Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Seesaw wish list...

I knew that Seesaw was a great tool when I first saw the (at the time) innovative QR login. Here was a company that seemed to understand that creating a tool that is easy to use for students will in turn make it easier for teachers.
After using as a school admin, teacher and parent, I now have a few ideas of where the next innovation could be;
    Image result for badge up level
  1. 'Gamification' and simple teacher posts. Imagine a bank of 100+ badges that teachers could assign to students in seconds...(aka Class Dojo). Yeah, it only takes 30 seconds to post 'Joe moved up Reading Level's today. He has been working really hard and we are all really proud of him' but imagine a badge like this that teachers select and assign. And if Seesaw can go there with badges, it could be pretty simple to gamify it, with a points/badge system for some real student motivation!
  2. The ability for parents to post into connected students journal. The very idea of the name 'Seesaw' is going back and forward between home and school. What better way to allow for this to happen than the ability for a parent to post into a child's account, either with their child or independently? I could see families on an overseas trip using Seesaw as an 'online journal' to share their discoveries, or 'family home learning tasks' where challenges are set (e.g. 'go on a nature walk') and completed and posted on Seesaw. 
  3. Parents to be able to invite other family members and manage connected adults. The QR letter Seesaw generates is genius, but getting this letter to Nana on the other side of the world is not so easy, nor is it necessarily easy for Nana to connect up, even if she does have the letter (Nana looking in the Yellow pages for 'App Store'....). I would love to see an 'invite family member' button that connected parents (who have used the QR code from school) can click on to generate a link for family members that allows a 'click on this link and join into this child's Seesaw account'. In correlation with this idea, it would make sense for the first parent that connects to the child (through the QR letter) to be able to manage other connected adults. How is a teacher supposed to know if Joe Bloggs is really someone's uncle?
  4. 'Learning Task creation'. As it stands, I recommend using Seesaw alongside either Google Classroom or Hapara Workspaces. I would love to see Seesaw go into the 'task creator space' whereby teachers can post and manage learning tasks within Seesaw. It would need its own section ('Learning/Teacher/Classroom' 'Tasks/Feed') that only students see (so parents did not get notified when a teacher flicks a YouTube video for students to watch and respond too). The main integration I can envisage is teachers posting media that students annotate or respond too. I have used Seesaw to complete this sort of task, but it is currently too complicated.
  5. Better Google Drive integration. This was the number one reason for not initially switching to Seesaw from Kidblog, and the number one reason I still think Google Sites is a great option for online portfolio's.  What I really want is an 'insert from Google Drive' option, which brings up the users (would have to be signed in with Google account) Drive. Class Dojo, Kidblog, Slideshare, to name a few, have this option. I even looked up one of the tools that allow for this integration (if a Seesaw tech happens to be reading this...) https://www.filestack.com/
  6. Bonus - Chromecast posts from iPad App. Easy. Just like Facebook, a 'cast' icon to cast media (video, audio, picture) to a Chromecast from the Seesaw iPad App. I selfishly want this as we use iPad's (and Chromebooks) with Chromecast's.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

New Google Sites

Switching over to the new Google Sites is like moving from Microsoft Word to Google Docs. The first thing you observe is 'where is everything' (i.e. the plethora of buttons) then you start creating and think 'why did I ever need to....anyway'. 5 Things Google have got right with the new Sites; 

1. How easy it is to add content. Google have removed alot of stuff that was unnecessary to 95% of users, things like exclusive buttons for horizontal lines, Apps Script and +1. It has been replaced with ....simplicity. e.g.
How to Insert a Google Presentation/Slides.
Classic Google Sites (left) New (right)

2. How easy it is to 'manage the site layout'.
The Classic Google Sites has an entire menu for managing the Site Layout. To do something like nest one page under another, you have to click on at least 5 buttons for each page....the same task is completed with a 'drag and drop' approach in the new Google Sites.

Changing the page layout and 'nesting' menu headers in the new Google Sites.

3. Sharing, Saving and Publishing. Anyone who has used other Google Apps before will find this familiar. No 'Save' button appears (like the old Sites) instead, content is saved as it is created and live collaboration is in place.  Sharing is also not buried 17 levels deep, but right in your face, on the main page.

4. Mobile Friendly. Though the focus seems to have been on creating Google Sites that looked great on Mobile devices, I also believe that the new Google Sites will be very 'tablet friendly' and  could imagine creating an entire site, from start to finish, on a tablet.

5. AI. Alot of the 'fiddly' annoying things have gone with this update. Stuff like positioning multiple pictures (automatically done) changing layout (drag'n'drop) and making text on images readable (font automatically changes when images are inserted) Intuitive is the word that kept coming to mind! It is only a little thing, but I am also loving accessing and creating Sites through Google Drive.

As Google Sites is still in a pilot mode, I am assuming the following will be taken care of before launch;
1. Way more fonts and themes - currently a small handful
2. Ability to see and edit the HTML of a page - for when the theme just doesn't work.
3. Inserting embed codes (possibly the only 'gadget' from the old Sites I will miss if it does not return)
4. The Search bar in the header - acts as a search for your Site.
5. More options to customize the header - especially changing the height of the header!

The new Google Sites will not be the go-to tool to create a complex website for a large business (or school) due to its (current) lack of customisation. It will however be a simplified way for any teacher to create a quick website in the same amount of time it takes to create a Google Presentation.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Dear App Developer....

I have spent time recently downloading and trialing heaps of new (and old) 'educational Apps' on our family iPad, both for my 5 year old and classes I teach.

I feel like I keep experiencing the same problems, so here is my 5 pet-hates for any Educational App.

  1. Don't have large 'Sign-Out' buttons that children can access on subscription based Apps.
  2. Don't have links to social media (or have the option to turn this off).
  3. Don't have 'games' where a child can hit every single answer on the screen until the correct one lights up. Tapping an incorrect answer should result in feedback that stops the child making the same mistake nest time.
  4. Have less buttons/options. Make it two/three choices per screen.
  5. Don't have small icons that need to be dragged from the sides - I actually need to take the cover off our iPad to access some of these!
Now if only I could delete these Apps from my purchasing history, it is now overrun with Apps that have not made the cut...

Friday, April 1, 2016

Filling the void...Life without SAMR

Despite previous ramblings, I do like a lot about the SAMR model. It is a guided focus for professional discussions and personal reflection. For many educators it is also inspirational, with Modified and Redefined tasks a 'holy grail' that can be strived for. 

It is easier to criticise than to create, so my challenge has been to create an alternative to SAMR, something that is equally aspirational for educators.

To achieve this task, I have considered learning experiences that are exceptional and found common the threads between them. As per my previous SAMR post, I believe 'Redefined' tasks should not be limited to tasks completed with technology. 'eTools' are just that - electronic tools for learning. They cannot be put above other learning tools.

I would like to disclaim that this is Version 0.1. I have already changed words multiple times...Like any blog post, here is my current thinking.

Monday, March 21, 2016

SAMR - Some Apps Model (without) Research

Recently, I was googling (creative commons free) images of the SAMR model and saw these images;

I could not help to question.....2 weeks later and I am making my own meme.

Why SAMR is like ordering 'pumpkin spice'.

  1. There is no research behind it. This shocked me. I have seen SAMR all over the show, at conferences, in publications and referenced by people I respect. How could it be that a model so widely used has no research behind it? What is confusing is watching Ruben Puentedura (the creator of SAMR - yes he has a PHD after his name, but for Chemistry - not Education) talk. He mentions research throughout, even stating that "redefinition tasks can improve student outcomes by as much as the equivalent of roughly 2 letter grades"..... the study that shows this 'jump' is unseen, like all of Mr Puentedura's research. Equally unfortunate is that he simply states 'student outcomes' without defining what student outcomes means. Does it mean progress, engagement, ability? Research from other people is cited in his talks, which is genuine, such as having an authentic audience improving student motivation, but no research is available that shows the SAMR model improves student outcomes. Without research, I think it gets relegated to an idea, not a model. 
  2. It is misunderstood. Countless examples of the interpretations of SAMR are around to the point that I do not even know what the correct interpretation is. I have watched Ruben Puentedura describe SAMR as a ladder model, with the end goal to reach redefinition. I have seen it being used as a planning model, with teachers assessing what 'level' of SAMR a learning activity or (gulp) App is. I have always thought of it as more of a 'check in' - something for teachers to consider, mainly to ensure they are not always at the 'substituting level'. By definition a model is something others can follow and we have no shared understanding about what SAMR is about.
  3. What is wrong with substituting? At times, substitution is fine, possibly essential. We may want to take notes on a device so we don't lose them or so we can copy and paste them into another tool at a later time to further analyse key ideas. Or we may find it quicker and more convenient to read a book on an eReader. The point is, there is no point analysing what 'level' a task is, as there is a time and place for all learning tasks.
  4. What is so great about redefinition? By definition, a redefinition task is a task that was 'inconceivable' before the tech. So that means cyber-bullying would fit great into redefinition, as would re-sharing cat videos on Facebook and messaging friends instead of visiting them. Newer is not always better. Sure, SAMR advocates would say 'of course these things are not redefinition - they are not even learning tasks' which is exactly my point. The model is not even about learning - it is about using technology. Which segways nicely into...
  5. Why are we placing technology on a pedestal? This has always bothered me. Why do we have a model that is supposed to 'level' a learning task only apply to learning with devices? Can other tools 'redefine' learning? I have seen some amazing Enviro-School projects that allows for tasks 'inconceivable' without a school vegetable garden. Are these tasks as important? Do we need a model to show 'types of Enviro-School tasks'? Would it improve our collective abilities to use school vegetable gardens if we did? 
I think the SAMR idea is an OK reflection 'tool' for teachers, whereby teachers can look back at their technology integration over a term/year and reflect on their use of technology. Has it always been simply substitution? Or has the technology gone beyond simply replacing 'pen and paper'? 

Until some serious peer reviewed research occurs, I believe we should focus on a more simple model - "Use technology purposefully'.


Presence. Amy Cuddy

Judging by the fact Amy Cuddy's “Your Body Shapes Who You Are" is the 2nd most-watched TED talk in history (behind Sir Ken Robinson) I am probably in the minority in that I read (or listened in my case) her amazing book 'Presence' before watching her talk. 

The video is a must watch for all, but the book goes so much deeper, into a wide range of tools, research and strategies. I have found myself recommending the book to everyone, to the point that I wish it was the compulsory Year 9 English text.

Here are my 5 takeaways for educators.
  1. Presence is about being our truest selves. This means believing in our own abilities, values and feelings. If we do not trust ourselves, others will never put their trust into us - and trust is the medium that ideas travel though. As teachers, we need to ensure we are not trying to make 'imperfect versions of ourselves' and allowing each individual student to shine. 
  2. Expectations. One of the best things we can do is have high expectations for all students and believe in their abilities. Amy notes the 1970s experiment where teachers were told a random selection of students were expected to have phenomenal learning growth over the coming year. No surprises that these randomly selected students had phenomenal growth over the year due to the teachers high expectations.
  3. Self Affirmation Theory. Self affirmations should not be about lying to ourselves, trying to fool the brain into thinking we own something we have no idea about. Rather, research shows self affirmations work when we recall times that we have demonstrated values that are important to us. As teachers, we can help students get through stressful situations by having students write about when they have demonstrated their values. The research shows that this will keep cortisone (stress hormone) levels steady in stressful situations.
  4. Our bodies change our minds. The studies in this book demonstrate that by positioning our bodies into powerful poses (power posing) hormonal changes occur that configures our brains into being less stressed and more assertive, confident and comfortable in ourselves. 'Power posing' for 2 minutes before an important exam, speech or event would be a great 'life skill' for everyone. If there was ever evidence to finally squash the idea of children sitting on the mat it lies within this book. 'The mat' is a submissive position for students and power position for teachers. Yes, there may be times where students need to sit for short periods of time, but squashed on a mat will not allow students to be their best.
  5. I'm excited. Another study with implications to education is what to do when a student is stressed. The answer is not telling the person to calm down, rather it is telling the person to get excited! This shift, from nervous to excitement is easier and more beneficial than attempting to shift from nervous to composed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Learner Agency - when does it stop?

We are born with 'learner agency'. No one would question the intense learning all babies work through; learning to walk, communicate and keep themselves safe. When we are learning these important skills we are very much independent; a parent does not set up a 'walking timetable' with weekly 'check-ins' and monthly 'assessments'. Rather, the job of the parent is to provide opportunities (like a trolley or pram to push) encouragement and a safe environment to practise in. The child is in control of this learning. They self-regulate, making independent choices. Children and (most) parents are not phased by whether others are walking or not, it is a matter of when, not if.

Moving forward to pre-school years and learner agency is still dominant. New Zealand ECE's are set up with student choice in mind, the teachers support learners to make independent choices and follow their passions. In the pre-school years, learners have the power to act and are actively involved in their learning. The teachers are creating a safe environment for learners to explore. I have never seen a student sitting on the floor saying 'they do not know what to do' at an ECE.

When students enter school the great work of parents and ECEs can become unstuck. I question the idea that schools need to 'support' students to being agents of their learning, they have done nothing but that right through to the day they started school. Sadly when students start school their agency is frequently taking away from them through teachers taking ownership of the learning, telling students what they need to learn and when. 

Here are 5 ways in which students can keep retain their agency when they enter their formative school years.

  1. High Expectations. Four year olds think of themselves as undestructable. They dream big and persevere. Much like a Year 13 student at High School, 4 year olds stroll the grounds of their 'campus' with confidence, helping, questioning their peers and teachers and making independent choices. When they hit school they are so little in comparison to others that we seem to have an intrinsic need to 'mother them'.  Sure, we need to help them transition in, but we need to maintain high expectations of how independent they are.
  2. Better ECE/School links. Spending time in ECE's always shows how our young tamariki are so independent. It is pretty crazy to think most New Entrant teachers get no or very little time observing their new students in action at ECE's. The more school teachers see of ECE's, the higher their expectations will be.
  3. Focus on 'yet'. It is difficult not to have national standards at the fore-front of our decision making. Until children get to school there is a universal understanding that different kids have different strengths; some kids can swing on monkey bars, some can write their name. Both will learn to do the other, in their own time. But when we reach 5 the assumption switches to all students needing to learn at the same rate. In the right environment all students will learn to read and write, it just may be they cannot 'yet'.
  4. Control. Students quickly learn that teachers are in charge at school and that they will get praised for doing exactly what the teachers asks them. I believe students, especially younger students, spend alot of their thinking resources into understanding what teachers want from them, rather than thinking about what they need to do. Students are praised for their quick responses to teacher commands rather than their independent action. Teachers need to 'flatten the hierarchy' and emphasise the importance of our students own active choices over passive responses to teachers .
  5. Decision Making. No one learns to make good decisions by having decision made for them. Like a busy parent who makes lunch for the kids because it is quicker and easier than having the child make it themselves, we are often time poor and find it easier to tell students what to do rather than allowing them the time to think for themselves. It should be a 'quality over quantity' approach when it comes to learning to learn.
By the time learners are 10, they have been at school half of their lives and can be 'institutionalised' to the school system. For some learners, the idea of having the power to act is scary as we have taken it away from them. Let's make sure we never remove it in the first place.