Friday, April 30, 2010

Mitch Resnick Talk at Stanford

One of the best things about working in the field of school technology and living in the Silicon Valley is the access to the incredible community based learning opportunities. I've seen Tina Seelig, Gever Tulley, BJ Fogg, Sal Khan, Chris Anderson, John Seely Brown, Daniel Pink, Carol Dweck, and Neeru Khosla within the past 9 months alone...and all within a 10 mile radius of my home here in Menlo Park, California! As of today I can add Mitch Resnick of MIT Media Lab and Scratch fame to the list.

Today I stopped over to Stanford to see Mitch give an hour long talk with Q/A on the development of the Scratch platform and eco-system. Resnick and his team of colleagues in the Media Lab have a simple philosophy behind the scratch multi-media programming and design environment, a platform that is targeted toward youth in the age range of 8-15 - they want to build a platform that empowers this age group to design and CREATE in the midst of a social, collaborative online community. He told examples of inspiring youth Scratch developers, like MyRedNeptune, who creates sprites for emerging multi-media developers to use in their scratch applications. He talked about a community member who creates anime stories and went so far as to crowd-source the art work for some of the characters in one of her.

I was intrigued to hear Resnick finish his talk with ideas on future directions for the platform. His team is investigating how they'll move the Scratch to the cloud to foster even more collaboration...imagine being able to design and share Scratch projects directly through the browser. The future looks bright for this powerful multi-media authoring platform.

A few other highlights and points of interest from today's talk:
  • Mitch and his Media Lab team give scratch workshops for students. One of the ways they evaluate their workshops is by the "diversity of student projects" that they see youth creating in the session. I LOVE this evaluation criteria and hope to apply it to upcoming projects that I work on with students and teachers. 
  • "Scratch was designed to make tinkering accessible, projects more meaningful and personal, and the entire process more social. It also encourages students to think creatively, reason systematically, and to work collaboratively." Great food for thought when building powerful learning design.
  • Scratch is all about giving youth the opportunity to create their own media instead of simply being consumers of media.
Interested in trying out Scratch in your classroom? Check out the online Scratch educators community and Patrick Woessner's Scratch middle school math mini-unit.

Mark your calendars for the following opportunities to learn more about scratch:

May 22nd, 2010: International "Scratch Day"

August 11-14: Scratch Conference

A special shout-out goes to colleague extraordinaire, Heidi Chang, for keying me into this event via an email earlier this week. I'd be kicking myself if I didn't attend this great learning opportunity-thanks, Heidi!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Global Map of Website Filtering and Censorship

What do you block? Add your school to this collaborative map started by Will Richardson. I was proud to put a pin on the map for our school, which does not censor websites for our community members. I was also quite pleased to see that there are many other schools around the world that protect and value open access to websites for their learning community. I submit that those schools who continue to censor and filter will increasingly lose their relevance in the lives of their youth.  Are you a school that blocks heavily? Why? Will you continue to do this indefinitely? What value does censorship add? What are the opportunity costs of continued website censorship? Who is making the decisions?

Take a look at the map. While you are at it, add your school.

View Owen J. Roberts SD in a larger map

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Remedy for School Relevance

One way our schools can remain relevant in a dynamic and rapidly changing world is by building practices, policies, systems and pedagogies that take advantage of the positive aspects of new technologies. Or, like Gever Tulley of the Tinkering School says, "Create pedagogy that integrates technologies as quickly as they emerge."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

give 'em choice

The best learning design always seems to involve choice. Whether it is choice over medium, artistic direction, topic, presentation, or a combination therof. It all comes back to choice. At the core, choice empowers individuals and teams. Often times choice leads to creativity and break throughs in learning. Why don't we see more choice in all we do in schools? I say, "Give 'em choice!"

-give 'em choice over the operating system they use. Linux, Mac, Windows...who cares...give 'em choice.

-give 'em choice over presentation medium. PowerPoint, impress, google presentation, drawing on a whiteboard, video, audio podcast, presentation with no visuals, a three panel posterboard...give 'em choice

-give 'em choice over the emerging technologies they wish to pioneer for learning. Droid, iPhone, Kindle, Nook, Blackberry, iPad, zune...give 'em choice.

-give 'em choice over how they spend their time.

-give 'em choice about how they take notes in class. Pencil, pen, paper, computer, portable digital recorder, livescribe pen, digital photos, tablet computer, alphasmart, cell phone or a combination therof. They all learn very differently....give 'em choice.

-give 'em choice about how they read. Online, print, ereader, books on CD or a combination thereof. They are already reading in a range of mediums. ...give 'em choice.

-give 'em choice over what they read. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE give 'em choice over what they read.

-give 'em choice over whether or not they want to pay for software or use free software...give 'em choice.

-give 'em choice over the platforms they wish to blend together and use in thoughtful ways to amplify learning. YouTube, google apps, posterous, wikispaces, blogger, moodle, wordpress, voicethread, pbworks, skype, Twitter, Flickr, facebook...give 'em choice.

One size doesn't fit all...give 'em choice.

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, April 09, 2010

Persuasive Video Project Using Facebook

Inspired by Stanford Professor BJ Fogg's work in the area of Persuasive Technology with our school throughout the year, our 8th grade film teacher just kicked off what I think is a best practice kinda project. I don't have any student work samples to share here because they were all posted to their personal facebook accounts, but I will see if a group will cross post their work to YouTube so that I'm able to show an artifact. I had a very limited role in helping the teacher prepare this lesson and I only observed the students presenting in class today, but I will do my best to share what I know.


Our 8th grade (ages 13-14) film students were introduced to the down and dirty process of innovation that is often used here in the silicon valley. They were essentially introduced to the concept of "launching quickly, gathering feedback, measuring impact, and then iterating." Students were tasked to focus on one of the "antecedents to peace" and to create a video that would persuade people to act in a way that positively impacted one of these antecedents. Students were then challenged to figure out VERY SIMPLE ways to measure changes in behavior when posting their videos at facebook.

Students were given a VERY limited amount of time (two class periods that were roughly 50 minutes in length) to choose an antecedent, determine how they would measure impact, and produce and post a video to facebook. The videos encouraged viewers to do something and then respond back with a comment or like. Students worked in teams of 2-3 (it is important to note that NOT all students have a facebook page. This was OK, because these students were just simply paired up with a student who had an account). All videos were posted so that they were only visible to their friends. Students engaged in this process and then shared their work and results in class today.

Results and an Example: 
In class each one of the groups shared their video and the comments/likes by actually showing their Facebook pages on the projector. This was cool. One group created a 30 second video overview of the popular website, "Freerice," and challenged viewers to go to Freerice and answer questions to help combat world hunger. To measure change in behavior and impact of their video, the students asked that their peers report back with a like and/or a comment if they actually played Freerice. This group shared that their video received well over 40 likes along with a few comments. They even showed us how one person re-posted and shared the video on her wall-so cool! Other projects were equally compelling-one group created a video showing others engaging in random acts of kindness and then challenged viewers to do a random act of kindness on their own and report back on the video with a like. 

I'm proud of this teacher and her class for taking this risk. To my knowledge, something like this has NEVER been attempted before with a group of Middle School students. We are overly bombarded with messages of the negatives associated with youth and social networks and I'm pleased to see this best practice example firsthand.

Here is what could've happened but didn't: 
  • others could've left mean and derogatory comments-didn't happen
  • others could've said something embarrassing in the comments-didn't happen
  • someone could've said a swear word in the comments-didn't happen

What happened with this class proves that Facebook and other popular social network platforms CAN be used in ways that are both meaningful and thoughtful with students (not that what they do for purely social purposes isn't meaningful and thoughtful as well). These students engaged in real, authentic social science as they created these videos and collected feedback at Facebook. I'm hopeful that we'll continue to see innovative and creative uses of spaces like Facebook in our classrooms in the future. 

Friday, April 02, 2010

1:1 Learning and the iPad...a few thoughts

In August of 2010 when the new school year begins all of our students
in grades 6-12 will show up with a with a wireless laptop of their
choice. A Survey of our students shows that 60-70%  already own a
laptop and that the majority own a mac. Even though most students who
already own a laptop own a mac, we know that others are using a
range of models running everything from windows to Linux (a sixth
grade student uses Fedora if you can believe it). Because our primary
academic learning platforms (moodle and google apps education edition)
run directly through the browser we're able to take a hardware and OS
nuetral approach in our 1-1 learning model.

April 3, 2010-enter the iPad, a device whoose potential for use in our
1-1 learning environment I immediately wrote off after it was
announced back in January. There were so many unanswered questions.
Would it be able to read AND edit google documents? Does it lean too
heavily on the side of information consumption? How would the lack of
flash support and multiple-tasking impact its utility in the
classroom? These questions aside, it's highly proprietary and closed
nature didn't seem to be a match  for our open ethos.

However, my thinking has evolved over the past few months. Google docs
support is available via 3rd party apps, google is doing some cool  
things with HTML 5, multi tasking is coming, and some popular video platforms
are rushing to make their content iPad friendly. In classroom
situations where teachers need students to access a flash heavy site,
iPad users can easily partner up with  classmates who have a
traditional laptop (this has the ancillary benefit of making computer
use in the classroom more social and collaborative). For some students,
particularly those who have a desktop computer or large laptop at
home, the iPad might be a great fit. I'm nearing the point where I'm
ready to advocate for the ipad as an acceptable device for our
students and families to choose from.

I've said this before and ill say it again; what I like about our
school's approach to 1-1 learning is that it is inherently tolerant of
new technologies.  We have a model that, as Gever Tulley says, is
ready to integrate new technologies as quickly as they emerge.

What are your thoughts on the utility of the iPad in a 1-1 learning
model? Does it have everthing, or at least most everything, necessary
to be a useful 1-1 student learning device?