Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Peter King ranks among my favorite writers of all time*. His unbiased and thoughtful insights into the NFL are unparalleled and he even throws in some news about coffee and travel tips. There was a day when I enjoyed sitting down and reading every word of his MMQB articles.  Then, reality hit. I don't have time for a 5-page article. I barely have time to be the husband and father I need to be, much less do my job and other responsibilities well.  And so, I merely skim the first few paragraphs to see if the topic du jour interests me enough to read the entire first page.

I "follow" numerous blogs with my Feedly account, but I spend the bulk of my blog "reading" time skimming post titles to see if I really want to read the post. The goal is less about learning and more about getting to the end of the queue.

I could go on and on with similar examples -- the email updates that are too long to read, how easily distracted I can be when reading or working online -- and I'm sure you could too. That's why this article by Nicholas Carr resonated with me from the title.

I encourage you to click the link and read it -- the whole thing. It's kinda long, so get a cup of coffee and a snack.  He basically says that as we spend more time online we spend less time thinking about what we are absorbing. This instant connection to just about any bit of knowledge we want is causing us to be very shallow in our cognition.  I love this line. "Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."

I am a computer teacher. I love technology! That's not an inherently bad thing for us.  However, I recognize I may be becoming one of those "pancake people" mentioned in the article -- with knowledge thinly over many topics.

I want something different for my students and for my daughter. I want them to know how to access knowledge with digital media, but I also want them to use that knowledge to think deeply and learn through experience -- not just flit to the next duck-faced selfie, then to fantasy football, then to... you get the idea.

I was taught  to never present a problem without offering some solutions, so here come some solutions.  This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and I welcome your ideas.

  1. Be an example. Model good digital media usage. (Confession: I am typing this while subbing in an English class.  Since sitting at this desk, I have checked out Instagram, worked on my fantasy team, emailed my library, and texted a friend. Bad Mr. Dunlap.)
  2. Make this part of my curriculum. I push digital citizenship in my computer classes, but I also need to make discuss sticktoitediveness. This is not something I can push off on other teachers in other subjects, especially since my content area is causing the problem. 
  3. In conjunction with #2, assignments (at least some of them) need to focus on deeply reading content and thinking critically about it. I'm still pondering what this looks like. 
I'm no expert in this area, and I know my mind is traveling down this slippery slope.  Hopefully I can help some of these kids to scuba dive deeply into a sea of words.

Photo credit

*I have to be honest. I typed that sentence and names of authors flooded my mind -- Christie, Tolkien, Clancy, Lewis, Grisham, Gladwell.  Man! There are a lot of names on the list of authors I love to read. King is up there, no doubt, but let's say he's one of my favorite to read online

Friday, September 19, 2014

Lessons from U2

I was syncing my iPad not terribly long ago when I saw a new U2 album in iTunes. To say I was befuddled would be a bit of an understatement.  Did I prebuy it and not remember? Did my wife buy it for me as a surprise gift? I had no idea, but I listened to it and liked it.

A couple days later, I realized everyone got the new album as a free download from Apple, and I couldn't help but to be appreciative. U2? For free? Why wouldn't I be elated!  Thank you, Apple!

That's why I couldn't believe that some people were unhappy about this awesome free gift. Apple actually had to create instructions on how to delete the album from playlists, and I scratched my head. Why?

And...there are other people who didn't like that Apple could just force content upon us.

This came up in conversation with my friend.  "It's a bit scary that Apple can send music to my daughter's device without my knowledge or consent." I never looked at it that way, either. Will Apple continue to give us free content or is this a one-shot deal? What will the next free download be? Will I want my daughter to hear it? As parents we want some oversight into the digital content our kids are consuming, and it is eyebrow-raising to know that Apple has that ability to push that out to our kids.

It's amazing to think what someone can do with some money and the right tools.

It took me around 14 hours to think of a reasonable response...commercials. As parents we can be very intentional about what we put in front of our children, but you can't control what commercials they see.  Whether it's a trailer for the next big Disney movie, an ad on an app my daughter likes to play, commercials I normally ignore during a football game, or a free U2 album,  it's hard to monitor everything.

Here is the lesson I take away from this story. Digital consumption is never really a plug and play event.

My parents taught me this lesson back in the Stone Ages when I listened to vinyl.  To them, any music that didn't involve four men in matching polyester suits singing about an old rugged cross was suspect in the worst way. Imagine their surprise when their teenage sons started liking music by long-haired men playing guitars and drum sets.  I found myself having to defend my music to my parents -- proving that while the style of music and clothing were different, the message was essentially the same thing.

Now, maybe your standards aren't quite what my parents' were. But, many of us in this edtech world talk about digital citizenship, and I think we can all agree that not all digital content is a beneficial for all digital consumers.

As media consumers we will never be able to have complete control over what flashes in front of our eyes or enters our eardrums. However, we owe it to the children in our charge (in our homes or our schools) to teach them how to evaluate what they see and hear.  Because Mommy and Daddy won't always be able to monitor it for them.

I think it's time I sit down and talk through some of these things with my kindergartner at home....

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


A colleague recently pointed me to edWeb, which provides free professional development webinars.  You can either watch webinars via live-stream or their archives.  I spent the bulk of this morning listening in on archived webinars about the 4Cs, good apps for little ones, and comparing Google Drive and OneDrive after joining the PreK-3 Digital Learning and TechTools communities.

Hopefully you'll find this a useful tool to see how you can best integrate technology in your classroom and school.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Get Kahoot

While trolling Twitter a couple weeks ago, I kept seeing comments about something called Kahoot. What I was seeing looked like fun, so I started messing around with it.  What I found is an incredibly awesome review game.  

Here is what you need to play.
  • The teacher needs a free Kahoot account.
  • You need a teacher device an Internet connection, and it would be ever so helpful if this screen is large so your entire class can see it easily.
  • Each student needs a device with Internet connection as well. 
I tried it out on one of my 5th grade classes, and it was an instant hit.  The first chance I got, I sent an email to our entire faculty.  Here's what I wrote...

Kahoot is part quiz review, part game show where students can review content in a fun manner.  (I found this thing on Twitter, crazy as that sounds.)  I created a Kahoot asking questions about me, and I just played it with one of the 5th grade classes.  We had a blast, and they learned a few things about me.  (What state do I live in? What kind of dog do I have? What is my favorite sports team?)  Obviously, in your class you'll want to ask more important questions like "Whose assassination started WW1?" or "What fancy word means flipping a fraction?"  

In order to play, you need some sort of large screen (projector or flat panel) and a device for all students.  iPads work just fine, but students could also use their phones or the desktops in a computer lab.

If you're interested, hop on​ and get started.  If you want to check out my demo, let me know.  

That sent a firestorm of excitement through the entire school. I have had elementary and high school teachers trying it out in their classes, all with great success.  It just so happened that I was scheduled for staff devotions this past Friday, so I wrote a quiz about the Bible so everyone could experience it. 

Now that I've been living with this tool for a week or so, I see that it's so much more than a quiz review. It would be a good pretest to see what students do and don't know about your chapter. It would also be a great motivation to connect yesterday's lesson to today's lesson.  In fact, you could easily have students create their own Kahoots to review important material or to introduce themselves.  And it's fun. 

Let me suggest Kahoot for your classroom.  I think you'll be happy with the results.