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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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edtech

Building a Better Dinosaur, or: Trying too Hard

I might be over enthusiastic about my entry ticket into the classroom. I could hold really simple and predictable lessons using the text book, work book and teacher’s guide book. Go from page to page, give homework from the workbook and play around everybody’s comfort zone.
It’s either I am a “broken new teacher” or the system is much more broken than I had thought. dino

I want to innovate. I am there to teach English as a second language, but I insist on teaching my students the language of learning. A language that forces them to work with a variety of tools. All these 12-13 year old kids who think they know it all if the have an instagram account, but are having trouble composing an email, copying a URL, exercising log in. Am I trying too hard when I demand they use more than their notebooks to learn?

I know my fellow innovative teachers around the world might be wondering what is this all about. But the truth is, if these students get to middle school knowing only one kind of learning, and their parents know only one kind of learning, and most of the teachers in the middle school continue expertly in this one type of learning – then dragging my single class into “more than the text book” – is considered a harassment. An annoyance.

I need to ask myself am I trying too hard for my own good. If I only need to survive this year than I’d better stick with the simple tools. These lessons go very well. They are not confusing. They are not even boring. And I know I should master walking before starting to run, right? But, my main concern is that they don’t develop a learner. But perhaps this isn’t my job – to turn my students into learners. I am only expected and required to teach English.

I’ve been spending hours per week on maintaining a WIKI to support my ESL class. I add a class summary after every day I teach, and detailed homework assignments, with supporting links and files. Wouldn’t it be so much simpler to stick with the regular stuff?

I am also a great believer in the power of games in the classroom. Should I even bother with it? If all environment, including the students themselves and their parents, want to stick to the simple conventions, where is the place for innovation? Should I fight for the future of education, or let the past and present win?

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#EdGames : Where Ed Meet Games And Gamers meet Educators

I’ve been toying between the education and games worlds for ever. Really, it’s been years. At the risk of sounding ridiculous – I always played games. And I’ve always learned. Education is probably the later of them all. Had to become a parent to an education-system child to really get into it. But it wasn’t until I saw the conflict in my kids’ lives, between their own passionate interest in both learning and playing games that I realized – these two should go together.

It was about 7 or 8 years ago that my eldest child, a student today, played Maple Story with her classmates. The summer vacation brought it to new heights. They all used English of course, not their mother tongue, to chat with other players and trade goods – and I observed how much they have learned through this process. Maple Story was never designed with education in mind. No ESL thoughts.

During these years I’ve designed an MMO (massively multiplayer online game) twice. But before, during and after I spent tons of time just studying about both game design and education: innovation in education, technology in education, new methodologies, different pedagogic approaches, types of learners, learning disabilities and difficulties, challenging students, classes and learning environments,  different teachers – with teachers needs, abilities, limitations and dreams. I’ve connected with teachers all over the world: US, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Romania, France, the UK, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Holland, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Greece, Spain – need I go on? There’s one thing in common to all the teachers in my constantly expanding network: they are teachers because they want to teach, and they do no settle for dreaming on improving or changing education – they are actually doing the change, pursuing innovation.

 

There’s an interesting thing that has happened to my game designer friends during the same several years. Lots of them have grown up and mainly became parents. Suddenly – they are also exposed to the urgent need to make something for it, to change, to affect.

I couldn’t be happier standing here right in the crossroad of these two innovative communities. Now I am doing my little thing: I founded #EdGames Meetup, which is designed to be the meeting place between teachers and game designers. Education professionals, and programmers, designers, animators and gamers. It’s an interesting cross and an important one. Too many game designers attempt to create games for education without understanding needs or constraints of the systems and audiences they design for. And too many educators convince themselves they are using games in the classroom when in fact they barely understand true gamification the way it works today. This conversation, this meeting place, is essential if we want to grow and expand the use of games in education and the surrounding industries. It is a challenge, however, to create a meeting place between communities who differ so much from each other. I am lucky to have partnered with the local Game Designers Association, GameIS, where I chair the education committee, and am looking for their support in bringing this new concept to Israel’s game designers.

I started it here, in Israel. I hope to grow it across the world and have more #EdGames meetups all over the world. In the meantime, I announce our monthly meetings here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/edtechIS/ and twit under #EdGames and #GBL. You are welcome to join the conversation.

#edchat: Teach Digital Literacy?

I do my best to join or at least follow one #edchat per week on twitter, using my own twitter account @lemino. It has become one of the best sources of learning about education innovation, about the ins and outs of education systems, and about the shakers and movers in this field. It’s actually very exciting when you try to follow a conversation on a single topic with dozens of educators from around the world talking together.

Sadly I missed this week’s edchat. 7PM here (noon eastern time) is a tricky hour. But it was such a great topic I had to browse through the chat. Fantastic chat. So I decided to bring some of the excitement here, with small modifications (of abbreviations) and the #edchat hashtag removed from all the updates. Note the twitter names and follow these education leaders. The opening statement by Jerry Blumengarten (Cybraryman1), the host of this session, is the topic of the chat:

Cybraryman1: If all educators will be required to teach digital literacy – what do they need to know in order to be digitally literate?

MadameWells: Teachers need to know what digital literacy means. Many don’t know the meaning of the word.

Cybraryman1: What is digital literacy?

EarthEcho: Difficult task but needs to happen before we begin teaching (define digital literacy).

Shyj: @MadameWells I don’t think it has a common definition. Need to be on the same page.

Jdferries: Digital literacy is so broad! Let’s start with information sourcing, the role of human filtering, coping with infowhelm & echochambers.

DrDougGreen: They need to know that their learning never stops and should be a daily affair.

Bobloch: Educators need to know how online tools make many current practices obsolete. How to adapt, stop thinking of curriculum in linear fashion.

Aceedu: @bobloch Exactly. Educators have to make changes in the way curriculum is taught/learned

MaxScholarLLC: Ability to effectively and critically find, evaluate and create information using technology.

Cybraryman1: @DrDougGreen @sdroyer That is true for all types of learning. Important to be a constant learner.

Sjunkins: Literacy was once the ability to read and write. Today it’s about making sense of and engaging in so much more.

Katie_M_Ritter: Digital literacy: how to navigate & evaluate the internet, familiar with social media and digital technologies, can create content online.

Cybraryman1: Digital literacy is the ability to find, understand, evaluate, create and communicate digital information.

Aceedu: @sjunkins Digital literacy was not something we thought about a decade ago. It changes everything.

ScholasticTeach: What say you? Should schools teach social media skills?

Tkraz: @sjunkins It’s still the ability to read and write, but I’d add view. Same core but wider spectrum of choices.

4bettereducatio: Digital Literacy means creating empathy, understanding of bias, opportunities to create, curation techniques and context for info posted online.

Shyj: Locating, sorting through, analyzing, using and creating information. So much more than what it used to be.

DrDougGreen: Key skills are finding & evaluating information, blogging, multimedia production/editing and writing skills.

EarthEcho: Educators also need to understand the power and permanence of internet in tech in education.

Shyj: Even the term digital literacy has morphed: information literacy, media literacy etc.

Jdferries: I think it is also using digital tools to leverage info in general: using multimedia to persuade, analyzing competing claims.

DrDougGreen: They need to understand how to stay out of trouble with social media themselves. Some teachers don’t.

Sjunkins: Modern literacy means being able to read, write AND use various forms of media.

Katie_M_Ritter: I like the emphasis on “modern” RT @sjunkins : Modern literacy means being able to read, write AND use various forms of media.

4bettereducatio: @Katie_M_Ritter Yes, I think creating the content and getting past consumption is a huge area of Digital Literacy need.

Cybraryman1: What types of professional learning is necessary to help educators learn about being digitally literate?

ITDean: @cybraryman1 very much along the similar lines of pre and post testing. Teachers also need to see a reason. Why learn it otherwise?

Tkraz: Digital literacy requires the same basic read/write skills but also requires more independence in finding and evaluating.

Shyj: Yes, locating and searching for info – all a part of digital literacy as well as using info to create.

Shyj: with emphasis on creating as well. Think the create part had changed a lot over the years.

Tkraz: @shyj creation tools have changed and evolved expanding the options and possibilities.

Shyj: and attached to that are the copyrights, staying safe etc. So when do teachers have time to teach all of this?

DrDougGreen: @cybraryman1 professional development needs to be small bites daily and individualized. Each teacher needs to be responsible for own plan.

Defstef98: I think we have to go back to heightening students’ awareness of genres- within the digital genre there are sub genres

Fishtree_edu: @defstef98 Digital literacy is a broad topic and it needs to be divided into sub topics to make it easier to teach

MadameWells: It’s important to be able to search, evaluate and create, knowing what is legal to use and what is not.

MaxScholarLLC: @ MadameWells also, how to identify a fake website and inaccurate information.

Shyj: @ MadameWells Ugh. You mean… copyright? (runs out of room screaming…)

MaxScholarLLC: Teachers need to be able to explore, understand and use digital technologies to find, create, and share information

Iatlearning: @ MadameWells Digital is becoming a huge part of the student’s world. Bringing it into the classroom will help to connect with them.

Tkraz: with emphasis on creating as well. Think the create part had changed a lot over the years.

Sjunkins: Literacy is a curriculum fundamental but being literate today requires much more than the traditional literacy of yesterday.

4bettereducatio: @tkraz @sjunkins and possibly add evaluate? Same skills but a much larger range of information and perspectives.

Katie_M_Ritter: educators need to be connected and engage online. Can’t teach digital literacy if you’re not engaged with it yourself. Bloom

CecileMcVittie: @cybraryman1 Perhaps “transliteracies“ implying movement across all literacies are what educators need?

Cybraryman1: @DrDougGreen Thanks to wonderful #eduvue now say Professional Learning rather than Professional Development

Shyj: Have we even mentioned staying safe online as part of digital literacy?

Aceedu: @MaxScholarLLC Yes, it’s not simply knowing the basics. We need to be able to take it further and make it effective.

Itechbob: Becoming digitally literate should not be an option. The days of I don’t do technology should be over.

Sjunkins: Forget the 21st century, literacy is an every century skill.

Madamewells: I am trying very hard to be a connected educator. I am helping teachers here build a PLN (Professional Learning Network).

Itechbob: getting people started with a PLN seems like a great way to learn digital literacy. Hands-on learning at its digital best.

Isminc: Do your teachers collaborate for homework assignments?

MadameWells: @ismin elementary teachers do, but the high school teachers do not.

Fishtree_edu: is digital literacy a skill or a mindset?

Defstef98: @fishtree_edu I vote for the second option

Fishtree_edu: @defstef98 @shyj Digital literacy is a skill to learn, re-learn and un-learn which comes from the (learning) mindset

MadameWells: Connected Ed is a key to digital literacy. We learn from others and then teach it to more.

Cybraryman1: what type of professional learning is necessary to help educators learn about being digital literate?

AdamGoldberg1: @cybraryman1 Teachers need to learn what kids already do online to exchange in meaningful conversation about responsibility

DrDougGreen: @itechbob ever since the school got internet in 1996 I only hired tech savvy teachers. Today I ask to see their blog.

Earthecho: @ DrDougGreen completely agree! Educators need to find the way to use tech to empower themselves and their students.

Katie_M_Ritter: you can read and you can write but can you collaborate with others effectively online? (projects, email, google docs)

Shyj: @MaxScholarLLC When are teachers building their digital literacy skills? What role should that play in the classroom?

CurtisChandler6: In this century there is likely to be a difference between those who are literate and those who are fully, functionally literate.

DigitalJLearn: @cybraryman1 content creation VS content curation and the importance of doing both.

CurtisChandler6: Reading, writing, listening and speaking are great starts. I also think that empathy could be added.

Sjunkins: New forms of media bring about new forms of literacy.

CurtisChandler6: @sjunkins new literacies often evolve faster than our ability to examine them; therefore the ability to evolve is a crucial skill.

Fishtree_edu: @ MadameWells teachers can start by looking into what students are using. Kids these days can be smarter than adults 

MadameWells: @cybraryman1 I think they need to know they can find all the answers they need through a PLN

Shyj: Have we even mentioned staying safe online as part of digital literacy?

Aceedu: @shyj Great point! That’s a HUGE part of digital literacy and shouldn’t be overlooked or assumed to be known.

Shyj: @Aceedu yes assumed for teachers and students… just because we can “FB” doesn’t mean we have digital literacy skills.

Aceedu: @Shyj Exactly! Especially students. Just because they were born into it doesn’t mean they know how to use is effectively.

Itechbob: Educators don’t need to know everything. Digital change happens too fast. Evaluation skills become highly important.

DrDougGreen: as educators we no longer own the information. Any student can know things their teacher doesn’t.

Cybraryman1: we have to be constant learners and model this for our students

Sjunkins: our students should be able to actively create rather than just passively consume media. That’s today’s digital literacy.

TomWhitby: Have you ever tried to figure out what percentage of your school faculty was digitally literate?

Gooru: digital literacy=knowing not only how to use the digital tools but also how to find the ones that best fit your or your students’ needs

Defstef98: It’s in the collaboration that probably digital literacy and or transliteracy are achieved.

Shyj: @deftef98 @Katie_M_Ritter Yes, real application and situations when skills are needed

DrDougGreen: Every student should publish their best work on a regular basis.

Cybraryman1: @ DrDougGreen @sjunkins All students should also blog

MaxScholarLLC: @sjunkins and we should encourage them to evaluate their work throughout the process of creating it and not the final result

TomWhitby: Has digital literacy become a standard requirement for hiring new teachers yet?

DigitalJlearn: @CYbraryman1 They need to know that being digitally literate is as much about a culture of innovation and exploration as it is about tech.

Mamacita: Too many teachers view tech as one more burden when in fact tech relieves many burdens. Tech is no longer an extra. It’s a fact of life.

Sjunkins: having students create their own digital content gives them a whole new perspective on the power of media

QuinnEng8: Any ideas for differentiating digital literacy instruction in classrooms where some kids can program and others only see computers at school.

This is not all of the chat. Only about a third or half of the one hour stream. But I hope you have had the chance to learn from it as much as we did, and that you also got the urge to check out the #edchat stream next Tuesday at noon EST.

Back in a Classroom

Last week I went into a classroom as a student for the first time in 20 years. Very important for an education innovator who isn’t a teacher. I am very proud of the fact that motherhood dragged me into the education innovation, but experiencing a classroom as a student isn’t experiencing it as a mother of a student, not even similar to experiencing it as a teacher, I am sure.

You can’t really comprehend the enormousness of the education crisis before you are sitting behind a desk totally dependent on someone else for the pearls of wisdom you’re supposed to get, without any say about how you’re going to get them or when, and then you’re graded for your grasp. Hmmm.

classroom I am an old fashioned schooled one. I grew up without any digital mobile instruments around me, not even a PC. I think that even a walkman was too much of a luxury, had to work and save before I could get one. And I started my journalistic career with my dad’s Hermes typewriter and working in the print house with lead letters.

So the technicality of sitting behind a desk, writing a summary of the class, doing exercises, performing to the rhythm of the conductor – all this should be well imprinted in me.

But it’s not. I’m was slowly and gradually spoiled by various forms of computers. I think it started in the early 90’s with a DOS computer, and grew exponentially until today I spend about 14 hours a day online. I have a desktop, a laptop, a netbook, an iPad and an iPhone. I rarely get disconnected. In fact I can say I am pretty addicted. Can’t go through a day with no connectivity at all. Can’t watch a movie without playing something on my iPhone\iPad at the same time. Ahmm. Yep, in the movies too.

Reading a book is one of the toughest tasks for me. When I was 14, 8th grade, I got the school’s annual award for reading the largest number of books which I borrowed from the school’s library. 400 books. Some days I finished 2+. I couldn’t get enough. Nowadays, give them to me in 140 characters chunks. I am sure if I’ll do the math I’m reading much more today than I have ever – in characters count. But I’m down from 400 books in 10 months, to 1 book in 800 days and the sad thing, I miss the relaxed experience.

This rhythm my life has adjusted to is an immediate rhythm. I’m at The State of Now.

Now think about the generation born into this reality and this rhythm. About the toddlers trying to swipe the photo in the frame on their grandparents’ mantle. How are they expected to take a break for 5-9 hours a day and go back from rockets to horse-and-carriage?

People, when talking about the education crisis, worldwide, know that what you’re seeing is just the tip of the iceberg and think Titanic.

Say “Passion” instead of “Engagement”

“Engagement” seems to be the key word, the major buzz word, where educational technology is concerned. Ask an Edtech entrepreneur what their app or software is doing, and at least 90% of the time the word “engagement” pops up. The other 10% are administrative apps that do not presume to change any classroom or student experience.

Last week I attended several events, one of them was the Demo Day of the first wave of graduate startups from the MindCET incubator. MindCET is the first and currently only incubator for educational technology startups in Israel. Obviously, there wasn’t a single startup that skipped the word “engagement”. And there’s nothing unusual about it: Dozens of edtech startups I met during SXSWedu and SXSW also made sure they slip “engagement” into every pitch or presentation. At one moment during last week’s presentations I found myself trying to build an image to go along with “engagement”. That promise of engagement seems to be the main attractions teachers feel towards educational technology: something to keep their students wide-eyed, open-mouths, hung on the teacher’s every word. Something like hypnotized. With built-in recorders in their heads.engagedclass

And then today I read this wonderful blog post by Angela Maiers, “an Educator, Author, Speaker passionate about literacy, learning, and power of social media”. “The Passion Gap” is the title, and she tells that “As a teacher at the K-2 level for 14 years, I had the privilege of spending each day with children eager to learn and explore. Yet this begins to change somewhere around the fourth grade.”

She doesn’t mention the word “engagement”, but points out that in Education conferences “you are far more likely to hear the words “assessment,” “standardize,” “common core” and “pedagogy” than you are to hear the word “passion.”…” And let me add, as an edtech entrepreneur, that I am much more likely to hear the word “engagement” in tech solutions for the classroom, and I don’t think I heard the word “passion”.

So what is passion? I love her quote: “Passion is what you must do, even if you have to suffer to do it”. I should know, I experience passion in what I do and it is costing me every day. Because at some point I decided pursuing my passion is more important than getting a salary. Silly me?

Angela Maiers refers to the human teachers, not the tech they might use or not use, as the first circle needed for students to find their passion. Sir Ken Robinson is devoting his messages and books to this topic too; The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, is a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into 21 languages and Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life has just been published.” The Element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the Element, they feel most themselves, most inspired and achieve at their highest levels”, is the introduction to his first book.

Yet, Edtech startups are still mostly concerned about engagement of students in the classroom. How does this contribute to helping students find their passion? Or element?

Education systems are so hung on educational technology to reform, change and modify. But obviously, no real revolution can be achieved without striking the personal passion fuse of each and every student.

Touching kids’ passion is what I’m doing with my new startup. More to come.

No Educational Games For Me, Thanks.

As I am recovering from the worst case of flu I have ever encountered I’m beginning to list all those blog posts I cooked in my head for the past two weeks. Over a 26 hour flights schedule home I was contemplating all that I have learned and experienced in the two consecutive conferences I attended in Austin Texas this month: the SXSWedu and the SXSW interactive.

Both conferences offered many events, sessions, workshops, keynotes, parties and shows around the two topics which I find most interesting and relevant these days: educational technology and games. The mix is inevitable, but is also, unfortunately, too often a very disappointing mix.

It’s like every student going to study how to become a teacher is going through a crash course titled “games” which is actually a course in how to try and appeal to your students by trying to talk the kids’ language, the games talk. And so they are trained in taking the boring stuff out of the text books and turning it into a “fun” page, or: take the assignments and try to convert them into something that might fool the kids into thinking the boring set of actions they are required to do is in fact a game.10-04-2013 10-09-58

Kids are no one’s fools, and all those flash card apps are, sorry to say, really, passé. Creating a new game, a real game, which is both fun and educational, is a challenge. And I admit that one of the biggest disappointments at both conferences is that I have met no real innovation: not in education nor in games. Sure, there were some cute ideas. But when a teacher like Lucas Gillispie can take real games, like WOW or Minecraft – and apply them in the classroom, you can’t help wondering why bother developing an “educational game”? What’s the point?

I think the term “educational games” is wrong in its basis. Of course it is the right of those developers in this area to call it this and feel that this is what they do, but as for me, I prefer the term learning game, as a game one might, perhaps, learn from, rather than a game that presumes in can educate, or teach. But then I’ll take learning over education any day.

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