Make Lunchtime Fun!

If we want to make lunchtime fun, why not allow students to choose anything they want to eat? Of course we recognize the absurdity in this statement; we have actually taken great strides to ensure that students eat a nutritious lunch.

So shouldn’t that same logic also apply to learning? Too often, I hear teachers proclaim they want to use technology to “make learning fun.”  Of course, this can be a dangerous proposition if the goal of infusing technology in the classroom is to simply entertain students. Furthermore, this mentality can undermine the foundational idea that technology is a tool.

As educators, it is important that we help guide students in their technology diet. We need to realize that there can be ’empty learning’ with technology in the classroom. Like junk food, some EdTech can be highly enjoyable, but may not offer a lot of educational nutrition. Even websites that offer educational content can often be riddled with toy ads and other distracting content (to follow the analogy, they have too many preservatives or prizes inside).

So how might an educator evaluate the nutritional content of technology used in the classroom? Perhaps one way is to follow the Triple E Framework.

The Triple E Framework attempts to define what it should look like, sound like and feel like to integrate technology tools into teaching in order to meet and exceed learning goals.  The framework is based on three levels, Engagement in learning goals, Enhancement of learning goals, and Extension of learning goals.


One of the many shining points in this framework is the proper use of the word engagement.  In the framework, engagement means that student brains are engaged whereby they are motivated to become active learners. Furthermore, the framework goes beyond engagement and challenges the technology to not only enhance learning goals but to extend student learning.

Check out this research-supported model, and run your next technology activity through their evaluation tool.

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ParentingSo far this summer the best book that I have read is a short and insightful book by Illah Reza Nourbakhsh: Parenting for Technology Futures, Part I.  Every parent, teacher, administrator and school board member should read this book.  It is a short and fulfilling read, and is only $2.99 to download the Kindle book.

Avoiding the wildly popular concept of tech literacy, Nourbakhsh argues that students must have technology fluency – where students understand technology so deeply that they influence the future of technology instead of being techno-consumers.

Nourbakhsh also affirms that the teacher is an important and necessary component for improving student attitudes – one that can’t be replaced by any technology.  Parents should engage their schools and the teachers of their children to discuss the role of technology in schools.

In addition to providing parents with ways to engage the educational system, Nourbakhsh provides a recipe for parents to encourage tech fluency at home that includes participation, co-learning, allowing your child to teach you tech, and using technology interwoven with creativity.

By being mindful of technology in the home and at school, and by actively working to be aware of recent trends in technology futures and in education technology, you will set your child up to have the best possible chance to have a tech fluent future.  In a time of economic uncertainty and social upheaval, thanks to massive income inequality and robot-triggered underemployment, that tech fluency is the best insurance policy to insure that your child will not be a victim of technology, but rather an innovator who helps reinvent the future of technology for a better world.

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We recently had the opportunity to talk with Illah Reza Nourbakhsh (author ofRobot Futures) about robots now and in the future.  As robots are getting easier and cheaper to make, Illah describes the growing problem of robot smog:

We talk a lot about smog in general as kind of a pollution, this haze that is a distraction from what you hope, in terms of what you want to see around you, and the air you breathe that has long term health consequences.  And one of the interesting things about robotics is that [] you can build robots.  But as more and more people build robots of every kind, the physical world that fills with robots of our own creation feels more and more like the digital world when people started making all sorts of websites with really bad flash animations on them…

You can get a 3-D printer – and they’re getting cheaper and cheaper – and now you can start building these things.  And you have your Arduino, so you have your brain for your robot, and now you can have a body, and yeah, wifi is getting cheaper, [] so your little robot that you build on your 3-D printer can be online relatively quickly, it can be controlled online, it can send pictures online, it can move around in the physical world.  And oh, by the way, it can fly.  Flying robots are getting cheaper really fast.  For $10, $15 you can make a robot that flies.  So now you go take a walk in the park, and the walk in the park is like looking at really bad flash pages on the web.  You keep seeing these moronic robots.

Immediately, I began to draw parallels in education.  As schools have greater access to technology and online tools, there is a real danger of creating edtech smog.

EdTech smog happens where students use technology with no real purpose or aim.  There might be a hope that students will better understand technology concepts and operations in using a specific tool.  However, no matter the enthralling wonder that the tool summons from limited student attention, we are still left with an educational outcome that has no real purpose.  As moronic robots have the potential to fill our physical landscape, moronic technological distractions can also fill our digital classrooms.

Edtech smog is nothing more than using technology as a distraction from what you hope your students should learn.

Illah has some ideas of how educators might have students use technology to solve a real problem. Listen to this clip to hear his thoughts that speak to appropriate technology integration:

P.S. In his blog, co-host Dale Basler puts Voki and Animoto at the top of #EdtechSmog list.  What’s on your list?

Last spring, Vernier Software and Technology released the LabQuest2 – a device that collects data from a variety of sensors and has the ability to share this data wirelessly with any device that has a browser. To me, this is a game-changer in science education.

I decided to test it out this year while teaching phase changes.

In the past, I’ve had kids collect data while ice water is being heated over a bunsen burner, with the goal of identifying the melting and boiling point of water.  Students often get lost in the data collection process, or tune out until after the data is collected (as if something magical will be revealed upon completion).

So I decided to do this as a demo, where students could use mobile devices (I have a classroom set of Motorola Xoom tablets) to access the data as it’s being collected.  I also had my iPad mounted to the lab table with a Hoverbar. Using the camera app, I mirrored the video via the AppleTV hooked up to the projector so students could see what was happening.

As there is significant downtime while waiting for the water to boil, I had them login to Edmodo and respond to a question after I lit the burner:



Students can touch and manipulate the data with the browser as it’s being collected.  And they can determine the time and temperature by simply touching the graph (or any X and Y axis variable).



What I really liked about this approach is that I could guide students through the data collection process, and match it to their visual observations.  For instance, I was able to ask “when did you first notice bubbles?,”  and “at what temperature did that happen?”.

After the lesson, students responded to the Edmodo question again – now with the hindsight of what they actually observed, complete with data.

While in school one day, I caught my son playing with a document camera.  I was amazed by his adventurous curiosity; he had no fear playing with the ELMO – trying to figure out what it can do and how it works.

To me, there is no better professional development in learning new technology than to simply get your hands on it and see how it works.

That’s my advice as a technology integrator – go ahead and play with it.  Figure it out.  See what it can do.

After that, we’ll see what else we can do with it and how it can transform your teaching.

I’ve been playing around with mirroring content on my iPad2 to my classroom LCD projector (with an Apple TV connected).

But now I’m becoming greedy.  I also want my MacBook Air to mirror its desktop content as well.  Why didn’t Apple support AirPlay for Mac OS X when it was released last summer?  That would simply be too convenient to connect a computer to a projector, eliminating the need for 25+ feet of plenum-rated cables running through our classroom ceilings.

Coming this summer, it looks as if I might get my wish.  Mac’s next OS upgrade – OS X Mountain Lion – will feature AirPlay support.

Now that this dream will become a reality, I am still not completely satisfied.  Why can’t we get LCD Projectors with AirPlay support?

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When the first iPad debuted on the scene, a math teacher asked me if there was any way that students could easily sketch math problems within an email message or chat.  Of course, there are some ways – but they require a few steps to get there.

But in December, Google unveiled Scribbles for Gmail, allowing users to add drawings to their electronic messages.  I instantly thought of how Google has provided an easy interface for things that can be sketched more easily than typed – like math and science problems.

Here’s how it works:

In the compose view, users click on the scribble button to open the drawing window:



The drawing is limited to the touchscreen sensitivity of the device, but is quite easy to use.  Images are inserted as .png attachments.

At the moment, this feature is only available in Gmail for the mobile web browser and the Gmail app for iOS.

Scribbles is a compelling reason for school districts to allow student access of Gmail or even setup Google Apps for Education.  But I am excited to think about the future of Scribbles in other products; imagine a sketch tool built-in to Moodle, Edmodo or other similar educational products.

Build it, and watch the math and science teachers flock to it.

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As meet manager for many swim meets, I know the importance of having instant results displayed on the scoreboard.

But a new iPhone app is starting to make me think differently.  At the 2012 FVA Boys Swimming and Diving Meet, we turned on Meet Mobile – a fantastic new feature in Meet Manager 4.0.

runmenuLet me explain a little bit of swim meet management.  Hy-Tek’s Meet Manager (a part of the Active Network) is the industry standard for running swim meets.  Swimmers and teams are entered into the program before the start of the meet, and the computer interfaces with the touchpads (we use both Daktronics and Colorado products in our district) during the meet.  At the end of each race, Meet Manager harvests the data, where times are matched to swimmers.  The software also scores the meet, and you can print out and email the results to the local paper.

But it gets better.  With an internet connection (our district has a guest Wifi network), Meet Manager 4.0 allows you to send your results live to an iPhone app called Meet Mobile.  This free download from the Active Network displays each heat’s and event’s results sorted by event or by swimmer.  The app even allows you to view splits and places for every swimmer in the meet.

Here’s a sample of what you might see with the app (in three screens):

  1. Select the correct meet when you open the app (sorted by date)
  2. Select swimmer or event
  3. View results (complete results and splits are also available)

It was fascinating to watch the fans trying out this app in the stands – they were mesmerized by the instant results they could find.  And coaches loved it even more, as they put down their stopwatches and stopped subtracting splits on the fly.

So who needs a scoreboard anymore?


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After using the iPad2 and the Apple TV to mirror iPad content through my LCD projector, I realized that this setup can be used as a wireless document camera by using the built-in camera app on the iPad2.

The Setup:

First of all, I setup a ‘stand’ for the iPad, so that it could project anything underneath it.  Being a science teacher, I have access to plenty of lab stands and clamps (I actually wrapped the two metal rods in electrical tape to protect the iPad2 from scratches).


I gently rested the iPad2 on the stand, being careful to center the camera on the lab table below, and secured it with a large rubber-band.



I found that I needed a wide stand so that students could fit their whiteboards underneath without difficulty.


This system is also flexible, as it is wireless.  I can carry it back to the lab and showcase individual student work to help direct a laboratory investigation.  Taking a picture, I was even able to annotate over a photo by importing it through an app like the Educreactions Interactive Whiteboard app.


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