Category Archives: Thoughts

The Glitteratti


Picture by:h heyerlein


The Glitteratti. This is a term for teachers (and others) who seek the Glitter over the gold. (Please note that this post was very much inspired by the Tech Coach Blog post “Glue, Glitter and Gold, by Bob Harrison). Glitter is the fun, shiny, attractive parts of educational technology use. Gold is the substantive learning.

As humans, the glitter is very attractive. We are attracted to glitter is real, fundamental ways. However, we also need to be careful about not chasing after “fool’s gold” instead of the real thing.

A quick search of ISTE sessions for this year (I wasn’t able to go), provides this as the very first result of Concurrent Sessions: 101 Free Tech Tools for Teachers. The very first session. Skill level to evaluate, understand and process these 101 Tools? Beginner. (In case you’d like to preview the 101 Tools, I’ve provided a link.)

Now, I am just as guilty. Years ago, I attended some of these same sessions. Heck, I may have even presented a similar session. However, it’s not just one of these sessions. There are lots of them. (Check out 60 in 60, which has an entire web site and business associated with it). I’m also pretty positive that these folks mean well. However, if we are going to move Educational Technology forward, we need to focus not on the glitter, but on the gold.

Technology is becoming a fundamental part of education. Whether or not it makes the kind of impact that is possible or not is up to us. We need to make sure that we are leveraging technology to achieve accomplishments that we could only dream of in the past. Those accomplishments are geared around the latest glitter, but are deeply embedded in valuable gold.

Leadership

This is Leadership. Leadership looks and sounds like.

It’s not about divisiveness. It’s not about winning and losing. Rather, this is about thoughtfulness. This is about being willing to look at reality and ask not what is easy but what is necessary.

 

Just a few quotes:

There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it. For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth.

 

It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.

And I knew that taking down the monuments was going to be tough, but you elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing and this is what that looks like. So relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics, this is not about blame or retaliation. This is not a naïve quest to solve all our problems at once.

Heck, go read the transcript or watch the video.

Fun Stuff

It’s always fun to see a different way of looking at things or doing accomplishing goals. Here is a different way to tow a car.

This method has a couple of advantages:

  • It’s quick
  • Less likely to damage the car (nothing is connected to the frame or body)
  • It’s efficient

There are a couple of disadvantages:

  • It requires space on the right side of the car (doesn’t look it work either way)
  • It requires a solid surface around the vehicle

Let’s face it though, this is pretty cool.

What can we do differently in education and achieve excellent results?

 

Experts at work

I absolutely love to hear an expert talk about something that they love. I truly enjoy the work of Mark Knopfler. I’ve been a fan since Dire Straits “Dire Straits” album. This album introduced Sultans of Swing . I am a fan of lots of the Dire Straits songs.

When Mark Knopfler released a solo album, Golden Heart (1996), I enjoyed the album quite a bit. I’ve enjoyed (and own) each of his solo releases. Lots of good music, lots of great guitar playing.

It is great to listen to Mark Knopfler talk about the various guitars and their sounds.

Focused on the wrong thing

Today I was told how happy a teacher was that MicroSoft Word was installed in the Lab that he is teaching out of. Hm. I wondered why. The teacher went on to state that “the kids can cheat with Google Docs”. See they just share a document and turn it in.

Oh, my.

Were to start with this? How about this. Kids have email. They can easily share a MicroSoft Word document and “turn it in”. If the teacher thinks that using MicroSoft Word is going to prevent students from cheating, well, he’s going to be missing quite a bit.

But, let’s look just a bit deeper. If your assignment is such that students can simply copy and paste the work and successfully complete the assignment, it’s time to look at your assignment. How much is the student really learning? This sounds like an assignment that is fully rooted in compliance. The students are necessarily learning anything, they are probably mindlessly completing an assignment. This will tell us something about how compliant a student is, but we probably already have a lot of information about how compliant students are.

It’s time that we focus on what students’ truly need to know. It’s time to use technology to advance how we learn, you student’s learn and how we demonstrate what we have learned. Let’s stop thinking that we’ve “outsmarted” students from cheating because they can use Word instead of Google Docs.

Finding your work

Whenever we do work, we never know what or where it will impact people. I was reminded of this once again when I discovered that some work that I did for ATEP was featured on Moodle News. Since the title of the post is “Download This Course on Using Moodle”, I’m going to go ahead and presume that there is some support there (it is even referred to as a “quality walk through”).

This is a course that I developed specifically for the ATEP program (which was funded by a National Science Foundation Grant).

It’s these odd times when you realize that the work that you do can go beyond what you know. I know that I worked with some wonderful teachers who developed the material for the ATEP site. I know that positive feedback that I received when working directly with them. The lead investigators were very positive about my contributions. They provided some wonderful feedback.

But I thought that was pretty much the end. Once more, though, I’ve been presented with an opportunity to remember that you don’t always know how, why or with whom that you make a difference.

But sometimes, you are lucky enough to find out.

An Open Letter to Google about Team Drive

Google has brought many wonderful things to education. Providing Google Docs and Google Drive for free for every student certainly is a great benefit for schools. This saves districts a lot of money that can be used for other things. It certainly empowers students as they don’t have to purchase software to complete assignments. I clearly remember the days of “which file format did you save this in”? I remember looking for a computer that could open a wide variety of formats (that was usually a Mac). (To this day, I still don’t understand why MicroSoft Word couldn’t open MicroSoft Works documents.)

Google has also created the Chromebook environment. Again, creating devices that can be purchased at a couple hundred dollars allowed schools to bring in many, many more devices than was previously possible. This has helped schools tremendously.

Google also allows us to buy reasonably priced management licenses for Chromebooks. The ability to monitor and control devices in schools is wonderful.

Any yet. Google frequently gets things really wrong with schools. As one example, the ability to change the language for the keyboard. Currently, Google allows the user to set this as a persistent device setting. Thus, if a student changes the keyboard language to Arabic, and then logs out, the device will continue to use Arabic for the keyboard. As a system administrator who works with real kids in the real world, I would much rather this be a user setting. If a student wants to set the keyboard to Arabic (or any language) great. As long as it doesn’t impact the next student. Let that first student come back to the Chromebook and fix the language (or learn the language).

Google is very much user centered. This is a real mind shift for a lot of users. No longer does one need the computer on which the file was created, but rather, one needs to be able to provide credentials to access the information. This is a truly big shift for many users in education.

Google also helped create a culture of sharing. Since information no longer was locked down to a specific device, and the working metaphor is a web based metaphor, sharing became possible. More and more in education, teachers and students are collaborating and sharing information.

However, education has a problem. Since files and information is person based, it became a challenge to create, share and save information that was more position or place based than person based. For example, school improvement plans don’t belong to an individual, they belong to the entire school. Trying to keep track of who “owns” which documents and what should happen to those documents when that person left or moved to a new position was impossible.

Educators are a resourceful bunch. We created generic accounts to handle ownership of files. For example, we created a “Curriculum” account to save all of the curriculum documents that we created. However, this meant that everyone who created curriculum had to go back into the document and change the ownership of the document to the “Curriculum” account. This is rife with errors. Teachers are busy and they just forget.

Google just announced Team Drives. Team Drives are more like traditional shared drives in that they aren’t owned by an individual. Rather, these can be collaborated on by many different people. These are essentially owned by the school district and not tied specifically to one person. Great! This will be a great boon to educators and school systems.

There is however, one small issue coming. An this is where Google needs some educator input. As of January 1st, 2018, team drives will be available to every single user. Team Drives are a boon for the staff, school administrators and teachers. However, some real issues could come up with student usage. Google is apparently not going to allow us to control this by OU (Organizational Unit). (OU’s are how we manage just about everything. Access to YouTube is controlled by OU. Teachers get full access, students get restricted access.)

Having students create Team Drives that will persist beyond their school attendance will create a bunch of extra cruft and potential issues. At the very least, this should be a school decision that is carefully thought out. Students can and should share folders and documents. When the student moves on, the information should go with them. Not everything needs to live forever.

So here is my plea to Google. Please let school administrators manage their environment. Let them spend time focusing on how to help students learn, grow and be successful. Allow us to limit the time, energy and focus on dealing with bad decisions by students because those decisions were too easy to make. Let us spend our time and energy helping students. Give us the ability to manage Team Drives like we manage everything else in Google, through OU’s.

You have NOT been hacked. Here’s what you need to do.

girl with hands to face

Lots of people are worried about being hacked. Interestingly, this worry does not seem to extend to avoiding writing passwords on post it notes ;-). After all, Yahoo has been in the news for multiple hacking situations.

So when something goes wrong, some go immediately to “I’ve been hacked”. This frequently is brought up by students as well. Here are a couple of hard earned tips to deal with students who have been “hacked”:

  1. Check to see if they have installed any extensions.
  2. See if they have “shared” their password (even if “only with” one person).

The first one is one of my favorites. We’ve seen this one many, many times. I’ll share a couple. One of the hacks was an extension that would randomly display a video famous person (I’m intentionally not naming the individual so as to help discourage the use of this one). The student would be working along and up would pop an obnoxious video. If the teacher was looking, the teacher could “see” that the student had don’t anything; the video had just “popped” up. What the teacher was missing was what the student had done previously (i.e. installed an extension to do exactly what the teacher is now seeing happen).

Another extension that some of our students found is an extension which would make a computer unusable. This extension would spawn the creation of lots and lots of tabs. When I say “lots and lots”, I really do mean lots and lots. The Chrome browser would be completely taken over.

I’ve heard for others with concerns, complaints and fears. Frequently, the “check to see if I’ve been hacked” line is used (so, far, this has never been the issue).

Please follow good security procedures. Don’t reuse the same password over and over in multiple places. Don’t write your password down on a sticky note and put that on your monitor. Don’t hide your password under your keyboard. (Quick story, I was presenting in a classroom some time ago. I moved the keyboard and saw all the passwords that a student would really want – access to grades, assignments, etc.)

Don’t immediately jump to “I’ve been hacked”. There is usually a reasonable explanation.

Be safe out there.

Moodle and Wiris

We have been using Wiris in our Moodle installation to help teachers and students deal with math and science equations. In a perfect world, everyone would use LaTeX (which is the standard for math notation in writing). (Actually, in a perfect world, math and science notation would be easily integrated into writing and page layout). However, LaTeX is complex and involves a fair bit of a learning curve. Most teachers aren’t going to learn the ins and outs of LaTeX, and certainly, students aren’t going to master LaTeX as they are learning math. Neither one of them should have to do so.

Enter Wiris. Wiris allows the user to use visual buttons and prompts to easily create math and science notations and equations. Wiris essentially adds a visual way to easily create math formulas. It looks like this:

*Note that Wiris uses LaTeX for the actual formatting.

We’ve created a variety of sample math problems for students to practice their math skills. These math problems are presented in a random order. Additionally, the students can check their answers immediately. The goal is not for summative evaluation; rather, the goal is for students to practice and hone their math skills. As part of checking their answer, the students get specific feedback on what is correct or not. The teachers used Wiris to provide some of that specific feedback. That turned into a problem. Some of the questions didn’t use the Wiris editor in the question, just in the feedback. That would cause some programming issues with Moodle.

So, we reached out the Wiris people. We provided feedback. The feedback included screenshots and detailed descriptions of the conditions where we were seeing problems. I’m happy to report the Wiris people have issued an update which fixes the issues that we saw.

Lesson learned? Reach out to the developers of tools that are useful. Provide them with specific, detailed descriptions of the issue. The good developers will be responsive. Who knows, you may even help solve a problem so that the next user never even knows that the problem used to exist. They will just find joy in a tool that works wonderfully well for them.

Image of 3 beakers and an atom to indicate science.

Here Comes Science

I learned a long time ago that I’m a Constructivist. Constructivism is essentially the concept that each learner builds (constructs) his/her own learning (this is, of course, a broad generalization of a deep and complex topic, but will serve here). In teaching in the classroom and in watching students in other teacher’s classrooms, constructivism has been apparent to me. I’ve seen enough “light bulb” moments to be rooted in constructivism. So, the concept of finding that one right strategy to teach all students has always frustrated me. Learning is messy. Learning can be ugly. Learning is non-linear. Learning doesn’t happen on the same day for all learners. Learning doesn’t happen in the same way for all learners.

One of the recent trends that we seen is the identification and public sharing of Content and Language Objectives. First of all, let me say that I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with Content and Language Objectives. These are wonderful things for teachers to know, actively identify and work with on a real level. There are instances where it is wonderfully useful for students to know and identify Content and Language Objectives as well. However, if every class starts with the students choral reading the Content and Language Objectives, well, I’m going to doubt that meaningful learning will happen in all classes.

See, I believe that learning frequently resides in a mystery. Learning lives in a story. Learning lives in discovery. Learning can be different for each student on each day.

Now, here comes Science. The new NGSS guidelines focus on students doing discovery learning. YES! YES! YES! Students doing the work. Students NOT being told what they will learn, but being guided so that they will learn what they need. This is how I believe that more learning should happen. Teachers guiding the students along the path of enlightenment, not being told that at the end of the hour they will be able to….

 

*Image: The original image has been released into the public domain by its author, AllyUnion, at the English Wikipedia project.