The Evolving Educator

Adaptation in a modern teacher

Category: EdTech Inquiry

Intro to Coding in Grasshopper

Today in EdTech, I had an opportunity to use an iPad Pro to interact with Google’s free educational coding platform Grasshopper.

I only had a chance to use it for about 20 minutes, but I found it quite intuitive. It manages to bridge the gap between text-based code and visual outputs quite well. While it isn’t graphic modules like Scratch, it still retains a visual component that should be appealing and multimodal for young students. Also, it is based on javascript, which is a widely-used, object-oriented programming language. Early exposure to this would certainly give students an edge in computer science later in life.

Dr. Paskevicius informed our class of a really useful resource for educators interested in tech integration: Common Sense Education (CSE). On this site, teachers and educators review apps, indicating its usefulness, privacy level, and specific skills that it focuses on. Unfortunately, Grasshopper has a very bare entry on CSE. However, I’m happy to know about this resource for quickly evaluating the usefulness of a digital tool and getting the perspectives of other educators.

-S

Data Safety Audit

I really appreciated the presentation by Kelly, Acacia and Mark on Data Safety in EdTech last week. I thought the re-framing from ‘Privacy’ to ‘Safety’ was an intelligent choice as it is more of a call-to-action and implies a benefit to implementation. Although I am very busy with end-of-term obligations, I expect that I will take time over December to self-evaluate my engagement with the internet. I think, as I transition to a new phase of my professional life, it is time for a Data Safety Audit. From a practical standpoint, I have a few key objectives:

1. Watch The Great Hack, as the group suggested. I feel like it may provide a good wake-up call and frame a complex topic in an approachable way.

2. Finally implement a password manager. In countless exchanges with friends and peers interested in security, this has come up. Ideally, I could find one that is cloud-based and cross-platform so I could use it on the wide array of devices I will access day-to-day.

3. Continue to curate my online presence. Beginning with Jesse Miller’s talk, I already started to look into my ‘Google’ presence online. This led to me more closely controlling some of the video content I had on my personal YouTube channel. I believe I can take this a few steps forward, perhaps with a Facebook pseudonym and a closer look at other platforms.

4. Look for media and tutorials that specifically address Data Safety. This could include documentation from concerned organizations, YouTube videos and consultation with my eldest brother, who is quite tech-literate.

Anyways, I am very grateful to the group for raising these ideas. Their presentation was thoughtful, thorough and has motivated me to consider how data safety applies in my life.

-S

Solid State Batteries & the incredible John B. Goodenough

During some late-night YouTube watching, I was introduced to the incredible scientific legacy of John B. Goodenough. His work has earned him an incredible array of awards (see his Wikipedia page), including the 2019 Nobel Prize for his work in inventing the ubiquitous lithium-ion rechargeable battery. It appears that, at 97, this pioneering chemist continues to push the bounds of his discipline! I encourage anyone with an interest in STEM to enjoy this video. It’s both informative and good for a laugh.

I am pretty blown away with Dr. Goodenough & plan to reserve a place of honour for a framed image of him in my future science classroom.

https://d2cbg94ubxgsnp.cloudfront.net/Pictures/480xany/6/3/5/87635_cw0115_feature_goodenough_f1_630m.jpg

Dr. John B. Goodenough

At present, I am designing a unit on Electromagnetism for my Sciences methodology class. This has involved me getting re-acquainted with battery technologies. Prior to this video, I did not know that solid state batteries (SSB) with a solid electrolyte even existed! The implications and potential for world-changing technologies is very exciting. While I could go either way on longer-lasting cell phone & laptop batteries, I am particularly intrigued by this technology for its ability to complement emerging renewable energy technology by enhancing battery storage systems. Breakthroughs like a SSB are needed more than ever as we face the environmental dangers of this uncertain century.

-S

Integrating Minecraft into a Unit Plan

On Tuesday, November 5th, we were fortunate to have a group from Colquitz Middle School come and share their perspectives on Minecraft. The learners were hilarious, self-actualized and engaged, which piqued my interest about the potential educational value of this ubiquitous sandbox game.

My first Minecraft creation.

Shortly after our workshop, an opportunity to integrate Minecraft into my own lesson planning revealed itself. I am currently writing a mini, 5-lesson unit for my Social Studies methodologies class on intentional community and utopia. Here is an excerpt from the project outline:

As a class, you will spend the next three classes collaboratively designing a utopian community.

Imagine that you have been given five acres of pristine land in Victoria, BC upon which to build a community where you will live with a community of others. Every student will belong to a sub-committee that is responsible for designing the systems and policies that relate to their domain. Although each sub-committee has a special mandate, it is important to consider the function of the community as a whole.

One of the sub-committees in the unit is tasked with Home Design and has a mandate to develop the physical space, including interior structures and exterior land-use, to meet the utopia’s needs. An immediate thought of mine was to encourage this group to use Minecraft’s creative mode to do this. They could consult with members from the other sub-committees (e.g. Food Production & Consumption) to determine the community’s needs and then realize these using Minecraft. Other students could explore the utopia virtually, experiencing a highly-immersive avenue into their peers’ work.

From a logistical perspective, I would need to find a way to host the server or find an external host which would meet the students’ needs. Were I to proceed with this, I would definitely take time to reach out to other educators like the educator from Colquitz for suggestions.

-S

Sound as a Study Aid

We recently had a presentation from PhD candidate Hector Vazquez on multiliteracy and music. In addition to finding the workshop to be engaging, I appreciated his assertion that music is much more than a mode of performance. He discussed its ability to scaffold religious rites, unite culture and fundamentally shape our humanity and identity. Although my teachable subjects are biology and history, I have a huge interest in embedding music into my practice. Which brings me to the subject of this blog post: sonic study aids.

I have been using music as a study aid for most of my life. As a high school student I listened to the contemporary piano album Divenire by Ludovico Einaudi countless times while studying, reading and working. Nowadays, I listen more often to instrumental beats and lo-fi hip-hop.

Image result for ludovico einaudi divenire

Divenire by Ludovico Einaudi

Lo-Fi Hip-Hop Radio on Youtube

I find that playing non-intrusive instrumental music can act as a motivator and augment my attention span. Entraining to a rhythmic pulse helps me to remain in a focussed state and significantly enhances my productivity. This insight is not new. Hall (1952) found that exposure to background music in study hall resulted in a significant improvement in subsequent test performance in secondary school students. Kang and Williamson (2014) found that accompanying second-language learning with medium tempo, ‘easy-listening’ music enhanced students’ ability in recall, translation and pronunciation tasks.

Of course, other studies (Jäncke & Sandmann,2010) have found no evidence for music as a beneficial study aid. I acknowledge that, for some, music is too distracting. For these individuals, I would suggest trying a different type of sonic study aid. The website A Soft Murmur allows an individual to produce a complex palette of environmental noise. Samples include Rain, Thunder, Waves, Wind, Fire, Birdsong, Crickets and Coffee Shop, all of which can be adjusted in volume to produce the desired mixture. I have found ~20% rain + ~10% waves + ~30% fire to be an incredibly relaxing blend.

Asoftmurmur.com

I am interested in the idea of playing music in my classroom. With the consent of students, I would like to see the extent to which non-intrusive music played during labs, group work or silent work time could enhance motivation. If this is unacceptable to students en masse, I would still like to encourage students to experiment with this potential learning tool. One of my observations from Belmont is that the youth are incredibly music-oriented. I am delighted to see this. I believe it can be an incredible tool for expressing self, relating to others and maintaining health. I am glad to see the ubiquity of music with today’s youth and the extent to which they engage as listeners and creators.

 

References:

Hall, J. C. (1952). The effect of background music on the reading comprehension of 278 eighth and ninth grade students. The Journal of Educational Research, 45(6), 451-458.

Jäncke, L., & Sandmann, P. (2010). Music listening while you learn: No influence of background music on verbal learning. Behavioral and Brain Functions, 6(1), 3. https://doi.org/10.1186/1744-9081-6-3

Kang, H. J., & Williamson, V. J. (2014). Background music can aid second language learning. Psychology of Music, 42(5), 728-747.

TikTok in The Times

Although I’ve been trying to get out of the relentless cycle of  so-called “breaking news” this fall, I was perusing the NY Times this weekend and saw an article that caught my eye: High Schools to TikTok: We’re Catching Feelings by Taylor Lorenz. The article describes how students at high schools are finding unique ways of creating community using the TikTok platform. Although I’d heard the name before, the article explained that TikTok is a social media app for making and sharing short, often comical videos. The app is surging in popularity, having been downloaded 1.4 billion times to date.

The article talks about how, across the US, students are forming TikTok clubs where they meet to share videos and create their own content, be it songs, skits, dances, etc. I see this as a very interesting and laudable application of the software. Although my current life doesn’t afford me too much time for social media and games, I fondly recall how my years as an adolescent were enhanced by interactions in cyberspace. I spent many evening talking with friends on MSN Messenger. My amateur rap group had a MySpace. I remember the earliest days of Reddit. It seems that these TikTok clubs blend the best of both worlds: giving students a social space to meet and create with peers as well as a digital space to share their creations broadly. I believe that adolescents have enormous potential when they are given agency and are capable of creating things that are very powerful and, often, hilarious. An adviser from West Orange high praised the app for bringing students from diverse backgrounds together, saying: “You see a lot more teamwork and camaraderie and less – I don’t want to say bullying – but focus on individuals.”

I was reflecting on how the EdTech class has been operating on my biases. Prior to this class, I would say that I had a fairly negative perception of the amount of time and energy young people appeared to be spending on tech. Like many teacher candidates, I held a nostalgia for the simple, ‘authentic’ and un-networked past. However, through the resources, speakers and my own investigation, I am starting to change my perspective. I am beginning to understand that it is patronizing to expect students to share my values about tech and their lives. If I doubt the value of the connections they may be making through digital tools, I am minimizing them and their experience. Adolescents are people and, therefore, deserving of their autonomy and self-determination. I would never chastise the social media habits of another member of my PDPP cohort. So, what makes it appropriate to criticize young adults?

So, that’s my $0.02 on my changing perspectives. I am going to continue to interrogate my biases regarding technology and education. Heck, maybe I’ll download TikTok and try it…

3D Printing Introduction

On Friday, September 27 I attended a workshop at UVic’s Digital Scholarship Commons on 3D Printing. I have never done this before, but am aware that it is an ever-growing domain in manufacturing and design. I took it mainly to become more well-versed in how the technology works, how it may be integrated in my future science lessons and to expand my imagination for what is capable with this tool.

Fused deposition modelling schematic.

Briefly, we learned about Fused Deposition Modelling in which minute layers of plastic are extruded and sliced to construct objects in 3D. The primary material is polylactic acid, a thermoplastic aliphatic polyester which is derived from renewable biomass (corn, sugar beet, etc.). This plastic is quite non-elastic and is prone to shatter and is therefore often reinforced during the printing process and with internal scaffolding called ‘infill’.

In the workshop, I designed two items. A 6-sided die and a keychain. The main platform we used was called TinkerCAD, a browser based computer-aided design program that allows you to easily construct objects and export them in a printable format. Having done some drafting in high school (thanks Mr. Hansen), I found the software to be very intuitive and easy to work with. In addition to this platform, we also accessed free 3D plans from Thingiverse, an online community for sharing schematics with others. The treble clef used in my keychain design posted below was taken from Thingiverse & modified with TinkerCAD.

My 3D Design in TinkerCAD

The final product

The workshop was fun, interesting and definitely got the wheels turning for potential applications in the classroom and at home. To give us a sense of scope, the workshop leader, Dani, told us about some incredible projects that involved using 3D printing including a group which developed a hyper-affordable, $200 3D-printed prosthetic hand for use in developing countries.

Finally, it did not go unnoticed to me that the workshop occurred on the same day as the Global Climate March. I felt a little bit conflicted attending it and felt compelled to investigate the environmental impacts of 3D printing. An article by Megan Nichols weighs the costs and benefits of 3D printing. According to her analysis, 3D printing consume 50-100 times more electricity than equivalent production methods. However, this impact can be offset by the notable benefits of using less material, producing items locally (thus reducing distribution emissions) and using recyclable thermoplastics in the future. I personally see the potential for 3D printing to reduce our environmental impact when used strategically to provide small-batch items when needed and limit unnecessary manufacture.

For any others interested in taking this 3D printing workshop, there are two other dates this fall (October 10th & 28th) and registration is available.

-S

First Google Hangout Experience

In order to get the ball rolling on our EdTech inquiry project, I met with Graham & Geoff via Google Hangouts on Sunday. It was very useful to have all the team members together, sharing thoughts and collaborating on a relatively latency-free platform. I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on some of the pros & cons of the platform after my first use.

Pros:

  • free & browser-based: the fact that the platform is browser-based makes it much more convenient. Instead of having to worry about ensuring that everyone has a Skype client installed (and updated), it is very convenient to just use Firefox to access the service.
  • low latency: I didn’t find there was much lag or that we were talking over each other
  • potential to expand functionality: we were using the Google hangouts online app, although it appears that there is a browser extension as well. This may enhance its usefulness

Cons:

  • no whiteboard or media space: as far as I could tell, there is no shared whiteboard or media space. For some reason, I expected there would be some sort of work area where we could sketch or place text or images that everyone could access
  • plugins: we had to delay our meeting by about 15 minutes in order to get everybody updated on plugins. As such, it wasn’t as seamless as it could have been
  • can’t replace face-to-face: while it was convenient for us to be able to meet remotely, it was not quite the same as an in-person meeting. In terms of engagement and communication, I would place it somewhere between a 3-way call & an in-person meeting

Anyways, that’s just my $0.02 on Google Hangouts. Moving forward, I think I’ll try & use it a few more times. I’m curious about the G Suite and the various tools that exist for long-distance communication and conferencing. I have been thinking lately about a potential project in Socials or Science class where my class pairs up with a ‘sister class’ in a different country in order to collaborate on a project over vast space. Google Hangouts & other tools that are related may help, assuming the students and parents consent to its use.

-S

Most Likely To Succeed Film Response

MLTS

In my Technology Innovation in Education (EdTech) class, we were tasked with watching Most Likely to Succeed, a 2015 documentary that focused on an innovative public school in San Diego: High Tech High. The principal subjects were two freshmen classes and their year-long experience with a project-based, interdisciplinary learning model. HTH has no bells, no subjects and no tenure (teachers are hired on single-year contracts and given complete liberty with their class).

The film was very well-produced, edited and shot. It provided a compelling and intimate window into the dynamics of each classroom and the experiences of teacher and student alike. Furthermore, it raised significant questions about the extent to which our current education system is dated and requires a fundamental overhaul to meet the demands of our information economy. Here are some of my major takeaways:

  • I agree that a shift towards teaching soft skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and resilience is crucial. This is what excites me most about BC’s New Curriculum.
  • I was impressed by the effectiveness of public exhibition as a model of assessment. This aligns with the expectations of the ‘real-world’ and teaches students to focus on application and accountability in their work.
  • There were some incredible demonstrations of teaching. For instance, I was fascinated and moved by the segments documenting the post-exhibition debriefs of the two students, Brian & Samantha. When the teacher managed to balance a critique of Brian’s stubborn attitude with an acknowledgement that he was visionary, I was very impressed. I particularly appreciated when he said, “We don’t want you to stop being Brian.” In the case of Samantha, it was incredible to hear her reflect on the development of her ‘voice’ over the term.
  • A criticism is the film’s generalization about the education ‘system.’ They seem to suggest that there is a ubiquitous, dated ‘Old Way’ which has persisted for 124+ years and is overdue for extinction. However, I see teachers continuing to innovate all the time, even within the confines of the industrial education system. I believe, in fact, that a balance of Old & New is what is best for students. This perspective is expanded on by John Selfridge, who posted a comment to a review of MLTS in the Wellesley Reporter

    The notion, so persistent in the film, that teachers should incorporate project-based learning and peer collaboration into their classroom environments is nothing new, and the suggestion that it is shows just how naive those who made and praise this film as visionary actually are. Sure, there are schools and teachers who are behind the curve–and there are many reasons for their being so–and many may benefit from seeing the film. But if more critics of education would spend more time in classrooms–which are diverse nationwide in their practices if nothing else–they would realize that there is no American educational system or model that we can either praise or criticize. Rather, we probably have thousands of schools that could serve as success stories all across our country and, therefore, models for others to emulate. We don’t have an “educational system” in crisis; there is no “educational system,” and there is no “crisis.” Instead, we have some failing schools, attended by kids from lower middle income or poor families, children who live in households where English isn’t spoken, or where substance and/or other forms of abuse are present. Whatever failures we have witnessed in our nation’s schools in recent decades, they are not the failures of any particular pedagogy; rather they are the consequences of the larger social problems we face. The sooner we realize that educational failures are social failures (each causing the other) and do something about it, the better positioned our children will be to take on the challenges of this, their century.

  • Finally, I love how this film made me consider the persistent question of breadth vs. depth. My personal experience with the lecture-based, content-driven high school model has perhaps constrained my imagination of what school can be. I invite disruptions to my expectations because I believe they will make me grow. The model of HTH appears to facilitate deep understanding, engagement and meaning-making in the students in a way that the traditional model may be unable to. As I proceed through this program, I imagine I will continue to grapple with breadth vs. depth question.

Anyways, that’s a few of my takeaways. I’d encourage anybody with an interest in education or youth to watch Most Likely To Succeed. Beyond a fantastic production value, the movie truly makes you think. Finally, I’d love to discuss any and all of my praises or criticisms in the comments below.

-Sasha

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