Tag Archives: educational technology

True confessions

Here are two questions we can ask about educational technology.

The differences between them are important.

  1. Is the activity this technology supports more intellectually stimulating than what children would otherwise be doing?
  2. Is the activity this technology supports more intellectually stimulating than what children should otherwise be doing?

I will confess, here, now and publicly that I hold (for example) Khan Academy to the latter standard.

And, it seems to me, the typical defense of Khan Academy is that it should only be held to the former.

What made this difference especially salient for me was a recent article in the New York Times, which describes (among other things) a waffle-cutting app on the iPad. (See video at this link.)

Now, it seems to me that the children in the study were telling the researchers that there is something inappropriate about the activity when the 2-year old was trying to taste the waffle, and the 4-year olds needed to be coerced into not tap, tap, tapping everything on the screen.

But if we imagine a perfected version of the app, optimized for the ways 4-year olds interact with electronics, then we can ask those two questions about the idealized waffle-cutting app.

If kids are cutting virtual waffles in a daycare environment that otherwise provides little to no math talk, then perhaps this app would be an improvement. But I cannot really imagine an app that would be better than having children cut real waffles and talk about the nature of their activity with sympathetic adults as they do so.

I cannot imagine a virtual waffle app that is better than what 2—4 year olds should be doing, which is talking math.

Beyond the textbook

In an odd and interesting turn of events, I find myself sitting at MSP waiting for my flight to Washington, DC to attend Discovery Education’s second Beyond the Textbook conference.

The invitation arrived by email out of the blue about a month ago. I recognized the conference from Audrey Watters’ participation last year, but was very unclear on how they found me.

So I asked.

The reply (edited mostly for length) came from Steve Dembo:

I believe real innovation comes from cross-pollination.  I’m a big believer in the Medici effect, which is why I want as diverse a group as possible…It’s not an easy task by a long shot and I spent days researching people outside the folks I know personally or by reputation already.  I don’t know the exact path that led me to you, but I did spend a lot of time finding one person I respected, someone like a Dan Meyer for example, and then searching through the people he followed on Twitter and that he referenced on his blog.  And from those people, I’d do the exact same thing, looking both for ‘influencers’ as well as people who I thought had interesting ideas that might make a meaningful contribution to the conversation.

So where do you fit in?  You used to be a middle school teacher and we’re going to try to key in on 7th grade.  You’re a professor and have a background in curriculum design already.  And most importantly, people that I trust and respect, trust and respect you.  And I refused to hold your Spartan connection against you (I’m a Hawkeye).

That’s impressive. I have certainly met a lot of people who claim to use social media to do something besides communicate directly with their audience. But this guy is clearly the real deal.

As I think about the upcoming two days, I find myself thinking about the idea of a textbook.

I suppose the category of publishing into which Connected Math fits is Textbook, but I don’t really think of it that way.

It has been years now since I abandoned textbooks in my math courses for future elementary teachers.

And I am designing a new Educational Technology course at my college this semester, which I will teach in the fall. I began the formal planning for that course by digging into a couple of the publisher texts for these courses.

I lasted about 15 minutes before abandoning that part of the work.

Textbooks conjure up—for me—pre-digested second hand material. Textbooks assert, summarize and question.

Then I read Mindstorms and found a text that I could use to introduce major ideas in the course.

So for me, it is important for us to remember that going “Beyond Textbooks” does not have to mean abandoning books, nor texts.

For me, going beyond the textbook means identifying the resources necessary for introducing the material students need to grapple with, and to support them in their efforts.

My students would be happy to tell you that I have not found this perfect set in any of my courses, and that some of my courses are in better shape than others. But none of my students (I hope) would claim that they are bored by the text materials on offer, or that the courses based on these materials consist of regurgitated second-hand knowledge.

So as we think about moving beyond the textbook, let’s celebrate the possibilities for student engagement and the liberation of students’ minds. But let’s not forget that texts and books are resources for building knowledge and questions.

In late developing news, Frank Noschese showed up with Heads or Tails Double Stuf Oreos as a gift. Good man.