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Ed Tech Thoughts on the Space Coast


Soft Rigor - a friendly way to learn more

more rigor
While consulting with a group of college professors, the discussion turned (once again) to the notion of curriculum rigor. In recent years, rigor has become a driving buzzword – used particular by administrators, the the K12 assessment folks and sometimes parents.

Ironically, when one considers the definition, it is really not a pleasant term.

1 :  harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment :  severity (2) :  the quality of being unyielding or inflexible :  strictness


Not as Easy as You Might Think

assessment: It is not as easy as you might think.
This blog entry is really more about sharing what I have recently run across concerning standardized, high stakes testing.

I just hope that by sharing this one more time, one more place that we can move the pendulum back to a more centrist position. We -the public, the citizens- should be involved and aware of the Public Education System – whether we have or don't have children:
  • Public education is a large part of the state and local budget. You are paying for this. It is an an expensive endeavor.
  • Public education is one of the answers to social stability. (Notice I didn't say the answer.)

Assess the Assessment: Deadly Bullet Points

Today I participated in another political survey. I encourage parents, teachers and education professionals to take this survey as well.

Here is a list of my summary comments:
  • The idea that learning occurs on a schedule, in a standardized fashion for all students is ill informed.
  • The legitimacy of using a single test given one time and one time only is not a legitimate way to grade instruction nor the instructor.

Classroom Response System

As mentioned in previous posts, I primarily focus my energy on multimedia integration in instruction, project-based learning– but I also recognize that a mixed approach to instruction is not only the most realistic for the course instructors, but probably the best for learning outcomes as well.

Furthermore, as I provide training on iPads and iPods in the classroom, I realize that if teachers identify things that they are accustomed to using in an analog world, they may be quicker to try integrating those tasks to a digital world. Standard quiz and test techniques fall into that category.

So with that, I present you with my latest discovery of a fun way to use set’s of iPod Touches, iPads or for schools that are 1:1 with those devices or want to experiment with BYOT (bring your own technology):

After paying dearly (over $1000) for classroom response systems (several times) at my school, the first thing that strikes me about this is the price! For less than $10 (for the host App) on the iPad or iPhone (it is a universal app) – You are in business!

Any internet connected device can respond to quizzes, tests on a webpage, or iOS devices can use a free client App to respond (much more efficient). The teacher can create the standard multiple choice, true false, agree/disagree. You can import diagrams, and even mark up those diagrams in the App. Teachers can share test banks via Bluetooth.

It seems very easy to use in my initial efforts to share it with teachers at workshops– and there are many other features –so rather than repeat what the App store says, go
check it out for yourself!

Vocabulary, Keywords, Tagging & Search Skills

A large portion of my schtick is Multimedia Training, particularly visual literacy and the importance of learning with photography. Sometimes the science educator in me rises up to talk about the importance of Quantitative Observations (as opposed to Qualitative). But lately, I have been thinking again about good, old fashioned vocabulary literacies (reading, writing, and using words).

I am thinking again about what are
21st century skills in a broad sense... one of them is most certainly tagging, keywording and other side of that coin is searching. While there are some fascinating stabs at visual search engines such as Tin Eye, most of the searching (or Googling) that we do is reliant on Words. Vocabulary. Language. Diction. Terminology. Phraseology. Nomenclature. Terms. Expressions. Parlance. Idiom. Jargon. Vernacular.
You get the idea, right?

As important as the visual to invoke emotion, curiousity, learning and memory- and as much as music can set mood and is the
Global Language - We still rely on language to be effective at sharing our multimedia to the widest and most appropriate audience. If we don’t label, title, tag or keyword it effectively, others will never find it. On the other side of the coin, if we are looking for something ourselves– the only way to be effective at searching is to have a broadening mastery of language to expand our search returns, or to filter and refine them.

So as technology integrators, I think we have more reason than ever to expose our students to the process of intentionally going beyond their immediate personal response to the question “How should I tag this?” for pictures and other digital publications. Facilitate the expansion of their vocabulary and perspective by asking them the question: “What would someone else who was looking for this publication use as a search term?” “What would be their view or perspective, and what language would they use?”

This analysis will certainly result in deeper understanding and more durable conceptualization of the topics that they are learning about.

More Musings on Technology Literacy

Last week I spent many hours adapting some student activity step sheets that were designed for Microsoft Office™ so that they would work for iWork™ and I found myself again thinking about What is technology literacy?

Any type of literacy implies a mastery of skills, fluency and application of knowledge to a variety of unrelated and dissimilar contexts.

Any type of literacy implies a mastery of skills, fluency and application of knowledge to a variety of unrelated and dissimilar contexts. Someone who knows only how to read one book would not be considered literate. A student that is truly literate in numeracy must be capable of recognizing patterns, applying logic, and manipulation of quantities in many settings, not just using a chalkboard or pencil and paper. The task of literacy is much bigger than a tool. So why do we keep focusing on tools?

We focus on the tools because they are the handle we use to demonstrate our literacies. Fluency, comprehension, synthesis, structure are visible in the evidence of what we create with tools. But we really must identify the essential evidences of literacy and ensure that we don’t marginalize the expertise of those that are clearly literate but they are coached with different tools.

While it irritates me that vendors define technology literacy as expertise using one tool, or one brand of tools, it does make sense that students have to start somewhere. Students (and learners of all ages) need to have some entry point where they begin to learn the conventions of spreadsheets for instance. They need exposure to one brand first, but I would argue that that to be truly literate, understanding that technology should transcend what the keyboard shortcut is to take the contents of one cell and fill it down. It is not the keyboard shortcut that makes them literate, it is the expectation that the program can do this for them, and the understanding of when to apply this functionality that moves the learner over into the literate category.

What do you think?

What is the Common Technology Curriculum?

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I am currently deep in thought about this notion of a shared knowledge for the America People... I recently read an article by E.D. Hirsch in the Winter 2009-2010 issue of American Educator: “Creating a Curriculum for the American People”. Hirsch is a professor emeritus at Univ. of Virginia and accomplished author of bestsellers such as Cultural Literacy and The Schools We Need.

Hirsch makes the case for a common core curriculum for all students. He points out that this is an unpopular position within the typical university schools of education– an accompanying article relating how his own university’s department of education strongly discouraged students from attending what he called a pro-curriculum view of the causes and cures for the achievement gap between, on one hand, blacks and Hispanics, and, on the other, whites and Asians.

The current educational landscape is shaped by a very fragmented, ‘laissez-faire attitude to the content of their schooling.’ Hirsch even takes the daring step of saying that student-focused approach to education will lead to inequities in that base knowledge (see accompanying quote). I think that he makes a valid point, but as with many things, taking any extreme position is good for making a point but not necessarily the best practice.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly, nor repeated too often, that the most important cause of our educational shortcomings is not laziness, unionism, waywardness, stupidity, or any moral fault among the leaders of our educational enterprise. Rather, it is a system of attractive but unsound ideas. Known to educational historians as the progressive movement, these ideas took over in the United States during the latter half of the 20th century and remain very popular. The strength of the progressive movement—its lasting contribution—is its empathy with childhood. Its fatal flaw is its belief that the child-centered schooling it envisions can only be accomplished by resisting a rigorous academic curriculum and encouraging children to develop their skills using whatever content they find engaging.

quote from the accompanying article The Anti-Curriculum Movement

Hirsch’s position was supported a couple of reading samples that are typical of standardized testing of reading comprehension. One of the passages used as an example reported on a cricket game– clearly comprehensible to British audience, but quite incomprehensible to most Americans. This provides a clear impetus for common curriculum.

Although the samples didn’t include particularly large or unusual words, they provide a powerful evidence of the importance of prior knowledge and common culture. They certainly make educational equity for different races and different economic groups a goal that is aided by a common opportunities.

What is the baseline... what is that common experience, skillset, minimum conceptual mastery level that we should ensure that all students have?

This is the stuff that standards
are constructed out of.
I subscribe to what Psychologist Larry Crabb once coined as the mixed salad approach (he was speaking of Psychology Theories of counselling)- borrowing a little here, borrowing a little there, sometimes doing this, sometimes doing that. I think learning theories are also not monolithic, but deserving of equal time. So I appreciate the idea that Hirsch promoting that all students should have a common content- and it caused me to pause, and revisit that question for educational technology.

What is the baseline... what is that common experience, skillset, minimum conceptual mastery level that we should ensure that all students have? For instance, should all students understand the difference between a forced return and word wrap? How about an enhanced podcast and an video podcast? And after we decide what we need to sequence this knowledge and skill set, and determine grade levels that they should be mastered by.

I think it is clear that tomorrow’s citizens should have a common set of knowledge and skills, and as usual, education is the equalizer. This is the stuff that standards are constructed out of. This another one of those things that I don’t have a clear answer for, but I have been thinking about.

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A Call for Leadership

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The Profiles for Technology Literate Students document that ISTE published has taken us a little closer to the practical implementation of NETS for Students. However, we are still a long way from seeing it put into practice in the average classroom.

Now it is up to the educators on the front lines to assess where their students are in the continuum of learning and articulate what a skilled, literate student should be able to do and explain.
An important question:
Are most teachers prepared, willing and encouraged
to do that?
  • We are ALL technology teachers. Much like last decade’s battle cry: “We are all reading teachers!”– ALL educators need to own this one, but who and what says they will? One of the best blog entries I read this year was by Kim Cofino: We Are All Technology Teachers
  • Technology is (by definition) the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes – so it is both a question of which tool is best for the task, and which tool will students be most motivated to use?
  • New content knowledge, new technologies, the scope of responsibilities, documentation requirements, increased scrutiny on scholastic improvement – today’s teachers have an overwhelming set of pressures that seem to expand every day. These teachers have many stresses and tensions competing for their attention and work hours. Until we back off on some of these other expectations, and attach real value to technology integration, it will be impossible for all but the exceptional teacher to climb on board.
  • Technologies are changing so fast, even the tech savvy enthusiasts find it a challenge to figure out how to use them within a school setting.
  • Federal, state, district, school, and department leadership must support and encourage teachers to use newer technologies. If accountability only addresses the MESH (math, english, science, history) standards, and teachers/schools are only ‘graded’ on test scores, it really doesn’t matter how engaging and exciting new technologies are for the majority of the teachers.

So given those premises, do you think that most teachers are prepared, willing and encouraged to assess and prepare technology infused lessons with current 2009-2010 era state of the art technologies?

We see and we brag about isolated lessons and activities, we read the blogs and twitters amongst the high achievers, but the real challenge is to make it the rule and not the exception for K12 student’s educational experience. For the 80% (conservative guestimate) of the teachers that don’t feel compelled or prepared to really integrate what most would consider 21st century technology skills, we need to provide more practical specifics of what should be taught and how to assess it.

For the purposes of example, let’s examine the one part of the profile given for students aged 11-14 from the document on ISTE’s website Profiles for Technology Literate Students:

Profile for Technology (ICT) Literate Students Grades 6–8 (Ages 11–14)
The following experiences with technology and digital resources are examples of learning activities in which students might engage during Grades 6–8 (ages 11–14):1) Describe and illustrate a content-related concept or process using a model, simulation, or concept-mapping software. (1, 2)

National Educational Technology Standards for Students © 2007 ISTE. All Rights Reserved.

So what should happen in the seventh grade based on example
#1: Describe and illustrate a content-related concept or process using a model, simulation, or concept-mapping software.

I usually give teachers the benefit of doubt and respect they deserve, so please forgive me if it sounds as though I question the capabilities of my colleagues, my experience is that many of them are at a loss for how to blend an assessment of technology skills and content. Part of the issue is a narrow-minded view of assessment (brought on by standards based, bubble-in-the-scantron assessments). Or maybe it is the ease of using multiple choice and true or false.

But it is also a question of enriching our communication with the student, after all, that is what assessment in education revolve around- communication.
So as we develop rubrics for 21st Century Skills embedded in our content areas, we need to examine how the students best learn and what forms of communication will show their understanding. Our rubrics need to address both evidence of content understanding and skills in learning and communicating that content.

So in the quoted example from NETS, our assessments need to include both an indication of understanding, and an effective use of technology to communicate that understanding. If the students were creating concept maps for instance, the teacher should look for a minimum number of proper terms used, each word connected with an appropriate connecting phrase. Skills would included appropriate distances (proximity) between terms, complexity of branches, cycles and other patterns. The product of the activity would provide both content assessment and skill assessment for using the technology tool. The teacher would have successfully provided an opportunity for the student to master technology as well as curriculum content.
Part of the pushback from teachers for teaching technology skills in the context of their curriculum occurs when they realize how deficient the student’s technology skills are. And this because so few teachers are teaching with and about new technologies.

The teacher that does try to use the new technology find they are teaching more technology than curriculum content, because there is no scaffolding, no consistent previous experience.

In short, we really need to move beyond “How cool is that?!” keynote speeches, we need more explanation of how to assign grades to students who are effectively or not so effectively using the technology. We need leadership that really encourages technology integration by rewarding it. And we need every teacher to teach technology.
That would really move the ball forward!

Thinking about ISTE NETS... again.

I think that we need to offer both a qualitative style rubric as well as a quantitative style rubric. Particularly in secondary school, teachers are more accustomed to assessments that can be expressed in grade or percentage mastery form. We need to articulate what is sufficient evidence of mastery or learning. Teachers really need some more guidelines and integration ideas.

So What Do You Know?

Our first nine weeks has been rather packed as our students have been learning about the Business Applications such as Word Processing, Spreadsheet, Database applications. Although most students today are very comfortable with computers, they actually have a rather spotty understanding of how to use the suitable application or what the relative strengths of one application are over another.

For instance, how many students (or adults for that matter) know how to set up style sheets in a word processor? How many different tabs are there? How do you create a spreadsheet that will calculate averages or do item counts? What data is properly illustrated using a line chart versus a pie chart? What are the four main categories of fonts, how are they different, and where are they appropriately used in a document? What are the key differences between a spreadsheet and a database? When should we use a drop list or create radio buttons?

These are the types of questions that students should be able to answer after the first nine weeks in computer applications. Hopefully they will serve them well beyond this year in Computer Applications.