By Sarah Hampton
In my last post, I talked about four reasons we should read the Cyberlearning Community Report: The State of Cyberlearning and the Future of Learning With Technology. I really believe that what you learn from the report will make you a more effective educator. Let me give you one concrete example of how the Community Report has already helped improve my teaching by demonstrating the significant value of learning opportunities outside the classroom and how they can be leveraged. (I had the privilege of sneak previewing the report over the summer so I have had a few months to implement what I learned!) Check out this excerpt from the report:
“The central ongoing research question in this work (from the Expressive Construction section) is how to interconnect appealing, playful environments through self-expression to deeper learning goals. The dimension of time is important: how can play result in learning at timescales of minutes, or weeks, or months or years? The dimension of context also needs more investigation: how do unique aspects of homes, museums, playgrounds or classrooms contribute to or block learning? Strengthening our understanding of the social dimension is also critical as these activities often involve complex ecologies of support from peers, parents, and informal and formal educators -- and are not as simple as typical teacher-student interactions...This research is demonstrating how important learning can occur through playful experience, often outside of the school setting. Yet what students are learning clearly relates to existing curricular subject matter, such as engineering, and emerging subjects, like data science and computational thinking. Studying learning in playful and constructive settings can lead to new discoveries about when, where, and how children can learn important ideas and these discoveries can guide policy about when, where, and how these important topics are taught.”
In past years, I would plan a unit and then take my students on a field trip only if the exhibit(s) aligned at that time. This fall (after reading the report), the technology teacher and I planned an entire unit around a Smithsonian traveling exhibit called Things Come Apart that is currently housed in the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, a museum near our school. The exhibit consists of dozens of common objects that have been taken apart to reveal their inner workings. We tied this into physical science concepts like electricity, circuitry, and engineering. Before we visited the museum, students reverse engineered their own objects such as mechanical pencils, clocks, calculators, speakers, and flashlights. They also built circuits using PhET simulations, snap circuits, and then batteries, wire, light bulbs, motors, etc.
After that, we recruited local experts who donated their time, knowledge, and materials so our students could dismantle iPhone 5s phones. When the students later visited the exhibit, they recognized most of the components in the pieces and were able to ask and answer more informed questions because of their classroom work leading to the trip. Reading the report persuaded me that rich, authentic learning is fostered when connections are made between multiple environments, situations, and people, and it made me more intentional about offering opportunities across contexts. I would definitely describe this unit as a richer learning experience for my students than the ways I have approached it in the past.
Going even further, as part of their final assessment, students are creating infographics on five electronic components and how they are used in one of the pieces from the museum exhibit. This was a suggestion from the technology teacher, and I jumped at the idea after reading about the STEM Literacy through Infographics project in the community report. Our students will present their infographics and dismantled objects at our school STEAM Fair in November.
I hope you take the time to read the report, and I hope it impacts your practice as much as it already has mine. I would love to hear your thoughts after you have had a chance to read it! What did you find most interesting? What innovations are you most excited about? Do you think you might look into one of the projects for your classroom? Post in the comments section below!
By Sarah Hampton
It’s here! It’s finally here! Members of the cyberlearning community have been working for months to bring us a report on their recent research in the Cyberlearning Community Report: The State of Cyberlearning and the Future of Learning With Technology. The report brings together key players who “envision, design, and investigate possible futures of learning in the presence of significant innovations.” And when they say significant innovations, they mean significant.
There are new ways to think about learning environments and new ways to use technology that I would have never dreamed about. For example, be sure to check out projects using simulations like RoomQuake in which simulated seismographs in different locations in the room allow students to investigate the earthquake’s effects and locate “roomquake” epicenters within the room. “The students have the social and scientific experience of doing field work, but without ever leaving their classroom.”
Students using RoomQuake
For another example, check out the BeeSim project in which young students enact the behaviors of a bee community as it tries to satisfy the energy needs of its hive using bee puppets equipped with sensors that interact with puppet hives.
BeeSim with younger children
I know you’re insanely busy. Teachers do a year’s worth of work in nine months so I get it. Why should you take the time to read the lengthy report? Here are my top reasons:
1. The report is ultimately for us, the teachers. The entire community that prepared the report wants to support and help us improve what we do for our students. We make these findings valuable when we use them to benefit our schools. All the grant money, all the time, and all the discoveries--we determine their worth. There’s a sign in a grocery store parking lot that says that reusable grocery bags can’t help the environment if they are left in the car. This research can’t help our education system if we leave it on the internet.
2. You can't read this report without getting excited about the future landscape of education. There is a current of enthusiasm and optimism woven throughout the report along with the explosion of technology and research. At school, sometimes the bureaucratic hoops and water cooler chatter is discouraging, but the information in this report will inspire you!
3. There is an encouraging focus on equity. Specifically, there is focus on:
4. You will learn about our changing roles as educators. Instead of the keeper of the keys of knowledge, the report casts the teacher as a facilitator, organizer, creative engineer of learning moments, and co-learner/co-contributor in the learning process. In addition, as technology becomes better able to automate some teaching tasks and give just-in-time alerts, we are freed to target struggling learners with specific skills while other learners remain engaged in learning tasks managed by digital learning environments. See Inq-ITS aka Inquiry Intelligent Tutoring System in the Learning Analytics for Assessment section, for example. The relationship between technology and teachers in the classroom can be rewarding as well as challenging. As part of the report states, “One tension is to balance the human and digital sides and support each side in what they do best.” Digital environments can never replace the value of human teachers in the classroom. The key is to optimize the dynamic. The community report offers insight on our changing roles and on how we can maximize the contribution of both people and technology.
In a few days, I am going to share a concrete example of how the report has already helped me improve my teaching. (As a reviewer, I got to read it this summer and get a headstart.) In the meantime, go download the Cyberlearning Community Report! If you’ve gotten a chance to read it, let me know what you think about it and what I’ve said.
By Sarah Hampton
In a former post, I wrote about a site I discovered while exploring the 2016 Stem for All Videohall called Bootstrap.
Bootstrap designs curricula that meaningfully integrate rigorous computer science concepts into more mainstream subjects such as math and science. Developed with the help of Brown, WPI, and Northeastern, Bootstrap has backing from several major players including Google, Microsoft, and the National Science Foundation. If that isn't enough to pique your interest, initial research shows that Bootstrap is one of the only computer science curriculums that demonstrates measurable transfer to algebra, specifically on functions, variables, and word problems. (Wright, Rich, & Lee, 2013 and Schanzer, Fisler, Krishnamurthi, & Felleisen, 2015)
Recently at our school, Sullins Academy, the middle school math teachers (including myself) and the schoolwide technology teacher met to discuss and coordinate implementation of Bootstrap's algebra curriculum for our eighth graders. The curriculum combines principles of mathematics and programming as students create their own simple video game. Before the meeting, we independently worked through the first unit which included dissecting the parts of a video game, relating the coordinate plane to positioning, relating the order of operations to program evaluation, and planning our own basic video game. After talking about our reactions to unit one, we worked through unit two, distinguishing data types used by programs and writing functions to manipulate them, as a group.
After working through the first two units, we knew Bootstrap was something we wanted to try with our students for three main reasons:
So we knew we wanted to implement Bootstrap, but we still had a big question: when and through what class (math or technology) would this be taught? Similar to most cross-curricular projects, there would be difficulty meeting standards organically for both classes. We decided to implement the curriculum predominantly through the technology class with crossovers in the eighth grade math classes as they naturally arise. (I am lucky to work in a school where we are encouraged to work across classes. Flexibility and collaboration are two of my favorite things about our school.)
Now that we have a plan in place, we are all really excited about the potential learning outcomes. We hope it shows students that math and technology do not exist in individual bubbles and that standards are not just isolated facts to memorize or know for a test. All subjects and content are integrated in real life for authentic purposes. The technology teacher hopes that this will make students realize that programming is within their grasp. It’s not this abstract, crazy, no-way-I-can-do-it sort-of-thing thing. Even if students don’t program again, the technology teacher hopes that it helps with troubleshooting abilities and independence. In addition, she hopes it will motivate students to improve their typing skills and realize why attention to detail is important, for example, when they see that even one missing parenthesis or misspelled word will break the program. Beyond the obvious desire for students to better understand algebra, the math teachers hope it allows students to see that math is really useful beyond the classroom. Most importantly, we hope working on Bootstrap displaces the teacher and puts the students at the center of the learning by improving metacognition and developing perseverance as they work through their error messages. In this way, students might grow out of the teacher-dependent mentality and learn to trust and rely on themselves and each other.
Keeping it real, we are concerned about a few things as well. It was interesting to see our reactions to the curriculum because the technology teacher has ample programming experience, I only have some, and the third teacher has no former experience. This was a fortunate coincidence because it represents the spectrum of prior knowledge our students will have as well. Overall, Bootstrap provides enough scaffolding for any previous exposure to programming as long as you are comfortable with a “learn as you go” approach, although occasionally, it did seem as if Bootstrap made an optimistic assumption about what students would know coming in. For those with no prior experience, we would have liked more direct instruction on key vocabulary, syntax requirements, and reading and diagnosing error messages. Another concern is keeping all students engaged for the length of the project. Undoubtedly, some students will be able to fly through the curriculum while others need a bit more time. We hope the answer to this problem lies in offering the extensions Bootstrap has built in for quick learners.
Overall, we are really looking forward to seeing what Bootstrap can do for our students. Our plan is in place so may the adventure continue! I will keep you posted.
Have any of you implemented Bootstrap or another computer science curriculum like Logo or Scratch? Did you see transfer to math or science? What advantages did you notice? Are there any obstacles you can help us navigate? We would love to learn from you!
Citations and Further Reading
Schanzer, E., Fisler, K., Krishnamurthi, S., & Felleisen, M. (2015). Transferring Skills at Solving Word Problems from Computing to Algebra Through Bootstrap, ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, 2015.
Wright, G., Rich, P. & Lee, R. (2013). The Influence of Teaching Programming on Learning Mathematics. In R. McBride & M. Searson (Eds.), Proceedings of SITE 2013--Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 4612-4615). New Orleans, Louisiana, United States: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).
Center for Computational Thinking at Carnegie Mellon.