iPads and Smartphones and Tablets, Oh My.

There is no denying that technology, specifically the invention of the smart phone, has completely altered the ways in which humans interact with one another. For many, texting has replaced face-to-face conversations, and sending an email is the new phone call. So, it should come as no surprise that the same changes are happening in classrooms around the world. All students are guilty of it, and all teachers have fallen victim to it: smart phone use in the classroom.

It’s inevitable. These hand held devices, which can easily be concealed by the way, are far more interesting to students than the human being standing in front of them. That human doesn’t stand a chance when compared to the 5-ounce- mini-computer. So, for those teachers around the world who consider themselves victims of smart phone use in the classroom, I suggest you use those smart phones to your advantage. Yes, I said it. Advocate for your students using their smart phones during lecture.

Your students will rejoice, and without much effort you will have won over the entire classroom. It’s rather simple. Amongst the thousands of smart phone apps that are disruptive to learning, there are several that in fact promote it. Yes, a smart phone app that makes learning fun.  Take for example, FlashCards++, Quizlet, or CoboCards – apps that allow students to make their own flash cards. Utilize the Google search app for classroom discussion. Instead of students wasting those precious minutes flipping through a textbook for the answer, ask them to type it into their smart phone’s search engine. Whoever can type the quickest wins bragging rights. Sure, it is simple and may seem childish, but it’s these easy adjustments to your teaching methods that students will appreciate.  Instead of being known as the archaic teacher with grueling lectures fit for the Stone Age, have your students use the technology that they already cannot get enough of.

If you want an easy way to engage with students about homework assignments, try utilizing the Poll Everywhere app to gage their interest in a certain chapter.

These are just a few options. Within the smart phone community are endless opportunities to engage with your students—making teaching easier, and your students more receptive.


However, as with most things in life, this teaching with technology method is good in moderation. Smart phones should be used just sparingly enough to keep your students interested.

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Is Technology Replacing The Classics?

In today’s world of iPods, computer games, and Netflix, it’s no surprise that technology is now becoming a staple in the classroom.

In many classrooms across the country, students are being supplied with laptops instead of or alongside of textbooks.

Students, of course, are thrilled. The high schoolers of today have grown up using computers and the Internet. So what could be better than integrating something they already know into their education? Many students could feel better prepared for their educational endeavors.

The rate of growth in the technological field has exploded. iPods are staples for a kid, and many don’t know what a CD is. It is almost miraculous that adding laptops to a student’s school supplies hasn’t occurred sooner.

So will these additions help? Some say no; students still have different methods of learning that cannot be addressed in large classrooms. According to Forbes, “The problem is that, historically, education technology added more maintenance, upgrade, and teaching burdens to an already overburdened — and often technologically under-prepared and un-enthused — teaching cohort, while failing to meet the specific needs of highly particular, and easily distracted students.”

However, the introduction of such technology in the classroom is helpful. Not only does it help students get information faster and become more organized, but it also will help improve communication between teachers and students, as well as between students.

What do you think? Will laptops help or hinder students?


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American Education: How Does it Compare?

Nelson Mandela said it best, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

It’s no secret that education is the foundation on which success is built. That foundation, however, is ever-changing, and now more than ever caters to the technological advances of our tech-crazed society. Text books are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Instead, students are using i-Pads, where they can download the required material with their fingertips. These new teaching methods are great, but are they really helping the American educational system? How do our technology, and teaching methods measure up to other countries?

iPad based learning encourages students to learn new technology, however, it also lends students to fewer face-to-face interactions with their teacher and classmates. Students can do just about anything via an i-Pad, so interaction within the classroom setting comes second to the information they can absorb through a screen. Does this seem like a problem to anyone else? Technology is great, and it has improved our day-to-day lives immensely, but it also has brought upon a decrease in traditional communication skills.

Though our educational system is changing, it is “people skills” and focus on extracurricular activities that other nations hope to emulate. For example, China, a nation that aims to educate their youth for high test schools, rather than real-life situations and outside activities.

In his article on Forbes.com, Shaun Rein argues that the American educational system needs to be more heavily reflected in China. Rein says, “Prepping students to get high test scores does not translate into teaching them to think critically.” Yes, impressive test scores are something to be admired, but they cannot be translated to real world experiences.

So, why is the American system shifting to be so technologically focused? Human interaction is a skill that cannot be taught through a computer screen. Other nations value our system for the very skills that are fading away with our new teaching methods. Technology is great, yes. But, we need to remember that other nations, specifically China, are looking to move their educational programs to reflect ours.

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Getting to the bottom of the #EdTech Hysteria

(Article pulled from the Huffington Post) — by Shaun Johnson

I taught summer school for four weeks without any technology. Not willingly, per se. But the charter school in which I’ve taught the last three summers simply didn’t have any available in this particular classroom. I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I checked out a ton of library books, had reams of chart paper on hand and buckets of markers. We were all set.

As an educator, I’m certainly not averse to the use of educational technology. I incorporate at the college-level blogs, Twitter, podcasts, and other software tools. I use an iPad to write up all of my observations of student teachers. And I’ve used interactive whiteboards extensively in my college courses and in prior years of summer school teaching. No big deal.

I’m also very appreciative the ways educational technologies have enhanced what educators like myself do in and out of the classroom. Social learning sites and blogs have been important to my personal intellectual growth, and that of my students. I enjoy creating media for my professional life and for students. Countless resources are available to enhance the educational experience.

There’s another side to all of this excitement over the latest and greatest ideas in #edtech that are visible once you step outside and see the forest for the trees (I use the hashtag “#edtech” in deference to the lively discussions on the subject via Twitter). The workplace has had an interesting relationship with technology over the last several decades, not all of it good. Some technological innovations, while increasing productivity, have displaced workers and eliminated jobs. In other ways, technologies have de-skilled once highly skilled labor, like some forms of manufacturing. This potentially depresses wages for what were at one point very comfortable middle-class occupations. It might also invalidate the need for human capital altogether.

There’s an underlying “disruptive” strain to #edtech that is, from my perspective, disconcerting. It seems that certain proponents of #edtech are pushing technology in order to completely “teacher-proof” the classroom. That is, altogether remove teacher judgment and autonomy from the equation. Let us not pretend that this is something new; we’ve seen this before with “programmed instruction.” Sure, the technologies are more sophisticated, but the intentions are similar.

Take “flipping” the classroom, for example. There is no substantial body of evidence indicating that this concept is remotely effective. Yet, the priests of #edtech see this as the perfect solution: eliminate the need for educators to possess sophisticated content knowledge and disallow them any control over how it is presented. Deliver content through a virtual warehouse of videos, easily produced, and cheaply disseminated. The professional educator then assumes the role of “facilitator.” Take content or curriculum developer and pedagogue out of their skillset.

Here’s another quick example: assessment. According to many in the policy community, educators’ evaluative skills are not up to snuff. They are very ineffective at creating assessments numerically palatable to folks who’d rather not mess around in schools themselves. They’d rather judge performance on a dashboard from afar in the comfort of an office cubicle. The solution then is to create a very expensive set of new standards and compel professional educators to adhere to them lock, stock, and barrel. Roll out annual assessments and then a panoply of mid-range and formative benchmarks to ensure that everyone’s on track. The #edtech component makes this all cheap and efficient: everyone takes the assessments on a computer and the precious is collected, evaluated, and analyzed from a distance. Take assessment expertise and evaluation out of the teacher skillset.

What’s left? Not a whole lot. If we continue eliminating the carefully crafted skills that make education and teaching complicated professions, putting certain skills into the electronic hands of computers and software, then all classroom teachers simply become interchangeable parts in the educational process. The training and expertise required of educators becomes less sophisticated, cheaper, and faster. The benefits of a well-trained and adequately compensated workforce withers away in favor of underpaid, but ultimately cheaper, placeholders whose youthful energies can be exploited for a year or two before a fresh crop arrives on scene. Rinse and repeat.

I’m not saying we should stop developing new #edtech ideas or that some well-meaning developers are out there actually trying to improve teacher practice. Hiding within this current of enthusiasm for the latest #edtech gadgetry are those that see technology as a way to “sterilize” the classroom, putting quality control and standardization above all else.

Follow Shaun Johnson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thechalkface


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Personal vs. Educationally Provided Technology

I’ve been reading a few articles that indicate that schools and students are often at odds when it comes to technology, and then I’ve also read that teachers are making cell phones work for classrooms.

So which is it?

The argument for cell phones includes an AP Chemistry teacher sending a text blast with a question for that day’s class, with a reward for answering.

Another idea reminds of the remote control quiz consoles some college lecture classes use. The same AP Chemistry teacher will ask his students questions, and have them answer the quiz questions via a program on their cell phones.

Catchy, right?

Well, I am not entirely sure I agree with this mode of teaching, for a few reasons. First, one of the most irritating things for a child to hear includes “because I said so”. I think that by allowing a student to use their phones only when a teacher prompts them to, but then asking them to pay attention for the duration of the class while their phones lie safely in their backpacks is a bit unrealistic.

The counter argument is that cell phones should never be used in class, which is one point of view I’m much more inclined to agree.  In my experience, and experiences with other teachers I’ve talked to about the subject, the same reasoning applies here. You can’t tell a student that they can have cell phones in class and not expect those students to text answers to quiz questions, tweet during class, and use games or other distractions cell phones provide.

According to this article, 65% of principals said they were not inclined to let students bring or use cell phones on school grounds during the school day.

What do you think? Is it a good idea to allow students to use cell phones during school, or not? Do you have any success stories about how they work, or stories about how they don’t work?


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Education reform action needed now

I read an article recently on The Hill, a blog for politics, by Michelle Rhee, who is the founder and CEO of  StudentsFirst, and the former chancellor of Washington, D.C. schools.

Below I share the article, and I have to say first that I firmly agree as a country, we need reform in education. We simply haven’t done enough – and I find it disturbing foreign countries are quickly passing us by in education. Living in a country that is supposed to be the powerhouse of the world, but can’t seem to educate our children to a standard on par with the world isn’t a powerhouse at all.

Education reform action needed now

November is nearing, and around the country candidates are courting voters. But, if they really want to connect with the men and women they hope to represent, they should start speaking up about a topic Americans care deeply about but which is being ignored.

A recent poll by the College Board showed more than two-thirds of voters call education an issue that is “extremely important” to them in the 2012 election. Only jobs and the economy are viewed with more urgency, and large majorities of voters see education and job creation as inextricably linked.

It’s not surprising voters care about this issue and want to hear more about it. What is surprising is that — across the country — candidates for federal office are barely taking note of that.

education, reading Let’s start at the top. One of President Obama’s most notable accomplishments has been creating a grant program — Race to the Top — that has helped spur innovation and improvements in states, particularly around developing great teachers and expanding public-school choices for families. During the campaign, both he and Mitt Romney have spoken to the importance of improving teacher quality. But considering how central the issue is to our nation’s future, it’s been a surprisingly peripheral discussion.

Our public-education system is not serving children nearly as well as it ought to be. Each year, about a third of our high-school students fail to graduate on time with their peers. When our graduates do arrive on college campuses, about a third need remedial coursework because they weren’t adequately prepared during their K-12 years.

We also have a persistent and absolutely unconscionable achievement gap between poor and minority children and their wealthier, white peers. And there is a major gap in the performance between U.S. students and their global peers. Right now, American students are ranked 25 out of 34 when compared to teens from other industrialized countries in math.

When you think about those statistics, it makes the lack of focus on education in campaigns across the country very disheartening.

I understand congressional incumbents might have some trouble talking about their record on education, because, well, it’s been pretty slim in recent years. By failing to act, Congress has failed our youths. Nowhere has that been starker than on the debate around No Child Left Behind.

No Child Left Behind should have been reformed and rewritten five years ago. While NCLB has helped push schools to be much more accountable for student learning, it is certainly far from perfect and needs to be significantly altered to truly serve students well. The Senate passed an initial effort to do this, but the House has basically done nothing. If Congress were to act to reform NCLB, then maybe they’d have something to talk about.

As long as we fail to take on these issues and have a robust debate around them — not only in Washington, D.C., but in congressional districts around the country — politicians will have little reason to act. If they start to engage voters and each other on these issues, however, and hear just how much people care, then maybe we’ll see some of the changes our schools so badly need.

Lawmakers, and those aspiring to serve in office, need to take meaningful stands on key issues such as how we ensure a great teacher for every child or how we provide high-quality school choices to all families. Similarly, constituents at home have a responsibility, too, and need to be asking candidates where they stand on these issues. Education needs to be at the heart of these debates, because otherwise it will continue to be ignored and our schools will continue to fail too many of our students.

Our children need advocates and policymakers in their communities and at all levels of government, including in Congress, looking out for their interests and pushing schools to improve. Given the public’s intense interest in the issue, taking on education is not only the right thing for candidates to do — it’s also the smart thing.

A recent Council on Foreign Relations report stated that our national security could be at risk if we didn’t address our failure to provide every child with a great education. Maybe the words “national security” will wake our candidates up. Whatever it takes, I hope those running for office — and those in office — listen to voters and engage in the national conversation around creating a 21st century public-education system that will meet the needs of our youth and our country.

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Rewards for Reading?

I recently read an article about rewarding kids for reading – and it’s very similar to some of the thoughts I have on the matter. Yes, there are programs like Book it! to make reading a competition amongst classmates (and maybe just to see how much pizza you could eat), I don’t think paying children to read, or involving other incentives comes with an easy answer or a “cheap price”. Lisa Belkin explains:

Does Rewarding Children Backfire?


During the discussion here yesterday about “paying children to be good” many of you referred to Alfie Kohn, author of “Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason” and “Punished by Rewards.” Since we were talking about him on Motherlode, I called and asked him to join in.

What follows are some of his thoughts, transcribed from our conversation, on why rewarding children for good behavior doesn’t work. I have to say I don’t agree completely with all he has to say. Watching my own children, I do think that they have come to “love” activities (like reading) that they were originally “bribed” (through a school sticker chart) to do. And I am always wary of a theory that looks pretty in print but that doesn’t account for the fact that much parenting is done while we are stressed and tired and simply doing the best we can.

But he definitely provides food for thought.

(And, by the by, to whoever commented yesterday that he and I went to the same alma mater…. Seems we didn’t.)

Rewards and punishments are not opposites; they are two sides of the same coin and that coin doesn’t buy very much. The one thing you can get by dangling a goody in front of children if they do what you want is the same thing you can get by threatening to make them suffer if they don’t do what you want. What you get is temporary compliance, but it comes at a very steep cost.

To look at this you have to think of motivation differently. People who say it is inevitable, or at least innocuous, to bribe kids for being quiet or for cleaning their rooms or reading a book tend to be operating on the basis of a very simplistic and outmoded theory about motivation — namely that there’s a single thing called motivation that you can have more or less of, and that if we give kids the equivalent of a doggy biscuit for jumping through our hoops they will have more of this stuff called motivation.

But for decades psychologists have been telling us that there are different kinds of motivation and the kind matters more than the amount. There is intrinsic motivation, which means doing something because it seems worthwhile in its own right, and extrinsic motivation, where you do something just to get a goody. Not only are these two different, they are inversely related. That’s why research shows that the more you reward people, the less interest they come to have in whatever they had to do to get the reward. The more you offer extrinsic motivators, the more intrinsic motivation tends to decline.

You can get mindless temporary obedience with extrinsic rewards. But not only does it tend not to last, and not only do kids understandably push for more rewards in the future, but whatever commitment to the task or action they might have developed with your help is now even more scarce than it was to begin with.

Thus, for example, every study that has looked at the topic has found that students who are led to focus on improving their grades tend to become less interested in learning as a result. And at least two studies have found that children who get positive reinforcement from their parents for helping or sharing actually become less helpful and more self-centered as a result. They’ve learned that the only reason to do something for someone else — or, in the other example, the only reason to learn — is because they’ll be rewarded for doing so. When the reward is no longer available, they’re less inclined to help or learn than they were to begin with.

If you reward children for reading a book, they come to see reading as something they would never want to do. Are they more “motivated” to read because you offered them a neat prize? Well, they may have more extrinsic motivation, but at the expense of the intrinsic motivation that we want them to develop.

The only way to help kids to become decent people, life-long learners, good decision makers, is to work with them. How to develop what I call a “working with” relationship varies with each kid and with each situation; part of what makes rewards and punishments so tempting to parents is that this is a one-size-fits-all response. In the long run, though, the only approach that has a prayer of being successful involves understanding the reasons and motives that underlie a particular child’s actions.

In “Unconditional Parenting,” I give an example about when my daughter, Abigail, was in preschool. It took her forever to get ready in the morning. I was nagging her, and I didn’t like that and she didn’t like that. My response wasn’t to threaten her with a consequence, nor did I offer her a reward for speeding up. I’m not house-training a puppy; I’m raising a child.

Instead I waited until we were both in good moods and not in the middle of rushing to get somewhere and I invited her to imitate what I sound like in the morning when I am nagging her to get ready. She turned out to be a devastatingly gifted impersonator. Then I asked her what she saw as the reason for the problem every morning and what she thought might be the solution. She said, “I take a lot of time getting dressed so maybe I should just wear my clothes to bed.” She did exactly that for several years.

That’s an example of one, but only one, facet of working-with parenting: “Talk less, ask more.” Why is it a problem? What can we do differently? That’s how kids learn to be good decision makers while preserving the alliance between parent and child — an alliance that is actually strained when we dangle a goody in front of them to control their behavior. And we should never forget that rewards are just sugar-coated control.

This is true of adults, too, by the way. A lot of the comments on your blog were along the lines of, “I get money in a workplace; that’s what motivates me to do my job so why shouldn’t I motivate my children that way?” But those people make two mistakes. First, even if financial rewards for adults were desirable or even just harmless, that is not even the beginning of an argument for doing this to children. Employers are not in the business of creating good, thinking, confident, caring adults. Parents are.

But, as it turns out, this approach doesn’t even make sense in the workplace. There is a difference between compensation, which we all need, and turning compensation into a reward, with bonus plans and pay-for-performance schemes. The latter does for adults what the equivalent approach does for children — makes them focus on the reward, often at the expense of interest in the task and therefore quality performance over the long haul.

What I propose is not a perfect solution. There will be arguments. Kids will not become perfect overnight. But let’s not compare these suggestions to perfection. Let’s compare them to the almost guaranteed failure of manipulation with carrots and sticks.

What do you think? Is it okay to give incentives for reading? Or not?

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Preschool programs cut nationwide

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of articles indicating states are being forced to cancel preschool programs. I was truly bothered by the article for a couple of reasons.

1.) Head-start programs like preschool are necessary for a child’s development in reading, especially in lower-income areas where parents cannot dedicate as much time to reading and education as they would if they were stay-at-home parents.

2.) Preschool programs have shown to increase a child’s readiness for school. “Children who attend high-quality preschool enter kindergarten with better pre-reading skills, richer vocabularies, and stronger basic math skills than those who do not,” says NIEER director W. Steven Barnett, PhD.

By removing preschool altogether and not formulating a plan to replace what’s now lacking is directly going to affect our children and how they perform when they do start school. I know that something must give, but it seems irresponsible and harmful to take education away from young children who would benefit from it.

What are your thoughts? Did your child attend preschool? Do you think it benefited them as they moved through school?

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From my book…

The Computer is Moved to the Basement

The next morning Tommy overheard a conversation between his mom and dad. They were discussing the Proto II computer. His father said it was one of the first computers made, and experimental model, which accounted for its size and bulkiness. He felt sentimental about it and didn’t want to see it dismantled and thrown away.

The company no longer had any use for it because the newer models were smaller and more efficient. He thought he might bring it home and store it in the basement. He said maybe Tommy would enjoy it since he loved computers so much.

“Wow!” Tommy thought. “Now I’ll no longer have to worry about how to gain access to the computer.” He wondered how long it would be before his dad would be bringing the computer home. He didn’t have to wonder long. That afternoon the Proto II computer arrived at Tommy’s on a large truck and was brought to the basement. It was a perfect setup.

When Janey came to play later that afternoon he asked about the computer. He was asked about the computer. He was trying very hard to be cool. Tommy informed him that the computer was now in his basement. “Now I can go to Ketra anytime I feel like it!” Tommy said with excitement.

Jamey expressed an interest in seeing the computer, but only as a matter of curiosity. Tommy took him down to the basement and Jamey said it looked like a pile of junk to him. He didn’t want Tommy to know that the computer intrigued him and that he thought of little else since he’d heard of Tommy’s adventures in Ketra.

“I revisited Ketra,” Tommy said slyly looking for a reaction from Jamey. “This time I rode a unicorn and talked to some rabbits,” he said. He looked at Jamey and there was the strangest far away look in his eyes, but he didn’t say anything. “Oh!” Tommy continued after the short pause, “a fox, with the cruelest red eyes, riding a black horse threatened to take me to the dragon if he ever saw me in Ketra again.”

The unicorn told me that the fox is a part of the dragon’s army and that I was in danger. “Come to think of it, the rabbits said something similar,” he said.

“Bull!” shouted Jamey who started to leave, but now before he left the back window to the basement unlocked, while Tommy was trying to plug in the computer.

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Imagination and Book Reports

I read this great article today on 10 ways to improve book reports with children, and some of the ideas were really helpful. I loved that one of the suggestions was to have kids create a cartoon of the book they just finished.

In the book I wrote, Adventures in the Land of Ketra, the main characters are taking into a mystical world behind the computer, Ketra.  When writing it, I thought of something like this to educate kids on the importance of using their imagination.

For example, in Ketra, there are mystical animals that we don’t have on Earth, like unicorns, and talking foxes. You can “test” children’s imagination by asking them to draw their interpretation of the characters. This helps build their creativity and instill the importance of reading comprehension.

In the article, they actually discuss comics, which I think is another great idea that can be just as useful. With tools they mention like Creaza, you can help kids learn better computer skills by drawing and acting out their reading comprehension there.

Check some of them out, see what works for your kids!

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