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5th graders develop agency as independent learners using Android tablets

Over the 2011-2012 school year, e-Mergents has been involved in “guerilla research” to get some insight on several gnawing questions regarding the use of Android tablets in primary school classrooms.  Some of the questions are profoundly practical, such as whether students can really write papers on tablet devices even though we adults are convinced we need laptops for serious writing.  Some of the questions are logistical, such as whether Androids can serve the same purposes as iPads. But some of the questions are emergent: “What happens when you give students and teachers mobile devices with 24/7 connectivity to the Internet and the freedom to use them in the ways that work for them?” Read more

why accountability undermines authentic education and how wireless edtech can empower learning anyway

What is the appropriate role of wireless technology in schools?  When we look at the history of technology implementations in schools, we see any number of failures that have led to cynicism regarding technology on the part of educators, a tendency to roll one’s eyes and wait for the “silver bullet du jour” to pass.  In my opinion, the reason for the “failures” lies in a mismatch of capabilities and expectations, in a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of schooling, the role of teachers, and the capacities of students. Read more

diy learning: schoolers, edupunks, and makers challenge education as we know it

This article was first published on O’Reilly Radar on May 15, 2012

Create, disassemble, repurpose! DIY-ers relentlessly void warranties and crack manufacturers’ cases, showing us what is possible when people decide that they, not the vendors, truly own the technology they have purchased. “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it,” the Make Owner’s Manifesto tells us.

This DIY ethic is now seeping into one of the most locked-down social institutions in existence: education. Educators, parents, technologists, students, and others have begun looking at the components, subassemblies, assemblies and specifications of excellent education and are finding ways to improve, reimagine, and reinvent learning at every level. They are inspired by a multiplicity of sources, from neuroscience to gaming, to knock down the barriers to learning that exist for so many young people. In every way, they are looking at the components of teaching and learning, and finding ways to re-create them to be more efficient; more effective; and, critically, more modular. Read more

finally, math apps show r.e.s.p.e.c.t.

This article was originally posted on Getting Smart on April 10, 2012

There are no really good math apps out there. I’ve been convinced of this for some time based on nearly a decade of trying everything from online courses to video-game-like drills to the more recent iPad apps and flash cards. Available offerings tend to be inauthentic, in that they encourage rote procedures over real problem solving. They tend to be uninspired – either a direct translation of textbook approaches from the lecture hall to the video screen, or drill-and-kill practice with a veneer of video gaming that is intended to motivate students. Worst of all, they tend to be disrespectful of our students’ capacities, of their curiosity, and of their time. This week, though, I had the chance to play around with ST Math and found math software that actually treats us with respect. Read more

the dilemma of authentic learning: do you destroy what you measure?

This article was first published on O’Reilly Radar on March 7, 2012

John Seely Brown tells us the half-life of any skill is about five years. This astounding metric is presented as part of the ongoing discussion of how education needs to change radically in order to prepare students for a world which is very different than the one their parents graduated into, and in which change is accelerating.

It’s pretty straightforward to recognize that new job categories, such as data science, will require new skills. The first-order solution is to add data science as a college curriculum and work the prerequisites backward to kindergarten. But if JSB is right about the half-life of skills, even if this process were instantaneous, the learning path begun in kindergarten might be obsolete by middle school. Read more

math wars: the debate between higher order vs. rote learning

This article was originally posted on Getting Smart on February 28, 2012

Recently, EdSurge published a fabulous post highlighting the escalating rhetoric that the Khan Academy has inspired among math educators and edupreneurs. Sal Khan’s success has brought to the forefront a discussion that has been ongoing in academic and education circles for some time. This debate parallels the one about Common Core Math Standards exemplified by the Wurman and Wilson article referenced in a recent Getting Smart post.

At the heart of the debates is the tension between teaching students to accurately perform math computation and procedures versus teaching students higher-order mathematics skills. Versions of this debate have persisted through numerous iterations of math reform. As early as 1965, Tom Lehrer quipped in his song, New Math, “but in the new approach, as you know, the important thing is to understand what you’re doing rather than to get the right answer,” a perspective that summarizes the skepticism of parents and employers and leads many an edupreneur to focus on the “rote skills” of memorizing number facts and solving problems procedurally. Read more

wanted: a 21st century education

This article was originally posted on Getting Smart on February 16, 2012

Well into the 21st century, we are still trying to get a handle on what a 21st century education really is – both the question of what young adults really need to know and be able to do and the question of the best way to help them get there. I first encountered this issue as a high-tech executive when coaching talented engineers through a series of workplace myths.

Young engineers tend to come out of school with a mindset that the only truly valuable contributions are individual contributions. In a workplace where nearly all projects require collaboration among colleagues, they are prone to sitting at their desks working on a problem for weeks when a few quick conversations could have the problem solved in hours. Even when coached to seek help, they still feel as though they are somehow “cheating.” Read more

three game characteristics that can be applied to education

This article was originally posted on O’Reilly Radar on November 7, 2011

In a related post, I talked about what the notion of gamification as applied to education might mean on three levels. In particular, I described the lessons that might be learned by the field of education from the different types of gaming encountered in World of Warcraft and Minecraft — two very different online multiplayer games. In this post, I look at the technology roadmap that can support these three levels of application in real schools. Read more

acquiescence vs. participation

In previous posts, I’ve written about compliant employees and obedient children. This post continues the theme by discussing acquiescent students. Compliant employees, obedient children, and acquiescent students are all often considered “good”: good employees do as they’re told, good kids don’t talk back, and good students sit quietly in lectures and do well on tests.

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education as a platform

This article was originally posted on O’Reilly Radar on September 28, 2010

Any and every education reform design is going to fail for two reasons. The first is that the problem is not one that is solvable by “design” in the traditional engineering sense — the education system, including all its human elements, is too complex for that. The second is that the system as currently built contains feedback loops that damp out change.

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