Response to the article, ““Digital Divide is ‘Major Challenge’ in Teaching Low-Income Students, Survey Finds” by Betsy Isaacson, The Huffington Post, February 28, 2013

After reading this article and the findings that are highlighted (by PewResearchCenter, in the report found here, concerning the digital divide between low-income and high-income students, I realized that I wasn’t too surprised by these findings, which indicate that the divide is greater than we think. The fact that “3 percent of low-income students have access to Internet at home, in contrast to 50 percent of higher-income students” is not surprising. Ever since I began to think about this while attending a class about “technology in the classroom”, I have been under the opinion that technology is great for those that can afford it. Yes, it is true that just about everybody has a cell phone these days but it is much easier to research a topic and create a document on a computer than a cell phone. I guess an easy answer to the digital divide is that schools that can afford to give their students computers and that have students who can afford to buy their own computers should be thinking about technology in the classroom. Those schools that are in low-income areas that don’t have easy access to WiFi shouldn’t be thinking about technology in the classroom. However, the discussion shouldn’t end there. It is not fair that some students have access to computers and some don’t. What can be done?

One answer to the digital divide is that schools that can’t afford computers or that have students who can’t afford their own computers, should be partnering with schools that do have the money for their students to do their assignments on line. There should be a consortium of some kind established by the government that “shares the wealth” when it comes to technology in the classroom. The government, specifically the Department of Education,  should get involved and determine a way for each and every student in the country to be provided with a computer. One way that I can think of to do this is for the government to monitor which schools no longer need older models of computers and to get these older models in the schools that don’t have any computers. The school districts should not bear the burden for this task. The federal government needs to find a way to bridge this digital divide. It needs to keep a list of schools that need computers and to find a way to provide these schools with computers. If it means that our taxes are increased, then so be it. I think most people would support higher taxes if they knew that their money was going to something like providing every student with a computer. I know that this task is not easy and there will probably be voices of dissent that will say that it is a socialist idea. There will probably be a lot of bureaucracy and red tape and it will take time but the future of our children is at stake. In the meantime, our teachers need to be aware of the digital divide and teach accordingly by giving some assignments that don’t need the use of a computer. But in today’s world, it is so much better if most assignments that are given to students do need the use of a computer. After all, teachers are supposed to be preparing students to not only advance themselves academically, but to also advance themselves in knowing how to navigate around society.  And in today’s society, the use of computers have become the norm.

My thoughts on Project Tomorrow’s “Speak Up” 2014 Student Survey and how how it will help me to plan my instruction.

After reading this report, I began to think again about the report’s four major findings which were 1) when students have access to technology and especially school provided technology, they use this technology in a more sophisticated way 2) students who effectively use these digital tools to do their schoolwork think of the use of technology in school as very important to the learning process 3) students think that knowing how to use this technology is very important in advancing themselves in their career and 4) using technology in the classroom helps students to develop self-directed independent learning abilities. These four findings point to the fact that students, in general, have a very positive view of the use of technology in the classroom. The first of these four findings (students using technology in a sophisticated way) is interesting to me because it shows that the youth today are very tech savvy and if we provide them with just the basic tools, they will want to explore these tools and find out how to use them in creative ways and in conjunction with other tools. An example that is given is that the students who are using tablets in school are using them to take pictures of school assignments or textbook pages. They will explore the different features of the device and find out how to best use the device. Personally, I just got my first cell phone a year ago. It took a while but I figured out that my job would be so much easier if I took pictures of my computer screen instead of trying to save each and every document or store each and every e-mail. Also, the chart in the report that showed that students identify certain devices with certain tasks made me think of how the students today are learning from their friends and classmates which devices to use for certain tasks. One can imagine a student saying to another student that they just realized that this so and so device is much better for this task or that task, etc. In this way, the students are learning how to collaborate with each other.

A way in which this survey helped me to plan my future instruction as a teacher is that it just sold me more on the idea of using technology in the classroom. The statistic chart that showed how many students view a blending learning environment in a positive way also sold me more on that idea. All in all, I think that using technology for some tasks in the classroom but not other tasks is the way to go. However, I remember what was said by Professor Knight in one of our classes that when teachers use technology in the classroom, they need to be consistent in using it throughout the semester. As this survey pointed out, when students use technology in the classroom, they need to keep using it so they can learn how to use it in more sophisticated and creative ways. If a teacher just used it occasionally, the students would never really get a chance to “sink their teeth into it”, so to speak.

Reflections on the TED talk “Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the Cloud”

This TED talk interested me because of the words in the title, “School in the Cloud” which partially refers to the virtual “cloud” in computing which is basically a virtual data center for one’s computing needs . I work at an IBM sales training center where we promote the use of our “cloud” network to sell software to our customers. Sugata Mitra, who is a Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, England, talks of building a “school in the cloud” because of the results of his “Hole in the Wall” experiments with children and computers. He called these experiments “Hole in the Wall” experiments ( because, initially, a computer was placed in a kiosk in a wall in a slum in Kalkaji, Delhi and children were allowed to use it freely.The goal of this experiment was to prove that children could be taught by computers very easily without any formal training and Mitra considered these experiments to be successful. In fact, Mitra believes so much in the validity of the results of these experiments that in this TED talk, he says that if you leave children alone with a computer to learn (in any language), they would reach the same standard as an office secretary in the west within nine months.  Also, in this TED talk, Mitra speaks of an experiment he did with young students in India whereby he left a computer with them so they could learn chemistry and science. The children didn’t use the computer in any formal way, just from time to time. He came back after a few months and noticed that even though they didn’t understand much of what was left on the computer concerning chemistry and science, they did score considerably higher on a science and chemistry test that he had given them before the computer was given to them.

An idea that I took away from this TED talk that could help me as a teacher was Mitra’s idea that teachers should not try to “make learning happen” but rather set a process in motion so as  to “let learning happen”. He says that learning is the product of educational self-organization or what he calls SOLE or a “Self-Organized Learning Environment” which is comprised of “broadband”, “collaboration” and “encouragement”. The idea is to promote a learning environment (even an unsupervised environment) that would tap into a child’s sense of wonderment and imagination and with the use of a computer would allow the child to learn at his/her own pace. When I observed a class at an elementary school last semester, I noticed that the kindergarteners that I observed seemed so at ease when learning on the computer. It was as if they thought of the computer as a toy or a game. I agree with Mitra that it is a wonder what children can accomplish when left alone to learn on the computer. As teachers, we should not only teach our students how to use a computer to learn but we should encourage them to study on the computer at their own pace by setting up a learning environment that allows them to do this. I believe one of the factors that contributed to the success of Mitra’s experiments was that the children were allowed to study at their own pace. It is amazing what children can accomplish when given a computer and enough time to explore how to use it to learn.

BAM! Radio Podcast – “Flipping Your Class? Do This, Puh-Leeze Don’t Do That – Part I, 2, 3, & 4” recorded by Jon Bergmann

In this podcast, Jon Bergmann, who along with Aaron Sams is considered to be a pioneer in the flipped classroom movement, discusses the dos and don’ts of flipping your class. Flipping a class is a method of teaching which allows students to grasp the subject matter outside of class and analyze, synthesize, and criticize the material in class to solve problems and create products. The first point Bergmann makes is that teachers, when they first flip their classroom, often make the mistake of  assuming that their students know how to take notes well when watching a video (because in a flipped classroom, students will be watching a lot of videos on their own). So, teachers need to figure out how to get the students engaged when watching a video . Teachers need to ask themselves, “Is there a certain note taking method that is better than other methods?” or “Are my students able to take notes properly when watching a video or do I need to show them how to improve their ability to do so?” One way, Bergmann points out, a teacher can monitor how well his/her students are taking notes when watching a video is to have each student be able to control when to pause a video in class. So, each student would have a pair of headphones and an individual monitor and the teacher could watch how often the students are pausing the video and give them advice on how often they should do so.

In Part 2 of this podcast, Bergmann discusses another mistake that teachers make when they first flip their classroom. This mistake would be that they tend to “rescue” the students who didn’t do the homework assignment of watching a video outside of class. These teachers “rescue” these students by giving a lecture in class about the video after realizing that a number of students didn’t watch the video. Instead, Bergmann points out, the teacher should tell the students that didn’t watch the video that they can’t do the assignment that the rest of the class is starting until they watch the video in class. The students will hopefully get the point and will come prepared next time because they don’t want to fall behind the rest of the class and miss out on working on the assignment with their fellow classmates. So, that is one way a teacher can monitor how many students are actually watching the homework assignment video. But another problem is determining how well the students are grasping the important points of the video. So, in Part 2 of this podcast, Bergmann mentions that it would be a good idea to have the students watch a video in class that would have questions posed to the students at certain intervals. The teacher would then need to have a tool (for instance, Pear Deck which would allow the teacher to see the answers the students give to the questions posed in the video as they are watching the video. Bergmann at this point mentions the website for teachers to visit if they need tools to help them do this. These tools can be found in the section titled, “Flipped Class Tech Tools”.

In Part 3 of the podcast, Bergmann talks about how long the videos should be that the teacher gives the students in a flipped classroom. One rule of thumb that he mentions is that it should be one minute to one minute and a half for each grade level. So, 3 minutes is good for a second grade class. Another rule of thumb concerning the length of the video is that you take the age of the student and add one minute. Also, Bergmann mentions that it would be a good idea to give the students a video with just one topic so the students aren’t trying to grasp too much.

In Part 4 of the podcast, Bergmann talks about where the videos should come from that the students are given for homework. Should they come from YouTube or another website or should the teachers create their own videos? Bergmann believes that teachers should make their own videos. He believes this because he says that teaching comes down to relationships and if a teacher makes his/her own video, the students are seeing that the teacher is not just trying to give them information but is trying to connect with them. I learned a lot from this podcast and absolutely would consider using podcasts for professional learning in the future. I loved the ability to pause and take notes and reflect on what was being said and I found this particular podcast very entertaining and educational. Also, listening to podcasts are maybe a little bit better than watching a video in terms of being able to grasp the content because you are not distracted by the visuals in the video.

A Visualization Resource to either review or use to create a product.

For this assignment, I chose the website Popplet. It is a website that allows students to create collaborative mind maps. I first created an account which was free and easy. Actually, you have a choice between the Free Plan which allows you to create 5 “popplets”, with all the features or a Monthly Plan (unlimited Popplets, $3 a month, all the features), or a Yearly Plan (unlimited Popplets, $30 a year, all the features). There are two tabs, once you sign in. One tab reads “your popplets” where you can create your own “popplets” or word maps and the other tab reads “public popplets”, where you can observe many created “popplets”, such as a biology “popplet”. There is a great “zoom” feature that allows you to look at the contents of the “popplet” close up. So, when I went to create my own “popplet”, I was prompted to name and choose the color of the background and it was as easy as that. I chose a subject near and dear to me: the Baltimore Orioles season so far. You double click to create a “popplet” which is a rectangular box with your name attached to it. The different features are represented by circles around the box that you click on and are the following: “change colors”, “type stuff”, “draw things”, “upoad things”, “delete”, and “drag to link a new popplet”. Actually, there are two “drag and link” features. One allows you just to create a link to a new “popplet” and the other allows you to move the links around and create different map sizes and shapes. Finally, there is a feature that allows you to widen or shrink the box. I had a lot of fun creating my own word map or “popplet”. If you have an account, you can view my “popplet” here. Or you can view it as a pdf here. Orioles Season Popplet One feature I noticed as I was creating my “popplet” was that if you click and drag anywhere in the background, you can move the whole word map up or down, right or left. I also found a great YouTube video on Popplet.

It is a great instructional video on how to use Popplet and shows you how to upload videos and pictures into your “popplets” and shows you how to share your “popplet” with collaborators, such as other students in your classroom. Even if someone doesn’t have a “popplet account”, you can still share it with him/her by exporting it as a jpeg or as a pdf file. The video goes on to explain that once it is a jpeg or pdf file, it can’t be edited anymore. What I loved most about the visualization resource Popplet was that it is so easy to use and seems to be perfect for very young kids who are in elementary school and are just learning how to create mind maps on the computer.

Thoughts about the YouTube Video, “Extracurricular empowerment: Scott McLeod at TEDxDesMoines”

As I watched Scott McLeod on YouTube at a TEDx program in Des Moines, Iowa  – (For more about TEDx programs click here, I thought about what I wrote in my last blog post I wrote that using the social web to just get “likes” is not productive but to use it to do something meaningful and advance your career is very productive and even inspiring. To learn about 9 year old Martha in Scotland taking pictures of her lunch and raising awareness about the need for healthy school lunches is very inspiring. To learn about a middle school student in Iowa named Josh who created videos and by the time he graduated high school had 130,000 regular subscribers on his YouTube Channel, 83 million total views, and a six figure salary heading into college is very inspiring. So, as Scott McLeod points out at the end of the video, the challenge for teachers is how to turn this extra-curricular activity on the Social Web into a curricular activity in our schools. He mentions that it seems that every time teachers try to do this, they also create restrictions on the use of this technology. He talks about how teachers need to get over their fear of this technology and help their students use it in a productive way in the classrooms. But how? Don’t teachers need to be very careful when allowing students to use the internet in school? Maybe a good idea would be for teachers to invite a Social Web/technology expert into their classrooms to show the students how to use the Social Web in a safe and productive way. The teacher could ask the students to come up with a very specific idea of how they want to use the Social Web to raise awareness about a particular social problem (such as healthy school lunches). Then the expert (or the teacher, if the teacher knows a lot about the internet) could sit with each student and help the student to flesh out exactly how to raise awareness about the social problem using the Social Web. This could be done in class using the school resources but the students could also be taught how to use their computers at home to do the project also if the school resources are too restrictive. The teacher or expert would need to direct the student to certain websites and organizations and monitor the videos and blogs that the students create to raise awareness. The goal of the project would be to get a certain amount of “likes”. In this way, the students would be taught that “likes” are not just about being popular but are important if you use them to raise awareness about a social problem or to advance your career.

You Tube Video “Visitors and Residents: Credibility” – How does understanding how children use the Social Web prepare us for our instruction in the classroom?

After watching David White in the you tube video, “Visitors and Residents:Credibility”, I began to think about what White was talking about when he said that using the web to do research blurs the lines of actual learning and the perception that one is learning. The whole idea of surfing the web has always made me wonder how this compares to going to a library. One difference that I have noticed is that I am able to find the correct information a lot faster than if I was in a library. Then again, it is a lot easier to get “lost” when searching the web for information because your attention is easily diverted to another link and another video, etc. You end up clicking on information that you don’t really need but might be “interesting”. In a library, you are less likely to divert your attention to some book that is interesting but might not be needed to do your homework assignment. So, with the question in mind of whether or not searching for information on the web really is more useful and productive than going to the library to do a research paper, I now turn to the question of how does an understanding of how children use the Social Web help me to teach in the classroom.

As I mentioned in an earlier post,, using the Social Web to try to gain popularity might be somewhat deceiving because a “like” doesn’t necessarily translate into a “love” or a real feeling. Sometimes (not all the time) a “like” is just a “click of the mouse”. However, if our students are taught to use the Social Web for a specific purpose such as advancing your career or, as David White points out, finding residency within a community of learners, then the Social Web can be very helpful. So, I would first have a discussion with my students what it means to be a visitor on the Social Web and what it means to be a resident. If the students felt that they are more resident than visitor then I would give them an assignment that would require them to assess the value of being a resident on these social websites. They would need to answer questions such as “How does this further their education or do they just use if for personal reasons?” David White mentioned in the video that when it comes to research, it is very difficult to tell whether or not the web is an accepted and reliable currency of learning. I think that most people still hold on to the idea that researching a paper topic in the library is still more reliable than researching it on the web. However, when it comes to social websites, I don’t think people are thinking enough about whether or not communicating with people on the web is a reliable and accepted currency of social interaction. Do we really form friendships and residency within a community on social websites or are we just reaching out to strangers and feeling a little less lonely? These are some of the questions that I would ask my students. I think I would also give them an assignment that would ask them to research a topic on-line and research the same topic in the library and then ask them to critically assess each paper they wrote. They would then have to let me know which paper is better and why. I could also give them an assignment that would ask them to try to form a relationship with a stranger in a social club, such as a book club, and then also try to form a relationship with a stranger on a Social Website. They would then need to explain which relationship was better and why.

Frontline Video “Generation Like” – How does understanding how children use the Social Web prepare us for our instruction in the classroom?

While I was watching the Frontline video, “Generation Like”, I kept thinking that a “like” doesn’t necessarily mean that people are really into your video or post or tweet or photo, etc. It just means that people “clicked” on it and kind of liked it. A “view” or a “follow” also doesn’t necessarily mean that you have fans. They are just people who were surfing on the internet and clicked on something that interested them. So, there is definitely a false sense of popularity that is out there concerning the Social Web. So, as teachers, we need to teach our students that being popular on-line doesn’t always translate into being popular in society. At the same time, we definitely want to encourage our students to express themselves on the Social Web because it is a good forum to express yourself and it is how people (especially young people) communicate with each other now.

So, how do we as teachers use our understanding of the the Social Web to help prepare us for our instruction in the classroom? Well, the first thing we need to do is have a discussion with our students about the Social Web. Like any powerful medium that stores and delivers information and data, the Social Web can be dangerous to our kids if our kids are not educated about it. The “Generation Like” video pointed out how empowering expressing yourself on-line can be. It can bring you fame and endorsements but the video also points out that young people are also used by the Social Web. They are used by companies wanting to sell their products or in the case of the movie, the Hunger Games, companies wanting to get some buzz going about a movie coming out. As I watched the video, I kept thinking, Are the people who use the Social Web using or being used by it? It was interesting that the video did address this question and the answer was a little bit of both but more and more our young people are learning how to manipulate the Social Web for their own purposes. We watched how Tyler Oakley or Daniela Diaz learned how to manipulate the Social Web not just to gain popularity but to launch a career that could bring them real fame and fortune instead of just being a “likes” millionaire. So, the first thing I would do in the classroom is to have a discussion with my students about the pros and cons of putting yourself out there too much on the Social Web. I would then give my students an assignment in which they could find some way to express themselves on the Social Web. They could choose the website and the medium in which to express themselves such as a video or just a post. I would then instruct them to monitor what kind of feedback they get concerning their post or video. They would then have to write an essay about how this feedback made them feel and whether or not they felt they had truly “expressed” themselves and whether or not they truly felt “liked”. So, my main focus would be to get the students to be critical of the Social Web and teach them to learn to use it for very specific purposes, such as advancing their career. Sure, the Social Web is fun to play around with and see how many “likes” you can get but it can be used for so much more. In an ESL environment, I would instruct my students to learn to use it in order to develop their English skills and to get a better understanding of our society and what is popular. So, their assignment would be to join a social website and show me how doing this has helped them to improve their English and their understanding of our society. I believe the Social Web is a great place to learn about yourself and society but only if it is used for specific purposes and not just to feel “liked”.

The video “Digital Media – New Learners of the 21st Century” and its relation to the 4Cs

The learning program I chose was the one from the school, Quest to Learn, which is in New York and advertises itself as a “School for Digital Kids”. From the video, we learn that the students are learning to create video games for their classmates. Of course, creativity is needed to do this project but we also learn how the students need to be critical thinkers. We learn that the students are asked to check themselves by answering a set of guiding questions such as “Are you engaging the player?”, “Are you giving the player feedback?”, “Do they know where to go in the game after completing each step?”, and “Is the game difficult enough?”. This kind of self-assessment sometimes involves drawing diagrams of how the game is supposed to be played. We also learn from the video that the Quest to Learn School and the project of learning how to design video games is based on the idea that playing games is nothing more than learning how to solve problems, which is at the heart of critical thinking. A concern that is addressed in the video which comes from the parents of the students is that designing games causes the students to be too focused on competition and winning. However, a teacher addresses this concern by saying that may be true but the students are learning to design games and play games which push the player to get better and better and that is a good thing. I imagine that collaboration and communication comes into play when the students are testing out their video games that they designed by having the other students in the class give them feedback on what is good and what is bad about the game that they designed. Also, we learn that the students are also designing games that tell a story based on a story that they have read. From the video, we see that this is a group project that involves communication and collaboration. The teacher explains that this is a kind of “translation” project, where the students are learning about what it takes to translate a story into a virtual theater performance which can be played as a game. The students explain that creativity comes into play when they need to learn about the characters and create what they would say as well as learning how to create a storyboard template.