Category Archives: digital tools

Integrating Digital Learning

Today was Digital Learning Day.  And I’m all for focusing attention on digital learning to cast a spotlight and encourage more widespread participation.  But I’m also thinking about the ways digital learning doesn’t fit in a day.

A glance at my Twitter feed today showed students blogging, making movies, writing arguments, voicing opinions, speaking out against bullying, creating digital stories, exploring stop motion animation, using QR codes, tweeting 6 word literacy memoirs, having silent discussions on digital discussion boards…and lots of collaboration, experimentation, and students and teachers learning together.  I’m excited that so many of the examples of digital learning I saw were about students creating and producing rather than a passive use of the digital.

But I’m wishing for an “Integrating Digital Learning” day or week or month or year.  I feel like we need a push for districts and schools and educators to think carefully about the ways digital learning can and should be integrated into the overall school curriculum,  We could still have a “try something new” with Digital Learning Day to encourage experimentation and push educators and students to continue their learning about the possibilities of digital learning, but also focus attention on intentional integration of digital learning…which would also highlight the very real needs related to digital integration.

It’s hard to integrate digital learning when you don’t have access to digital devices, or when the internet is spotty…or sites you need access to are blocked.  When the digital devices can’t be depended on, it’s hard to make plans to seamlessly integrate their use into the day to day plans for learning.

As we talked about Digital Learning Day with our students this morning, they reminded us of ways we use digital tools that have become so commonplace that we take them for granted. They pointed out that we (their teachers) use our computers (and printer)  to print their math “sticker problems” and we depend on our Apple TV devices to allow us to share work wirelessly from our laptops…and our students to share their work from their iPads.  We use the document camera to display song lyrics and share poetry and computers for showing digital video clips.  My teaching partner and I also regularly use our phones to snap photos of students in action, documenting and highlighting student learning.

And then there are the iPads.  Many of our students gather in the classroom before school to work on programming with Hopscotch, continue a blog post, or practice math on a district-wide digital math program.  They love this informal “workshop” where they share discoveries and support each other in this unstructured learning environment.

We aim for our devices to become as invisible as pencils and paper.  Today we needed to count the money we had raised for our micro loan.  We suggested that students use the whiteboard function of Educreations to keep track of their calculations as they counted a portion of the cash.  They document their process…and we don’t need paper.  (Although we did have one group who found that they needed paper and pencil!)

photo-89

We also embarked on our digital story project…an opportunity for students to tell the story of our micro loan project.  Students examined an example of a digital story, noticed the parts, considered potential tools, and set to work. In teams they will develop a digital story, so today was all about the planning…figuring out what story they will need to tell in their finished product.  They are already talking about the iterations they will need to go through…and can’t wait to draw pictures to digitize!  This is not a one-day project.  We hope they will be done by the end of next week!

The biggest difference for us on this Digital Learning Day was that we highlighted, both in class and publicly, the ways digital learning takes place in our class.  Digital learning is becoming routine in our classroom, and we often don’t notice whether we are using digital tools or not.  Some of our most successful digital projects often include more traditional classroom tools like pencils, paper, paint, and books as part of the digital process.  And I think that is what we want with digital learning.  Digital is another option.  Sometimes it’s the best option, sometimes it’s not necessary…but it’s nice when we can choose to use what works best, not what is least expensive.

Although Digital Learning Day has come and gone, our students will continue their digital learning.  What will learning look like in your classroom tomorrow?  How do you integrate digital learning in your teaching and your students’ learning?

Digital Learning Day

Tomorrow is Digital Learning Day. It’s meant as a way to draw attention to the need for digital learning in our schools, to showcase the potential of digital learning, and as a way to highlight what is happening in places where digital learning is taking place.

But I like some of the other conversations that take place because of the emphasis on digital learning. In some places we are talking about issues of access and equity. And we must go beyond buying the device when we think about access and equity. What are students doing with their digital devices?  How is access to the digital transforming the learning process for students?  What  expectations come with the devices?  What are student s expected to do outside of school?  Even though many of these conversations take place on a small scale, they are important.  And we need to have more of these conversations and keep equity (not just hardware) at the forefront of our thinking.

There are still many places where students don’t have regular access to digital tools.  Or they are doing things on digital devices that simply replace what they were already doing without those tools, without changing the task in any significant way. Or teachers have a single computer or other device for use with a class full of students.  Or teachers have a class full of devices without the background and professional learning to help them put them to effective use.  Or they have devices and a lack of infrastructure…no way to work out the technical issues that inevitably plague working with the digital.

I’m lucky at my school. We are in our second year of 1:1 digital devices in my classroom and we have technical support available. I’ve been fortunate to work with many inspired and forward-thinking educators, especially my colleagues from Writing Project sites all over the country and throughout the state, who have modeled the potential of digital learning.  My teaching partner is a willing risk-taker who will learn as she goes…and we support each other moving forward into the digital world that isn’t yet mapped out in the educational landscape.

That doesn’t mean that things are flawless in their operation or that moving toward digital doesn’t increase demands on my time as a teacher.  It doesn’t make planning easy or learning effortless…my teaching partner and I spend precious time learning and relearning and helping our students navigate the inevitable technical difficulties that go with this digital territory.

And even though tomorrow is Digital Learning Day my students are doing digital learning every day.  Our forty-plus six, seven, eight, and nine year olds have been working at getting their blogs designed and posts ready over the last few weeks.  We discovered some new wrinkles in the way the Edublogs app works on our iPads this year…different than last year.  You have the love the third grader who discovered the “back door” fix to uploading media to posts when the app says it won’t do it!

I’m more convinced than ever that “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” are simply the wrong terms to describe my students and their teachers (my teaching partner and me).  But we are digital learners…together.  And our students need and appreciate the guidance they get from us just as we appreciate their enthusiasm, effort, and ingenuity.  As soon as I can get back to our class blog (maybe first thing in the morning), students’ first posts for this year will go public…I hope I can get to them all for Digital Learning Day.

And, we will launch into some digital stories tomorrow…in honor of the spirit of trying something new on Digital Learning Day.

What will you and your students be doing on Digital Learning Day?  And how is it different from all the other days in your classroom?

Connected and Digital: A Reflection

Today I had the opportunity to be a panelist on a webinar entitled, “Connected and Digital: Improving Learning for All Students,” put on by the Alliance for Excellent Education in conjunction with Digital Learning Day and their Digital Learning Transition MOOC.

I’ve been exploring connected learning for a while now, and love the way the learning principles:

  • interest driven
  • peer supported
  • academically oriented

and design principles:

  • production-centered
  • openly networked
  • shared purpose

work together to create a powerful dynamic for learning.  In my view, connected learning is the embodiment of what it means to be a lifelong learner, learning because you want to, because you are interested, because you find it compelling and enjoyable.  And that is what I want for myself and for my students.  And just like my students, sometimes my interest in a topic or activity is piqued because someone drew my attention to something I didn’t even know that I wanted to learn about.

When I was invited to talk about connected learning and digital learning and the relationship between the two I had a little laugh at myself.  A couple of years ago I remember asking over and over again, as part of a group exploring connected learning, if connected learning meant digital learning.  And while I was given answers, it was this summer when I participated in the Connected Learning MOOC (clmooc) that I came to a firm understanding that all connected learning doesn’t have to be digital, but that digital tools allow for an amplification of learning that is often not possible without it.  I know it has had a profound impact on my photography as I share my efforts and connect with others across the nation and all over the world who have similar interests.

What I loved most about my experience on the panel today was the opportunity to think deeply and carefully about why I believe connected and digital learning are important in schools and their relationship to issues of equity and access.  Mary Ann Wolf, who moderated the webinar, took the time before the actual webinar to talk with each of the panelists separately about our experiences and views and then constructed a series of questions for us to think about a few days prior to today’s event.  I like the question/answer format, that while structured, still allows for a flow of ideas and responses to one another’s ideas.

I also like that although I was one of the panelists and had already done a lot of thinking about this topic, I found the conversation interesting, illuminating, and stimulating.  Comments made and information shared by Bud Hunt and Sara Hall have me thinking about aspects of connected and digital learning that I haven’t given my full attention just yet.  I left the hour-long conversation with a full brain and many more ideas to think about, as well as resources to explore and new contacts to reach out to in this journey.

If you are interested, here is the archived version of the webinar:

What do you think about connected learning and digital learning?  How are they enacted in your classroom?  In your life?

Poverty and Programming…and Questions

My internet crashed last night.  The TV wasn’t working, my computer wouldn’t pick up the wireless, and the micro-cell that boosts the cellular phone signal was down too.  I had digital devices…but no connection at all.

I had big plans…to watch some Sunday night football, to do some online holiday shopping, to put together a blog post, and to catch up on some reading of posts made by others.  Instead, I finished my book, put some laundry away, and went to bed a bit earlier than I might have otherwise.

My internet is back up and working today…but my experience last night turned my thoughts to issues of equity and access for students.

It seems that when people think about access to technology, devices are at the front of their thinking.  If only we could put a device in the student’s hand, issues of access are solved.

But there is just so much more to access.  Last night I had access to devices…but none of them would connect me to the internet or allow me to connect in any other way (text, phone, social media, even TV).  I thought about getting in my car and heading down to the local Starbucks to have a cup of coffee and accomplish some of what I planned to do at home.  I didn’t have any hard deadlines…and I knew that I would have internet access when I got to work this morning, so I decided to stay home and do without the connection.

But what if I were a high school student with a Monday morning deadline?  What if I didn’t have reliable internet access in my home…and what if I didn’t have transportation as an option to get me to the Starbucks, the library, or even a friend’s house with internet access? Even if the school provided me with a device, there are so many things I couldn’t do without internet access.

I know there are programs to provide internet service to families with limited means, but I also know that they require paperwork be filled out…and may even require some kind of bank account or credit card to pay the nominal monthly fee.

So why am I writing about this?  I’m thinking about the amount of school work that is assigned as homework. to be completed outside of school and the role that digital tools increasing play in our lives and I’m wondering about how access impacts our students.  Can they create digital portfolios to showcase their learning?  Can they access the information they need to locate resources for research, find scholarship and grant opportunities, secure internships or apply for employment?

How does access change when connectivity is only available outside of your home?  In public spaces?  Places with limited hours of operation?

And what do we take for granted?  We ask students to blog, to research, to reply to discussion boards, to collaborate with Google docs…often outside of the school day.  Which of our students have access…and what happens to those who don’t?  Do our students who come from the poorest families see themselves as producers of technology?  Who is learning to code?  Who is primarily consuming in our digital world and who is producing?  How often do we ask those questions…and how do the answers change the way we think about access and equity?

Last week on Teachers Teaching Teachers, we were on a Google Hangout talking about the Hour of Code and about Dasani.  Two disparate topics…or are they?  Poverty and programming…and questions of equity, voice, agency… What roles do schools play?  What roles should they play? What does it mean to be a learner in the 21st century?  How does “producing” change the learner…the learning?  I have many more questions than answers…and I would love to continue the conversation.  What do you think?

Hour of Code

Coding, programming…words that are used to describe the process of “speaking” a machine language.  This week classrooms and schools all over are participating in the Hour of Code, an attempt to get 10 million students to try computer science for an hour during Computer Science Education Week.

If you read this blog you already know that we have been working on computer programming using the Hopscotch app for a while now.  (See here, here, and here)  So in honor of the Hour of Code, we decided to pose a Winter Scene Design Challenge for our students.

Today was the day.  Students were asked to create a scene using Hopscotch that depicts some aspect of winter.  As you might expect, students thought snow, snowmen, Christmas trees, and more.  They were super excited…with my speech students arranging to get out of speech (something they love!) so they could be part of the challenge.

And there were many highlights today–lots of successes, lots of students genuinely collaborating with one another and supporting each other without teacher direction.  But my favorite moment was Esther.  Esther is an 84 year old grandmother who lives in Australia and visits her daughter in our town each year in the winter.  I taught her grandson and granddaughter many years ago (they are both college students now) and Esther has continued to come to our classroom several days a week when she is in town to help out and hang out.

As Esther began to watch the students at work on their winter scenes, I asked her if she would like to try it too.  I handed her my iPad and asked Sophie if she would show Ms. Esther how Hopscotch (and the iPad) worked.

photo

Esther was delighted!  And so was Sophie.  It is wonderful for my students to see the embodiment of lifelong learning…and Esther is just that!

An article I read recently points out the advantages of learning to code:  problem solving, (digital) confidence, and understanding the world.  And I see those advantages when my students work to program.  They also learn about systems…and working through the many variables to figure out why their plan isn’t working as they imagined.  They become persistent and learn the value of iteration.  Each mistake becomes another opportunity for learning rather than a sign of failure.

Here are a few examples of students’ winter scenes:

photo

A first grader who figured out how to use o’s as text features for eyes and nose on his snowman.

photo-2

A second grader’s winter tree.

photo-3

A third grader’s winter scene.

photo-4

A peppermint candy created by a third grader.

photo-5

And a holiday greeting card, Hopscotch style!

You can see that students are gaining confidence and expertise with this programming tool. Most of these projects were completed in less than 30 minutes and they represent only a fraction of the programming that was happening in the classroom today.  Some of our students are still struggling while others can’t wait to go home and try some more programming on their own time.

Next week we plan to have student-led tutorials where students will teach and learn from each other in small groups.

How was your Hour of Code?  What did students learn and create?

Picture Perfect

Today was one of those picture perfect November days…if you like sunshine and mild temperatures.  And it was a perfect day to play around with taking pictures.

You’ve probably noticed that I love the beach…and so when my son and daughter-in-law wanted to take their dog–a chihuahua named Elli–to the beach, I was eager to go with them.

After a bit of research to find which nearby beaches allow dogs…on leashes…we headed off with Elli and her leash.  This was Elli’s first beach outing, and she loved it!

photo

And I was also on the lookout for other interesting photo opportunities as we walked and Elli explored.  I love this scatter of shoes on the shore while the family dipped their toes in the (cold) ocean.

photo_1

I wonder where the paragliders (the ones with motors) take off from.  This guy was cruising the beach from high overhead…but I doubt that he came from the glider port in La Jolla.  It seems more likely that he took off from the beach.

photo-2

And I decided to play around with some apps too.  I just got a new app that lets you adjust the depth of field.  That seems to mean that you can focus on a particular place/item and the other areas get blurry.  It also has some filters that create interesting effects.  Here is little girl who was working at balancing on this surfboard in the shallows.

photo_2

Sketch also creates some interesting effects…and works better on some pictures than others.  I like how crisp and visible the signs on the lifeguard tower are when it become a sketch.

photo-3

For this piece of kelp I played around with the HDR effect in PicsArt.  It seems to make the image crisp and brings out the graininess of the sand.

photo-4

Even spending the majority of my life in this city, I am continually awed by its beauty.  I’ve been hearing the news stories about the storms and snow and ice in the midwest and the east and feeling a bit guilty about our beautiful, warm and sunny days this week.  It’s supposed to be cooler tomorrow for Thanksgiving, but who can really complain about low to mid 60’s on Thanksgiving?

Wherever you are, I hope you have the opportunity to enjoy your place for its own beauty…and if you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you are surrounded by those you love as you appreciate all that the day brings.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Planning for Coding

You might remember that I’ve been exploring computer programming (or coding) with my young students.  You can go back here and here to see our early attempts.  The basic idea is clear…you write code to make your electronic device do something.  At first, ANY something was fun.  And then we all learned to make a specific something (square and triangle).

Today we asked students to make a plan for their code and then carry it out.  They drew a quick sketch (we reminded them to keep it simple and to use what they already knew about squares and triangles to get started) in their notebook and then move to Hopscotch on the iPad to carry it out.

I showed them how I had gone home and figured out how to write my very simple name with straight lines and angles similar to those we had used to make our squares and triangles.

20131112-201406.jpg

What I’ve learned is that not all students take to coding equally…and that doesn’t surprise me.  Some students find it hard…and they are at a loss of how to proceed.  I encourage them to study what they have done before, but they need more of the one to one support of having someone sit and talk them through their choices.  Others are quite persistent.  This first grade boy worked and worked to draw this house.  He struggled with the final side, and while it’s not quite straight…he was proud of his accomplishment!

photo_3

Lots of girls liked my idea of drawing letters or writing their own name.  This second grade girl figured out how to make several characters come together to make an “E” to represent her name.

photo_2

And others risked creating something more complex.  This third grader managed to create a picture along with some words of a story.  I got him to take this screen shot for me, but after that he was still adjusting his code and working to make it look just the way he wanted.

photo_1

I love the way that programming allows students to work at their own edge…and teach each other as they figure out something new.  We ran short of time today, but I know that I want to give students time to share how they made their designs with each other (and me).

Using Hopscotch makes me realize just how much more I need to know about angles and rotation in order to get past the basics of squares and triangles!  I just figured out how to make a circle as I was waiting for a dinner meeting tonight!

Have you tried Hopscotch or another basic programming tool?  What do you suggest as next steps for my students?