Monday, October 22, 2012

Future of Education webinar review

I watched a Future of Education webinar production. It was hosted by Steve Hargadon, and the speakers were Gary Stager, Alfie Kohn, Stephen Downes, and Howard Gardner. I was interested because I like Gary's interest in using programming in the classroom. I must admit I was unfamiliar with Alfie Kohn (hey, I'm still just a teacher-in-training), but by the end of the webinar, I was reading his blogs and watching some of his YouTube videos that represent really excellent (and free!) professional development.

The chat log was on fire, and for me, it provided some of the most interesting content of this webinar. There's clearly a lot of skepticism around the current use of technology in education. Alfie Kohn was more interested in how teachers and students work together, and Gary Stager wholeheartedly approved.

If there was a fan of Common Core in the chat room or on the panel, they weren't admitting to it. There were similar feelings around assessments, and Stager mentioned that he led a testing boycott at his kids' high school.

 There was also talk about strengthening the role of community, which I found exciting. People in Somerville, Massachusetts created a community collaboration around education dubbed Oneville. Every community should have a look.

Stager's last comment was "Educators must educate all of the time, 24/7 - kids, parents, colleagues, the jerk on the seat next to you in a diner." From numerous comments in the chatroom about CCSS and standardized testing, I'd say you can add politicians to that list.

Monday, August 6, 2012

out with the old

The final whole class reflection highlighted the different viewpoints we bring to the class.

In any class, we get to make a choice. Are we there to learn, or to learn about how to learn? Are we learning how to use specific technologies, or learning how we can go exploring for technologies, and ponder how we might use them?

I've noticed that nearly everything I've learned about technology is soon worthless. C'est la vie. The only thing that doesn't change is…change.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Teaching computer programming in schools

I've been inspired by Gary Stager's blog on this subject. We are about the same age, and I've written my own story about what I believe on this subject. You can listen to the podcast here:

Here's the text of the podcast...

In 1975, I was in 9th grade in Fargo, North Dakota.

I had to take a one semester elective that winter. Most of the choices sounded dreary to me. Only one sounded tolerable: Computer Programming.

I wasn't sure what to expect, but I figured I'd learn something. In class, the teacher passed out the textbook. We would be writing programs in BASIC. The computer was a mainframe at North Dakota State University, on the other side of town. The teacher showed us the terminal we would all share. It connected to the mainframe using an ordinary telephone handset, as though you were going to have a conversation. You could type, and the computer on the other side of town answered. Cool.

Our teacher advised us to write our programs in a notebook while we waited for access to the terminal. I took the book home and started reading it. And writing programs. And reading the book. And writing more programs. By the weekend, I had written programs for every problem in the book. I begged the teacher for extra time after school let out. I was showing up late for swim practices, and I told my friends I'd fallen in love.

For those of you that have never been smitten by programming, it may be hard to understand. Writing software is a conversation. The computer asks me to clarify if I say something that doesn't make sense. And if the computer does something that doesn't make sense to me, we walk through my code together, the computer detailing what's on its mind, until I understand what's wrong, and fix something. The conversation continues until we're both satisfied.

I don't need to tell you how the world has transformed since 1975. I went on to have several careers, from flying jets to working on Wall Street, and I used my programming skills in every job. Now I'm in school again, learning to be a high school teacher. Yet, despite the ongoing software revolution, most high schools can't offer what I had in 1975.

And I believe that should change. I believe every 9th grader should take a programming course. Here's why:

  • Pedagogically, programming is a very pure exercise in deconstructing a problem, and reconstructing it as a software program.
  • The computer itself is an excellent teacher. Once a student acclimates to the programming environment, the conversation between student and computer begins and flourishes.
  • Research shows the best learning takes place in effective social settings. Programmers interact frequently, often working in pairs.
  • Programming can be applied across the curriculum, as software has touched every discipline.
  • There are legions of programmers, late in their careers, who would love nothing better than to give back by teaching a new generation of programmers.
  • Finally, computers aren't going away. They even talk to us. Shouldn't we be able talk back?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Edublogger: Dan Meyer

I am a fan of Dan Meyer, ever since I saw his TED talk. His opening is pretty dismal: "I teach high school math. I sell a product to a market that doesn't want it, but is forced by law to buy it. It's a losing proposition." It's good for a laugh, and we come away convinced that he nevertheless remains enthusiastic about changing that. Inquiry followed by learning to formulate problems seems so much more engaging than working through the "paint by numbers" approach in textbooks.

Dan is now working on his PhD in education from Stanford. He blogged recently about how we use abstractions in texts, and it triggered lots of connections with EDUC 402. He is a fan of S.I. Hayakawa, and references his book chapter How We Know What We Know. I like the ladder metaphor, illustrated with his example of Bessie the cow. We often get stuck at a particular rung of the ladder, far from where the student may be. Reminds me of Magritte's pipe that is not a pipe. I think we need to explicitly point out to students that math at the symbolic level is a very high level of abstraction. After the inquiry, and their problem is formulated, they need to understand they are looking at the concrete lower rungs. Now they just need to figure out how to climb the ladder.

When programmers write poetry

Kristin indicated may not be serving educators for much longer (I see aviary is no longer accepting registrations), I decided to try podcast hosting elsewhere. Evidently, it was once possible to host podcasts on Blogger, but that seems to have been discontinued.

Dropbox works. On my very much under construction teacher blog which uses WordPress, I just added a link to my podcast hosted on Dropbox, and it just worked. I use the same method (an HTML anchor) for Blogger:

What if Dr. Seuss wrote technical manuals?

BTW, here's how I created my podcast. I recorded an audio track using QuickTime Pro. I grabbed some music from ccMixter, a Creative Commons-friendly site. I installed the free Audacity app, and used it to fade in/fade out the music track from ccMixter. Then I just pasted it the music and my voice recording together in QuickTime Pro, exported to MP3 format, and dropped the MP3 into Dropbox.

Edublogger: Research that needs work

I was skimming Darren Kuropatwa's A Difference, which led me to Do The Math, which led me to this devastating (IMO) article by the late Herf Wilf. Below is Wilf's abstract. This is a cautionary tale about education research.

We examine a number of papers and a book, all of which have been cited, by people who are knowledgeable in the field, as being good examples of “research in mathematics education.” We find specific serious flaws, indeed fatal flaws, in all of them, so that no conclusions of any interest follow as a result of any of the “research” that is reported in these works. We have found no evidence that the research paradigm, involving test and control groups, randomized trials, etc., which is invaluable in the life sciences, is of any use whatever in studying mathematics education and we urge that it be abandoned, in favor of human-to-human discourse about how we can improve curricula and teaching.

Wilf isn't doing this just to skewer papers for the fun of it. And his arguments are not complex: "In fact, the shortcomings of these papers are colossal, and no mathematical or statistical training is prerequisite to perceiving them."

He begins by examining three papers that summarize research indicating that "students in reform-based classes do have significantly better achievement in mathematics than those in traditional instruction." This quote is from the NTCM's Research in Mathematics Education, and the summarized research supports the NTCM curriculum and pedagogy proposals. He dispatches the three articles quickly and succinctly. The first is based on the findings of a group of volunteer teachers. Not randomly selected! Unfortunately, reforms will be adopted by non-volunteers. One down. The second article, using randomized teachers found no statistical difference in achievement. But that was what we were trying to show. You third article makes no claim, and does not address achievement at all.

There's more. But I'll let you read it! When I someday write educational research, I will imagine Wilf looking over my shoulder.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Organizing a busy life

Coincidentally, I was already using Dropbox, Skype, and Evernote. But I found the class was a great reminder of how we overlook or forget features of applications after we have fallen into habits of use, and how it is good to discuss with others how they are using these information organization apps.

I was new to Diigo, and am looking forward to trying its collaboration features. The document annotation features are reminiscent of what's available in Word or Preview/Acrobat.

I think this highlights some major changes in how we access data in the next couple of years. Local storage will become just a cache to allow you to continue to work offline as everything becomes cloud-based. You won't turn in Word docs in the MAC program in a couple of years. Rather, you will post a URI. That in turn tells me that the notion of hierarchical storage in directories will go away, as hierarchies just junk up the URI, and nobody can agree on a good hierarchy. This was already happening on the Mac, as I can find my annotated MAC benchmarks much faster using Spotlight versus navigating a hierarchy. And since we will be looking at cloud documents anyway, we will shift away from documents that look like books reproduced on a screen, and become more like web pages. Hence, Diigo for annotating that web page you'll be turning in for your final "paper."