Finding the Zone

The second debate of May 24th saw Aubrey, Jayme-Lee, and Jennifer faceoff against Andres, Roxanne, and Heather on the topic, Technology is making our kids unhealthy. Of the debate topics listed in the class syllabus, I must admit that this one was of special interest to me, as I am passionate about both technology and physical activity. I honestly went into the debate not knowing which argument I would side with, and I find myself still formulating my feelings. Both groups presented excellent arguments and provided us with a number of resources which sparked some interest and reflection I would like to share.

Aubrey, Jayme-Lee, and Jennifer opened their argument with a Prezi highlighting a long-list of physical and mental issues associated with high levels of technology use.

It was stated that kids spend roughly 7 hours of screen time per day, and that high usage of technology can be linked to numerous physical and mental issues. Some of the physical ailments include eye strain, lower back and neck tension, skin blemishes and higher incidents of obesity. Mental issues include sleep deprivation, anxiety, hyperactivity and depression. In fact, it has been found that technology dependency can be compared chemical addictions and has implications on an individual’s social well-being. The group concluded their argument with their prescription to the problem: NatureRx
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Video Entry from the Banff Mountain Film Festival

Two of the resources provided by the group, Sneaky ways technology is messing with your body and mind, and Five crazy ways social media is changing your brain right now, further supported the potential physical and mental pitfalls linked to heavy technology use. This prompted plenty of discussion in the class blogs.   Elizabeth Therrien observed, “The notions of not using technology properly or being on social media too often or being confronted with too much cyberbullying online are problems because kids are not being taught how to use technology and social media properly or in the correct amounts, not because those outlets exist in our world.” This echoes the stance taken by Andrew Foreman who offers, “This debate topic made me see a connection between something I tell students about science. Science is not inherently good or bad. It is knowledge. The use of that knowledge can be put towards good or ill, but that is not the fault of the science.” I agree with both of these sentiments. Technology has the potential to offer many health benefits if it is utilized correctly. As Tyler Fehrenbach claims, technology use can be good in moderation but as teachers and parents we must model appropriate use. That is the tricky part. As a teacher, I am fully aware that my influence can only reach so, far. The reality is that a major portion of a child’s day is spent outside the walls of the classroom. As a parent, I try to model a healthy lifestyle, but there are times in my parenting when technology becomes an easy go-to. It is my hope over the long-term that moderate technology use by my kids and students is realized.

After reading about some of the drawbacks of technology Justine Stephanson shared, “I have never really thought about how many germs could possibly be on my cell phone and other devices that I use.” This statement reminded me of an episode of Shark Tank in which a couple of entrepreneurs pitched a product they called “PhoneSoap“. Utilizing the power of UV rays, the inventors claim this device cleans your electronic devices while they charge. An interesting concept for schools is the company’s TabletSoap Locker, designed for the storage of up to 8 electronic devices. Though I haven’t personally tried any device cleaning products, I can see the benefits in using them as a method of limiting the transfer of harmful bacteria.

Andres, Roxanne, and Heather kicked-off their argument with a video listing the top four ways technology aids our health and wellness. First off, the group suggests that websites, apps, and devices such as Fitbit encourage movement and promote physical health. Secondly, emotional health exists due to connectivity and support, teen activism, and the peace of mind afforded by surveillance tools such as baby monitors. Social health, a third wellness benefit, allows people to stay connected through tools such as Skype, Facetime, and Facebook. Finally, intellectual health occurs through the ability to access knowledge as needed; by using blogs for communicating and ideas; and through open education and collaboration which allows for developing Personal Learning Networks.

Kelsie Lenihan recognized some of the positive benefits which may be realized by wearable tech. However, she cautions, “Wearable technology, while it does provide some instant feedback, is about long-term goals. Self-motivation is a learned skill that can be honed through the use of these tools, though there is a fine line between a tool and a toy.” As a user of a personal fitness tracker (Basis Peak), I couldn’t agree more with this statement. Though the immediate feedback provided by these devices is useful, simply reaching the 10,000 steps a day goal will not guarantee improved fitness. This can only be achieved through goal-setting and long term commitment to a a range of factors which contribute to physical and emotional fitness. But could this be applied effectively to P.E. classes, and if so how?

As a PE teacher, I do think there is the potential for these devices to provide motivation for students. I have my physical education classes complete fitness appraisals four times a year, and students utilize the data from these appraisals to set personal fitness goals and to design individual fitness plans.   It is not uncommon to hear some students cheer when I announce we are doing the BEEP test or pushup appraisal: weird, I know, but I feel this occurs because students understand that these are appraisals based on their personal results, and not assessments. Data is gathered to help students understand their current level of fitness in a variety of areas, and to use this data to set goals for improvement. Invariably, through hard work (and the fact that students grow and mature over the course of a few months) many students realize improvements in these appraisals, which becomes further incentive for continued improvement. But how could wearable technology further enhance student motivation?

Adidas thinks it has the answer with the Adidas Zone, a fitness tracker designed specifically for use in schools.   According to a review of the device by Mashable, the trackers do not subscribe to a one-size-fits all model. Instead, the focus is on bringing self-management and personalization to P.E. class. For example, instead of asking kids to run 6 minutes per Kilometer, the goal will be to keep their heart-rate in a zone that’s best suited for their health abilities. Though I imagine the novelty of such devices may eventually wear off, I do feel that devices used in this way could provide students with useful data and encourage improvements in their levels of physical fitness. SparkFamily.org appears to agree as well. The official Spark blog recommends 3 Reasons Wearable Tech Belongs In Physical Education Classes. They predict wearable devices will become a major player in PE classes over the next few years and will transform physical education because of the following reasons. First, students already have a “digital native mindset” wearable devices help students make the connection between their fitness and technology they are already comfortable interacting with. Second, wearable devices allow for more accurate and precise measurement for athletes of all levels, enabling students to set more targeted goals for improvement. Finally, wearable technology can provide students with a snapshot of holistic healthy living. They are not simply limited to counting steps. However, it will be the responsibility of the teacher to help students understand this data, and to put effective plans into action.

So as I try to formulate a personal conclusion to this topic, I find it difficult to overlook the numerous physical and mental health problems associated with heavy technology use. However, as a enthusiast of both technology and fitness, I prefer the less cynical viewpoint and believe that, in moderation, technology has the potential to help us achieve improved levels fitness. Maybe one day this goal will be achieved by many.

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Googleable…. Is That Even a Real Word?

The opening debate for week three dealt with the topic, Schools should not be teaching anything that can be googled. Taking the “agree” side was Luke, Ashley, and Andrew, who opened with a statement by Albert Einstein which had been posted by Kyle earlier in the week: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” The trio went on to reference the Constructivist Theory, and suggested that schools should consider curiosity and experiential learning as important components to a child’s education.

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As the husband of a former PreK teacher, I know experiential learning is considered to be a very important component to early childhood learning. In fact, pg. 26 of the Better Beginnings, Better Futures Prekindergarten Handbook provides recommendations for experiential learning. Teachers are also encouraged to provide students with an “invitation” to learning, and to provide students with the opportunity to learn through play.

However, I believe experiential learning should be extended beyond just the early years. Many classrooms are exploring the idea of Genius Hour. This movement “allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom”. The following video by A.J. Juliani provides educators with practical advice for Getting Started with Genius Hour. Within Regina Catholic Schools, a number of teachers have chosen to join the Genius Hour movement. Matt Bresciani’s Grade 7/8 Genius Hour projects, and Melissa Ratcliffe’s Grade 4/5 Passion Projects are highlighted on the RCSD Education Technology information page Genius Hour Classroom Connections. My own grade eight daughter is currently engaged in a passion project, and she looks forward to the time she gets to research and blog about her project on sport psychology.

The agree side provided the class with a number of relevant and engaging resources. The article, How Google Impacts The Way Students Think suggests that students see knowledge as always accessible and within reach, even when it is not. As a result, the author feels answers to questions become stopping points for students, with no further exploration. Once Google has given the answer, the curiosity is over. The author further suggests, “Googling is easier than thinking”. This is certainly something I have seen with students in the past. In a rush to get the answer, they fail to draw on basic knowledge they do (or should) possess.

In the video, How the Internet is Changing Your Brain, a number of interesting claims are made. First, the narrator states, “Google has become our external hard drive” and questions, if the sum of all knowledge is available in our pockets, do we really need to keep it in our heads? I really like the term “memory outsourcing” the producers of the video used for this phenomenon. The video further proposes the brain recognizes that most online info is trivial and does not require our full attention Essentially, in this new age of always accessible information we have trained and conditioned our brains to forget.

On the “disagree” side of the debate was Heidi and Amy who chose to open their arguments with a video . Ultimately crowned victorious, this group argued there is a place for basic facts and memorization in schools. This team felt the acquisition of these skills results in feelings of confidence and capability amongst students. They also stated that memorization of basic skills is required in order for students to achieve higher levels of thinking. They supported these claims with a number of great resources.


The video, Why teach facts to the level of automaticity? reaffirmed the notion that automaticity aids students in learning new materials, especially in math, because students are not slowed by having to consider basic facts. As well, automaticity improves learning and retention of higher order math skills because students are not distracted while learning more complex problems.

Of all resources shared by both teams, my favourite was the TedTalk video , Three Rules to Spark Learning, by teacher Ramsey Musallam. Ramsey passionately advocates that curiosity should be the main driver of learning and suggests three rules teachers should keep in mind to spark learning:

  • Curiosity comes first
  • Embrace the mess – learning is “ugly” and trial and error should be encouraged
  • Practice reflection, and be ready to revise your teaching approach

So, having considered all of the arguments prepared by both teams, and having reviewed all of the resources, for a second week in a row I find myself on the fence of both sides of the argument. Certainly, the acquisition of basic facts is important, but to quote Ramsey Musallam, “Student questions are the seeds of real learning”.

And finally, to answer the question posed in the title of this blog post, “googleable” is a real word. I googled it and got over 192,000 results.

Setting the Bar High!

Tuesday night marked the beginning of the online portion of our EC&I 830 class, and with that came our first class debate. With a little bit of fanfare (including a theme song) we jumped into our first contemporary issue in educational technology: Technology in the Classroom Enhances Learning. Taking the “agree” stance was Jeremy, Erin and Kyle, while Kayla, Chalyn, and Steve approached the topic from the” disagree” perspective. After much discussion (and a bit of smack-talk), the “agree” stance was declared the winner, if only by a surprisingly small margin. Truly, each team set a high standard for the upcoming debates and provided a fair deal of “food for thought”, both in the debate discussions, and in the articles the teams provided to support their arguments. Below are some of my thoughts after considering the topic from this week.

Photo Credit: Katia Hildebrandt
Photo Credit: Katia Hildebrandt

The agree side began the debate by proposing that technology (and especially assistive technology) has the potential to enhance learning for students of all levels of ability. The group supported this statement with a number of points and examples from the article,Using assistive technology in teaching children with learning disabilities in the 21st century, from the Journal of Education and Practice. Having read the article, I agree that many students could benefit from the suggested assistive technologies listed in the paper. Teachers should not feel limited to allowing only EAL students or those with learning disabilities to utilize assistive technology.

This got me thinking of some of the assistive technology recommendations I made while in my role as technology coach. Frequently teachers requested speech-to-text converters as a way to help some students quickly transcribe their thoughts to “paper”. A free website I have used for this purpose is Dictation.io (Google Chrome only). With this online dictation tool students can quickly record their thoughts and have their speech converted to text. The text can then be saved to the notepad, which can then be further copied and pasted into other applications such as word documents or blogs. Though it is not perfect, it does allow struggling writers the opportunity to get their ideas out, and the author is free to revisit the text after to perform an required edits or to add correct punctuation.

A second assistive technology tool I would highly recommend for use with students of all learning levels is Text Compactor. This free, online tool allows you to type or paste text into a box. This could include content from a website, from a textbook, or from lecture notes. The user then selects a percentage of text to keep, and the summarizing tool automatically generates a summary of the content. I have tried it with various levels of content and find it does a very good job of picking out the main points from the selected text. If you decide to try it I am certain you will find a number of useful ways to apply it to your teaching.

A final point made by the “agree” side was that technology is engaging for students and allows them to participate in collaborative learning activities with an authentic audience. This reminded me of a statement Rushton Hurley made at the FETC Conference I attended in Orlando in 2012.   Rushton said, “If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good. If they’re just sharing it with you, they want it to be good enough.” (George Couros speaks of this further in his blog, “The Principal of Change”). I strongly agree that technology provides students with the opportunity to create, collaborate, and engage in meaningful learning, and I do believe that the potential of a global audience is incentive for some students to produce high-quality work.

The “disagree” group opened their argument by stating that they do not feel that technology use in education itself is inherently bad, but rather that there are flaws in the way in which it’s use is implemented by many school divisions. This group referred to the article, The missing link in educational technology: Trained teachers by Sam Carlson. The author contends that teacher training and support regarding educational technology is terribly underfunded and lacking in depth. Though technical training regarding the utilization of tech hardware and software is important, “teachers also need professional development in the pedagogical application of those skills to improve teaching and learning” (Carlson, 2002, pg. 7). I agree that when introducing technology, professional development of teachers must be a primary consideration and receive a major portion of the funding. A few years back I was part of a project with Regina Catholic in which we introduced a new interactive whiteboard technology to the division. This technology was not forced upon all teachers, rather, those interested were invited to apply to receive a device. Within the first year more than 300 teachers applied to take part in the project. As part of the device rollout, each teacher received three sessions of professional development and training. The first session was a 1/2 day training session with a focus on technical skills. The second session was a full-day PD session held in conjunction with subject area consultants. During these sessions pedagogy was discussed and participants were given time to begin creating lessons related to their teaching area. The third PD session was an independent session in which participants completed their lesson and submitted them to the consultants to be shared throughout the division. Though the cost of PD was expensive, participants enjoyed having the opportunity to develop their personal skills and pedagogy by collaboratively working with others. To date, nearly 500 lessons have been created and shared by these participants.

My final reflective point from the session this week is regarding the SAMR model. As the website, SAMR Model Explained for Teachers, states, SAMR is a framework for assessing technology use in the classroom. It represents Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. According to this model, Substitution and Augmentation are considered as enhancements to learning, while Modification and Redefinition represent further transformation in learning. While the use of technology at the Modification and Redefinition level is something teachers should strive for with some lessons, it is not a level which can be sustained throughout the year. I personally like the concept of the SAMR Model as a seen below as a swimming pool. There is inherent value in utilizing technology at all levels, and a balanced approach to technology integration sees one swimming laps, rather than trying to spend all of the time in one end of the pool.

 

These are my thoughts for the week. I would be interested in hearing yours.

Changing Hats

I enter into EC&I 830 having taken EC&I 831 with Alec and Katia in the Fall of 2013 (you can read all about my adventures in that class here). I can’t believe how much has changed for me personally and professionally in these past two and a half years! At the time that I was taking the Social Media and Open Education course, I was in my fifth year as Technology Coach for Regina Catholic Schools. In this role I had the privilege and pleasure of working with teachers and students across the school division to support the integration of technology in the curriculum. I had the opportunity to attend numerous Educational Technology conferences, such as FETC in Orlando, and IT Summit in Saskatoon, where I listened to esteemed keynote speakers describe the benefits of technology in education and ways to successfully implement the use of technology in the classroom. I was asked to develop various webpages, support documents, and digital citizenship resources to assist teachers as they explored ways to infuse the use of technology into their teaching practice. I frequently provided professional development presentations to teachers looking to try different tech tools with their class. I was asked to test-drive technology hardware and software, and to provide training and support in the use of these tools, and in the pedagogy surrounding the use of technology in learning. Most enjoyably, I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of students from K-12 as they explored ways technology could enhance their education. For five fantastic years my entire professional live revolved around contemporary issues in Educational Technology. But, all good things must come to an end…

A few courses into my Masters of Education Administration degree I felt it was time to apply for an administration position, and in September of 2014 I began with my first appointment as Vice Principal of St. Gabriel School. What a change. Previous to my 5 year stint as Technology Coach I had been a Middle Years homeroom teacher for 12 years. As VP, I found myself teaching a wide range of grade levels, and all in the area of Physical Education. I looked for ways to incorporate technology into my PE teaching, but found it to be a bit of a struggle. The demands of the administrative role left little extra room for creating the technology infused lessons I had become accustomed to developing. At times I felt hindered by some of the “realities” associated with teaching: Wi-Fi connection issues; broken hardware; double-booked devices; acceptable use policies; absent students; and differentiated learning. I found myself quickly feeling like a bit of an outsider in the world of educational technology.

Gradually, I began to recognize that I am now wearing a different hat. As an administrator, I find my focus has shifted to supporting the teachers within my school as they look for ways to incorporate technology, while respecting the needs and concerns of students and parents. However, having been out of the Technology Coach role for nearly two years, I feel I lack some of the most current knowledge in this area. I am looking forward to EC&I 830, and am hoping to consider the contemporary issues in educational technology from the perspective of my administrative role, and I look forward to learning from the many different roles and experiences I know will be shared by fellow classmates.

My hats continue to change in other aspects of my life as well. This year my wife, who is also a teacher, took on a new teaching assignment at a new school.  Having spent the previous five years teaching Pre-Kindergarten and EAL, she felt it was time to shift gears.  She is enjoying the challenge of teaching a Grade 1-2 split this year.  I also will be moving to St. Bernadette School as Vice Principal this September, and will need to once again establish relationships with students, parents, and staff.  And our children will experience change too, as our daughter makes the transition from elementary school to high school this Fall, leaving her brother behind as the oldest and only member of our family at his school.

It is my hope that during this course I can reflect on the various hats I have worn  (past and present), and try to consider the issues regarding educational technology from a variety of perspectives.  I never know what hat I may be required to wear next!

Hats

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