Category: Technology Tools


This weekend I went with our Cub Scout pack to the North Carolina Aquarium at Ft. Fisher near Wilmington.  We had the unique opportunity to spend time “Sleeping with the Fishes” without the threat of a mob boss making it a permanent arrangement.    I have to say, that this is one of those times when technology does not need to be the medium for learning.  I am sure that may be a shocking statement coming from one who spends his days and even his nights extolling the virtues of becoming technologiacally literate.  I am also a teacher and believe that the technology can’t replace some things, like the excitement of reaching out an touching nature.

We arrived on Friday night with our mostly 9 and 10 year old boys and a parent or two for each and got set up.  Sleeping on the floor, in a sleeping bag, on a cot or an air mattress in front of a soaring tank of fish is an experience I can’t put into words.  It is just something you need to experience.  Telling you that I looked up and saw a Sand Tiger Shark swim by as I lay on my cot is a far cry from actually being there and seeing it.  As well, waking up to see the sunrise slice through the tank and fish swimming through the light with flashes from their colorful scales just cannot be captured in a photo.  Let me emphasize that I am not a great photographer when fully awake so at first light–count your blessings I don’t attempt it and then share.  That would be seconds of your life you would never get back. 

Our 15 hour odessy began after setting up “camp” and moving to see a live box turtle, snakes, and an American Alligator named Dot.  Wonderful experiences for our boys to touch (carefully and gently) members of the animal kingdom that normally would either run away or attempt to make them a snack.   We handled various types of Shark jaws with teeth intact.  The Aquarium is anticipating their acceptance of a Megaladon Jaw complete with real and replica teeth.  Some of those teeth are as big as your face!

 

Beyond the presentations, the hands on with our friends from another kingdom (you may remember from science – kingdom, phylum, genus, species…..) there was some creative fun and culture in personalizing tee-shirts with fish printing.  I digress for a moment that in our Art program we have just added a new Macbook pro, scanner, digital cameras, Bamboo electronic tablet and software….lots of software.  I love that the art teachers have their own techology tools but allow me to implore: never abandon painting a fish (rubber or real) and printing it on a tee shirt.  Fish printing is an art form in Japan and it was so cool to see neon flounder or purple starfish painted creatively and then pressed carefully on a shirt by kids and adults alike.

 

After the fun of the evening, the tee shirts drying and all of us prepped for light’s out as the fishes “just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming….” we started drifting off to sleep….

The next morning  we arose, we shined, we saw fish and other wildlife once again.  The morning allowed us a private tour of the aquarium and more hands on experiences.  Below is one of my new favorite pictures.  Two kids sitting in a convex (or concave from the ‘inside the tank’ perspective) watching the fish in the tank and getting audibly excited as different and newly named friends swam on by. 

Look at that!

The tour was great.  The experience was great. I do believe that our scouts were enriched by the educational and fun experience.    The technology in this post?  I used my iPhone to take the pictures but was otherwise unplugged from the technology for that period of time.  I have documentation of the experience due to the technology I carry.  I can share that as I have done here.  I have memories of the experience that are uniquely my own and I am a better person for it.  I can say with some reasonable sureity that my wife and boys have their own views and experiences that add to their lives too. 

The point?  Sometimes, even for a technology centric person, it’s not about the technology.

As a parent I want the latest and most useful technology tools in the hands of my own kids.  As a student, I want it in my own hands.  As a district level administrator specializing in technology integration, I want it in the hands of the thousands of students and teachers and administrators I serve. 

The future of technology is not just the software, not just the hardware but is inclusive of the social network that uses it all.  Having an integrated tool that is mobile is a key in making it all work.

From a practical standpoint, and as a parent of kids who bring home (no kidding) 40lbs of books in a book bag each day, the idea of a single, lightweight, mobile and easily transportable device makes perfect sense.  If that device is connected socially; allows for input for notes, creation of documents, charts, pictures; carries the latest updatable information, it has hit the target squarely in the middle. 

Technology tends to get out to the masses and is used in business by those who figure it out long before it hits the classrooms.  This has to change. I have said for years that the last place to get the most up to date technology is a school setting.  By the time it gets there, it is no longer the latest or the greatest anything and our kids in school are shorted on that end. 

How great would it be if electronic text books came out before best sellers on an e-reader?  How awesome would it be if the first million Wii or X-Box Knect showed up in k-12 Gyms before the living rooms of the world?  How incredible would it be if a lightweight, touchscreen slate computer was issued the first days of school to each student and wireless was ubiquitous in each building rather than having to be tied to a wire? 

How can it influence the future?  If we take the use of technology tools as seriously as we take the ability to read, write, cipher and understand science and the world we live in, the influence is endless. The problem is the fear.  Not the fear kids have (they have little to none), the fear that some of our teachers and educational leaders have.  The lack of relevance that technology tools seem to have to them is amazing.  If once patiently embraced, I can see the future taking flight.

I can see it.  I can feel it.  I can almost touch it.  It is the future.

I got an email from a friend asking me what I thought about the Kindle and the applications in education.  Actually, I was asked if I had one first and then the educational application.  I wanted one, especially the newer, larger version but I am holding off.

I think that (as much as some PC diehards don’t like Macs) the new iPad has greater potential than the Kindle. While I think the Kindle is an ideal reader, and it has established a high base line to achieve, It may be limited to just a reader. Certainly, it has the capability to highlight and take notes, but I am not sure of the expanded capabilities beyond that. As long as teachers are using it to have students read and prepare for a discussion, it can be good. I would love to get one in my hands and do a side by side comparison of what uses it would have in the classroom.

The iPad it seems will have expanded capability for other uses as well as regular internet connectivity. The downside is that (at this point) there is no plan to include any office type products. It will read Word docs, PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets but lacks editing capability. However, with office as an online product in the cloud, that capability may exist without folks really knowing it. I think the iPad will have far greater capability than a kindle and it will have access to the Kindle software as well as library (there’s an app for that).

Kind of renders the Kindle a little less attractive.

Your thoughts?

After my last post regarding something a bit more philosophical when it comes to a 21st Century Classroom, I thought about more of what it might look like–what it might physically look like.  I have actually been thinking about it for as long as I can remember.  I thought I might focus more on the tools and perhaps take it one at a time.

In a classroom that includes 21st Century tools (21C) computers or even netbooks would be obvious.  Whiteboards would be obvious. Data Projectors would be obvious.  Document cameras are becoming more obvious.  Digital still and video cameras (sometimes in the same piece of equipment) are obvious.  Important none-the-less, but still obvious pieces of 21C tools.  I want to get to those later. 

A year ago, I had the opportunity to put some less-than-conventional tech into classrooms in schools in my district.  I thought of our reading program that supports those who need a little extra help.  That program had been in place for years with the same teacher doing the same things year after year after year.  Nothing really wrong with the method, nothing really wrong with the teacher–she was very good at her job and did still make modest gains.  The issue was that the program was not forward thinking–it was not as engaging for the kids that teacher served.  I thought that this program didn’t need an overhaul, just some updating. 

With that in mind, I went for a couple items that I knew have value.  I turned to Leapfrog.  My now 3rd grade sons have had Leapsters since they were 3 years old.  This was probably the most valuable investment that we have made in a piece of technology for them.  They walked into Pre-K with the knowledge of letters, numbers, colors and shapes.  I credit the endless play on the leapster for a part of that.  It reinforced what we had been teaching them at home.  It was (is) engaging for them.  I ordered a set of 6 for the program with a multitude of cartridges. 

The second piece I came across was the TAG reading system.  This is a pen that connects to the computer, has software loaded into it for specific books and interacts with the special books that you can order to go with the program.  OK, so what is so special?  Students learn to read high interest reading material with a little bit of help at their own pace.  Kids use the pen with the loaded software for that book, as they read the story there are multiple methods of help.  Don’t know the word?  Touch it with the pen and HEAR it read to you. Can’t put together the words in the sentence?  Run the pen over the top of the entire sentence and HEAR it read it to you.  When kids have problems with phonics, this is the tool to assist.  I bought 10 pens and 10 sets of 8 books.  Our district’s Special Needs coordinator ordered 10 as well.  that program is flourishing under the tutelage of the teacher I selected to take over the program after the previous teacher retired.

The idea behind this was to “seed” a couple schools (of our 17) with something different.  To put out there some new tools that would engage kids to learning without really knowing that they are learning.  This is the difference in an updated classroom today.  Several years ago, Marc Prensky gave his talk about digital natives vs. digital immigrants and our kids (the natives) kept telling us and continue to tell us, “engage me or enrage me!”  Engagement is a key to these new classrooms and her are just two of the tools to get there. 

Have a great evening and I welcome your comments.

Mike