Sunday, February 26, 2017

They don't know what they don't know

Last night I gave a talk to parents about social media. I was asked to briefly discuss the "big ones", Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat -- just discuss how they work and what students do on them.

As I worked my way through the different apps, I was a bit surprised about the questions being asked. The apparent lack of understanding of basic technology kids take for granted. Their parents don't seem to get it. Your kids are on social media and, very often, they are trying to deceive you.

This post isn't to castigate parents for being out of the loop. I understand that. It's hard to be informed on everything with so much going on online. By the time you track your kid down on Facebook, they've moved on to Instagram. Heck, some of the questions got me Googling at the end of the session and I discovered some new apps and sites I didn't even know about...but that's another blog post.

This is just a reminder for me and others who understand kids and tech--we have to shine a light on this stuff. We need to commit to building trust with parents and give them good information about what kids are doing. We need to stay informed. We have a responsibility to understand the digital world and inform parents and students of the costs and risks associated with irresponsible technology use.

Responsiveness is key, both in understanding the landscape, and knowing how the kids we are in charge of are navigating it. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Beta Culture EDU

There's a new epidemic invading our software and devices -- maybe you have noticed it. You just downloaded an app suddenly it crashes. Maybe your phone restarts at odd times. Your buggy video game keeps lagging. These sometimes annoying, sometimes odd, sometimes infuriating moments are signals to an increasingly prevalent beta culture.

Strange term, I know. For those that aren't familiar, beta culture is a trend where products that typically spend weeks or months in testing are finding their way to your fingertips much more quickly. It used to be that testing cycles ruled release dates. Nothing made it out until it was perfect--until enough data had been collected to ensure that test groups were satisfied with a product. Now, many companies are willing to put an imperfect product in your hands knowingly, realizing that you won't mind. In fact, you have become the beta tester. You are providing feedback directly about the product you have invested in, hoping that it will improve.

When we think about the implications this has for our culture--and education by extension--this is actually a pretty interesting mindset shift. We have gone from expecting perfection and refusing anything less, to accepting an interesting idea on its merit. And wanting more enough that we are willing to be part of the growth future of the product.

Another interesting implication of this shift is the acknowledgment of the audience as the barometer for success. Sometimes our vision for a product isn't even what people want -- maybe they like a feature or an interface -- something that isn't even essential to the original idea.

I like this graphic from Demetri Martin that shows what success looks like - it's an involved journey that takes you many places, not a straight shot from point A to point B.

Beta culture actually suggests another wrinkle to this graphic. That we recognize it's a process. We accept something isn't perfect, and that's okay. We still put our idea out for the world to see, and use the feedback to create something people really love.

How can we change assessment or our vision of academic success to reflect this cultural shift? How can we create feedback models that will inform development of ideas in ways that best meet the needs of our audience?

I don't know all the answers to those questions, but I think this is something we should definitely consider as we look to the future. When we emphasize things like growth mindset, entrepreneurial spirit, and design thinking, we must concede that beta culture is naturally a part of that. How can we use it?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Sweet Ideas for Valentine's Day Tech

Something we often take for granted is how much kids care about holidays. While most folks probably stopped caring about things like Valentine's Day years ago -- your students still think it's a big deal! Why would you throw this engagement opportunity away??? Instead, let's use it to catch our students' attention and trick them into learning a few things while we're at it! Read on to check out four "sweet ideas" for integrating tech this Valentine's Day.

1. Culture Reports

Something most holidays are useful for is a good old fashioned research project. You might be surprised to find that while most of the world celebrates Valentine's Day in some way, many cultures do it in different ways and for different reasons. Have your students check out some articles and then report back to the class how different cultures clash on their celebration of the day. Here are some articles I have used in the past:
There are tons more articles like this on the net. Have students do a share out on something like Padlet, have them compare and contrast with a mind map on Coggle, or have them create a screencast where they discuss as a news report or podcast. 

2. Historical/Literary Reenactments

You know, where might not be a more appropriate or acceptable time to discuss the great love stories that have occurred throughout time than on Valentine's Day. I mean, can you considered how you might reimagine the love story of Mark Antony and Cleopatra? Pop 'em into Blabberize and have your students relate the historical love of the tortured couple in their own words. 

Want to make it literary? You can do the same thing with Romeo and Juliet, Katherine and Heathcliff, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy -- I mean there are tons of directions you can go with this one.

Or just have students come up with their own love stories. The written expression of love isn't for everyone, but if that's what a kid wants to write, let them script out the love story and design their own characters. Even more creative!

You can even get the little ones involved with ABCYa's Talkify app. Talking pictures have never been so fun!

3. eCard Publishing

Another direction you might go is with some traditional writing and composition projects. Poetry is an easy route here. Read Write Think has a nice themed poem designer for Valentine's Day. It structures the prewriting and the drafting right in the app -- it would work for primary on up for most grades, although it might seem juvenile for older learners. 

Festisite is another similar tool that provides the structure while the student provides the words. The heart template will serve the needs of most for a Valentine's Day creation. A lot of fun for students of all ages.

Of course, if you want to make the creation a bit more authentic, you might have students create their own ecards rather than using these auto designing publishers. Piccollage is a way for students to use their own pictures to create ecards. Canva is a great desktop publishing tool on the web where students will have a number of tools at their disposal to create very slick, professional looking cards, depending on the time and effort they want to put into it. Another option would be a create a Google Slides template for students to copy and edit to their own liking. Saving a slide as a PDF is just another way of publishing your own ecard.

4. Video Projects

Video is always my go to for creation tasks -- if we can make a project that ends with a video, that's usually pretty fun and engaging for our students. Adobe Spark Videos are quick, easy, and allow for pretty simple customizations. A great way to create a video card for students if they want to really impress their friends or family. 

Sorry for the hacky, schmaltzy video -- quick and easy 😁.

Valentine's Day clearly gives you a lot of options for student creation tasks. Depending on what you want to do with it, there is a great variety of what your students can end up with. When it comes down to it, as long as you are giving your students a chance to create something and show it to the world, you can't go wrong.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Just getting this off my chest

We are not defeated.

When I was young I was an awful student. I would have told you that no one cares about education or educators. That days like today don't matter, and that life will go on in schools regardless of what our elected officials have decided is best for us. And while in the intervening years I have thanked God that I was given the opportunities public school provides, it has never been politicians, presidents, or education secretaries that enriched my formative educational experience. That doesn’t change today.
And now...I still kind of think the same thing. This day doesn’t matter. Of course it is an incredible setback for students--the glaring reality that the leaders of their country don’t care about the quality of their education, their status as a disabled individual, or their right to a free and appropriate education regardless of where they live or the amount of money in their bank account. It’s really just another setback in a series of setbacks for a field and a part of our culture that our government has never done right by. Why does this change today?
This day doesn’t matter because none of the decision makers have ever truly cared about doing the right thing by students or the dedicated individuals that run our schools. It has always been teachers -- since the beginning of educated time it has always been teachers who have made schools great. The ones that show up when it’s dark and head home as the sun sets. Those that stay up until midnight planning the next day’s lesson because they have 30 kids they love coming in tomorrow and they know failure isn’t an option for a single one of them. Those that deplete their own bank accounts so the kids walking through their classroom door can have authentic, amazing learning experiences that prepare them for whatever they decide comes next.
If you have invested your sense of value in the public service of education to what your government has promised you, they failed you decades ago. Betsy DeVos does not ruin public education. Betsy DeVos affirms that our government doesn’t care about your kids, your students, or the quality of education in general. You want to cry and moan and complain about how the government doesn’t care about us because of some politician telling us what to do -- educators gave up on that trope years ago.
This day doesn’t matter because this day is like every other day to a teacher -- you are going to show up to work to do a job that is impossible, to follow the rules made by people that don’t care about or understand what you do, and you are going to absolutely do whatever it takes to make the lives of your students better regardless.
You want to complain about the hypocrisy of our government, how our elected officials are bought and paid for, about how a demagogue is turning the people of this country against each other more day by day. Go ahead. You are not wrong about those things. But if you think for a second public schools fail because of Betsy DeVos? Rest your pretty little head--teachers aren’t going to allow that to happen. Kids are still gonna need us tomorrow. And we are going to show up and do it like we've always done.