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.

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.

Learning to learn with (and without) our cellphones

The decision to allow students to bring personal devices into the classroom is being made all across the nation. Many schools are adopting ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) initiatives to engage our students in the classroom with the same tools they are using outside the classroom.

As a BYOD advocate, I look forward to seeing all the ways personal devices will help us transform teaching and learning.

Yet we must proceed carefully as we open the floodgates for BYOD. We must help our students learn how to work with and without our devices. Many argue we need to work harder on the ladder.

Joe Kraus, currently with Google Ventures, had this to say regarding our relationship with personal devices:

…we’re becoming like the mal-formed weight lifter who trains only their upper body and has tiny little legs. We’re radically over-developing the parts of quick thinking, distractable brain and letting the long-form-thinking, creative, contemplative, solitude-seeking, thought-consolidating pieces of our brain atrophy by not using them. And, to me, that’s both sad and dangerous.

Letting cellphones and iPads into our classroom is not a trade. We’re not exchanging our students’ ability to reflect and think critically for some quick-fix tech gadget that will give them an all-access pass to information. Those gadgets are important. Really important. However, let’s never forget to appreciate and use all the things our brains can do without the aid of of a gadget.

Our students aren’t alone. We adults are experiencing this transition with them. Are you happy with the relationship you have with your phone? Watch Kraus’ entire presentation on our “Culture of Distraction” before you answer.

Students need to learn multi-tasking too

MultitaskingAs we are bombarded with interruptions from cell phone calls, email notifications and instant messaging alerts, we are forced to multi-task. I recently heard this subject discussed on the podcast Quirks and Quarks from the CBC. The show took a scientific, and even playful, look at multi-tasking.

Research has revealed that the average office worker only gets three minutes to focus on a single task before they are interrupted. The research has also shown that multi-tasking allows workers to finish their work in less time and without any affect on the quality. However, these same workers are experiencing higher levels of stress and frustration.

The show also explained that young people may be more successful at multi-tasking since they are getting more practice as they grow up in our digital world. But the researcher worries that people will not be able to think deeply about the work they’re doing.

The show has made me think about some new questions in regards to 21st century learning:

  • If our students will be expected to multi-task when they enter the workforce, how can teachers give them more experience doing this at school?
  • Since multi-tasking is leading to more stress, how can we help student keep their stress levels in check?
  • Should we be concerned about our students’ ability to think deeply about a topic?

When it comes to multi-tasking, I often think we’re giving students too much credit. We hear people describe our students as ‘digital natives’ who just know how to cope in today’s fast-paced and distraction-filled world. Yet, Quirks and Quarks made me question this entire notion. I grew up in a world that has always had cars. Did this make me an ‘automobile native?’ My grandfather was born when the world didn’t have cars. Did this make him an ‘automobile immigrant?’

I think we need to drop these buzzwords and focus on what is certain– new technologies bring new solutions and new problems. Multi-tasking has increased due to new technologies and they have also changed our daily environment. Just because this environment isn’t new to our students doesn’t mean that they don’t need to learn how to live successfully in it.

I know what you did this summer

Elmo SprinklerI relaxed this summer and I’m not ashamed of it. I spent time playing in the sprinkler with my children. I enjoyed the fine weather from my back patio. Some mornings I watched the Today Show while enjoying my morning coffee. There, my secret is out. I’m a teacher and I like the summer break.

For a long time, I found myself going on the defensive when I talked about my summer with non-teachers. As if I was being audited, I’d go into a long list of all the education related tasks I did during June, July and August.

A story from NPR’s All Thing’s Considered shows that other teachers do the same. Their four minute clip presents teachers who are taking extra courses and attending workshops. One teacher is actually working as a waitress to supplement her income.

Many teachers work hard during the summer. I myself attended a few workshops and conferences. Yet, we should not be ashamed if we enjoy some much needed time off. After all, we’re not being paid to work the full year.

NPR implies that summer is the busiest time of the year for teachers. I disagree. Our work, like several other fields, is seasonal. We have a peak time and we have an off-season. The summer is our off-season.

I grew up on a farm. In the summer, we spent long hours on the job but during the winter the work slowed down. My parents would plan for the next growing season by setting up seed vendors and preparing equipment for another summer in the fields. No one ever asked my parents, “What did you do this winter?”

During my summer, I do all the things I want to do during the school year but can’t find the time for because my desk is always full of papers to grade or lessons to prepare. I think about what worked and what didn’t. I learn new material and teaching strategies for the next year. Teachers need the down time that the summer break provides. It provides us time for the important job of reflecting on the past school year.

In my subject area, science, we’re having a harder time recruiting new people to become teachers. I wonder if we’re underselling the summer break. Do we really want to send the message to the potential educators out there that this job is a rat race year-round?

Research doesn’t favor notes via PowerPoint

Recent research on cognitive load theory suggests that PowerPoint is doing more damage than good.

From the full story in The Sydney Morning Herald:

It is more difficult to process information if it is coming at you in the written and spoken form at the same time.

Professor John Sweller states:

It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented.

slide1If you wish to use a PowerPoint presentation, consider using it as a visual aid. PowerPoint should not be used to display only text. If you have notes to present [top slide] consider using images to emphasize your points [bottom slide].

When thinking about this topic, I’m reminded of this comment one of my colleagues wrote a few months back: “I love PowerPoint, but for me it’s used to enhance my instruction, not remind me of what I need to say.”

slide2Her statement took me back to a book I read several years ago by Clifford Stoll title, “High Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don’t Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter title The Plague of PowerPoint:

Want to make a splash at your next public talk? Know your material so well that you can speak off the cuff, without computer, laser pointer, or video projector. Scribble your important points on a chalkboard and emphasize them with your voice. Face your audience, not that computer monitor. Throw out that tired clipart and the cliches about the explosion of technology, the challenge of the future, and the crisis in education. Let me hear your voice, not a pre-programmed sound effect. Show me your ideas, not someone else’s template.

Stoll has a point. When was the last time you walked away from a lecture and said, “wow, that lady’s PowerPoint was awesome!” You can read the entire chapter here.

The bottom-line is that PowerPoint is a great tool when used correctly. When used poorly it can be boring or distracting.

But you don’t have to delete all your shows. Here is a tutorial to help you improve your presentations.