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EdTech Update





My educational Fitbit proposal now reality!

In January of 2015, I proposed an educational Fitbit after watching my kids with their physical Fitbits at Christmas.

So this morning it was fun to read that the Fresno School district is using a similar product. No, vastly improved upon and well implemented program.

I still have lingering concerns about this form of extrinsic motivation applied to learning and behavior, but I seem to be the only one. The rest of the world likes points and competition and tracking.

Damn, first I invent e-books, then digital citizenship, and now this. When will I learn to copyright/patent/traemark my ideas??? 


So many books, so little time

The number of books being published every year has exploded. Bowker reports that over three million books were published in the U.S. in 2010. The number of new print titles issued by U.S. publishers has grown from 215,777 in 2002 to 316,480 in 2010. And in 2010 more than 2.7 million “non-traditional” titles were also published, including self-published books, reprints of public domain works, and other print-on-demand books. In addition, hundreds of thousands of English-language books are published each year outside the U.S. The Ten Awful Truths - and the Ten Wonderful Truths - About Book Publshing, HuffPost June 5, 2012

One of this morning's radio stories was about the release of NPR's Book Concierge - 350 books their staff and critics really love.

I have a problem. So far this year (according to my Goodreads records), I have read 40 books including books I've listened to and one or two short kids' books. I will probably finish a couple books more before the end of the month. I don't feel bad about that reading record, but it is one heck of a long way from the 350 titles on NPR's recommended list and one hell of a long way from the nearly 3 million books published in the US alone each year.

So I don't have to narrow my reading selection to only the "good books," I have to select from a very long list of well-reviewed and worthy titles of both artistic and a social value. While book selection is very much a personal choice (unlike in classes that kill the love of reading), I have some strategies that help me choose books I will enjoy:

  1. I read favorite authors. (Mystery writers especially.)
  2. I re-read old favorites. (Working on Watership Down that I have not read since 1977 or so.)
  3. I read for needed information (travel books, etc.)
  4. I trust the recommendations of a very select groups of friends.
  5. I never feel guilty about giving up on a book that is not doing anything for me. (I like Nancy Pearl's advice of subtracting your age from 100 and giving a book that many pages to captivate you.)
  6. I read book reviews in the newspaper.
  7. I avoid any book with girl in the title out of principle. (except the Lisbeth Salandar books)

This is probably the most obvious and least creative list you've read this year, but it is what it is. I once had what I called The Lazy Person's Reading Plan when I tried to alternate between "snack reading" and "healthy reading" and I would like to claim I still honor this, but, well, life's too short not to read for enjoyment 100% of the time. 

The key is finding books, of course, that you both enjoy and are worth reading.

In the past, this was the role of the librarian. That role has changed. Librarians must now teach all of us how to wisely self-select among books, among genres, among formats. Amazon and Goodreads just don't cut it.

How do select what to read, my more wise and literate readers?


BFTP: Pace of change and diversity of skill levels in PD

In almost every workshop I give for educators that involves technology skills, I find a growing distance between the most and least skilled in the group*. While this has always been somewhat true, it feels like the gap is growing wider every year.

My theory is that there is a direct correlation between the rate of change and the distance between the most and least technologically-skilled in any random group. I've tried to show this graphically: 


So my ongoing question lately has been: "How does one differentiate instruction in technology inservices for teachers?" Here are strategies I've used:

  1. Aim at the middle. Pitch the old workshop at the "average" attendee. Then half the class is bored and the other half is frustrated. Everyone being equally unhappy is achievable if you work at it.
  2. Ask for only skill-similar participants. If your workshop description states the needed skill level and clearly articulates its objectives, you have a better chance of getting a group with a homogenous skill level. Although plenty of people don't read session descriptions, may not have a choice in attending, or over/under estimate their own abilities.
  3. Use small groups. The activities in every workshop I give are group activities. Your chance of getting a mix of skill levels is pretty good in a small group and the more skilled can help the less skilled. I do advise everyone to "sit beside someone who looks smarter than you are." For some of us, that is pretty easy.
  4. Design activities with levels. Good workshop activities are like onions and ogres - they have layers. Start with a basic accomplishment, but add a few things that may challenge those who already know the basics. (Everyone has to create a motivational poster that defines a vocabulary word; if you have time, use photo-editing software to modify the illustration so it looks artsy, change the color of the frame, and choose a non-standard font.)
  5. Design multiple activities or multiple sets of outcomes and groups. Marti, one of the bright pennies working as a technology integration specialist in my department this year, helped new iPad recipients self-assess and then divided them into skill-level groups at the very beginning of the afternoon-long workshop. He worked personally with the least skillful group, set his assistant to working with the middle group, and left the advanced group with video tutorials,  a list of objectives, and each other for help. I was impressed at how well this worked.

We at least give lip service to providing differentiated instruction in our K-12 classrooms. Given the pace of change, the ever-widening skills gap, and increasing importance of good technology skills among all staff, we need to take customizing inservices more seriously as well.

Any differentiation strategies for inservices that have worked for you?

Never, however, as bad as the teachers Scott Mcleod has encountered:

... I continually run into significant numbers of educators who still don’t know how to work their Internet browser. They struggle with copying and pasting. They get confused just clicking between 2 or 3 different browser tabs. They don’t conceptually understand the difference between their browser’s Google search box and the box where they can actually type in the URL and get there directly. They have no idea that they can right-click on things like hyperlinks or images. And so on… [And this is just the Internet browser. I'm not even talking about individual software programs or online tools.]

OK, no digs at Iowa, although it's tempting.

Original post October 24, 2012