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Category Archives: Technology

Technology in schools. Love it or hate it?

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Touch screens and Robotics. My classroom this yea

In my upcoming July technology column I analyze the pros and the cons of Technology in Education. A few in my network have asked me about my thoughts on this ever-changing topic. (In Oct 2014 I did cover it – “Disrupting Education)

Here’s a summary of what’s to come. As you and I witness the discomforting transition from text books to tablets, from hand-outs to videos-as-homework, from sequential ‘lectures’ to disruptive (noisy) small group activity, it’s easy to fold our hands across our chests and fight it. But there are some compelling arguments on both sides. The Wall Street Journal, and the International Association of Technology in Education almost in the same week ran Pro and Con arguments about Ed-Tech. I get both sides! In my classes I argue against the inane use of social media for the sake of ‘publicity’, but I encourage thought use of digital media with real, and real-time audience participation.

‘Hall and Stevens’ Vs Khan Academy. In my younger days, I had to thumb through Hall and Stevens, the geometry ‘bible.’ Today’s kids are learning geometry from a guy called Salman Khan, founder the free online learning portal for mathematics and science. (Fun sidebar: ‘Hall and Stevens’ is available as an eBook; flip the pages as if it was a real book, here: https://archive.org/details/schoolgeometry00hall

Screen Time vs Think Time. I am a big proponent of virtual and augmented reality, especially if it could bring in ‘distant’ experiences (Civil War, 3D models of engineering, space science etc), but I also aggressively advocate limited screen time. Odd isn’t it? That’s the dilemma we educators and parents face. Augmented Reality

Your son or daughter probably goes to school with a device in her backpack with more processing power than the rocket that took men to the moon, and this child wants to be… an astronaut? You’ve forgotten how to log into your son’s school website to download his missed homework, but… he’s found a way to ‘jailbreak’ your cell phone? There are ‘teaching moments’ in all of these.

Sal Khan speaks of the “fundamentally dehumanizing experience” in education. And he was not talking about teenagers and even pre-teens staring at their phones and not talking to one another. A real, ‘digital citizenship’ crisis, right now! He was referring to children packed in a classroom! Hmm!

Love it or hate it, technology is gate crashing our class rooms, just like ball-point pens or calculators once did. Are you ready for it?

 

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Messy Learning Labs. Just what our screen-obsessed kids need

If you’ve ever complained about classrooms being stuck in the industrial age, here’s a glimpse of a different kind of class. It’s Hi-Tech space with a factory-floor setting. Perfect for digital natives, huh?

I took my robotics students here last Tuesday, to a place called HeatSync Labs in Mesa, Arizona. Not the kind of ‘lab’ they had in mind – but in a shocking way! It is what’s known as aMaker Space’ where kids come to ‘learn by doing’. They didn’t want to leave!

You see, a Maker Space like this is more like a mad scientist’s garage, than a classroom, with a variety of machines, tools and material just begging to be used. If you recall how HP began in a humble garage, you’ll see why a tinkerer’s tool-shed like this is what classrooms ought to be like if we are to motivate the next generation of inventors, astronomers and mad scientists like Bill Hewlett, Dave Packard. Or the next Thomas Edison (who barely went to school, please note).

Having worked with 6-12 year olds for four years now, I know how hungry they are for science. Especially science that comes to them in unexpected packages. OK, so in one corner of the lab there was a 3-D printer, an artifact from our all-too-digital present. But someone had used it to produce intriguing pieces such as this plastic cube (right), with gears!

In 75 minutes my students probably got more about science that any slick PowerPoint presentation. This was about experimenting, making mistakes, and asking ‘what-if’ questions. This was about rummaging through bins, and peering through scopes, working with laser-cut stamps they mounted on blocks of wood. And not a tablet in site!

Shelves

Machine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At one point, Eric Ose who works there took me aside and told me, awkwardly, “I am not used to young people here asking permission to do things.” Meaning, this was a space that people came and just tried things out, used material lying around, and worked on their own pace. Of course there are guidelines – especially safety guidelines, as when watching laser cutting, or operating the 3-D printer.

But the real house rules are this: Try something out. Make things. Break things. Revise. Start from scratch. Discover. Build something impossible!

Note: If your students have never been to one I urge you to make it your next field trip. Many cities have these community run spaces. (Map)

HeatSync

 

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Water on Mars, Coffee in Space. I’m fine with both

Last week, my students chatted with Dr. Ashwin Vasavada from NASA’s Jet propulsion Lab about how the Curiosity rover is drilling into and analyzing rock samples, documenting all kinds of terrain-specific information. This was part of a series of STEM Talks each month in my lab.

Curiosity has been sending back what amounts to evidence of a clay-like river bed on Mars, as you see here.

And then I happened to hear this story on radio about sending sending a coffee machine up to the International Space Station.

The machine (called the ISSPRESSO machine), might not be a bad idea.I can’t imagine spending months in a very cramped space without the occasional coffee chat with your buddies.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2015 in Education, Technology

 

‘BYOD’ in schools, free ‘Candy Crush’ tablets for MPs – Maybe it’s a good thing

The BYOD – or ‘Bring Your Own Device’ – movement has been gathering steam in schools. If you want to know my position on this, I put it this way: It could quickly turn into Bring Your Own Distraction’ unless we make sure young students understand what screens are good for, and what they are lousy at. Unless we teach young people how to engage with others, and the value of being able to dive deep into issues beyond simple search and scan, we will end up with a distracted workforce, and distracted leaders.

Speaking of whom, consider this: 650 British MPs will be issued iPads after the British elections in May. But apparently the Brits are concerned about distraction. (Just read the headline of this Forbes article, and you’ll know what I mean.) But skepticism aside, it’s about time elected officials are provided with technology that denies them the excuse for not staying in touch with the rest of us.

In my book, Chat Republic, I featured a prescient idea by a Sri Lankan journalist who said that we ought to make democracy more digital. In a nutshell, what Indi Samarajiva said was that the average citizen has a right to know how an elected acts on our behalf, in real-time! Here is Indi expounding on part of that idea.

Last December (21014) Accenture published a paper on ‘Government as a Digital Disruptor. It spoke of the need for an eco-system for open, collaborative, creative engagement. Read the paper here.

 

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“Sending a message” – There’s the contents and there’s the medium

Slogans or protest messages on T-shirts get stale, however funny.

Speaking of making a statement, I can’t think of a better artist who has been ‘sending a message’ than Bansky.

But when a mailman landed a gyrocopter on the Washington Mall this week it was not the message that got people’s attention, but the medium. One man in an exposed flying machine.

You know it’s creative because no one seems to be talking about the contents of the envelopes that c was supposedly carrying to the nation’s lawmakers at the Capitol. We are all focused on the delivery method, aren’t we?

Marshall McLuhan  who coined the phrase ‘the medium is the message’ must be smiling, up there. No tweets. No PR agency. No Facebook page. But a pretty powerful statement.

Note: Hughes does maintain a website, where he says

Hello – I’m Doug Hughes, a mailman, pilot and the author of this web site. In my time, I’ve delivered a lot of letters, and I’m delivering 535 letters by ‘air mail’ today – a special delivery to every member of the US Congress.

On this blog post (worth a read) he speaks of wanting to ‘change the narrative’ in Washington about whom we elect. He might succeed — if only the evening news folk will only stop talking about the potential danger of the stunt.

 

 

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Skype with a rocket scientist – Today’s STEM Talk at Salt River Elementary

It’s funny how an ‘old’ technology comes to the rescue, even in education that’s all about Ed-Tech.

I’ve used Ustream, am experimenting with Stre.am, one of the newest shiny objects for collaboration and live-streaming. WebEx is not feasible for legal reasons, which is why Skype has come to the rescue. Skype – that grandaddy of web conferencing tools– is old in Internet years! Released in 2003, it came in a different era from our one-click chat apps that are morphing into lean, mobile must-haves. It’s still a trusty, if not crusty application.

Anyway, for this ongoing series of STEM Talks, I am pleased to be able to connect my school with an eminent NASA scientist, Dr. Ashwin Vasavada. He is the lead scientist on NASA’s Curiosity Rover mission, and comes to us via the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. For those of us with one-planet experience, know this: Ashwin participated in Galileo mission to Jupiter, and Cassini mission to Saturn.

My students have some background to Curiosity, because of robotics, and some have seen the full-scale model of this Humvee-sized robot at ASU. I’ll be curious (I know, bad pun!) to see how they engage with him.

Place: Computer & Technology Lab

Time
: 4:00 pm

Light refreshments will be served.

Check out previous STEM Talks here, and here.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2015 in Ed-Tech, Education, Technology

 

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What Arthur C Clarke foresaw, still amazes

It’s been 7 years since Arthur C. Clarke passed away. Most people remember him for the movie he is associated with: 2001: A space Odyssey, since he co-wrote the screenplay with Stanley Kubrick.

Every time I pick up one of his books I am amazed at what he envisioned. My favorite book, a heavy tome, titled “Greetings, carbon-based bipeds!” is chock-full of his essays. Take this statement:

“The breaching of the barrier between brain and machine is perhaps one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of human thought.” (Page 218) 

Notwithstanding my interest in robotics, I don’t agree entirely with him when he says “To put it bluntly and brutally, the machine is going to take over.” He probably envisioned when we humans would outsource our memory to the ‘machine’ we unthinkingly call the Cloud. Or when it would be quite OK to hold a conversation with Siri.

Arthur C. Clarke was blunt, and obstinate, but he was also very humble. He insisted that he did not “discover” the geostationary orbit. Why? Because he says, “Its theoretical existence was perfectly obvious to anyone…” (Page 443)

Today we have satellites conducting all manner of business, from espionage, to knitting together a much fragmented world.

Aren’t we glad he pointed out the latter possibility to us?

1983 photo of Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, and Arthur C Clarke.   Linked to via http://nalakagunawardene.com. Photo owned by Arthur Clarke Estate

 

Worth reproducing here a comment he made in 1974, cited in Wikipedia.Speaking of how a young person’s life would be impacted by a computer, he said:

“He will have, in his own house, not a computer as big as this, [points to nearby computer], but at least, a console through which he can talk, through his local computer and get all the information he needs, for his everyday life, like his bank statements, hisc reservations, all the information you need in the course of living in our complex modern society, this will be in a compact form in his own house … and he will take it as much for granted as we take the telephone.”

Listen to the last question about man’s “social life”. 

He didn’t foresee some of the addictions that would come with the ‘compact’ screen he anticipated.

 

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