Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Possible educational value of using phones in schools

Today, I had a very enjoyable conversation with Dr. Kate Highfield about the roles of technology in early education. I've always been frustrated by school technology use in the US- we complain about not having the funds to support a 1-1 technology to student ratio in classrooms, but then spend countless amounts of time and energy preventing kids from brings cell phones into the classroom. We live in a world in which we are close to 1-1 people to technology ratio, and then we ban that technology from schools, and then try to recreate that 1-1 ratio from scratch. Which is why I was very intrigued when Dr. Highfield described how common the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy was in Australian schools.

Putting aside the utility of greater student connectivity, could there potentially be other benefits to letting students use their phone in the classroom? Hear me out for a second. In my work at Iridescent, I found a real value to giving families in our family science program piles of unsorted household supplies to build their machines with. You can give nice fabricated or branded pieces, or "kits" of carefully measured out proportions of household materials, but either of those options tends to give the impression that you need the "nice" stuff or the "kit" to do science, and leads to less making things after the program ends. Nothing beats a random pile of unsorted household materials for giving someone the confidence to do science on their own, at home.

So would the same thinking apply to technology devices? Consider that whatever we do with phones in school, kids are going to be on their phones when they leave school. Wouldn't it be great if kids were spending that phone time on more productive, learning activities? It might be that using a school technology device, like a labtop or a tablet with some preloaded software, gives kids the impression that they need the "technology kit" to learn on their technology device. Maybe they will think that they need the school's computer that has been specifically specced out for learning apps, or the actual pre-installed applications, to really learn on some technology. Maybe they'll see that they can do some of the same stuff on their home computers, if they have one. But, on their phones? What if students actually needed to use their phones in school, in order to view and later use their phones as learning tools?

So here's my question to Dr. Highfield and anyone else- has anyone researched this issue, particularly in a place like Australia where a BYOD policy exists? Does the type of technology used by students in school affect how those same students use their personal technology devices outside of school?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Four Freedoms of Play and Common Core Standardized Testing

This article is cross-posted on the Iridescent blog.

I was inspired by Scot Osterweil's recent presentation at GLS, in which he presented his four freedoms of play:
  • Freedom to Experiment
  • Freedom to Fail
  • Freedom to Try on Identifies
  • Freedom of Effort
What makes this framework most interesting is that to Scot, these are not only the four freedoms of play, but also the four freedoms of learning. Good learning environments also need to contain these freedoms to be effective, an idea very much resonant with James Gee's view on games and learning.

Although these freedoms are not a particularly new idea, it was new to me this year, and it really helped crystalize several previous thoughts I've written about. It definitely resonated with my ideas that agency is not a binary quality of an activity, but that learning activities can contain different degrees of agency. This framework helped illuminate some of those different degrees to which an activity can contain freedom/agency. 

But most interestingly, Scot noted in his talk how school doesn't contain these freedoms, despite the fact that both games and learning do.  His challenge to us was to imagine a school environment that did contain these freedoms. I found it especially interesting to think about in relation to Common Core and standardized testing, which led to the question of this blog post: could a school environment that was constrained by standards ever achieve these four freedoms? Let's try to break down the freedoms and answer that question.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Homemade device to record your iPad with your iPhone using popsicle sticks and rubber bands

This article is cross-posted on the Iridescent blog.

So at Iridescent, we like to live what we preach. We don't just ask kids to make things from scratch, we do it too. Recently I decided that I needed a device to record myself playing games on my iPad (for a separate project to be talked about later). I had done this once before using my iPhone stacked up on a bunch of books and it worked reasonably well. So I decided I wanted the device to hold my iPhone in a position where it could record my iPad. But I also wanted to record myself consistently over the course of a year, so that each time I set it up, it recorded the same way, which meant I needed something better than the stacks-of-books method. It also had to be minimally intrusive in preventing me from using the iPad.

As I thought about this, I realized I had a well-defined design challenge that I needed to solve. Which meant to make things more fun, I decided to use the rule in we use in all of our design challenges: use only low-cost materials.

Additionally, I was always impressed with a Leonardo Da Vinci segment that Bobby Zacharias used in our Be an Inventor program in spring 2012. In the first weeks of that program, students had to design some kind of invention using only the tools and technology available to Leonardo. This meant no glue or machine screws could be used to make connections--things had to be lashed together or connected by pin joints. I always thought that sounded fun, so I decided to put the same constraint on my device.

So, where did that leave me? With a handful of popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and a bunch of ideas in my head.

The final result! Now, how did I get here...