Ed Tech Ideas

Tech Integration for Busy Teachers

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Tomorrow’s Renaissance Student

Cross-posted at vickyloras.wordpress.com

Leonardo da Vinci is regarded as one of the greatest thinkers of all time. Part of what’s so amazing about da Vinci is that he was so well-versed in such a broad variety of areas. Music, architecture, math, botany, engineering, art, and more; da Vinci was known as the archetypal renaissance man. During da Vinci’s time, one needed to be a polymath to be considered learned. If you needed questions answered, you would either have to ask your parents, a priest, or hope that you had someone like da Vinci living nearby. Granted, having knowledge wasn’t always regarded as a positive thing by the powers that be, and it could often get one in trouble. We have definitely come a long way since the 15th century, and today’s Renaissance men and women think and learn a whole lot differently than the polymaths of da Vinci’s time.

Is Technology Making us Dumb?

Some case-and-points of negative impacts of technology: I came across an article in LifeHacker this morning about CapSee, an app that will notify you if your capslock is on… Wouldn’t that fact that you’re now typing all capital letters notify you of this? I still remember the phone numbers of Brian Craw, Andrew Smalldon, Jason Hall, Emily Podesta and the local movie theater in the town where I grew up. I used to have to dial (with an actual dial) these numbers. I haven’t called these friends for 25 years, but the numbers still remain in my memory. Today, I do not know any numbers by heart. I checked into a hotel a few days ago and the front desk clerk asked me what time my return flight was. I didn’t know, but was comfortable with the fact that I could login and check my online calendar.

Are we so reliant on technology that rote memorization and instant recall is fading? Or are we simply doing so many more tasks in our daily lives that we don’t take the time to remember simple things that we know are within reach of our nearest computer device?

A Renaissance at Your Fingertips

There’s no doubt that technology is now, and will continue to be embedded into our daily lives. We are continuing to grow ever more dependent on computers and one would have to really make an effort to go a day without directly interacting with, or indirectly being affected by some sort of technology. Today’s da Vincis, instead of being a wealth of memorized information, should know how to quickly access and call up information from various sources. They need to know how to problem solve, collaborate, adapt, manipulate, and utilize information. John Sowash, who writes the Electric Educator, states that:

We are in an age of information. Storing facts in our brains is a pointless exercise (unless you plan on being on Jeopardy!). In the era of the iPhone, any fact, statistic, or desirable piece of information is only a few clicks away. The skill of the 21st century that will set people apart is what they can do with the information that is available to them. What new products, services, or procedures can be improved, created or derived from the information that we have? Knowing is not as important as using.

Tomorrow’s Renaissance Student

So what does this mean for education? How are we preparing our students to be technological polymaths who are able to navigate the sea of information available at their fingertips? According to research released by Project Tomorrow and Blackboard, only a third of parents think that schools are doing a good job preparing students for the 21st century (which is already 1/10 of the way through, by the way). The research also showed that only 40 percent of students in grades 6 through 12 think their schools are doing a good job preparing them for the future.

Learning for the 21st Century, a report from a public-private coalition known as the Partnership for 21st Century Skills offers up the following steps for educational reform to better prepare our students for the future:

  1. Core Subjects: The authors reaffirm the importance of the core subjects identified by No Child Left Behind but challenge schools and policymakers to expand their focus beyond “basic competency” to understanding the core academic content at much higher levels.
  2. Learning Skills: “To cope with the demands of the 21st century,” the report states, “students need to know more than core subjects. They need to know how to use their knowledge and skills-by thinking critically, applying knowledge to new situations, analyzing information, comprehending new ideas, communicating, collaborating, solving problems, and making decisions.”
  3. 21st Century Tools: Recognizing that “technology is, and will continue to be, a driving force in workplaces, communities, and personal lives in the 21st century,” Learning for the 21st Century emphasizes the importance of incorporating information and communication technologies into education from the elementary grades up.
  4. 21st Century Context: Experiences that are relevant to students’ lives, connected with the world beyond the classroom, and based on authentic projects are central to the sort of education the Partnership for 21st Century Skills defines as the appropriate context for learning in the information age.
  5. 21st Century Content: The report’s authors believe that certain content essential for preparing students to live and work in a 21st century world is missing from many state and local standards. (See list.)
  6. New Assessments that Measure 21st Century Skills: “As pervasive as assessment seems to be today,” the report says, “it remains an emerging and challenging field that demands further study and innovation.” Recommendations include moving beyond standardized testing as the sole measure of student learning; balancing traditional tests with classroom assessments to measure the full range of students’ skills; and using technology-based assessments to deliver immediate feedback.

Gimme Hope da Vinci!

Being a computer teacher at a large international school, I have the privilege of working with some amazing educators and students. Teachers are actively engaged in updating their technology skills and at times, even learning alongside their students (modeling lifelong learning). They are attending workshops and conferences, reading blogs and professional journals, learning via online courses, and even Tweeting with their PLNs and updating their professional blogs. Students are actively engaged in their learning; utilizing appropriate technologies to problem solve, collaborate, communicate, as well as to increase learning and productivity. We are not “there” yet, and our aim is to never actually arrive, but to continue the lifelong journey of promoting each student’s social, emotional, and academic aptitude to develop into the global leaders of tomorrow.

Blinding ignorance does mislead us. O! Wretched mortals, open your eyes!
Leonardo da Vinci

9 Great Science Fair Sites

Science fairs have been going on for quite some time now. I still remember making a working electromagnetic telegraph with my dad in his garage when I was just a lad, strolling into my school gymnasium with my 3-fold poster-board tucked proudly under my arm, and knowing without a doubt that I’d be walking away with that 1st prize blue ribbon (until I saw Scott Johnson’s 5-foot tall tornado simulator).

If your school is planning on having a science fair, or if your students are simply interested in learning more by doing, here’s a list of great science fair resources to get you experimenting.

Discovery Science Fair Central

Science Fair CentralEasy to search using the Idea Finder, Discovery’s Science Fair Central has hundreds of resources and projects to get young scientists motivate and focused. The interactive Display Board help section is a must-see.

Science Fairs

This site has been around since 1995 and is designed to aid students in the most difficult aspect of their science fair experience; getting an idea.

Science Buddies

Great resource for idea finding divided into topics. There’s also a Topic Selection Wizard that guides you through a series of questions to help students narrow down their selection based on their likes and interests. After going through the wizard, there are follow-up resources to get students moving in the right direction.

Science Fair Adventure

Fantastic resource with comprehensive listings that feature science fair projects across several distinct categories, including chemistryphysicsbiology, and many more. Each project is listed in an easy to follow manner with step-by-step instructions on how to carry out the project.

Science Bob

Fun site – Science Bob has a lot of activities and experiments for students to try out.

All Science Fair Projects

Nice resource with different ways to search for science fair ideas. Probably the most useful is the Browse section which allows students to find ideas in 10 different categories.

100 Cool Science Experiments

Kids love watching videos and this site has (as the title suggests) has 100 great videos all about science experiments!

Parents Guide to Science Fairs

We’ve all seen it – the amazing exact replication of a nuclear reactor with flashing lights, sounds, and real smoke. The projects that didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that they were created by, well, a rocket scientist. This site helps parents define their roles in helping their child with his or her science fair project.

PBS Science Fair

PBS has a nice spin on science fair idea generating. Students click on a spinner and new topics appear with a link that takes them to more information about the topic that they chose. There’s even videos of the project in action!

Happy experimenting!

Did You Know 4.0

More great reminders from Scott McLeod, Karl Fisch, and Laura Belstler. Quote of the video by Ray Kurzweil:

“So what used to fit in a building, now fits in your pocket. What fits in your pocket now will fit in a blood cell in 25 years.”

Enjoy the video.

Researching, Graphing and Publishing in Four Steps

One of my third grade classes is working on a unit of learning about, and deciphering the differences between developed and developing countries. They are investigating what makes a country developed, why certain countries develop and other don’t, and trying to figure out how we can close the gap.

Step 1: The Premise

We began by gathering information on 2 counties (one developed; the other developing) such as literacy rate, life expectancy, population, GDP per capita,  and other statistical facts that could be found online. They recorded their findings in a Word document. This information was later used to graph the results and to develop a better understanding of the differences between developed and developing countries.

Step 2: The Research

For most of the research, we used CIA World Fact Book. This is a great site with detailed information on every country in the world. It is fairly easy to find the information, but what I like even more is that the kids did have to do some thinking and searching to find the information they needed. Other sites we used were the BBC’s Development and Health, National Geographic’s People and Places, OxFam’s Wake Up World, and Heifer International’s Read to Feed.

Step 3: The Graphs

After all the information was gathered students went to Create-a-Graph and began entering their data. They selected specific data to compare 2 or more countries (i.e., literacy rates of Singapore vs. Afganastan; Life Expectancy of people in Singapore vs. Cuba; GDP of Singapore vs. The Philippines; etc.). We used Singapore for the developed country as that is where all the students live. The students got to choose which developing country they researched and, not surprisingly, a lot chose either Haiti or Afghanistan. (Note to self: next time, I will have students sign up for a country to avoid repeats).

Step 4: Publishing

After all the data was collected and graphed, the students downloaded their graphs as PDFs and I then uploaded them all to Youblisher to share their findings with people from around the world. You can take a look at their graphs here.

Create-a-Graph Step by Step Guide


disclaimerHaving no false assumptions, I am not writing this blog to show off my superior writing ability or amazing, grand ideas.  Most of my posts are simple thoughts jotted down in 5 minutes after a class leaves my lab.

My hope is that by showing my few successes and frequent failures, teachers will possibly grab hold of a single idea or two that enables them to integrate tech into their classroom in a way that they hadn’t thought of before.

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