Category Archives: technology

A Few Random Notes for the New Year

It is warm enough here on the farm to have the doors open. I sat on the rocking chair on the porch and started reading my first book for the year: Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding. The first chapter pulled me in: an informal history that manages to celebrate not just birds but explorers and wilderness. I am, admittedly, a bird nerd so this may not be general interest, but it goes along with my desire to learn more about some of my hobbies.

I  chose this book as part of a challenge on LibraryThing, a reading community that I have belonged to since 2005. I have met a few of the folks in real life but most are virtual friends who share my love of reading and books. I want to spend more time here in 2019: again, an opportunity to focus on more deeply on reading, one of my lifelong hobbies.

I was surprised and honored to be mentioned by Jennifer Orr who included one of my recent posts in her year end review. I did a bit more blogging at the end of 2018 and knowing at least one person read and thought about my post might be enough to keep me going into the new year. Plus, Jennifer’s reviews provide a great start to my reading list for 2019. I plan to be much more intentional with my online time in the coming year. Less mindless scrolling and more meaningful interaction.

I am most excited about sponsoring a 4H special interest group related to coding in my local community. I live in one of the poorest counties in Virginia, underserved in many ways. But there are champions, and I have been able to connect with a few to sponsor the after school club in January. I spent my holiday break doing curriculum and lesson planning for our work together.

I think my biggest challenge is finding a work/life balance, especially when there is a huge overlap between those two things.

But I also love to play music and want to become more proficient on the guitar and ukelele, maybe even connect with a face to face group of musicians.

And I want to make time to create in all kinds of ways: crocheting, paper cutting, electronics. One of my best moments from 2018 was participating in the local library’s Trunk or Treat event on Halloween and getting folks to interact with the screaming pumpkins and the joke telling hat, both powered by Makey Makey.

Green Screen Practice

For Tuesday’s class, my students are thinking about leadership, vision and the standards. As part of the class, they will work in groups to create a slide about one of the Education Leader standards and how it relates to the other sets of standards. Once they create their slide, they will use Do Ink to narrate the slide in front of a green screen either using video of themselves or paper avatars. I have two green screen stations: one with a table cloth and one with a pizza box. Both items came from @gemilltime  who gave them to me after her presentation about using green screens in the classroom.

My sample was for the ISTE certification course and featured a paper doll of Emily Dickinson talking about flipgrid and how I use it as a check in tool for the genius project. Pretty dull stuff…it was proof of concept to make sure I had a basic understanding of how it works. I’m relying on at least some of my students being familiar with it. I think, as an exit ticket each week, I need to see how familiar students are with the coming tech activities. It will help gauge how far we might go and who might need extra support. I have some pretty techy folks this semester.

We are going to do a “stations” approach next week. There will be five groups–one for each standard–and all of them will spend the first 20 minutes planning their slide and their video. Then, two groups will work on their videos in the classroom while the rest of the students head out to the library to work independently on developing the twitter PLN, part of their passion project. They will find and follow experts in the area they want to pursue, identify potential twitter chats and then spend some time just interacting with Twitter. I feel like I used to as a reading teacher: if I wanted you to read, I needed to give you time. If I want you to use Twitter, I need to give it class time and priority.

As groups finish their videos, the other groups will rotate through with the goal of being done in time to watch them in class. If not, I’ll post them to the course site later.

My own attempt is not for prime time but I may play a bit tomorrow. I have these great paper dolls of famous American writers along with props that would make fun tableau. Maybe Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Mark Twain spend some time chatting.

Integrating Electronics Into Our Lives

As summer begins and kids get out of school, various versions of “summer rules” are floating around the Internet. It’s a way to set expectations for a time of year when it can seem that all rules are off.

This one, from the Thirty Handmade Days blog, is typical. Its purpose, according to the creator, is to keep the kids from spending the whole day glued to a screen so they earn the time with their gadgets  while spending time reading, writing, creating and playing outside. I like the spirit of it but something felt off, based on my own use of electronics.

For instance, I often use my device to read and write. I’m writing this blog post on my laptop. I often carry my phone on a dog walk, partly for safety, but also in case we happen upon something interesting that I want to record like an unusual bird or flower. I imagine that kids might want to do the same: create a video of the rules for a game they created or do some macro photography of bugs or butterflies. As for creating, I often reference the Internet for ideas or directions for things to my projects. I’m participating in the DS106 June 30 Day Daily Create Challenge. The goal is to be digitally creative by providing a new challenge each day and move us away from just “like buttons on Facebook or retweeting other people’s memes.” The tools we carry with us offer almost infinite possibilities for creativity but if we don’t help kids see that, then they will rush through the other items in order to be able to settle into the consumer pull of those same devices.

And, I understand that concern. We certainly don’t want the kids to spend the whole summer playing video games or watching movies, never lifting their heads or hands to interact with the real world. And, as Mique says, every family has to do what makes them comfortable. I would just like to see a more integrative approach to technology, finding ways to use it as part of our other activities. Maybe that is what she meant but this seems a little too much like the classroom where the kids only get to use the computers when they do everything else. Electronics shouldn’t be a reward but a natural part of our daily lives.

I also can’t help but wonder if these rules apply to parents, too?

Pokemon Go? Been There, Done That

Pokemon Go has taken over the world, it seems. Around all the hysteria, I had a flashback to summer 2011, a hot day in Radford, Virginia, with about 20 others who had gathered to learn about this new thing called Augmented Reality. Matt Dunleavy and his graduate students introduced us to FreshAIR, their AR development software and app.

The morning session involved an overview. Then, they handed us an iPod and sent us out to the campus to play the secret agent game. The app alerted us to hot spots, and we were led through a scenario where we watched a video, communicated with another agent and ultimately either solved the mystery, or ended up at a dead end because we followed the wrong information. It was pretty darn amazing!

During the afternoon, we worked with the actual software to develop AR games. It was an early version of the software, but essentially, we set GPS points that linked to video, audio, or text. Despite the heat, we were able to head outside and test our games. Again, pretty amazing!

So, forgive me if I’m a little underwhelmed by Pokemon Go. Really? Five years of AR and this is how we use this amazing technology? Chasing and catching Pokemons? Clearly, people like me have not done a good job getting the word out about the wonders of AR and the opportunity to create our own games rather than  mindlessly following someone else’s creation.

This article gives some ideas for how AR can be used to support authentic student learning. Dunleavy may have been psychic in his comment about the perils of focusing too much on the digital world:

“If we have students staring at their phones the whole time, then I think we’ve missed the point,” he said. “We don’t want to cognitively pull people out of their environment. We want to use text, audio, and video to drive them deeper into it.”

The article highlights Harvard’s ecoMOBILE research and also includes examples of some student-created AR games. They admit it’s not easy: teachers and students aren’t often permitted to leave the classroom and location-based AR requires the ability to move around in the world.

If Pokemon Go is what we need to get the word out, that’s fine: but let’s realize that there has already been work in this area by educators and figure out how this becomes part of authentic, engaging learning.


Speaking With Clarity and Purpose

As I browsed Feedly today, I came across two blog posts about the words we use. Brad Currie pushes back on those who would discourage educators from using buzzwords. Peter DeWitt, meanwhile, names 10 educational words that should be banished. Ironically, I can’t tell you what those words are except that one is technology, because DeWitt’s list is now hidden from me behind the EdWeek paywall.

I come down on the side of letting people speak, and Currie makes an interesting argument around using buzzwords:

Last I checked people have the freedom to say what they want, when they want, and how they want. If educators are committed to taking risks and evolving over time, then they should be allowed to use whatever words, phrases, paragraphs, etc they want.

The important point here is that using buzzwords is acceptable as long as we are using them to move forward. So, if you’re a principal or superintendent who calls yourself a “lead learner” then you should walk the walk of a lead learner.

From what I remember, DeWitt suggests banishing the word “technology” because it continues to make it seem as though technology is an add-on. I don’t disagree, but I think  instead of banishing the word, how about asking educators to be more clear about why and how they are using technology. Are they fostering collaboration through the use of Google docs? Or encouraging creativity by integrating a tool like Animoto? We can use the word to foster clarity about the use of technology as it supports pedagogy.

Also, I think DeWitt is overlooking the fact that, for many of our schools, technology is not so ubiquitous that it can become invisible. Sadly, technology use is often still a novelty, something of comment, as teachers sign out carts to bring into their classrooms or line up their classes to head to computer labs.

So, rather than banishing words, let’s take Currie’s approach and allow their use as long as we are more clear about their meanings for us and how they inform our work as educators.