Future of Educational Technology

This year I had a chance to travel to Orlando for the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC). I spent a good part of my time conducting workshops for Birdbrain Technologies, but I did have time to peruse the Exhibit Hall, hear keynote speakers, and talk with a number of folks who had participated in FETC before. Here are some of my reflections.

Here Comes Virtual Reality

For the opening Keynote Dan Lajerska, the Chairman of EON Reality, Inc, outlined how his Swedish company is moving not only into educational spaces, but commercial ventures. EON provides a very robust tool that will definitely play a role in educational technology. In the Exhibit Hall zSpace brought an RV to demonstrate their technology. However, the most impressive technology for me came from two young Chinese educators who have created “SnapBench.” Up till  now most VR projects are opportunities for learners to consume and be entertained by the novelty of AR. SnapBench provides a creative tool that looks like Minecraft. You can actually create your own VR projects using SnapBench. Where this will lead is really up to the creative user. I can see environmental education, design projects, and other opportunities. In addition to allowing a user to create a virtual representation, SnapBench also provides a 3D printing option – something that no other technology I’ve seen can accomplish.

Teaching to One

Yes, Personalized Learning is on the radar for many schools. Tyler Sussman, the Director of Partnerships for Summit Learning, outlined at the opening keynote the opportunities for schools to tap into the free Summit Learning tool set. Marc Zuckerberg and his team at Facebook not only paid for this project, but they also provided the engineering behind the software tool. Summit Learning now has over 100 schools (grades 6-12) around the country using the software. The tool set is designed to provide not only an encapsulation of what students have done, but it also is designed to allow learners to set goals around careers and post-secondary opportunities. In addition to Summit there were workshops and presentations sharing success stories about Personalized Learning. Other companies, like Pearson  showcased their software in the Exhibit Hall.



Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

If there’s one focal point that everyone seems to agree upon, it’s the importance of giving all learners active learning experiences that are interdisciplinary and inquiry based. I participated in the Mobile MEGAShare where TechTerra organized 18 stations that FETA participants could sample in six rotations. I worked with one of TechTerra’s gurus to challenge folks to create an animated product in less than 30 minutes using the Hummingbird Robotics Kit from Birdbrain Technologies.  I was amazed how teams of 2-3 educators could meet this challenge using the CREATE Lab’s Visual Programmer. We need to make all entry learning activities as challenging and rewarding as this. Other stations included software from BrainPop (one of the big hits in the Exhibit Hall), robotics from Lego, science inquiry tools from Pittsco, and Virtual Reality from SnapBench. Over 100 people jammed into the meeting room. In addition, at the Exhibit Hall there were dozens of STE(A)M companies. I had a great chance to talk with one of the representatives from SparkFun Electronics. In the past I’ve been involved in eTextile projects that have used the LilyPad from SparkFun. Today they’re a great resource for educators looking for STEAM materials.

Active Learning

David Dulberger FETC

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

While some people are proclaiming the end of interactive whiteboards, SMART Technology has moved forward with new tools that work both with their boards and without them. My wife’s nephew, David Dulberger, did a presentation on SMART Amp, an incredible tool for collaborative, active learning that has engaged David’s 5th grade students at the Emma Doub Elementary School in Maryland. Throughout the exhibit hall there were vendors demonstrating new furniture for active learning. There were also a host of hardware and software products. Everyone seems to realize that active learning leads to Deeper Learning. We need to provide opportunities for learners to move, to get out of their seats, to have flexible solutions, in order to have creative and productive learners. In addition, we need to  make the activities project or problem-based where learners work collaboratively.

They Still Need You: How Adults Help Young Kids Learn With Technology

[Over the years I’ve had a chance to observe and work with learners from 3 to 83. Especially for younger learners, it’s important to have a human connection. In this Mindshift article there are great examples of how working with adults improved student learning compared to just using an app. I serve on the board of the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC). PAEYC has partnered with the Fred Rogers Center to look at appropriate ways to use digital media. We want our children to use today’s technology, but we need to remember that learning is social. As Fred Rogers explained, “It is through relationships that we grow and learn best.”]


Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

There are more than 80,000 educational apps in Apple’s app store. It seems like a great way to encourage brain development and make your little one the smartest baby genius. But just sticking a tablet in your kid’s hands might not be as helpful.

Sure, use the app. But it’s not a babysitter — you’ve got to help them use it, too.

Several recent studies have looked at how young children learn from touchscreens. One study, published in Child Development, compared how 2- and 3-year-olds learned to build a three-piece puzzle. Some children learned how to assemble the puzzle from a “ghost demonstration” — meaning that, initially, the pieces moved by themselves on the tablet to show how it works. A lot of apps that are intended for young children often have some element of this ghost demonstration: Pieces move on their own or objects will move them.

Other children had a person sitting next to them to move the puzzle pieces on the tablet.

After they watched the demonstration, both groups of children were asked to complete the task on either a touchscreen tablet or a real puzzle that looked identical to the one they saw.

The 2- and 3-year-olds who saw the ghost demonstration had a hard time replicating the task — but did well after they saw the human hand. Researchers concluded that having a human guide — often referred to as having social scaffolding — helped these young children learn.

“Simply having someone show them how to put that puzzle together, rather than the app showing it to them, allowed them to put that puzzle together themselves” explains Rachel Barr, a professor at Georgetown and one of the authors of the study. “But taking away that person — taking away that scaffold — made their performance just look like they had never even seen it before.”

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The nation’s largest school districts are rushing to fill the coding gap

[Across the country schools are looking for ways to integrate computational thinking into their academic programs. In this PBS article there are some great examples. In Western Pennsylvania the South Fayette School District has developed a K-12 articulated curriculum. This year South Fayette is offering a STEAM Innovation Summer Institute that includes workshops on Scratch, Python, and AppInventor, all tools used in the district. What’s so different is that the AppInventor and Python courses have been developed by students. ]

BY MICHAEL D. REGAN  May 21, 2016

Sabrina Knight’s second-grade students at a Brooklyn public school receive lessons in coding. Some school districts in the United States are attempting to expand computer science education while the Obama administration is pushing to bring the subject to every public school in the nation. Michael D. Regan/PBS NewsHour

Sabrina Knight’s second-grade students at a Brooklyn public school receive lessons in coding. Some school districts in the United States are attempting to expand computer science education while the Obama administration is pushing to bring the subject to every public school in the nation. Michael D. Regan/PBS NewsHour

On a recent Friday afternoon at a Brooklyn public school, the children of Sabrina Knight’s second-grade class listened intently as she used a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to talk about algorithms.

Moments later, a student volunteer walked back and forth across the room to demonstrate looping, a technical term used in the field of computer programming.

“Thumbs up if you got it,” Knight said, as a flurry of 7- and 8-year-old hands and thumbs shot up in the air. “Open up your computers and thumbs up when you see the blue screen.”

Students grabbed their headphones and flipped open yellow laptops issued to Park Slope’s PS 282. The rest of the lesson would be devoted to coding, as the class of 15 used simple equations to command cartoon characters to move across their monitors.

Knight’s young class is one in a growing number of public schools across the United States that are introducing computer science education into their curricula, in part to make up for the educational disparities among female and minority students that contribute to a professional void in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Such gaps have been recognized at the federal level. In January, President Barack Obama announced he would push to introduce a $4 billion initiative called Computer Science For All, which seeks to bring computer science education to many of the nation’s public schools over the next decade. Negotiations for the program’s budget are ongoing on Capitol Hill.

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