Archive for September, 2014

iPads and pens in the classroom

September 26, 2014

One of my favorite blogs is Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice.  His posts and the resulting comments are one of my must reads.  One of his latest post is “iPads for Young Children in School”.  It is a good thought provoker.  One of the commenter’s, Teachling, made a point that really grabbed me.  His school is dealing with iPads in the classroom.  There was concern by parents as to “What data are you collecting to gauge their effectiveness and impact on improved learning?”  The response was “That’s like asking us to collect data on the ways in which pens improve learning outcomes”.   I love it.  Would those parents ask the same thing about calculators? I can remember when the graphing calculator hit the classroom.  An amazing about of hoopla for and against.  “Kids will never learn to think!” and “Kids will be free to think!”.  Not much changed.  Kids still do not want to think.

Many schools dive into the technology in the classroom pool without any thought, aka the Los Angeles Unified School District, and just dump money down the drain.  But other schools go the other way and will not even look at putting a toe in the pool.  I am not an iPad fan.  In fact, as the school IT guy, I do not like the things as a teaching tool for most things schools are trying to use them for.  A laptop is a much better tool for many of the things teachers are trying to make the iPad do.  But for some things it is the best tool for the job.  For example in K-4 it is great as a targeted learning tool.  There are a lot of good apps that will target one topic and the little ones can play a game that achieves that goal.  No matter how you use it the iPad is still just a tool.  It is how the teacher uses the tool that is important.  That is where I see things falling apart in a big way.  For some strange reason many school administrators have the view of “give it to them and they will use it” in regards to technology.

Let’s look at a teacher that has been teaching say 5 years.  It took a couple of years to stop being afraid of the students, a couple more years to become comfortable with the curriculum and a year just to be in the happy zone of teaching.  Now throw a new and expensive device at this teacher and require the teacher get the school district’s money’s worth out of it in the classroom.  Odds are the teacher was not consulted on this piece of technology and I am willing to bet big money they have had zero to minimal training on the device’s use in the classroom.  The teacher is no longer in their happy zone.  This is not the road to success.

This is somewhat the pattern that has taken place in my school.  The first year iPads were handed out to each of the teachers to “play with”.  Most put the iPad in a drawer.  There were 3 one hour in-services by an iPad enthusiast consultant.  Nothing shown reduced the teacher’s classroom load, it was all just something else to add to the load.  The next year the classroom sets of iPads appeared.  The teachers were expected to know what to do with them.  The results were interesting.  A couple of teachers wanted them but used them primarily as an internet device.  Many teachers initially tried to integrate the iPads into the classroom but found they did not really contribute to the present curriculum and just added to the already heavy workload.  The simple task of adding an app to 20 iPads, no matter what the method, requires time.  The little details like keeping them charged, loss of wireless signal, a student putting their own account on the iPad and downloading app with that account all add to the confusion of working with iPads in the classroom.  After 3 years iPad use in our classrooms is starting to work itself out.

The iPad, like any classroom technology, is a tool.  Without training tools are pretty worthless, especially tools that require a lot of work to integrate.  Without time to plan the tool is useless.

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I need a nap!

September 10, 2014

As Lili von Shtupp said in Blazing Saddles “I’m tired”.  It is only week 2 and a half and I am beat.  I only have three courses to teach but all will require attention.  I also do all the IT work.  The beginning of the school year is always a mess IT-wise.  New teachers, new kids, and new hardware.  Is there some law of nature that ensures all the hardware ordered over the summer shows up the first week of school?

I did not teach the Senior Stats or Programming I last year and the Programming with Java is a first time offer.  The Stats has been up graded to an honors course so I have to redo the course plan I did have from previous years pretty much from scratch.

The Programming I is always work.  Keeping the geek kids happy is easy.  Keeping the kids that are in it because they could not find something else in the time slot happy is work.  They are all good kids but I have to do quite a bit of “dog and pony show” to keep some focused.  For example today we did the peanut butter and jelly exercise.  I bring in a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly and a loaf of bread and they have to write a “program” to build a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I then have a kid build the sandwich while I read what is written.  The builder can only do what the directions tell them to do.  The Mr. Literal kind of thing.  The results are very entertaining.  “But that is not what I meant” is the usual comment.  “Pick up peanut butter jar.  Remove lid. Pick up knife.  Scoop out some peanut butter. Smear peanut butter on bread.”  Really hard to do with the peanut butter jar and lid still in the hands.

The Programming with Java should be fine once we start actually programming.  It is all the setup that is work.  Heck, picking an IDE to use is turning into a pain.  The University uses Eclipse but I am finding that is not so hot for beginners.  Too much too soon.  I did manage to find a textbook.  Since this is a dual credit course the University wanted me to use the text they were using.  The $100+ price tag would have killed that plan.  Amazon sells an earlier edition for $6.99.  The difference seems to be cover art, font and rewording of some of the problems.

I am also helping coach girls soccer.  The new coach has never coached before so I figured she might need a hand.  That is good for a couple hours a day.  I have already pulled a ham string trying to run with them.  Mountain biking is not good sprint training.  I used to be able to sprint with anybody on the field.  I still can but for only 25 yards then I limp for the rest of the week.  My wife suggests I slow down because I am getting old.  Silly girl.

Next Wednesday I am heading to North Dakota for a 3 day mountain bike ride with three friends.  We are going to do the Maah-Da-Hey trail.  It is a 96 mile trail that is the longest continuous single track mountain biking trail in the US.  The un-fun part is the 12-13 hour drive to get there.  I am also not too crazy about the fact we are camping out.  We have a company hauling our gear from camp site to camp site which makes that part easy.  Thanks to the US Military I am just not a camping kind of person any more.  I did too much “camping” with them to make it something I do regularly on purpose.  Oh well, it will be a male bonding experience.  And three days of cool trails can fix all sorts of issues.

All things considered this job is still more fun than a box full of puppies.  I get to play with computers, I get to play games with kids, I get to show kids cool stuff, I get to let kids show me cool stuff and I get paid to do it.  What more could anyone ask for in life?