Teachers want tech, but need training

“It seems a waste,” writes Hechinger’s Meghan Murphy. Despite “millions of educational apps, millions of lesson plans available online, millions of laptops in the hands of students,” few teachers “find ways to infuse technology into their lessons.”

Teachers say they need more and better training, she writes. In a 2015 survey, 90 percent of teachers said technology was important for classroom success; almost two-thirds wanted to integrate it into their lessons, but said they needed more training.

Paul Andersen, a Bozeman High School science teacher and Montana Teacher of the Year, showed other teachers how to create YouTube tutorials to "flip" the classroom.

Paul Andersen, a Bozeman High science teacher, showed how to create YouTube tutorials to “flip” the classroom.

A nonprofit and several teacher-founded companies are developing interactive training methods to help teachers use digital tools effectively.

Jessica Anderson has “blended” her ninth-grade earth science class in Deer Lodge, Montana. She’s is the state’s Teacher of the Year for 2016.

On a day in December, a girl worked on her laptop to illustrate the cycle of water through the atmosphere, while a boy used Google 3-D glasses to take “a virtual field trip, researching various ways that communities across the globe use minerals.” Each student was on a self-directed path, writes Murphy.

BetterLesson, founded by former teachers from Atlanta and Boston,  provides “master teachers” who help someone like Anderson “create a strategic plan for doing blended learning” and a way to measure effectiveness, writes Murphy. “The team then meets along the way for coaching, feedback and accountability.”

When Jessica Lura taught a lesson on mood in writing, she used a PBS Kids video as a hook for her eighth-graders at Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, California, writes Murphy.

By the end of the lesson, they’ll have written sentences in various moods, written and recorded a monologue, and made that monologue come to life with an animation app.

Lura’s teaching is captured in the “Lesson Flow in Action” video on Graphite, which is Common Sense Media’s portal for teacher resources. Common Sense featured Lura because she’s one of their certified educators who integrates technology comfortably into her classroom. Her lesson plans are hosted with about 2,200 other lessons on the site, which also has almost 12,000 app reviews accessible to its more than 310,000 teacher members.

Another sites, Teachers Pay Teachers, provides free and paid resources. Teachers have earned $175 million for their lessons.

Le robot educateur est arrivant

European scientists are developing language-teaching machines to help five-year-olds learn a second language, reports Jacek Krywko in The Atlantic.

L2TOR (“El Tutor”) robots will use “microphones to listen, cameras to watch, and artificial neural networks that will analyze all the information that’s collected.” The project is funded by the European Union.

Designers believe the machines will be able to pick up nonverbal cues to monitor students’ boredom, confusion, happiness and sadness.

“The problem with previous generations of teaching machines was their complete lack of social intelligence,” says Stefan Kopp, a German L2TOR researcher. “Our robots will notice tears, smiles, frowns, yawns … and dynamically adjust to how a child feels.”

Designers will observe kindergarten teachers “and then program our robots to act like them,” Kopp says.

It sounds crazy to me. But a robot teacher that looks like a poodle and speaks French — well, who knows?

“New” and techy isn’t necessarily better, advises Andy Smarick on Star Wars and Education Reform. “Like the Empire and manymanymany other reform movements, today’s education reform also seems to place an outsized faith in technology.”

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.”

Online, the info-rich get richer


Affluent teens are more likely to use the Internet to learn, gather information and network with people who can help them find jobs, while low-income teens use it for entertainment.

The Internet isn’t improving social mobility, writes Robert Putnam in his new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. Even low-income teens have smart phones, but easy access to information “has not leveled the playing field at all in terms of the difference between rich kids and poor kids,” he told MarketWatch.

“Compared to their poorer counterparts, young people from upper-class backgrounds (and their parents) are more likely to use the Internet for jobs, education, political and social engagement, health and newsgathering, and less for entertainment and recreation,” Putnam writes.

In other words, the information rich get richer.

Affluent teens also “spend much of their Internet time sending off Snapchats, playing games and watching YouTube videos,” writes Jeremy Olshan. “But since social networks online tend to reflect social networks in real life, the wealthier kids have more people to draw on digitally to help advance their education and careers.”

In fact, the social connections common to the wealthy may be even more important in an age where everyone can freely download all the world’s information, Putnam says. “Just because teens can get access to a technology that can connect them to anyone anywhere does not mean that they have equal access to knowledge and opportunity.”

He fears “the Internet seems more likely to widen the opportunity gap than to close it.”

It’s the people, not the technology


Kentaro Toyoma with school children in India.

Technology can’t provide a quick fix for social problems, Kentaro Toyoma tells MIT Technology Review.

When he worked for Microsoft in India, Toyoma tried to use technology to strengthen schools, teach farming techniques and improve health. Now a “recovering technoholic” and university professor, he’s the author of Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology.

One Laptop per Child, which which provided low-cost laptops to children in the Third World, had little effect, says Toyoma.

In randomized, controlled trials . . . schools with laptops did not see their children gain anything in terms of academic achievement, in terms of grades, in terms of test scores, in terms of attendance, or in terms of supposed engagement with the classroom.

Children are “overjoyed” when they get a new gadget, he says. But it’s “the same joy that you see when you peek over the shoulder of a kid who has a smartphone in their hands in the developed world, which is to say they’re overjoyed because they’re playing Angry Birds.”

I think it’s perfectly sensible for parents to want a certain amount of exposure to technology for their children, both as a form of explorative play and as a way to get them used to technology that they’ll undoubtedly encounter later in their life. I think the fundamental error people make is that, therefore, we should have the computer be the primary instrument of education for all children.

Providing content is easy, he says. What’s difficult is motivating children to learn. “Whether the technology helped or not was really up to people.”

Good students dominate ed debate


Most people debating how to improve education were good students, writes Andrew Rotherham in U.S. News. “The blind spots this creates are enormous.” They have trouble understanding what school is like for those who aren’t good at it.

Diane Ravitch, the school critic turned school defender, has a policy agenda for improving schools that boils down to making classrooms like the ones she liked most as a student. She’s hardly alone in idealizing a system that in practice worked only for a few. As one colleague remarked recently, “everybody likes the race they won.”

For successful students, education is a linear process, he writes. “But most Americans zig and zag.” For example, a majority of college students are part-timers, yet nearly everyone in the education debate attended full-time.

Most fundamentally, this mindset means almost everyone in education is focused on how to make an institution that is not enjoyable for many kids work marginally better. That’s basically what the top-performing public schools, be they charter or traditional schools, do now. . . .

(Among the abundant ironies is that reform critics deride today’s student testing policies as “one size fits all” while fighting against reforming a system that is itself one size fits all).

School is a bad fit for a lot of people, Rotherham concludes.

Homeschooling has freed some kids from traditional classrooms. What would help others? Technology? Career technical education?

Tech won’t close achievement gap

Technology won’t close the achievement gap, writes psychologist Susan Pinker in the New York Times. “Showering students, especially those from struggling families, with networked devices” could widen the class divide, she warns.  

In the early 2000s, nearly one million disadvantaged middle-school students were given networked computers. There was “a persistent decline in reading and math scores,” concluded a multi-year study by Duke economists. “What’s worse, the weaker students (boys, African-Americans) were more adversely affected than the rest,” writes Pinker. “When their computers arrived, their reading scores fell off a cliff.”

It’s likely many kids weren’t using the devices to do school work, she speculates. Most people prefer to play games and surf social media sites.

Babies born to low-income parents spend at least 40 percent of their waking hours in front of a screen — more than twice the time spent by middle-class babies. They also get far less cuddling and bantering over family meals than do more privileged children. The give-and-take of these interactions is what predicts robust vocabularies and school success. Apps and videos don’t.

One Laptop Per Child gives low-cost laptops to poor children so they can “go online and educate themselves — no school or teacher required,” writes Pinker. It hasn’t worked out that way. Children spent more time on games and chat rooms and less time on their homework than before, researchers reported.

In the classroom, “technology can work only when it is deployed as a tool by a terrific, highly trained teacher,” writes Pinker.

The Tech Timeout Academic Challenge asks students to shut down their digital devices for a few days and then discuss or write about their experiences.

Law tells parents to limit kids’ tech use

Taiwanese parents are required by law to limit their children’s use of technology to “reasonable” levels, reports Kabir Chibber on Quartz. What’s reasonable? The law doesn’t say. But it threatens to fine parents whose children become “physically or mentally” ill due to overuse of digital devices.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends a maximum of two hours a day of screen time for kids, found in a recent study that 8-year-olds in the U.S. spend an average of eight hours a day with some form of media—and many child-development psychologists urge more unstructured play time.

South Korea now regulates “online games and e-sports as if they were addictive substances,” writes Chibber.

Worried about addiction to online role-playing games, China limits online gamers to three hours of play at a time, reports BBC News. Games are set up to limit a game character’s ability if the player exceeds the three-hour limit.

Kids’ screen time keeps growing

Kids spend hours a day looking at screens, writes Alexandra Ossola in The Atlantic. Doctors fear screen junkies will suffer posture problems, carpal-tunnel pain, neck strain and eye problems, she writes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommends no more than two hours per day of screen time. In a new Australian study, published BMC Public Health, many students exceeded that.

 Close to half—46 percent—of all third-grade boys, on average, use screens for more than two hours per day, and that usage increases to 70 percent of boys on average by the time they reach ninth grade. Fewer third-grade girls—43 percent—use screens compared with their male counterparts, but that rate jumps to surpass boys’ average usage in ninth grade, to more than 90 percent of girls.

“Girls may have been doing more homework than the boys, and the boys may have been doing more sports [away from screens] or playing more video-games on hand-held devices,” says a pediatrician.

Some parents limit children’s screen time.