How does Technology change the Classroom?

The first time I watched a John Green Crash Course video, I was hooked. I had recently been assigned to teach a Social 9 class that I had never taught before and was outside of my teaching area. I needed to teach the class about Ancient Egypt and wanted something more interesting than having the students copy notes off the board.

Here was a guy who could explain the information in a more entertaining method than I could, and it was so easy to access with just a few clicks on the computer.

This had me wonder, is this information really worth teaching and having the students “memorize” if access to the answers is only one step away?

This questions takes us to the crux of the issue, for this class and education as a whole, what should we be teaching to our students?

At the base level, teachers have to teach outcomes from the curriculum. However, the methods of teaching that information can be left up to the professionalism of the individual. Therefore, the preferred method I would like to move towards exists in the Redefinition of the SAMR Model.  In my opinion, the age of having students memorize facts for a test is dead. The knowledge is lost as soon as the students finish the exam, because it holds no importance in their lives. Why remember something if Siri could give you the answer in 8 seconds? Instead, we must strive to find ways to give the students the information and have them APPLY the knowledge, rather than just regurgitate it.

This application of knowledge can best be accomplished using the technology that is available to teachers in most classrooms. As Kyla Ortman says in her blog post, “We have the power to lead and show students a variety of technological apps and resources to help benefit their learning.”

But these benefits and efficient uses of technology will not come together easily. In order to reimagine the best type of learning for our students, we must put in the work to create meaningful assignments and will be willing to abandon the trademarks of our past assessments. Only then can we become the teachers we hope to be.

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ScreenCastify: Another Google Extension in our Lives

Welcome back for another enlightening blog post everyone!

Today I want to talk about Screencastify, which can be discovered while using Google Chrome. Screencastify is one of the main browser extensions I use and not just in university classes either but also in my classroom.  My main use of Screencastify has been to record and publish my Math lessons to Youtube. A link to one of the lessons can be found here.

One of the biggest benefits to this plan is the ability for the students to be able to slow down the lesson and focus on specific steps they may be struggling with. Despite my best efforts, there is always students who may not understand step 3 before you  move on to step 4 and the ability to watch the lesson in segments should help to alleviate that problem.

This useful Chrome extension is yet another example of how Google is providing educational software free of charge (Screencastify is free, but the videos are limited to 10 minutes in length, however the premium version is very affordable at only $25/year).  However, detractors of Google could think negatively of this as well. In order to access Screencastify, you must be logged in to your Google Plus account. The small price Google pays to allow you to have Screencastify for free pales in comparison to the benefits they net from constantly having you connected to their social media accounts. It is certainly something to consider, but ultimately I will deal with the extra connections in order to access such a valuable tool.

Thanks for reading everyone and I hope to hear about your favourite Chrome extensions in the comments!

Cognitivism to Connectivism: A Pedagogical Shift

Looking back on the beginning of my teaching career, my teaching pedagogy mirrored the way I was taught in high school. The majority of my teachers primarily taught using Cognitivism, which Ertmer and Newby describe as “knowledge acquisition is described as a mental activity that entails internal coding and structuring by the learner. The learner is viewed as a very active participant in the learning process.”  Because I was a successful student in high school, I enjoyed this method of teaching and it became my primary teaching method.

My teaching assignments are generally split between my Major and Minor, which are English and Math. For the purposes of this article I will focus on my Math teaching.

Generally speaking, my math teaching follows this schedule:

Introduce a new concept
Explain an example, slowly going over every step
Allow the students to try a question on their own
Rinse and repeat, increasing the difficulty of the questions
Once an understanding has been reached

I have always believed that this method of teaching is best for a Math class, but now I find myself wondering if there is a better method to teach students in 2018.

After completing my readings, one of the methods that I wish to integrate more into my Math classes is the foundation of Connectivism. George Simens describes it as “Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital.”

If I were to examine this more closely with the lens of a Math 9 course, I would frame it as such:

So many foundational ideas and learning concepts that are taught to students in class can be easily answered via a technology device. An iPhone gives a constant stream of new information given to our students in increasingly efficient ways. Do students need to know how to add and subtract fractions if Photo Math will do the question for them? Or is there a better way to spend our time teaching our students?

I do not know the answers to these questions yet, but I will continue to investigate as I ponder the switch from Cognitivism to Connectivism.

Personal Snapshots of Educational Technology

My personal understanding of educational technology is best examined by taking what I know now and looking back at snapshots of my educational past to see how technology has evolved and grown.

Snapshot #1: Elementary School – All the Right Type

When I think back to elementary school and the technology we accessed, my mind immediately goes to the computer classroom where we would “play” the typing game All the Right Type. Early on, my friends and I would spend our time constantly replaying the first level, trying to see how high of a words per minute score we could achieve. Even know I can remember that first line:

Photo Credit: <https://www.esd401.org/uploaded/Typing_Agent_Teacher_Guide.pdf&gt;

My school was certainly not alone in these teachings. As Michael Molenda notes: “In the mid-1990’s, student use was still rather mundane, often limited to a few hours per week of drill programs.” While that may not have been the best use of our time, it did develop typing/computing skills that have carried forward to this day. When observing my students now, so many of them use “hunt and peck” because they have little experience placing their hands in the correct spots and because they communicate by typing on their phones and they could do that infinitely faster than I could.

Snapshot #2 High School – Overhead Projectors

I graduated high school in 2002 and the main technology aspect of my time was the use of overhead projectors and writing notes down over and over and over. Memorization and regurgitation was a heavy emphasis at that time, the constant cycle of writing notes until your hand was sore, memorizing those facts for the test and forgetting them as soon as the test was over. This was certainly not the best way to learn and thankfully most people have advanced past this method of teaching.

Snapshot #3 Teaching Now – iPhones

All of these technological innovations (which were certainly all amazing for their time) have led us to the world we live in now as educators, where nearly every student has a phone in their pocket that gives access to more knowledge than we could ever have. The ease and speed with which smart devices can deliver answers makes me question what is truly important for us to be teaching to our students. Should we teach solving equations if PhotoMath will instantly solve the entire equation? Is there any facts worth memorizing for a test if they can always be accessed on Google? At the same time, as technology advances, it can be seen as perhaps more important than necessary. Neil Postman states: “technology tends to become mythic; that is, perceived as part of the natural order of things, and therefore tends to take more control of our lives than is good for us.” These questions are not just for individual teachers to consider, but foundation shaking questions that could change the entire education landscape.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter.

Until next time,

Kyle Ottenbreit