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Primary school children will learn to read on Google

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Posted on 6th May 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning and Schools We Have Now

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The Telegraph reports from the UK:

“Computing skills will be put on an equal footing with literacy and numeracy in an overhaul of primary education that aims to slim down the curriculum – but not lose the basics.

“Children will be taught to read using internet search engines such as Google and Yahoo in the first few years of school, it is announced.

“Pupils in English primary schools will learn to write with keyboards, use spellcheckers and insert internet “hyperlinks” into text before their 11th birthday under the most significant reform of timetables since the National Curriculum was introduced in 1988.

“The review by Sir Jim Rose, former head of inspections at Ofsted, also recommends the use of Google Earth in geography lessons, spreadsheets to calculate budgets in maths, online archives to research local history and video conferencing software for joint language lessons with schools overseas.

“Sir Jim insisted the changes would not replace come at the expense of traditional teaching, saying: ‘We cannot sidestep the basics”‘ . . .”

Via Shiv53

Time to dive into mobile learning


Posted on 3rd December 2008 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression and Mobile Learning

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Last week I was changing back to street clothes after a water aerobics class at Asphalt Green, a fitness center on Manhattan’s Upper Eastside. Two girls from one of New York’s finest private high schools arrived for their swimming class and pick lockers nearby. I interrupted their chatting with an apology and asked if they were allowed to have mobile phones at school.

With the assurance of privilege, they said, “Oh yes, as long as we keep them,” looking a bit askance, “unseen.” They went on to explain that everyone, meaning the school authorities and teachers, knows they have the mobiles. The assumption was that I would know that they would not abuse the privilege. (Not, I am sure, at the price that someone is paying for their schooling.)

I like high school kids, and trust them whether they are coping with the foibles of privilege or the temptations of some often awful high schools within a mile of these girls’ fancy prestigious school. One of the best things about high school kids is that they are candid — open and honest.

It is fair to assume that the two girls I was quizzing — and the high majority of their schoolmates — did not have low-end mobile phones. These were the sort of kids who have the latest smartphone on their person all the time. That led me to my next question. I asked them: “Do you ever use your mobile phones in class — to study or learn something.”

The girls looked at me quizzically and said, “No.” When I then suggested their was a potential there for them to use the Web on their mobile in class, they said, in a tone where I hoped I had caught a whisper of respect for their questioner, that they had never thought of that.

As teenagers will wonderfully do, they then said to me that they thought using mobiles for learning was a good idea. They may have just been showing off their good manners to me — but there was no doubt that in one of America’s best schools, for these students, using mobiles for learning was a brand new idea.

Really good mobile Web access has only been around for a few months. Mobile Web access is getting better and better, and is trickling down into more mobiles. Is thinking of mobile learning at school the tipping point around the corner? Why not just dive in now?

How to cheat on an exam in 2008

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Posted on 26th March 2008 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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This video is the best argument I have ever seen against the schools that forbid students to have digital devices with them in class, because the school thinks the kids will cheat. Hey, a Coke bottle works too. Yes, I know the other argument against letting students have mobile phones and other handhelds in class is that they will create distraction and disturbances. Just like cheating, unless students are convinced it is wrong to disrupt class they are going to find a way to do it. Disciplining kids is an age-old problem. The mobile in their pockets today is a brand new and awesome opportunity to put them in touch with knowledge.

After-school program in their pockets


Posted on 15th March 2007 by Judy Breck in Mobile Learning

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In an article titled It’s not always over when the bell rings, here rounds up some facts on how kids are continuing learning in their time outside of their class schedules in some example after-school programs. A sample fact from the article is:

In 2002, California voters approved a ballot initiative that, combined with previous funding, would direct as much as $550 million toward after-school programs for the state’s students.

Mobile learning offers on-demand any time after-school learning for each student who is participating. When learning assets are in his or he pocket, it is possible to pull out the device and do some learning any time. Numbers like $500 million can do a lot to put those mobiles into students’ pocket.

Little kids need converged mobiles


Posted on 17th August 2006 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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A major theme of this blog is to point out that mobile devices are the core tool for learning in the 21st century. While speculation about what kids should have goes on and on, what they DO have is far more illuminating—and disheartening.

The two paragraph at the end of this post are from a New York Times article today titled Back to School, With Cellphone and Laptop. The paragraphs I picked are about elementary school children. From reading them we get the mental picture of a pre-teen child with a cellphone in one pocket and a flash drive in another. (I was at a conference recently where one of the Ph.D.s was complaining that he had lost three flash drives already that day; they are about the size of a half a stick of gum.)

Some of the questions the image of mobile phone, flash drive toting children bring to mind are:
What about kids who don’t have a flash-drive receiving computer at home?
Why isn’t the flash drive built into the mobile phone?
If the flash drive were built into the mobile phone, would we make sure the kid can study those files on that mobile device?
Why are the school files he uses not accessible through the Internet so he can use them from home, the library, etc.?
Why doesn’t her mobile phone have Internet access so she could study her files on the bus (if they were on the Internet)?
Why are the hundreds of dollars worth of printed study resources still in the child’s backpack if she is carrying her study stuff on her flash drive. An expensive redundancy here?
Why is the education establishment so far behind on the digital convergence curve? Why!

New York Times article quotes:
The LG Migo VX1000 . . . . is a child-friendly, simple phone: no text messaging, no games and no camera. It is also very small and light, well suited for child-size hands. The Migo has only four numbered buttons, which can dial four preprogrammed phone numbers. Those numbers cannot be changed without a password. To place a call, the child simply presses one of the numbered keys and the talk button. In the middle of the phone pad is a large key for emergency calls.

Catherine Poling, the assistant principal at Kemptown Elementary School, near Frederick, Md., suggests that students also get a flash drive for portable storage of their computer files.“With the volume of files that students work on, including video and images, it would be helpful if they all had a mass storage device to transport files between home and school. . . .”

The digital trust divide


Posted on 12th June 2006 by Judy Breck in Mobile & Ubiquitous

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Movie theaters solved the problem of cell phones ringing during films by running humorous reminders to turn off phones. Schools (at least in the world’s biggest public system here in New York City) have forbidden cell phones in class and left trust out of the formula. So, enforced education has created yet another discipline problem. Today’s article here in the New York Times describes how kids are using a high frequency ringtone (that most adult ears cannot hear) to operate their phones during class. Here is part of the story from the Times:

David Herzka, a Roslyn High School freshman, said he researched the British phenomenon a few weeks ago on the Web, and managed to upload a version of the high-pitched sound into his cellphone.

He transferred the ring tone to the cellphones of two of his friends at a birthday party on June 3. Two days later, he said, about five students at school were using it, and by Tuesday the number was a couple of dozen.

“I just made it for my friends. I don’t use a cellphone during class at school,” he said.

How, David was asked, did he think this new device would alter the balance of power between adults and teenagers? Or did he suppose it was a passing fad?

“Well, probably it is,” said David, who added after a moment’s thought, “And if not, I guess the school will just have to hire a lot of young teachers.”

Do we have to wait until David’s generation supplys the teachers a few years from now, to catch on to using the phones the students have as a class tool for learning instead of banning them while kids ply pencils and PCs in class? And even though it is said here in some jest, I suppose, where is the trust in the notion of “balance of power between adults and teenagers”? I think the purpose of education is to empower kids with knowledge — wow, I’m really old school!

Mastering media strokes

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Posted on 4th April 2006 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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Masters website
The home website here of this year’s Masters golf tournament is a modern classic in Web design aimed at conveying ideas. In a five-minute visit to the webpage you can virtually master the pertinent information about the tournament: current facts, history, tradition, physical set-up and more. A main 2006 theme of the Masters website is that the Augusta course has been lengthened because technology has stretched the length of the golfers’ drives.

Education should stretch with the times! Why does the education industry persist in absorbing billions of dollars in loading down kids’ backpacks with textbooks from the Bobby Jones era instead conveying knowledge to students through subject websites like How about copying the Masters website set-up to interface the week when William the Conqueror crossed the English Channel, or doing the same for Marco Polo’s travels, or for the discovery of the cure for polio? Those would be aces for learning. Textbooks are bogies in the era when 300 yard plus golf drives are becoming routine.

Education euphemisms and Kathy Sierra market talk


Posted on 4th March 2006 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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expert chart
Kathy Sierra, who writes for Creating Passionate Users, is a learning guru disguised in marketing language like “sucks” and “kick ass” — which would get big frowns at an education conference.

Her illustration (above) from her post today demonstrates, in my opinion, that teaching to an “acceptable” level is leaving yet another generation of school students in limbo below the Kicking Ass Threshold. Success at school these days is to be above the Suck Threshold and failure is entering the drop-out zone. Our school system passes kids on to the next grade and gives them a diploma when they suck. I know I am twisting the language here, but I do so as a wake up call. The euphemisms of education are among its causes of mediocrity. We owe it to our kids to teach them how to kick ass. I would not attempt to explain Kathy’s brilliant analysis of her chart shown above. You can read it in her words here.

What then lets students move above the Kick Ass Threshold? First is to accept that essentially every kid can do it — which you have to figure out for yourself. Maybe you cannot accept that idea, in which case mediocrity (sucks) is the expectation for any generation.

For those who see the budding kicker in every kid, the new networked world is full of hope. In Marc Prensky’s new book, Don’t Bother Me Mom, I’m Learning, he mentions (p. 59) the “leveling up” factor as a reason kids work for hours with digital games. That Prensky says:

. . . means feeling yourself getting better at the game, and achieving mastery over something difficult and complex, something you couldn’t do when you started.

Compare that with the Kicking Ass Threshold:

I’ll keep pushing myself. There’s always some way to do it better . . .

Myself, I think moving learning into the kids’ own digital medium will move them past the era of the Suck Threshold.

Operating like a traditional library


Posted on 28th February 2006 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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Kudos to the school district in this eSchool News article for providing their students with an online collection of books. The article describes very well the advantages for the students that this online library provides. Great stuff — very 21st century and appropriate for the digital natives enrolled in the district’s schools.

The financial model, however, is very 20th century as the article relates. How this works is very clear in the text from the article quoted below. The net effect of the sort of deal the NetLibrary makes is to be able to charge multiple (many multiple!!) schools and districts for the same digital material (250 books in this case). For every student across the world to use just one version of the collection would have no cost after the first collection is put online. In my most recent post, HyperPhysics is used by 3 million visitors annually worldwide at no cost to the users — nor to the taxpayers!

The following describes how the 20th century model works when repositioned onine, quoting eSchools News. We can understand the downside to publishers interested in profits and the need to reward authors. The downside for learning is that only students in districts that do this sort of thing can read the books, and even those fortunate ones can only do so one at a time — just like my experience at the Austin High School library back in the 1950s:

NetLibrary is one of several companies that work out deals with traditional book publishers to convert their titles to electronic format and then lease these titles on the web. Traditionally, companies that want to put material online have met with resistance from publishing houses, which fear the internet will support copyright infringement and encourage piracy of copyrighted works.

The eBook library operates almost exactly like a traditional library in terms of copyright protection regulations, Van Hamersveld told the Houston Chronicle.

“It is a single-user [service], just like if you were to go to the library and check out a book,” she said. “One person checks out that book, and until that book is checked back in no one else can access it. That makes the issues of copyright and profit margins … a little easier to swallow for the publishers.”

Cyberly Incorrect


Posted on 25th February 2006 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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The top Good Read on George Lucas’ current Edutopia is the featured article here in the Lynchburg, Virginia about the State of Virginia passing a law mandating every school in the state to teach Internet safety to its students. Over the years since the early 1990s in which the Internet has grown, there is no story (my educated guess) that has received more cyber ink and the kind of ink that goes on newsprint and glossy magazines than protecting kids from the Internet.

I almost didn’t write this post because it is cyberly incorrect to do anything but fan the fears that children are threatened by the Internet. Whether a child is hurt by a predator on the street or online is irrelevant — it’s awful either way. But how much is the education of those same children being damaged by the hype-publicity that undermines the confidence of teachers and blocks the exploration of online knowledge by students? My Mother used to say that there is no one who does more harm than people who mean well.

Of course we should warn kids about predators, online and offline. But we should be in awe of what the Internet can do for learning and engage it fully — not shy away from it.

What makes kids grow new neurons

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Posted on 20th February 2006 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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Once again, Kathy Sierra of Passionate Users writes here a profound and penetrating analysis of the workplace, and the analysis equally or better explains why our kids are stagnating in schools. In discussing Elizabeth Gould’s work in the discovery that new brain cells are created through our lifetime, she says:

One of the most interesting (and, in hindsight, “doh!”) discoveries was that one of the main reasons researchers kept finding NO evidence of new neuron development in their test primates is because they kept them in an environment which shut that process down. In other words, it was the caged-living that stopped the neurogenesis process. By giving her animals a rich, natural environment, Gould “flipped the switch” back on, allowing their brains to work normally, and sure enough–the happier, more stimulated animals showed a DRAMATIC increase in neurogenesis as well as dendrite density.

Kathy is explaining why workers grow dull when they work in cubicles. But what about sending kids for 12 years of lock-step learning in (“doh!”) cookie cutter classrooms where by golly we all learn the same standard stuff or we go back and try to learn it again.

Kathy’s writing is a terrific explanation of what happens in the cubicled workplace — but when you read it substituting traditional classrooms that prohibit the digital excitement of our kids’ lives outside of school, it is even more important. If we want our kids to grow new neurons, we had better face up to getting them out of the school cubicle routine. That is an unscientific way to put it, but my guess is children’s brains really do end up producing less neurons in boring environments.

A tale of the unseen, forbidden mobile phone


Posted on 7th January 2006 by Judy Breck in Mobile Learning

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Today I judged six rounds of the New York City public schools citywide We the People competition. About 700 high school students were hosted by Pace University. The kids wore business attire, were flawlessly polite, and both well prepared and articulate as we judges asked them questions about the United States Constitution.

I didn’t notice that something normal for today’s kids was missing until in the 4th round when a ringtone sounded in the back of the room. I had a good view of the offending girl as she yanked the only phone I saw today in a kid’s hand out of her pack and turned it off. The other 20 students seemed to pretend it wasn’t happening. The teacher turned and stared at the girl with one of those “dirty looks” for which teachers are renowned.

Of course the rings were out of order, just as they are in a movie house or an adult meeting. But the discretion and responsibility to handle a phone properly are not allowed to students. Although almost every kid has one, mobile phone use in high schools is mostly forbidden and not on the radar as a possible tool for learning.

How cool it would have been today if the competitors could have used their mobiles for notes as they spoke instead of holding index cards as I did in speech events in the 1950s