Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter : @iPadwells
What’s the biggest mistake teachers make when integrating technology into the classroom?
During a recent conversation I had regarding a new tech tool, a colleague told me, “it would probably go wrong and mess his lesson up.” The root of much fear around integrating technology derives from teachers wondering, “what do I do if it goes wrong?” In working with teachers in multiple schools, I have found this is due to a traditional mindset that the teacher must be the master of content and activity in the room. Fear of losing that control and sense of respectability is what still leads many teachers to avoid introducing technology and limiting the scope of what might be achieved with it.
This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edubloggers.
Teachers often prescribe which apps, websites and gadgets are allowed in “their classroom” to ensure nothing goes wrong. Notice here that the priority is on teacher comfort over that of the students. This can lead to learner frustration, scope limitations and restrictions to creativity and many learners not realizing their potential. Creating an environment like this, can foster disconnect between teacher and learner, and for me is the most common mistake I come across when working with schools introducing technologies. Young people live in a world where technology offers them much personal control over when, where, and, how they do things. If school does not reflect this world, it will seem to become ever more irrelevant.
In all my teaching, writing, research and presenting, the central theme in education at the moment is the empowerment of students over their own learning. As this becomes more understood by teachers, it redefines the classroom as a space of shared ownership, relaxing the need for absolute control and freeing them up to work with the students, whilst learning alongside them. Most technology these days has to be designed to be user friendly or it doesn’t survive in the marketplace and young people have become accustomed to quickly mastering gadgets, apps and other technologies. If the classroom is a flexible and collaborative space, my students help each other apply their own choice of technology to the task at hand. The focus is on the learning goals and/or problems, not the technology itself.
Operating a more democratic classroom environment has led to my own use of technology being enhanced by student suggestion. The Iinternet has increased the speed at which young people discover new tools and examples of them being used. Allowing them to experiment with their new discoveries gives them ownership over how they learn and in my experience and observations of others, it increases engagement in the tasks and content in nearly all casesclassroom.
The issue is not about faith in technology but more faith in the students to showcase their own mastery and adoption of a rapidly advancing world. The trick is to harness this potential and use the keenness shown by young people to enrich the learning experience for themselves the students.
Read the other excellent posts here: Top 12 Bloggers
I’ve just had the pleasure of being inspired by Keryn Davis at Core Education, New Zealand. Keryn was speaking to a selected group of talented NZ teachers and the not quiet as talented me, who are all carrying out research projects on teaching and learning in 2015. Keryn spoke to us about the power of play in schools and used research and her own data to convince all of us that this was a significant issue for educators to explore.
Starting with the work of Lev Vygotsky, Keryn highlighted that people naturally stretch themselves during play. Vygotsky said: “In play, a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behaviour; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself.” This idea struck me as quite profound and had me hooked the rest of the way.
Next we were taken through some inspiring examples from her own research where play had been first introduced as a special hour at the beginning of the day, for “proper” school to commence afterwards. She explained how the positive results from this specially timetabled hour of play had led the schools to extend it and use elements of play throughout the day, making the most of opportunities that arose. Learners naturally started to organise, lead others and collaborate. I highly recommend you read more about her work here.
Play, Involvement & experiencing Flow
What I liked most was how she linked play to considering the level of true involvement a child displays in any school activity and finally onto the idea of flow, being a state of intense concentration on the present moment. As a tool for measuring activity and flow, we were introduced to the Leuven Scale for Involvement. Originally designed by Ferre Laevers. This is used by elementary school educators to grade students during observations regarding how involved they are in various activities during the school day. Normally data is gathered by recording the observed involvement in activities of one child at a time as they carry out the different types of tasks in one day. I can’t see why these wouldn’t apply in principal to a learner of any age.
Here’s my infographic version:
We were looking at her data that recorded both involvement and well-being at 5 minute intervals for a child during a school day. We started discussing the idea of flow as being the state that people attain when these 2 measures are at their peak. Karyn had actually discovered that flow was achieved when involvement was “Extremely High” but Well-being only had to be “Moderate.”
Here’s the Leuven scale for Well-being:
Nakamura and Csikszentmihályi identify the following six factors as encompassing the experience of flow.
- Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
- marking action and awareness
- A loss of reflective self-consciousness
- A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
- A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subject’s experience of time is altered
- Experience of the activity is intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience
Reference: Nakamura, J.; Csikszentmihalyi, M. (20 December 2001). “Flow Theory and Research”. In C. R. Snyder Erik Wright, and Shane J. Lopez. Handbook of Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press. pp. 195–206. ISBN 978-0-19-803094-2
All teachers have the opportunity to design school structures and activities with an aim that children will experience states of flow during their day. These two scales are also useful for a teacher to use in judging their own activity design and classroom structures.
What does this mean for iPads?
Combining the ideas behind play, involvement and flow, I believe teachers need to be open-minded when deciding how and/or when iPads will be used by learners. Allow learners to play and express themselves. Let them build their own learning experience and in doing so become more focused and absorbed in the moment.
App Smashing is a great example of this, as long as it’s not the teacher prescribing the exact apps to be smashed. Learners should develop their own workflows and styles of output. Having to conform to any generic structure for learning is always going to lessen the chance that moments of true flow might develop.
The flexibility and massive possibilities for expressing, creating and publishing from iPads means they can enable a learning environment that caters for every individual. Personal agency can lower self-consciousness and this might in-turn lead to deeper learning and students lost in moments of their own creation.
The devaluing of content demands innovation
In my recent work, both in the classroom and in research, the most common recurring question is “what should we be teaching?” This question is valid in a world of Google, Wikipedia and instant access to information from the device in your pocket. This educational challenge is also expanded by the thousands of young people already pushing beyond the conventional system due to success in personally instigated start-ups and projects they have organised themselves. The personal empowerment and opportunities that the internet and technology offer will challenge nearly every aspect of traditional education.
This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edubloggers.
The most significant innovation in the classroom during the next 10 years will not be some magical technology or even students staying at home. It will be a shift towards student-led education, which focuses on the development of key competencies for success in this century. Photo credit
I’m lucky. I live in New Zealand where we have a future-focused assessment system that allows teachers to develop a relevant educational system for the 21st century. To give you an indication as to how different it is, the national curriculum has less than one page dedicated to Math! Our focus is on five key competencies:
- Using language, symbols, and texts
- Managing self
- Relating to others
- Participating and contributing
This means teachers are free and trusted to tailor their classroom activities to suit the exact children in the room and also allow them to inquire into content of their own choosing. That said, the change to this less structured approach has been a challenge for many long-standing educators and only in its eighth year is it starting to bear real fruit.
The need for this pedagogical innovation in teaching philosophy involves technology but is also, in part, driven by technological advancement. The speed at which technology is altering the opportunities within the job market is increasing each year. Recent studies indicate that large percentages of jobs will disappear altogether. This increasingly flexible world requires flexible but also collaborative learning environments. Students are being encouraged to create their future career rather than find one.
My conversations with educators around the world indicates that we are seeing a worldwide shift towards student-driven learning, where the content studied, and challenged, is also selected by the learners. Teachers will learn to stand back and be amazed at what students are capable of when given this freedom.
The innovation will come from the dismantling of traditional classroom hierarchies and the empowerment of young people to use any technology and skills, which they can more successfully develop in a learning environment that they control.
Design thinking is a powerful tool to really get your students thinking about and tackling a problem or topic at a much deeper level. It is a structured task that focuses on giving considerable time to thinking about and empathising with the people within the situation (Target audience or client), designing and prototyping a possible solution that is immediately challenged in order to improve it. It is used much in business and the design industry but can be used as a general classroom task within any subject area. It also gets students to work quickly without much introduction.
Design thinking promotes creative thinking, team work, and student responsibility for learning.
It is a form of solution-based, or solution-focused thinking; starting with a goal (a better future situation) instead of solving a specific problem. This keeps minds open to multiple solutions.
The core rules behind Design Thinking:
- The Human Rule: All Design Activity Is Ultimately Social in Nature
- The Ambiguity Rule: Design Thinkers Must Preserve Ambiguity
- The Re-design Rule: All Design Is Re-design
- The Tangibility Rule: Making Ideas Tangible Always Facilitates Communication
The infographic / poster above is a guide to a simplified version you can use in your classroom. This version can be carried out in an hour, over a week, or even longer.
This versions splits the task into 5 key stages. It’s good to set fixed time frames for each of these stages and for their sub stages.
1. Goal Setting (Whole Class)
HOW MIGHT WE DESIGN / ACTION WHAT AND FOR WHOM IN ORDER TO CHANGE SOMETHING?
The first stage is to devise an atoll goal to improve something. This is best started with 3 key words: “How might we …” Starting this way can have a powerful effect on successful classroom engagement. “How” is a word that has a bias towards action. It implied the something is to be done. “Might” acts as a safety blanket as it offers the students the freedom to fail. This ensures tham more are likely to give it a go. “We” pushes the collective responsibility and collaborative aspect meaning nobody will be alone. It also removes the classroom hierarchy, bringing the teacher onto the same level as learner alongside the students.
During this goal setting stage it is important to select as a class:
- “WHAT” = An object – E.g. App, Gadget, Speech, Toy, Campaign, Website etc.
- “WHOM” = A Specific Client/target – E.g playground users, garbage droppers etc.
- “CHANGE” = A better world – E.g. Target result, Improved situation,
- How might we design a toy for children to encourage recycling?
- How might we make school furniture for students better suit 21st century learning?
- How might we redefine the museum visit so that it’s student-led and more engaging?
As an extra idea, I have considered it even as a fun theoretical teaching task such as:
- How might an iPad app have helped George Washington win the War of independence in half the time?
There’s nothing to stop posting up a number of big ideas or challenges for teams to pick from but ensure the students have been part of formulating them.
2. Thinking – Individual then Group
Decide on an amount of time that students will individually think around the topic. This personal thinking space is important for letting quiet, reflective and deeper thinking take place to start the process off. This might only be 5 or 10 minutes but means more will come to the table when the group starts discussions.
The individual thoughts are then brought to the group. I recommend groups of 3 or 4 as bigger than this can become less manageable for the students.
a) Facts b) Opinions c) Interactions
This is the crucial stage where considering the people and situation that the solution will be dealing with is broken down into 3 stages to help the students allow for as fuller picture as possible. These 3 stages might take anything from 10 to 30 minutes.
- First the Profile the target as a list of facts. What do they do? What do they have? What are we dealing with physically?
- Second they imagine or research all the typical opinions and feelings that the solution will have to allow for.
- Thirdly they consider all the connections within the situation. Who talks to who? Who shares things with who? Who or what competing with what or who?
By the end of this stage, the students will have done far more genuine thinking about the situation than they might have done if asked to just “research the situation.”
4. Solution Design – “Ideate”
A minimum of 20 minutes is now needed for the group to dream up a solution. The important emphasis here is that no idea should be squashed too quickly. Let the students dream up ideas that may or may not be possible and allow the discussion and challenge evolve. The point of this whole process is for all possibilities to surface and be challenged. Sometimes the craziest idea can lead to successful divergent solutions.
App and gadget design can be applied to most situations and the fact that the students may or may not be able to make the final product should’t matter and allows them to focus on the needs that the product meets.
5. Prototype Critique – Feedback & Improve
This stage simultaneously develops multiple skills whilst also encouraging a more optimistic growth-mindset as teams present and challenge each other. The emphasis here must be on growing ideas and not judgements. One thing I would highlight to students is that designers and problem solvers always seek advice and feedback and so can use and appreciate anything that gets fed back to them.
Even after good thinking and empathising stages, there’s always a number of “what ifs” that any team will not have thought of. This also highlights to all students that there’s always another view and this feedback loop is key to any significant success that will last. Just keep asking why? why? why?
Which apps help with Design Thinking?
Essentially, the apps that help design thinking are those that allow students to collaborate around their ideas and creative output. Here’s a few to help.
Secrative can be used to canvas the class for foreseen problems to be solved and once target problems are chosen, it can then ask students to submit How might we… questions to frame the task around.
Nearpod can also be used to collate the class ideas for problems.
Drawp is another great collaborative system and app for class activities.
Talkboard is an instant and free collaborative drawing board for the group to scribble down ideas on. Might need a stylus to get the best from this.
Prezzi can be used to present a plan.
Design Think Links and Info
NoTosh are a key organisation pushing Design Thinking in education. Great info and resources.
Stanford Uni have produced a whole crash course in Design Thinking!
I am very excited to be collaborating with the great Steve Lai again (@sly111). We decided to celebrate the iPad’s 5th birthday with a quick brainstorm of our key lessons from 5 years of iPad teaching. Education across the world continues to evolve in its understanding of how 1-to-1 student device learning can and will revolutionise the industry. Photo Credit
We started predominantly with our 20th century mindset: “The teacher must be master.” This approach led many educators and schools to hold students back whilst they themselves struggled to master it first or feared the technology altogether. My recent evidence shows that a gradual development of this mindset has taken place and students are more often offered greater freedom to control how their learning might involve and benefit from an iPad.
Teachers are now accepting that the very definite hierarchy that existed in the classroom has been dismantled somewhat and students are now able to access information on demand then create and collaborate in ways that many teachers struggle to keep up with. The secret is to challenge students to prove just how talented they can be, but this requires certain freedoms.
Here are our 9 thoughts:
- Richard: “Never prescribe an app for a task. Let the students surprise you.”
I was introduced to Green screening and stop-frame animation by my own students. Students continuously discover apps and will be keen to apply them to class tasks. In a flexible learning environment the teacher spends less time hunting out apps for students to use and more time devising learning intentions.
Richard: “Green Screening was introduced to me by my students. It revolutionised my classroom!”Check out this slideshow describing how to use Green Screen Movie FX Studio
Check out this post describing DoInk’s Green Screen app
- Steve: “Know the ins and outs of how to troubleshoot potential roadblocks”
If you are the “go-to” iPad person at your school, your students (and some coworkers) will regularly ask you how to do even the simplest tasks. Try to predict potentials roadblocks by practicing on your own before any iPad lesson. Try giving some of your new and exciting lessons with your family and colleagues and see if they have any questions to stump you.Another consideration is to develop a small network of students that will help people in your class or even school with these common roadblocks.Here are examples of student-run tech support teams:
- Steve: “Always continue to learn and its okay to sometimes admit you don’t know how to do something.”
We should strive to be lifelong-learners. That’s why you’re reading this article! While you should be the best at your teachable subject, your students need to realize that we aren’t infallible. When tough questions arise, learn the solution as a class. The learning of that topic, on your part, is professional development in itself. Keep up to date with the latest teaching tools. Attend iPad pro-d’s if available.The views on iPad teaching have evolved over the 5 years and teachers are realising that the traditional view that they must be the master of the classroom content does not have to apply to the use of technology. Consider what you’d like the students to be doing but let them discover the best way iPads might help.
- Steve: “Be wise in what you share online”
Teachers are hopefully willing to share great creations made by students to other teachers, both within their schools/districts and also to a broader community. Take special care in how you share. Don’t publish full names, and make sure to get full parental consent if you want to post your students’ photos. As a professional, be careful and what you post about your personal lives as well, as it is an open book for all to read.
Read: How Teachers Should Stay Safe Online & Safe Facebook use in schools
- Steve: “Make the cloud an essential tool. Know how to use it efficiently, ie. back up student work”The cloud is a relatively new tool. Learn how to maximize its potential. Cloud storage is becoming more affordable, and free storage options still offer a lot of great sharing features. Discover sharing and collaborative features and learn about the different forms it comes in. Make sure what you upload is secure and safe. Educate your students, as cloud computing is here to stay. The iPads will operate with all main cloud platforms by Apple, Google, Microsoft and Dropbox.Read: Dropbox for Dummies, Why You Shouldn’t Need your USB again.
- Richard: “Understand that while the iPad is an incredible teaching and learning tool, it doesn’t change what works and doesn’t work in effective learning”
iPads don’t always change students’ engagement or desire to learn. True success in the classroom still requires a teacher to create the right atmosphere for deep learning. More success is realised by teachers who create flexible learning spaces and set student-driven challenges that demand deep thinking whilst allowing the iPad to help student collaboration and present this thinking.Read : iPad teaching is NOT about iPads
- Steve: “Don’t teach with an iPad just for the sake of it”
Teachers need to have (or develop) a certain passion for integrating technology (not just iPads) into their everyday teaching. If it’s not really your cup of tea, don’t feel like you have to do it. Find your niche and go forward with it!
- Richard: “Worry less about “Wonder” apps and more about Collaboration and Teamwork”
Why hunt for an app that can do everything, when tasks conducted in teams can demand each team member use the simplest of apps just to fulfil their team role.
- Student A: Camera for photo evidence
- Student B: Notes or Pages for text
- Student C: Simplemind for mind-map
- Student D: Blog setup & management for collating material and publishing
iPads also allow for collaboration between students in different classrooms or even schools. Here’s a “Connected Classroom Challenge” to test students’ ability to run projects whilst working remotely. This is great practice for 21st Century workflow.
- Richard: “iPads are still the most popular, flexible and successful device in education.”Whether it is the USA buying iPads in their millions or reports showing 86% of New Zealand schools have students using iPads, there is still a worldwide understanding that they are the easiest to integrate into classrooms. Educators around the world are often found discussing the benefits of active learning which the iPad continues to allow for in a way that laptops / Chromebooks don’t, keeping students rooted to one spot.Read: Why I still recommend the iPad for schools
Education’s landscape has changed greatly in 5 years and many aspects of teaching and learning that once were concrete are now being questioned. The iPad has played a big part in starting this questioning and challenging of old norms. Students are also challenging the system and their teachers as they take control of their learning. Education is no longer just about information and as the value of knowledge tumbles and access becomes more fair and democratic, the flexible talents of the iPad for creating, learning, collaborating and problem solving continue to shape this new world of connected learning.
Steve’s blog here: TeachingwithiPad.org
“Did you know, there’s an app for that?” In fact, there’s 100s of new apps everyday and many teachers are put off technology because of it’s rapidly changing landscape. “How can I possibly keep up with what I should be asking the kids to use?” is a common question. The secret is to not worry about which app is the right one. Let the kids collectively do the ground work and worry about keeping abreast of the generic technologies and capabilities that numerous apps are making available.
But before you even worry about overall technologies, worry about what skills your teaching (regardless of content) might be developing. It is becoming a much talked about subject that any particular content schools might have “delivered” in the past is diminishing in value as A) it all becomes available on-demand on the internet in both written and video format and B) the world changes at an increasingly faster rate and priorities change year-on-year.
Universal Skills – prepare for a changing world
- Do my students need more practice at collaborating?
- Do they need more time on reflecting on previous work or experiences?
- Should they be working on successfully communicating in writing or visually?
- How about project planning or connecting with the community?
- … and so on.
I also then ensure I have answers for the kids regarding why this is a skill worth practicing. Much of how I operate is around student devised projects but I work with the students on what they might focus on if I feel they or their team are not proving strong at a particular skill, like those I listed above. In a rapidly changing world, these are the skills that help develop what for me is the key skill: learning to learn. Why? For example, recent research is showing that unto a 3rd of jobs that exist in western countries will be replaced by automated robots or computers in the next 2 decades! Picture Credit
Universal Content – add purpose to education
What information is most important these days? That’s a hard question. Given the uncertainty over even the next 5 years, how does any teacher know what they are teaching will be both paramount or relevant in five years. In New Zealand, I’m lucky that the National Curriculum took account of this uncertainty over where the future might lead and in 2007 removed nearly all content to focus on universal skills relevant to improving communities and the economy in the 21st century.
Universal technologies not apps
The freedom the iPad brings to each student’s learning experience is key when the skills and content being dealt with can be so varied within a class. Let the students find relevant apps whilst teachers focus on knowing the available technology types that they might be expect to see or encourage as options for dealing with material, even if it’s just occasionally. Here is my list of technologies that iPads now offer to a student:
- Movie making (Telling stories) – see here for movie making skills
Narrative is so important in learning and allowing students to tell a story whilst combining multiple media types (film/photo/audio/voiceover) can be one of the most powerful and enjoyable learning experiences. The importance I have placed in any one-to-one device having a camera that can be used for this activity never fails to prove itself every week in my school.
- Animation – A challenge in planning and patience
The opportunity to plan and produce animation, either in 2D or 3D is a real challenge at any age. It’s also fun and allows students to recreate any situation for any topic of story they might want to present.
- Collaborative cloud documents / presentations / planning
This is very much how the world will operate for the next few decades and so building these skills and also their new forms of “netiquette” become paramount. The power in crowdsourcing ideas and skills when producing learning outcomes and the way in which live collaboration speeds up the process whilst developing social / team skills is crucial to all industries from the arts to business to sports.
- Web publishing – Blogs / wikis / iBooks / video / apps
The fact that young people can now publish instantly for free is still not fully understood as the world-changing situation that it is by many educators. The world audience that many people under the age of 16 already have and the self-made learning network the children build for themselves through feedback and professional advice can not be underestimated in how it will change the landscape in schools over the next 10 years.
- Green Screening
This technology is a powerful and fun addition to the world of mobile device learning. It is powerful for telling stories, reporting on events already filmed, school work produced in class or acting out impossible scenarios never before imagined in the classroom. My students were able to stand inside their iPad work whilst they talked us through in a video.
- Modelling – Allow students to play with that that would normally be impossible or difficult
Many apps now model or simulate objects and scenarios for the students to play with but there’s also numerous opportunities to build models with on-screen clay, lego, paint, metal, or electronics. This is not ideal as the real thing is often better but if arranging or funding the real thing is difficult logistically, these virtual technologies are brilliant, especially in the way they can be instantly reset for numerous attempts.
- Augmented Reality
This is the new frontier becoming increasingly mainstream. AR, as it’s referred to, is the idea of adding a layer of on-screen information, written, colour or 3D, on-top of what you can see through the camera in real life (think Robocop). Google has just completed it’s first trial with “Google Glass” and what DAQRI are doing for industry is amazing. Here’s my intro to the Augmented Reality for schools
Code.org and “Hour of Code” are part of an international push to have young people all coding. Whether you knew that or not or are already onto debating its merits or not, it can’t be argued that the results of coding now rule our lives and children should have at least some exposure to what it looks like and is about. There are now many teach-yourself systems and apps on the market and most are entertaining and successful at introducing young people to how coding works. Here’s one of my post on iPad coding.
- Building Networks
This has become natural and normal practice for many children. Kids start networking online as early as age five with sites like MoshiMonsters.com and even coding apps like Hopscotch build on this with uploading, commenting and peer support through what they call “Branching”. Tumblr, Facebook and even Snapchat can be seen by parents and teachers as worrying signs but a positive view is to see them as practice for what some business experts have already predicted will be the most crucial skill of all over the next 30 years – networking & connecting. Many of my senior students will setup support Facebook groups or pages regardless of it being mentioned or not by the teacher. It’s just how they operate.
Being able to not only save web discoveries but also collate, organise, collaborate and share collections of bookmarked material is an essential skill from the “to-do list” to more serious research. Systems like Evernote and others are great at helping people manage the vast array of stuff on offer. Modern bookmarking apps are also great when teams are collaborating on one project.
An open ended challenge
There are thousands of apps that offer entertaining and even interactive experiences with specific content. The issue for schools is becoming too reliant on a specific app’s existence. It is hard more most app developers to maintain the business and compete in such a difficult market and they often disappear after 2 or 3 years. Allow students to discover and use content apps but don;t centre your teaching on them. Focus your energy on universal skills and technologies and allow the students to practice and showcase their innate curiosity and talents for mastering specific apps collaboratively. in short, future proof your learning environment.
Please let me know if you have ideas for other technology types and I’ll add them to the list. Thanks.
A three minute video highlighting a journey from 20th to 21st Century learning. Video transcript below.
An incorrect start…
At the beginning of 2014, we started a new computer programming module with all our Year 8 students. This was part of their technology curriculum and offered them 2 hours a week to look at coding and how applications were made. My colleague and I went though a relatively standard planning period for this and as experts in code, we broke the subject and potential problems down into sections and prepared resources and videos for the students to access.The students were using iPads and an coding app called Hopscotch.
During the first term, we noticed that although the work was self-paced, the diversity in both ability and interest for coding was causing problems for real understanding and engagement. Students were attempting to learn the separate coding elements by running through our tasks as individuals, asking a friend if they got stuck but the classroom had only small numbers of students showing a genuine love for learning this knowledge. At the end of Term 1 we reviewed the course and i highlighted that the students’ level of communication was very shallow, limited to short moments where one would help another over a small coding hurdle.
A new beginning…
The start of the second term meant a rotation in the timetable and a new group of students for our programme. I proposed that to gain more engagement from a wider pool of the students we focus not on coding elements, i.e. the content, but develop the programme so that collaboration and engagement become the primary goal. If we focus on team-based activity, there will be more sharing of knowledge, collective responsibility and knowledge creation. We were also in luck, Hopscotch added built in tutorials and most importantly an online sharing and feedback community for students to upload their products to. A shared learning journey would make it more enjoyable for all and the Hopscotch online community will allow the teams to share their products and offer feedback and advice to others.
A change in leadership…
So the course transformed from a teacher led, heavily structured acquisition of knowledge and skills into a more inclusive and active programme that all could be enjoyed by all. The teams of students set about developing a computer game without teacher-led instruction. The focus was shifted away from the content and more towards the experience of collaboratively learning. We even got a mention by Hopscotch when I published evidence of a the new level of engagement. Another development that arose from this new more open approach was that I would often learn from the students and the traditional teacher-student hierarchical relationships started to change.
As covered in the ITL research on 21st century learning design, we were now focused on skills such as collaboration, learning with ICT, self-regulation, and knowledge construction, whilst also being more successful in students developing coding and problem solving skills.
This post is a quick assignment for the Mindlab.
I’ve outlined in a previous post, my findings that quite obviously, the moment that any individual learner is ready to listen, read, watch or even learn will vary. To expect any class to turn up at a scheduled hour and fully engage in the same learning activity is literally treating them like products on a factory line and not the humans they enjoy being. Photo Credit.
I have 2 daughters, both brought up by the same parents who approach everything in life very differently. Why would we expect 30 young people form different life situations to behave and have the same needs for an hour?
When I regularly divide my classes into groups, I often notice that a number of the groups have a member who seems distant or unengaged and I wonder how I can energise these kids to engage with the group or task during the short time that I’ve got them? (I teach in a high school still restricted by segregated, hourly subject lessons) Most of my class activities involve an element of problem solving. Examples might be, How are we going to reduce cyber-bullying in the school? What do the students need in a school app? Or even, How can I start my music career in New Zealand? It is the problem-solving part of the brain I want to activate in my students who are not in that frame of mind when I need it.
The other day, I noticed one of my daughters playing a puzzle type game on my iPad. It was obviously challenging and often frustrating but she kept at it regardless. The game was direct problem solving and my girl was deeply engaged. It was then I had an idea. If any learner who found themselves disengaged from a school task had permission to select from a list of problem-solving, “brain igniting” games, it might mean they return to the task more energised to tackle it or suggest other solutions.
To carry out an initial trial, I projected a problem-solving game on my board and invited individuals to have a single turn to complete the puzzle/level. After 2 minutes, pairs were coming up to have a shared turn. This turned into small groups and after 10 minutes had 8 people competing to make suggestions for the next move. What I noticed was that these 8 were not a normal grouping within the class but had selected themselves to share an experience. This had an immediate effect on the dynamics in the class. I have found that after this exercise, new pairings started appearing in the class and it definitely made it easier for me to suggest new groupings without any backlash.
Class gaming rules
- Time Limit: A set amount of game play per hour or per week might be allowed but there would be freedom to select when that time was used.
- The games would be form the endorsed “Brain-igniting” list.
- All games would be Problem-solving
- Gaming progress (levels) could be reported to class to encourage collaboration between students that might not otherwise connect.
- New Game teams are organised around individual’s favourite games
- Ads: “The Games have too many Adverts!” Airplane mode (in the control centre) will remove most, if not all the ads that pop up.
- 2. Student suggestions – Students should be free to make suggestions for adding to the approved list. I think keeping it to about 10 will encourage more discussion in the class about solving certain levels. With too many games, the classes attention can become fragmented. Suggesting games for the list will give them ownership over their problem solving world.
- Students are allowed to connect over a game to discuss strategies to beat levels. This builds strong relationships which spill over into class tasks.
Brain igniting Games
So I set about searching and inquiring after entertaining puzzle games I could issue as an endorsed game list. These are just suggestions but will give you a starting point.
- VERY BAD CUBE
This game builds in complexity from the most basic of starts. Join all the cubes of the same colour. Sounds easy but had my classes connecting into larger and larger groups trying desperately to beat a level.
T his game is challenging and demands a little math. Same number blocks collide and merge into a single doubled number block. Trick is to not fill the board. Even my senior students play this by choice.
Learn another language in a personalised, fun and accessible way. With an account, each student is automatically tracked and reminded to return to their 10 minutes a day if they forget. I’m learning Spanish along with the rest of my family!
- 2 DOTS
This game does not have a single solution for each level. This means it is less likely to bring students together but does quickly get an individual’s brain working. This too nicely grows in complexity and is good for the quieter students to work on alone.
This is good for younger students but fun for all. A constant rolling screen of quick problems to solve before the character can continue on. My7 year-old daughter played this game for much more than 10 minutes!
- MOVE THE TURTLE
This challenges with simple puzzles whilst teaching the fundamentals of programming. There are programming iPad apps but most allow kids to play games already made and Move the Turtle is the game itself and so is on my list.
- POP WORDS
This is a great twist on the game Boggle. It has a individual time-pressure game where you try to find words on the grid before your timer runs out. It also has a great puzzle mode where the letter tiles disappear when used to see how many tiles you can score with just one grid. This is great for building literacy skills and again naturally draws students together to find new words.
This is a bit different. At first you think it’s just a very simple memory game where you only have to remember which neon lights lit up for 5 seconds on a grid to complete a circuit. It seems quite tricky so you find yourself developing your own strategies for remembering which lit up. I even started remembering shape names to jog my memory. This really gets the brain working hard.
Sometimes we consider the term team-building as only something employers organise. I’ve found this to be powerful in my classes, especially with boys, who are often less social and likely to work well in new teams. You may have heard of Google 20% time, well this is an endorsed form of team-building / brain ignition time. Give it a try!
EXTRA LINK: Games are good for you
Digital Learning Tools and Modern learning technologies
Digital learning tools are seen by many people as those tools that are in some way different to other learning tools and need to be treated and discussed as such. “Let’s go to the digital learning zone” or “Now it’s time for class to use their iPads” are common announcements in many schools. Maybe we should stop saying digital, 21st Century and modern. I wonder if this mindset might be damaging to learning.
What are the issues?
In the developed world, Digital technologies are embedded in all life experiences and ’embedded’ is the key term here. Many schools set themselves apart from this life by making these latest learning tools somewhat mystical or special. Schools purchase class sets of iPads or Chromebooks and then allocate time slots for their use. Lengthy deliberations take place before Youtube or other social-media is permitted into school sites. Draconian blocking policies are written regarding the specific apps learners are or are not allowed to use in school (here’s an app kids use to get past the blocks). Punishments are organised for those learners found “off-task,” a judgement of “bad choice” applied to the student that is never applied to the teacher who designed the task being avoiding. Teachers do have a tendency to design tasks that they would enjoy or that work for their own way of thinking. On this matter, I would advise teachers check out Universal Design for Learning and the work of Katie Novak, Ed.D.
The development of computer labs or “iPad hours” is something that whiteboards, pens, books and other learning tools never experienced. Many schools are still isolating digital experiences as something special and separate to the ‘norm’. This appears strange to the so called “digital natives.” They are “natives” not because they are naturally expert but because they have not experienced a world without regular contact with digital technologies, such as digital TV. What takes place in the digital lives of these ‘natives’ is routinely unspectacular and only commands the same level of interest as any non-digital thing they might do. This does not stop schools and institutions reacting to those more extreme stories that hit the headlines or become staffroom gossip when deigning policies and procedures.
Individual teachers too use their personal fears or lack of confidence with devices and technologies, such as cloud computing, to restrict the opportunities of the learners in their charge. The format for learning that is most comfortable to the teacher can reduce the depth some students might reach and standardisation is still seen by many teachers as the only manageable way to assess the learners.
How did “digital is separate” develop?
I think this derives from the experiences the teachers had when schools made the transition to using digital tools, a transition young people today never experienced. They never had to wait 10 minutes for dial-up or a ZX Spectrum game to load! I try not to be amazed when some of my students are sketchy about what exactly a CD is. The students so often seem surprised by viewpoints (often hostile) that schools develop towards digital tools. Although there are many individual exceptions (I know many personally), it might be that the generations that did not enjoy playing with digital technologies as young people, don’t have as friendly or playful a relationship with them and thus take much more cautious and smaller steps. Photo Credit
The cost of these tools is also a complicated issue. I have heard many discussions about how buying an iPad is not like buying a pencil. There are many examples, such as this one, where schools prioritising the need to make access to digital tools as ubiquitous as pencils and paper, find ways to fund them, even when serving the poorest communities. Cost is often used as an excuse to bolster the preexisting reservations held by the adult school community rather than be an absolute obstacle itself.
Primary vs. Secondary
The primary / elementary sector are doing better at making a more life-reflecting adoption than secondary / high schools. It showed recently when it was reported at Ulearn, the biggest New Zealand education conference, that only 15% of delegates discussing current best practice were from the secondary sector. Why is this? I have much experience in training secondary school teachers to say that the power base they wish to retain as masters of their own subject silos, encourages them to shy away from any tool or pedagogy that might readdress the balance of control over the learning in the room. It doesn’t help that the universities are often as silo’d and traditional and demand more traditional preparation and evidence of learning.
Although the pace to adopt digital devices is relatively rapid and there seems to be various understandings that they are either necessary or seemingly ‘ the ‘thing to do’, I wonder how schools will manage the mindsets of teachers and parents to not treat them as the only tool required or a special set of tools to release at particular hours of the day.
If schools continue to treat these tools differently they risk operating a school environment that becomes alien to the students and thus harder to learn in. Young people have expectations regarding the ubiquitous nature of these tools and do not view them as special but just part of doing anything. A recent example of this was when my BYOD class showed far more excitement that they could write on the windows to plan their project than the fact that a video documentary was an option for the outcome.
Not special but expected
I can tell you one fact and that is that learning does not happen just because you’re holding a device or connected to the internet. In fact the reasons why successful deeper learning takes place have never changed, regardless of our rush to be excited about the web, social media and iPads. Young people don’t want to do everything on devices but do have experiences or witness examples daily of their effectiveness for communication, active learning and creativity output. Young people understand digital tools as a constant option on a Smörgåsbord of numerous tools to carry out all sorts of tasks both in life and for learning. All tools offer potential, the trick is to keep an open mind and not treat one tool differently based on one’s own skill set or experience.