglehold on the way in which we interact with the world.  Even my 87 year-old Grandmother checks her Facebook profile on her Ipad daily to see pictures of her grandchildren and great grandchildren.  The key has to be moderation.  Take some time this week to take a break from social media and screens and take part in an activity you love without posting the results or waiting for likes.  Enjoy the smiles on the faces of your family members without snapping a photo.  Get some exercise without posting your workout to social media or fitness apps.  You’ll find rejuvenation of mind, body and soul.

Here are some other great reasons to unplug:

1) Leave behind jealousy, envy, and loneliness

2) Combat FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

3) Find solitude (there is value in having alone time)

4) Life is happening right in front of you (don’t miss out for FOMO)

5) Promote Creation over Consumption (take time to create something)

6) Once the device is gone the level of addiction can truly be understood (as we all know when we have forgotten our phones)

7) Life is about flesh, blood and eye contact

Everything in moderation, as someone once said.

-Almost everything will work again if you unplug for a few minutes….Including you!-  Anne Lamott

 

 

 

 

 

Can We Fight the Future?

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In many ways I’m disappointed that this class has come to an end.  Discussing edtech issues with fellow educators from all over the country has been a privilege.  I have definitely had to evaluate my point of view and it has undergone changes again and again.  I have been challenged to think critically about how I use technology in my classroom and I have even been presented with issues that I had not previously considered.  It was intriguing to speak with fellow educators who have very different viewpoints on educational technology.  It was very encouraging to discover that whether teachers are for or against edtech, a genuine love for students and a concentration on their needs was foremost.  Throughout the course I came to several key realizations which I will attempt to summarize here.

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The first debate covered the merits of technology in the classroom and I came to the conclusion that technology for the sake of itself is a perilous venture.  Each integration of technology in the classroom must be weighed and measured for it’s ability to enhance the learning for students.  Teachers should not be scared to abandon certain aspects of their edtech strategy if it proves inefficient or contrary to learning.  Secondly, we discussed whether we should be teaching content that can be found on Google.  I came to a strong realization that there are certain pieces of information that must be scaffolded and therefore must be memorized.  However, I also am a strong believer in challenging students with critical questions and real world problems that cannot be simply searched.  Practical application and skill development are key skills for the 21st century.  When it comes to the role of technology in our health and wellness, I came away with the notion that in many ways screen time, online bullying, and the stresses placed upon children due to technology are indeed affecting our youth.  Although there are many instances in which technology can provide health benefits, if we are truly considering all health aspects including mental health, it seems as though a balanced approach to tech use with youth is warranted.  Ian makes a great point about the resiliency of kids which i think is necessary to keep in mind.   In the fourth debate we tackled the question of openness and sharing in educational settings.  I am still of the opinion that we need to do right by our students and be cautious with how and why we share on social media.  However, some of the greatest lightbulb moments in my classroom have come from making connections with classrooms and individuals from around the world.  It has truly opened my students eyes to a different worldview.

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Tech for equity was another tough topic to tackle but due to my experiences overseas, I still had to come to the conclusion that although technology has made great strides for equity and that the bar continues to be raised, there is still much work to be done.  There are definitely many more marginalized voices being heard because of technology but at the same time, without equal access for all, it can hardly be equitable.  Social media is a huge reason why so many more people are interconnected.  However, it is also clearly playing a major role in the development of children in our society.  As previously mentioned, the sheer number of hours spent in front of screens on social media is staggering compared to even 5 years ago.  In my opinion, this is also an area teachers must approach with good modelling and a balanced strategy.  The appropriate use of social media for positivity must be a part of every classroom.  As Andy states in his summary, “with the right dosage and application, technology has the ability to enrich our lives, not harm them, but it must be used appropriately, responsibly, and we must be explicitly taught directions for use.”  If not, we will continue to see students who are depressed, overweight, stressed out, lacking sleep and unable to communicate face to face.

Lastly we discussed the corporatization of education and the role that companies now play in the future of our children.  Once again I was reminded that these types of decisions must always be made with students’ best interests in mind.  Education is a market that is ready to be tapped by many companies that would love a piece of the pie.  We need to ask ourselves, what’s the cost to our kids? and is it worth it?  I’m looking forward to discussing the overuse of technology and the necessity of unplugging from time to time as well.

In general I have come away with several key learnings from the course this term.  I’m calling these Luke’s Keys to Edtech Use.  Although they may seem simple, when applied to the issues discussed above, they have proven to be extremely good reminders when implemented in practice.  In essence, we will not be able to fight the future.  This is the way the world is headed.  What we can do is insure that students are first and foremost, that we are giving kids a balanced education, and that we are modelling what it means to live in a digital world.  Can we fight the future?  I certainly think we would be foolish to try.

Luke’s Keys to Edtech Issues

  1. Keep Kids First
  2. Take a Balanced Approach
  3. Model Model Model

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In the spirit of the debate format of the class, Steve and I decided to record a podcast in which we tackled and summarized some of the issues presented in this course. We expound upon these in the following podcast.  We also researched some helpful links in our show notes to further explore these topics.  Please enjoy the debut episode of “Steve’s Wrong vs. No I’m Not”

Push-me-Pull-you: The Dichotomy of Ed Tech

Hi Everyone!  My name is Luke Braun and I’ve been a teacher with Regina Public for 7 years now.  I teach Middle Years French Immersion.  I love being outside and learning to make things. Our classroom is the place to come if you need tools, sandpaper, wires, or odds and ends for a project.  Some of my best teaching memories have been outside of the classroom or in a Practical Arts environment where students really have a chance to shine while they apply what they’ve learned through hand-on experience.  I also love spending time with my wife and 2 young kids.  I love cycling and fixing bikes (according to my wife this borders on obsession at times).  Technology in the classroom has been a huge factor in my teaching career.  I wouldn’t consider myself terribly tech savvy but I’m always eager to learn.  It’s been a steep learning curve so far in 2016.  I’ve had this blog for just under 5 months now and I feel like I’m becoming more comfortable with the format and and also with the value of this communication medium.

I enjoyed ECI831 very much and I’m really looking forward to discussing some of the issues that are involved with technology integration in the classroom.  It should be a very interesting opportunity to further investigate my own preconceptions about technology in the classroom.  I have been teaching French Immersion in Regina Public Schools for seven years now and have a dichotomous relationship with technology in education.  As someone who has invested hours into developing MYPAA (Middle Years Practical and Applied Arts) kits, and as someone who loves the outdoors, I see the value of students learning skills with their hands that allow them to problem solve and become creative thinkers and tinkerers.  However, I have a smartboard in my classroom as well as computers and student devices (BYOD).  We use Google Classroom and Google Apps for Education to stay organized.  We also do quite a bit of blogging.  We definitely rely heavily on these technologies in our learning, not to mention the software that accompanies the hardware.

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Through the course of the last class, which was more focused on Social Media and Open Education, I came to the realization that technology in schools is really a lot like the two headed push-me pull-you from the Doctor Doolittle story.  On one side, the technology has the potential to completely transform education through concepts like open access, Connectivism and Rhyzomatic Learning.   I love the way Dave Cormier describes his disillusionment with the idea of teaching as “putting what’s in my head into someone else’s.”  There is just so much more potential in the belief that learning is not the transfer of one set of knowledge to another.  Technology is one of the ways in which we can now begin to encourage students to share and connect, and to foster deeper and more meaningful learning.  The example in the video below illustrates the contrasting nature of the technological reality that our students exist within.

However, there is also the other ‘head’ to the technology creature.  In this side of the issue we find the many pitfalls and problems that come with the use of tech tools in the classroom.  This can be as simple as access and network issues, to issues of protecting student identity online and cyberbullying.  Does this mean that the negative aspects of technology in the classroom negates its use?  Not at all.  In many ways the issues that arise at times through the use of technology in schools should cause educators to examine and carefully plan implementation strategies. Educators should empower students to take responsibility for their online identities, encouraging them to become true contributors to positive digital learning spaces.  There are so many positive aspects to the use of technology in education but I still feel like I am being pushed/pulled from two different directions at times.

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Sometimes, I feel like I need to try every new technology that I come across and find ways to incorporate it into my teaching.  I try to constantly stay up to date with the latest apps, web tools, and tech teaching strategies.  Other times, due to some of the issues involved with technology, I feel the overwhelming urge to take my class outside and plant a garden, take apart a lawnmower engine, or even try building a kite to see if it will fly. This is the balance that I seek to have in my classroom.  A place where students are not bombarded with technology but where they can use it to enhance their learning.  A place where students can feel free to ask questions and get their hands dirty if need be.

In a nutshell, that’s where my head is at as I start this class.  I am looking forward to discussing both sides of these issues and trying to flesh out the realities that accompany technology integration in Saskatchewan Schools.  I am really looking forward to interacting with the rest of the ECI830 team as we wade into the #greatedtechdebate!  My goals for this term include:

a) Discuss a balanced and effective #edtech strategy in the classroom

b) Discover ideas for minimizing or avoiding #edtech problems/pitfalls

c) Hear #edtech success/failure stories (we learn the most through failure)

d) Grow my PLN

What are some of your goals for this term?  Looking forward to meeting them together this term.  Cheers.

Learning to Code Online

When I started out in ECI 831, we were asked to consider a learning project.  The goal was to learn something new that we had never tried before.  Through documentation of our learning in an online setting, we would not only be learning something new but also reflecting on the process online.  I decided I would start learning to code.  I had a student in my class who was quite keen on it so I decided I would give it a try.  It was a bit of a rocky start, I have to say, because I was unaware of the sheer number of different programming languages available.  It was tough to know which one would be the best to use.  In addition, there were so many different places to learn as well.  From open online courses to dedicated sites for coding like CodeAcademy, and Hour of Code.  I started with Java and Javascript as a base because of the ability to do simple animations on websites etc.  It took me a while to be able to get a handle on how to give commands to the computer.  In this sense, as I’ve alluded to in the past on this blog, it really is like learning a new language.  Each function also has specific parameters that allow you to fine tune the action.

Once I completed a few smaller projects, I decided I would try to write a program that explained what I had learned during the term.  I used javascript to start writing a program with the help of some tutorials from Kahn Academy.  I have to say that the online coding community is awesome and very helpful when it comes to new learners in coding.  Below you can see an example of some issues I had with my program.  Within a few hours, several people had offered advice and one person had even sent me an example of his program to look at.  I have to say that overall the learning has been augmented by the social features built into the various online learning websites.  It’s imperative that learning takes place alongside others, even if you aren’t face to face.   Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 1.43.09 PM

In the first blog post in this series, I stated some of my goals for this learning project.  Firstly, I wanted to learn about different coding languages and choose one to learn.  Secondly, I wanted to get a a basic understanding in a programming language to the point where I could carry out a basic task like creating a simple program.  Lastly, I wanted to learn a little about the basis for teaching in schools, the value in it and how I could possibly incorporate coding into my classroom.  Having set all these goals, I set to work learning to code.  Even after the coding for the course of this term, I still have a lot to learn.  In retrospect, it may have been a good idea to join an online open course dedicated to coding but I had little available time to commit to this so I chose to learn at my own pace.  Making connections online was at times difficult because I lacked a certain vernacular to participate in online chats and forums.  Twitter and coding chatrooms became a great source of information for me and I soon began connecting and asking questions of other coders.

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After a few initial projects, I started working on an interactive story that would serve as a summary of learning for the class.  It became apparent immediately that even to make a simple program would require hours and hours of coding.  Calling images or animating them was another process altogether.  One of the biggest things I learned during this whole process was patience.  It took a lot of patience to keep plodding along even though at some points, all I was able to accomplish was to make a simple button that clicked to the next screen.  I hope that this is something that will help me in the future as I teach my students how to use online spaces for learning.  These online contexts are so rich for reflection and documentation of learning and collaboration.  I still have lots to learn with regard to coding but in reflection on my goals set out at the beginning of the term, I feel that I have definitely, solidified in my mind the importance and benefits of teaching coding in the classroom, become familiar with coding on a basic level, and participated in online learning and documentation.  So, without further ado, have a look at my first interactive story.  I programmed this using Kahn Academy.  Hope you enjoy it!  

Luke Learns About Social Media

https://www.khanacademy.org/computer-programming/luke-learns-about-social-media/2956636555/embed.js?editor=yes&buttons=yes&author=yes&embed=yes

Made using: Khan Academy Computer Science.

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Students as Connected Learners

 

It has been very intriguing reflecting on the ideas of networks and connectivism as they relate to the future of education.  Michael Wesch introduced the idea that teachers should not be complicit in the continuation of traditional ideas of learning and knowing.  This really resonates with me due to the fact that we have seen in recent years the growing networks that envelope the connected world.  I believe it’s true that teachers must train students to be ‘knowledge-able’ as Wesch puts it.  This is true for several reasons.  Firstly, students need to understand the ways in which connections to people and knowledge can be used to enhance their learning.  Teachers too are just beginning to harness the power of connected learning strategies to allow students greater access to knowledge.  Secondly, students must be taught how to manage these connections in order to decipher the necessary knowledge.  It is becoming more and more difficult to agree upon a set of tenets that all students should ‘know’ because we have little to no idea what the world will look like 15 years from now, let alone what sorts of jobs our students may end up in.  As Wesch rightly points out, the world is changing and the way we think about knowledge and learning will have to change with it.  As Sir Ken Robinson points out in the video below, teachers will need to prepare students for the economies of the 21st century.

Clearly, schools and educational systems must define what should be taught in order for students to succeed in the 21st century.  Enter George Siemens and his notion of connectivism.  This theory explores the idea that learning is not an individual activity and that knowledge flows between individuals through networks to organizations and back again.  In this way, the learning and knowledge transfer is allowed to grow exponentially as it flows through networks and organizations.  Knowledge therefore, is no longer a static individualistic pursuit but a changing flowing reality that is attainable through connections.  The field of education needs to begin preparing students for the use of connectivity and networks to become stewards of knowledge.

Howard Rheingold builds on this theory by providing a scaffold of skills that students of the 21st century will need to cultivate in order to succeed in this connected web of networks.  His five media litteracies are stated as:

  • Attention
  • Participation
  • Collaboration
  • Network awareness
  • Critical consumption

Rheingold explains his thoughts on digital litteracy in the following video.

Through the development of these 5 digital skills, students will be able to access and build networks of information and learning that go far beyond the 4 walls of a classroom. Learning to properly focus attention on what is essential, learning to take part in networks and collaborating in knowledge formation and transfer, becoming aware of how and why we access networks and becoming a critical digital citizenship will all be a vital part of educating the youth of tomorrow.  However, it remains crucial that the tools themselves do not become the focus of developments in educational technology.  As Seimens points out in his most recent blog post, we must be cognizant of the extent to which and the reasons behind technology use in the classroom.  These 5 guiding questions are key steps in planning for technology implementation in the classroom.

  1. Does the technology foster creativity and personal expression?
  2. Does the technology develop the learner and contribute to her formation as a person?
  3. Is the technology fun and engaging?
  4. Does the technology have the human teacher and/or peer learners at the centre?
  5. Does the technology consider the whole learner?

George Seimens, Elearnspace.org, Sept 2015.

As I thought about these theories, I began to reflect on my own students and the ways we have been learning over the past year. Although we use many collaborative strategies, twitter and Project Based Learning, our networks are fairly small and the students’ learning does not often take place in networks outside of our school or, at the best of times, our city.  I believe that a balanced approach is necessary to ensure that students are best prepared for the world in front of them.  I believe there will always be sets of crucial knowledge that must simply be accepted and proliferated so as to allow the safeguarding of cultural identity and language for example. However, I do see the merit in the use of networks and connectivism to allow meaningful learning to take place through collaboration instead of rote memorization.  As I’ve mentioned previously, connectivity in my classroom is difficult at times due to access issues at our school.  Students have limited resources and technology so gaining access to networks for learning and contributing to knowledge formation is a crucial step toward collaborative learning.  This is a goal that I would like to set for our classroom.  The possibilities are quite literally endless and many of the digital network and collaboration skills can easily be taught without the use of technology.  By preparing students for a world of networks and collaboration, we are preparing students for a successful future.