Monday, December 30, 2013

The Best Is Yet To Come: Ed Tech 2014 Predictions

Gotta love old blue eyes, the song has a catchy tune. As I think about the next best thing regarding technology while holding true to the traditional teaching methods which we know work, I'm hopeful.  I do believe the best is yet to come. I feel we are reaching an understanding when it comes to using technology-the balance of the old and new.

These predictions play into the point I am trying to make:

1. Microsoft Gets It's Mojo Back- Thanks to the "Surface", Microsoft is resurfacing into the mainstream ed tech arena. As much as we all like to admit that we are all saving to the "Cloud" these days, many are not. Since when did flash drives have to go away or Micorsoft for that matter? Who says the iPad has to rule? I'll be the first to admit (and my parents will back me up), I'm picky.  Picky when it comes to technology and all areas of my life, so when iPads came into the horizon back in 2010, I was skeptical. I stayed true to my Microsoft Windows programs and my PC laptop device (RU doesn't support Macs on campus anyways). But then I saw the amazing opportunities the iPad could give all students and teachers in the classroom. I jumped ship and haven't looked back until now.  Thanks to the Microsoft Surface (2nd generation), you really can have it all. An iPadish tablet including flashdrive capabilities with the Windows 8 version we all love.

2. Tron Reinvents Itself- Remember that 80's movie, Tron,  when coding a program seemed out of this world futuristic? Well now, we all can learn. Kudos to and "Hour of Code".  People use to think only those who were highly intelligent and socially inept could code.   We now live in a society where Computer Science and keeping up with programming/coding is as important as the three R's. Students of all ages can learn how to program and code AND have fun doing so. Why is this future? We need coders and programmers of all different interests and background to move our 21st century learning forward and captivate our digital natives.

3. Four Eyes are IN.  Google Glass. It's the final frontier. The future of learning, engaging and communicating with our friends, family and society. If you have been living under a rock and do not know what Google Glass is, click on the link above. In my opinion, it raises two imperative issues: 1. Policies and laws cannot keep current with technology. 2. Educators need to have these devices in their hands months prior to implementing. Time must be given for teachers to practice and facilitate the usage with their students before meaningful integration can occur.

4. Students and Educators Teaching Each Other- Let's face it, we are teaching Digital NATIVES, we are Digital IMMIGRANTS.  Great teachers know to embrace and empower their students. Great teachers know the content and understand how to teach the content in a multitude of ways to engage students. However, with the incredibly advanced integration of technology, great teachers need to rely on their students to brainstorm ways to infuse technology into assignments and products which reflect learning.  Remembering that technology is A tool, it doesn't haven to be THE tool.

5.  Hands free revolution- enough with drama already. Put your phone down and live!  A Forbes article, recently nailed it.  Checking your phone consistently shows, lack of respect, lack of attention and lack of power. Live in the moment of those you are with and show them who is really in charge...YOU, not your phone. I predict in 2014, more people (of all ages!) will take control of their lives and enjoy what this real world has to offer rather than the virtual world pinging them. I think this quote is brilliant: "One of my clients took a chapter from... the Old West, he put a wicker basket at the front of his conference room, along with a sign of Smartphone that read, Leave your guns at the door."

Best wishes to you and the New Year!

Enjoy a little Sinatra- he never goes out of style. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

ATTENTION! The Best Christmas Present Ever

Watching and wanting to be with you, tech free.

Since this is the shopping season of the year, I'm going to tell you what your family and friends really want for Christmas this year...your undivided attention. 

It really is the easiest gift to give, yet it seems like the hardest to find. Last week USA Today interviewed me for a feature article about the reasons kids should 'unplug' over the holidays. I was able to share some insight on why kids are attached to their phones and ideas on how to help kids focus on quality time, not constant use of their devices over the holidays.

After my discussion with the writer, I started reflecting on some recent conversations with friends. Many have vented how frustrating it is when someone you are trying to spend time with is constantly checking his or her phone. We all are guilty and probably think, "I'll just check my phone for one second." Before you know it, time has passed and you've missed the opportunity to be in the moment with the one you are with.  Meal outings seem to be a huge trigger when it comes to the addiction associated with phones. You probably have heard about the "Phone Stack" game. Friends or family put their cell phones in the middle of the table during dinner and whoever checks it first pays the bill. Great idea, but what about other times of the day?

How do we subtly encourage others to put their devices down and relish the time with those around them?

The above video is one of my favorite videos that has gone viral. It's a 2 minute video of a girl who didn't use her phone all day and the observations she made, experiences she had with the overuse of smartphones.  I showed it to all my grad and undergrad students this semester and we discussed the challenges of enjoying these special moments throughout the day... tech-free. They all agreed they have been in similar situations. We talked about how we can not become complacent when it comes to technology ruling our lives. 

As we strive to find that balance and enjoy our times together over the winter break and beyond, here are some tips for the holidays and the new year:

1. Everyone does it: That's right, if you want your special someone to put their device down then you need to as well. This seems like common sense, but we have to model the behavior we wish to see. How about making a pact together, no cell phone use during the hour you are together, or if he/she does need to take that phone call, it's quick and back to being together with out that metal distraction.

2. Talk about it, often: One reminder every few months is not going to change anyone's behavior. Having discussions with your friends or family and actually role playing is very helpful.  You can discuss how it makes you feel when he or she is preoccupied with their digital device while you are trying to appreciate each other's company.

3. Agree on boundaries:  Quitting cold turkey doesn't always work, so come up with a plan on when and where it is acceptable to use the phone. Remember MODERATION should be the goal, having balance. When alone, think of ways to also avoid the constant interaction with your mobile device. There's much to be said about the life of the soul, the life of the simple stillness.

4. What's necessary:  It is crucial to take 25 pictures at one event? Can that game wait until after dinner?  Do you really have to instantly reply to that text or message? Getting back to basics is the key to moving forward.

5. It's a new year: Perfect time to set some resolutions on how to improve our relationships and unplug from a device that can control our lives. In the end, it is just a THING, not a live person.

Let's enjoy the holidays and new year. Give the gift that keeps on giving...quality time making memories and living your REAL life. Silence your phones, stack them on a table, put them away for a few hours and enjoy the REAL people around you. 

Unplugging doesn't mean you can't be connected with the world, 
it inspires you to be connected with those who mean the most.

Monday, December 16, 2013

What's Cookin': Conversation Is More Important Than The Meal

We all remember this memorable scene from The Christmas Story. When Ralphie's brother, Randy, is motivated to eat at the dinner table by acting like mommy's little piggy.  Hilarious, unless it happens in your house. Maybe this is why family dinners are not always the rage. 

I'll be the first to admit, my kids haven't always been the best eaters. I think the consensus surrounding family dinner time is that it can be challenging.  Challenging to find the time, challenging to get your kids to eat, challenging to get a meal cooked or bought and put on the table! But over the last few years, especially as they become older, one thing I love to do during our family meals is...listen. Hearing about their days and their giggles as they joke around with each other is really priceless. Now, the occasional, "I don't like [insert whatever meal I made]" and "I'm finished, can I just leave the table now" can be a nuisance. However, making a goal to eat together as a family is incredibly important.  For the record, the word "family" has a very wide definition, so whomever you consider your family/friends, whatever that means to you--make the time!  

Since it is that time of year of family gatherings and everyone eating at the table more frequently than usual, here are some facts about the importance of unplugging and dining together.

  • Increased Vocabulary: A 15 year research study by a Harvard Professor, Dr. Catherine Snow, found that children learned more vocabulary words during mealtime than actually reading to them.  We often hear the emphasis on reading to our kids everyday, but not always the importance of having social conversations with them.
  • Higher Success in School:  Some studies show they are 40% more likely to earn A's and B's in school if they are having routine sit down, family type meals.
  • Positive Behaviors: Regular family dinners have been linked to lower rates of depression and  substance abuse.
  • Increased Social Skills: We all know kids do not verbally socialize as much in this digital society. Results show that kids have an increase in their social skills from the mealtime conversations with their friends and family.
  • Bonding: It's the time, not the meal that matters. The good news is, there really is not magical number of minutes as long as the conversation is positive and often. The focus is to bring your family unit closer together through two way communication experiences.
Experts stress having the technology devices off and your attention on your loved ones.Try to emphasis the correct manners they are expressing as you shun the urge to correct them (i.e.elbows off the table, chew with your mouth closed, etc).  Don't stress if your "Randy" struggles during mealtime, it does take practice and you are instilling life skills about being polite, having real conversations and making memories.  

Go for it-I triple dog dare you.

Happy Holidays! Here's hoping you avoid...

getting your tongue stuck to a flagpole

wearing pink rabbit pj's

and shooting your eye out with a BB gun.  

Considering all these things, family mealtimes will be more enjoyable than the consequence of  changing a spare tire in the snow!

Monday, December 9, 2013

You Talkin' To Me? : Civility and Technology

American, 1780-1849
The Peaceable Kingdom, about 1833
Oil on canvas

Last night our family attended the Rockhurst University student mass at Saint Francis. It had been a long weekend (our beloved MU Tigers lost), the weather was freezing and our kids were tired and crabby. Great mood to have as you enter into mass! But something unexpectedly happened to me...

Ever have one of those moments when you feel as though your priest (or pastor) is speaking specifically to you. It's almost like you want to blurt out "you talkin' to me" (insert de Niro's famous quote in front of his mirror), but with a more positive, less New York accent. During the homily, Father Curran creatively brought out the print of Edward Hick's The Peaceable Kingdom. Since he knew we couldn't all see him holding the framed piece of art, he encouraged the congregation to Google it in church right then. We all had the opportunity to personally view the image on our smartphones (how 21st century is that!) as we reflected on what we saw.

As we observed the images expressed in the picture, he discussed the different characters in the artwork and what they represented.  Growing up Baptist and attending a Baptist school 1st-8th, I have read the Bible about twenty different times and there are certainly scriptures I vividly remember.  The scripture of Isaiah came back to mind:

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, 
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat;

The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them. 

The cow and the bear shall graze,
together their young shall lie down;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.

The baby shall play by the viper’s den, 
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.

The summary of his homily brings to light the notion of: we can all live together. It's through civility and the Platinum rule (as we like to call it at RU): " Treat others as THEY want to be treated"  vs the Golden rule, "Treat others as you want to be treated."  We cannot assume that others want to be treated as we want to be treated and vice versa. We all have different backgrounds, experiences and tolerance levels for diverse situations. This is an area I have struggled with the older I get. I have always tried to please others and confrontation is not my cup of tea. Rather than sometimes voice my opinion, I seek clever ways to tactfully get my subtle point across and move on. 

This issue is a constant discussion in my Educational Technology courses. My graduate and undergraduate students, who are pre-service teachers, are concerned about civility and technology, pertaining to numerous scenarios. Can you be civilized, professional and Christian as you stand up for yourself in today's technological world?

We live in a digital society where it is incredibly easy to be UNcivilized with our quick responses to text messages, emails, social media, blogs and articles. It's very easy to hide behind a fictitious name and write whatever we want with no real accountability. People don't see physical expressions when you type out your response and hit "send" or "post". One family psychologist hit it right on, "Technology has changed the rules of social engagement". Last year, I attended a breakfast promoting civility practices in Kansas City through ConsensusKC. Several politicians and local businesses stood up and spoke about their efforts to promote civility in Kansas City. 

recent effort has been raising local and national attention. As of December 5th, those who wish to comment on Kansas City Star's website, must log in with their Facebook account and this is why:

"For the record, we appreciate and encourage commenting on our stories. We want a thorough discourse on important issues and topics across the board. We find interesting context and useful tips in the comments sections. 

Most of our users behave thoughtfully. But a few nameless, faceless readers are poisoning the well for everyone.

At this point, it seems to be the best model going, and lots of news organizations around the country are deploying it. So far, we’ve heard positive feedback on how it’s working in many of those markets.

We believe all of this leads to a better, richer conversation. Thanks for reading."

Read more here:
In regards to my students, we have a few behaviors we commit to abide by as we discuss them in my class.

1. Receive a heated email or phone call from a parent or student: give yourself at least 24 hours to respond. If you decide to respond prior to then, confirm you received their email and let them know you will get back with either through setting up a meeting or through an email once you have had time to think through the issue.

2. If someone posts a negative post on your social media site (blog, Facebook, Instagram...) you can delete it or respond in a dignified way. Appropriate humor seems to get a point across or a classy short, straightforward comment.

3. We all have various opinions about a variety of topics, when faced with a debate or heated situation, you need to decide: is this professional or personal. If it is professional, perhaps take the high road and find a way to resolve it. If it's personal, remember the definition of civility

Civility is claiming and caring for one's identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else's in the process.

We can all benefit from thinking about it this way:  Next time you come into a situation when you feel you need to voice your opinion loud and clear, especially through one way communication via technology; you might want to FIRST practice in front of the mirror, or at least take a look at yourself in one.

'Tis the season to be jolly...let's try harder to be civil to one another and live together in peace.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Game On! How Video Games Liven Up Learning

Now that Christmas is approaching, so is the topic of is a link to a prior blog about the positive effects of those fun games we love to play!

Video games. These two little words hold vastly different associations depending on who you ask. To the media (and thus most of the general public), those associations tend to involve violence, sex, drugs, or sitting on a couch for hours on end wasting time. Video games are perceived by many to be nothing more than a black mark on society and a definite downside to the ever-increasing tech-ification of our world. So what reason could there possibly be for bringing these horrible things into the classroom?   

There are actually positive benefits regarding video games, which are rarely talked about in the media and professional circles. According to Abrams and Gerber (2013) in their article "Achieving through the Feedback Loop: Video Games, Authentic Assessment, and Meaningful Learning," video games do more than just encourage an increase in the obesity rate of America. 

Specific benefits of many video games include:
  • increased problem-solving
  • critical thinking
  • reduced anxiety from risk-taking
 Abrams and Gerber state that “in the video game world, errors lead to successes because players have the immediate advantage of learning from mistakes and becoming self-assessors of their learning” (p. 96). In other words, players experience a feedback loop which constantly allows them to re-evaluate and modify their previous actions. This is usually seen in the form of players having the ability to process a game's mechanics and work out a solution given a set of restrictions. Initial attempts are used to gage the boundaries of the restrictions, and subsequent attempts build to an eventual solution. Additionally, the player's ability to try and try again, each time toying with different strategies, encourages players to take risks they would have otherwise decided against for fear of permanent failure.   

Still not convinced, check out these interesting articles about the positive impacts gaming has on:

The key is to find a game which easily fits into your classroom. This might sound more difficult than it actually is. A simple Google search of "Educational apps for the ________ classroom" will yield instant results. Angry Birds, while not overtly educational, might actually be a useful example in a physics classroom about inertia.   

For the English classroom, the classic game Text Twist has an app on both the Google Play store and on iTunes. Text Twist is a simple vocabulary game which gives the players a mix of letters, and they have a set amount of time to come up with as many words as they can using those letters. If they guess any of the words which use all the letters, they get a bonus and move on to the next round. This game accesses students' current store of vocabulary words, but more importantly, it encourages them to guess at and discover new words. By encouraging guessing, students are less anxious about taking risks, because they know they can try again. Additionally, when students learn to take risks, they begin to think outside the box, which can further increase problem solving.   
 If we encourage the notion of risk taking in our students (as well as ourselves), we will undoubtedly begin to see innovation take place in education. And in a technology-driven society, innovation is as much a part of survival as food and water. Are you ready to score?

For Class Discussion (ED 6030 LCB Graduate Students):

What do you think? Please answer one of the following questions in the comments section.   
 1. If we work these games into our curriculum, what sort of issues might we need to be aware of?   
 2. Dealing with parents and administrators: How can we convince a skeptic to see the value in video games in the classroom if we are challenged? 

SPECIAL NOTE: Thanks to my graduate student Caleb Hall for his contribution to this blog.

 Abrams, S. S. & Gerber, H. R. (2013). Achieving through the Feedback Loop: Video Games, Authentic Assessment, and Meaningful Learning.  English Journal  , 103(1), 95-103. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Flying Into 21st Century Learning: RHS Hawklets Will Soar with iPads

A few weeks ago, Brandon Jones (a current teacher and Education Technologist at RHS) and I gave an iPad Parent Workshop at Rockhurst High School, discussing the purpose for moving forward with iPad integration for teachers and students. All students will be required to have an iPad to use for academics starting in Fall, 2014.

The holiday season is here!  Before you swoop out shopping,  Brandon and I would like to share some straightforward information as you begin shopping for the right digital tool. This information can also be helpful for other parents out there, who may be interested in purchasing an iPad for their child to use for school as well.

1. Buy the iPad 3 or 4 (iPad 2 at the minimum). The iPad Air is another new option but it could be more expensive.  The Air is currently selling at the same price the iPad has always been, $499, but you can find the other versions of iPads from third party vendors (hopefully at a discount). The only difference between the iPad Air and iPad 4 is that the Air has a slightly more sophisticated processor and it's lighter. In my opinion, those two reasons are not enough to spend more money. NOTE: Brandon has the iPad Air and loves it!

2. Invest in a durable case. I also work with Cristo Rey High School. They purchased iPads for all their students (9-12) in Fall, 2012.  30% of their boys broke their iPads the first few months of school because they had cheap cases, now they are required to have a Griffin or Otterbox case:


Otterbox (get the Defender if you choose this brand, the Reflex series has a cover which can be difficult taking on and off):,default,sc.html

If you buy one of these cases, you could skip the insurance.

3. You might want to avoid the iPad mini, some research shows the bigger the screen the better for reading comprehension and avoiding eye strain.

4. Space: get the 16 GB version of the iPad. All students will receive 30 GB of cloud storage with their Google Drives. Students do not  need the 32 GB (iPad option) and it's usually a few hundred dollars more. That being said- if your boys like to load a lot of games, those could potentially take up quite a bit of space. RHS expects education apps to be first priority. For example Notability will trump Duck Dynasty: Battle of the Beards! Have them save any videos or pics to their Google Drive or free apps like Dropbox, Shutterfly...

5. No extra cellular data needed for wifi access. There is WiFi at RHS and at home. If they need  to access wifi outside of home and school, I'm sure they can find a cozy coffee shop or place which offers free wifi easily. Here's a list of KC places with free wifi, just in case.

We will have more helpful tips on how to continue supporting your Digital Native as he/she takes flight into more progressive uses of technology devices. Parents often feel like Digital Immigrants, don't fly solo, we are all in this together!

NOTE: If you are interested in more information there is a FAQ document, please click here. Feel free to contact Brandon Jones or me. Special thanks to Brandon for contributing to this blog.

Monday, November 18, 2013

More or Less? What's the Rush?

It doesn't have to be a battle.

Technology has drastically reshaped the educational and political landscapes.  Those who have proper tools, resources, and knowledge about how to use it, are granted access to information that can fundamentally augment the quality of their future life experiences.   Those who lack the tools to discover and utilize the newest innovations (frequently racial and ethnic minorities, and those from a lower socioeconomic background) find themselves chronically disadvantaged and misinformed, while those with proper information gain autonomy through technology.   As educators, teachers and administrators must prevent these technological advances from furthering the digital divide between the haves and have-nots to create true education in all communities.

MORE! What about training for parents?

In Bridging the Digital Divide by Increasing Computer and Cancer Literacy, two community technology centers were developed in affiliation with Head Start in primarily Latino and African American communities to help equip parents and families to live in a technologically informed society.  By introducing parents to the computer, internet, and other tools as an incentive (they were offered refurbished computers or cash for completing the program), bilingual setting, the school helped improve community perceptions of technology while also raising cancer awareness.  The low-income community was eager to learn, and the study pointed out the efficacy of offering free, non-traditional, one-day courses to families, through data that shows the positive impact was still being observed three months after the course

Similar to this study, educators can participate in creating a socially-just world by inviting parents and relatives to short workshops that explore not only the computer at large, but the specific technological tools that their students are expected to know and use.  Familiarization with how these tools operate and what they can be used for will create a lasting impact on families by empowering them to engage in their children’s schooling.  For example, an elementary teacher who plans to use an iPad app or online game to help kids learn about different food groups could demonstrate those apps to parents in their native language when possible, so that they can encourage their kids to revisit the website from elsewhere.   Furthermore, utilizing technology community courses, newsletters, blogs, etc, to introduce parents to the tools their kids will be using, can effectively address other concerns, for example, health and wellness, while helping the community build a valuable skill set for future employment and participation in the rapidly-increasing technological culture.  Teachers and administrators who initiate parent involvement in their children’s learning by offering services and skills that the community already desires and needs will help to bridge the digital gap and create a fairer, stronger future generation of leaders and thinkers. By doing so, such educators demonstrate that they have the skills, passion, and innovative spirit to tackle broad challenges technology introduces by utilizing technology as a means of education instead of separation.  We have seen this helpful model at Cristo Rey as my students have given several parent workshops on how to use the iPad and access resources needed for important information regarding their child(children).

LESS? What about training for teachers?

The article, Secondary Students' Resistance Toward Incorporating Computer Technology into Mathematics Learning, addresses students' and teachers' feedback in regards to technology being used efficiently in the classroom. Several concerns are addressed to focus on the appropriate use of technology. The research addresses student's perspectives ranging from age 12-17. The decision to utilize technology for math learning was mainly selected because of the reduction in education costs; not for an enhancement in learning that is reflected by test scores. Another area of digital divide, reduction of resources where technology is seen as a way to save money in a potentially negative way. When this research was completed no justification was required for the use of technology in the classroom.

Students were being used as "guinea pigs" while unprepared teachers select computer based programs without testing the programs or becoming familiar with their possible educational benefits. The teachers were not clearly trained on the program, nor the effective implementation of the program with their students.  The students were asked a series of questions related to technology in the classroom. According to their responses, the pen-and-paper method is still viewed as a reliable step-by-step process. Other students viewed spreadsheets, computer programs, and computers as added frustration or stress to the learning process. The students were also concerned with the school maintaining proper updates to avoid computer delays and security issues. 
This raises the overall issue of: we want to train parents about the technology being used at schools. What happens if the teachers are not properly trained or if the use of technology is not effective for the students? In this realm of technology integration, LESS is MORE. Meaning, schools must properly train teachers first, then the process lends itself to: enhancement of learning through the balance of technology tools with students, AND effective integration and training parents. 

Taking the time to for training occurs is of highest importance. Even if that means, slowly infusing technology into the school. There's no rush, technology is here to stay!

SPECIAL THANKS TO: my graduate students Rachel Beil and Aesha Griffin for sharing their thoughts and evidence of research in this blog.

A few questions to think about:  
  1. How could you incorporate a community technological outreach similar to the one mentioned here to combat those issues and shrink the gap between groups? 
  2. Wiould it be more beneficial for teachers who are less experienced with technology to avoid the usage of technology in the classroom a majority of the time, or implement technology in the classroom regardless of their lack of skills, experience, and knowledge?
  3. Should students have the option to reject the use of technology if they are capable of learning more efficiently without the help of technology?
by S. M.D'Souza & L. N. Wood

Monday, November 11, 2013

Does Size Matter? e-Books and Comprehension

We know kids, teens, and young adults are motivated by their new techy devices. Everyone seems to be discussing the revolution of the e-book and how it is going to take over schools. Currently, e-books are up 43% in sales. Schools are quickly jumping on the e-book bandwagon in efforts to motivate their students to read and to be cost effective.

The big question, regarding reading, is always "did you comprehend what you read?" Who wants to read something and not remember it? What's the point in that? Even if you solely read for enjoyment, don't you want think about it later?

One of my students, Callie Imel, shared some insight from an article she read for my course last week:

 The article,  Effects of Ebook Readers and Tablet Computers on Reading Comprehension discusses whether text presentation format affects participant reading comprehension or not. I chose this article because I am interested in the effects of different technology tools on reading comprehension. It seems that iPads are being used in classrooms more often now, and I was wondering if they actually had an effect on students’ comprehension, or if it was just a fun way for students to read. In the research, the text presentations used were e-book readers and iPads. The researchers had participants either read using paper text, an e-book, or an iPad. After reading the article, participants were to answer a set of questions testing their comprehension. The results showed that the technology had no effect on reading comprehension. However, participants showed interest in using the iPad when reading because it was easy and accessible. 

When choosing when to use technology, such as iPad, in the classroom, teachers must consider the significant difference it makes in the students’ learning. Teachers may see that there is an interest is using iPad, so students may be more engaged in their reading when they are allowed to use the technology; however, it has no effect on their actual comprehension. One positive point from this article is that it proves that students are interested in using iPad, so they may be more engaged in the activity. By reading stories on the iPad, students are able to highlight certain sections of the text and navigate through the story easily. The iPad also provides games that the students may use to help them with the lesson, although it may not directly have an effect on comprehension; students are still focusing on the text more than with paper text. 

I read a recent study yesterday which showed the e-book format did not significantly increase comprehension, enjoyment, or engagement among a group of third graders.  The data clearly indicated that children prefer to have a choice of reading material and that the format was not as central to reading engagement as a connection with the story’s characters and setting. A second outcome of this same study suggested offering a wide variety of reading choices and the opportunity to select books did impact reading engagement. We know that increasing reading engagement can ultimately increase comprehension. So, would this mean that in the end e-books can increase comprehension, simply because they can offer more choices for readers?

Not so fast, there are actually more studies coming out which confirm that reading text digitally can possibly inhibit reading comprehension.  Here are some of the reasons researchers are concerned about digital reading:

  1. Size of screen: the bigger the screen the more they can remember.
  2. Distraction on the device: we all have been victim of being distracted by our digital devices
  3. Remembering vs knowing: it's been found that readers express more knowledge when reading printed text.
  4. Eye concerns: glare, pixilation and flickers can tire eyes (20/20/20 rule)
  5. Ergonomics: the science of fitting the work environment to the worker in efforts to reduce physical strain and increase productivity
Despite concerns, the 21st century learners are demanding and expecting technology enhanced lessons. Let me share some thoughts from another graduate student in my course. He makes some great points about how we do need to stay current with the research and using technology. Andy Boland writes:  

As a future high school English teacher, it is my job to figure out what my students are reading, and if it is contributing to their growth. As technology continues to develop, it is my job as a teacher to continue to grow with it. Printed books are beginning to be move removed from the classroom and removed for more electronic devices. Some of these devices include, Nooks, Kindles, and iPad. These devices are much more cost efficient, and allow the student to have many pieces of literature and informational text at their fingertips.  Students crave for the chance to use technology in the classroom, and in a content area where there are not as many opportunities I see using e-readers as a great opportunity. There are so many tools and functions to these devices that they can help those who struggle with reading are who reluctant readers. One of theses applications that can help would be the iPad application, Fastr Pro. This application helps improve students reading by flashing the text at varying speed to help improve students’ reading skills. The student can set the text to go at their speed and they can increase once they feel more comfortable I feel like this only one of many tools, that these electronic devices can offer. When I was testing out the application, I was surprised to see how much faster I was reading, and how much more I comprehended. The text did not seem overwhelming when it was just flashing one word at a time. 

 I think that English teachers may be resistant to this technology because their passion for printed books. This kind of application is something that I will use in my classroom, and encourage other teachers in my building to use as well. I think that English teachers should see the strides that e-books and tablets are having on children and their reading. They need to recognize that students are moving away from reading print, and one way to make literature connect more to them is to have it presented to them on a mode they are more comfortable and enthusiastic about using. 

Bottom line:  the way our kids are learning and reading is changing. Does that mean we change the way we teach reading? Perhaps size does matter, we won't know unless we keep measuring how our learners are growing.

Special thanks to my RU graduate students: CALLIE IMEL and ANDY BOLAND for sharing their thoughts!

Monday, November 4, 2013

e-Books: Enhancing or Distracting?

 Until recently, there has not been too much research done on the efficacy of e-books in terms of comprehension and decoding skills, probably due to its quick rise in popularity. Because new technologies develop and change so quickly, it is difficult for researchers to keep track of its usefulness and its potential applications in the education world. This difficulty is a great reason teachers need to stay current and educate themselves on technologies that could dramatically increase their students' learning. In addition, teachers should learn from the eagerness with which students seek out and grasp new technologies. The engaging features of these new technologies can promote the kind of classroom that approaches change with a positive growth mindset. With knowledge of how effective new technologies are and a positive attitude about their integration, teachers can implement them into their classrooms knowing how to utilize them in a way that promotes the most student growth

Bridget Kapp, graduate student in my course "ED 6030: Technology in the Classroom" shares:

As a first grade teacher, realizing the importance of studying new technologies made me choose this article, "The Effects of Electronic Books on Pre-Kindergarten-to-Grade 5 Students' Literacy and Language Outcomes: A Research Synthesis," on the efficacy of e-books on literacy for elementary school students. Tricia Zucker, Amelia Moody and Michael McKenna, of various universities in the United States, attempted to synthesize the information already available to shed some light on how effective e-books are for students. The article identifies several potential benefits for early readers who use e-books in the classroom, including word recognition due to highlighting features, decoding skills from pronunciation help, comprehension skills due to on-demand vocabulary definition, and superior processing due to connections among visual and audio components ( Zucker, T. A., Moody, A. K., & McKenna, M. C., 2009).   

Essentially, the article concludes that e-books are more effective in supporting comprehension skills when 
  • they include hotspots and animations that enhance the story. 
  • e-books that include an overwhelming amount of animations and hotspots, can simply be distracting for students. 
  • Thinking Reader ,  lines up certain comprehension strategies with your students' profiles, particularly struggling or special needs students, so that their instruction is targeted.  
  • Careful planning and searching can ensure that the e-books children use are enhancing their reading experience instead of diminishing it.

As educators we have a responsibility to integrate technology into the curriculum in order to prepare our students for the future.  By integrating the use of iPads or other digital texts into the classroom, teachers can expand upon their teaching of literacy learning by supporting individual readers’ text comprehension and potentially engaging struggling readers. “iPads may help teachers meet traditional print-based literacy goals while also providing students with opportunities to respond to texts in individual and unique ways” (Hutchinson, Beschorner & Schmidt-Crawford,16). When properly implemented, the use of iPads in the classroom can aid and reinforce the teaching of such skills as independent reading, sequencing, visualization, retelling, cause and effect and the main idea.  

Kristen Baker, also a graduate student in my ED 6030 shares: 

Popplet is an iPad application that can be used to sequence events, retell facts, and brainstorm ideas (  I created an example of a Popplet that third grade students might create in order to recall facts after reading an article about oarfish.   Students could simply discuss out loud or write down the facts that they learned.  However, by allowing them to do the same task on the iPad and then sharing their creation with the class, the learning experience is enhanced, students likely will be more engaged, which will result in them retaining the information they have learned. I could take this activity a step further by having the students use Doddle Buddy, an iPad application that has a drawing and doodling tool, and ask them draw a picture of an oarfish using the information they have learned.  

 The possibilities of using the iPad in the literacy classroom are endless.  However, it is crucial for teachers to be sure that they are supporting learning and enhancing the learning experience and not just adding extra work.  As teachers, it is also paramount that we educate ourselves in the field of technology so that we continually acquire new knowledge and skills.  By promoting and demonstrating the use of technology in our classroom, we model lifelong learning to our students. 

Questions for Class Discussion:

  1. Think of a pre-reading or reading response activity that can be done with paper and pencil.  What is another way that activity could be done using an iPad?  How might this change how the students respond? 
  2. Can you think of any other potential benefits of e-books that the article did not mention?
  3. Find a free e-book on your iPad (using iBooks, search "interactive children's books"), and read through it. Pay attention to its animations and hotspots. Do these features support reader decoding and comprehension, or do they distract from the book's main idea and message?

Doodlebuddy. (2012) Pinger, Inc. (Version 1.1.2) (mobileapplicationsoftware). Retrieved from 

Hutchison, A., Beschorner, B. & Schmidt-Crawford, D.(2012). Exploring The Use of the iPad for Literacy Learning.   The Reading Teacher,  66, 15-23. doi:10.1002/TRTR.01090. 

Zucker, T. A., Moody, A. K., & McKenna, M. C. (2009). The Effects of Electronic Books on Pre-Kindergarten-to-Grade 5 Students' Literacy and Language Outcomes: A Research Synthesis.   Journal Of Educational Computing Research  ,   40  (1), 47-87.

SPECIAL THANKS to Kristen and Bridget for being guest writers on my blog!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Nerd Alert: Why We All Are Geeks

"Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one," Bill Gates once famously said. Gone are the days when nerds are stereotyped as someone incredibly intelligent, fashionably challenged and social inept. Now, we live in a society where everyone is fascinated by technology and googling information faster than you can look up the word "dweeb" in your Webster's Dictionary.  You don't even have to speak Klingon or understand the key terms of quantum physics to be considered a nerd anymore.

Still not convinced? Maybe you are worried that being a nerd opens the door to ridicule or a negative image. I do cringe sometimes when I hear kids talk about being techy as dorky.  I definitely have been called a geek before because of my career interests. However,  I tend to think of being a nerd in a positive way. 

One of my favorite definitions of a nerd: 
An 'individual', i.e. a person,  who does not conform to society's beliefs that all people should follow trends and do what their peers do. Often highly intelligent but socially rejected because of their obsession with a given subject, usually computers. 

Why are we all nerds? We all love our technology, we are a society who honestly loves to learn more about things we are interested in. We enjoy gaming. We are curious, we seek out ways to grow and also enjoy sharing what we already know. We've learned that having opinions which may not be popular expresses individuality and we are passing that onto our kids and/or supporting our friends. 

Perhaps acknowledging a nerd you are familiar with will prove my point. Here's a list of 10 famous nerds (in no particular order and a wide variety), which I guarantee you will find cool.

  • Ross from Friends-paleontologist who dated Rachel!
  • Mary Katherine Gallagher from SNL-what a Superstar!
  • Data from The Goonies-he made a belt that shot a suction cup and without him Mouth would still be in Pirate's Cove with Sloth.
  • Bill Gates-enough said.
  • Tina Fey-smart, funny, chic geek
  • Steve Jobs-where would we all be without an Apple product?
  • Mark Zuckerberg-invented social media.
  • Napoleon Dynamite-huge nerd, wildly entertaining who inspired us to Vote for Pedro.
  • Dwight from The Office--most annoying guy as a co-worker, but funniest guy to watch on TV.
  • Clark Kent- a shy reporter with the geeky glasses who just happens to be Superman.
Embrace your inner geekness and pay it forward as we progress through this 21st century of digital learning. Keep inquiring more about others who may or may not be like you, you'll end up learning more about yourself. Being technology savy and digitally determined will increase your chances of being successful. Accepting those who are different and being who you are takes an incredible amount of confidence.  

So, put your glasses on. You may see that nerds are the new heroes.