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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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Education

Communications is KEY, in the classroom too

So I took this expertise I have – communications – and simply applied it to the classroom. We live in the “age of communications”. How we communicate is a big deal. I really wanted to speak about my  concept of education through communications at the conference this week in Boston, lead by The Communications Guy – Jeff Pulver. But I am teaching now. No time off.

Communications is key, yet in most classrooms it’s still the same hundreds-years-old model of one teacher “communicating to” many students. The blackboard was the first edtech which improved the communications in the classroom. Not to be confused with the 20th century’s whiteboard, or the later smart-board. Or so many other technology solutions aimed at marching the classroom communications forward.

But really, communications is first and foremost a listening-speaking-listening cycle. And while we often ask students to listen, we’re not coached to listen to the students (other then when they are tested). And there’s a lot to listen to.

I started this year with a “Getting to know you” questionnaire. It’s amazing how much head start you get when you open the year with this. I teach 7th and 8th graders English as a Second language. Being a country of immigrants, for some this is the 3rd or even 4th language – which was another important questions to answer. And that’s just one example.

I received information about the students from their homeroom teachers, and continued to take a look at those open and unprotected Facebook profiles. When the group of students who are into racing cars received from me an assignment about a teen racing driver they were surprised and pleased. When the artist was asked to use her special skills in designing flash cards she was thrilled that someone has noticed here talent. I learned that one of the students, who is a recent immigrant from Russia, has a dream: to learn programming. So I asked him and a classmate who also stated an interest in high tech to do the Codemonkey programming game in class. This got him totally devoted and also earned the respect of his classmates, who bothered for the first time to communicate with him.

It’s not easy to get through to all kids. Some are still a mystery to me. So I try to get them to talk with me for a minute or two in between classes or assignments. I will win them over eventually. I must. The thing is, what I need to teach them has nothing to do with the process I am into at this stage. This is all about communications. And it’s much deeper than the transfer of knowledge.

I think the main surprise so far was the shock of my students when I insisted on developing other digital communications channels in favor of learning. Other than Whatsapp that is.

My 7th graders seemed to think that email is old-fashioned and not needed. The class wiki, where I post the class summary, homework, links and files, is a burden to them. And while they all where extremely enthusiastic about joining the Classcraft game – only about a quarter of the students bothered to login and create their character in the past 10 days since they received their invitation. They don’t open their email, so they didn’t see the invitation. Only half of the class logged in the wiki to see the links and invitations there, the fact is not even all of those got into Classcraft. Several kids forgot their passwords – some of them learned the process of retrieving a password. Others didn’t get that idea. They seem over confident about their mastery of technology – yet this extremely simple actions are beyond them. And don’t even get me started on things like Google Docs…

I find that preparing them to properly communicate in all these channels is an essential part of their education. Since most tools are in English – I dared to add it to their English class. But then, what about the English curriculum? Looks like even these declared young innovators prefer the old ways when it comes to the classroom. The new is scary. I have a long long way to go.

 

First Steps in the Classroom

Bringing TONS of knowledge into the classroom the feeling I have today, after I have been teaching my middle schoolers for 2 weeks is of gratitude. I am grateful for the dialog created between me and my students. Needless to say I am grateful to the Principal for taking a chance on me. After all, teaching teachers isn’t the same as teaching kids.
Those are now “my kids”. I have 10 8th graders in a special educational needs group, and almost 40 7th graders in a regular heterogenic classroom.
These past 2 weeks, formally known as 16 periods per class, were dedicated to getting to know the students and developing what I consider the basis for further learning – their online communications skills.
I decided I need to make sure that every student has an email address first of all. There’s a general feeling among these young kids that they know everything about technology, and that they certainly know better, and that anything we teachers bring in – must be out dated. Well sorry: Whatsapp cannot replace email. Na ah.
And then – WIKIS – a class portal for them to catch up and follow on homework and never ever say that they didn’t have time to copy from the board or other lame excuses.
And opening a PDF in your mobile phone.
And registering to a service (well, the WIKI) and know how to confirm your registration.
Sure, when you go out your adult life you might go into a reality where all you have to do to access anything is scan your iris, but until then – know your environment and know how to learn to work with your environment, whatever it may be.
Learning how to learn is the core business of education. Or at least it should be.14-09-2016-20-08-12

But back to saying thanks today: Two of my quietest students in the special class shined today. They became involved and felt comfortable. Acceptance was in the air. And it felt great. And there’s no other way to describe this feeling: just that I think being a teacher is by far the most amazing job possible.

An Education Being

Wow. It’s been a very long time since I last posted. Muses were too busy learning new things. If you’d ask me what is the most important factor in any place I am committed to, as a work place or any venture I am assisting – it’s definitely being able to learn. Facing the new horizons challenges.

For the past several months I have assumed the role of an educator, working with The Institute for Democratic Education (IDE) in several Tel Aviv high school on innovative education, specifically introducing PBL – project based learning. Apparently sharing my knowledge is yet another passion I have always had. Only it took various forms across a diversified career.

Now it’s time for the entrepreneurial bug to kick in again. Taking a long and hard look at several education systems I realize that one of the things they have in common is grades. And tests. And final exams, under various names and titles. The other things they share is a diversity of students. This usually includes a group of self motivated curious  and self learnering students who are being slowed down, almost suffocated, when forced into this frame of grades and tests.dumbdown

I believe a school can accommodate the self learning students, in a way that will allow them to acquire education in a social environment of their peers, but without the limits, constraints and waste of time required by tests and grades.

One of the main things this school should present is the connection to the real world, community, both business and academic, and allow the students to try many directions at this fantastic age of high school, well before they’re into a selected degree or career. This obviously has to include free access to universities and their willing participation.

I am still exploring various models that already exist around the world and will be happy to learn about more innovative school models. Let me know about them.

#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.

What do you want to do when you grow up?

And how can I, your mother, help you achieve it?
I’ve been toying with this discussion for the past couple of weeks, after being approached by one of the TV networks, who’re doing a series of reports on the topic. Tying education to it all brought them to my doorstep.

So I asked my kids this very important question. The 16 year old said “I want to eat”. A very typical answer from a 16 year old, who just wants to… well, eat. The 12 year old said “I haven’t got a clue”. The 19 year old said what she has always said “I want to be a physicist” which in her case means a lot more than a single occupation.

So what’s my role in their future? To open as many options as possible before them.
2008Feb-whales-sharks
Going a little deeper into the conversation, the 12 year old admitted he wants to save whales and other endangered species. Something he has been talking about since he was 4 years old. The 16 year old expanded to “I want to be happy” and then said that currently the 3 most important and enjoyable areas in his life are music, games and food and “I’d like to develop some concept venture to put all those together into the best hanging out place in the world”. And my oldest, in between tests and studies she’s developing at least 2 startup ideas, following the previous venture, Globalvert, an organization to push forward the study of Algae as an alternative energy source.

What we all have in common is entrepreneurship. The urge to solve, innovate, create.

Several months ago I met with a wonderful entrepreneur and a business man. After sharing his rather apocalyptic view about the deterioration in entrepreneurship and number of entrepreneurs he shared a plan he has of adding a set of topics to pre-school classes, to train the minds of the 3-4-5 year old and develop them into our future entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurship is at the very basis of sustaining the human race, with the ongoing depletion of resources on earth”, he explained, “We are dependent on those who will become entrepreneurs in 30 years and their breakthrough ventures”.

I strongly believe in entrepreneurship and the need in entrepreneurs. But while he’d start with external enrichment classes, I would much rather work with the teachers and educators first. With the correct state of mind and a basic set of tools they can achieve much more than any fantastic “thought shaping” “mind developing” external content that hosts an hour a week.

This state of mind is the one I’m struggling for at home. Trying to keep doors open, or at least within reach. Keeping the creative vibe going. Being attentive to my kids’ interests and passions, putting those well ahead of any concepts of “should and shouldn’t”, but not striking off rules. And, not ignoring society’s high road called “schooling” although sometimes I wish I could.

By now I have a 19 year old student at a university, a 16 year old in high school and a 12 year old in elementary school. I’m counting 28 years in the schooling system as a mother. I must admit that even though all three of my kids enjoy what constitutes the best to elite schooling in Israel, I’m generally dissatisfied with the education system. It’s the same disappointing system worldwide but it doesn’t make me happier. As a parent I am doing my best to offer the widest possibilities to my kids. However, the schooling system limits them.

What’s happening to my brilliant girl at the Nobel Prize winners’ academic institute reminds me of what happened to my wide eyed youngest in first grade. From the shining smile, sheer excitement and hopeful dreams of knowledge and exploration down to a thin reality of memorization and teachers’ mind-reading. She might be better equipped today to deal with it, looking at it as just a phase to go through, it still feels like a system putting you down.

And so does the whole testing system I’m going through, for the second time as a parent, with my high schooler. “Teaching? I wish I could teach”, one of his gifted teachers told me, a fantastic creative and beloved teacher, “I’m not teaching, I’m prepping for exams”.

So back to “what are we doing to help our kids prepare for a vague future we have no way of predicting?”. One thing is for sure, 3 years wasted on test preparations hardly contribute to it. Education must develop a stronger affinity to the entrepreneurship state of mind if we want it to contribute to our future. To be blunt, for a period in history lead by the workmen, the manufacturing line approach to education was fine. For an era lead by entrepreneurs – education needs to be recreated as something else, something different, some fertile ground for budding entrepreneurs.

What about the Team?

I started to write this blog post about team work. Then I restarted it. I wasn’t always a team player. When I started my career, a young and daring journalist at the age of 15, a journalist was in most cases a solo flyer. I was a journalist for 15 years. Most of the time it was indeed a solo performance. When I ejected from print journalism to the online technology world I started to discover team work.

Investors often tell you that when choosing whether or not to invest in a startup they look at the team harder than they look at the idea. Yea, showing off with a shiny new prototype is impressive, but if the team is a screeching machine, then no thank you. Better luck at your next meeting.

And team work is indeed key to success. In a good startup you’ll have several founders, each assuming responsibility on another domain. While in many cases each member of the team can probably do more than just his or her own job, and at the early stages – that’s what they have to do, it’s critical that every member of the team is the chief of another domain. Has the last word in this domain. Not the only word, the last word.chess-set

This distinction is important: early on the team all share the exciting notion of creating something new. They all pitch in. They all have a contribution to the production process from planning to execution. But in each area there’s supposed to be the top decision maker of the arena: one person decides over technology, one person deciding over design, one person over business strategy. Even if all team members have degrees in programming and business, each member must honestly acknowledge which is his or her area of expertise. Where they would be better than any other team member. And that’s your domain.

This mastery is of course accompanied by a lot of ego. Which makes it hard to listen to other people’s opinions or advice. But if you’re truly an expert – then you will embrace the fact that every input can enrich you and benefit the greater good of the venture you’re all producing.

Which takes me back to school. So the high school typical behavior I’ve encountered so far, through my kids mainly – is that in each group there’s one who does all the hard work. Well the easy work too. In fact, why bother, when there’s one in each group who really cares about the grade? Unfortunately I’ve seen this attitude drag into college, first degree studies. There are those who care about the grades, so why bother contributing to the shared project? In further studies I’ve also encountered the complete opposite behavior, with similar non-team-work results: condescending team members competing with each other on their status within a team, all in the name of credit and prestige.

Do education systems give it another thought? Do they know how important is the ability to work within a team? The whole deal: contributing, learning from each other, sharing ideas, feeding the team, respecting, communicating politely and efficiently, putting your ego aside. And enjoying it.

I sincerely believe that if tests where replaced by projects with correct guidance and supervision – we’d be looking at better chances for all those future team members. There’s a limit to how far you can fly solo and without wings.

Teachers: Innovate or Vegetate? (Or: Why teachers hold the key to society’s innovation)

On the road to innovation, success, evolution and generally doing good we have to go through the education systems. Where ever we are. Tomorrow’s innovators are being educated today. While Peter Thiel with his 20-under-20 Thiel Fellowship is doing a rescue operation to fish entrepreneurs out of the higher education system before is squashes their dreams and plans under frames and debts, I’m thinking that the only operation we can have for the younger students is recognizing that teachers today hold the key to innovation. I need to create a clear separation between innovation and entrepreneurship. There’s a factor of bravery, risk taking and daring in entrepreneurship that is not always present with pure innovation. Teachers can and must innovate all the time. They don’t have to assume the role of entrepreneurs. But it’s “innovate or vegetate” for them. Going out with my dear friend Miri to a bar the other night, we spoke about career choices. Miri loves being a teacher. It’s the only thing she has ever done and she’s one of the more innovative teachers I’ve had the pleasure to meet. Without innovation – how could she survive around 3 decades of teaching science to middle school students? Day in day out, year in year out, same curriculum approximately. But she’s a master in improvising. She knows how to read each unique group of students, as well as specific students, and how to raise the curiosity and tease their own inquisitive minds into the same thing she’s teaching. They keep surprising her, and she keeps surprising them. Yet, teachers’ professional development is extremely weak in Israel. To encourage it the government with the teachers unions created a framework that recognizes specific programs or institutions as an official supplier of professional development. Going through any of those a teacher is then compensated financially for the investment. This framework created a terrible situation in which most teachers limit their quest to develop professionally to only these programs or institutions that will “pay off”. There goes innovation. An enthusiastic participant at Twitter’s #edchat I’m learning so much about education and educators around the world. It’s a sheer joy even if I am just a listener and not participating. I am not a teacher, and nobody pays me to learn education. But all of the participants, who are teachers and educator by trade don’t spend that 1 hour (sometimes 2 hours) per week in a multi-national conversation about education because they are paid to do so. They do it because they are passionate about what they do and they want to innovate and grow. They don’t want to get tired and worn, they want to keep the enthusiasm going on in their lives and careers.

teacherscollage
Why I think teachers hold the key to society’s innovation

Here’s innovation for you. These teachers are in fact cultivating tomorrow great entrepreneurs. When their students will grow up, I hope they can appreciate it. Because we hear so much about the successful entrepreneurs and their grand startups, but we rarely hear about those who showed then the way.

#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.

Coding Is The (New) Literacy

This week I’ve heard my friend, Idit Caperton Harel, been quoted again and again. She said very clearly and loudly that coding is this century’s literacy, the same reading and writing was 100-150 years ago.

I don’t think she meant that by teaching kids to code you are coaching them to become programmers. The same way that teaching kids to read and write 150 years ago didn’t mean you were going to turn them into authors and poets.

But over the last several months, I could even say a couple of years, it had become clearer and clearer and I chose to ignore it only because this fact made me feel uncomfortable. Coding is a life necessity. And since it’s really getting simpler – it shouldn’t be so scary or make us feel that uncomfortable.
kidscode

So this year I’ve decided to go study. I’m studying game design, nearly 5 years after I started to write my first game design document. One of the reasons I signed up for this expensive program is my hope I will get some technical tools that will enable me to create something. For the first several coding (C#) classes I was OK. I liked the simplicity and the logic. But I think somewhere around lesson 3 or 4 I got stuck because of an error I couldn’t decipher. The class moved on, I stayed behind and there was no rewind button to help me discover the missing parentheses.

Several years ago I studied multimedia. It was a full time 7 months course which taught me about 5 different software in graphic, video, sound etc. – plus a crash course in HTML, knowledge that I enjoyed even when using this totally friendly platform called “WordPress”. It went a lot better than the current software and programming classes are going for me. “Did I get stupid over the years?”, I asked myself. I guess not. But my pace have change, I am much more busy today. I read A LOT more than I have back then, and I really, and I mean really love Twitter.

And so I found myself on Codeacademy learning JS. Thought I should give it a try. A couple of hours and I’m over the basics. I have now reached the “program your first game” stage and I feel so proud of myself.

Then I started to think about this methodology. First of all – the very short intro, followed by a very short exercise of the topic. Then, the important role of the “back” button. I mean I haven’t finished a book in two years, but I’ve read on twitter and through it the amount of at least 100 books. It’s easier to gulp, spreadable, flexible, not tiring, not requiring the concentration of … well someone else. I don’t even know who.

Why is the codeacademy model not replicated as a math test prep model is beyond me. Teach math in 140#rythm seems like a pretty good idea. My 10th grader would have loved to learn math if he could do it like this. And math teachers would be able to finally concentrate on those students who need the extra attention, instead of giving useless speeches in noisy classes.

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.

Are Skills Based Standards the Solution, or a New Problem?

I’m confused, I admit.

Just recently spent a week with educators at the SXSWedu in Austin, TX (a very cool event by the way), where CCS (Common Core Standards) were the talk of the day, if not the talk of the conference.

Tried to dive in to better understand what it is and spoke to many educators and education entrepreneurs – and what I got is a lot of question marks. A few educators admitted that they are not sure what to do with the CCS, how to decipher the code encrypted in them and transfer it to a clear and relevant work plan in the classroom. Some simply found it “out of sync” with their work (here’s a good example – http://wapo.st/GHVI7T)

I took a look: http://www.corestandards.org/ – read sample items and thought about it. 10-04-2013 10-20-29

I thought that defining the school curriculum through skills we want to achieve rather then through a specific content one has to go through, is a pretty cool idea and I would love for it to happen here too (I live in Israel), and all over the world. Awarding kids with skills is really “teaching them how to fish”.

However, I do believe, after reading some of the items, that they are not clear enough to become solid grounds for a school curriculum. They can be interpreted in many ways, and also – it could prove difficult to make sure the kids actually acquire these skills, in other words, would you test the kids in order to assess if they got those skills? How can you test for skills level in a way that won’t harm learners?

There were several very interesting discussions about the Common Core Standards I came across on various teachers networks. On Firesidelearning Mike posted this on 2009

Cindy posted this on May 2012  and this one on September 2012  and there are more mentions of the CCS if you search for it.

But even after reading all these discussions I fail to understand the shortlist of the pros and cons, and was wondering if you can help me summarize it and answer the following questions:

1) Are the common core standards needed?

2) What would you change in them?

3) What do the CCS mean for the choice of contents in classrooms?

4) In one of his talks I heard Jesse Schell describe standardization as the enemy of creativity. Is this true for the CCS in their current form too, or do they actually enable personalizing education to the student’s needs and abilities?

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.

SXSWedu 2013: Here Comes the Parents’ Voice

Oh my G! What did I do? I really want to speak, carry my thoughts and ideas about education and spread those ideas. Grow this conversation. Who knows, perhaps even make a difference, drive a change.

So I proposed a short talk to SXSWedu.  After browsing topics and proposal and previous years talks and other edu conferences panels I decided that the best contribution I can make to this event is to voice parents.kiriatiAtSXSWedu

In this oh so exciting conversation about the education reform that every country in the world is apparently going through, and that promise of a true revolution carried from stage to stage, there’s has been very little space left in the conversation for parents.

I hear amazing teachers, inspiring principals and administrators, great innovators, researchers, consultants, advisors, politicians. All or most are representing the revolutionized education system. The promises. Some, of course, are also parents. But it’s not the parents they are representing.

I want to voice the parents.

If I could, I’d voice the students too. I’d bring them along.

It’s like trying to draw a triangle using only one line and one angle.

Earlier this year I’ve had the pleasure of listening to almost 70 parents in one classroom voicing their educational vision in a meeting with the class’ new head teacher. I wrote about one surprise wish here.

But I’ve been talking with so many people, from all sides of the system. And kids too. And although this is not a scientific nor an academic research, I have to draw some conclusions.

I think teaching is one of the most challenging professions existing today. More than anything it is challenging because teachers are experiencing an earth quake in classrooms like no one else. Expectations are sky rocketing, but systems are so limiting.

And that’s why they find themselves too often in a battle against demanding and misunderstood parents. There are just too many wants, too different demands coming in, from too many directions.

Now, tell me, what do parents want???

You can post your answer here or join the conversation on Quora

Here’s a podcast of the actual talk: http://snd.sc/ZGPMVy I will be happy to hear what you think.

That (ADHD) Epidemic Again

To write or not to write, that is the question. But I am writing out of a sense that this needs to be shared. It really does. My son agrees with me and gave me his consent.

There are so many parents in a similar position and many many more kids who find themselves in this place, similar to my son’s.

He is almost 15 years old. He was diagnosed as a gifted child a little more than 7 years ago, when he was going from 1st grade to 2nd grade. At the same time he was diagnosed as ADD, and last year it was changed to ADHD.

So we already know he is a smart kid. Over the past 3 years he’s been using Ritalin on and off, mainly for exams and was doing more than OK in school, at the special class for the gifted. But Ritalin made him feel sick most of the time and we decided it’s time to question the treatment and took him off it several months ago.

Let me tell you that he is a happy kid, he loves to laugh and to make other people laugh. He is very sociable, always has some good friends around. He likes sports, especially soccer and used to do Capoeira too. He likes to travel and loves to eat and cook (when I let him). He is a very creative artist. Been drawing and photographing since a very young age and he is also very musical. He is now in his 5th year playing the trumpet.

Which brings me to the recent story. 3 months ago he started 9th grade in this very lucrative high school – The National High School for the Arts “Thelma Yellin”, as a trumpet player in the Jazz department. The school year started just wonderful. Everything excited him – from the new students he befriended, to the teachers who seem kind and caring, to the whole “Fame” like atmosphere the school offers.

But while this school offers a lot it demands no less. The current class system comprises of 8 core topics (like math, English, history, chemistry etc.) and 5 Jazz topics, from The History of Jazz to Improvisation. That’s 12 different topics to master. That’s a lot. And it’s especially a lot for an ADHD student.

While ADHD people have more receptors open and apparently can grasp more than the average person, a lot of what their mind grasps is irrelevant information, or “noise”. The noisier their environment the more noise – exponentially they are grasping, and the less relevant information stays in.

That is, of course, where Sir Ken Robinson’s words echo in my brain. Are we having a global ADHD epidemic??

Epidemic or no epidemic we are sitting with our son at the teacher-parents conference. The teacher nods her head and points to the low grades our son has achieved this semester. It’s very strange, given his IQ, she says, not in these words exactly. And then the motivational talk is directed at my son. She’s really nice, and I am sure he is not the first ADHD student to have passed under her wings. Still the words come out: “You must try harder” – and I see how his eyes are getting narrower. “You must concentrate”, his shoulders sink. “You need to think what can improve your performance in the classroom”, or something similar and I feel the lump in my throat and the humidity in my eyes.

“He can’t”, I say. “It’s not a decision he can make. It’s not an action to perform.” And I am thinking about this epidemic. “It’s like an illness or a handicap.” (Would you ask a kid to be taller so he can score better in Basketball?)

The teacher looks at me. She seems surprised. More at herself than at me, or perhaps I am imagining it. “Yes, I know”, she smiles an understanding smile: Illnesses are treated with medicines.

And so once again I find myself at this crossroad, where in order to allow my son to grow and develop and learn in the school he desires and deserves – I must sedate him. Is he going to need Ritalin to thrive in the real world? For higher education? Would he need Ritalin to work with his fellow band players? At which point does the ADHD ceases to be an epidemic and continues to be an evolution? And how much of this epidemic is caused by outdated education systems?

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