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Monday , July 22 2019
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Home | Tag Archives: edtech

Tag Archives: edtech

Op-Ed: Go Karts and Ed Tech

When I was but a lad, there were several go kart tracks in Northeast El Paso.

One was at a miniature golf course which had an orange dinosaur, and one was dedicated solely to go karts farther north on Dyer street.

I remember, as a 9 or 10 year old, the thrill of riding these mini-cars, which seemed to me to go a hundred miles an hour, with the summer wind in my hair and the smell of exhaust hitting my nostrils.

These lawnmower-engines-strapped-to-a-frame with four wheels seemed to me the be the pinnacle of the driving experience. It simply could not get any better than zipping around the tire and hay-rimmed track, trying to out-maneuver my friends and “win” the imaginary El Chuco 500.

Only later in my life, after I had experienced real driving, real speed, and real El Paso roads did I realize that the go kart experience led much to be desired.

Years after those Northeast El Paso tracks packed up and left, did I try to ride Go Karts again, only to realize that while the karts and the tracks were virtually the same, the experience was something much less than desired.

No matter how hard I pressed the accelerator, no matter how well I swept around the corners, no matter how much I tried, the go karts would not go faster than some predetermined speed, preset before I even bought my ticket and go on the kart.

The speed limit was set ahead of time by someone, somewhere, no doubt who was taking the advice of lawyers and bureaucrats who said that “This shall be the speed: No More, no less.”

Probably as a kid, that limit – that throttle governor – was there already, I just didn’t notice it. It was just a thrill to be a “driver” in a world where I couldn’t drive until I was 16.

I was thinking about how those go karts had been ‘governed’ by adults when I was a kid and then thought about how we do that with kids in education.

A case in point might be how we let kids use technology in classes.

As a long time observer of how technology is used in classrooms, I have noticed that there are basically three kinds of teachers when it comes to edtech: Those that ignore technology all together (won’t even allow kids near the go karts), ones that allow a minimum use of technology that mimics what happens already in a class (you can ride the go carts, but you can only go so fast) and those that let kids go to explore and use edtech as freely as possible (remove the throttle governor and let the drivers drive as fast as possible).

Teachers that do not allow any use of technology in a class are usually ones that have a built in argument that technology does not make a difference.

Students are doing well, why should I add another “gizmo or gadget” to what they are doing? My students are always achieving, so why mess with success? In my mind, these teachers are doing their students no favors at all.

It is the education equivalent of never going to the go kart track, therefore never allowing the experience of traveling faster than they usually do. It is worse than governing the go kart, it is not even allowing the student to climb in.

Teachers that allow students to use some technology but limit it to Google searching and typing up reports in Microsoft Word are the equivalent of the throttle-governed go kart. You can get in and drive, you just can’t drive too fast.

Do what we always do in class, just do it digitally. Always drove the same speed. You won’t win the race, but at least you wont crash. I understand that many teachers feel like they will lose control if they remove the governor, because many of them are not, as they often tell me even in 2019, “Tech Savvy.”

So to them, any edtech is better than no edtech. The funny thing is many in this group will say that they don’t “really” see a difference in their student outcomes. This isn’t surprising, because they are merely substituting the old analog assignments for the exact same assignments in digital form.

The last group of teachers are those that remove the throttle governor of edtech and let their students go. Press down on the accelerator and see how fast your kart can go. Feel the wind in your academic hair.

These teachers love to explore the new tech that is available, are not afraid to let their students try new things and even thought they might occasionally crash. That’s okay, because by messing up occasionally, students learn. These teacher are not afraid to say to their students “Teach me something I don’t know, show me something awesome, present your work in a new format.”

It is pretty easy to find these teachers: They are tweeting out their student’s experiences and learning for the entire world to see. Go ahead and look for hashtags like #microsoftedu or #appleteacher.

They are all over the place and are leading the way forward for students and their colleagues.

Principals all over should challenge their teachers in the upcoming school year to allow their kids to get in the edtech go karts and take off the throttle governors.

Parents should seek out those campuses and those teachers that allow students to press on the accelerator of learning. They will be amazed at what happens.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Teaching With Technology Should Not Be An Option: It’s The Law.

In Texas, the law requires schools to integrate technology into lesson in every curricular area in grades K-8. Period. The law is the law.

And after 8th grade, it is assumed that all grades in all content areas 9-12 will just continue the work of their K-8 colleagues and integrate technology into almost all lessons as the students should be “technologically literate” by the end of 8th grade.

Required by law you say? How can that be true? Well, since 1996 Texas has written education technology into the state standards of education. These standards are called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) are written for every single course taught in the state, from Algebra to Physics, to Yearbook.

Just as schools are required by law to teach students to read, multiply and divide, to understand the genres of literature, and the branches of government, they are also required to teach students how to properly use computers to complete assignments, keyboarding skills, communicate with others and other skills.

The TEKS for technology are called the “Technology Application TEKS” and have been, almost since their inception in 1996, largely ignored to the point where most teachers in grades K-8 could not name a single one of the six strands that make up the TEKS:

  • Be creative and innovative,
  • Communicate and collaborate
  • Research information
  • Think critically, problem solve and make decisions
  • Be good digital citizens
  • Know the proper technology tools, concepts and applications to use

Common throughout all of these “strands’ are students creating digital products using digital tools. Students should not be using computers as glorified typewriters. Indeed, according to the law, the TEKS, our students should be creating products and learning how to problem solve, communicate with each other and post work online as early as Kindergarten.

Kindergarten.

Let that sink in for a minute. Are your children doing that at school? By 8th grade, they should be creating products with a variety tools, working collaboratively with each other both in and outside of their school, working with mentors online, as well as be experts in word processing, spreadsheets, databases and presentation software, saving work online, and solving complex problems using online data,.

The K-8 Technology TEKS are unique set of state standards in that there is no single course attributed to them. Unlike say, English Language Arts, or Mathematics which have their own specific set of standards, the Technology TEKS are outside of any single curricular area, yet are supposed to be taught in all of them.

There are references, obliquely, in almost every single set of standards for almost every single other course, but they are not “required,” giving teachers and administrators an out by saying something like “The student may;” That means the student may NOT as well. Thus, they get swept under the proverbial academic rug, when it comes to curriculum.

No content area says the K-8 Technology TEKS belong “to them” thus many teachers and schools assume some other course or grade level will teach them, giving them the wrong impression that they can ignoring technology completely.  “That which isn’t tested isn’t taught” the old saying goes, and since Technology is a tool not a curriculum per se, it is ignored.

The mantra of “They will learn that in Middle School” has been used by some to completely ignore technology in almost all elementary grade levels at some schools. Sadly, many of our students do not “learn that in middle school.”

Because of this game of “TEKS hot potato,” the Technology TEKS are simply ignored in many cases. Even in districts that have some sort of digital initiative where students receive laptops or tablets, there are no real incentives for teachers to include them in lessons unless they are somehow self-motivated to do so.

Almost all school districts in the state of Texas pay for and use the Texas Resource System or TRS (https://www.teksresourcesystem.net), to provide suggestions and structure for teachers in all of the “core” academic courses.

TRS is used in over 80% of Texas school districts (including all of the local districts save Ft. Hancock) to provide a year long structure for courses, yet one would be extremely hard pressed to find a single instance where the TRS incorporates the Technology TEKS into their “instructional focus documents.”

Even the “standards authority” of the TEKS Resource System, which is a commercial product that districts rely on to provide guidance with what your child is taught, essentially seems to give a pass on the Technology TEKS and leaves it up to the individual teacher whether or not technology is taught and used in the classroom.

Consider this: ONE of the many skills that an 8th graders should be leaving middle school with according to the state law: “Students should be able to…create and manage personal learning networks to collaborate and publish with peers, experts, or others using digital tools such as blogs, wikis, audio/video communication, or other emerging technologies…”

That is just a single example.

If you had a child in 8th grade in any public school in Texas since 1996, they should have had that skill (among many others) before they left for high school. Did they? Have they? Will they?

If teaching what the law requires wasn’t enough of an incentive, the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS), the statewide method districts evaluate teachers, specifically mentions integrating technology in classroom lessons. A teacher simply cannot move up the “T-TESS Rubric” without properly using technology in the classroom.

The T-TESS is neither grade nor course specific, thus the state expects all teachers in all courses in all classes to integrate technology into lessons. (Integration means what the students are using digital devices for, not what the teacher is using.)

Of course it is up to each district to provide the tools to students and train teachers, but frankly, it is 100% up to the teacher whether or not technology is integrated into lessons. Even in 2019, twenty years into the 21st century, there are teachers who refuse to use available technology or incorporate it into lessons.

That is unacceptable, illegal, and educational malpractice no matter the reason.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Why Don’t You Help Parents with Ed Tech?

I recently was asked to answer a questions for a tv report about edtech in the classroom.  My answer was never used in the report, so I thought I would share it with you.

“Do you provide classes or help for parents who are not comfortable with technology?”

Our district has been moving steadily towards more and more digital tools. The implication of the question, at least in my mind, was that the technology was difficult to understand, and the school district should provide some kind of training for parents so that they could work with their children.

It sounds like a great idea. At least at first.

I got to thinking about the question a lot. I tried to think of another area in school where parents might be given instruction about how to use the tools their children are being asked to use. I could not think of a single one, although I am sure they are out there somewhere.

For instance, suppose my child is in marching band. Do we teach parents how to play the trumpet so that they can help their children during practice?

Do we give parents lessons on modern dance to help their children with a complex dance routine? No.

Even more basically, do we do this type of thing for basic academic topics? Do we tutor parents on Algebra, American Government, Calculus, or Physics? No, we do not.

Would ed tech training even be helpful for parents? I don’t think so. Here is why: Student use all kinds of technology to get to a single answer. For instance they might solve a Algebra homework question by using Wolfram Alpha, or Khan Academy, or Hippocampus.org. The list is endless.

There is no way a school could say to a parent “here is the only way to help your child with this Algebra problem.” It would be a useless exercise. The better exercise would be to teach students how to search properly for help, how to collaborate on questions, and how to use tools like Skype toward together after hours.

Then explain to their parents WHAT students will be expected to do, how to monitor them online, and how to set expectations for technology use at home.

I know that some school districts and even schools by themselves, give “parent training” on the basics of technology. Usually, these classes center around how to use a computer, how to surf the internet, how to fill out online forms, etc. They are meant to help non-technical parents function at a low level in a technical workforce.

However, I don’t think that these are all that useful for parents to work with their children unless the lessons given to the parents are directly tied to the lessons the students are learning in the classroom. In most cases, they are not. They are simply the basics of technology use.

The children probably have a greater understanding of the technology just by what they use in the classroom and with their peers.

Now to be fair, our district does provide videos for students on how to use the very basics of the technology they are getting. And parents could easily access those videos. And we help parents with topics like cybersafety.

But how to use devices in class?  Not now, not yet.

I think that this type of question is part of a larger issue: People still do not see technology as an integrated piece of the learning culture, but rather an add on. Therefore, tech is something of an afterthought.

Instead of that laptop being an extension tool like a pen or a pencil, to is something ADDITIONAL to the learning experience, not included in the learning experience.

I hope that mindset changes in the very near future.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

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