Monthly Archives: August 2015

Forgiveness or Permission?

principal_revised

ecastro/flickr

My career has offered me many unique perspectives. First I was a teacher, teaching students in every grade from 7-12 for 13 years. Then I was an assistant principal for two years, and now I am an Educational Technology Integration Specialist (the title has a lot of syllables I know). In each of those roles I have been able to view public education from a different point of view and they have all honed my current thinking about the state of school.

When I was a teacher I distinctly remember being frustrated by speed at which things moved. I was always excited up to try new things in the classroom, particularly when it came to technology. I got to a point where I would consistently ask forgiveness rather than permission from my administration when it came to pushing the envelope with technology in my classroom. One example of many was when blended learning was brand new I saw its potential right away. I found an LMS platform that was free called EDU20 (now called NEO). I brought the cart of laptops into my room and had all of the students create accounts for the service. I tried to have the kids use all of the safety measures that I knew, ensuring that they did not use their full names or birthdays. But I did not consult with my principal about it, I didn’t explain to him why I thought it was powerful and what it was going to do for the learning in my classes. He did not even know that I was using it until he saw it in an observation of my teaching. Because he trusted me and he could see its value he was not terribly upset with me, but he did have privacy concerns that I did my best to assuage.

When I was a principal I got to encounter a similar situation when one of my teachers was interested in using Minecraft in the classroom. He came in to have a conversation with me about the research that he had done on the program and how he was specifically going to use it. I remember thinking how grateful i was that he had come to me before starting the program so that I could be a part of the process. I had to think about the legalities of the matter, both in terms of protecting the students and the teacher, and we worked together to hash out a way to use the program in a way that was copacetic for everyone.

No matter where I go I am still saddened when I see a confrontational culture between administration and teachers. Public schools are a huge organization with many stakeholders, and everyone has skin in the game. If I had to go back and do it again I would surely have a conversation with my principal before I used the program with my students because I understand that I am a part of something very big and that transparency and communication are an important part of earning and retaining trust, especially those of use that are pushing the envelope with educational technology.

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Learning to Program Using Toy Robots

Over the weekend I brought the Dash robot home for my kids to play with. My son Logan is 7, heading into third grade and is right in the wheelhouse for this product. My intention was to just hand him the robot and the iPad and walk away and see what happened. My son suffers from what in my experience with youngsters these days of an aversion to adversity. What I mean by that is that when things are not immediately easy for him his first instinct is to give up and do something else, which is exactly and predictably what happened in this case. I gave him minimal assistance and encouragement, which you can hear me doing on the video and he was eventually able to be OK with trial and error.

I began by using two of the programs (there are many) that are available for the robot. The first is simply called Go and is basically a remote control for the robot. It gives the user access to many of the robot’s features and uses a graphic interface to do so, no reading is required. I used this app with my daughter Ella who is five and headed to kindergarten this fall.

With Logan we used the Blockly app. If you are unfamiliar with Blockly it is a visual programming editor from Google where each block represents a snippet of code beneath. Lots of games are being developed with the platform to teach kids to code. We set up the obstacle course in the living room and I asked Logan to write a program to get Dash through to the end. The program and the robot can do way more than move, which is all he is asking it to do here.

Educational Implications

In the right hands I think this platform has some serious educational potential. I believe that the primary grades would benefit most from the use of the app and the robot and that it is a great introduction to the principals of coding. What I’m wondering is how to make the transition from Blockly to proper coding, perhaps that will be another article.

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