Sunday, October 23, 2016

technology and feedback systems

Smartboards and other whiteboards are all the rage in education today. Every classroom should have one- right? Too many of these very expensive platforms ineffectively used and underutilized. If you are going use one effectively to maximize learning, why have one at all? Overhead projectors are far cheaper and less finicky. What makes them effective- two things increase response rate from children and increased feedback from teachers. 

Ryan Lacy's article in District Administration Magazine talks about the feedback element in his article, "Richer Responses, Faster Feedback." He talks about wanting to know where his kids were in understanding material and how various response systems have enabled this. Clickers are purchased with whiteboards, apps on smart phones and tablets, and website enabled programs are all available now. His article highlights many of these programs with. One caveat- if you are relying on student provided technology, be careful that everyone has a way to participate. Assuming everyone has a smartphone is a problem- they don't- and even if they do, they may not want to or be allowed to use their data for your activity.

Total participation response systems are highly effective in increasing achievement for students. It can be done cheaply through dollar store magnet, personal whiteboards, hand signals or paper cards or expensively through response systems. A key to performance is use. If a teacher is uncomfortable using Total Participation Techniques without technology, technology will not improve the situation. We can use this information to formatively assess learning and alter instruction to maximize learning or not. When we choose to ignore the wealth of research that says it is important, we are not committed to learning success for our whole class.

Interactive whiteboards do tend to increase engagement, but if it only passive entertainment style engagement, there is no point to it all. We need to use these programs to enhance instruction, eyes on us silence.

label gifted kids

Lisa Van Gemert wrote an interesting blog about labeling gifted kids. Often parents are against labels- a bias I have run into in special education. Parents worry that their kids will be labeled. I tell them that:
  1. the other kids have labels for your kids- jock, brainiac, stupid, tall, best speller, class clown, preppy, bad reader, etc.
  2. labels get you the support your child needs.
These are both items that Lisa highlights. She is very focused on the get your kids what they need. Just as students with learning disabilities need different kinds of support in school, so too do gifted kids.  She also argues that some people perceive "gifted" as an arrogance. If you have a kid who is gifted- defined as two standard deviations above the mean (IQ > 130)- your child is gifted. Just as if your child can run the 50 dash in under 6 and a half seconds, he is fast. This is not arrogance it is fact. Yes, IQ tests are not without problems, but they do tend to indicate who will perform well in today's schools. These children deserve an education that challenges them. If these kids live in an environment that suppresses them, their IQ will decrease. If they do not have adequate diets, their IQs will decrease. They need an environment that challenges and supports them so that they can make the most of their potential. Just like any other kid.

One often overlooked feature of gifted kids is that they tend think differently. When my daughter attended the CTY program at Johns Hopkins she alked about being surrounded by kids who thought like she did. We seek our friends from people share interests and values with us. We congregate around people who think like us. We try hard to deny our gifted kids this priviledge and this is simply not fair to them. We need to help them to have friends that enrich them.

The final two reasons that Lisa says we should embrace labels is that it allows for support. Both parents and children need support in navigating this world where they are often criticized being eliteist and racists and not looking out for all. I had to investigate programs for my daughter. I was lucky because I knew how to do this and that there were groups out there. I have been approached by other parents about how to get their children's needs met. Many parents and children are not that lucky.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Why Ed Tech has made so little difference

Marc Tucker wrote an article for one of Ed Week's blog entitled "Why Ed Tech has Made so Little Difference?" He questions why the past two decades have wrought little change in how we teach in regards to technology. In fact in places with higher tech use, there is lower performance on international tests. In no way is this a reflection of technology not being out there to support learning or teachers being untrained to teach using technology (although I might argue this one).

Our classrooms are often full of technology. Interactive whiteboards are becoming a mainstay. Teachers who use them as projectors miss the value of the technology and would be better off with a TV and an overhead projector for a tenth of the cost. (For interactive whiteboards to be educationally enhancing they need to increase student response rates and feedback- clickers are required to be used, every day.) One-to-one programs have generally demonstrated poor educational results because we are doing the same thing- read and answer these worksheet questions- we did with textbooks. We need to know how to use the technology to enhance the learning, not just to use the technology.

He argues that "change in the whole paradigm of the way education is organized in our schools" is required. This would be one that emphasizes problem solving and deep understanding of concepts. It would mean that technology supports the curriculum and the curriculum supports technology use. Interestingly, this focus on problem solving and deep understanding is at the root of the Common Core's math curriculum. Students are supposed to understand concepts rather than simply memorize. They are asked to be fluent with basic arithmetic but also to be able to solve word problems with ease. Here is the essence of the disconnect: we put in place a curriculum that was a slightly shaved version of the previous one with the addition that students think much deeper about the ideas and were surprised when teachers continue to complain that there is too much to teach in the school year.

Simulations are brilliant opportunities for students to explore complex systems. Back when I first started teaching Oregon Trail was a hallmark program. It showcased the challenges of traveling across the country during our period of western expansion. Unfortunately, it took approximately an hour and a half  to two hours to cover what a lecture might in about 15 minutes. Students in my resource room were encouraged to use it because it brought home some critical ideas and we had time, but the whole class did not get exposure to it. Years later my son's fifth grade teacher used it as a station during her American history program. The kids loved it, but only three computers in the room meant that it took practically forever to get the kids who worked in teams through the experience. Simulations take time. Simply put, without re-envisioning education so that the point is not merely getting through the curriculum, they will be sparingly used. Marc is right our current paradigm needs a shift.

I do believe that the other place that technology can really enhance learning is in the area of personalization. Students can move through lessons as quickly or slowly as they are able to master the content. Programs for this sort of personalization abound. Districts often use them for interventions when students are struggling, but they can be used as more than support- they can be the center of the program.

Back when I was a student I had two experiences with learning contracts. Teachers had spelled out the curriculum, put worksheets with learning experiences in folders and let students go through the program at their own speed. There were targets for achievement per quarter, but no penalty for soaring past or taking too long. Teachers were available for help and small groups were separated for extra support through difficult topics. You received more teacher time to help you get through the trouble spots. We worked independently and learned the material- this was fifth grade ELA and seventh grade advanced math. Computers allow for an enhanced program. instruction can involve video and podcasts instead of just reading. Mini quizzes within a program can be the gates to progress- we had to wait until the teacher graded our work. One challenge becomes what to do with students who soar. If they finish the program by the end of September, then what? A good program allows for "grade acceleration" within it. The other side is also a concern- students who do not progress because of learning disabilities, poor motivation, or weak executive skills need a plan as well. They may need to have access to extra time to move through the program- perhaps extra time during the school day, at home through weekends and vacations, during the summer or ungraded school programs with an allowance for extra time.