The answer of course is “no.” With ODYSSEYWARE’s intuitive, user-friendly foundation and cheerful attitude, anyone can use and appreciate its capacity for online learning.
Still, it’s interesting to look back at the words of history’s great masterminds and read them in today’s context. Let’s take a look at one such mastermind: Mr. Albert Einstein. He was the consummate forward-thinker, and had a lot to say about education that has proven itself prophetic:
“Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as hard duty. Never regard study as duty but as the enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of beauty in the realm of the spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later work belongs.” - Albert Einstein
Online learning today has taken so much of the “hard duty” out of both learning and teaching. It puts the material in the hands (and minds) of students. When Einstein discussed education, it was at least a half-century before the Internet would even exist. Still, he questioned traditional approaches to learning and envisioned change based on freedom and self-reliance:
“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom. Without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail.” - Albert Einstein
Mr. Einstein loved learning and adored pushing his intelligence to its limits. For him, exploring complex equations and developing theories was just plain fun! He saw this as a key to unlocking the potential of the human mind:
“Combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought… Play is the highest form of research.” - Albert Einstein
It’s not surprising then that ODYSSEYWARE develops online curriculum that leverages interesting multimedia components and even games to promote learning that’s actually fun. And in the process, it makes teaching more fun too – as educators can now dedicate more 1:1 time with students to expand their respective universes. We think Einstein would be pleased.
Growing up is a big job, at least that’s what his dad said. And kindergarten, well, it was going to be sort of hard, but he was ready. He had a new backpack, a good breakfast, and he could tie his shoes. But now that he was stepping into the car for the ride to his new school, he wasn’t so sure.
NEW THINGS are scary, he thought. What if his teacher is mean or if he gets lost? What if it’s too hard? Will he be able to make friends? Maybe he isn’t smart enough.
While these thoughts ran through his head, the car stopped in front of the school. Like it or not, it was the start of something new. He took a deep breath, hugged his dad, and took a brave and vulnerable step into his future.
As grown-ups in a grown-up world, most of have had the same first-day-of-school fear. We’ve probably experienced it more than once – new spouse, a new house, a new job. For many teachers, teaching with technology is just another NEW THING to add to the list.
To take this brave step into the future, we need to take a cue from this kindergarten kid and be okay with our own vulnerability. Kids are much better at vulnerability than adults are. They don’t carry the scars of ideas gone sour or aspirations dashed. They haven’t felt the repercussions of not measuring up. They trust. More than anything, they know they have a lot to learn.
For teachers, this can be especially difficult, as the last few decades have put them on the stage, always an expert on their particular subject – and always right. Unfortunately, with ed tech, it’s almost impossible to be an expert. As soon as we get it, the rules, the tools, and the learning environments change. The only way to approach these changes successfully is to see the world with the wonder of a child, full of possibilities and new things to learn, and allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
According to “Born in Another Time: Ensuring Educational Technology Meets the Needs of Students Today – And Tomorrow,” a recent report for the National Association of State Boards of Education, “Teacher-prep programs tend to emphasize using technology to boost educators' ‘personal productivity,’ through the use of tools such as word processing and spreadsheets, and for use in presenting information, as opposed to giving aspiring educators the tech skills needed to collect, analyze, and utilize data in their instruction.”
Why aren’t teachers embracing technology tools for instruction as enthusiastically as they could? Perhaps they lack the ability to expose their vulnerabilities. Perhaps the only way to overcome these vulnerabilities is to become curious again, to learn, and to trust that they are safe.
One answer may be Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for educators.
Coursera, a provider of university level MOOCs, recently announce a slate of courses for K-12 teachers, bringing professional development to the web. Early courses will focus on topics like content development, common core, flipping the classroom, and blended learning strategies.
To effectively teach today’s digitally proficient students, teachers need new – disruptive – skills.
According to a statement from Coursera Co-Founder Andrew Ng, "We want to help K-12 students by helping their teachers. Many schools just don't have the resources to provide teachers and parents the training and support they need. By providing free online courses on how to teach, we hope to improve this."
These new online professional development courses give teachers the opportunity to learn strategies, best practices, and effective tools for teaching with integrated technology and to build their confidence.
We’re all vulnerable, but with training, teachers can take the first steps into digital classrooms with the curiosity of a child, and the desire to keep learning.
How do you overcome your vulnerability when approaching new digital teaching strategies? What can you learn from your students? Share your comments here.
My son is growing up in a world much different than the one I experienced as a child. I worry that it's a bit more frightening. He has climate change and access to the world of information via the Internet. I had Britannica and The Brady Bunch, in which every one of life's serious questions could be resolved in a 30-minute segment.
One can't help but wonder just how life might have been different for America's first blended TV family if they woke up in the 21st century.
Greg Brady, the oldest of the Brady kids, was self-confident and sporty, but it was no secret he had dreams of fame. In today's world, he would definitely be a competitor on Idol. To fulfill his dream of fame and to stay sports-eligible, he would likely be a candidate for online credit recovery.
Marsha, Marsha, Marsha...would predictably spend too much time on social media and become a follower of everyone famous, including Justin Bieber. It would be a challenge for her teachers to keep her focused on learning and not passing notes during long lectures—hurray for engaging academic content.
Low self-esteem was Peter's biggest challenge. He just couldn't figure out what he was good at. With online coursework differentiated to capitalize on his strengths, he could overcome his anxiety and improve his self-image.
Bookish, quiet, and in Marsha's shadow, Jan Brady was forever aware of her middle child status. She would definitely own a tablet, read everything online, and might prove herself an academic whiz as well as an artist when enrolled in a 1:1 program.
Adorable little Bobby was the jokester, often getting his siblings in trouble with his misadventures. Although he earned a spot on the safety patrol, he was a handful. This child often lived in a fantasy world...gamer perhaps? Imagine what might happen if he was given the opportunity to channel his high energy and lofty ideas in productive ways.
Cute as a polished button, Cindy owned America's hearts, even if she loved to dig up dirt on the other Brady kids. Her sweet lisp might land her in a special program today, but she was born to research. With her nose for illicit news, it would be wise for the kids to guard their passwords and monitor their digital footprints.
Classrooms today are filled with kids just like the Bradys. Differentiated learning programs and online resources give teachers an opportunity to let kids learn in ways that ensures they will be engaged and prepared for life after high school. Isn't that what real learning looks like?
With teachers road-weary from planning and implementing CCSS for math and English language arts and new online assessments on the way, it’s almost unthinkable that we are giving them one more set of standards to think about. Unfortunately, it’s past time.
The last comprehensive revision of science standards took place 15 years ago. If you’re a science and technology fan or if you don’t live under a rock, it’s obvious that many things have changed in the scientific world over the last two decades. It’s time our students are learning about it.
Why and How?
In the recent past, states used the National Science Education Standards from the National Research Council (NRC) and Benchmarks for Science Literacy from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to guide the development of their current state science standards.
According to the NGSS website, the development process was informed by the scientific and educational research communities, who identified core ideas in science and articulated them across grade levels. This result was the NRC’s Framework for K–12 Science Education, which ensured scientific validity and accuracy.
A committee of 18 experts in science, engineering, cognitive science, teaching and learning, curriculum, assessment, and education policy wrote the Framework, which describes a vision of what it means to be proficient in science. It also presents and explains the interrelationships among practices, cross-disciplinary concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. Guided by the Framework, Achieve, an independent, bi-partisan non-profit education reform organization, then facilitated a state-led process where policy leaders, teachers, the science and business community and others developed the new science standards.
Throughout the process, state and education leadership played an integral part in developing these standards, and the public had multiple opportunities to provide feedback.
Based on the Framework for K-12 Science Education, NGSS represent a conceptual shift in the way we approach science education.
“…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 science education.” -- A Framework for K-12 Science Education
Here’s what’s different:
• Students must be engaged in three integrated dimensions of learning:
- Science and Engineering Practices
- Crosscutting Concepts
- Disciplinary Core Ideas
• NGSS are student performance expectations – NOT curriculum
Performance expectations clarify the expectations of what students will know and be able to do be the end of specific grades. Teachers and curriculum specialists will create their own coherent instructional programs that help students achieve these standards.
• NGSS science concepts build coherently from K-12
Students will discover the interconnectedness of increasingly more challenging scientific concepts and content over time, from kindergarten through high school.
• Focus on deeper understanding AND application of content
“Understanding the core ideas and engaging in the scientific and engineering practices helps to prepare students for broader understanding, and deeper levels of scientific and engineering investigation, later on—in high school, college, and beyond.” - A Framework for K-12 Science Education
• Science and engineering are integrated
In additional to traditional science instruction, both engineering and technology have been integrated into the NGSS.
• College, career, and citizenship readiness
In our complex, technology-rich world, a thorough understanding and practical approach to science will empower students to make better decisions for their future.
• Aligned with Common Core State Standards
The NGSS are aligned with the CCSS to ensure a symbiotic pace of learning in all content areas. The three sets of standards overlap, making science an important part of every child’s comprehensive education.
You Be the Judge
The goal of the NGSS is to engage students in real science and help them understand the real-world relationship between science, technology, engineering, and life. In the end, we want to prepare them for a future we have yet to conceive. Will these standards get us there? If nothing else, it’s a great running start.
Take a look at the standards or check out this series of You Tube Videos to get a better feel for what’s coming.
I think the case has been adequately pressed for educators to give consideration to the varied learning styles of students. Teachers are expected, and rightly so, to adapt their teaching methods, form, and function to address the fact that in a room of 28 fifth graders, it is almost a certainty that all officially cataloged learning styles (visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social and solitary) will be present.
When you factor in the fact that all of us exhibit different styles based on age, subject matter, circumstances, or even mood, the number of styles present in that classroom calculates out to…let’s see…eh…seven styles times 28 kids plus fifth grade divided by…umm…uh…well…We can agree that it’s a pretty big number. Now, let’s add to the equation the personality, teaching style, demeanor, education, political agenda and Facebook status of the teacher, and you’re staring down a pretty big and challenging task.
The characters so masterfully created, developed, and nurtured by A.A. Milne in the popular children’s classic “Winnie the Pooh” are my go-to object lesson on this topic.
What teacher hasn’t looked out at their class without seeing scholarly Owl; shy, self-doubting Piglet; the take care of everyone Kanga; and the busy and always industrious Rabbit. Perhaps there’s an ever-loving and equally lovable Pooh; a bouncing-off-the-walls-with-little-regard-for-structure Tigger; or maybe you see a morose, chronically sad, and withdrawn Eeyore.
What about you? Which Pooh character is staring at you when to look in the mirror?
We’ve all heard it before, “To thine own self be true.” (Polonius, “Hamlet,” Act 1, Scene 3). Or the incomparable Dr. Suess: “Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive that is you-er than you!”
I get it. Integrity to self is important and is not to be ignored, sacrificed, or polluted. However, be sure that the self you're modeling before your friends, family, and students is the self you want to be.
Are you too much of the know-it-all Owl, shutting down natural and needed curiosity? Are you doing a disservice to your class by doing too much for them and stifling their opportunity for true learning, like Kanga? Is your internal, Piglet-like battle with self-worth and esteem causing you to be more reserved and reclusive than you would prefer? Are you modeling an all over the place style like Tigger, or are you channeling the love and caring of Pooh? Whichever character our personalities and styles lend themselves towards, when we are influencing children – students who look up to us – we need to pay special attention to our behavior, attitude, and demeanor.
I’m not suggesting that you develop an alternative and more acceptable persona to put on display while at work – unless of course your default is Eeyore. If you’re an Eeyore – moping around, grumbling, and chronically the victim of injustice – that is precisely what you need to do. Leave Eeyore at home and show your friends, co-workers, and most importantly, your students, a teacher who chooses to lead by example and has taken the time to make sure that his example is worthy of imitation.
Are you an Eeyore? An Owl? Tell us which “Winnie the Pooh” character is best reflected in your teaching style with a comment below.
Timothy Carlson is the Vice President of Marketing for ODYSSEYWARE, where he leads (and listens to) his team of creative characters.
It’s April. This month we celebrate Earth Day. I always look forward to Earth Day but not always for the reasons I should. For me it means the end of winter, warmer days, and the joy of packing away my winter coat, but mostly I know that the coming of Earth Day means summer is just a couple of cold nights away.
I have a second confession. While I believe in the principles behind Earth Day – planting trees, minimizing my carbon footprint, and the three R’s - reduce, reuse, and recycle – I’m not always great at follow through.
- I don’t always recycle. Even though I have a box for recycling at my desk, I sometimes default to the regular trash can without thinking.
- I don’t always reuse. There’s something wonderful about taking notes or creating an outline on a pristine piece of paper instead of using the back side of one that’s been used.
- I don’t always reduce. Although my trash and recycling bins are full all too often, I get lazy and opt not to flatten the cereal boxes and milk cartons.
- I don’t remember the last tree I planted to make the air cleaner. (I did plant a few new shrubs in my front yard a couple years ago to increase curb appeal.)
I have made a few conscious decisions that are good for the Earth.
- I never use Styrofoam. Don’t want to add to the 2.3 million pounds of foam sent to landfills by Americans every year. My mother in law does not approve.
- I don’t buy paper plates – with the exception of dino-themed birthday plates by request of my son. My mother in law thinks paper plates are kitchen essentials.
- I store food in reusable containers. I prefer glass in most cases to avoid BPA contamination and to reduce my trash output.
- I use reusable bottles for drinking water when on-the-go. I get that the production of plastic bottles requires millions of barrels of oil per year and the transportation of bottled water from its source to stores releases thousands of tons of carbon dioxide.
I carpool, turn off lights, unplug appliances when not in use, conserve water, and try to think about the consequences of my actions on the earth. Despite all these efforts, I still am not doing enough.
But I am doing something.
In our schools, educators talk a lot about going green, but the reality is that it’s not always pragmatic or cost-effective to follow through with action. Even if you can’t always put your words into action, there are some things you can do.
1. Create a zero-waste classroom
2. Green your classroom supplies
- Set up recycling bins. (Get parent volunteers to transport if necessary.)
- Ask students to pack zero-waste lunches with reusable container.
- Make art from trash.
- Think of ways to reuse everything.
3. Teach green
- Get environmentally new materials when possible.
- Collect and reuse gently-used supplies.
- Make new notebooks from old paper,
- Use recycled paper when possible.
- Print sparingly.
- Encourage online practice.
- Learner-oriented programs – make it personal
- Wonder-oriented programs – build appreciation
- Community-oriented programs – encourage civic ideals
- Action-oriented programs – encourage real-world involvement
- Relationship-oriented – build the connection
- Add it up – show them the results of their efforts
So, we’re not perfect. Some days we have other priorities and environmental awareness isn’t on the top of our list. We may not stop global climate change, but if educators do what they can and teach kids that their actions matter, they can make a difference.
Happy Earth Day! Share your ideas with other educators by commenting below.
When people get to know me, they often find me a bit odd. While I prefer quirky, I really can’t dispute their finding. My view of topics, events, people and even philosophy frequently takes a turn towards, you might say, the curious. I ask questions (and expect answers) that others never think about. I take the third or fourth side in arguments in which others only consider two. Perhaps the oddest thing is – and I embrace this – is that I enjoy my odd tendency and I see nothing wrong with it. You might wonder – from whence did this set of behaviors originate, when did he feel empowered to hitch his wagon to the quirky-mobile, nature or nurture, paper or plastic? Here’s the answer: 10th grade geometry.
My geometry teacher at La Quinta High School in Westminster, California, was Mr. Jerome Parr. Boy was he odd. Mr. Parr’s approach to teaching was nothing, and I do mean nothing, like I had (or have) ever seen. His fake accents (poorly delivered), made-up nicknames (I think he had one for every student. Mine was Dimothy), and his dramatic sighs, groans and facial expressions were nothing short of comical. Between his completely deadpan humor and bizarre antics – hiding in the closet for the first 15 minutes of class and then stepping out as if this behavior was normal, sipping from a glass of water while pretending to enjoy a cocktail (“a little too much Vermouth today”), pretending to smoke in class as he walked up and down the rows lecturing (he did actually light up once which he quickly extinguished in the pocket of his suit coat), he had quirky down pat.
He taught five daily geometry classes, a subject that few cared about, to 10th graders, who cared far more about Friday’s football game or the cute girl in the next row than about calculating the area of trapezoids. By the way, I’m still married to that cute girl from my class. He was probably the least favorite of the ten math teachers at the school and was widely viewed as a big joke by the more than 3,000 students, and perhaps much of the faculty, too. He had developed his own unique way to get through the day, to survive.
Despite this oddness, I truly enjoyed his class and I actually learned a lot. In Mr. Parr’s class, I developed a decent understanding of how to calculate the number of degrees in the opposing angles of a tetrahedron. I learned that understanding how you got the right answer is just as important as getting the right answer (half credit for the answer and half for showing how you got there). Most importantly, I learned; no, I was empowered to embrace being me – being odd. If being quirky was okay for Mr. Parr, then it was okay for me.
Many years later I still remember with great clarity the details of geometry in my sophomore year – more detail than perhaps any of my other classes and teachers. I survived the path from being a 15 year-old kid to adulthood. I have a family that I love. I’m gainfully employed. And I’m odd.
Mr. Jerome Parr was an exceptional teacher. He taught me more than the finer points of math, much more than passing some state test – he taught be how to be me. I am and shall be forever grateful.
Timothy Carlson is the Vice President of Marketing for ODYSSEYWARE, where he leads (and empowers) his quirky team of creatives.
It’s hard to find an article in any education mag, blog, or website that doesn’t tout some gadget, gizmo, or other device and how it’s going to completely change how kids learn. Now, I’m not complaining. I’m all for bringing the tech into the classroom, be it brick and mortar or virtual.
That said, do you know what else is hard and rather concerning? With all the hype going on with 1:1 initiatives and devices, apps, extensions, etc., it’s extremely hard to find anyone talking about why we’re doing it in the first place. (Read Part I of this series, “Why are you going 1:1?”)
The worst answer in the world to that question is “because it will make teaching easier.” I actually heard those exact words come from an excited iPad enthusiast at a technology in education conference last month. Not wanting to deflate our shared enthusiasm for tech, I asked why it would make teaching easier. She said, “Because it’s what the kids want to do.” Touché . . . sort of.
I’ll bet if I offered an iPad, or any other device for that matter, to 20 kids, every one of them would gladly accept it, scamper away giddily, plant themselves on a nearby patch of carpet and immediately begin exploring their newly unveiled digital universe a.k.a. Angry Birds Space. Of course it’s what kids want to do! But that alone won’t make teaching them easier. It may actually make it more challenging, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it could be a very, very good thing.
The first thing we need to understand about the why is that it is not about the technology.
Not really. Think about it. When you last updated your Facebook status or sent out a tweet from your smartphone, you didn’t engage with the app or device. You engaged with others through it. Providing a device to a digital native is not a sure guarantee that they are going to do something productive with it, and herein lies a teacher’s challenge: How do you help kids to effectively engage through their technology in a productive way?
It starts with knowing why and how they use it in the first place. We’ll tackle that in Part III of this series.
Shawn Jensen is an educational consultant and trainer for ODYSSEYWARE. He spends most of his time in the field working with teachers and administrators as they face the challenges of educating in the 21st century.
Did you know that KFC stopped using the word “chicken” because it serves meat from mutant animals? Were you aware that many radio stations around the country shunned Diamond Rio’s song “In God We Still Trust” because of its subject matter? Did you know that a recent study proves that George W. Bush has the lowest IQ of all presidents in the last 50 years?
These are the kinds of statements – or “facts” – that we often find posted on our social media outlets and across the World Wide Web.
As adults, many of us have the good sense to check before we repost, like, or retweet. Services like Snopes.com, truthorfiction.com and factcheck.org do the work for us, investigating claims that sound absurd or that are trending across social media channels. And then there are some people not quite as discerning that propagate misinformation. Unfortunately, this has led me to remove some of my friends from my Facebook newsfeed. I simply don’t have the patience for it.
It’s not only in social media channels where we see this flood of misinformation, but it’s all over the Internet.
As a teacher, how do you help your students develop their own radar when it comes to unfounded claims, reliability of sources, and iffy information?
According to a survey of teachers, conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in collaboration with the College Board and the National Writing Project, the Internet has opened up a vast world of information for today’s students, yet students’ digital literacy skills have yet to catch up.
- 83% of teachers agree that the amount of information available online is overwhelming to most students.
- 71% of teachers agree that today’s digital technologies discourage students from using a wide range of sources when conducting research.
- 60% of teachers agree that today’s technologies make it harder for students to find credible sources of information.
- 91% of teachers either strongly or somewhat agree that courses and course content focusing on digital literacy should be incorporated into every school’s curriculum.
Helping students learn how to be savvy media consumers is imperative as we move through the information age. While Wikipedia may be a good place to start, it is hardly the kind of source we encourage them to use when building a case, sharing information, and solving problems.
9 questions you should encourage your students to ask when evaluating information:
- Has the source of this information been identified by name and affiliation?
- Who is the author? Is the author an expert on the specific topic?
- If the information comes from an anonymous source, why are they unwilling to be named?
- Can this information be confirmed by another source?
- Are the sources of this information credible?
- Does the source have a bias and/or identifiable agenda?
- Does the source have a vested interest in providing this information?
- Where does the information reside? Is the website a government or educational site vs. a commercial site?
- Is the information current?
The truth is that students have a lot to learn about locating, evaluating, and citing online information. As a matter of fact, many adults have this challenge, too.
Talk to your students about the reliability of the information they find online, and the importance of finding information they can trust. Follow that up with a conversation about giving credit where it’s due. And be sure you “like” that really cool photo on Facebook to win an iPad.
What do you do to help your students learn to be discriminating media consumers? How many adults in your life could use a crash course? Share your comments below.
At a recent conference in Wyoming, a long-time administrator related to me that his school had spent the better part of the year struggling to implement a 1:1 initiative. The district had purchased a truckload of brand new tablets, enough for each student and teacher, and had conducted extensive training to get everyone up to speed.
At first, nearly everyone was excited about their cool new learning tool.
“After all, this is the future, right?” he said.
However, the excitement faded – rapidly. Suddenly, the administrator was confronted with frustrated teachers, parents, and students. The tablets worked fine and everyone knew how to use them, but for some reason use was declining. Some teachers had even put them away completely and gone back to their textbooks! He couldn’t figure out how the future had backfired on them.
Then we talked about the training. They had brought in trainers from the provider to ensure everyone (including parents) knew which buttons to push, which apps to use, tips, tricks, whistles, bells, etc. They knew HOW to use the tool perfectly. So why was their 1:1 ship sinking?
I asked him if they had trained the teachers on WHY they were going 1:1.
“Uh, no, not really. I guess we just assumed everyone understood that.”
And there it was.
In training speak, we call the WHY the rationale. If you want to get people to learn something, they better know why they’re learning it in the first place. In my new administrator friend’s case, they had spent so much time teaching the HOW that they had completely forgotten to teach the WHY.
Are you getting any hesitation, grumbling, or even all out mutiny from teachers, parents, or students as you implement your 1:1 initiative? Start by looking at how effectively you’ve taught the WHY.
What is the WHY with 1:1 initiatives? We’ll explore that in Part 2 of this series.
Shawn Jensen is an education consultant and trainer for ODYSSEYWARE. He spends most of his time in the field working with teachers and administrators as they face the challenges of educating in the 21st century.