New Tech Tools

Learning about some fabulous new tech tools for teaching. Just listing here due to time constraints!

  • Videonot.es
    Allows you to add notes to a YouTube video (and perhaps other video sources). The links will take you to the spot in the video where you took the note.
  • Thinglink
    Add links, video, resources to a still image
  • Infogr.am
    Easy infographic builder
  • Wordle
  • Tagxedo
    Another Word Cloud builder

The Equalizer

The school district where I live has seen tremendous change in demographics in the last 10 years when my daughter started school. By the numbers, it’s about 44% free/reduced lunch, with one elementary school being nearly 90% ELL. The district has a significant (and growing) population of refugees – many of whom come to school literally days after arriving in the country. Many other students come from homes with lower incomes – whether formerly middle class families who have experienced job loss or other reasons.

If you evaluate the “achievement gap” by the numbers here, it’s truly scary. I sit on a district curriculum advisory committee, and have been able to look closely at the numbers. If our primary means of evaluating achievement is test results, then things look pretty bad. Students of non-majority ethnicities and lower incomes have significantly lower test scores.

I’d argue that things look even worse if we look at other indicators of achievement. I don’t know the numbers for graduation, or post-secondary education entry or completion. But I do know that the system is failing many of these kids in a crucial area: technology access.

In a Mindshift post this week, Tina Barseghian blogs about device access as the true equalizer. She has lots of statistics and more to support her argument. I just have anecdotal….

How do we expect students who never have access to devices of any kind to develop the digital literacy skills essential for success in post-secondary education? or in just about any workplace now? I dare you to find really any job that doesn’t use any technology. These students must have access to these devices and learn to use them responsibly in order to be functional in the bigger world.

A refugee family has many immediate needs to worry about: food, shelter, transportation, income. However, technology access should be an essential part of schooling, just like learning English.

Access doesn’t mean a computer lab in a school. Access means a personal device, or other immediate access. We all know that computer labs are taken up with testing now – there’s no room in the schedule to do other learning.

Access means teachers who feel comfortable with the technology, teachers who aren’t afraid to let it be used, to use it themselves.Teachers deserve access to training and tools in order to learn for themselves.

Access means a pedagogy in which teachers and administrators see themselves as guides, rather than solely content experts.

Access means devices. Here’s hoping my district can make that happen.

Using the Tool

I’m reading the digital version of a monthly education technology publication. As I’m turning “pages” that are basically the print magazine design, just online, I wonder when, finally, these publications will produce content delivery designs that are built for the technology, rather than just print pieces put online. I’m hoping these tech publications, of all things, will lead the way!

It reminds me of the early days of the web when all people wanted to post was their print brochure. We worked hard to get people to understand that content could -and should – be different online. You write differently, you structure the content differently, you choose different words and visuals. Content should be designed from the very beginning for digital delivery, not transforming content written for and designed to be delivered in print.

I’m reading the magazine in iBooks on an iPad. It’s not a bad reading experience, but is constrained, limited. It’s linear, even more so than a print piece. I have to zoom in on most of the pages because to fit both pages in a spread on the iPad, the text is a little small for my late-40s eyes. I started reading the magazine in a browser. Again, not a horrible experience, but far, far from ideal. I know I wouldn’t read the whole thing is I had to read it in that long, linear fashion.

What would a digital native “magazine” look like? I’m not sure, but can see some possibilities. Flipboard, for example, gives some ideas of what a digital native publication could be. Let me choose the articles I not to read without making me scroll. Don’t present two spread pages. Take advantage of the medium: embed video, use more visuals in slideshows, open links in separate windows. Let me share a single article on Twitter or Facebook.

Visual Delivery of Information should be the new 5 Paragraph Essay

In a recent post, I lamented my pathetic design skills. It is sad, and I truly wish I had a better sense of design, an ability to turn information into a visualization. I see many places where this would be an incredibly useful skill, both  in my job and in my volunteer work. Even in low-key meetings, using visuals can be far more powerful than a bunch of words  or a long talk. Yet, my presentation skills are amateurish at best. It’s rather embarrassing.

Our society has shifted tremendously to using visuals, and students need to know how to interpret them and create them. It’s going to be at least as important, if not more important, that writing the ubiquitous 5-paragraph essay.

Of course, content is king – it always will be – but presentation is becoming more and more essential. There are many other ways besides the written word to communicate ideas. Video, photography, art, infographics.

The tools are there, we just need to let the kids use them.  I have powerful photo and video editing software on my iPhone. Tools like iBooks Author, Keynote, Prezi and more are there to make polished looking presentations. Here’s a great post by Larry Ferrlazo about resources for creating infographics. Teach kids about the basic principals of design. Hire more art teachers to help. Let kids practice, experiment, fail, and succeed.

Make sure you show design-inept kids, like me, how to be successful. I was incredibly good at those 5-paragraph essays. I could whip them up in a heartbeat, probably never getting less than an A-.  In a world based on visual delivery of information, I’d have been a C student at best. Huh. Guess intelligence sometimes depends more on perspective than reality.

Open Internet Tests

When I was in high school, we lived in fear of open book tests. They were  much harder than “regular” multiple choice tests. The teachers that gave them were also well known for asking us to really think and analyze.

Now, there are open internet tests! Seriously – what a great idea. This post by Jonathan Martin shows exactly why. A theater history teacher did an open internet test with great results. See the post for student comments – seems they all thought it was harder — and better.

…taking the time to think through as a teacher what kind of questions can we ask which will continue to be meaningful assessments when Google and Wolfram Alpha are available is, I think, a highly productive exercise, and, of course, will generate a more authentic assessment experience far more well aligned with the real world of professionals for which we are preparing our students

The teacher’s rationale for doing this test:

did I really need the students to regurgitate information or could I ask them to utilize  Internet resources and their class notes to compose essays based on questions that they helped craft?

 

It’s a great idea. It’s more closely aligned to what will be expected of them — yes, in college, and ultimately, in the working world. It’s teaching critical thinking, analysis, digital literacy, writing. The list gets long…. much better test of what students know and how they think than picking a letter on a multiple choice test.

 

Current Events Part 2

Follow up to my recent post about a current events class…  I ran across a post from Free Tech for Teachers about a tool called Hubii. Hubii integrates newspapers from around the world, a virtual one-stop-shop for a worldwide newstand.

10 x 10 Screen Shot, December 11 2011

A previous post from Richard Byrne had suggested four other tools to visualize the news. All are worth checking out: