Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Holidays

These are a few of my favorite things.
Google extensions- oh so many of them. I've written more than a few blog posts about some of my favorites.
Google Keep- my new notes tool
Acer Chromebooks
20% Time
AJ Juliani's Mars Project
Flipboard app as curation tool
Google Cultural Institute- here's a link to its umbrella site.

On a more serious note, I'm more grateful than ever for a job that has meaning and purpose. I'm hopeful that we'll be in a better place 10 years from now because of our young people. I'm excited by the possibilities that tech affords us to make the world a better place.

I have my worries about the future, too. I'm not a Pollyanna. But today, especially on this holy day for me, I choose to live in faith and not in fear. May your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and New Years be blessed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Fake News

A quick Google search about a recent Stanford study gives you the following:

Can You Tell Fake News From Real? Study Finds Students Have 23, 2016 - Students Have 'Dismaying' Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds. Facebook ... If the children are the future, the future might be very ill-informed. ... Most middle school students can't tell native ads from articles.
Column: Most teens can't tell fake from real news | PBS mins ago - The pizzeria vowed on Monday to stay open despite a shooting incident sparked by a fake news report that it was fronting a child sex ring run ...Why We Shouldn't Be Surprised Kids Can't Tell Fake News From Real ... 30, 2016 - “It's a question of how do you decide what's good enough evidence to support a conclusion,” says Abraham P. Schwab, associate professor of ...Most Students Don't Know When News Is Fake, Stanford Study Finds 21, 2016 - Does children's digital fluency allow them to distinguish between fake news and real news online? WSJ's Sue Shellenbarger has the surprising ...
Thanks Google...

The study tells us that, “when it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels,” today’s “digital natives,” despite being immersed in these environments, “are easily duped” . In fairness to the digital natives, digital immigrants are equally fooled. 

Donald Trump's recent election reminds us that many older Americans were convinced Obama wanted to take away their guns, that he wanted to impose "death panels" to kill grandma, and that he wasn't born in the USA. In my personal opinion, sites like Facebook skirted their responsibility ny not removing fake news from their news feeds. There a plenty of people who really believed this nonsense.

This article shows us that in the final  months of the  campaign fake news sites received more hits than the top stories from traditional sources like the New York Times and the Washington Post!

(an aside, I've long been a proponent of "net neutrality". I wonder if I've been wrong.) 

All of this screams for the teaching of digital literacy! Look right now, it is easy to blame the right with its Fox News, etc.. But there could come a day when the left could indeed do the same thing. I don't know the ins and outs of Venezuela, but I know that Hugo Chavez manipulated the media (he was a radio host) to seize power and fundamentally ruin his country. 

The days of Walter Cronkite (who?) telling us what is news, what is real, and what should worry us are so long ago in the past. But our democracy and all democracies require an informed public. We can and should disagree about what to do about problems. However, we shouldn't be entitled to our own facts. 

So, do we teach kids how to think critically about their media consumption? How should people know what is legitimate news and websites? We need to foster meta-cognitive skills and thinking. We need to create aware and awake people who don't let themselves get duped. We can't just keep doing what we're doing. Our democracy and way of life depends on it. 

This recent article says it better than I can.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Citations on iPad using Chrome Explore feature.

I'm rather novice at Explain Everything, the tool I used to make this. But I'm excited to share this great new feature on the Chrome browser and I'm thrilled that it works on the iPad!

This is one of those times where tech just makes everything easier and better. (Unless you think it is important that kids memorize citation formats- which I don't. )

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Kids are Distracted !

A common complaint we hear from teachers in schools where kids have computers and iPads is that the students are distracted and that they can't attend to their lessons. I see this myself as today in my student centered classroom I had to redirect a student from his fantasy football website and later from a political blog. However, remember that kids have long been distracted in class. More importantly, we have to ask, "How are we using the technology?"

Last year, my boss asked me to generate questions for an upcoming discussion at faculty in-service regarding distraction in students. Below is her question and my response. (I came across this today as I was cleaning out my inbox.)

AlexAs  a teacher that uses the iPads in your classroom quite a bit, can you offer a guiding question or two for small group discussions during our PD Day Friday on distraction in the classroom? Thank you! -K
Your request is hard to distill into a question. But I'll try after a bit of explanation. With the tools in kids' hands, we can't expect them to attend the same way. Ever try not watching TV when it is on in a restaurant? I can't help but watch, even when I don't want to. My point is that we can't teach the same way as we used to. The beauty of the iPad though, is it can let us be more kid-centered in our teaching.... Since I still have to pose a question... it is this:
What do we want kids to know and be able to do?
Is she paying attention?

Follow up question:  Are we changing our expectations and goals in light of the fact that we have these powerful tools?  -Alex
Distraction is real. So is the potential for teaching differently.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Getting the Kids out of the Pool/ Blindspots

What are your unquestioned practices? What are the things so ingrained (rightly or wrongly) that you can't even see them?

I'll share an example. For many years, I have directed a robust summer camp program. More than a decade ago, our outdoor pool was replaced by an indoor one. Over the years as new cohorts of campers moved through the camp, fewer and fewer campers swam during the afternoon free swim period. Yet we still sent them to the pool. We created extra duties for counselors to watch the kids who weren't swimming. We started ad hoc football and kickball games in the field adjacent to the pool for the kids were weren't swimming. We never questioned our basic practice that from 1-2:30 was swimming time. Finally, last summer, I proposed changing our schedule and this change was perceived as a big deal, I mean we were really proud of ourselves. For decades, afternoons meant swimming.

Now, no longer do campers have to go down to the pool area at this time. Why didn't I think of this half a decade sooner? Inertia is partly it. But more basic was that I had a blind spot towards this unquestioned practice that was no longer working; the most obvious solution never crossed my mind. Instead of changing the fundamental problem, I tinkered around its edges looking for solutions.

It is hard to see one's own blind spots. But it is not impossible. I take a personal inventory (almost) every day. I adopted this practice nearly 5 years ago. Because of this, it is harder for me to fool myself. In my professional life, I have a big and likely inflated ego about my teaching which lets me fool myself. I'm working hard to promptly admit when I am wrong. I think I am getting better at looking at myself honestly and critically. This at least lets me see opportunities for change when I am not actively fooling myself.

Be intentional
This look at oneself and one's practices has to be intentional. I make time to do it every day. Like an individual, an institution has to look at itself honestly and critically and OFTEN. I do think my school really is trying to update its mission and practices for 2016, but we are doing it right now because we are up for accreditation. We are trying to be honest and we are trying to be self-critical. But we have a hard time at looking at some basic assumptions maybe because we don't look at ourselves often enough.


  • My school has used the same report card for 40 years. What are the assumptions we make about grading?
  • Why are so many of our tests full of "what" questions? What are the assumptions we make about tests?
  • Why do we continue to emphasize summative assessment at the expense of other tools? Why are our assessments always given at the end, and not during when the information could inform instruction?
  • Why do we group students of the same size and age together most of the day instead of grouping by interest and/or ability? Surely we do this because this is how it has been done since the 19th century. It is just what school looks like. 
  • Why is learning chunked into 40 minute periods? 

This is hardly an exhaustive list, but these questions are unasked and thus unanswered.  Traditions and institutional memory lead to tremendously powerful inertia.

Other blind spots? The people trying to fix and change schools and the people who are comfortable with the status quo likely were all very good at school themselves. It worked for them. This leads to all sorts of unquestioned assumptions and blind sports.

Friday, December 2, 2016

One Wish for Google Classroom

I'm really liking the flexibility of Google Classroom. It is a very effective and intuitive blended learning tool. I wish it had an umbrella page for students so they could see all of their work at a glance. Perhaps they could somehow add a Google Calendar link or have assignments save automatically to Google Calendar but have it viewed within Classroom. I know that Google says that Classroom isn't going to be a full LMS, that this is not their vision for it.

Folks at my school are kicking around the idea that it replace our use of our current school information system to give and receive assignments. Students would miss their current ability to see all of their assignments at a glance.

To anyone whose school uses Google Classroom as its sole tool for announcements and assignments, what system have you put in place so that students can see all their work at a glance?

update in response to comment from Kyle B.
I should be more clear. I forgot a crucial clarification in my haste. I am aware that I can save my assignments to Calendar, but student have to go to calendar. I'm looking for more of a one stop shopping experience within Classroom.

Featured Post

Stand and Deliver

I've been working with the terrific Godfrey Lee School District in Grand Rapids, Michigan as they work on incorporating the 6c's an...