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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Exploring the Maker Movement

Perhaps you've heard of the Maker Movement, Design Thinking, Fab Labs or tinkering? They all refer to an educational movement embracing an iterative process of solving problems. This is nothing new in educational pedagogy, but what is new is the enthusiasm and energy circulating around the connection of this process with new technology devices such as 3D printers, rasberry Pis and arduino circuit boards. These devices give designers ways to create new artifacts or tinker around with simple programs to create an effect or some kind of output. Here are some links and a video to explore to learn more!

Monday, April 21, 2014

4th graders part of a world wide Scratch project

The first Saturday of each month, there is a meet up at the MIT Media Lab for those local, Boston-area educators who are interested in sharing idea about Scratch.

At a meetup this past winter, I met a teacher who linked to a World Music project page which includes songs from students in many parts of the globe.  This has been a wonderful way to link students from many backgrounds and to help promote world peace.

BB&N 4th grade students learned a song in English and Swahili called, "Together", made a recording and they are now included in the project.  Fly over the world and have the dove descend over Boston and you will find us!

Debbie Slade, LS Music

Monday, April 14, 2014

Brief Redux of AERA 2014 and Participatory Learning

I was at the American Education Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago, and in addition to meeting a whole slew of amazing scholars, particularly in the field of the Learning Sciences, I was greatly encouraged by the research and work being done with technology in support of student learning. Interest in educational technologies is growing fast, and is gaining a lot of momentum due to large philanthropic organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Macarthur Foundation, both of which seem to be fueling a rapidly innovating field. This is exciting. In years past, it seems that much of the research being done in education technology surrounded behaviorist theories of cognition and learning, and focused heavily on the concept of “transfer” - being able to apply the knowledge gained in one domain in other areas. Nowadays, it seems that “learning as participation” has garnered a lot of attention, placing a much-needed focus on student autonomy, authority, and the production of learning artifacts. These form much of the basis of student-centered pedagogies, and are part of the growing popularity in interest-driven learning, such as maker-spaces and digital media hubs, and even “gaming*”.

*I put the word “gaming” here in quotes, because typically, the term “educational game” inspires a lot of suspicion and skepticism, and belief that “gaming” is synonymous with “entertainment”. A lot of media attention and venture capital have been given to educational games that fit this description, and while this is great for Silicon Valley, such games have questionable value for education on the whole (test preparation, maybe, but critical thinking, collaboration, civic action?). But while these entertainment games seem to dominate our perception of gaming in school, there has been considerable research done on what aspects of games actually foster learning, and promote engagement, persistence, and reflection. Anyone familiar with James Paul Gee’s work for instance, will tell you that education has a lot to learn about gaming, without watering down content, or sacrificing rigor, in favor of entertainment.

A great primer on the “participation as learning” approach is Henry Jenkins’ work on “Participatory Culture”. Basically, this approach to learning suggests that by engaging in community-based practices, such as collaborating on a media project together, contributing to the knowledge of fan forums (such as the Minecraft forum), remixing songs or other cultural artifacts, we are in a sense, learning by doing - coordinating distributed knowledge resources (people, tools, websites, etc.) across multiple multimedia, jointly solving problems (especially community-based problems), appropriating materials to remix them for an audience, apprenticing people into the valued practices and ways of thinking about the world around us.

A central part of this type of learning is developing literacies across multiple domains, and applying those literacies in ways to empower our students and ourselves. Nichole Pinkard, whose work focuses on youth-based programs for developing digital literacies. Through the use of mentors to learn various digital tools, students in Pinkard’s Digital Youth Network who develop a strong passion for a medium can then go on to mentor younger/less-experienced students with similar interests.

Another significant aspect of this type of learning, and one is seems to be just finally gaining some legitimacy in schools, is social networking - building connections across settings to access knowledge resources. Facebook and Twitter come to mind as obvious examples of social networking, and these have largely been used for un-academic purposes. But that does not mean they are not powerful tools for things like mobilizing political action (remember the Arab Spring?), or building connections with professionals and experts in a field (see Jen Lavenberg’s post on Personal Learning Networks).

These areas of participation and learning are invaluable for our children, especially since many of them are already doing these things. The trouble is that many children might not see the connection between participating in digital ecologies and “what counts” as learning in school. The question we need to start asking, is how we can legitimize their participation as a valued part of learning, and how we can incorporate the vast range of resources we now have access to into ways of teaching that actually empower students.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Professional Development For School & Life

Being an educator today is not only about preparing lessons for your next class; it is also about staying in-tune with what tools might excite your students and prepare them for the future. As this may seem like an overwhelming task, the question becomes how do you keep up to date with all of the latest ideas, innovations, and tools to use in your classroom?

Building a personal learning network (PLN) can help educators stay in-tune with new ideas and tools to use in school and in their personal lives. A personal learning network is a community of people and organizations that help you learn about the latest and greatest news in your profession. Below I have listed my top 5 PLN recommendations for teachers and for life.

#5. Common Sense Media has so many great resources for school and personal use. The organization's mission is to improve the lives of kids and their families by educating learners of all ages about what it means to be in a world with an abundance of information and technology. Common Sense posts many articles about internet safety, new media ideas, and has a large database of  reviews for apps (iOS and Android), websites, and games.

#4. EduSlam is a great website where users can listen to what best teaching practices educators are doing around the world in just under five minutes. These videos as short and sweet, helping educators think outside the classroom.

#3. EdTechTeacher & Edutopia Blogs are my go to places for inspiration. Whether I am reading about social/emotional lessons, integrating technology into the classroom,  or lessons that lead educators to change the way we teach, I am never disappointed.

#2. Twitter is a great way to get an assortment of links if you follow fellow educators. I like to think of Twitter as the community bulletin board. If you find a great link, article, or idea you pin it up on the board for your teacher friends to see. You can get a variety of information just by following 3-5 people. Below I have listed 5 "movers and shakers" in the education field I recommend following on Twitter.
1. Edutopia (@edutopia)
2. Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne)
3. Kristen Wideen (@mrswideen)
4. Beth Holland (@brholland)
5. Edudemic (@edudemic)

#1. TED Radio Hour (Podcast) is a great way to listen to "ideas that are worth spreading." Each week the show has a theme, and NPR will collect a few TED Talks that relate to the theme. The TED speakers' do an amazing job storytelling different ideas and opinions. For someone who looses interest quickly, I find it very enjoyable because each story is about 15 minutes long. I really enjoyed listening to January 17th's theme Disruptive Leadership.  As an educator it helped me process new ideas, take risks, and reflect on my practice. I would recommend TED Radio Hour to anyone as a personal or professional development resource. This podcast can be found through the Apple Podcast app or through