Why has ed tech made so little difference?

Why has education technology made so little difference? asks Marc Tucker on his Ed Week blog.

He recalls three ’80s software programs that he’d thought would be transformative.

In one, players searched for dolphins while learning the basics of navigation and observing “weather, water temperature, currents and so on.” Students “were inevitably very excited, totally engaged.”

The second piece of software, created by Marge Cappo, was stunning.  She captured everyday phenomena like a child pedaling a bike down the road, and then, with the software, made it possible for the student to highlight the motions of the bicycle wheels in such a way that the abstract motion of the wheel as it moved traced classic curves on the screen that corresponded to the algebraic formulas that described these motions.  It enabled the student to actually ‘see’ the abstractions of mathematics and connect those abstractions to the formulas that described them.

Tucker thought it would revolutionize the teaching of geometry and algebra.

The third program simulated “the dynamics of the systems that function in every city — from the subway system to the bus system to the water distribution system to the sewer system and so on.”  Students could “change the variables and see what would happen.”

Image result for dolphins

What happened? Not much.

Dolphins, navigation and ocean currents aren’t in the curriculum, teachers told him. They’re not on the tests.

Beyond that, most primary and middle-school teachers “know very little about the curves described by a point on the bicycle wheel or the uses to which knowledge about such things can be put.,” writes Tucker. “How many elementary school teachers know anything about coastwise navigation or systems for distributing electricity or the crucial role that feedback plays in the control of such systems or the role that designed systems play in virtually every aspect of modern life?”

Instructional technology will not improve learning without large investments in teaching teachers “about the doors that the technology can open,” he writes.

Beyond schools: How will kids learn?

Technology is ramping up the possibilities for out-of-school learning, predicts Mike Petrilli.

Venture capital is flowing into “apps, games, and tutoring platforms that are ‘student-facing’ and being sold direct-to-consumer (or available for free),” he writes.

Khan Academy was drawing 6.5 million unique users per month in the U.S. in 2014, according to a study by SRI.

I’m particularly intrigued by its new partnership with the College Board, which allows students to use their PSAT or SAT results to find free, targeted help through Khan Academy. In the lead-up to the new SAT, administered for the first time in March, over one million students used Khan’s official SAT practice modules. And it wasn’t just affluent kids in hothouse high schools logging on; usage was even across all major demographic groups.

For young kids, PBS Kids provides video content, games, and interactive features, writes Petrilli.  His eight-year-old son “has learned much more science from Wild Kratts and the like than from the Montgomery County Public Schools.”

Other good sources are Brain Pop and Brain Pop Jr. and National Geographicboth for videos and for interactive activitiesTinybop has created several “strange and beautiful” apps that make learning fun for preschoolers.

Older kids can get a lot out of Ted Ed or the Art of Problem Solving or Duolingo (for learning languages); many younger kids enjoy the Age of Learning’s products. . . . We at Fordham have even tried our hand at compiling good streaming videos from across the interwebs. And of course, don’t forget about the learning potential of games like Minecraft.

Funders and reformers could offer their own content-rich curriculum with “videos, games, social interactivity, Petrilli writes. “Not surprisingly, that’s what the “teach coding” people are busy doing.”

I like Petrilli’s idea for “a website where an elementary or middle school student could enter his standardized test score, and maybe his GPA, and be informed by an algorithm what kind of a college he’d be on track to attend.” Students on the track to remedial community college courses could be pointed to learning resources to help them catch up.

PBS KIDS has announced its summer schedule with new episodes of Ready Jet Go!, Odd Squad and Nature Cat. Parents can find free games, activities,  educational apps and videos at pbsparents.org/summer.

A look back at the future of education

The History of the Future of Education - Medium - via ChalkbeatNY

Core quest

A screen shot of an Amplify game under development

“Really cool video games” may turn out to be a benefit of common standards, reports Benjamin Winterhalter in The Atlantic. By creating a national market, the Common Core has created a huge incentive for ed tech companies to develop learning games.

Amplify may be “the frontrunner in this Common Core-driven gold rush,” writes Winterhalter.

During a unit on Shakespeare, a student can watch a short video of actors performing the “out, out, damned spot” scene from Macbeth, which appears side-by-side with the passage’s text. Or the student can have the software quickly provide the definitions of unfamiliar words in reading assignments, which are added to a custom database of new vocabulary.

In a game called 12, “the universe is under attack by the largest known prime number, and the player, assuming the role of the number 12, must battle to save it.”

. . . the number 12 must combine itself with other numbers using “operation gates,” which look like sci-fi warp portals, representing +, –, ×, and ÷, and reach a desired result.

For instance, suppose the desired result is “54.” The player can track down a 4, go to a multiplication gate, become 48, and then track down a 6, go to an addition gate, and arrive at 54. This system can present puzzles as simple as order of operations and as complex as differential equations.

Lexica, a multiplayer literary game, lets players explore a “game world that looks and feels a lot like World of Warcraft.” They complete quests by talking to literary characters, such as Jane Austen’s Emma, and reading the classic books in the game’s library. “The game’s characters will talk to you about what you’re reading.”

Some games let kids be designers and coders, writes Emmanuel Felton on the Hechinger Report.

In Globaloria, students learn how to code Flash, said Shubha Tuljapurkar, director of Globaloria West.  “That’s an important skill. But that’s not necessarily something a kid wants to do, but they do want to create their very own monster.”

Zulama, which lets students design and built games, was developed by Nikki Navta, the mother of teenage boys obsessed with Minecraft and World of Warcraft. Students work collaboratively to master 3D modeling and mobile game design.

Teachers get tech, but not training


Even more than new technology, teachers want training in how to use tech tools, writes Liz Willen on the Hechinger Report.

Austin, TX. – With apps for everything from annotating poetry to understanding literature through hip hop, it might have seemed teachers in attendance at the sprawling South by Southwest.edu (SXSW) festival last week were hungry for new tools and technology.

After all, a dizzying menu of new classroom technology prevailed; there was even an interactive playground to try it all out.

The RobotsLab was on hand to demonstrate math and science concepts using what else? Robots.

New products like ClassroomIQ promised to give teachers their time back by helping them grade. From Berlin came a new way to learn languages called Unlock Your Brain.

But technology isn’t much use without training, teachers say. In a nationwide survey of more than 600 K-12 teachers, half said they didn’t get enough help in how to use technology in the classroom, reports digedu.

Some teachers feel left out of the debate on how to use technology to improve teaching and learning.

“Teachers show up at large, industry-driven conferences feeling more than a little like middle school students at their first dance. They want to be there so badly but they are completely confused as to how they fit in and what role they should adopt,’’ Shawn Rubin of EdSurge wrote in a column after last year’s festival.

Middle-school teacher Josh Work has 5 Tips to Help Teachers Who Struggle with Technology.

The pitfalls of personalization

Mass personalization is a big concept with a subtle sting. It involves gathering data on individuals and groups in order to tailor products and services to them. It surrounds them with stuff that supposedly reflects their likes and needs; it can be quite hard to get through this customized swarm.

For instance, Google Instant predicts your search strings as you type, stores your responses to its suggestions, and uses the data to improve its predictions. Facebook gathers information on what you and your friends “like” and then displays advertisements based on your “likes.” Amazon recommends books on the basis of your purchase patterns and the patterns of those who have purchased similar books. The general idea is to figure out what you’re likely to buy and then get you to buy it–that is, to make the probable actual.

In education, mass personalization is supposed to deliver individualized instruction for all. The hope is that all students will make progress if the instruction is matched to them. In its National Education Technology Plan, the U.S. Department of Education describes the ASSISTment system, used by more than 4,000 public schools in Worcester, Massachusetts. This system collects data on students’ performance and problem-solving behavior (such as their help-seeking patterns), and offers students personalized hints and tutoring.

Along similar lines, Wireless Generation sells software that, according to GothamSchools, allows teachers to record their observations of students with a mobile device. The software then sorts and analyzes the data. The New York City Department of Education plans to renew its contract with Wireless Generation; this will allow the company to sell its mobile devices and software to New York City schools.

Several existing Wireless Generation products may be involved. The mClass® assessment and analysis tools consist of mobile device and data-analyzing software. The mobile device gives the teacher a question to ask the student (in reading or mathematics). The device then records the student’s answer and enters it into a database. Having gathered data, the software generates reports and individualized learning plans. It makes suggestions for groupings of students, homework activities, and more.

There is something unsettling about this contract, beyond the possible conflict of interest (former NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein is now executive vice president at News Corporation, which purchased Wireless Generation shortly after he accepted the position). [Read more…]