Because our middle level learners are ready for more independence, age-appropriate challenges, and they crave mastery of skills, we need to teach them differently. Middle level learners need to spend less time memorizing content and more time developing skills. They need to imagine more, choose more, produce more so that they like school more. A skill-centered curriculum, using content as a vehicle for skill development, is the future of middle level education.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Linkbots are good for kids!

Today at Launch Education and Kids, I saw a presentation about a new modular robot product called Linkbots. They stretch the definition of robot, as each module looks more like a truncated soda can with flanges and a flat spot. Each module is  programmable and connectable and has a built-in rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery. The product is not being developed for the direct consumer, rather for educational settings, so its non-traditional appearance should not have an effect on its appeal. It uses C++ for programming  (with Java script version coming soon) and is highly adaptable.

Linkbots passes the skills test because programming is integrated and trial and error is a big part of the construction process. Middle level learners will love this because of the ability to customize form and function. It's already being delivered to some school settings, and with an imminent second round of funding (their presentation to panel of potential investors was really well received), they should be able to get the price point down to something more accessible to schools.

Barobo gets kids and technology together in an intellectual, experimental, and tactile way. Linkbots is a hearty product that will survive hands-on time with kids and deliver meaningful skill development.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Heading for Launch

I have been thinking a lot lately about the role of technology in the classroom.  I am particularly interested in exploring how the educational technology industry is approaching skill development. Technology is great for accessing information and creating documentation of content mastery, not to mention the proiliferation of "personal learning management" applications, but I want to see if anyone is tuned in to the possible market for technology products that engender skill development.

To that end, I am heading out to Launch Education, a two day conference in Mountain View, to see what is new in the industry. A number of educational technology pioneers and entreprenuers will be presenting their latest products and websites. I look forward to talking to a number of established companies and start-ups to see what they have to offer students. I plan to review some of the products and assess the general state of the educational technology industry in these pages in the coming weeks.

I am afraid that skill development is getting marginalized by the twin specters of highstakes testing and sexy technologies. While Common Core is an improvement over NCLB, it still requires excess attention to content digestion at the expense of process practicing. And the amount of resources- both monetary and temporal- that can readily be devoted to technology management with middle level learners further cuts in to teacher directed skill development. I am no Luddite, but I want to see the power of technology harnessed for deep learning , and I believe this a time-consuming and labor intensive process. Many schools are prioritizing technology acquistion over teacher training becuase of a societal preference for form over function. Or at least such a preference by those schools' most influential stakeholders...

It is an exciting time in education; I see a lot of signs that we are moving into a new period of reconceptualization of the currency of the classroom. Its not a revolution, but an evolution towards more compassionate, student-centered instruction.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Prezi and Skill Development

If you want your students to be excited about planning and creating well-organized and effective summative assessments, all the while developing deep thinking and communication skills, teach them Prezi. This “power point on steroids” presentation platform does more for student skill development than anything I have ever seen. Everything a student produces with Prezi has the potential to be poetry, essay, and painting; the process of building a Prezi exercises all the organizing, writing, and symbol creation abilities we want our young thinkers to develop. When they construct their presentations in Prezi, you get to watch them show their knowledge, their creativity, their independence, and their command of metaphor with enthusiasm.

Prezi should be in every classroom because of the skill development it affords students. The organizational components are similar to those in essay or Powerpoint planning; every lesson a teacher has ever given in outlining is applicable to Prezi construction. So as students are planning the progression of content delivery in a Prezi, they are developing their argument construction skills.

But Prezi’s innovative value is at the next layer of organization: at the visual representational level. The use of color, proportion, spatial relationships, and narrowing and expanding frame of reference (Zooming!) all cultivate abstract thinking skills and reinforce the idea of the visual power of message delivery.  A teacher who wants to develop expository writing skills in students can work on the fundamentals of creative writing (metaphor) and rhetoric (persuasion) at the same time. As I have played with it, the metaphorical possibilities in message creation with Prezi reminds me of free verse poetry or abstract painting.

Helping students cultivate their ability to understand the effectiveness of message delivery on multiple levels fosters communication and expression skills we want in our kids. The kicker, however, is that these are skills that students love to exercise when they have technological and visual components. Because choice and detail are such important elements of student ownership of project, offering that in the midst of an exercise in organization is brilliant. PPT brought us a ways from the essay, but Prezi “Zooms” kids to a whole new level of engagement in their own skill development.