Thursday, January 29, 2009

Are you preparing your students for your past or their future?

Daniel Pink speaks about the fact that we need to prepare kids for their future, not our past. That got me thinking. What skills or ideas do we teach that fall under the category of preparing kids for our past? Here are a few. What do you think? What would you add?

1. Cursive Writing

2. Learning map skills with paper maps!!

3. Learning historical names and dates that can be found online in seconds

4. Dictionary skills with a traditional dictionary

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How Video Games Do a Great Job of Assessing Students

I was at TIES today listening to 3 great presenters on video games in education. Colin Maxwell, Roxana Hadad, and Seann Dikkers spoke about teaching video game design as well as what video games teach kids. Seann Dikkers did a great job of sharing his research at UW-Madison on gaming. He talked about how video gaming deals with losing. Old games like PacMan had music at the end to make you feel defeated, but gaming designers have designed today's games to encourage kids to retry things multiple times until they figure it out.

He used the terms little l and Big L losing. In other words, kids are willing to go through a series of small losses if they know they will figure it out in the end. He talked about high stakes testing and traditional education models as Big L losing. We don't give kids the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. We don't allow time for the "messiness" of learning. I couldn't agree more. Imagine a classroom where students are encouraged to take risks, make mistakes, learn from them, and try again until they get it right.

Dikkers also referred to the Pause button and Save button idea as key educational concepts. Kids need to pause the process when they get frustrated and come back to it later. They need to Save their progress and make learning a continual process throughout their education.

Finally, Dikkers spoke about the fact that in video games, we don't teach a bank of knowledge upfront. Instead, students are able to find the needed content when it becomes necessary. This is opposite of how we teach. We give kids content and tell them that they may need this information someday. Given the accessibility of information, we need to move to a different model.

We don't need to play video games to learn from them (although I think there are many great uses for playing and designing games in the classroom.) We can create classrooms that use the same concepts as video game design. For example, video games use a concept called looped mechanics. This means that the game learns how good the player is and adjusts accordingly. The game spirals up, getting more difficult as needed. In effect, it gives ongoing formative assessments and "teaches" the player at their level. Here is a short list of ways we can use video game theory in our classrooms:

  1. Give ongoing formative assessments to constantly adjust the level of challenge for our students.

  2. Don't teach everything upfront. Give your students a challenge and help them access the content as they need it.

  3. Use little l losses as an opportunity to encourage your students to try again and learn from their mistakes.

  4. Make losing fun so kids will be more willing to make mistakes and take risks. (Use music or video clips or games to lighten the blow of losing.)

  5. Use media rich lessons to engage students.

  6. Build in communication tools into lessons so students can collaborate.

If you would like to learn more about gaming in education, here are a few websites to check out:

*Image courtesy of

Monday, January 5, 2009

Let's Teach "Uploading" Skills!

Thanks to John Moravec at Education Futures for sharing this article about how teaching facts is becoming irrelevant. The article quotes Don Tapscott, the author of Wikinomics and Growing Up Digital, who states that "memorizing facts in the age of Google and Wikipedia is a waste of time." I especially like John's statement that:

" should concentrate on “upload” pedagogies, based on knowledge production by students and collaborating faculty, together with augmentations provided by a new category of community-based volunteers. Using the most advanced forms of information search engines, networks, early artificial intelligence, and the aforementioned volunteers, there is an opportunity to leapfrog education beyond any of the competition. This will require fundamental changes in the mission, structure, and curricula of education at all levels."

I couldn't agree more. We are teaching "downloading" skills. We are teaching our students to memorize facts that they can easily find in seconds online. Instead, we need to focus on how to quickly and easily access these facts and use them to produce new knowledge.

I think John's work, along with Arthur Harkins, at the Leapfrog Institute at the University of Minnesota, is extremely important. I would love to get more involved in working with them.

Thanks John!

Do you see the flaws... or the potential?

I recently came across this quote by Ellen Goodman:

We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives . . ., not looking for flaws, but for potential."

I think this quote has so many applications to education. Do we look at our students' potential rather than focusing on their flaws? Do we look at our own potential as educators? I think it is especially relevant to technology integration. I believe that many teachers walk around focusing on their flaws. By this, I mean they are so concerned about what they don't know that they often miss out on opportunities to learn new ideas. Teachers often say to me that there is too much to learn or that things change too quickly to keep up. This is true, but we CAN choose to focus on what we CAN accomplish and worry less about what we do not get to.

I hope this year, we can all focus on our incredible potential as educators to try new things, learn new ideas, and most of all, have an incredible impact on our students.