Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why Libraries Shouldn't Replace Books With eReaders... Yet

This year for April Fool's, NPR had the best joke ever. They posted the following headline on their Facebook page.

When you clicked on the link, they showed this:

What made this so brilliant is that NPR was suspecting "that some people are commenting on NPR stories that they haven't actually read." 

True to form, Facebook followers started commenting on a fake story about how Americans don't read with comments about how of course Americans read. If the commenters would have actually read the article though, they would have learned that it was fake.

In our school there is a small discussion beginning about whether or not we should replace our library books with eReaders. I'm not very involved in this discussion, but I think the arguments for more eReaders in libraries seem to be as follows:

1) In the long run it's much cheaper.
2) It saves space.
3) It's the same user experience as a book.

I can't argue with point one or point two. My problem is with point three, because there doesn't seem to be any long term data to support it. And just because reading on a screen feels the same as reading a book, that feeling is not evidence that it is in fact the same experience. 

It feels cold outside so Fox scientists have disproven global warming

For me though, reading on a screen has never has felt the same. I've read eReaders for enjoyment and for learning, I've read silently and have tried read alouds using eReaders. It's felt convenient for sure, but it's not as enjoyable for me as holding a book. Luckily I'm not the only one. There seem to be at least a couple of old farts like myself who also don't feel the same experience when reading an eReader as when reading a book. 

"But you're old, guy." says You.

I know. I just said that. And I understand that I don't get it. But I do understand the developmental stages of literacy, and what seems to have been missing from the conversation is that even if teenagers and adults get the same understanding when reading an eReader or a book, they've already made the shift from learning to read to reading to learn. Elementary children have not. And we can't lump all readers into the same category, disregarding where they fall on a literacy continuum.

Except now there seems to be some research that supports that we don't actually read eReaders the same as we do books, regardless of what stage you are in your development.

I recently listened to episode 59 of The Gist podcast, "We're Terrible At Reading Online."  Maria Konnikova writes for the New Yorker. Last month she wrote the article "Being a Better Online Reader." The conversation about her research starts at the 11:46 mark.

Here's a summary of the conversation between the host, Mike Pesca and Maria Konnikova:

Maria Konnikova: Reading on a screen (whether its online or with an eReader) is a different physiological process. We tend to skim on a screen way more than on paper. We process and encode text differently depending on the medium. 

Maria Konnikova: The traditional book format has been shown as one of the best ways for our eyes to read.

Maria Konnikova: Even e-Ink- the closest electronic thing we have to ink-  causes us to read and process differently than a book.

Maria Konnikova: When testing reading comprehension, researchers have found that the medium matters a lot. Reading the exact same short story, responses were much more accurate after reading the story in a book than after reading it from an eReader. 

- Mike Pesca: Is it possible in the future that eReaders can equal text in terms of reading comprehension? 
Maria Konnikova: The straight answer is we don't know because there is no long term data about this, but it can certainly evolve in a way that takes all the above points into account and making a better medium than a book.

- Mike Pesca: So is the statement, "Reading on paper leads to better and deeper comprehension than reading on screens" BS? 
Maria Konnikova: For now, that's not BS. 

Her article goes deeper into her thinking. Maybe we need to teach reading on a screen as a new skill and perhaps separate skill- a skill that emphasizes developing our attention. This is a point I agree with and  I've made before.

She points to several studies that show there is no difference between reading on a screen and on paper, but also points out there is no longitudinal data to support one side over another.

And that's really the overall point I'm trying to make too. 

Without longitudinal data I don't see how we can take the leap from the lion's head and risk replacing books with eReaders in a library.
 Indiana Jones Leap of Faith

We just don't know what the effects will be yet. eReaders are cheaper and easier to store, and these are powerful motivators. But when we don't have the long term research to back up any claim that it's best way to serve developing readers, it doesn't matter how cheap or easy to store they are.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

What To Expect When You Are Expecting 9 Year Olds

"My ninth year was certainly more exciting than any of the others. But not all of it was exactly what you would call fun."
- Danny, the Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl

Danny, surrounded by his dead birds

So begins the "Nine-Year-Olds" chapter in Chip Wood's Yardsticks

I think it's perfect.

Every year at back to school night I spend a chunk of time with parents talking about nine-year-olds.

Then I talk about ten-year-olds.

Then I talk about how I plan to spend 4th grade helping with that transition. 

It is one of the few constants in my practice from year to year, so I thought it was time to make this into one or two blog posts. At the very least it will be a good online reference... for me.

Onto the show!

I've had about a decade to compare Chip Wood's observations with my own, and although by its very definition, its inaccurate to generalize, I'd say a few of his generalizations about 9 year-olds are pretty accurate.

Here are the points that not only ring true but are important puzzle pieces in a 4th grader's year. Also, let's do this rainbow style:

Gross Motor Ability

- Likes to push their physical limits, whether challenging themselves, racing each other, or trying to beat the clock.
How this translates: Whether we want them to be or not, kids at this age are really competitive.

- Restless; can't sit still for long.
How this translates: This is a great age for learning by moving and doing.


- Needs homework related specifically to the next day's work; often asks the teacher, "Why do we have to do this?"
How this translates: 
This is a tough age for longer projects that span over the course of several days or weeks, but that's a skill to learn. 

- A good age for scientific exploration. They are intellectually curious, but less imaginative than at eight.
How this translates: 
You have to push them a little more with their scientific inquiry, and experiments take a little longer than you'd think since it's sometimes challenging for them to think out of the box. 

- Takes pride in attention to detail and finished work, but may jump quickly between interests.
How this translates: 
"Style over substance" can be the mantra. They'd like to spend more time on the presentation than the research.

- Beginning to see the "bigger world," including issues of fairness and justice.
How this translates: 
I've always thought that fourth grade was the perfect age to start asking tough questions and looking at some difficult realities. Not everyone gets it, but this is the age that is good to start planting the seeds of a larger world view. 


- Sometimes reverts to baby talk
How this translates: 
Every year this is true for a handful of students. 

Social-Emotional Behavior

- Very competitive- adult's sense of lightness and fun can help them relax.
How this translates:  
Remember that "gross motor ability" trait of needing to push their limits? I think at least some of this stems from a need for competition. It crops up in all sorts of ways, like the point below.

- Likes to work with a partner of their choice- usually of the same gender. Begins to form cliques
How this translates: 
I think every age group likes to work with a partner of their choice. The important point in this one is that cliques tend to form, and I think it's largely because kids at this age can be competitive. 

- In groups may spend more time arguing about facts, rules, and directions than doing the actual activity.
How this translates: 
Want to try a new student led game in the last half hour of the school day? Better carve out another chunk of time, because they could spend the original time allotment arguing about slight nuances in the rules. 

- Likes to negotiate. This is the age of "Let's make a deal"
How this translates: 
Turn that negotiating power into an asset. Introducing debate in 4th grade can be awesome to witness. 

- Generally worried and anxious
How this translates: 
It's a terrible age for timed and standardized tests. Stress can easily turn to tears and even depression. I would also like to add that this is the age of "What if...?" 

- Very self-critical, and critical of others (including adults)
How this translates: 
I've only had a couple of classes that's been critical of adults on a regular basis, but I've seen it happen. But being self-critical and critical of others is a constant.

- Tend to give up on tasks
How this translates: 
You have to baby sit a little more than you'd expect for kids this old.

I'll try to write a post about 10 year olds next, and how 4th grade can be an awesome year to bridge the gap between the two ages. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

10 New Ways I Used Tech In The Classroom This Year (Part 2)

To complete my 2013-2014 reflection of the top 10 new ways I used tech last year, here are my last five ideas for the classroom. 

If you missed the first five, you can find them here. If you already slogged through the first five and are ready for more then I applaud your masochistic tendencies.

Just hang in there buddy.

5) Makey Makey and Programming

Last year we used Makey Makey with Scratch. This year I plan to have Makey Makey be a big part of my Makerspace during choice time

And since I already talked about both of those things, I'd like to take a brief tangent with this:

My first thought was, "What the hell?"
My second thought was, "Great. More little things I have to blow my money on." Because it looks pretty awesome. You can either buy a starter bundle of 6 modules at $99, or 2 modules for $59. Ridiculous. I'd love it for Christmas.

4) E-Choose-Your-Own-Adventures with Google Forms

I came up with this project partly because I wanted to use Google Drive in an interesting new way, and partly because it seemed like a project that was super high on the Bloom's Taxonomy Pyramid.

Oops. This Mr. Bloom Taxonomy's Pyramid Scheme.

Ignore that last pyramid. Here's the right one:
Mr. Bloom's Taxonomy Pyramid.

What's great about designing your own Choose Your Own Adventure based on real life scenarios, is that you have to imagine the consequences of various decisions. What's really challenging about designing your own Choose Your Own Adventures is that exact same thing. 
I haven't quite complete my blog series about this yet. I first talked about the genesis of the idea, and then showed how to build it in Google Forms, peppered with my usual Google grumbles of disappointment.
What I haven't talked about yet was what my class did next. Briefly, I gave them a list of invasive species and the effects that they've had on their new environment. Then I told them that for the next story, the character they will design will be an exotic species peddler. Each choice in the story would be between one invasive species or another. For example:

Your name is Jack Silver: Adventurer, Traveler, and a lover of all life. You love plants and animals so much, that often times you can’t help but give them away. You love to travel to new places, explore exotic plants and animals, and sometimes you bring them back home. Sometimes you give them away to friends and neighbors. And sometimes, you sell them. This helps you travel to more exciting places!
You walk into your hut, and see a letter on your bed. It’s from your sister. You open the letter and pull out a card.
The card says.
“Oh dang!” You cry out. “I completely forgot about my nephew’s birthday.” Unfortunately you are 3000 km away and won’t be able to visit him on his birthday. But you can give him a birthday gift!
You have several boxes full of interesting animals you collected on the floor.
“Hmmmmm…” you think to yourself. “What present should I give my nephew?”

A) You decide to give Rick a two lovely cane toads.  

B) You decide to give Rick a few chirpy birds called Starlings

Each path needed to have the animal transported from its native habitat to a foreign habitat. The animal then needed to escape into the foreign ecosystem, breed, and take it over.
There were no "happy" paths, only less invasive ones. 
Because that's life, kiddo. 
You chose... poorly.

Dead ends to the story occurred when the reader chose to peddle the more harmful species. Students had to determine which species was most harmful based on their research.

There's a lot more to write about this project- how I structured it, what went right, and what was challenging for the kids. But I'll save that for a later post, because it's way past time for #3.

3) Professional Development For Parents

I love being a teacher for lots of reasons. One of those reasons is that I get paid to constantly be learning. But why be a hoarder? I go through so much content, that I might as well curate the best of it and offer it to other grownups. 

That was the thought anyway when I decided to use Learnist to keep cool things I found just for adults. The content was based on topics that we were studying in class, but were specifically for grown-ups. I thought it was a cool idea that I'll try to expand this year. 

Learnist is an imperfect platform, but it's much prettier than Pinterest, and I'm all about using and promoting web tools that are designed well... as well as tearing down the web tools that look awful (Seriously, Google? I wrote that post in 2012 and Google Sites looks just as terrible today as it did then).

2) Student-created news shows with iMovie for the iPad.

Here's one I haven't written about before.

At the beginning of the year, the students and I put together a news show called "Good Morning Praha." The students created the content, but I helped them edit it. Half way through the year we got iPads, and editing had a much smaller learning curve. 

By the end of the year, some students decided they wanted to create their own news show again, this time appropriately titled, "Good Evening Praha." And this time they did everything. They thought of the content, filmed and edited it with the iPad. They were already familiar with iMovie on the laptop, and I maybe spent a total of 5 minutes showing them some of the editing features of iMovie for the IPad. The rest they figured out for themselves. 

Next year because the iPad makes this so much easier, I'd like the students to produce more of these during our choice time. 

1) Digital Stories with Tellagami, a Green Screen, and iMovie

I've made digital stories with my class before, but Tellagami gives an added layer to storytelling. This particular project was way too big for any movie editing app that lets you incorporate green screen, so I had to use iMovie on the laptop to put everything together. But my hope is that DoInk will soon be able to handle slightly more robust projects in the future. 

And... we're done.

By the way, did you see those littlebits Cloud modules? Crazy. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

10 New Ways I Used Tech In The Classroom This Year (Part 1)

For the past few years I've written an annual post reflecting on new ways I've used tech in the classroom the previous year.

 But this year... I'm doing the same thing.

And this monstrosity keeps ticking away

For the 2011-2012 school year, I wrote a series of posts starting with this one and ending in this one.

For the 2012-2013 school year, I wrote this post..

So to kick off the 2014-2015 school year here is the first five of my list of 10 new ways, which are now old ways, I used tech in my classroom during the 2013-2014 school year. 

Got that?

10) Expanding my PLN

In the link above, I share the tools I use on my iPad to consolidate my PLN: Zite, Bloglovin, Feedly, and Flipboard. 
The faceless members that make up my PLN

Aside from that though, I created a twitter account for my classroom, @grade4news. I tied an Instagram account to it, and anytime that Apps Gone Free or Appsfire notified me that there was a decent grade-level education app that was free, I tweeted it there. Now the number of parents that actually looked at the twitter feed was about zero. Still, I'll keep it going for next year as well. It's fun to do and maybe it'll become a thing for my parent community. 

9) Playing class review games using Kahoot!

I really like Kahoot! as a review tool, because my kids really liked it. Kahoot! lets you create your own review games. You can show the questions and multiple choice answers on a projector. On each of the kids' laptops (or iDevice), they will see only the symbols for the four possible answers.
After the whole class selects an answer, the student screen will show them if they got it right, and based on how fast and how correct they were, will show them their place in class. 
The teacher's screen shows a "Top 5" leaderboard after each question.
What surprised me was that every review game I made, there was a very different leaderboard of top 5 students each time. What really surprised me was that even my EAL intensive students would consistently show up on the leaderboard. It was huge for their confidence and it was always a lot of fun. 

A couple of times, the game would kick a student out for no reason, and then they'd have to wait until the next review game to participate. 

One thing I wish Kahoot! would do is to randomize the answers. If we play the same review game more than once, I had to manually switch up the answers so kids don't just memorize the answer pattern. Making this process automatic would save me a lot of time. 

8) Using my iPad for everyday classroom use

The link above covers several apps I used for the classroom: Too Noisy (a noise monitor), StrataLogica (a virtual globe), Pinterest (a web curator), Decide Now (a randomizer), Fun Sounds (a sound board), Heads Up (a group pantomime game), Haiku Deck (a presentation tool), and Stage (a document camera app). 

7) Using my iPad for everyday assessment

The post linked above features apps I used for classroom assessment: Confer, Notability, Google Docs, and Explain Everything.

6) Using Aurasma in the classroom

The original Aurasma logo

For the most part I really enjoyed using Aurasma this year. I had some problems with the app losing or dropping or not synching links, so I'm going to experiment with Layar at the beginning of this school year to see if it's more stable. 

Here is a quick list of how I used Aurasma last year:

- "Best Part of Me" project for Back To School Parents' Night

- Virtual Word Wall with vocabulary words linked to kids acting out their meaning.

- Virtual Book Reviews, with book covers linked to the children's review of the books they've read.

- Kid-created augmented reality comic books and instruction manuals.

To start the next year, I was thinking of having a giant map, like this one in our upper elementary hall:

I'd like to invite students (4th and 5th graders) to film something about themselves and the place where they are from and link it to the map. 

My next post will cover five more new ways I used tech last year. 

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