Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Google Cardboard: ​Is There Something Wrong?

I must admit, that I really like the idea of Google Cardboard. It allows students, teachers and/or researchers all to experience physical objects in semi-virtual reality that was previously impossible. Google Cardboard, and virtual reality like it, are spectacular. But to me, something feels wrong about it. I'm having a hard time identifying what it is.

The SAMR model was created by Dr. Ruben Puentedura. The "S" in SAMR stands for substitution and the "R" stands for redefinition. More on SAMR can be found here. The whole SAMR model, as a visionary tool, is to create a conversation. Teachers should ask themselves if what they are doing with technology is important or an improvement to the learning? Where does their classroom technology use fit with SAMR? According to Kathy Schrock, teachers need both. They need to consider both Bloom's taxonomy as well as SAMR to have a true impact on learning in the classroom. I wholeheartedly agree.

So where does the Google Cardboard project fit? I feel that Google Cardboard is "Substitution" in SAMR and on the lower level of Bloom's. The reason I say this is when students use Google Cardboard they are passively viewing information. Sure, they're moving their heads around in semi-virtual reality, but their interaction with the information is very "surface level." At best Google Cardboard could be considered "augmentation" on the SAMR model.

Is there a way to "ratchet up" Google Cardboard? Are there ways to make Google Cardboard reach for the upper levels of SAMR and Bloom's taxonomy? Yes. Of course. What if the students were the creators of the content? For example, if students created their own virtual reenactment of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry that would be high SAMR and high Bloom's. What if students made their own Google Cardboard viewing device? What if students designed, collaborated, and used technical writing to print their very own viewer using a 3D printer? These are all ways to "make it better."

To me there are a few things wrong with students using Google Cardboard just for the cool factor. First, I'd never want a principal to enter a classroom and say "well, they're using technology" when observing a teacher's classroom and check that off on their evaluation. It's critical for administrators to know that there are important things that teachers can do with technology that require students to think, problem-solving and be resilient.

Just because a student is engaged with content does not mean it's good for education. Google Cardboard, if used as a viewer of content, is just another way for the teacher to disseminate information to the students. In many ways this is no different than the "sage on the stage" mentality of a teacher led lesson. Just another disguise for the "formal authority" teaching style, which is the teaching style that causes my own to children to feel demeaned at school.

Please don’t use Google Cardboard as an excuse to not take students on field trips.  Students should experience their local museum, arboretum, factory, aquarium or even an amusement park on “physics day.”  Often, these are the things that make school memorable.  When I ask my own children what they did in school, when they go on a field trip, which is not often any more, they always have a lot to say.  On a typical day, I get the same answer most parents of teenagers get, “nothing.”

Lastly, the use of Google Cardboard is such an engaging technology that at some level it seems like students are basically "electronically blindfolded." Students are unable to collaborate and communicate with other students in class. Also, while students are using Google Cardboard and engaged with content they are also being extremely compliant. I would hate for Google Cardboard to be used as a classroom management tool so that students will behave "properly."

I’m not saying don’t use Google Cardboard.  What I am saying is teachers should probably use it sparingly and they should question their classroom practice regardless if one of the “flavors of the month” just happens to be Google Cardboard.  

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Students Learn the Basics of Computer Programming

“Why does he keep saying that?,” was what one of the boys whispered to his friend in the elementary library.  He had, what I would call, beige hair, and an inquisitive look on his face.  His partner had an amazing ability to use the computer mouse. To him, the computer mouse was a part of his hand.  I think the first boy was talking about the fact that Wendy Sprague and I kept saying over and over “if you work hard you can actually get smarter.”  After a brief introduction and an explanation of their first learning adventure, all four students used computer programming to get the solution.  Some students were able to complete the learning adventure faster than others, even though learning is not a race. We all learn at different rates of speed.  Whatever you do, please don’t tell them they were learning.

Wendy is a librarian at the Cuba Rushford school district.  She has embraced computer programming and robotics in her schools.  The learning of new things does not come easy to everyone and I think it is safe to say that might be true of Wendy as well.  Wendy is a great example of a life-long learner and a follower of the research headed up by Dr. Carol Dweck from Stanford University.  Dr. Dweck has done scientific research to prove that if people work hard and believe that hard work pays off they can make themselves smarter.  If you work hard, are focused on your task and repeat the task to solidify your learning the actual weight of one’s brain gets heavier.  This weight change occurs due to the increased number of neurons, or thinking connections, created in your brain by learning.  It is important for students to get a good night sleep because the neurons are solidified during sleep.  The book called Mindset by Carol Dweck discusses her brain research and is a great resource for anyone. It may even change the way you think about intelligence.

It is only natural for, what some might believe as, unconventional learning to occur in the library. With the easy access to information online, no longer can the library just be a place where information is archived and stored.  Libraries are more.  They are where information is gathered to test theories, find new facts, invent products to help people and publish things of all kind, not just books or things involving text.

Fifth grade students at Cuba Rushford used the computer programming language called Scratch, which can be found at Scratch.MIT.edu.  This open-sources coding language consists of “drag and drop” blocks so no “hard coding” or syntax is used.  Scratch is free and can be used on any computer. Instead of students making sure they capitalized using “camelCode” or that they used a semicolon instead of a colon, they could put there mind work totally on the logic. Lots of logic goes into computer programming.
Students seemed to enjoy computer programming and I can’t wait till I can go back to Cuba Rushford to do some more teaching and learning with Wendy and her students.  Programming is extremely fun, engaging and it teaches a lot of important skills that can help in any classroom.  I wonder what the kids have been inventing since we last met?