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OLTD 508 – Post #4

What I loved most about this course was how often I would find myself in a state of flow while working on our assignments.  Whether it was watching James Paul Gee’s video, researching mobile apps for inclusion in my group’s rubric, or my current fascination with trying to harvest crops in minecraft, I find myself spending a lot more time than I initially planned on this course.  It has been challenging at times, but mostly a fun and engaging experience that I will be striving to replicate with my students in the future.

I had a major “aha moment” while watching James Paul Gee talk about the “pleasantly frustrating” principle of games design,  that hard to achieve level of difficulty that makes a problem hard to solve on the first playthrough, but becomes easier as players become progressively more comfortable with the particular challenge they are trying to overcome.   MineCraft has been pleasantly frustrating to me for about 2 weeks now, with no sign of the frustration abetting.  It started with simple things such as how to set up my keyboard so that I was able to access the “use item” key (I don’t have a right mouse button, which is the default button for this option).  Once I got that sorted out new problems kept coming up:  How do I turn on the switch? How do I make a craft table?  How do I make an axe?  How do I get access to my axe?  Where do I go at night?  How do I plant crops?  How do I harvest crops?  How do I get my food meter back to full?  The food meter problem is the one I am currently grappling with, as there are no animals to eat, so I have to wait for my crops to be ready.  It has been quite a process, but no matter how annoying not knowing can be, I find that I keep coming back better prepared and more fluent in the minecraft world each time.  Any concept that I need to know is just a youtube video, or wiki entry away, and because each problem is a pressing concern in the moment, I am very motivated to seek out the answer on my own.

My grade 4 and 5 students think it is absolutely hilarious that I am learning about minecraft in school.  Whereas my approach has started from a place of academic curiosity, theirs has come from a place of pure fun and exploration.  I was playing with my whole class in a mine craft world last friday in the computer lab, and it was the funniest thing watching them build and explore, help and annoy one another.  It was like being with them at recess.  Students more likely to get into disagreements on the playground had the same struggles in the minecraft environment.  Students who were able to compromise and work in groups created some amazing things with their classmates.  There was a lot going on, and it was hard to keep track of half of it.  It was really neat to see how easy it was for some students to self organize and tackle projects with a division of labour that I didn’t think them capable of in the classroom environment.  Sometimes all it takes is the right motivation and the right environment I guess.

I can see myself using Minecraft with my students in the future.  I love how it encourages you to explore and create, with very few limitations on what you can do within the virtual world.  I am excited by the premade worlds on offer through MinecraftEdu, and I plan on exploring these resources more in the future.  I would love to contribute my own worlds at a later date, but still need to figure out how to harvest my crops at this point!



OLTD 508 Blog Post #3

I have mixed feeling about about the amount of violence found in video games.  I am often shocked when I hear my students (grade 3) talking about how they watched an episode of “The Walking Dead” on the weekend, and describe all the gory details to their classmates, or when they write a journal entry detailing their entire winter break glued to a screen playing “Call of Duty”.  They often seem to have a better knowledge of some of these franchises than I do, which just seems crazy!  I don’t really have a problem with all of these first person shooter games, I’ve played them a lot in the past, and enjoy them quite a bit.  What worries me though is when kids are playing these games unsupervised, and at such a young age.

I grew up on Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake.  Each Iteration of these first person shooter games became more gorey as the graphics and computing power improved.  From my first experiences with Wolfenstein I was navigating mazes and killing blocky Nazis with a variety of military weapons.  By the time I got to Quake I was dealing with a number of undead zombies and grotesque nightmare creatures.  I feel like I was lucky because by the time these games improved to the point where they could realistically represent the violence they allowed you to engage in I was mature enough to draw that line between play and reality.  I was a shy, sweet, obedient kid who loved to go home at the end of the day and save the world through a computer screen.  Most of my friends were the same way, and none of the violence from these video games transferred over into our adolescent lives.  Would things be different if I had started earlier, or been introduced to a game like Quake before being gradually eased in through Wolfenstein and Doom?  I’m not really sure, but I do know that even with these experiences, it still makes me uneasy when I see young kids playing these types of games on their own.

I’m not sure how young is too young when it comes to violent games.  I started with Wolfenstein when I was roughly 10 or 11.  I see my grade 3s playing Minecraft, which has equivalent blocky graphics and the potential for a certain degree of violence (I just recently watched a number of grade 3 boys go on a bunny killing rampage within this environment which we had to have a talk about) and I’m ok with it as long as they don’t get too carried away.  Minecraft to me seems more about building and creating then anything else, so I really don’t have a problem with it.  I would have a problem with a game being played in class thats only focusing is on shooting bad guys.  I think I learned a lot of good things from playing Doom – spatial awareness, basic math, mapping skills and basic hand eye coordination.  It also taught me a lot of computer skills that I don’t think I was even aware I was learning.  I probably learned just as much typing cheat codes into Doom and Wolfenstein as I did using “all the right type”.  These games don’t need to be vilified the way they often are.  I’m sure Call of Duty is teaching kids today all the things I learned from Doom, and expanding on them in all kinds of ways.  The problem is that these games are teaching them a lot of harmful things as well.  What worries me the most is that kids are being parked in front of these games unsupervised and left to their own devices.  There are so many great conversations that we can be having with our students around these games and I think it is important to teach kids to think critically about their behaviour in an ingame environment versus their real lives.  They need to realize the many consequences that their in game actions may have if tried out in real life.  There are so many teachable moments in these games.  The trick is to identify them, and have our students take a moment to consider them when they are immersed in that gaming world.

OLTD 508 Blog Post #2 – BYOD

To be perfectly honest, the whole BYOD thing really isn’t on my radar in any practical way during my current teaching assignment.  Most of my grade 3s and 4s don’t have a device of their own, and we don’t have the structures in place at my school to use them effectively even if they did.  We don’t have a wireless network connection yet, which in my experience has really affected my attempts to introduce mobile technology into the classroom.  In addition to this, my school actually has a policy against students bringing any smart devices to school, as there is a fear that these devices will be lost or stolen.  The only time that a student has brought a device was during a fun friday afternoon, where the student brought his Mom’s ipod to play angry birds on.

I can see BYOD being a much more important issue in middle and high schools.  The one thing that worries me is that not every student is going to have their own personal smart device, and I can see this setting up issues around inclusion, highlighting a distinction between “have” and “have not” homes.  I think if BYOD is going to be a viable policy for your classroom you need to have access to school devices as well to make sure that every student has a chance to participate to their fullest extent.

Smart devices aren’t going away, and many of our students have a better grasp of their full potential than we do.  Subbing in a middle school class recently, I was a little annoyed that some of them chose to take a picture of their homework assignment on the board instead of writing it into their agenda.  I was going to call them on it, but then stopped to reconsider.  Taking a picture was serving the same purpose, and having their homework information stored on their phone meant they were more likely to have that information on hand when they needed it.  Our students will be able to make this transition to a BYOD environment much smoother than we will, and I think we need to be open to any technology that allows them to work smarter, and hopefully in the end, work harder.

OLTD 508 Week #1

I was not allowed to have a video game system in my home until I was 13.  I remember many times going over to friend’s houses to play Nintendo, and gorging myself on junk food and 8 bit masterpieces on all night gaming sessions.  My relationship to video games during this time was one of short term binges, followed by long draughts of inactivity.  In my teen years I had a gameboy that I wore out after many years of playing.  I currently own a Wii, that I used quite a bit when I initially bought it, but which has now become little more than a Netflix machine.  While I loved these console games, I’m not sure if I can nail down exactly what they taught me.  The best of these games are great not for the content they may teach you, but how they ease you into the in-game dynamics.  Super Metroid is a great example of this, as it teaches you to use the game without the use of tutorials:

Aside from console games, there were a number of computer games such as Oregon Trail, SimCity, and Civilization that had more obvious educational applications.  I remember spending a lot of time playing Simcity, and using the “Shift fund” cheat code, hoping that it wouldn’t trigger any earthquakes!

I am interested to see if my view of videogames changes over the duration of this course.  I have always loved video games, but as a teacher, find it hard to see where I can use them effectively with my students.  I have only ever seen them as a carrot to help student complete other work.  I would be curious to see how one assesses what is learned, and how this is used to build on student learning.

OLTD 509 Final Assignment

Thinking of the many barriers that I face in integrating emerging technology in my classroom, it has led me to develop a list of criteria to make sure that this adoption is successful.  This criteria is based around my current teaching situation, and as such, is influenced by the resources I currently have available to me.

The biggest hurdle has been trying to make things work with a limited number of capable systems, shared between too many staff members.  Here is a chart that shows my current decision process when using my school’s computers:

(This image also triggers two aurasma auras if you are subscribed to “Mr.BenRogers”)


The computers in my classroom struggle at the best of times, so it can be tricky running a program that requires some processing power!  I find that after going through this process, it is often easier to just forget about using computers, unless it is for a very quick demonstration.  Because of this, my first criteria for adopting emerging technology is that it must be able to be integrated into my current technological setup.

I was at a staff meeting recently where we discussed the possibility of creating a wireless network connection for our school.  It was met with a mixture of indifference and mild curiosity by most of the staff members, with a small minority making a case for the many benefits that would come from this addition.  Many staff members were frustrated that the few funds we had allocated to technology were being misspent on devices that were quickly becoming outdated before teachers had a chance to become comfortable with them.  Without proper training, or trailblazing teachers to lead the way, many devices were left on the shelf after a few weeks of experimentation.

Before I arrived at this school there had been a number of technology initiatives that failed due to a lack of funding, and a lack of teachers willing to engage with the technology, and model its effective use in the classroom.  A perfect example of this was the adoption of Mimio interactive whiteboards, that are sort of like a less reliable smart board.  They had been purchased by the school a year prior to my arrival, and had been living in the computer lab’s storage room ever since.  I spent half a Pro-D day with a few teachers trying to get them up and running, with mixed results.   The reason many of these units were not in use came down to the fact that any bump to the projection unit (which mounted onto the side of a whiteboard) meant that the whole unit had to be recalibrated, which took a couple of minutes.  Talking with teachers who had tried these projectors, they said that the calibration time messed up any flow they were trying to achieve in their classrooms, and became a big disruption because of it.  This leads me to my second criterion: the emerging technology must aid in the flow of my classroom.

We have recently acquired a classroom set of iPads for our school, and are in the process of developing systems to share them between teachers.  I am hoping to use these iPads for lessons in Science and Math units.  I have had to wait a while as the iPads make the rounds through other classrooms, which has tested my patience, but allowed me time to develop and refine a plan for when I finally get my hands on them.  Planning to get the most out of any new device is an integral part of its implementation, and  my time waiting has made me evaluate what I want my students to get out of their experience with the iPads.  This leads me to my final criterion: emerging technology should be used as a means to an end, rather than the end itself.

My Criteria for adopting emerging technology in my classroom:

1. Works with existing technology.

2. Achieves flow for myself and my students.

3. Should enrich student learning.

With these criteria in mind I hope to be able to select technologies that will be useful to me in the short term, with the goal of creating initiatives within the school that will lead to wider adoption by teachers in the long term.  In an ideal world I would be doing a lot more, but realize that I need to play the cards that I’ve been dealt, and work within the constraints of my current teaching assignment.

I think that the easiest way to get more teachers on board is to model what is possible with emerging technology in our own classrooms.  By being an advocate and model for the best practice use of emerging technology, we will be able to support fellow teachers in making that leap towards introducing new technologies into the classroom.  I think that this will be a process that happens gradually, even as technological advancements go steamrolling ahead.  As educators we need to remind ourselves that newer isn’t necessarily better, and always look for the way that we can leverage these new advancements as tools for learning rather than as toys for distraction.

OLTD 509 Week #5

I really enjoyed getting a tour through some of the student’s worlds that Greg facilitated, especially the Ancient Egypt creations.  As was said during his seminar, our students will often be the ones teaching us in these environments.  With just a bit of structure and direction it is amazing to think about what some students are able to build.  I could relate to Greg’s mention of a student who was not motivated in class, and given a bad grade, who then turned around and built a whole virtual classroom.  I have students like that in my class who just need a little spark, and a series of challenges in a novel environment to get them going.

I think that the freedom to create and play in one’s environment is exciting to many students.  The ability to “master” the rules of a virtual world must be appealing, especially when there are many aspects of the real world that are out of our students control at their present ages.  With no limits beyond the technical skills to realize what they imagine, virtual world presents opportunities to build and make mistakes that need not carry over into their everyday lives.

I think that it is tricky to say exactly what students are going to take away from learning within virtual worlds, and this is going to ultimately be decided by how much these virtual worlds begin to interact with our traditional world in the future.   I can see being able to play and create in these worlds being very helpful in developing critical thinking and problem solving methods, and a great way to get quick results when learning new skills.  I can also see it being very frustrating for students who get used to that level of freedom and flexibility that a virtual world may provide, when contrasted with the real world.

I think that as with all emerging technologies, there will be students that are drawn to these tools, and those that do not see the appeal.  I think the potential is there to enrich learning opportunities, and provide a level of freedom and control that many students will welcome.  I can also see many students who would view this as more of a gimmick, and not get too drawn in to what these worlds offer.  I myself am still on the fence to a certain extent.  If these worlds become more commonplace it is important that we are somewhat literate in their uses and potential misuses.  Much like social media, if our students are going to be engaging in them regardless, then we owe it to them to teach them how to participate in these worlds effectively and safely.

Reflection on Augmented Reality Seminar

Its been a very busy and rewarding week facillitating the augmented reality seminar.  Its funny, I wasn’t entirely sure why I placed augmented reality at the top of my list when we were asked to pick a topic.  I knew a bit about it, but was by no means an expert.  I liked the fact that it was still emerging, and because of this, people are still figuring out how to put it to good use (although I guess that can be said for the majority of our options).  It feels as though there is still a lot of room to grow, and there are new uses to be discovered and refined.  Its neat to be able to check the google news section each couple of days, and see new and innovative stories pop up about people who are paving the way for augmented realitys gradual introduction into our everyday lives.  I like all that.  But it wasn’t until today that I realized the real reason that this technology is so appealing to me:  In the best cases, it encourages you to leave your desk and interact with the world in a new way.

When we used augmented reality apps in seminar we were tethered to our computers due to the geographical distance between our members.  We made things work through the google + community, and were able to demonstrate what augmented reality apps are capable of.  I don’t think we were able to fully demonstrate the wonder of experiencing the world around you, and unlocking content in real time, as if you were unlocking special features in a videogame, and that is what I am most excited about as this technology continues to evolve.

When I was a kid, the big concern was how many hours you spent in front of the tv.  Now it is how many hours you spend in front of a screen.  While I can understand the concern, I think the big difference between “tv time” and “screen time” is the passive nature of the former and the (potentialy) active nature of the latter.  As screen time becomes more prevalent in our lives, we need to be encouraging those technologies that allow us to treat screen times as a tool that requires our active participation, and I think this is one of augmented realitys biggest strengths.

For me, augmented reality adds another dimension to the world.  It is a new form of tagging, invisible as a radio wave until we tune into it.  It has made me rethink how I experience the world in my day to day life, and reflect on how I can incorporate this tool into my classroom.

OLTD 509 Blog Post #3 – Thoughts on Roger Vernon’s Collaborate Session

What follows is a semi coherent set of paragraphs concerning Roger Vernon’s Collaborate Seminar on 3D printing.

One of the most interesting things I took away from Roger’s talk was the separation between the process of designing a 3D object, and the printing of the object itself.  It seems like there is so much emphasis on the object that is created, but the process of creating that object is often more important as a learning opportunity.  Working on my rudimentary birthday cake model was quite the endeavour, and I felt quite proud of it once I finished it, but I don’t think I would need it printed off in real life to feel as though that work was complete.  The process of dragging and stretching those cylinders was enough for me.  I can see how printing off a model may be important in order to test it out in the real world and note any modifications that need to be made, but often I’m wondering if it is worth the cost of the materials.

I had always envisioned the turning point in 3D printing’s adoption occurring when a significant portion of people have these printers in their households.  After Roger’s talk, it appears that this may not be necessary.  Being able to access a printer at the library, Staples, or Kinkos would certainly be enough for me, and I’m sure for many others.  At this point I can’t see myself using a 3D printer that often, but I’m willing to admit that this may change as the speed and cost of them improve.  With access to free design software, and services to print out our creations popping up everywhere, this technology is more readily available than I initially guessed.

I am hopeful that more programs like Roger’s will be appearing in our schools.  It seems like a logical extension of wood shop and metal work, and seems like a good way to expand the scope of those courses.  I wonder if in the future all three of these courses may be merged under the banner of “design” with 3D printing giving students a greater amount of freedom in how they design and work with physical materials.

OLTD 509 Week #2

As I start to look into emerging tech and plan for my seminar, I find myself wondering what the timeline of adoption will look like for these new innovations.  When will augmented reality move from the realm of the early adopters to an every-day tool?  When will 3-D printers move from universities and tech start-ups, to the homes of the working class?  Is this already happening?  It feels like it is, but I’m not sure if I feel that way because this course (and the OLTD program) is making me that much more aware of the developments in the world of cutting edge technology.

I find myself wondering which of these technologies will be around 5 years from now, and which will morph into a version that better suits the public need.  As these innovations become more common-place, what will replace them as the new cutting edge idea/program/interface?  Things move so fast these days, It feels like an impossible task to keep track of everything that is making waves in the tech industry.  From my own research for my seminar, I have found it interesting that an idea such as the QR scanner, which took off fairly recently, is already being replaced by the likes of image recognition software in our smartphones.  What will the next step be?  Is there an end point in all this, or will we keep refining these tools?

I like Avi’s method of applying a filter to these innovations, and developing a way to sift through all the information to take away only those things that will be meaningful to our own personal practice and philosophy of teaching.  More than ever we are having to become curators of our own professional development, and having a strong idea of what works for us as individuals is paramount if we are able separate that which is useful from the surrounding noise.  It is exciting to think that we have more options than ever to realize our own individual teaching philosophies.

OLTD 509 – Blog Post Week #1

I must confess that I get a sinking feeling in my stomach whenever I get a writing prompt like this, because my limited time as a teacher does not leave me with a lot of material to draw from.  Add to that the fact that my 2.5 years of teaching thus far has been of the itinerant “substitute” variety, and I find myself really scratching my head when trying to come up with a satisfying response.  Having said that, there are a number of schools that I am becoming a regular at these days, and I have opportunity to watch the development of one teacher’s use of Google apps in his classroom.  While I was not directly involved, this is the closest I have come, and so will be commenting on what I saw in his classroom, and some of his reflections on his experiences.

The teacher I am writing about had a grade 5 class, and was a pretty computer savy person.  I subbed for him quite a bit, and we would often chat about some of the projects that he was undertaking in his classroom.  Something that he really wanted to try with his students was to find a way to allow his students to access their digital work from home.  his initial idea was to set up dropbox accounts for each his students, who would then upload their word documents etc. as they worked on them.  He had been using dropbox successfully for some time, and he had me set up an account to check it out.  While it worked well for both of us, there was some concern that the interface and general “usability” of dropbox may not be the best fit for all of his students.  This first experiment was abandoned, and he went on to idea #2: Gmail accounts.

Because of the whole patriot act server issue, the idea was to set up student gmail accounts using account names and passwords that students had (hopefully) already memorized for local access in the school computer labs.  The idea was that students could email attachments of work to themselves to work at home, as well as adding a social component in the form of email.  I think he actually tried this method for a few weeks with his students, and while working better than dropbox, still left something to be desired…  Luckily he was one transition away from the program he was looking for: Google apps.

Students were already familiar with the Google layout at this point, so the transition to Google apps was not hard to make.  The benefits of google apps (or drive) are pretty self evident to this cohort at this point.  Before this program I never used Google drive, now I can’t imagine my life without it.  Students now had the opportunity to access their documents at home or at school, collaborate with each other on documents, and share work with their teacher in real time.  The teacher had everything set up so that he could track what students were working on and when, and could write comments and feedback on student’s work as they were composing it.  This was a big hit for everyone in the classroom.  I was able to sit in on a couple of classes once all the bugs were worked out, and it was great to see students working with this technology, and being somewhat fluent in how they navigated Google’s many apps.

It was important for me to see the different versions that were attempted before hitting on a successful fit for this teacher and his class.  We have so many options when it comes to potential tech in our classrooms, and I think it is important as Avi has said, to have some sort of filter in place before one dives in.  This teacher had a goal in mind, and eventually got there after some trial and error.

I believe that this teacher has been setting up accounts for the other grade 5 class, but have not heard how successfully that has gone.  For this sort of initiative to succeed, you need to have someone who believes in the tech, and will be a strong advocate for it in the classroom.  I’m not sure if the second grade 5 classroom had a teacher who was as passionate about this initiative, so I’m curious to see how it all played out in this second classroom.  I would imagine that student success and engagement  with this tech would go a long way to changing that teacher’s mind, and I think the success of any one initiative is to be seen in student’s reactions to it.