Beth Holland

Food for thought…


I Completely Agree

I find myself agreeing a lot lately with the wisdom of veteran teachers who are calling into question the role of mobile devices (e.g. iPads, laptops, Chromebooks, etc) in their curricula. These educators have clearly defined learning objectives, truly understand the learning needs of their students, and have everyone’s best interest at heart.

I agree with the music teacher…

Who wants her students to focus on the joys of creating music, tapping rhythms, learning to dance, and projecting their voices as they sing. I agree with her desire for students to show poise and confidence as they perform in front of a group of peers, parents, and teachers. She is absolutely correct that no virtual instrument can replace the experience of blowing into a recorder or beating on a drum. These are valuable experiences that children should have an opportunity to experience.

And yet, what if….

That student who does not yet have the confidence to sing or play a solo in front of a crowd could video themselves for feedback with only the pressure of a screen in front of them. Or maybe, the student who wants to explore digital arts could create a poster or video ad for an upcoming performance. Perhaps, students could create a digital journal of their year, periodically adding audio or video recordings of their playing so that they can go back and see their improvement. To quote that thoughtful music teacher who questioned the role of iPads in her curriculum, the focus could be on “progress not perfection.”

I agree with the art teacher…

Who does not want to give up paint, or pastels, or clay. I agree that the tactile experience cannot be replicated with a mouse or touch screen, and that digital arts – while incredibly powerful – are not the only arts. He makes excellent points about tying art to culture and tradition, providing students with an opportunity to create something of permanence, and creating community around physical installations. Recently, I walked through a hallway containing fantasy flowers dangling from the ceiling and Greek God posters hanging from the walls. Through their art, those students shared their learning, and I was able to instantly make a connection to their experience.

However, what if….

Photos of those Greek god posters had been posted to a Padlet wall so that they could be shared with a broader audience, or an image of the fantasy flowers used as a ThingLink containing audio recordings of the students telling the story behind their creation. Sometimes, art reveals the final product but not the process to get there. Maybe students could use stop action animation to create a short video of how their final masterpiece came into existence. After the displays come down in the physical space, student creations could live on in a virtual school gallery which could then be shared with family and friends.

I agree with the PE teacher…

Who wants students to stop staring at screens and exercise. I agree that students need to feel exertion, to be physically active, and to learn how to pass, block, shoot, cut, jump, tumble, and – most of all – play as a team. Go outside. Sweat. Get dirty. Dive in the mud. Run! Absolutely, put the screens away and go play.

Now, what if…

Students could use a spreadsheet to track their nutrition, their improvements in time or distance or speed, or even their own player stats. Not only could this improve their health but also their math. Instead of using valuable class time to review game rules, strategy, or directions, maybe PE teachers could flip their classes and post this information ahead of time so that students come ready to play. As a high school sailing coach, I valued the opportunity to give video feedback. So many of my students could not improve without seeing both what they did as well as footage of others. I also kept a blog with practice notes, post race recaps, and lessons learned so that my team could ask questions, get feedback, and document their own progression. With the multitude of health apps and devices entering the market, students can start mapping/tracking their training, monitoring their heart rates, and documenting their fitness.

I agree with the 3rd grade teacher… 

Who wonders why it should take four steps to have a student actively read a web article in iBooks when they could just as easily hand them a print out. Yet what about the student who struggles with decoding but could otherwise comprehend the content? What if that ELL/ESL student could complete the task more effectively if they could quickly access a dictionary or incorporate text-to-speech in order to hear the passages read out loud.

I agree with the science teacher… 

Who does not want to give up physical labs; who wants students to weigh, measure, mix, and build. I absolutely think that students should construct circuits, titrate liquids, and dissect things. Meanwhile, I find immense value in students screencasting their problem solving, referencing virtual labs for remediation or enrichment, and collaborating on data analysis through shared documents.

I also agree that students need to spend as much time talking, debating, and sharing face-to-face as they do online, and that sometimes paper is the best technology.

If the new technology does not functionally improve the task, then stick with what has worked in the past. However, I also think we need to keep asking what if.

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KISS Take #2 – iSolveIt Apps

A few weeks ago, I wrote about having a “no duh” moment. On Thursday, at the MassCUE conference, I had another one…..

Though I had previously glanced at the FREE iSolveIt apps for iPad – MathSquared and MathCubed – I did not fully appreciate the beauty of them until I attended the session presented by  Mindy JohnsonBoo Murray, and Garron Hillaire.

Keeping It Shockingly Simple – why these apps are amazing

Mindy, Boo, and Garron explained the thinking behind these two apps. Since algebraic reasoning is one of the best indicators of future success in college, and since Algebra is often a defining moment in a student’s math career, they decided to create two apps to address the processes of the reasoning with built in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) supports. Given that “5% of the goal of math instruction is content, and 95% is reasoning,” CAST created two apps to encourage problem solving and persistence.

MathSquared is a game that combines KenKen and Sudoko. Students solve increasingly complex, numeric puzzles. “MathSquared puzzles are grid-based puzzles that use the basic math operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division and require logic and problem-solving skills.” Initially, I questioned what I would have students DO beyond play a game. However, what if….

  • Students took a screen capture of a blank board at the culmination of a level, imported it into a screencasting app such as ExplainEverything or Educreations, and then recorded their problem solving process to demonstrate their thinking.
  • One student took a picture of another working on a problem, and then used Fotobabble to record a “play by play” of their classmate’s problem solving to then offer recommendations later.
  • Students collaborated on an ExplainEverything project where they compared and contrasted problem solving strategies and then determined who used the most effective approach.

MathScaled offers a different set of challenges. Students solve balanced equation challenges without numbers. The CAST researchers recognized that some students’ aversion to math is rooted in their “fear of numbers.” With MathScaled, shapes have relative weights and students work through puzzles in order to create balance. Chris Harrow (@Chris_Harrow) and Paul Salomon (@lostinrecursion) recently blogged about shifting students thinking about balance. Not only does this app support that challenge, but it could also…

  • Provide a visual representation for complex equation balancing in both Algebra and Chemistry (imagine teaching the concept of atomic weight with shapes)
  • Provide a visual representation for history/social studies teachers to illustrate the complexity of “the balance of power.” What if students created a series of math equations to tell a story about historical or political events!

Again, the beauty of these apps is also in how they can be incorporated into other apps through screen captures. In fact, a student could develop a series of math stories that include screen captures brought into Book Creator. Students could include typed narrations as well as audio recording of their problem solving.

I don’t often get this excited about content-specific apps. However, these two are definitely worth mentioning – particularly because of the simplicity! I definitely had a “no duh” moment as it is now feels so obvious about how these simple tools could lead to amazingly complex thinking.