Immersive classes, where students learn by doing

The phrase ‘hands-on learning’ often becomes a placeholder for many things. If it does not involve experiencing the subject matter, then it’s still theoretical.

There’s a school in San Diego that doing something really amazing with teaching through experience – or ‘learning by doing’ as some call it. (It is featured in ‘Creative Schools by Ken Robinson.) At High Tech High, subjects are intensely focused on real world challenges. One project, for instance on Urban Ecology is described this way.

Students will discover how humans interact with nature in urban ecosystems. They will understand the terms sustainable and efficient in order to apply them to designing improved modern cities. 

Students end up publishing an  ‘magazine’ on the Urban Ecology, talking on publishing roles.They hold staff meeting with their Editors-in-chief, who are none other than their teachers!

Is this EdTech? Is it a computer class? Can this be used to demonstrate ‘rigor’? Yes to all three! But looking at their class structure, and philosophy, it seems that this kind of pedagogy is very different. In the end it’s not about exams, but about preparing for the real world.

Sneaking in VR to the class

This year I’m using VR both as a project, and as a motivation tool – to create a brochure. My 6th graders understand some editing and formatting skills. So to raise the bar, I got them to research and put together a brochure on Virtual Reality.

Granted it’s a lot of work. Understanding VR itself takes some time. They must create content for the 6-panel document, look up content, find pictures etc. As work progresses, there is a parallel discussion of what VR looks like, using a few cardboard headsets I acquired. One student even brought in two headsets. (One had cost him just five bucks!)

The incentive was that any student who showed me they had three panels formatted, and with required content, would get to experience a VR roller-coaster ride. Didn’t think a 40-minute class could move so fast!

Funny how sneaking in a piece of tech into a lesson can accomplish much more than a hand-out!

Storytelling with Google Earth. Neat multimedia tool!

I found an interesting way to use Google Earth to enhance a lesson. It’s called TourBuilder.  It’s set up like a slide deck, and is quite intuitive. You need to have a Google account to log in and use it.

Ideally you need to have your images and videos ready to use. But you could search and embed them from other image sources – including yours, if your images are searchable. I tried my hand at it, creating a story based on a fascination with geology, and photography of rocks, canyons, geysers, and gorges. The ‘tour’ starts in Arizona at the Grand Canyon, hops across to Wyoming to Yellowstone, and then to Ithaca, NY.

You could check it out here

It’s possible to use this as a way of documenting a road trip, for instance, and attach specific dates to each stop. A great way to supplement journaling, and deeper, and richer than FB posts or tweets.

 

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Robotics teams immersed in complex (timely) water challenge

So as #Flooding and #StormSurge is on everyone’s mind with havoc from hurricanes Harvey and Irma, it is unhappily timely that robotics in schools and clubs across the country are wrapping their minds around an H2O challenge. Specifically, ‘Hydro Dynamics.’

It’s this year’s theme for the FIRST Lego League that will culminate in tournaments between November and December. (Interestingly, the theme of the FIRST Global ‘Olympics‘ in July was H2O Flow ) Alongside the work on building and programming a bot to run missions, students must work on a research project. How water is sourced, conserved, distributed etc. They must also come up with a solution that ‘adds value to society’.

Right now there are a myriad of issues that experts and government officials are wrestling with. Could students hypothetically solve some of these in the future? Dean Kamen’s FIRST outfit has been doing an amazing job of using robotics to build a new cadre of engineers, designers, and problem-solvers.

As I watch my school team assemble the missions in my lab, it’s evident that each mission (built of Lego pieces) is more complex this year: There’s a ‘Pump addition’ mission, a Water Treatment model involving ‘Big water’, and others involving Pipe Replacement, and Sludge Removal.

Here is what the field mat looks like.

Classroom sans borders, now that Google Classroom is for everyone

I liked the original Google Classroom, for how it simplified how a learners could belong to a ‘class’ even though they may not be in the same building. Or country.

But the latest improvements to Classroom take it further, letting anyone who plans to teach create a lesson and connect with students. I just created a class as an experimentt. It’s a class on Writing and Publishing — the basis for a project this summer.

Lots of potential in how they hand over the tools to engage students, and receive feedback.It’s evident Google is staking its claim on a sector ready for disruption. Especially since Khan Academy has prepared the ground for it.

As the New York Times put it, Google has practically out-maneuvered Apple in the education market. More than half the nation’s primary- and secondary-school students now use Google education apps, it says.

Yes, you’re being tracked! Unless you change your phone’s default settings

Have you ever left a restaurant and received a message on your phone asking you to review the service? It’s very creepy. But it’s also what agree to when we use certain phone features or an app. (Sure, the app is ‘free’ but we pay for it by allowing some organization to grab our data, and /or track us.)

If you haven’t already done this, try Google Maps Timeline once you are logged in to Google. It pulls up a map of where you’ve been. It lets you click on each date in the past few weeks, and (if your location setting was on) you’ll see how Google has recorded exactly what time you stopped at any address, and left. So if you crossed a border, it will give you precise times when you passed through the border.

Of course this information is supposedly private. Or at least the Personal Identifiable Information (or PII) is. Of course you could –or rather should do these things:

  • Change your default settings on your phone.
  • Go into Google’s settings and delete your location history.
  • Avoid using clicking on the location icon if you could help it.

But we often forget. Or worse, think this information is harmless.

This is the kind of information that students ought to know. Not just to become paranoid about Google, but to become more aware of our data. Especially when it seems like logging into Instagram and Snapchat is a pre-teen default setting in itself.

 

Photoshopping the White House

No, this is not another fake news alert. It’s a teaching moment, however.

The subject matter is appropriate. While teaching Photoshop and image manipulation, it’s a perfect time to be teaching students how to become critical consumers of information often seen through imagery. And spot when someone has been tinkering with the truth.

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The class begins with the ‘conspiracy’ around the 2003 Space Shuttle explosion, by looking closely at the Photoshopped images. We also look at doctored images of public figures.

When they get to the computers, their challenge is to add to, or ‘enhance’ fountains on the White House lawn.

Here’s are a couple of examples. student-3

Take a guess. How many fountains are really there on the North lawn?

Please don’t ‘Like’ this post – read it

Look, you are free to not read this. I’m mainly concerned about people clicking on links or forwarding them, while not reading beyond the first two sentences.

If you got this far, Thanks!

I run into issues of young people not ‘seeing’ information in front of them, because their brains have become trained bypass information on a screen and look for images and videos. They are good ‘readers’ as the data shows. They borrow a lot of books, for sure. However they seem inattentive to information, even on beautifully laid out web pages.

Does it have something to do with our newfound desire to share, reducing our appetite to absorb, and for conversations, as Emerson Csorba says. [“Online sharing and selfies erode the value of our private lives“]

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The article for the above quote is here at the New York Times article on Digital Connectedness. Worth a read.

If you got this far, I’m flattered. Thanks!

So how do students read in the digital era? Or rather, how is reading taught today to digital natives? Sadly, in many places, no differently from the pre-digital era. I read a long (warning: long!) article in Education Week, where reporter  says that “practitioners have few guidelines, and many are simply adapting their lessons as they see fit.” Those in literacy studies recommend that we adopt a simultaneous approach, teaching traditional and digital reading skills.

My gut feeling is we assume too much that seeing young people click on topics and pages. It makes us believe that they click, therefore the must be reading. The linear experience is being remodeled by a hyperlinked, non-linear experience even while we watch. Given the powerful desire to share instead of absorb, the non-linear experience may be not as great as advertised.

If you got THIS far, I would like to talk to you! 

(There is, intentionally, no picture in this post. What made you read on?)

ISTE Ed-Tech Conference Wrap-up: Part 1

Just got back from the ISTE 2016 conference in Denver, and it’s hard to decide what stood out more: The technology, or the practices.

HARDWARE: Being a tech teacher, indeed the tools were mind-blowing. From the simple Digital Storytelling hacks, and wide range ofgaming technologies, to Makerspace ideas such as conductive material, to Virtual Reality, and Robotics. (More on robotics in a later post.) VR seems to have matured since 2014, and mini robots –like the Sphero, here — were practically running over our feet. OK, I actually took the challenge and drove one of these across the floor. They’re practically unbreakable, too!

SOFTWAREThe software definitely made me do a double take, when it came to programming languages, and ‘kits’ to simplify the learning curve. It’s finally come to this: software doesn’t exist in some abstract dimension, but comes coupled with devices that a student could learn to program – and see the effects in real-time. Google and Microsoft appeared to be fighting for attention. If you had the stamina and enough coffee, you could go through an entire day toggling between a Google classroom and that of Microsoft’s. Both have well defined Education divisions. (The former made 5 education product announcements at the conference.)

The sessions I liked most, were the Education Playgrounds. These were informal on-on-one or group sessions. I picked several that combined hardware and software. I met with a few Raspberry pi experts, basically teachers who worked with kits that were built around this mini computer.

I was fascinated by the no-frills entry-level kits (starting at the princely sum of $35 an unit!). Why?

RaspberryPi-tn

First because this hardware was not housed in some beautiful laminated case but was transparent enough or a 3rd grader to understand what a computer was all about. I often need to remind students that ‘computing’ is not some mysterious art form.

Second, computer literacy and digital literacy are joined at the hip today, in the same way that Robotics and the Maker movement can be two sides of the same coin. We need to merge our lesson plans, and get our young Digital Citizens to be Makers, engineers, designers, tinkerers, problem solvers and storytellers to recognize they can each take a piece of this action, and run with it.

FINALLY: I attended a few mind-expanding poster sessions, where the presenters were students. I’ve said it before that no teacher conference would be complete until you have met with students who are after all the reason our schools go to great lengths to send us out to these professional development events. It’s inspiring to see the end product of great teaching, and how underpaid teachers in bootstrapped school districts get students to soar. Many takeaways from these sessions.