College kids spend 1/5 of class time on devices

College students spend one-fifth of class time on “digital distractions,” according to a national survey published in the Journal of Media Education. All but 3 percent of those surveyed admitted to texting, emailing, looking at social media, surfing the web and playing games in class.

The average student uses devices in class for “non-class purposes” 11.43 times a day, say University of Nebraska researchers. That’s up from 10.93 in their first survey in 2013.

“About 63 percent of surveyed students said they do so to stay connected, but an equally large share of students said they are attempting to fight boredom,” notes Inside Higher Ed.  “Even though students agreed that checking their devices could harm their academic performance, a majority of students (about 58 percent) described it as only a ‘little’ distraction.”

Ninety percent of students say devices shouldn’t be banned.

Computer Problems

Over at my own blog I posted about a teacher who, after several years of having computers in her classroom, may now run afoul of the rules by having computers in her classroom:

Back in the late 90s, a time when computers in schools weren’t everywhere, I was in my teacher credentialing program.  One of my friends in the program was able to get a donation of about 2 dozen computers for her elementary school classroom; she loaded them up with Oregon Trail, some other educational games, and other goodies.  These were stand-alone computers, not connected to each other or to the internet.  I’m not even sure if they had internet capability or not.

One day she called me in a panic–do I need any computers?  If not, could I at least take some?  See, her principal didn’t think it was fair that her class had computers and no other classes did, so the principal ordered the computers removed.  That afternoon.

Fast forward to today.  I have a dozen and a half netbook computers for use in my stats classes.  They were purchased by the school and our district tech services folks worked their magic on them.  We have wireless nodes all over our school, and these computers are, of course, internet-capable.  They’re dang difficult to use, though, because, in an effort to make sure a student somewhere doesn’t access pictures of boobies or something, our tech services has made the process of logging in and using the computers a herculean task.  If we do it exactly by the book, network speeds slow to a crawl.  Even when we don’t do it exactly by the book, I still encounter problems that I have to work around.  (Note:  kids may know how to use phone apps, but logging into our school computer network and accessing a web site when given a URL that omits www for convenience sake?  No way.  Most of them aren’t as savvy as adults think they are.  The hurdles our tech services people put in our path are to try to stop the very few who are tech savvy.  But I digress.)

It would be great if things could work smoothly–you know, like my wireless network at home does, no matter what kind of equipment I connect to it with.  It would be great if school administrators weren’t such ninnies about computers:

All teacher Kim Kutzner wanted to do was help her students dig into their school work.

In her zeal to reach her students and make their writing assignments easier, the Chowchilla [California] Union High School English teacher pooled her resources and used her husband’s savvy to get her students the equipment she believed would help them excel.

Kutzner says her students’ test scores are up after she and her husband bought the equivalent of nearly $80,000 worth of laptop computers for her students to use…

Kutzner told The Modesto Bee that at first the English Department Chair was given major ‘atta girls’ five years ago for buying the computers at auctions, having her husband fix them up and network them into a classroom computer lab.

Now, however, the district is, as the principal of her school told Independent Journal, “investigating” and “assessing” the use of the computers. In fact, the school may ban their use.

It’s unclear why the computers are now becoming an issue.

The laptops aren’t connected to the internet and students are currently being allowed to use them.

The Chowchilla Union School District Superintendent says he’s now concerned with the privacy of students.

Can Pedagogy Be Patented?

What are the limits of what Khan Academy is trying to do?

A recent patent application by Khan Academy is raising questions about whether teaching methods can be patented, but patent law experts see the move as an influential player fortifying its position in the market. Ultimately, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will have the last say.

The online education platform, which primarily focuses on K-12 education and test preparation, in March applied for a patent for “systems and methods for split testing educational videos” — in other words, the method of showing students two different clips and determining which one is more effective at teaching a certain topic.

News of the patent application, first reported by Slashdot, was met with confusion from ed-tech analysts over the holidays. Why, they asked, would Khan Academy, a nonprofit whose mission is to “provide a free, world?class education for anyone, anywhere” patent what effectively amounts to A/B testing in education? How would it affect other online education providers? Most importantly, could it even be patented?

Intellectual property and patent law experts, pointing to supporting documents filed with the patent application, said the patent suggests Khan Academy is aware of the growing interest in online and adaptive education. Applying for a patent now, the experts said, could prevent legal issues in the future.

Coding for Christmas


Third-grader Jaysean Erby solves a coding problem at an Apple Store in New York as Apple CEO Tim Cook looks on.

Coding toys for kids are aimed at children as young as six years old, reports AP.

Wonder Workshop sells Dash and Dot, programmable blue-and-orange robots. Children can start by drawing a path for Dash on a tablet screen. “They can then drag and drop actions onto its path that, for instance, might cause Dash to beep or flash its lights in different colors.”
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More advanced players can “use Google’s kid-oriented Blockly language, or Wonder, the company’s own programming language, to create and play games with both robots.”

Some worry about kids spending too much time with their tablets.

Nader Hamda, founder of a handful of tech and toy startups, created Ozobot, a tiny programmable robot that kids can play with together.

Kids can program Ozobot, which is smaller than a golf ball, simply by drawing different colored lines and shapes with markers. Older kids can also program in Blockly and can even see what their finished code would look like in Javascript, a language widely used to program websites. Hamda says roughly 400 schools currently use Ozobot as a hands-on teaching tool.

Sphero’s SPRK, a clear plastic robot ball, is used in some elementary and middle schools to illustrate concepts.
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“It introduces the methodical process, how to go back and fix things,” Sphero CEO Paul Berberian says. “There’s no computer programmer in the world that gets it right the first time.”

The company also makes BB-8, the robot in the new Star Wars movie. “This is the droid you’re looking for,” the slogan reads.

Why do dogs chase cats?

At a Harlem elementary school, children are asked to come up with a question and use the Internet to find the answer, reports NPR.  Sugata Mitra, a British education technology professor known for giving street kids access to a “hole-in-the-wall” computer in India, developed SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environments).

MITRA: You’re going to work with these six computers; the question is, why do dogs chase cats? And, of course, you can talk as much as you like, you can walk around, you can move, you can look at other people’s work. You can do whatever you like.

Working in groups, students have 20 minutes to research the question. Then they report their findings.

STUDENT: A dog can grab and easily wound or kill the cat by crushing her in his jaws.

STUDENT: He might injure a cat by biting too hard even in play.

STUDENT: Like many things dogs do, chasing cats is instinctual.

MITRA: They are the first group who are trying to explain why.

STUDENT: Some want to play with the cat. Others perceive cats as prey and will harm a cat if they catch her.

The education industry is “under threat” from technology, Mitra tells NPR. It must change in order to survive.

SOLE looks like an interesting exercise, but not a revolution in learning.

RAND: Personalized learning leads to progress

Gates-RAND ContinuedProgress-ChartIn schools using technology to personalize learning, students made greater academic progress than a control group, according to a RAND study for the Gates Foundation.

Students with the lowest prior achievement made the greatest gains in reading and math.

Researchers followed 11,000 students attending 62 K-12 charter and district schools.

Teachers and administrators are using data generated by personalized learning tools to adapt their teaching, according to the study, notes edSurge. The most successful schools use data to group students and give students the opportunity to discuss their data with their teachers. They also create spaces for personalized learning.

Charter schools using personalized learning saw strong effects, but district schools, a much smaller part of the sample, did not, Neerav Kingsland points out. Was it personalized learning — or just highly effective charter schools? I think that’s a valid point.

Magical thinking on school tech

School technology inspires a lot of magical thinking, writes Larry Cuban.

Massive Open Online Courses — free to anyone with an Internet connection — were supposed to “revolutionize” and “transform” higher education. Cuban writes. In the Gartner “hype” cycle, MOOCs have reached the “Trough of Disillusionment” in only three years.

The move to teach coding in elementary school and computer science in high school is in the “Peak of Inflated Expectations,” writes Cuban.

Britain’s national curriculum now requires “computing” in secondary schools.

In the U.S., coding and computer science “are being sold to school boards and parents as ways of teaching logic, thinking skills, as well as preparation for future jobs,” Cuban writes. He’s dubious.

Chicago Public Schools is “rolling out computer science classes at all levels” and plans to make computer science a graduation requirement, writes Scott Shackford.

Computer science educators worry about maintaining quality, he writes. “Just because every high school in the country is ordered to provide computer science classes doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be any good and that students will learn from them.”

Technology won’t save our schools, writes Austin Dannhaus on edSurge. “Education technology has seen over $3 billion of venture capital investment in the last two years. A corresponding rise in education outcomes, however, has been much more elusive. “

Science fair vs. Maker Faire


Intel is investing in Shubham Banerjee’s  low-cost Braille printer, which win a Maker Faire award. Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez , AP  

Science fairs have lost pizzazz, argues Hana Schank in an Atlantic story speculating on Intel’s decision to stop sponsoring the Science Talent Search (STS). The Maker Faire — technology rather than pure science — is the hot new thing, according to Schank. And it’s seen as more democratic and diverse.

Despite science celebrations by Google and the White House, “local school and county fairs have been on the wane,” writes Schank. Many schools don’t provide guidance, time or lab space for science fair aspirants.

Crystal Zheng and Ien Li, both seniors at Jericho High School in New York, were finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search this year.

Crystal Zheng and Ien Li, seniors at Jericho High in New York, were finalists in the Science Talent Search this year.

In the last 16 years, 10 schools have dominated the STS prizes, she notes. “Eight of them are in the greater New York City area, where there is widespread access to both labs and working scientists, highly motivated parents and students, and a large number of second-generation immigrants.”

By contrast, Maker Faire, which started in 2006 in the Bay Area, “feels more like Burning Man meets Radio Shack.”

Maker also does away with the lab-access issue that many science-fair hopefuls run up against by favoring projects that can be done with readily available technologies like Raspberry Pi and Arduino. Recent winners at Maker have included 3D printed robots, a Raspberry Pi teletype that wirelessly connects an iPad to a 60s-era teletype machine, and an Arduino-compatible processor.

Intel may see Maker Faire participants as the sort of kids they’ll want to hire in a few years, while STS competitors are starting their doctorates in physics, math and chemistry.

When seventh-grader Shubham Banerjee used Lego parts to build a low-cost Braille printer, he entered the Maker Faire rather than the STS. He won an award — and got Intel to invest in the product.  “The next version of the printer will include an Intel Edison chip,” writes Schank. It “won’t be made out of Legos.”

Who will teach computer science?

All New York City public high schools will offer computer science in 10 years, pledges Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Who will teach computer science? asks Naomi Schaefer Riley in the New York Post. Public schools already have trouble finding qualified math teachers and it will be even harder to hire computer science professionals, who have much more lucrative options.

IBM worked with New York City public schools and the community college system, to create P-TECH, which prepares students for technology careers.

IBM worked with New York City public schools and the community college system, to create P-TECH, which prepares students for technology careers.

Tech CEO Daniel Gelernter doesn’t look for a degree in computer science when he’s hiring a software developer, he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “University computer science departments are in miserable shape: 10 years behind in a field that changes every 10 minutes.”

If universities can’t keep up, how can the city’s public schools? asks Riley. “The equipment will be outdated before it’s even installed. And the kind of knowledge that will actually be useful in the real world is changing constantly.”

De Blasio hopes computer science classes will help prepare students for technical careers. But will they?

A number of years ago, a girl I mentored told me that she planned to attend the John Jay High School for Law because she wanted to become a lawyer and her middle school guidance counselor told that school would start her down the right path.

When I explained that to be a lawyer, you needed to go to law school and in order to go to law school you needed to go to a good college and in order to go to a good college you had to learn a lot in high school and that John Jay was one of the worst in the city, she and her immigrant mother looked flabbergasted.

Nationwide, a quarter of high schools offer a programming course; 6 percent teach Advanced Placement computer science.

New York City officials aren’t talking just about AP. They want to expand computer science from elite high schools to schools where most students are below grade level in math and reading, reports the New York Times.

Venture capitalist Fred Wilson, who financed the new Academy for Software Engineering, believes the program shows that all students can benefit from computer science classes.

But I’d guess the academy hires computer science teachers who understand computer science to students who have some interest in the subject.

For years, California offered bilingual classes without having anywhere near enough bilingual teachers. It didn’t work.

Libraries add ‘coder time’ to story time

Librarian Brooke Sheets uses colored cups to teach algorithms and debugging to girls at Los Angeles’ Central Library. Photo: Alex Schaffert-Callaghan, KPCC

To play a drawing game called Phenomenal Turtle, nine-year-old Perla Hernandez had to “break down big complex problems into small sequential steps,” writes Alex Schaffert-Callaghan on KPCC. She was one of a dozen children who came to a Los Angeles’ library for “coder time.”

 Children can program a turtle to create designs in Phenomenal Turtle

Children can program a turtle to create designs in Phenomenal Turtle

Librarian Joanna Fabicon “would love coding to be as ubiquitous in libraries as story time.” She works with an afterschool program to reach children at eight LAUSD elementary schools.

Girls feel comfortable coming to the library, said Brooke Sheets, a children’s librarian at the central branch. “More than half the kids in Hernandez’s class were girls, a ratio most computer science programs can only dream of,” writes Schaffert-Callaghan.

At the end of the lesson Hernandez showed her game to the group. “The kids watched as a small green turtle moved quickly across the screen, filling it with a rainbow of intricate pop-art patterns, earning a big round of applause.”

Within 10 years, all New York City schools will offer computer science, pledges Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Chicago plans to require a year of computer science for high school graduates by 2018, reports the New York Times. (Really! How many can add fractions?) “The San Francisco Board of Education voted in June to offer it from prekindergarten through high school, and to make it mandatory through eighth grade.”