Tag Archives: edtech

A Review of SimpleK12 Resources for Educators, Integrating tech

(All images from the http://www.simplek12.com site.)

SimpleK12, located at http://www.simplek12.com/, is a professional development site for educators specifically designed to integrate technology into the curriculum.  The website provides two services: one is the Teacher Learning Community and the other is a guide for integrating technology into specific student curricula.

Teacher Learning Community

The Teacher Learning Community is a membership available for teachers just like you who know integrating the latest educational tips and techniques in the classroom will engage their students and increase academic achievement. When you join, you’ll get immediate access to a global network of educators with whom you can share and collaborate, live and recorded webinars with education leaders, a resource center for sharing classroom documents, as well as a collection of over 500 hours of classroom technology how-to videos available anytime anywhere. It’s all the help and support you’ll ever need from your very own personal learning network (PLN)!

~ From the SimpleK12 website

The Teacher Learning Community is a membership program for interacting with other educators regarding personal experiments and experiences in teaching and utilizing technology in the classroom.  The idea is to stimulate discussion with the website’s resources and augment it with on-the-ground experiences from other teachers.  In the webinars available on the site, you are introduced to the concepts and the intent is to facilitate making yours a competent edtech classroom, successfully integrating tech into your classroom regardless of your own technical prowess–or lack thereof!

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They bill themselves as relevant, in-touch, professional development.  As you teach history or social studies you can make use of these tools to help facilitate training your students the skills that will be of increasing value in the 21st century.  There is a difference from simply augmenting your instruction with technical tools and building useful skills for your students.  With these tools, aim for both.

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Add to this the Student Curriculum, and you have some considerable aids to incorporate, including edtech built-in to lesson plans and modules for assessments and grading.

But, there is a catch.  The full membership requires a paid subscription fee of over $200.  That may be prohibitive for some teachers/schools.  This does not mean that the service is completely inaccessible, however, as there is an active blog, toolkits for specific technology, webinars, collaborative online forums and a series of free e-books for a free membership good for many professional development assets–you just can’t do everything.  Even at this level, you can still develop a professional development profile and print out the completion of hours earned through the site.  Despite the price of full membership, the freebies are copious and valuable even without spending the dough.

I encourage educators who are interested in edtech and integrating tech-skill development for their students into their regular classroom activity to pursue the options and see if it is right for you.  Not just classroom teachers, but homeschool teachers can also make use of these tools in home education utilizing the technology they own.  To feel it out, start with the blog: http://blog.simplek12.com/education/top-7-ebooks-for-educators/.

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Filed under Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Tech tools

The Tech-fallacy vs Quality Edtech

I’ve recently advocated a great deal of edtech.  My approach to education has always emphasized content and skills.  Because of this, I see a real value in incorporating technology into coursework.  There are, however, unfortunate side-effects that can emerge.

Recently, Jay Matthews wrote a Class Struggle column for the Washington Post online, called, “How computers can hurt schools,” discussing a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.  He describes the case of Melvin highlighted in the lawsuit whose English class functioned “virtually” with little to no interaction from his teacher.  The computer was, in his teacher’s mind, supposed to educate him.  It didn’t work.

I have also in the past advocated “slow reading,” bound paper books, and handwriting.  There are many advantages to technology, but it comes with its own drawbacks.  In this post,  I want to highlight the challenges.  These are a generous sampling of issues, not a particular tirade.

Access to technology
A great teacher in my area teaches STEM classes at an elementary school that has had a surging percentage of ESL students.  In her mind, technology is the equalizer.  If you were to walk into her classroom and watch her students working through a Robotic Legoes project in which they measure their designed cars’ ability to drag a load, you’d agree with her immediately.  The key to success has been her ability to write grants that allowed her to procure the equipment.

Few of her students have access to such technology at home, of course.  And, many of her ESL students without her instruction would not gain the advantage of expanding their English vocabulary.  Technology works in this case because the school owns it–the students need bring nothing but their thirsty minds–and the teacher is excellent at maximizing gains.

I advocate using technology to do a number of projects that many students simply cannot do unless the school provides the access to the technology.  Incorporating smart phones or tablets only works if every student has access.  Does this mean we will add such technology to our school supply lists?  Perhaps it means teachers in low-income areas need to learn to write grants as part of their training.

Screen time
South Korea is one of the most strongly plugged-in, high-speed technological cultures.  They recently halted a plan to transition all textbooks to e-books.  The reason for this was centered on studies about the dangers of excessive screen time.  These include brain-patterning and chemistry that develops over time, mimicing addiction.

In general, students with higher screen time hours tend to have a host of attendant health problems.  Some of these are cognitive though many are related to inactivity.  There are also concerns about reduced face time with other human beings and minimized time outdoors.  Besides concrete health concerns, such as a lack of sunlight and its natural provision of vitamin D, this creates a disconnect with the natural world which will, among other side-effects, challenge future conservation.

Scanning
The reliance on getting information digitally impairs a slow, concentrated ability to read in depth for comprehension of complex ideas.  Scanning is a useful skill for a quick upload of information–I use it all the time when I am referencing a source for a particular idea or concept to be sure of the context.  But, true comprehension of complex ideas, whether in a great work of literature, a written study, political analysis of an issue or legal problem, a work of philosophy, etc., requires more than a cursory scan.

It is also an essential cognitive skill to maintain and foster.  Slow reading promotes the ability to focus deeply.  This is a basic skill used in decision making, destressing, and problem-solving.  It is also life-enriching.  Consider the difference between the experience of social media memes and contemplating a Raphael, Van Gogh or El Greco three feet from your nose.  As with much of “slow” movements it comes back to experiences.

Experiences
I am an advocate of using technology to recreate experiences that cannot be otherwise accomplished.  You can use the web to create a virtual field trip even if the resources are not available to make the trip any other way.  But, the understanding is that this is a substitute resource.  Emphasis on substitute.

History instructors can use leisure activities, food, music, etc. (see the sub-categories under my Experiencing category) to recreate another era.  These are also very social activities.  The learning is achieved together and it uses the human senses, which in turn stimulate the brain and its learning.

Poverty limits experiences, obviously.  While technology can be used to ignite curiosity and encourage experience, it can also deprive one of experience and reality.  Naturally, this comes back to balance.

Handwriting
Studies show that practicing and learning handwriting does important things for our cognitive development with language.  Many schools have already abandoned it in their curriculum.  Keep in mind that part of the issue here is literacy, the other part circles back around tothe aforementioned concern about access.

On the one hand, learning to write by hand is a stronger means to learn literacy.  On the other hand, anyone who cannot afford a computer can still write out a job application or send a letter to his or her politician.  That same citizen should know how to type, too, because some day he or she may be able to get a computer, but until then… it’s all about access.

Some students in our area-elementary schools are extremely poor, relying on school for two to three meals out of the day (with after school programs), going to school in the winter in flip-flops because they do not have shoes, missing the afternoon of classes if they spoil themselves because they don’t have a change of underwear when they go home, and having no money for basic school supplies such as paper and pencils, let alone tablets and computers.

Teacher participation
The final x-factor is the instructor.  Technology cannot be a substitution for instruction in a classroom setting.  You walk into the classroom and it’s game on, period.  Teacher interaction has an incredible impact on students.  Buy-in problems and student management troubles are often the result of poor teacher interactions.

I can look back on my own career and identify those moments when I created problems with my students that otherwise, with a different pattern of interaction would have shared a productive learning experience with me.  They were not problem students, but I created problems.  In the end, their rebellion was unproductive but justified.  I can also look back at those teachers who had a lasting impact on my life for a point of comparison.

If it can make that much difference, think how much impact ignoring a student can have, telling him, like Melvin, to learn from the computer.  How inspiring.

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Filed under Editorials on education, Experiences, Tech tools

What if Twitter had existed in other historical eras? Tweeting historiography.



I recently was tickled to find this piece on (where else?) Twitter: British r Coming. Pls RT! | Foreign Policy.  It’s really funny.  It gets one thinking, too.  Others have pointed out the value of challenging students to make observations in a succinct 140-character medium.  This forces students to use precision about the subject they are evaluating and to prioritize the material succinctly.  This is also a moment of frivolity to share with your class.

Aside from being fun, you could actually delve into some real historiographical issues.   Each set of tweets could be altered based on the different interpretations from the historiography.  For example, assign small groups a different scholar and encourage them to create tweets from the primary documents based on the assigned scholars interpretations.  Then you could compare the results.

It adds an extra layer of education, but it’s still fun!  Done well, this should be a slightly addictive exercise in levity and history.  Students should get addicted because its funny and entertaining.  You may find they actually have a better grasp of the scholarly concepts at the end, as well.  Maybe you throw it in right before or after exams or a big paper due date to get productivity despite the intensity of their coursework.

This is similar to the concept behind making fake Facebook walls.  You are asking students to use the technology with which many of them are well-acquainted as the medium in which to present their findings.  This does not suggest that you abandon papers or other means for testing their knowledge and developing skills, it is an alternative that can give students a bit of break without simply putting in a movie and having them unplug.  These exercises introduce a little levity and they should be fun.  At the end, they’ll be #Twitterstorians!

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Filed under Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Fiction, Historian's Journal, Tech tools