One of the criticisms people launch against using technology in schools is that kids aren’t writing or reading anymore. However, once you start looking at it, kids ARE writing and reading all the time. It just looks different from what the parents are used to seeing.

Yup, it looks different. Texting looks different. Facebook looks different. Blogging looks different. But kids are constantly consuming and creating content with these tools. It is up to adults: teachers, parents and others, to make sure kids know how to use critical thinking skills when interacting with this content. We need to teach it using the tools the kids are using all the time.

I recently heard about a current events class being taught at a local high school. What a great opportunity to teach reading, writing and critical thinking skills using newspapers, blogs, Twitter, YouTube,  etc., etc.! Yet, it turns out this class uses few online sources. I’m not sure why. Is it that the teachers aren’t comfortable with the tools/sources? That the administrators aren’t supportive? That the computer labs are so tied up with testing and other classes that they can’t get in? I’m not sure, but what a disservice to these kids.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen quite a few posts about writing: blogging, eBooks, etc. Perhaps by showing more evidence of the value of online sources actually promoting reading and writing rather than detracting, we can get more adoption and inclusion of online sources.

Here are a few examples:

Langwitches Blog: This blog writes extensively about reading and technology. Here are a couple recent posts:


Creating iBooks or eBooks  from “Learning and Teaching with iPads”

Cheating in a Digital Age

A recent blog post on edudemic, “How Has Technology Affected Cheating And Plagiarism?” got me thinking.

First, it uses as awesome infographic to deliver most of the content. Infographics are amazing tools for delivering content.

Second, this content is a compelling argument in itself for pushing schools further towards taking responsibility for teaching digital literacy and digital responsibility. By not teaching about plagiarism in a digital world in school, schools are basically forgoing their role in teaching students academic responsibility. Let’s embrace this opportunity!

Third, some of the concerns raised in this post are, in my mind, not necessarily bad. Is it cheating or collaboration? Students see collaboration as a good thing. How do we draw the line between collaboration and cheating? This is definitely a grey area, but one that both students and teachers can explore.

Fourth, another post on edudemic discusses Siri, the iPhone 4S’s “personal assistant:”

This new tool makes it easier to cheat than ever before. It’s not too different from doing a Google search but it makes it easier and faster which means it could be quickly used to secure answers to a test without anyone knowing.

The post goes on, “easier access to resources could make students reliant on the technology and not on comprehension.”

Yes, this could happen. But really, doesn’t this give us an opportunity? If a concept is easy enough to google, then perhaps we don’t need to spend much time on it. Go further. Do analysis, create something, design it, find ways to assess knowledge in ways other than can be completed through Google.

“If you can Google it, it’s not a good assignment.”
-Brian J. Nichols

Brian Nichols is a PhD. student in 21st Century Learning. Where’d I get this quote? From Twitter. From an awesome sounding conference, Edscape.

The Doodle.

I had a boss a few years ago who would make incredibly complex doodles in meetings. In my rarefied, text-based working world, we all thought this was a little odd. Until the day he referred to a sheet of doodles and quoted nearly verbatim what was happening in the meeting at the time he drew that doodle. Personally, I was floored. He was magic!

Move forward a few years. My daughter does the exact same thing. My son does the same thing. Their friends do the same thing.

Yet, they are often told “STOP DOODLING” in class. WHY??

I assume that sometimes the doodling really is distracting the kids. I’m hoping that sometimes the teachers are allowing the kids to doodle, if that’s what works best for them. By not allowing doodling, we are truly denying some kids – all kids, actually – the right learn visually. And that is how some kids work best.

Check out this blog post about an informal doodle test done by a teacher:

My little informal experiment showed that students, who doodled their notes, retained more details of the content they heard and were able to narrate and explain content, connections and sequence better than their counterparts who took text with bullet type notes.

This video (also linked on the blog post) is a great validation of doodling.

Font Size. It Matters!

Awesome article in Smashing Magazine by D. Bnonn Tennant, “16 Pixels for Body Copy. Anything Less is a Costly Mistake”

As the title suggests, the whole point of this article is that websites should be at 16 pixels and above. The default for most browsers is 16 pixels, or about 12 point font or 1 em. Anything less is way too small – take a look at the examples. If you write your CSS to specify a font size, you run the risk of your text being too small for people to read.

But people can change their settings, right? Well, Tennannt says:

The users who will most need to adjust their settings usually don’t know how.


He makes some interesting points about reading online:

  • at age 40, we take in about half the light we did at 20
  • comfortable reading distance from the computer is 28 inches; from a book is only a few inches. That’s why books can be set at 10 or 12 point font.
  • 9% of Americans have a visual impairment that cannot be corrected with glasses.
I admit I don’t particularly like the Smashing layout – I despise red as a link color (it SCREAMS at me) and I’m not fond of the font they use. But that’s their brand, and I don’t have to agree with it.
This does have an impact on educational technology design in two ways:
  1. In my post about the Parent’s Perspective on Standardized Tests, I talk about one companies test that, at the time I reviewed it, did not allow the student to change font sizes. Why would that matter? those kids are all under 20, so they get lots of light to their retina! That may be, but still, each kid is different and might prefer a larger font. The font on the test I reviewed was quite small, and as kids hopefully are 20+ inches from the screen, rather than the few inches from a printed page, the font should be bigger.
  2. Font size also changes with grade level. In my focus groups with teachers, when I asked what makes a website/webpage work well with kids, all teachers — even high school teachers — responded that font size makes a difference. Teachers in younger grades want quite large font with a great deal of white space. Even high school teachers want larger font. Some of them mentioned that when showing a website on their projectors, it is very hard to read blocks of font.
So you web designers and instructional designers. Remember your font size!

Stats in the other Direction

Here’s another follow up to the dreaded article in the New York Times about a school district in Arizona that has had declining test scores in spite of significant spending on technology.

An article in the Washington Post on October 2 about the adoption of online textbooks in a Fairfax County, VA school district rehashed all the negative things about online textbooks and digital learning. These issues have merit, such as access for all students. The district is finding some creative ways to overcome that challenge.

Finally, the positive reasons for moving to digital texts are explored, including this quote from the Assistant Superintendent, Peter Noonan:

“Many of our kids — if not all of our kids — are coming to us as digital natives,” Noonan said. “We should really allow our students to learn the way they live outside of school.”

Other compelling reasons are cost, ability to have up-to-date material, and one I really appreciate – no more heavy textbooks to lug around!

Adds history teacher Mark Stevens,

Those are helpful features, Stevens said, but the online books won’t revolutionize teaching by themselves. They’re only textbooks, after all — “just one tool,” he said, “not the magic bullet.”

Test data from Mooresville High School shows significant improvement since the introduction of a 1:1 program.

According to the earlier New York Times article, increasing technology is not leading to increasing test scores. (OK, of course the argument is there if test scores are in any way an appropriate measure of learning, but for the sake of this post, I am accepting it – a bit.) Yet, this Washington Post article links to a report from a school district in Mooresville City, NC, that has demonstrated significant test gains after thoughtful introduction of a 1:1 program.

These gains are impressive. Their 1:1 program likely contributed to the gains, but also consider these quotes about the learning philosophy in the district:

  • In several classrooms, I couldn’t tell where the front of the classroom was… The whole space was a learning environment, and the technology was just part of the infrastructure. (page 3)
  • …you’ll find that Mooresville isn’t just passing out laptops — it’s changing the very dynamics of the classroom… Teachers say it fundamentally has changed the way they do their jobs… Now students direct much of their own learning… In such an environment, teachers must learn to “trust kids like you never have before,” says Todd Wirt, principal of Mooresville High School. “The scary thing is giving up control.”

Math & Science: Should they have separate rooms?

I had the opportunity to talk to a high school industrial technology teacher last week. He was proposing a new program for his school – Project Lead the Way. He had initially wanted to start it in high school, but as he had learned more about the project, he was proposing to start it at the middle school level with plans to move it to the high school year by year.

Not knowing much about the industrial technology curriculum, I admit at first I wasn’t particularly interested. However, as he spoke, it became clear to me that this program fits exactly with 21st Century Skills concepts and with the increasing emphasis on STEM programs. It also just MAKES SENSE.

This teacher spoke eloquently about the integration of math and science in the PLTW programs, and in the engineering classes he currently teaches. These classes, he said, are “…the first time students see how geometry applies to daily life.” He explained a project where students had to use principles from both geometry and physics in order to build something.

Schools are the only place where math and science are put in separate rooms,” he said. This sentence floored me. Duh. It’s totally obvious, and so totally obviously WRONG. Why are math and science traditionally taught separately? I highly doubt this happens anywhere else, except perhaps the college classroom.

Here’s a quote from the PTLW site:

PLTW classes are hands-on, based in real-world experience, and engaging for students and teachers. They are most often offered as electives and complement required classes in science and math.

I love the real-world experience idea, and if you read more on their site, you see how they combine the disciplines and emphasize creativity, collaborating, and critical thinking. Sound familiar? Yup – 21st century skills!

But WHY should this be taught as an elective that complements “required classes in science and math?” Couldn’t the required science and math content be integrated into a class?

Teaching science this way could potentially pull kids who have lost interest in the traditional math/science curriculum. It baffes me how they expect kids to stay interested in algebra and higher level math when it’s taught completely outside of any real application.  Some kids are fascinated by the math itself, but I bet many other kids retain interest if they could see how it could be applied and used.

As an example (this blog is from a parent’s perspective!) my daughter is far more interested in creative curriculum (music, art, English) than math and science. For her, math is learned in a vacuum – there is NO context, no application, no visualization. It’s a bunch of numbers on paper with no meaning. It’s a struggle and she can’t WAIT to be done with the required math science courses so she can take courses where she feels more comfortable. With the current emphasis on STEM learning, perhaps kids with this learning style would be more engaged in classes that had creative problem solving, that required collaboration and communication.