Maybe you’re on a train and somebody sees you reading an edtech journal. He leans over and asks if you can recommend good multiplication apps for his nine-year-old. You have a few vague ideas, but you’re not ready to endorse any of the apps you’ve seen so far. It’s too important a question to be taken lightly.
Or perhaps your Uber driver is dropping you off at a tech event (like mine last night, on the way to LearnLaunch in Cambridge, Mass). He tells you his three-year-old is a whiz at using his iPad; he knows all his alphabet letters and can count to twenty—mainly because of the time he spends interacting with various apps. He wonders if you know of any other good apps his son might enjoy. You do, but are the apps really beneficial for children, or just based on drill-and-practice routines?
As educators we need to always be on the cutting edge. But with the edtech landscape changing by the minute, it’s hard to be on top of everything.
Enter Balefire Labs, a group of dedicated educators who review apps for you and share their findings in various categories (e.g., Math, English Language Arts). In reviewing each app they rate, they draw from very specific criteria (e.g., “error remediation” and “clearly-stated learning objective”), which you can learn about here.
Founded by Karen L. Mahon, Ed.D., Balefire Labs aims “to offer a solution that saves people time and money and alleviates the guilt that parents feel.” Some of that guilt comes from not being able to distinguish the good from the bad when selecting apps. As Dr. Mahon says, “It’s nearly impossible to tell apps apart when you’re in one of the app stores.” True enough.
Given my interest in early literacy development, I clicked first on the “Five Best Phonics EdApps for iOS.” I was not surprised to find “Bugsy Kindergarten Reading School” and “Sky Fish Phonics,” but I didn’t know about Eggy Phonics 1, 2, and 3, all of which made the evaluators’ cut. When I clicked on each product name, I was taken to the review and several screenshots of each of the five apps. I left this section of the website with a much greater sense of top apps than I had at the outset.
Balefire Labs is not the only website that carefully reviews educational apps. You probably already know about Common Sense Media, which many parents and teachers rely on for reviews of apps, movies, and a wide range of media offerings.
How about it TechnoTeachers? Take a look and let us know what you discover. Have you tried any of the top apps for kids in various categories? If so, does your thinking square with reviews on Balefire or Common Sense Media? Or do you disagree? Let us know!
Thanks for the heads up on Balefire, Ann Kaufman-Fredrick, Ph.D., innovative educator and member of Balefire’s Advisory Board
Social Media is more of a driving force for connecting with others and creating the news rather than discussing breaking news. The iCloud leaking nude images, for example. Not to mention all the attention paid to the Ice Bucket Challenge. These two “events” illustrate just how keen we are to ‘share’ with others.
This shift in the landscape has always made me uncomfortable as a parent.
Let me explain. My friend has launched an app called TinyBeans. I can use TinyBeans to save all the images of my son, and send email notices to my family and friends. They can comment and download the photos. The reason I love this app, is not just because it is so easy to use, but because I see apps like this one as part of my role as a protective parent. I am looking after my son’s digital footprint just as I ensure bruises are kept to a minimum.
Other parents seem as concerned as I am. They are opting for ‘Blackouts’ where they do not post images of their (or other people’s!) kids. Good for them. All too often I go to parties or farms where parents are watching their children through a lens. I am always aware where my son is, as he is not their property to share.
While I might sound a little vigilante-y about this issue, more people are starting to see the problem. For example, the NY Times recently brought together a group of voices on Children and Digital Privacy. One of these voices, James P. Sheyner, comments on what he calls ‘Sharenting.’
According to Sheyner, “It's called "oversharenting" for a reason. If you do choose to share images of your kids online, consider the history and reputation you're creating for them. How will they feel about their digital footprints in five years? How will these footprints affect the way other people see them? Consider using a social network's settings to create small, closed groups that include a limited number of people with whom you share more private moments. Even then, be vigilant about content. There's a difference between broadcasting a moment of pride – the first piano recital or the winning goal – and posting something sensitive or potentially embarrassing.”
So, as for potentially embarrassing photos, consider the UK, where the ice bucket challenge has gone from celebrities, to average folk and now their children. In my newsfeed today, I have seen five and six year olds in swimming costumes being soaked in the name of charity. I do not have any issue with children being more aware of others in the world and understanding how charities can help BUT it just leaves a bad taste.
Which brings us to blogger Amy Heinz, who recently gave five key rules for sharing her kids’ photos online. Her final one really struck a chord with me:
“I’d think about how my kids would feel if they read what I was writing.
Ok, I definitely I have work to do on this one. Goodness knows there have been laughs along the way that may have been at their expense (though I really and truly always try to make myself the butt of the joke), but I really try to tell stories that are relatable about being a mom. People relate to real—to raw honesty. And now, as Big is getting older, he does actually read the posts I write about him. So far, he hasn’t asked me to stop. In fact he even seems to love being the subject of my writing. But when he does say enough, I will listen.”
A little bit of me thinks that by the time one’s child objects, it will be too late. Is Heinz right? Are parents doing this more for themselves than others? Would you hand out hard copy images of your children to others as you do slapping images in people’s newsfeeds? Just because you can share, does not mean that you have to.
In a similar vein, some parents are now opting out of Facebook. This article by Barbara Ortutay asked a range of parents for their reasons for taking this step. Here are a few extracts from it:
"’If I don't want somebody to know about my child, to take an active interest in them, to recognise them in a city street or as they are leaving the schoolyard, the easiest way to do that is to not have any identifying information out about them,’”
”’In 2014 we sort of feel like the repercussions of sharing private data are totally unpredictable,’” says another. And then there’s the father who bought the website domain of his son two days after he was born. "I'm going to make it a private website with a password so family can log in" to see updates. When he gets old enough, I'll probably give him the keys.’”
The parents Ortutay interviewed are being protective, digitally protective of their children for a future world of technology we do not yet understand. With about 70% of parents now posting images of their children online and sharing key milestones, those of us who worry about oversharing are in the minority.
Yet it is becoming a hot topic. The Guardian’s are released a collection of voices (and ideas) on Sharenting. It includes discussion about the images used by parents to celebrate milestones (wetting the bed or boys wearing pink nappies) might be used as fodder if they grow up to have a life in the limelight to how ‘funny’ parenting experiences could become the weapons of torture when they hit secondary school and bullying kicks in. The adoring images uploaded for people to smile as suddenly will become bait or objects for ridicule for those fifteen-year-old ‘mean girls’.
Here is the link again - Sharenting. I’ll wait here.
Food for thought eh? I think sometimes the initial act is from an innocent place, but once something is posted online, you cannot control, protect or understand how others may view these private images. For example, my world, a relative has posted images of my son and other children at a festival who she thought were cute, but are not hers. You can imagine my response. That was a few years ago but it made me consider why I had such a negative response to her post. Simply put I think we SHOULD protect children - even when we don’t really know what is ahead.
So what is Facebook for now? What are we using Instagram for and who is it really celebrating - our children or us as parents? What can you do if you are a parent? You can choose to create a locked community or use apps that allow you to share with selected users - you don’t need Facebook. The Common Sense Media organisation offers a range of tips to help you get your head around eSafety in your home for your family. Have a look.
If you use any apps you think others would like or have a view on this, we would love to hear from you!
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MOOC. Massive Open Online Course. Here is the Wiki description of a MOOC for you, along with a YouTube video. As the short clip shows you, learning is a-changing. If you wanted to know something in the past you could ask someone, buy a book, figure it out for yourself. Or you could call a school to see whether it offered an appropriate course. You would access the content in traditional ways. But now we have MOOCs. With MOOCs you do something similar. You ask someone, you read a book and you figure it out. Except that most (or all) of the course is presented digitally. It is usually free to participate, unless you need to pay for the accreditation. But either way, you can engage.
Jules and I have just completed our first MOOC. Jules invited me to join her in participating in EdX’s ‘Leaders of Learning’ course, taught by Professor Richard Elmore. It was offered during a scheduled time period of six weeks (not all are) and she was meeting up with local colleagues to discuss ideas and reflect on them as the MOOC was unfolding.
The edX course is MOOC offered by HarvardX and I immediately thought ‘I am not clever enough for this’. August is normally a quiet time for me (school holidays) and Jules was enthusiastic, so I thought it was worth a go. Obviously, in terms of my time management, we have NOW been asked to write lots of articles to promote TechnoTeaching (yay!) so it has been more challenging to find time to do the course work. But, I was determined, signed up, and waited to see what would happen.
They suggest that you do the ‘Demo’ to get a feel of it - and to also help me with another online ‘eLearning Module’ that I am writing for a charity. I liked the use of video (I still see this as the future once people get over seeing themselves on a screen), and the range of online materials––well sourced and only a click away. I liked that there were no ‘wrong’ answers, as long as you understood and interpreted the material. So far not so bad.
Once the start date came around (8th July) I logged on. The content was presented in a number of ways. Mainly by Professor Elmore. Jules told me he was pretty radical - so I thought it would be fun. He introduces each module with short webcasts. His approach is supportive and questioning. We were also expected to view ‘Voices from the Field,’ videos that feature educators who also chimed in with their opinions, advice, and glimpses of their schools in action. I also appreciated the built-in checks to test your understanding.
I am thrilled to say that I have completed it EARLY - and passed! - and am completely inspired by the experience. Here’s why:
I really think that online learning can now equal face-to-face learning in a lot of ways.
The content was excellent and timely.
I LEARNT a lot.
How does online learning now compare with face-to-face?
Firstly, I am not saying we should bin all of the schools and just plug in. I am saying that learning online can now pose a serious challenge to traditional schooling. Why?
The MOOC (and I will use this as an example) is made with a REAL understanding of the jaw-dropping amount of content the Internet holds. A MOOC is a real ‘course’ as we know it - scaffolded, thought-provoking and accredited. You take it online, but it is so more than just being a passive consumer of information. The MOOC helps you to engage as a student, with lots of structure to help you find your way.
As a participant you are asked to engage - to learn - and make connections through reflection and dialogue. Your connections can be with the course, but (arguably) the more important connections you make may be the ones on social media, learning circles and face2face webcam meetings.
So how was it set out? The webcasts were the ‘lecture’ style of teaching - the talking heads spoke and we listened. However the use of online ‘Discussion Groups,’ facilitated by teaching assistants, and the additional dialogue on FaceBook and Twitter really took this out of the classroom. Social media allowed me to create new connections with like-minded educators all over the world.
The content was developed and led by experts. If we consider schools, this is not always the case. We are often taught by people with expertise, but they are not world leaders. You can get world leaders with a course like this one from HarvardX. Think about it. Is it better to learn in this way, from peers with the same mindset/passion for a subject and a critically renowned leader in the field leading the way, or with someone who knows a just bit more than you? Given these two options, I’ll take the MOOC.
The MOOC also incorporated YouTube videos, web links to papers, school websites and a range of online material designed to stimulate further reflection. In principle, this material can be created by anyone, but the quality I experienced in the MOOC was inspiring. It brought home how important it is to REALLY know what you are looking for online.
In sum, to have connections, quality content and academic leaders who can help you to articulate your vision of learning for the future is something I would never have learnt in a school or in-house training session. Fact.
The Future of Learning?
This particular MOOC focused on learning. According the course description, “the six-week course will help students to identify and develop their personal theories of learning, and explore how they fit into the shifting landscape of learning”. Then off to the intro video. The idea that hit me first was that educators do not have enough time to consider philosophical questions about these big ideas. Nor are they encouraged to consider the types of educational organisations that might be needed for future generations.
To get at these questions, Professor Elmore asked us to think about the types of learning organisations that already exist, and to then consider our preferences. (Here is a great article to illustrate this type of thinking.) We then applied Professor Elmore’s framework to existing organisations, including the Victorian School vision (Australia rather than monarch). Once we had completed this thought process, we moved on to what styles of leadership we prefer and how we can explore our attitudes more deeply. We looked at how learning could be supported and directed—in contrast to a top-down mode of learning.
Next, we were presented with YouTube videos to look at how space affects learning with Socratic Seminars and the Harkness Table.
The next module took me by surprise - but was right up my street. It encouraged us to think deeply about the physical design of learning. We were introduced to educational architects for the future Fielding Nair International and also looked at one of their designs, PK Yonge Developmental Research School. But it was videos like ‘Not Old School’ and ‘School 2.0’ on YouTube that really illustrated what is happening in the States. Have a look.
We were invited to - as a final piece - to create a presentation of what we would want for a learning space if we were to lead it. I created mine in Popplet (try it!). My design mirrored the environment I have experienced working in a new school. It also illustrates what I think we need to do about digital online courses in the future. As an education and design geek, I found that I REALLY love thinking about future design in schools, especially when it comes to digital content. I think the two go hand in hand. I discovered that given my background in designing new school environments, as well as this MOOC, have shown me that this is an area I want to learn more about. To have the chance to do some blue-sky thinking, guided by such talent, was fantastic.
I hope this gives you a taste of the content and range that we were party to. There is an ‘Unhangout’ tomorrow which sadly I won’t be able to attend in live time but will see what happens on social media… It goes on…
So. What next indeed? The MOOC has triggered my interest on just want you can do online now. Open University is a concept we are all used to in the UK, but gone are the late night BBC 2 shows. Now the BBC relies on eLearning to support the materials and you learn in a ‘distanced’ fashion. What interests me is the future of ‘distanced’ or remote learning. I’m also curious about what else is online. I searched around and found The MOOC List. Here you can search a university like HarvardX or a country like the UK and find the courses that were on offer. Great!
For me distance learning really challenges where education is at the moment. After doing this course, I believe the possibilities with online courses are huge. Yes, for students but also for adults - for those with a love of learning or those who are changing careers (as we now do 3 to 5 times in our lifetime). I do think this type of online learning challenges the idea of ‘schools’ - the industrial designed cellblocks that met ratio of student numbers rather than learning styles; buildings built to ‘house’ large numbers of students rather than designed to maximise learning. It challenges how we value our children and their learning - sitting on cheap seats for 6 hours a day, rather than allowing them to learn as we do—any time of day or night. It challenges our beliefs about who the experts are in learning and how schools might move forward in the digital age. It challenges all of us as educators. And it challenges the way things work now with politicians and business folks leading educational reform rather than educators.
I have lots of other thoughts about how we might do a better job of helping learners access information and content. For example, what learning/content needs to be directed and what needs to be facilitated? But for now I am keen to see who is out there. Who has taken an online course and how do you feel about it to start with….? What do you think? Would you try one?
Jules recently sent me this article ‘Edtech: Who Benefits?’ by Annie Murphy Paul. She knew that it was right up my street - and she was right. However it has made me realise a few things - or maybe helped me to articulate ideas that have always been with me. As you will read, (I’ll wait here) it explores how librarians and academics reviewed the use of computers in ‘new’ libraries either side of the tracks in Kensington, Philadelphia (Chestnut Hill and the “Badlands” - doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination to work out which is which, eh reader?). The computers the researchers installed sound like my favourite self-teaching, intuitive, Apple products - which I think also makes a difference.
Both libraries were given new tech and the two researchers, Susan B. Neuman (New York University) and Donna C. Celano (LaSalle University) who wanted to watch how the patrons read printed and digital books. They were keen to see how computers might “level the playing field” across economic lines.
As a teacher with a background in multimedia, and now as a school improvement coach (with a tendency to work in the more deprived areas of the South of England I must add) I cannot help to think this was a little naive. Put the computers in and see how the rich and poor react? Of course both groups will use what they know - and do what they know. The same would happen given a pen and paper, or a calculator potentially. You see it in Apple stores across the lands. Did all the poverty stricken patrons start messaging, taking photos of themselves and gaming, whereas their wealthy peers completed their novels and Googled their LinkedIn accounts… Or is this stereotypical? Is it more that one group has more access and therefore more digital experience on this continuum…? Was this an unfair project from the start? The rest of the piece explores the ‘digital divide’ and raises questions about what we can do about it.
So what would help to bridge this divide? What would narrow the gap instead of widening it when students (of any social class) use computers?
My view is simple: students need to MUST have the same opportunities to be creative, to be innovative and to have confidence using technology in a range of mediums. They need to be trusted to meet the same challenges, teach one another, and have the same digital foundation. There needs to be a point where the students all have the same foundation - and then they are encouraged to reach for the stars.
For over a decade, I have taught, moderated and been an examiner for Media Studies in the UK. It gets a bum deal - being the ‘Mickey Mouse’ subject against the super-shiny coding beast that is technology. However I know it is Media Studies that helps thousands of students. It not only teaches students to understand 21st century media representation and deconstruction but, more importantly, to become up-skilled in industry standard tools, rather than merely given access to the tools (as in the study above), or create a spreadsheet or pie chart.
For example, my students would be able to edit their own videos, Photoshop images and broadcast podcasts using software from Final Cut to free apps they could use on their own. They knew about cropping in Photoshop as they had done this for themselves, before they had gone on to identify cite examples in magazines and newspapers. They looked at the world of art, literature and culture through film theory, musical genres and historical movements. They knew that media re-presented life to them from body image to news values. They also could articulate their own understanding of each.
What particularly struck me is that some of these students had the lowest KS2 grades in the country - many had (arguably) never had a childhood. Did that matter when they sat before in a computer in my classroom? Only in so far they were more in need of my help with learning the industry standards, for both PCs and Macs, because they had little exposure outside of the classroom. (They wouldn’t find it in the local library I can tell you that). Students were taught to a ‘standard’ and then had digital confidence of industry standard media and mediums to start their post-school adventures.
Ultimately I prepared them for life outside of school - to the best of my ability. Was it hard? Yes. I had to battle for resources, time, and respect- for the subject and the students. Was it worth it? You bet.
As the research bears out, the library patrons’ used tech for what they wanted - for better or worse—depending on their background. Left unaided and unfocused I would do nothing but browse Pinterest, skim news articles and be judgmental amount people’s Facebook accounts, but I do have a focus and I do have some skill(z). After all I know how to teach myself tech. (I am a TechnoTeacher after all.) Therefore is the divide really more about skills and confidence, or socio-economics? And if it is the former, how do we make sure our students learn the skills they need to be productive members of society? By standing back and watching- or by up-skilling students and resourcing schools, providing courses such as Media Studies and the best tech for the next generation that we can to one end = ensuring that for all schools/ all students are computer-illiterate. Digitally literate. Digital learners. And all teachers are TechnoTeachers. that is a level playing field in my eyes.
For more reading, try these:
Our last two blog posts have been aimed at the under-5-year-olds. Now we want to look at the over-5s. The school age children. When it comes to searching online for resources––this is where the money can be made so it’s not surprising that there are heaps of products. From guidance offered by school inspectors (the UK’s Ofsted), to ‘Free Educational Apps’, to creating ‘old school’ style reading flip charts, you can now use technology to find everything you need––and a few things you don’t.
Therefore here will illustrate our favourites and how they fit alongside both our TechnoTeacher “Daredevil Missions” and the reading milestones from our previous blog.
Age 5-6: Heads Down for Reading
Reading Support: Have fiction and nonfiction books & magazines available. Visit museums & libraries.
Dare Devil Mission: Explore the idea of genre while learning outside the classroom.
Why? At this point in a children’s learning, you will want them to be able to read letters, words, and sentences from the page. You can help them learn how by opening up the new ‘worlds’ of literature.
Begin by inviting children into the grown up world of culture. Help them understand that knowledge is valued in our society, and that as readers you are giving them the key to unlocking new worlds.
Tools: Seek out the best examples of local libraries and museums. Find out which have events to take in, and which have the best children’s section.
You can also ask children to design their own museum! Similarly, if you have a school library, encourage students to take real ownership by asking them what they can do to improve it.
Alternatively, you can use electronic research to find a book online, sorting by genre, author, or title. Consider different types of books, from reference material (“Guinness World Records” for example) to comic books. Then ask children to create their own mini-books based on what they like. Show them how to create their own comics (using 'Comic Life'), for example. Or try clicking on the “Guinness World Record” site and have children create comprehension questions they might ask another student, based on what they learned.
If you want to encourage first steps into museums, begin with the ones where you live. Do they have any family or exhibits geared specifically for children? You can also research national museums to find out what they offer online. Many will have online museum tours and games. For example, the The Natural History Museum in London has a great ‘What type of dinosaur are you?' quiz on their website. Similarly, the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City, has an app called ‘Power of Poison’, which can deepen and enrich children’s understanding of the exhibit.
Taking this exploration one step further, you could videoconference a team member of the museum for a Q&A session with your class, using Skype or Skype Classroom. Not only will this virtual visit cut out the paperwork for an actual trip, but it might also help forge a new relationship with an outside organisation.
If you have another other apps or websites that you would like to share,please add a comment below!
N & J x
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This is where Jules and Nic will post articles, links to interesting sites and things that we think our TechnoTeachers will like.