Virtual and Augmented Reality: The New Wave

I have blogged previously about Google cardboard and its implications, which by the way look extremely promising.  The draw factor for me is the ability to bring world experiences to students that may never travel.  Teachers can direct their students in field trips to exotic places, historical landmarks, or scientific labs.  2016 has been dubbed the year of Virtual Reality (VR) and it seems to be living up to its namesake with seemingly every major tech firm diving headfirst into the VR or augmented reality (AR) space.  As we witnessed earlier this year with the release of Pokemon Go, the idea of being able to merge the world around you with with digital augmentation is an enticing idea for users.  People flocked outside in droves to try and capture as many rare Pokemons as they could find.  Not only does VR and AR increase engagement, it also can be directly tied to learning outcomes and students can make real world connections to what they’re learning.  Nearpod is another virtual field trip provider that seems like a great addition to the classroom.  It allows teachers to upload, create and utilize virtual field trips with students using computers, tablets or their own devices.  Teachers can then also add follow-up questions for assessment purposes.

The 360 degree Panoramas of places around the world can be navigated by clicking left or right or through the accelerometer on your device.  These experiences are very immersive and allow students to use observational skills to make connections.

In the integration of any piece of edtech, the question always remains, “how can this technology be meaningfully integrated into the classroom?”  Well, a good place to start is to read what others have tried already.  Two Guys and Some IPads have explored the idea of VR and AR in the classroom and have provided a comprehensive list of ideas and tools to get started.  screen568x568With Elements 4D for example, you can interact with wooden element blocks that react with each other using the augmented reality app.  What a great way to study chemistry.  Of course there are also many apps like Anatomy 4D which allow an augmented image to appear on textbook pages or printouts.  Then there’s Aurasma which was new to me.  Bill and Logan did a great job of presenting this tool and I have to say, as a French Immersion teacher this was the tool that most appealed to me.  The ability to embed translations onto images or words printed on paper is amazing and I hope to be able to utilize this tool in my classroom.  I teach Health, Math and Wellness, and I could see this tool being used in all three instances.  In Wellness for example, warm-up key phrases such as lunges, high knees, or even skills like, layup and wrist-shot could be placed around the gym.  Students could then hover over the word to see a video of proper technique and how to perform the task.  Students could even make their own gif files of themselves performing the task and link them in Aurasma to different pieces of Phys Ed equipment.  I hope to give this idea a try in the next few weeks.

In Math, the images or vocabulary words could be linked to examples or problems to solve as students move around the room.  They could also be linked to video examples of how to solve the problem.  I think this would be especially cool in geometry, volume, and surface area problems in which you could embed 3D objects to help students visualize the object.  In Health, the possibilities are endless really as students could be exploring human anatomy, effects of drugs and alcohol, or even infectious diseases.

Another neat tool that I came across this week was Splash.  This is a tool that allows you to make 360 degree videos and post them to social media.  You can label items in the videos, commentate and also ebed in a website as you can see below.  The app is compatible with VR sets as well as Google Cardboard.  I think it could be a neat presentation tool for students to use or a simple way for teachers to take students on a field trip or show them something nearby without having to book a bus and drive there.  Click the link in this tweet to see an example.

There are a few problems with the app as it is still being refined.  You can tell that the video isn’t stitched together very well.  In addition, the audio will only record for about a minute or so.  It’s neat to see apps being developed that could one day allow us to interact with the world that others are experiencing.  I can’t begin to imagine what our students will be experiencing as far as tech developments in the future. As the technology improves I believe that students will be offered opportunities to make truly unique connections with the world around them.  However, I still question whether a balance must be struck between AR/VR and the real world?  Will we see more and more VR/AR in the classroom?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Is it Meaningful?: Blending Assessment and Technology

assessment-icon-tab-340x340The marriage of assessment and technology has not been an easy one in many respects.  Documenting, assessing and tracking student learning has been done on paper for many years and even by me in my first few years of teaching.  (No, I’m not that old).  I used to type up my report cards as word documents and print them out for parents.  As technology improved in the world of assessment, many wondered how student records could be kept in digital formats securely.  In recent years teachers have been turning to technology to aid in providing meaningful feedback to enhance learning.  As Logan points out, why has assessment remained the one area in which technology has yet to be well utilized for many teachers?  One of the tools that I enjoy using for formative assessment is exit tickets that can be automatically graphed and analyzed to tell me which students have understood the content and which ones have not.  This information can be collected in a variety of ways. Photo Credit

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One simple way is to send out a Google Form.  Formative assessment can easily be achieved using non-tech methods such as exit slips, thumbs up`or thumbs down, think/pair/share, etc.  However, for many of the students in our division this makes the most sense because they all have a full GAFE suit.  The data is then sent into a google sheet for you or it can be graphed to show you what percent of your class understood the concept for that lesson.  Another tool I have used in the past is Padlet.  This tool allows students to populate a page with their responses to a question.  The responses can be arranged in various ways and it produces a quick visual to allow a check for understanding.  Because our students all participate in BYOD, I have not had a chance to try Plickers but the idea intrigues me.  It sounds like it would be ideal in a situation where students do not have their own devices.  Mentimeter and Polleverywhere are tools that can be used for even more immediate formative assessment and feedback as results can be displayed via projector in word clouds or by most used phrase.  This way, student feedback can be immediately provided verbally.  These are some of the formative assessment tools I plan to implement to a greater extent in my Math and Health classes.

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Of course for the more summative pieces of work we must use tools that are consistent, measurable and testable.  Rubrics are one way to ensure that students work is assessed fairly and accurately against the outcomes being measured.  However, creating rubrics can be a daunting task.  From deciding on wording to how many marks to offer per category it can often be the task that requires the most time.  Assessing final pieces of student work can be even more difficult.  EdTEchTeacher has gathered a tidy group of rubric generators, tutorials, and samples.  These samples include rubrics for evaluating, wikis, graphic organizers, coding, podcasts, videos, digital story telling projects, websites/digital portfolios and even social media.  I plan to use these tools to hopefully increase the efficacy of my summative assessment techniques when I have students completing digital projects.  Attaching rubrics to each outcome measured and making these outcomes clear to students is one of the best ways to improve student learning.  It’s very easy to be caught up in the hype of a new piece of tech to have students demonstrate their learning but without the tools to assess these projects they may be deprived of meaning.

In the above video, several assessment tools are highlighted as being beneficial to the learning process.  I would agree with Mackenzie Zoner in that the use of technology in the assessment framework provides faster feedback and therefore higher value instruction and learning.  What does this look like in Phys Ed or Wellness?  As @PENathan has demonstrated, there are many useful tech tools that can play a major role in assessment in a Phys Ed or Wellness class.  In his blog, he describes an app smash project that sounds like a lot of fun.  In essence he had his students use GIFO to create a Gif of an exercise routine and then upload it to Google Slides to present their workout videos to the class.  @JoeyFeith aka The Physical Educator uses Giphy to create looping skills videos to showcase new skills to students and help them practice.

I think this way of melding physical activity and technology is a great idea and a huge motivator for kids to take pride in their physical and mental accomplishments.  These types of video tools could be very useful in solidifying movement techniques or sport skills.  Even apps like Coach’s Eye or IDoceo could play a key role in providing meaningful feedback to students about skills being acquired or how to improve their technique.

As has been mentioned before during this course, it can be extremely overwhelming trying to implement new technology in the classroom.  Therefore, my goal for these next few weeks is to use Gifs in some way to either assess or analyze student progress with a movement skill as well as being more purposeful in creating meaningful rubrics in digital format that can be attached in Google Classroom.  Finally, I hope to use formative assessment tools such as Google Forms or Padlet to inform instruction in Math and Health.  Once again it is paramount that learning outcomes be accompanied by meaningful feedback as soon as possible after the assessment has taken place.  Technology can play a significant role in this but as Andrew pointed out, it may not necessarily replace building relationships with students.  Sometimes, conversations or verbal interactions are a key component in solidifying learning.  Meaningful conversation may not ever be replaceable by technology.  Do you agree?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

The First Rule of Web 3.0: Stop Calling It That

The term Web 2.0 or 3.0 was never meant to be a version number according to Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media who coined the term Web 2.0.  It had more to do with the return of the internet after the dot-com bust.  However, regardless of what you call it, it does indicate a major shift in the thinking behind technology in education.  As I considered what Web 3.0 would mean for my teaching and the learning of my future students it become clear that things were very unclear in my head.  As Andrew aptly pointed out, “It’s the internet…but it’s really, really smart!”  I enjoy boiling things down to simplest terms as I’m always telling my math students, “don’t forget to simplify.”  In a 2012 article on the EDtech Website, Web 3.0 was summarized as,

“widely available videos as educational tools, the blending of the physical and digital worlds, and a web that’s capable of applying context to its processes.”

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Several key themes emerge from this article but some are not necessarily new.  The semantic web emerges as a major step forward in our interactions with computers. Conversing with computers à la StarTrek would potentially be more like a conversation with a human and, therefore, searching for information or creating content will hopefully be much more intuitive.  The second big shift will potentially occur in the implementation of wireless links between various physical objects.  Again, this is not new.  Vehicles have had computer technology for several years now and smart appliances and smart homes are more and more the norm.  So what does this mean for education?   Photo Credit

In many ways, it may be that the lines will be greatly blurred with respect to operating systems, devices and software.  At present, school divisions have to commit to single companies in many ways because there is now interactivity between systems, devices, and software.  Students bring a myriad of devices into school across the world each day.  I’ve experienced frustration with the fact that our division is largely Google based but many students use personal Apple devices for their video projects.  Uploading and sharing becomes an issue considering student privacy and we are left searching for dangles and dongles to help us show what we’ve learned on the projector.  Hopefully, in the new web, devices will be able to seamlessly interact to allow students to learn, share and grow as a community of digital citizens.

The second big piece that is already seen in education to some extent is the move to data analysis to help us determine whether learners are indeed learning.  The future classroom will have massive amounts of analytics based on the students experiences using adaptive tech.  Having a deep online profile will also be a must in the next web.  Video will also continue to be a major theme as the flipped classroom model becomes refined.  Students will also have access to personalized learning opportunities as we become more interconnected.  Teachers will hopefully be able to provide more 1-1 support to students as they navigate and plan their own learning pathways.

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Benita alludes to the fact that Web 2.0 is still in it’s infancy and I believe this is a key and crucial factor in the development of web advancements in education. Many teachers are just now coming to terms with things like project based learning, maker spaces, and inquiry based learning.  However, if we truly think about the developments that are eminent in the world of technology, I believe that teachers will have more freedom to implement strategies for the betterment of students.  I also believe we may slowly see a decrease in teacher workload as students become able to drive their learning forward on their own and learning moves beyond the physical walls of school buildings.  The fact remains that the role of teachers will be to stand firm as a “guide” for the students as they make their way down the learning pathway.  Photo Credit

Through reading Lindi’s blog, I came across the reality of teacher awareness of these web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 monikers and the reality of the fluidity with which technology progresses.  As seen below, many still have little idea what web 2.0 really is.  Sure, as Amy pointed out, those of us that have grown up with these technologies are comfortable giving students the chance to become creators of web content, allow them to create online connections with others around the world and allow students choice in their learning explorations.  However, I think we are being naive if we think this is the way things are done in the majority of classrooms.  I have students in my homeroom that routinely complain of taking notes every hour of science class for days on end.  Are notes inherently evil?  No, but I think as teachers we are drawn to tradition and the ways in which we were taught.  All this to say, I think we still have a long way to go with the proper adoption of Web 2.0 use in the classroom.

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kung-fuSo what does this all mean for my current practice?  I hope that as I continue to develop the use of web 2.0 tools, I will be prepared for what’s to come.  With the rate at which technology is moving, we may not be too far from something akin to the knowledge uploads seen in the Matrix.  Does this mean we as teachers should fear the future or be wary of losing our place in society?  I don’t think so.  Teachers always have been and will continue to be the professionals that drive the new generation.  However, I do believe we must take into account several factors as we seek to be reflective practitioners with respect to Edtech.   Photo Credit

  1. Stay connected and grow your PLN
  2. Let students build their roadmap of learning
  3. Move students from simple search for info to network for info (Instead of searching for ‘what people eat in China?’, try to connect with someone in China and ask them.)
  4. Don’t be afraid to try new tools and become a master of the ones that work well for you.

The future is a place that will look very different for us and for our students.  Let’s be sure that we are giving students tools for success, not simply tech tools for the sake of tech.

“It’s kind of a red herring to introduce this idea that it’s Web 3.0 or some new version of the web that’s driving this innovation,” says O’Reilly Media’s Tim O’Reilly. “I would say it’s more that the web, having disrupted media, is now looking for new targets of disruption and settled on education, which hasn’t had a great deal of disruption of innovation in a long time.”

As I continue to struggle to get my head around this, I would like to pose these questions: Other than access and data management issues, what limiting factors is Web 3.0 facing in regards to education?  Does education need a major disruption?  What’s our role in an educational disruption with regard to Edtech? Let me know in the comments section below.  

Create and Share: 5 Web Tools for Connected/Productive Classrooms

When I think about the ways that educational presentation and productivity tools have changed over the years it’s actually quite staggering.  From the the chalkboard, to the overhead projector, to the SmartBoard, the way in which teachers present information to students is nothing like what it used to be.  Whether it’s what teachers are presenting to students or what students are using to present information to the class, the tools have become efficient, easy to use and affordable.  However, the key word in productivity is Produce.  If students are simply copying information from Google into a powerpoint, we haven’t really allowed students to move beyond collecting information to the synthesis and creation stage.  As classrooms become more and more connected, students should move beyond simply collecting information to give back to their peers and/or teachers.  stock-vector-green-tree-pencil-with-back-to-school-concept-107615228Don’t we want our students to engage online, create new content, curate, moderate, comment and ultimately contribute to their own learning and the learning of others?  Let’s face it, most of us can remember what I like to call the ‘poster days’ during which our classrooms were full to the brim with students’ posters; much to the chagrin of the fire marshals.  However, I am always keeping my eye out for tools that will allow students and teachers alike to move beyond merely conveying information via slide shows to actually synthesizing and creating new content that can be shared online.  That is the whole idea of the connectivist movement.  So here are my top 5 tools to help students become content creators/producers.

  1. Creaza– This site provides both content and web based tools for students to use.  Students have access to quite a robust Audio editor for making radio broadcasts or podcasts.  There is also a myriad of sound effects and music tracks included and the ability to add and edit layers of audio.  In addition, there are pre-made lessons and activities to use along with the audio editing tool.  In the paid version, students also have access to a cartoon builder, a movie editor and a brainstorming/mind-mapping tool.  The best part is, for those of us who are French Immersion teachers, there are multiple language options available as well.  This tool has been extremely useful in my classroom as students have been able to read a piece of literature, or research a specific topic and then create an engaging broadcast piece that can incorporate audio and visual in a well-knit fashion.  The students loved the freedom to add music, voice overs, and their own pictures to create something more than a slideshow.

2. Glogster– This site allows students to make virtual posters which can incorporate pictures, video clips, music, graphics and text to present information.  Students can select from pre-made themes or create their own.  In this way, students can become more than simple relayers of information but creators of content as well.  Students can record their own YouTube videos to embed into the poster or take their own photos or audio recording to go along with their content.  Here is an example of a project done by some students on the subject of Charlemagne.  One of the best features is that the posters are published online and students can then interact with the content, share feedback and comment on their friends’ work.  I have used Glogster in my classroom quite a bit over the years as well.  It affords students the opportunity to mix media to create something that is unique.  Students are much more engaged when they can view videos, pictures, or audio files along with text.  This also means that students do not necessarily have to get up in front of the class to present.  In fact I would argue that a better use of this tool is to use a jigsaw activity in which students would view each Glog and then provide feedback or report back to the class.       glogster-multimedia-posters-online-educational-content

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kizoa_logo_main33. Kizoa– This free web based tool allows the creation of videos, slideshows and animated collages.  Content can be uploaded from the hard drive, or from social media sites like Facebook.  The videos or collages can then be published to Youtube, embedded in a blog, downloaded to the hard drive or emailed to the teacher.I have used this in the past as an alternative to slideshows and the students really enjoyed blending media in order to get a point across.  They also liked the fact that they could use photos from social media that were already there for them to use.  It worked great when doing biography pieces and they really got engaged in the writing process because of this app.

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nouveau-design-madmagz4. MadMagz– As Editor in Chief of your very own magazine, you can invite collaborators to write, edit, and design the pages of your very own magazine.  This site is great for group work assignments or collaboration pieces because students can work together wirelessly from home or school.  Photos can be uploaded from devices or from the web and all changes are saved in real time so multiple collaborators can work on the magazine at the same time.  Because the magazines can be downloaded as pdf, published online or shared, there is a lot of interactivity built into the final product.  Students can then share their magazines via Twitter, Facebook, or embed them in their blog for example.  This allows content to be reviewed by peers as well as creative and constructive feedback to be given.  Lastly, it is usable in French or English, something that is not lost on this French Immersion teacher.  It has been a great tool for both middle years and high school students

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5. VoiceThread- This an app that allows students to create easy to use podcasts using iOS or Android.  It is useable across platforms and software types which means that students always have access to it.  Students can create voice recordings using their devices while also having the ability to sketch on the screen and/or shoot video clips to accompany their spoken word.  Participants can even watch a video and discuss it in real time.  They can see each other’s comments on screen and even draw on the screen.  This type of tool allows students to not only be creators of content but also moderators of meaningful discussion.  As a teacher, these discussions can then be viewed after the fact and analyzed or evaluated.  You could even add your own notes to the group conversation and provide meaningful real-time feedback.

So, to answer the question, yes I think the Internet has made us much more productive.  If by productive we mean that students can create, moderate, curate, comment on, and share content across a vast variety of platforms and applications.  The world is better for it and I believe education is as well.  Let’s help kids turn from simply consuming and regurgitating online content to becoming creators of content and therefore contributors to the online space and to learning itself.

Virtual Reality: Step into the Future

The intention of this week’s blog was to discuss a piece of educational software or media  and do an in-depth analysis of its potential and drawbacks in a classroom setting.  Since we presented this week, I had already done quite a bit of research into Kahn Academy and its ability to aid teachers in flipping their classrooms.  Since most of my limited readership has already been forced to listen to me for a full hour, I will look into a piece of tech/software that I think is very cool.  The idea of virtual reality is not something new but it is becoming more accessible.  In fact the New York Times just released a new film that can be viewed using a smartphone and Googles cardboard VR headsets.  Using a pre folded piece of cardboard, a smartphone, and Google VR Apps/Software, virtual reality can be brought into the classroom for little to no cost.  This is especially true for schools with higher socio-economic status due to the fact that most students will have their own devices to use with the viewers.  The possibilities are really endless when it comes to these virtual field trips.  However, are students simply consumers or can they interact in these virtual worlds?

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Many of the Google expeditions are based on the core sciences/social sciences and provide a different perspective to traditional textbook and lecture teaching.  Not only that, students can also capture and create their own VR experiences to share with their classmates and with the rest of the world.  Take Unity 3D as an example.  In this platform students can not only use an avatar to explore Egyptian or Mayan ruins, they can also build and create their own virtual representations to be explored by others.  In WiloStar 3D, students can take virtual secondary and post secondary courses in virtual environment using an avatar to interact with other students and professors.   Using the IOS or Android Apps from Google, sound and images are recorded in sync for others to enjoy in 3D.  Here are some other virtual worlds with an educational theme or focus:

It seems as if the rise in VR technology has pushed it into the mainstream.  Even in the 600th episode of The Simpsons, VR will make an appearance in the couch gag to open the show.  During the gag, a URL will appear on the screen which will direct viewers to the Google app in which they will be able to use their VR Cardboard viewers to enter the world of the Simpsons.

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The headsets can be ordered from Google or you can try your hand at making your own following the directions in the video below.  Here is the link to the template needed to make your very own headset.  With such an affordable tool, the possible benefits for students are many.  With the teacher as a guide, students can now visit world heritage sites, ancient ruins, archeological digs and much more.  Students can explore, analyze, discuss and get a true experience of what it’s like to be in these amazing places.  This software seems like it fits very well in the constructivist/connectivist school of thought in that it offers choice and freedom for students, allows them to build on preconceived knowledge, allows discussion and social interaction, and engages students in a meaningful way.  In addition, students will be able to interact with vivid objects in a sequential pattern that will mimic real world experience.  This will invariably lead to deep and meaningful learning experiences for students because they will see the effects of their chains of decisions within the VR app.

There are numerous advantages of using VR in the classroom and this technology may hold the key to the reason why our current system still sees many students falling through the cracks.  As William Win stated, “Since a great many students fail in school because they do not master the symbol systems of the disciplines they study, although they are perfectly capable of mastering the concepts that lie at the heart of the disciplines, it can be concluded that VR provides a route to success for children who might otherwise fail in our education system as it is currently construed.”  A second advantage of VR in the classroom addresses the all too familiar problem that arises when some students have mastered concepts being taught while others need remedial support.  VR allows students to literally become participants in their own learning which inevitably boosts motivation.  According to Dr. Veronica Pantelidis, “virtual reality allows students to progress at their own pace without being held back at a class schedule while also motivating them to learn.”

As an example, here is a tour of the amazing and historical Buckingham Palace.  On the screen you can click to move your view around the room as the tour is happening.  Using a VR headset, you can tilt your head to look around the room and advance to explore things you see or hear in the tour. Active rather than passive experience is a key benefit to VR in the classroom which is just one of many possible benefits including;

  • Immersive experience means no distractions
  • Immediate engagement: useful in today’s world of limited attention spans
  • Exploration and hands on approach aids with learning and retention
  • Helps with understanding complex subjects/theories/concepts
  • Suited to all types of learning styles, e.g. visual

So, why aren’t we all rushing out to spend money on this new technological trend?  Simply put, the recent rethinking of Ipads in the classroom has school divisions reevaluating what educational technology should look like.  Cost is a huge deterrent as well, even considering Google cardboard.  Finally, it is also clear that the technology may not lend itself as easily to teaching in some subject areas and depends on BYOD policies that can be problematic for some schools and impossible to implement in others.  Despite all of this, I do think that we will begin to see more VR in classrooms as costs come down and VR software specific to curricula is built.

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What do you think?  Is virtual reality the next trend in educational technology?  Let me know in the comments section below.

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Who Killed Educational Television?

When I was born in 1985 this song was already 6 years old.  When I first heard it in the mid 90’s I found the lyrics intriguing.  It’s a classic example of the rate at which technology changes.  In the end as we all know, radio has never succumbed to the power of video and it could be argued that radio and video have both been given an incredible boost by their younger brother; the internet.  It may not be in the same format but online/streaming radio content and podcasts are are available at the click of a button on any device.  Video has seen a similar boost as more and more people cut their cable and move to online streaming video content providers.  Netflix, Hulu, Crave, the list goes on and on.  Even traditional TV service providers are migrating their content online.  So what about educational content on television/radio?  Is it still an effective means of delivering supplemental educational content?  Who are the major players and what is their end game?

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It’s clear that from it’s inception, the idea of delivering educational content via radio and television waves was novel and exciting.  This was true for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the ability to reach a wide audience.  Educational content could be seamlessly beamed into homes and schools across the world through radios and TV’s.  Programs created by different companies and broadcasters looked at ways to engage kids and deliver some additional educational content.  It can’t be argued that educational television and radio was ever meant to replace traditional public schooling.  However, it became very apparent with the emergence of television in the 40’s and 50’s that the potential to reach a wide audience of children would mean a uniform message could be transmitted to the general public.  If you think about it, even PSA’s followed this same pattern.  When it was decided by research firms or government agencies that a message needed to be delivered, a PSA was recorded and broadcast.  The same went for televised educational content such as Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, or SchoolHouse Rock.  The wide array of possibilities that lay before broadcasters was unprecedented.     reading-rainbow

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Secondly, the access to popular music and culture lent itself to the incorporation of these pop culture elements into the content being broadcast.  This was the story behind SchoolHouse Rock.  It’s creator David McCall noticed his son having trouble with multiplication tables but he seemed to be able to remember popular rock songs.  He began writing and producing animated shorts covering topics like science, math, social studies, etc.  Personally I still remember some of these classic songs such as “Conjunction Junction” and “Electricity”.  They were short, catchy, and I would often find myself humming them as I went about my day.

ABC also had a huge success in Reading Rainbow, a program that encouraged reading among young viewers through themed episodes.  The award winning and long running program has now been released as an IOS and Android app.  Sesame Street is another perfect example of the use of popular culture, songs and educational content to teach life lessons as well as core content.  From puppets to famous actors and pop stars appearing alongside beloved characters, Sesame Street captured the hearts of generations of kids and taught countless lessons.  In this example, Robin Williams discusses and demonstrates conflict with the puppets.

Mr. Dressup, and Mr Rogers Neighbourhood were also amazing examples of children’s educational programming that sought to engage, dazzle and release the creative potential of children.  So what is the state of educational Audio/Visual in the 21st century?  Are these types of shows still being created? And, what is the true educational value of such programming?

mr-dressup

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It seems as though there is less and less quality educational programming being produced these days.  Especially of the nature that was seen in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.  Through examination of educational programming that is currently on the air, it is difficult to gauge the educational value of some of the programs now being offered to children.  I have a 2 year old and a 4 year old and there are several things we have noticed recently when it comes to educational television offerings.  The first thing we noticed when we started exploring TV shows to watch with our kids was that there are very few that offer children live action or real world characters to engage with.  The vast majority of the shows for ages 5 and under are flashy, high paced, fast cut, loud and repetitive cartoons or computer animations.  It could be argued that this is vastly more engaging to kids than listening to a live human being.  That may be true to some extent, but I still think that sometimes it’s important for kids to see interactions between real people.  I would argue that students need more and more stimuli in this day and age in order for them to stay engaged.  Why do you think kids have such a hard time listening in class?  I love pulling up old Sesame Street clips on Youtube and my kids love them too.  Secondly, the majority of children’s television shows today have very little content directly related to what I would call values teaching.  Sure some of the shows talk about colours, numbers and shapes but what about teaching things like, empathy, kindness, sharing, and hard work.  Themes that used to be staples of shows like Mr. Dressup are being replaced with limited educational content and flashy adventures that are just meant to sell action figures and video games.  Of course TV shows from my generation also marketed their characters as toys, lunch boxes etc.  However, I see a fundamental difference in the deliberate choices being made by producers of some of these new children’s shows.

Now clearly it is the parents job to be teaching their kids and no TV show could ever replace the real-world lessons that come from good parenting practices.  However, I do wish that more children’s shows incorporated positive values teaching into their programming.  One example of a show that does focus on a mixture of values education and basic skills knowledge is Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood, a spinoff of Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood.  In the show, which features decoupage, and animation mixed with live interviews with kids and parents, the kids learn valuable problem solving and life skills.  Our kids still sing the songs to remember things like sharing, showing kindness, helping others and even when to go potty.  “If you have to go potty, stop and and go right away.  Flush and wash and be on your way!”

So is Educational Television dead?  I don’t think so but it certainly seems to be moving in a more commercialized direction.  If the goal of the producer and broadcaster is marketing and making money off of the program, it may mean that the content is suffering or lacking altogether.  If you’re not sure about the content of a show, check out Common Sense.  The site allows parents to see evaluations of popular kids shows and media broken down by age level.  It’s a good start for parents or educators who are unsure if the benefits of a certain show outweigh the costs.  In addition, we perhaps need to remember some key questions to ask when evaluating educational audio/visual.

  1. Who is producing the content and what are their underlying motivations?
  2. What messages are being transmitted?
  3. Is this lesson teachable through some other means? ie) Real World examples or hands on problem solving?
  4. Parents should set limits on the amount of TV per day.
  5. Teachers should use audio/visual as an aid, not a replacement for quality designed learning activities.

What do you think?  Is the quality of educational television lacking today?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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A Journey Into the Mind

homer

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For some reason I’ve always loved philosophy and the practice of reasoning.  I took Philosophy 100 as an elective in my first year of university.  The idea of thinking about the way we think is somehow very appealing to me.  From Plato to Descartes, being able to talk about metacognition is a fascinating insight into the power of the human brain.  Although the questions may seem somewhat existential, there is a very real link between philosophy and education.  Questions like “how do we learn?” and “when do we know something?” must be considered foundational pedagogical questions for any practitioner.  The answers to these questions are, in reality, the driving force behind how and why we teach the way we do.  It is why some teachers tend to lean toward lecture vs. hands-on teaching or inductive vs deductive reasoning assignments.  Even the way we assess students or have them interact with information is affected by the way we view learning/knowledge.  Of the major views on knowledge and learning I would say that I tend toward the Constructivist paradigm, although I have been more and more intrigued by the ideas of Connectivism and and Rizhomatic Learning.  I believe strongly that learning is a social construct and that we form ideas through interactions with others.  Building communities of learning with others helps challenge our preconceived ideas and build strong cognitive processes.  In an increasingly digital world, social/digital interactions are becoming a key piece of every young person’s life.  We need only to look at some of the connections that exist already between Canadian classrooms and students all over the world to know that this way of interacting and learning will be crucial in the 21st century.

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Although there are so many variables involved in looking at the way kids learn, I believe there are certain things we can observe about how students process information.  I don’t think we can discount what Maslow has posited that there needs to be a certain set of conditions present.  During my time working in a community school, this became very evident.  If students lack basics like food, proper clothing or the feeling of significance, they are not in a mental space to concentrate/learn.  Once these basics are met, the question becomes, how does this student learn?  In other words, do all students learn in the same way?  According to Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory, we can not apply a one-size-fits-all teaching method to our students.  There are some students who may display better retention of material through audio/visual methods, others may profit from hands-on tactile learning methods.  Even though differences in learning styles may be very evident, teachers need to be able to think about not only how information is taken up, but also how students analyze and process information.  For example, are experiences remembered in the same way as pictures or video?  Are students really constructing knowledge sets built of experiences?  Does the mind really work like a processor of information?  Can the mind be explored to understand true thought?  Or, are we simply reacting to what goes on in the world around us?  Perhaps it’s beneficial to take a cross-cultural view of knowledge and how we learn.

For example, in Africa, age is an  important determining factor and prerequisite for certain social tasks.  Everything is taught through doing.  Boys accompany their fathers or grandfathers to learn to hunt, collect honey, herd cattle, plant/harvest, or pick mangoes.  Girls follow their mothers or grandmothers as they thresh grain, cook, gather firewood, make fires, milk goats or make peanut butter.  The cycle goes as follows; observation of the skill performed by the older practitioner, skill practiced with help or close supervision, and then skill practiced independently until mastered.  These skills are needed for the well being of the family unit and so are given a high priority.  These are in many ways similar to the ways of knowing that are traditional among First Nations in Canada as well.          

In this short video by Dr. Martin Brokenleg, the Circle of Courage is explained as a philosophy of learning that is central to the ethos of First Nations life and culture.  The circle can be used to enhance learning in a different way.  The student consists of a mind, body, heart and spirit.  In order to have a complete and healthy person, he/she must have a complete circle made up of Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity.  I believe looking at learning from a more wholistic perspective definitely has some benefits.  We cannot simplify learning into a purely cognitive brain function.  To do so would be to say that emotion, interest or engagement plays no role in learning.  This is simply not true and we can often see that when students are engaged or are given some autonomy in the learning process, they flourish.  Building a sense of belonging, independence, mastery or generosity during the learning process will not only help students become lifelong learners, it will also help them become confident and capable members of our global community.  Isn’t that why we are educators?

After looking into the various learning theories, I have to say that I lean more significantly toward Social Constructivism.  I believe that human beings are social creatures and that we learn through constructing meaning from interactions and experiences.  I love the mentorship model that many native cultures around the world espouse.  I find it sad that we here in North America have forgotten what it means for a ‘village to raise a child’.  It takes a community of invested and trusting adults to raise up a child who has a complete circle of courage.  In the digital age, Connectivism is simply a continuation of this same theory.  Growing and learning together whether face to face or online.   It was Orange Shirt day yesterday and I was discussing with my Grade 9 class what reconciliation meant to them in the wake of residential schools.  I asked students to write down words that came to mind when they thought of reconciliation.  This is the list according to frequency that we came up with.  I think this is a good example of the ways in which knowledge and learning are enhanced by connection, support and community.  It is the only way to move forward in the face of difficulty.    wordcloud-1