Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Do time limits matter?

Is There an Uncanny Valley in Education?

Many of you are probably familiar with the notion of the "Uncanny Valley."

The term was originally coined by Japanese roboticist Mashahiro Mori, who was very interested in the emotional responses of humans to robots and other humanoid devices. It helps explain, among other things, while the various Tom Hanks characters in The Polar Express can seem so darned creepy.


Reading it made me think that perhaps we also experience an uncanny valley when we think of schools. It seems as though the further we try to move from a one-room schoolhouse setting, the more uncanny we feel. By the way, I do not believe that it matters if the one-room schoolhouse is the Amish one pictured here, or a more modern version filled with laptops and other technologies.

In my view, we are teaching in a one-room schoolhouse if the traditional patterns of knowledge acquisition (teacher as sole owner/curator of knowledge) and sharing are intact. When I read over the various blogs and other edtech news sources that I peruse each day, I find that the most popular articles are those that match this model. The much less traditional initiatives are less so.

Mori talked about several ways that this valley can be crossed. Here, he discusses eyeglasses. When Mori says "prosthetic hands," read "new education initiatives."
To illustrate the principle, consider eyeglasses. Eyeglasses do not resemble real eyeballs, but one could say that their design has created a charming pair of new eyes. So we should follow the same principle in designing prosthetic hands. In doing so, instead of pitiful looking realistic hands, stylish ones would likely become fashionable.
This is an idea I will be investigating more in the future.

Friday, October 26, 2012

From STEM to ST2zEAM

Education Week: From STEM to ST2REAM

I enjoyed someone finally acknowledging that people needed problem-solving skills prior to the 21st century.

I also appreciate the focus on connections.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Working with Scratch 2012

For this school year, I knew (for my 7th graders at least) that I wanted the students to be able to construct devices that modeled living systems -- especially feedback mechanisms. I firmly believe that modeling is an important skill. For a really good discussion of how models can be powerfully used to study biological systems, see Professor John Long’s work, which he calls Darwin’s Devices.

It was, in fact, Long’s work that inspired me to redesign/expand my 7th grade Science curriculum to include more extensive use of Scratch and biological modeling. In past years, I have taught my students a bit of Scratch, mostly as a presentation tool. But, as I said, I wanted to add a biological modeling component to 7th grade Science, leading to the building of some robots. So, I chose to teach Scratch way more extensively than I have in the past.

I began by identifying a small set of skills the students needed to learn in Scratch. Here is my beginning Scratch curriculum. I then gave the students a brief overview of the program and then let them go. They understood that within a short period of time they would need to have developed proficiency in this set of skills, and they got to work.

My past work with Scratch and with other Constructivist and Constructionist tools had taught me that I needed to bake in “discovery time,” and so this is what I did. The students were given several lab sessions to develop these skills. As they were exploring, they would naturally share with me and each other what they had learned.

This method of learning (being given objectives and then time to meet them, instead of everything being carefully scripted for them) was exciting and productive for most of them. Within a short period of time, most of the students has developed the necessary proficiency, and more interestingly, began to add their own spins to what we were doing. The great benefit of this type of learning is that each student can bring their own individual interests to the table.

Here, for example, is a project made by a girl who loves dinosaurs.

Learn more about this project

And here is a project by a boy who wanted to replicated Pac Man. In typical classroom situations, he is shy and retiring. However, he brought himself fully to this project, even recreating all the game sounds himself. Learn more about this project For the two or three weeks of this project, I offered before school help/working sessions. For most, more than 15 students attended, mostly just to hang out together and work. It was really something. They have asked for this to be an ongoing thing, which I see developing as a club. 

The next step has involved adding sensors to my Scratch “curriculum.” The students began by using loudness to change the behavior of their sprites. Since the sound came from microphones built into the class set of laptops, the place was a little crazy for a while, while students shouted and made other sounds. Eventually, one of them figured out how to build an oscilloscope in Scratch. You can play with it here. Learn more about this project This has been a really exciting and rewarding experience for both me and my students. More importantly, I feel like something is happening to the climate of my classroom. And, of course, I am beginning to see my students developing some computational skills and thinking.  

Next time -- Moving Towards Robots.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Project Learning described by a high school senior

This interesting blog post, "Why Learning Should be Messy," from MindShift, is an overview of a new book by a high school senior, discusses this student's views on project-based learning.

Here is my favorite quote:
The role of the teacher in project-based learning as Laufenberg likes to say is an “architect of opportunity. Through a scaffolding strategy, they help us make sense of what we have learned. Still, teachers must understand that learning is uncomfortable, messy, and complicated.” Get over compliance and control!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Upside Down Academy

When Students Do The Teaching | Edutopia
What I am most interested in here is how the teachers and students collaborated.

I am not that excited about the Kahn Academy connection.