This program isn’t directly related to educational technology but I thought that some of you may be interested in it anyway.
The goal of the Kansas Green Schools Program is to provide opportunities for preK-12 schools to increase awareness and understanding of the complex environmental interrelationships that impact public health and the environment, and promote environmental stewardship practices that relate to air quality, climate change, solid waste reduction and recycling, water management, and outdoor wildlife habitat. The program also includes an education component to schools’ green projects. Message boards and an annual report of successes and accomplishments by Kansas schools completing environmental projects and incorporating environmental education into the classroom will increase networking among schools.
There is a group of people from several different universities who have started an organization called Playpower.org to create free educational games that will run on a type of computer that is already being manufactured and sold in India for only $12. The computer is based on the same chip that used to be in the old Apple II computers but is all contained within just the keyboard. It plugs into an existing TV just like a video game. Wired Magazine has an article about it here.
I truly believe this is the kind of “educational technology” that is really going to change the world. It is a simple idea, it is incredibly cheap, the learning can take place at home, and it can be done any time of the day.
You may be familiar with the Scholastic company that sells books in the classroom. Well, they have apparently started selling toys as well. I think this is just a way to get to sell to the kids when their parents aren’t there and can’t choose to not allow the child to even be marketed to. Then, once the child is convinced they want that thing, companies know it is that much more difficult for the parent to not give in. Believe it, marketing companies have done research on what they call the “nag factor.” If they can get the kids to nag for it, then the parents are more likely to give in just for some peace.
I think this is pretty sneaky and you should not allow your classrooms to be manipulated into becoming a part of it. The author of this article also makes a very good point towards the end. Every time one kid is forced to watch while another has a toy delivered to them right in the classroom it increases the divide between the haves and the have-nots and reinforces classism. You should be teaching your kids better than that.
There is a conference that is put on every year called the TED conference (for Technology Entertainment and Design). This is an invitation only conference for only the best minds in the country. The best scientists, designers, and activists as well as quality artists, static and performing. These are the most creative minds in America giving lectures to each other about their craft or simply whatever they think is important. The motto of the conference is “Ideas worth sharing.” So it is no surprise that the lectures are often about creativity itself. How to get it, how to use it, or just how wonderful it is to have it.
What I find most interesting, however, are the lectures about the importance of fostering Creativity in our children, both in the classroom and out. Here are three lectures which I think truly speak to the importance of creativity. The first is “5 dangerous things you should let your kids do.” It is about the simple things that we used to do as kids, or at least when I was a kid, that may be a little dangerous but that teach kids many important things about the world around them. The speaker, Gever Tully, warns that by not allowing our kids to do these things we are depriving them not only of the learning but we are, in the end, are making them less safe because they do not learn how to be safe with dangerous things when they do encounter them. You can even download a comic about a summer camp called The Tinkering School, where Tully teaches kids to build things that they dream up.
The second lecture is the best. Ken Robinson is hilarious. His talk, “Do schools kill creativity?” is full of humor but addresses a serious issue. By overemphasizing only the few subjects that turn our children into good workers for businesses we are killing their creativity. Then, just because they don’t all fit that one highly restrictive mold we are labeling more and more of our children as ADHD. Think about it, we would rather label children as diseased than simply change the way we teach them.
The last talk is simply about the importance of creativity in our lives. Author, Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk “A different way to think about creative genius,” discusses the ways in which we treat creative workers differently. Interestingly, the issue of de-emphasizing creativity in our children – because of the perception that they could never get a job actually using their imagination – comes up in this talk as well.
If you don’t know about TED then you should take a look. Each lecture is about 18 minutes. They cover topics from environmentalism to new technology to the arts and the talks are given by the very people doing the work. These lectures would be great to use in a classroom or you can just watch them for personal inspiration as I do.
There is a discussion on Slashdot about good robot projects for students K-5.
In 1988 Bill Moyers did an interview with Isaac Asimov about his (then) recently released book, As Far as the Eye Can See. In this interview, Asimov predicted that we would all eventually be able to have computers in our homes that could connect us to vast libraries of information. The interview is up on YouTube in three parts which I have embedded here. I have also included a few notes that took while watching the videos:
- 4:17 – Moyers asks, “Do you think we can educate ourselves on […]anything that strikes our fancy?”
- 6:50 – Learning more makes us more comfortable in the universe.
- 8:42 – We can have a revolution in learning.
- 9:30 – If we educate children from the start into appreciating their own creativity, then we can all be creative.
- 0:00 – Access to computer based education and information, and the ability to learn at one’s own pace will make it so that people will enjoy learning. At school, the one-size-fits all approach makes learning not enjoyable.
- 1:10 – Computers don’t dehumanize learning. They do the opposite by creating a one-to-one relationship between information source and information consumer.
This section primarily speaks to the importance of emphasizing science and rational thought over mysticism.
I think it is important to note how much emphasis Asimov places on individualized learning rather than a one-size-fits-all model. He points out the problems we have in the classroom with trying to educate a room full of students, assuming that they all learn the same. While Asimov did predict the vast amount of knowledge that would be available on the Internet, he did not predict that it would also be a disadvantage. He assumed that the information would be organized like a “library,” never imagining that we would be in such a rush to pile content into as many web sites as possible that we would forget to stop and organize it as it went in. This is one of the primary goals of DEMML™. While I have no plans to organize the entire internet, I do plan to organize all of the information that people will need to educate themselves about the world around them. I believe that DEMML™ will finally realize Asimov’s dream.
P.S. The entire interview is also available on the PBS web site here.
Recently we have been learning how to spot bogus web sites that may have false “information” or hidden agendas. It is always easy to convince students that, “There are some crazies out there who will write and post anything.” But what about your textbooks? Do you also teach your students that even their textbooks need to be verified for accuracy? How do you spot a textbook with a hidden agenda? You must keep in mind that the textbooks chosen for your school district are often chosen by people who aren’t really educators. These people have usually gotten themselves elected to school boards based on one agenda or another. It is not always easy to tell when your school board members have a hidden agenda. The problem with hidden agendas is that they are, well, hidden.
Fortunately it is possible to spot hidden agendas in the textbooks these people choose for your classroom. The following article points out several key phrases or topics to look for in current textbooks which reveal hidden agendas.
How to spot a hidden religious agenda
Whether someone is religious or not, science teachers should be teaching science, not religion. The same goes for history, sociology, etc. If someone is teaching religion but pretending it is not, then they are lying, plain and simple.
Here is a little presentation I found about free educational technology software and services. It includes links to dozens of free programs and web sites.
For our Wiki Activity #2 we were to find links to web sites illustrating how various technologies can be used in the classroom. coming late to the game I found that one of the technologies with no links was that of “Presentation advancer.” Many of you may not know what this is. It is simply a remote control you can connect to your computer that allows you to advance to the next slide by pressing a button. Most have some kind of laser pointer built in.
But what if you could go a step further. What if you could control the mouse of a computer from across the room with no wires or cables to get in the way? Most wireless mice have a very limited range of only about five feet and you have to have a flat surface to put the mouse on. This is where the Gyration Air Mouse comes in. It uses a radio link to connect to the computer so it can be used up to 100 feet away. What’s more, you can use it while walking around the classroom instead of being trapped up at the front of the class by a short mouse cable. You just move the mouse at different angles and it moves the cursor on the screen. It gets very good reviews here and here. Keyboards are also available using the same radio technology.
With a Gyration mouse and keyboard you can walk around the classroom discussing what you are projecting on the screen. Then, you can stop, hand the mouse to a student while they are still seated, and have them provide input or work a simulation. Students can even pass it around so they can all provide input. How much more engaging can you get?
Here is a post on Slashdot that addresses the issue of using non-commercial software in schools. Many people think that if you didn’t pay money for software then it can’t be very good. But then those same people use Firefox, which completely disproves that notion. Anyway … I’m telling you, it won’t be long before it will be common for most schools to use open-source operating systems and software. The only thing holding them back now is resistance to change and salespeople from Microsoft who lie a lot.