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.