Turtle Power! From fd 100 to logic

As I dove into the world of Logo, I asked myself where this was when I was a young person learning about computers.  I had many flashbacks of the days when I spent hours upon hours demystifying the world of BASIC on my old Pentium 100 PC.  The instant gratification of modifying code and seeing the result or my work kept me engaged and wanting to try the next challenge, exercise after exercise.  This cycle of learning simple concepts and instantly applying them to real world situations is akin to the same cycle I try to use in my science classes.  Upon the mastery of one concept, another is explored, and the loop continues.  This continuous pattern of stacking bits of knowledge one by one into a larger bank of knowledge though first-hand experience and practice is exactly how the learning philosophy of constructionism is intended to work.

Proposed by Seymour Papert, constructionism is:

“The word constructionism is a mnemonic for two aspects of the theory os science education underlying this project. From constructivist theories of psychology we take a view of learning as a reconstruction rather than as a transmission of knowledge. Then we extend the idea of manipulative materials to the idea that learning is most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as constructing a meaningful product.”

To me, the use of the Logo programming language is an excellent framework for learning “how to think” in the world of problem solving. Although the applications to the world of science and mathematics is quite evident, I would affirm that there acquired skills could translate quite well to other aspects of childhood d development.  With the world of media constantly bombarding the minds of the youth of today, their minds are carefully molded in very linear ways though various media like movies, youtube videos and videogames.  A large portion of videogames released today guide kids though a journey that is set by a storyline provided by the game developer. The chance for developing creativity and letting kids explore their potential is quite limited in the context of these types of media.

However, there seems to be a renewed interest over the past few years in developing new media opportunities for kids to explore a more creative side while also stimulating their minds.  Here are a few examples that I find provide the same type of experience that we see in the Logo programming language:

  • Minecraft: A virtual world released in 2011 by Mojang, this game provides kids a virtual world where almost anything is possible.  Being that there are no specific goals, it allows the players to decide how to play the game.  With millions of players around the world in almost unlimited game modes, amazing things have been accomplished with this game.
  • Lego Mindstorms: Given the direct link with Seymour Papert, it’s not surprising Lego Mindstorms resemble Logo.  The use of these programable building brick with the traditional Lego building platform, kids and adults can build and test new ideas in the concrete world.

As of the past few years in Saskatchewan, there has been a big push for including some aspect of coding in our classrooms.  I welcome these initiatives as I find it fills a big hole in childhood development.  As a species, we have always been striving to develop tools to improve our live with what we have around us.  By allowing kids to play in a world where they can develop their own tools and their own knowledge using creativity and play, we are ensuring the flourishment of a generation that is adept at problem solving.

In addition to the aspect of coding, I would argue we must allow our students to also more openly explore the world of arts and making though the maker movement.  Interfacing with the real world is as important as interfacing with the virtual world.  I cannot thank my parents enough for allowing me to take apart and experiment with toys, electronics and everyday items.  It opened up in me a whole new world and a whole new way of thinking that has proven quite fruitful in my profession and my passions that are my hobbies.  Thanks Seymour!

Capture d_écran 2018-10-07 à 11.18.42

Publicités

Learning Theories and Me

Evaluating my own teaching philosophy is one of the exercises I undertake every few years.  Prompted by this past EC&I 833 class and the required readings from Ertmer, Siemens and ACRLog, I embarked, once again, in a state of deep reflection on my craft as a teacher and the approaches I use to help my students progress in their academic work.

I feel very much in line with Adam’s descriptionof how his teaching incorporates elements from each of the main theories explored in the previous readings:

“As an educator, I see value in a number of different aspects of each of these theories. My teaching philosophy has some qualities of each of these four theories, which would make my theory of learning a bit of a mutt, I suppose. Each theory has a quality that speaks to the diverse population of learners that are in our education system. To say that one is better than the other for me would be hypocritical as I utilize pieces of each theory in my practice at some point throughout the year.”

Despite having difficulty associating with a specific teaching philosophy such as Behaviourism, Cognitivisim, Constructivisim or Connectivisim, I must say I associate more closely with Constructivism. The following idea by Ertmer and Newby resonates with me as it parallels in my mind the world of building knowledge using the scientific method:

“Constructivists do not deny the existence of the real world but contend that what we know of the world stems from our own interpretations of our experiences. Humans create meaning as opposed to acquiring it. Since there are many possible meanings to glean from any experience, we cannot achieve a predetermined, “correct” meaning.”

Our minds are in constant evolution and as we gain experience with life, we gather more data that we use to interpret the world around us.  Even with many people having similar datasets established by similar life experiences, I find it is often the case that conflict can arise as different people build their meaning in different ways.

At the beginning of my teaching career, I was extremely preoccupied with making sure subject matter was retained by my students. I would try to transfer knowledge any which way I could without giving much thought on how I was accomplishing the task or even evaluating the possible effectiveness of my pedagogy. Recently, I worry much less on content and subject matter and more on helping my students develop skills that will allow them to “build” better interpretations of the world.  Logic, curiousness, critical thinking, work ethic and openness to new ideas are all characteristics that I try to convey to my students.  I believe that by having these tools, it doesn’t matter what my students retain as information in their mind, they will be able to build whatever knowledge they need given the variety of situations in life they will meet in the world beyond their school years.  This way of thinking is perhaps more appropriate for mature high school students.  I cannot say if it would translate well to early childhood learning as all of my teaching experience is with high school students.  This is a subject I would love to discuss further with my classmates.

One aspect I find lacking in the many theories of learning I explored this week is teacher-student compatibility.  Teachers are individuals and students are also individuals all of which have their own personalities and character traits.  As much as I would love to believe that as a teacher, I can impact every student in profound and productive ways, I must acknowledge that some students are just not as compatible with my teaching style and my character traits as others.  Even if I try my very best with every student I have the privilege to teach, I must acknowledge that some students perform better in my classroom than others.  I have observed, over many years, students with which I don’t have a strong constructive relationship do very well with other teachers that simply have more compatible character traits.  As in life, not everyone that we encounter become our best friends. Certain pairs of people share special compatibilities that are very difficult to explain while others seem to be at constant odds.  This is not to say that work cannot be done to improve the functioning of incompatible student-teacher relationships, however, this could require the investment of a great deal of time and energy from all parties.  As my time and energy is becoming increasingly restrained in the current context if public education, I find myself unable properly and completely adapt to all my student’s needs.  It breaks my heart that I cannot give them all 100%, alas, we must teach in the world of reality and not in the world of theories.

The idea of Connectivism sparked much interest due to its context with educational technology.  As I’m progressing as a teacher in the years to come, I speculate that the idea of Connectivism will garner progressively a larger part of my practice.  With the quantity of knowledge always expanding and access to knowledge almost becoming ubiquitous due to technologies like the internet, our world is becoming smaller and cultivating the links within this world will become extremely important.

This week’s reflections were extremely difficult for me and I still don’t really know where I stand with regards to learning theories. This one really sent me in numerous directions and I still feel lost.  I hope my classmates will help me find the way this week.  I look forward to reading all your blogposts.

Stuck at S and A of the SAMR model

Technology has always been a big part of my life. Unlike many people, I’m not afraid of technology and I don’t have the classic love-hate relationship that is often mentioned when things don’t go as well as planned using tech.  Mostly having positive experiences with technology has shaped my personal opinion of it into an optimistic one.  Being raised on a dairy farm where manual labour and repetitive tasks were part of my daily life, technology often came to the rescue to liberate my time, my energy and on some occasions, my sanity.

It’s only natural that once I became a teacher, this same vision and approach towards technology became a focal point in my pedagogical practice.  As my career in education advances, things are consistently changing on many fronts. From societal changes to technological changes and changes to the demands of my profession, it has been increasingly difficult to keep up.  I feel like I’m consistently being asked to do more with less.  My time is becoming split between so many avenues that I feel like I’m part of a world record juggling act.

gorilla_juggling_flaming_chainsaws_by_andronicusvii-d8dzbj2

Source

In comes educational technology.  Being a science person, my perception of educational technology has always been focused on problems and solutions.  Here is a taste of a few situations from my past:

Problem: When I was a student in rural Saskatchewan, my small school didn’t have the resources available to provide its students with teachers that had the expertise to teach high school science and mathematics.

Solution: Distance education to the rescue!  Hindsight, my high school math and science experience was less than optimal.  My teacher was at the other end of a 128kbps ISDN videoconferencing link and our school internet connection was 56kbps.  There was a constant one second delay when interacting with the system and the rear projection big screen television provided such a low-resolution image that it was difficult to read the screen.  Did I mention that all our assignments had to be faxed as the internet was too slow and scanning technology was just too difficult to use to be practical?  This represents the tip of the iceberg of my distance education experience.  That being said, I had excellent teachers and we maximised the tools we had at our disposal to make the best of the situation.

InternetSlowdown_Day

Source

Problem:  I currently teach all the secondary sciences from grade 9 to grade 12 in French in Regina.  When I have to be absent from school, finding substitute teachers that have the qualifications to teach my subjects is near impossible.  Due to my involvement in teacher associations on the provincial and local level, I have to miss many days of school every semester.

Solution: Time being of the essence, my students have to continue learning when I’m not around. Preparing a chemistry class for a teacher that knows very little about chemistry can be at the best of times, extremely frustrating, tedious and time-consuming.  As a result, I often simply record my lessons with my smartphone, post them on the internet and assign classwork through e-mail or through other technological means.  As a result, I can gain certainty that my students are progressing, and the substitute teacher can concentrate on managing the classroom by assisting the students as needed.  This solution is not perfect but has proven to be extremely valuable to me.

Problem: I don’t think I’m the only teacher that will share the following feeling: I HATE spending so much time marking assessments.  I often have to write the same comments repeatedly and I find it tedious to manipulate copious amounts of paper.

Solution: Not having access to computers for every student, using electronic means of evaluation is often not a solution.  Last school year, I finally discovered Crowdmark. This software has totally changed my assessment practice and has not only proven to be valuable to me as a teacher, the students appreciate the system in that it provides them with the feedback they need to improve.  The idea is that one can take any type of assessment that uses pen and paper and use electronic means to complete the grading and the commenting of the assignments.  I’m not going to go into all the details, but this service has changed my teacher game in that I can spend less time manipulating paper and more time assessing the needs of my students all the while tailoring my pedagogy to more completely meet their needs.

As I familiarized myself with the history of educational technology though our assigned readings, I realized that my problem-solution approach to educational technology might be much to narrow.  This being my second educational technology graduate class, I must admit that my narrow views of the term “educational technology” have drastically expanded, over the past few months.  I expect this trend to continue during EC&I 833 as I participate and discuss with my fellow colleagues over the next few months.

Defining educational technology is a difficult task as it encompasses such a vast collection of concepts.  From hard-tech to soft-tech to high-tech and low-tech and everything in between, the application of technology in the context of education has been with us for centuries.  I can’t imagine being a teacher before the advent of the chalkboard or even the written word.  As a result, it can be easy to take for granted certain aspects of educational technology that we have today.

Neil Postman’s Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Changeresonated with me.  One idea he underlines is the technological inequality that exists within populations.  I have witnessed this first hand being a teacher in a school where we have the privilege of having a wide variety of students coming from numerous socio-economic situations.  As much as I want to believe technology is the “Great Equalizer”, the more I study educational technology, the more I’m able to see weaknesses in every approach to using technology in education.  I feel like I’m moving my perception of technology from the being an optimist to a more analytical realist.

The best I can do at this point in trying to define educational technology is as follows:

Educational technology: The exploitation of technology and technological methods to maximize pedagogical offerings for students, teachers and their communities in the context of education.

I know this definition is incomplete and has many holes. Perhaps at the end of EC&I 833, I’ll be able to fashion something more complete and more relevant to the state of the art.

My Summary of Learning

As we approach the end of EC&I 830, I’d like to thank my fellow classmates for their excellent collaboration throughout.  You have all given me inspiration to become a better teacher.  Your blogs have induced in me new ways of thinking.  You have stimulated in me increased critical thinking and made me into a much more reflective teachers.  I highly value your work and look forward to perhaps crossing paths with some of you in the future.  Thank you again.

P.S. Please forgive my francophone pronunciation in my summary of learning.  I don’t often use many of these word in English and I seem to be having trouble putting the right emphasis on the right syllables.

Teachers with technology can mold education into a force for equity in society

Once again, the Great EdTech debate didn’t disappoint.  The statement: Technology is a force for equity in society led me to numerous paths of thought before even considering my own personal position.  Coming into the debate, I had not settled on my own point of view and I was ready to be enlightened by either Jen, Dawn and Sapna or Amy S. and Rakan.  Both teams provided excellent arguments which resulted in making the analysis of this debate even more difficult and complicated.  As I have learned since the beginning of this class over the last few months, no issue related to technology or its application in society is black or white. There are always nuances related to how technology influences people and society.

In the particular context of education, I firmly believe that I, as teacher, am a force for equity in society.  As education has become more and more prevalent over the past centuries, society has evolved into what we know today.  In parallel with education, technology has been in lockstep with education in shaping our world.

Having attended a small rural school, I can attest that technology has afforded me opportunities that would have otherwise not been available to me.  As a high school student, not having access to qualified mathematics and science teachers, the internet and distance education allowed me to receive the same level of teaching as my urban counterparts.  Although there were many difficulties at the time such as poor bandwidth (remember 56k modems and 128kbps ISDN lines?) unreliable computers (remember Windows XP and CRT monitors?) and poor communications technologies (remember analog phones and fax machines?), we as students were able to navigate these sources of friction and achieve excellent results.  As Layla Bonnot explains in her analysis on open educational resources, technology is enabling quality education access to even the remotes places on earth.  In my situation, technology was a force for equity.

Speaking to a colleague that immigrated from a remote African village some 10 years ago, he mentioned that over the past few years, access to the Internet and computers has changed the lives of his family that is still living in that part of the world.  Given that the economic situation in many areas of the developing world is improving, many people are now able to dedicate time to expanding their knowledge of the world as opposed to spending 100% of their time on tasks related to survival.  A few years ago, I was able to meet physicist Neil Turok.  He talked about how technology is at the center of his efforts in supporting and developing science and mathematics education on the African continent though the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences which he founded in 2003.  Where it not for the internet, he would have never been able to progress in developing this institute.

To me, this once again demonstrates how technology can be used as a vehicle to expand the possibilities of education and making it accessible to a wider portion of the population.

Just like in every other debate we have had; no situation is perfect and purely beneficial to all parties involved. Annie Murphy Paul highlights the digital divide that is seemingly happening between affluent kids using technology and low-income kids using similar technology.  It is no surprise that socio-economic standing greatly influences learning opportunities as this has been researched extensively at many levels.  That being said, money remains a factor that determines in many cases the level of access to technologies at home and in schools. Some affluent people thus think by simply dumping the highest tech in the poorest places in society, inequality will be solved.  This train of thought can lead to dangerous traps, that are underlined again by Annie Murphy Paul.  In addition Facebook’s free internet initiative is another example of applying technology to a problem that needs other solutions.

At times, I feel like many teachers view technology as an interesting means to teach and often get caught up in the technology itself while forgetting the educational outcome they are trying to achieve. On many occasions, I have witnessed teachers praising a students’ AMAZING project involving a high level of complex technology use while not realizing this particular student didn’t achieve the desired learning outcome.  The initial shock and awe of the project often creates bias in certain teacher’s assessments.

I often discuss with my colleagues the trap of attacking challenges with technology when simple proven solutions can be just as effective.  A pencil and a paper can be a powerful and simple technology that can accomplish great things and must not be ignored.  I find simple low-tech solutions can produce some of the best learning situations for teachers and learners.  Last summer, while participating at the Einstein Plus teachers’ conference at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, myself and the other conference attendees participated in an activity where teams were given 10$ to spend at a dollar store.  Our objective was to maximize the money by creating an activity that can be used to teach a concept related to science.  The results of the exercise were nothing short of amazing.  I have used many of these ideas developed during this activity quite frequently in my own pedagogy.  Once again, low tech, but very effective.  Here is an example of our exploits, you might even recognise yours truly.

Technology in this case, although inexpensive and simple is providing new opportunities for education thus once again, providing equity despite cost.

With technology creeping into every nook and cranny of our society, companies are seeing opportunities that seem fantastic on the surface but can be quite disconcerting when properly analyzed. It’s hard to argue cost when things are free.  Many resources we use online are sold as free tools that will change the world. Services provided by Google or Youtube and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook all commercialise our personal information for profit.  We as users effectively become the product of these tools.  The information harvested through our use of these services can then be sold to entities such as advertisers and insurance companies.  This information can then be used to target segments of populations for very specific commercial gain.  Who has ever searched for something on Google only to see, within a few minutes, Amazon ads for this product everywhere on the internet?  Although this example is perhaps benign as it is simply a form of advertising, much more serious consequences can result in the manipulation of data.  A more worrisome example of this might data manipulation is how Russia used social media through firms such as Cambridge Analytica to manipulate and influence the 2016 Presidential Election.

As our world adapts to these technologies, we will suffer many setbacks and see many bad consequences.  That being said, I stay optimistic for the future in that humans are at the center of society and its evolution.  Technology will play a key part in allowing humanity to become healthier though providing access to better opportunities to those less fortunate.  As teachers, we must be the vehicle by which we drive this technology to improve education. I believe that education can become a force for equity in society by properly harnessing the appropriate technologies.  Dan Meyer proposes four interesting questions he always asks about new Technology in Education:

  • What does it do?
  • Is that a good thing to do?
  • What does it cost?
  • What do people think about this?

I don’t have all the answers, but these represent an excellent place to start.

Doubling down: Social Media is NOT ruining childhood!

Social Media is ruining childhood.  As a member of the disagree team for this latest debate, I have to admit it has been quite difficult to explore the agree side of this statement.  That being said, I have to express reticence in arguing this statement as I feel that the use of the world “ruining” is much too strong to incite a well-balanced debate.  My initial observations and thoughts following the debate lead me believe that social media is changing childhood in many ways.  In some ways, social media is providing tools and opportunities that youth has not had available in the past.  In other ways, social media seems to be exacerbating certain aspects of the childhood experience.

The arguments that affirm social media is ruining childhood can seem compelling on the surface.  However, upon investigating these arguments, it quickly becomes clear that in most cases, the negative effects attributed to social media use is the result of deeper societal problems that are distilled and magnified through social media.  Social media is giving us a new lens into these problems that have been present in childhood since the beginning of time.  Let us look at a few examples:

In her article: Whatever Happened to Childhood?Rebecca Sweat explores the pressures of which kids are subject in modern industrialised societies. Kids are under constant pressure from mass media, high achieving parents, cultural competitiveness and societal expectations to “grow up” as fast as possible to gain a competitive advantage.  All these pressures seem to be present in the hope to give kids an edge in achieving success in a materialistic and status driven society.  Social media is not at the root of this problem but is definitely contributing to normalisation of these behaviours and these views.  Many of these issues existed way before social media but has definitely accelerated since its arrival.

Liat Clark, in her article: Blaming tech for the loss of childhood innocence is lazy, discusses how the contemporary thought that the internet and, by proxy, social media is to blame for the loss of innocence in childhood. She stresses how access to information is allowing kids get information much early in the development than in the past. As a result, this is forcing parents to have difficult conversations with their kids at an earlier age.  This situation creates a dynamic that positions parents in awkward positions earlier in their lives.  Some parents rise to this challenge and other seem to put off these challenging conversations for later times.  By the time some parents gather the courage to discuss serious topics such a sexuality and human reproduction, it is often too late to have a profound effect on how these kids will perceive these topics in the future.  In this article, one can see how social media and the internet is changing parenting.  Parents who can adapt to these changing times can preserve childhood, parents who cannot, could be putting their kids on the difficult path of life.  Once again, not necessarily a social media problem, but a human problem.

I particularity liked this opinion from serendipitymommy.com:

The final piece of the ‘childhood has been lost’ puzzle is the intense pressure on children to grow up to fast. This pressure comes from magazines, TV shows, films and peers and whilst there is certainly more pressure on children in today’s world, the responsibility for the child falls squarely on the shoulders of the parents. Parents must educate their children well regarding outside influences, teach them not to be taking in by fads and crazes, give them a little freedom to be their own person and reign them in if they are trying to be too much too soon. It sounds easy but it is far from it and there are some influences that you simply can’t control, you just need to make sure that you have an open dialogue with your child at all times and help steer them towards a happy childhood.

Once again, I could not agree more with the author, social media and technology is not the central reason for changing childhoods, it is the changing of relationships between kids and parents that are not keeping up with the rate of change of technology and social media.

The prevalence of cyberbullyingis without a doubt one of the strongest arguments that affirm social media is ruining childhood. Intimidation and bullying has been a reality of childhood for decades and maybe even centuries.  One cannot contest the statistics that demonstrate how the raising prevalence of cyberbullying is, without a doubt, an issue that must be tackled.  As a victim of bullying during my childhood, I have difficulty blaming social media for this issue.  It must be said that social media provides an effective vehicle for potential bullies to exercise their urges.  The anonymity of the internet and the distance from the victim though the use of social medial creates a perfect storm of conditions that are conducive to enabling bully behaviour.  In this situation, prevention, supervision and proper interventions with the proper supports have to be part of the solution as opposed to blaming social media. I argue this is once again, a deeper societal issue that seems to be amplified through the optics of social media.

When talking to my students about the subject of cyberbullying, I often use the analogy of drinking and driving. Most people agree that drink and driving is a horrible thing that can have grave consequences for both the victims as well as the perpetrators of this act.  The cars are not the basis of this problem, it is how we as a society (specially here in Saskatchewan) don’t do enough to prevent and support people who, under the influence of alcohol have the urge drive.

As a society, we seem to be in a time where we are still trying to find the place of social media in our lives and everyone is in constant adjustment not knowing how to go about the challenge.  When evaluating the place of social media in childhood, I find the TED talk by Baroness Beeban Kidronto be quite compelling as a basis of understanding on how to proceed as a society.

In her talk she argues for the digital rights of children.  She summarizes these rights as follows:

  • Right to remove
  • Right to know
  • Right to safety and support
  • Right to informed and conscious use
  • Right to digital literacy

As a teacher who is living in a world of social media, I choose to highlight the good and the positive that social media can bring to childhood.  For this I recommend you take a few moments to re-watch the disagree video presented by myself, Erin and Brooke.

In retrospect, I’m might hypothesize that social media is not ruining childhood, but rather, social media is changing society at such a furious pace that our ability to form new social conventions and social contracts to attend to these changes is proving to be too slow. I’m confident that through renewed digital literacy and tough intense public awareness actions, we can successfully adjust to these changes and come out as a more compassionate, caring and open society.