Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Research around using and selecting apps for literacy learning

Over the past couple of years there has been important reports and research published concerning apps and websites for literacy learning.  Many of the findings focus on the need for co-use and co-engagement through the devices, mindfully selecting apps and software that help focus on content learning and needs of individual child.  Much of this research is the basis for the engagement strand of the Triple E Framework that our preservice teachers use at the University of Michigan to design lesson plans with apps and websites.

A few reports that I think are incredibly useful to better understand what to look for in apps for early literacy learning include:

Where to search for apps and websites?

The majority of apps labeled for "education" have no research, literacy experts or co-use strategies to inform the development of the tool.  Thus, it is risky to assume something is educational just by the arbitrary label in app stores.  Rather than going to the Google Play or iTunes store where it is labeled "education", there are better places to search for high quality apps and websites.  The two places to I commonly go to search for websites and apps for learning are Graphite (Common Sense Media) and The Children's Tech Review.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

BYOD Personalizing Assessment with Formative

There are a few different non-SMS tools that allow teachers to assess students' understanding or prior-knowledge.  One that I came across recently has an added feature of being able to assess and discourse in real time, rather than after students' finish their work.  Formative is similar to other tools in that a teacher can set up an account and post an assessment for students to take on their mobile devices (must have Internet access).  However, Formative goes one step beyond just watching live (via a teacher's computer) as students work on their assessment, the teacher can actually give real time feedback as they watch a student work.  For example, a student may be writing a response and the teacher can comment (just to that individual student) in the middle of the response to remember to include their punctuation marks.  Or a student could be drawing a picture and if it is a student that struggles with their fine motor skills, the teacher could send them a note of encouragement as they work.  In addition, the teacher can give grades (rubric scale points such as 0-10) to the student as they are working.

So what?
I use the Triple E Framework to measure technology in lesson planning, which focuses on ways to help students engage, enhance and extend learning goals.  What I like about Formative (besides the fact that it is free!) is that the focus is not on the final product or grade, rather it is on the process of learning (and the learning goals!).  It allows teachers to personalize (and perhaps differentiate) learning based on students needs in the moment.  They are able to co-use the software in a mindful way.  Research tells us that it is very important for children to be able to talk about what they are doing in software and how it connects to the learning goals with others (more learning gains this way).  The teacher can make sure the students are staying focused on the learning goals through the messaging system back and forth.  In addition, the grading system allows for learning from failure and mistakes, and allows opportunity for students to correct their mistakes without fear or penalty.

Note to Formative:  I would also like to see this extended to parents, so they too can see their children's work in real time and comment.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Mobile Scavenger Hunt with Goose Chase!

I recently came across a new app called Goose Chase that allows teachers to set up a mobile scavenger hunt!  There is a wonderful no-cost plan that teachers can take full advantage of.  They can create scavenger hunts around the school, even in class during class (eg...hunting the Internet and submitting answers), or outside of school!  What an engaging snow day activity or winter break learning connection.

Access and Equity
Goose Chase works on just about any mobile device (Andriod, iPad, iPhone, even an iPod Touch).  However you do need to have Internet access because the missions can have a GPS component to them.  There is no cost for students or teachers, but you do need to download the free app to participate.  Students must have an email address to register and participate.  This could be a school gmail address (if a GAFE school) or for younger children, parents could participate with their children.

Missions!  How it Works
Teachers create an account online in Goose Chase.  Then they can start to set up their "games" (which are the scavenger hunts).  The games consist of many missions can include GPS location (go to the local bank!), a picture (find what is in this picture or analyze this image!), a video (the teacher could explain something or have a local historian explain something to look for), and a text description.  Teachers can set up as many missions in a game as they like!  Teachers can also control when the missions start and stop, as well as assigning points to each mission (an easier mission can be worth less points---students can then decide which missions they want to attempt based on points and descriptions).

When the game is ready, students can download the free app from the Andriod or iTunes store, set up an account (they do need to register with an email address).  They then type in the name of the game, it's password, click on it and begin!  The students will see all their missions and can choose which missions to try.  They will be able to submit their findings by photo, video, GPS map location and/or text!  All submissions are stored in the game, so the teacher can later use this data for in-class learning.  For example, asking students over their Spring Break to do some missions on local history, text in pictures and videos of their findings, then the teacher can use the media to talk about local history back in the classroom after break!  A wonderful way to extend the classroom learning and use authentic data!

Teachers can set up the games so that they are password protected (only your students can participate) and so that the data is not shared beyond your password.  This helps to keep it all CIPA compliant.  In addition, students can create gamer handles so that they are not using their real names. Teachers can choose if they want this set up for individuals or teams (and can even have team captains).  Teachers can also block postings that might be inappropriate and change the amount of points award to teams if needed.  You can also see individual results of each student, their submissions and even easily download all of their media submissions with one easy button!

Extending Learning
Scavenger Hunts are an engaging way to extend and enhance classroom learning.  While there are many different ways that Goose Chase can be used, I wanted to share a few ideas:

Connect Learning Over School Breaks
I've already mentioned this a little, but I wanted to emphasize that this is a wonderful way to keep students focused on learning goals over the many school breaks.  In addition, it would be a great summer stretch activity for students who are moving into a new grade, they could collect authentic data that they will be using in the Fall with their new teacher(s).  For example, students going into 6th grade may collect lots of different images of local bugs, and document where they were found.  Then when they do their 6th grade science unit on bugs in the Spring, they can pull up the authentic images of the bugs found from the previous summer to compare what they found.

Social Studies
There are so many applications to social studies learning, in particular gathering data on local history, and local geography.  They can use the video submission to interview museum docents and curators, as well as collect historical interviews from citizens who participated in prominent historical events.  Finally, because the teachers can send videos with the missions, they can also help to guide and scaffold students learning by giving them hints and tips on how to interview or do historical inquiry at the museum.

There is so much science in the local community, this is a wonderful way to collect images data and video data to use in the science classroom.  Such as students going to a local bog/lake and taking videos of the species, flora and fauna that they find.  Doing environmental experiments on water PH levels right at the local source (video submission) or interviewing local scientists and possibly even observing their work (again a great video submission).

English Language Arts
Scavenger hunts and journalism can work nicely together.  Being able to go on an i-search to learn about local events, history, personal stories...etc.  Collect evidence for the story in forms of media and text, and then writing or blogging about the story.

What better way to do math than to be in the authentic world!  Measuring local structures by calculating area, perimeter, circumference...etc.  Doing engineering and figuring out the best location for a stop light and why.  Documenting the different times you are using math in your everyday lives and submitting it!

What are some other ways that you might use scavenger hunts in your discipline?  Please share in the comments.

Monday, April 27, 2015

New Research on Teens and Cell Phones and What it Means for BYOD Schools

PEW has just released a new study about teenagers (13-17 year olds) and their cell phone use and ownership.  It's very important for educators to know the statistics around digital divide so they can make more informed decisions around lesson planning.  For example if you teach in a predominately Hispanic school, it is a better decision to use mobile messaging apps over traditional Internet email (because Hispanic students are more likely to have access to Smartphones where they primarily use apps than desktop computers at home).  A few highlights from the study

Getting Online

  • 88% of teenagers own a smartphone (with Internet) or basic cell phone (without Internet)
  • Most teenagers send about 30 text (SMS) messages per day
  • Most popular apps are KIK and WhatsApp
  • 91% of teenagers primarily use a mobile device to go online
  • If teenagers own a mobile device with Internet access, 94% go online daily, while only 68% of teenagers who own a mobile device without Internet access go online each day (through a stand alone computer or other type of device)
This is important for BYOD schools---keep in mind that students without mobile access to the Internet are less likely and/or able to get online daily for homework or class assignments.  

Digital Divide:  Access/Wealth
  • 73% of teenagers (with phone) own or have access to a smartphone
  • 27% of teenagers (with phone) own a featured phone (no Internet)
  • Wealthier teenagers more likely to use SnapChat or WhatsApp over Facebook to socialize, while less wealthy more likely to use Facebook.
This is important for BYOD schools---keep in mind that about 30% cannot access the Internet through their phone, so plan lessons accordingly!

Digital Divide:  Racial/Ethnic
  • 85% of African American teenagers own or have access to smartphone
  • 71% of White or Hispanic teenagers own or have access to smartphone
  • African-American and Hispanic youth report more frequent internet use than white teens, going online 
  • African Americans and Hispanic teenagers more likely to use messaging Apps on Smartphones (46%) compared to While teenagers (24%).
Digital Divide:  Gender
  • Girls are much more likely to participate in social media and apps around socialization
  • Boys are much more likely to play games on their mobile devices

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Parent’s Guide to BYOD: 10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask Their BYOD School

Schools that implement a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) approach to technology have taken great care to develop strong policies and guidelines for students using their own devices.  Most schools inform the parents, asking them to sign permission forms and BYOD policy guidelines, and spend much time justifying “why” they have a BYOD policy.  Yet, schools tend to leave out an important piece:  how parents can best support the schools BYOD learning to policies at home.  Many parents are often a bit confused as to what their role is in a BYOD school.  

10 questions parents should be asking the school district
  1. What are the optimal devices that work best for my child to fully participate in the BYOD activities at school?
  2. What type of mobile plan do your recommend that I/we purchase for my child’s device?
  3. Do you recommend that my child pay for their own device or is it better that I pay for all or part of it?
  4. Does our family need to have Wifi or Broadband Internet?  If we don’t have Broadband Internet, is there another way we can participate?
  5. Are there any software or hardware companies where the school has a “discount” for families?
  6. What if we cannot afford a device for our child?   Does the school provide devices to loan to families?  Does the school have a scholarship account for children in need? 
  7. What are the rules and structures around device use at school?   Should I be implementing these same rules at home? 
  8. Do you have any resources that could help support digital citizenship at home?
  9. Are there classroom or school activities that I can also participate in through my mobile device?
  10. Do you have any suggestions how I can better communicate with my child through our mobile devices? 
What other questions should parents be asking schools with a BYOD policy?  Please share in the comments below

Monday, March 2, 2015

5 Common Mistakes Schools and Teachers Make When Implementing BYOD

Anyone who has read this blog over the past decade is aware that I have always been an advocate for "bring your own device"---in particular student cell phones.  However, as more schools have been changing their policies to be inclusive of a BYOD policy, there have been some mistakes made along the way.  I want to share these common errors in hopes that other teachers and schools can learn from the trailblazers.

Not creating a policy first
In the early days of BYOD, many teachers would get excited by the idea and immediately ask their students to take out their cell phones in class for an activity.  While there was initial excitement, this also led to some students abusing the tool and using it in non-educative ways.  It is important that teachers work with their students to develop rules and structures BEFORE asking them to take out their devices to use in the classroom.  Once rules are in place, then the students know the expectations and consequences for misuse, and distractions are less likely to happen.

Requiring that all teachers use the devices
Over the past five years, school districts have written district-wide policies about how BYOD can be used in the classroom.  Some of those schools have chosen to require that teachers use student's devices, despite teachers not being comfortable or not seeing a strong educative purpose.  Teachers should be given a choice, just as they have other choices in other tools used in their lesson planning.  Forcing teachers to do something they are not comfortable with or that they do not think is in the best interest of the children, will not yield positive results.  Teachers may even resent the new policy in the end.

Starting BIG
Of course teachers are innovative and creative, thus when they hear about a new way to use cell phones in learning, they tend to think really big and come up with complicated ideas for how to integrate them.   Yet, as with most technologies, a small pilot is a more manageable way to begin.  Teachers can do small optional projects for homework and then simple activities in the classroom.  Districts can ask a group of teachers to pilot the BYOD policy, rather than all the teachers in the district.

Assuming ALL kids and parents have cell phones
While cell phones are becoming more ubiquitous amongst children and adults, there are still plenty (mostly lower SES) that do not have access or do not have access to higher-end devices such as Smartphones.  Teachers need to be careful about relying too much on just using apps and websites with BYOD.  Inevitably some of their students will only have a feature phone that can text and make a phone call but no Internet.  Teachers need to make sure they have surveyed their students so they know the types of phones, plans and access that their students actually have.  Then design BYOD lessons for ALL students.

Doing something because it is "shiny"
BYOD is very sexy.  When you see a picture of students using their own devices in classrooms, the thought is that they are innovative 21st century learners.  However, just because students are using their devices does not mean that the learning goals are being met in a way that is enhanced.  It may actually be the opposite, students may be distracted by the app they are using on their phones, and not focusing on the content learning.  Teachers need to make sure they are designing BYOD with the end goals in mind, and not designing based on a new fun app or mobile resource they just learned about.

What are some other pitfalls that schools or teachers fall into when implementing BYOD?  I would love to hear from you?

Monday, February 2, 2015

8 Reasons to Choose BYOD over 1:1

Over the past five years we have seen a growth in the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement in schools (and business!) with over 71% of school districts allowing students to bring their own devices for learning.    At the same time I am hearing about schools moving away from 1:1 programs, in particular 1:1 iPad programs.  For the purpose of this blog post, I will define 1:1 as schools that purchase the same technology devices for all their students, and allow them to borrow them in some form for the entire school year (eventually handing them back to the school).

I have given this topic much thought and research.  After which I have found that there are some important reasons why schools should consider a BYOD program over a 1:1 where the school purchases the technology for the students.

  • 1:1 programs are difficult to sustain because you must purchase or lease new technology every 3 to 4 years.
  • BYOD allows families to purchase what they can afford and what works for their families rather than being told by a school what to purchase, even if it does not work for their families.  Yet, while the school must have the infrastructure in place (access to strong Wifi..etc), they do not need to replenish new devices every couple of years.  
  • 1:1 programs do not always allow students to bring home their technology tools, thus not having 24/7 access to their learning tool.  This also limits what teachers can assign for homework or extended class assignments.
  • BYOD guarantees that students will have 24/7 access to their learning tools.
  • 1:1 programs only focus on how to use one particular technology, thus students are exposed to less technology platforms (and often apps/resources).
  • In BYOD students in the schools are exposed to a variety of devices and platforms.  For example students can watch teachers model how to do the same activity on an iPad, a Chromebook and an Andriod phone.
Student Responsibility 
  • While 1:1 programs may be a bit easier for the technology coordinator (if schools are lucky enough to have one!) to troubleshoot problems, they also are dependent on the technology department or coordinators to do all the troubleshooting.
  • BYOD programs are more dependent on families and students doing their own troubleshooting, thus allowing them to take ownership and responsibility over their learning devices.
Long Term Access
  • 1:1 programs often take back the technology lent to students after a certain grade or graduation from a level of schooling.  And there is no guarantee they will have a digital tool from the school at their next level.
  • In a BYOD program, once students leave their elementary or middle school, they will continue to have access to their learning tool.
Natural Curiosity
  • In 1:1 programs the technology is selected by the schools, thus the students do not always feel as connected and interested in the selected too (some do, some would have preferred a different tool).
  • In BYOD programs students are inherently engaged and curious with their own devices.  They often had a say in what they wanted to purchase, and use it everyday for entertainment, thus they 
The Research
  • The best research says that the more access to the tool, the better.  BYOD guarantees 24/7 access while 1:1 programs cannot always guarantee this.
The Real World
  • More and more businesses are adopting the BYOD model and moving away from the 1:1 model in their companies.  Thus, as schools often want to connect to the authentic world, what could be more real than exposing students to the same technology structure they will experience in the work force?

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