Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Symbaloo in Elementary Education

Symbaloo's popularity is really amazing, it's done great in education. 
Teachers and students in elementary school love it.
They put webmixes on webpages, desktops, and in newsletters.

Here's how it works. You create collections of weblinks which is a webmix. Each weblink is a tile. Once you've created one, others can use it. Or you can use others. Here's a collection by grade level.   Enjoy. And pass them on...

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Adaptive learning - Am I the Only Skeptic?

I've been working in edtech for over a decade and I have heard vendors talk about personalize learning paths, individualized learning, and adaptive learning for the entire period.

I have services that support millions of K12 students. So far:

- I AM a believer in student paced. Students should be able to proceed through digital content at their own pace.  I am a believer in letting students repeat lessons and exercises when they want to.

- I am NOT a believer in any of the adaptive learning systems that I've seen.


Here's an anecdote but it's from a major player. They visited us a month ago and were pitching their adaptive learning platform.  At the heart of the pitch, they had a slide up with a student entering an antonym exercise and various paths coming out. It sounded good. He spoke well. He was the senior product director.

I asked: "So what would be an example of an antonym question?" His example was was a standard multiple choice question such as, 'Which of these is the best antonym for "hot"?'   A. Warm, B. Cold C. Cooking  D. Ice.

I asked, and if they get it wrong, where does that take them, what would be an easier question that would scaffold them into that question.  No answer other than, well, this might not be the best example. I was polite and didn't really insist on hearing a good example.

I just watched a video about MetaCog. It belongs to Victory and it provides a much better link between recommendation engines (Knewton, Dreambox, Area9, Declara) and content. Rather than use the simple data of right/wrong and time on task, it gathers much more data by gathering data of how they do things online.

It assumes that interactive learning activities and assessments can be instrumented to get more info on how the student behaved. Then, Metacog's platform aggregates, analyzes, and recommends along with visualization tools for the teacher to understand.

Here's again the weakpoint, what content actually allows such data to be gathered?

I do see the mechanisms behind many adaptive elearning platforms and they all seem to make simplifying assumptions about content such as:

a. Vocabulary can be sequenced, easy to hard. All of it.
b. Grammar can be sequences,    easy to hard. All of it.

More later....

Thursday, March 5, 2015

How Do We Teach US History: Myths or History

In Oklahoma, there's a brouhaha over whether the AP US History exam should be banned because it's not respectful enough of US History.

More broadly, there's decades of battles of how we should tell the story of US history in K12. Is it a collection of inspirational stories to make us proud?  Is it a stab at teaching the real complexity of history of our peoples so today's students have a real inkling of how things came to be the way they are?

I'm by coincidence, reading two books that directly relate to this debate. I'll circle back to the references at the end.

Let me start by pointing out that in Russia, the history books are written as a way to justify their current policies and politics. History is an extension of their propaganda policy which is part of the control system used to deceive, confuse, and manipulate the public.

 I'm pleased to live in the USA, land of the free, home of the brave. I am proud of our history but not of all of it.

 As an American, I expect the history books to tell real history, not Russian-style propaganda myths. We are a free country with a proud but blemished history. Lets not further tarnish ourselves by not being frank about what's happened.

The two books that I'm reading:

Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev.  It's an amusing book told in the first person by a Brit who worked inside the new Russia.

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen.  This is the second version of an analysis of high school American textbooks and how they tell a version of US history that has to be totally unlearned by students who study history at the college level.  He covers the changes since the first version of his book came out.

Teaching history is part of the crazy culture wars in this country.  Here's one example from the book. Most of us were brought up on cowboy movies which tell one history of the frontier.  

 It doesn't tell say that the frontier was much like the Berlin Wall, meant to keep people from escaping to the freedom of living with the Native Americans. The slaves were trying to escape to freedom. Many free blacks were also trying to escape the racist European society. And, many Europeans wanted to go live with the Native Americans but according to many colonial and then state laws, it was illegal. This is an untold but real history of much of our frontier.