Education reform takes more than innovation and inspiration

I caught this TEDx a while back and a few points really struck a cord with me.

“…when inspiration becomes manipulation, inspiration becomes obfuscation”

After seeing countless TED Talks that were meant to inspire education reform, I found myself duped by what Bratton described as “placebo innovation.” Bratton explains:

In this case the placebo is worse than ineffective, it’s harmful. It diverts your interest, enthusiasm and outrage until it’s absorbed into this black hole of affectation.

Too often I feel like some “reformers” are implying that we’d improve education if every teacher would just realize “x” and “have the courage to change.” Bratton points out:

Problems are not “puzzles” to be solved. That metaphor assumes that all the necessary pieces are already on the table, they just need to be rearranged and reprogrammed. It’s not true. “Innovation” defined as moving the pieces around and adding more processing power is not some Big Idea that will disrupt a broken status quo: that precisely is the broken status quo.

Bottom-line: If the problems we face in education were easy to solve, they’d be solved. But Bratton outlines that tough problems take a lot more than just ‘talk’ (or the latest blog post).

If we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff (history, economics, philosophy, art, ambiguities, contradictions). Bracketing it off to the side to focus just on technology, or just on innovation, actually prevents transformation.

Powerful weapons of speech- think about ethics and design first

Last week we interviewed Illah Reza Nourbakhsh, Professor of Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. We talked a lot about how robots will affect the future. However, there was a segment of the interview that really touched on the role of the teacher and technology in the classroom.

Nourbakhsh explains the new challenges teachers face when students are working with technology in the classroom:

…educators not only need to give students the power to invent, because they need to be creators, but they need to teach them what it means to think about the process of invention, to think about the ethics of society and that’s not a lesson that we’ve ever been busy teaching people in say middle school or high school before.

When asked about teachers who feel they don’t know enough about technology, he explains:

…teachers are decades older than their students, or at least a decade older,  they know about society, they know about ethics, they know about rhetoric. And we can create resources that make it ever easier for them to teach with that. But basically we’re giving people much more powerful weapons of speech. And if we do that, we have to also teach them how to use that speech. If we decouple those in the wrong way, it’s a disaster. Then we have this zoo and our quality of life goes to heck.

You can find the entire show at LabOutLoud.com, but I clipped out the segment that speaks to technology integration and share it below.

[download clip]

P.S. In this clip, co-host Brian Bartel coins the phrase “edtech smog” to describe the instances where technology pollutes our mission as educators. I’m putting Voki and Animoto at the top of my list as #EdtechSmog.

Get a direct link to files hosted in Google Drive

Update: I haven’t had trouble myself but some have reported that this no longer works now that Google has updated to the ‘New Google Drive’.

Imagine you want to use a QR code so guests at Parents’ Night can scan the code and stream video or audio straight to their mobile device. If you share the files in Google Drive, users will be taken to a Google page where they have to download the file first. But if you can create a link that points directly to the file, users can access the content right in their mobile browser.

Direct link files in Google Drive
Direct link to files in Google Drive

Turns out you can do this while still using Google Drive. Any public folder in Drive can host files and provide direct links to the files.

How to create the hosting URL:
https://googledrive.com/host/FolderID

This will provide a folder that will give direct links to files inside the folder.
Note: hosting view will not display files created in Google Docs.

Example:

Once in the hosting folder, you can right click on any of the files to get a direct link to the file.

Finding the right font with flipping typical

I’ve been looking at a lot of fonts lately. Like many others, I’m not a fan of the Comic Sans font. To me, it just looks sloppy. Since Comic Sans comes closer than other fonts to matching the look of handwriting, we see it used A LOT in elementary schools. Yet, I think there are even better choices.

While Handwriting Without Tears is a company popular for it’s handwriting teaching materials, they do not sell their font. At their website, they recommend using Century Gothic as a substitute. The lower case “a” is usually the first character I look at. There are only a handful of fonts that display this letter similar to the shape that is taught to kids. As you can see below, Comic Sans follows the shape in spirit but Century Gothic does a much better job.

Comparing fonts
Comparing fonts

If you want to search your computer for other font options, then visit the website flipping typical. It offers a perfect way to view all the fonts installed on your computer. Make sure to click “load more” at the bottom of the page to see all your options.

flippingtypical

 

KG Primary Dots is another font I found online that is available for free if your use is non-commercial. It offers a dotted font for tracing and lined fonts for extra guidance.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a font nerd. Check out the great documentary titled Helvetica (it’s on Netflix) and you will be too.

Add cover art and other extras to your mp3 files

Since 2007, I’ve been co-producing a podcast, titled Lab Out Loud, for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). With each episode, I like to have all the important details about the show saved right in the mp3 file.

podcast details
add cover art and more to your mp3 files

I use a free program called Mp3tag to add things like title, artist, and cover art to each mp3. Mp3tag allows you to copy the tag from a previous file right into the new file. This makes updating new files a breeze.

mp3tag
with Mp3tag – adding info to audio files in a breeze

Despite its name, Mp3tag supports a wide variety of audio files. Beyond its simply features, Mp3tag offers a few extra tricks for managing large collections of audio. I have been using this free tool for years and recommend that you give it a look.

Not all screen time is equal, or educational

When children and adolescents have unlimited and unsupervised access to media, evidence has shown that this exposure can lead to several health effects such as academic difficulties, obesity, substance abuse, and aggression. Yet, we live in a media-rich world where devices like tablets and smartphones can also provide many benefits. To acknowledge this need for balance, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recently updated their guidelines for children and adolescents with new policy statements on screen time.

tablet userTo start the screen time conversation with parents, the AAP recommends that pediatricians begin asking these two questions at every well-child visit: How much recreational screen time does your child or teenager consume daily? Is there a TV set or an Internet connected device in the child’s or teenager’s bedroom?

The AAP recommends that parents limit entertainment screen time to less than one to two hours per day. They suggest that families create a media plan for their homes and keep televisions and other Internet connected devices out of a child’s bedroom.

Schools and teachers should be considering these guidelines too. How can parents make a media plan for their family without knowing what is being consumed at school? We must be careful not to contribute to a child’s entertainment screen time diet.

Many games and apps are labeled “educational” but have no measured effectiveness to support the claim. Some are simply just interactive toys. Dr. Ari Brown, pediatrician and lead author of policy provided by the AAP in 2011, questions the link between an interactive game and the learning it promises to provide. “There’s nothing wrong with a toy being fun, engaging a child for an amount of time. But to promote it as being educational we really need to do research to find out,” explains Brown.

Based on the new AAP guidelines and recommendations, there are many things for teachers to consider. Online games and touch-screen apps can be incredibly engaging for students. However, we must select tools that can demonstrate a targeted approach to student learning. Look for tools that have research to support their educational benefits and be critical of those that will only contribute to a child’s daily dose of entertainment screen time.

Hey Google, what about the children?

With Google’s new version of Android comes improved multi-user functionality. Google explains:

Share your tablet with friends and family – each person has a separate customizable space, including personal homescreens, wallpaper, apps, storage, and more. You can also manage access to apps and content to create an experience that’s appropriate for each member of the family.

Each member of the family? Really? What about those family members under 13 years old? Here’s what you get when you try to create an account for kids under 13:

TooYoungForGoogle

Google does this because of COPPA, a U.S. law that requires online web sites and services to get parental consent for all children under the age of 13 before they can share any information with the web site.

At the press event announcing the new Nexus 7, Google demonstrates a child’s profile and how the access restrictions can be managed by parents. In this situation, the child user does not appear to be old enough to have a Google account. This child’s profile is sort of sub-account that lives within the tablet’s environment and does not need to be associated with a Google account.

Nexus7 for child

However, without a Google account, the child cannot manage his or her own content used in other Google services. Apps like Drive, Calendar, and Maps will need an account to save content. Many parents just let their child use a parent account for these other Google services. Other parents create an account for their child with a false birthday. I suspect that most parents don’t use the multi-user features at all.

I think Google could do more for families. We have Google Apps for business and education. Why not for families? Instead of prohibiting accounts for children under age 13, Google should redirect to a space where parents can create and manage accounts for their kids. Here parents could control access restrictions for the accounts and pass the account over once the child is old enough.

Google already has a plan for the death of Google accounts. It’s time they improve the process for the birth of Google accounts.

What most schools don’t teach

Another group is continuing the coding to learn theme. The non-profit foundation Code.org is hoping to increase computer programming education across the world. They’ve created a video with an impressive cast (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, will.i.am, Chris Bosh…) but my favorite quote comes from Gabe Newell.

The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future. You know, you’re going look like you have magic powers compared to everybody else.

Check out Code.org to get started immediately.

Trouble embedding YouTube in PowerPoint? Fixed!

I’ve heard from several people last week that they could no longer get their YouTube videos to play in PowerPoint. If you didn’t know, PowerPoint (starting with version 2010) allows you to easily embed online videos using the video’s embed code.

Here is a quick tutorial that explains how to set this up.

HOWEVER, last week this method seemed to stop working. After a little tinkering, I figured out how to get it working again.

It turns out that you need to remove a little bit of the YouTube embed code before you paste it into PowerPoint.

Delete a bit of the embed code
Delete the highlighted text before embedding in PowerPoint

For example, to embed the video (more…)

Coding to Learn with Scratch

Scratch is the perfect tool to help kids (ages 8 and up) learn how to write programs or code. But in a recent Ted Talk, Mitch Resnick expresses another good point- the importance of coding to learn.

Resnick explains:

As kids are creating projects like this, they’re learning to code, but even more importantly, they’re coding to learn. Because as they learn to code, it enables them to learn many other things, opens up many new opportunities for learning. Again, it’s useful to make an analogy to reading and writing. When you learn to read and write, it opens up opportunities for you to learn so many other things. When you learn to read, you can then read to learn. And it’s the same thing with coding. If you learn to code, you can code to learn. Now some of the things you can learn are sort of obvious. You learn more about how computers work. But that’s just where it starts. When you learn to code, it opens up for you to learn many other things.

I highly recommend watching Resnick’s talk.

He demonstrates how kid-friendly programing tools like Scratch are not just for teaching computers, math, science, or engineering. Coding to learn can apply to almost any subject.

For example, consider teaching kids storytelling with the book Super Scratch Programming Adventure!

Super Scratch Programming Adventure!
Super Scratch Programming Adventure!

Ruth Suehle at GeekMom writes:

Super Scratch Programming Adventure! helps your budding developer learn to use Scratch with a comic book story. Each section begins with a continuing piece of a story that ends by giving the reader a problem to solve with Scratch.

I got this book for my own kids and they were off in minutes. I think Super Scratch Programming Adventure! would be the perfect textbook to get your students off coding to learn.