Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Learning Through Play

I recently saw a teacher post online about creating a coordinated plane battleship game. And this got me thinking because the whole premise of battleship is the coordinated plane.

Throughout our childhood and the childhood of our students many board games have been played. Many of these board games have academic relationships and I think it's something that has been discussed but not often enough. So here are a few of my favorite games along with how they can be related to curriculum and standards.

Monopoly is probably the most easiest game to justify because you are learning a lot of skills within the game that relate to both mathematics and economics. For a social studies or business teacher with an economics class, The history of Monopoly along with the practical gameplay easily help students to recognize how business works along with concepts such as taxes and mortgages. Just make sure you find an older version since newer Monopoly boards have a flat tax instead of the 10%. Lazy game producers.

Spelling anyone? Scrabble rewards the use of less common letters more than popular letters. Additionally there is a strategy involved when players try to time their words to reach the triple word score or a double/corner word. Additionally points can be scored by building on another word. For examples if the word run is on the board, add n i n g to make it running and  scoring even more points.

Battleship is a game that teaches strategy and the mathematical concept of coordinated planes. Students have to know their XY axis along with being able to track and plan ahead for the different ships.

Guess Who?
Guess Who is a classic game where you can only use yes or no questions to narrow down the suspects until you solve the problem. This helps younger students learn how to be descriptive along with organizational skills to track the different characters.

Operation on its face value is not truly academic because no student is going to be presiding over a surgery where they are removing a funny bone from someone's arm. However the game itself in its construction is academic. When students are playing operation, they are learning about circuitry because in order to make the light bulb light up and buzz the circuit needs to be complete. The gripper is in essence the switch. I have even seen some students use a MakeyMakey with foil and cardboard to build their own version of Operation.

Rube Goldberg machines are a favorite of science teachers while teaching about simple machines. From pullies, to screws, Mousetrap is a great example of these complex collections of simple machines.

No not all board games are created equal and there are definitely a few which do not serve any academic value. However even those games can most likely be justified or potentially modified. Have students multiple two dice instead of add. Or 

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Powerful Algorithms are Not AI

A while back I wrote a post that explained my personal feelings regarding the difference between gamification and game-based learning. I feel like now there is a new confusion going around the education industry. Powerful algorithms versus AI. Artificial intelligence learns and grows on its own whereas powerful algorithms are just that. An algorithm has limitations. 

An example of a powerful algorithm used in education would be something like voice to text or the opposite; text to speech. You will notice when you use one of these tools that there will be limitations. For example it may pronounce a word incorrectly or it may write the wrong thing when you talk. This is because while it is powerful it does not learn the more it is used.

AI on the other hand learns on its own. Yes it is still a type of algorithm but it is a much more powerful algorithm that has the ability to pull from its previous experiences. This is why the more people that are using AI the better the AI is becoming. It is also why we need to hope Sarah Connors is ready for us in the future because we are leading the path to the robots revolution.

If you are attending workshops and conferences on AI please remember to take it with a grain of salt. Some of these so-called experts are not experts at all. Honestly I think it's impossible to be an expert at this point because AI is still such a new technology in the education field.

Now when Data becomes a real person, I'll be first in line at Comic-Con to get his autograph.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Comic Con 2023

Welcome to Good Burger
 I once again received a professional pass to New York Comic Con as an educator. This year, I only went for the one day but found it to be enough without getting overwhelming.

The day started with a quick stop at the Paramount+ booth where they were hosting a game version of Good Burger, because the movie will be coming out shortly. I then walked around the expo floor for a bit before heading to the panel sessions.

On Thursday at Comic Con, the New York Public Library works to organize educational panels and I sat to listen to some educators discuss "Kids as Content Creators: Engaging Media-Savvy Students". During the session, the teacher was talking about this cool program, Pixton, to allow students to create custom comic books. The most interesting part though was not from a presenter, but from the woman sitting behind me. While they were discussing the cost for the subscription and how they fundraised, she muttered under her breathe that the New York Public Library provides Pixton to all library card holders. This got me interested to go home and see what else Philly offers that I may not know about.

Continuing Education Credit
for NY Teachers
While at Comic Con, I walked around the expo floor and spent a good amount of time speaking with the publisher's booths. Last time I attended I learned about a few Advanced Reader Programs so I was excited to see if there were any new resources out there. 

Overall, I had a great day. Knowing that NYCC allows educators to apply for the professional pass is amazing and the Thursday sessions for educators are a great way to see how others are using literature, pop culture, and technology to work with students. Thursday is typically the slowest say of the weekend but when walking in the expo hall, it was shoulder to shoulder. I can't imagine how crowded the weekend would be.

Walter Emanuel Jones
Original Power Ranger
For the big stars that were signing autographs or doing professional pictures, they had a separate area, but other less popular (but still really cool) celebrities were sitting at strategic booths throughout the expo hall. I didn't pay for a selfie, it was $60, but I thought it was cool that I recognized one of the B list celebrities that were sitting at a vendor's booth. The original Black Power Ranger, Walter Emanuel Jones. He was also in the Nickelodeon show Space Cases. I loved Space Cases and always thought it was kind of a kids version of Star Trek. The group of misfit students snuck onto a ship and then launched lightyears away. Similar to Star Trek Voyager, they had to work together to find their way home on a seven year journey. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Pay to Play?

I've recently been wondering something and it's been stuck in the back of my head and I want to bring it out.

Imagine you are a child and your parent wants to be able to brag about you so they buy your way onto a team. Example, Draco Malfoy in Chamber of Secrets when he joins the Quidditch team after his father buys the entire team broomsticks.

Now you didn't really earn your place on that team but you still go around bragging to people and acting superior because you were on the team. Everyone on the team knows you're only there because of the equipment your parents bought but you still act high and mighty.

Now imagine that you are a child who has no idea that this is going on. Perhaps the broomsticks were donated anonymously to the school specifically for the team and your name is on the roster the next day.

The same situation where your parent bought your way onto the team, should you realize it? Notice that correlation? And what should you as that child do? Taking this thought a step further what happens if you know one of your classmates is a better player. Do you take the position that was purchased for you or do you step aside?

This scenario is just one extreme example of a complex issue revolving around equality in education. Parents, rich or poor, will do almost anything for their children. However, I often wonder if we're really just hurting the future.

There are cases circulating the news such as a story from 2016 that pops back up often regarding a teenager who drove drunk and got in an accident. His lawyers argued "Affluenza" as the defense. This teenager was raised to believe actions didn't have consequences because his parents would buy him out of trouble. How many more stories like this never made national headlines?

The point I'm trying to make in this rambling, both fictional and real examples, is I want to know if there's something we can do to stop this from happening? It's not just students. I recently received an email that I had been selected for an award. To accept the honor, I would have to pay $2000 for processing, press releases, and other things related to the "honor" and it made me start questioning how many people brag about honors that they really just paid for.

I know sometimes someone else is paying for these awards. For example, I'm in a regional organization and every year we honor one person with a national award. The regional organization has the authority to select our winner, but we pay the national organization for everything that the winner received such as the plaque, medal, award ceremony attendance, and more. So we are technically paying to give the award. The difference is that the recipient is not paying, the provider (sort of) is paying. I also understand that things like the physical award does cost money even if the title itself doesn't. Is an email and social media post as exciting as a plaque to hang in one's classroom?

Enough of my rambling today on paying for awards. Often when I see the list of recipients, like "30 K12 Influencers to Follow" I know right away know that it's well deserved. Just don't pop my bubble by telling me someone paid to make that list because I know a bunch of the people on the list and know they deserve recognition.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Learning from Attendees While Presenting

I've been doing professional development now for a few years but yesterday was a new experience for me. I went to a private school (not the new part) that was part of a Mosque (that's the new part). From the name of the school, I had assumed that it was associated with Islamic culture but I didn't realize how much. Throughout the day while I worked with the teachers on SEL, conversations mixed in about culture, along with them needing breaks at specific times for prayer. By the end of the day, I think I learned as much from them as they did from me. I wanted to share some of the experience and also my reflections, both personal and professional, about the day.

When I introduced myself to the group, I explained that I know their culture has similarities to my own, Judaism. I understood that they separated by gender and I didn't offer to shake hands with any of the men when I met them. I also stepped back to give space when the IT person was connecting an extension cord to my charger. 

It was interesting when he was speaking in Arabic and the principal (in English) told him that he should speak English while I was there. I told them it was fine and joked that I would just assume they were talking about how awesome I was but they did speak English the rest of the day for my benefit.

After introducing myself to the whole group, I took the opportunity to start with a language demonstration of using Microsoft Translator to collaborate with a global network. I told them of my experience working on a global team for E2 and that while we didn't speak the same language we were able to present together. This was my way of showing that if they were more comfortable speaking Arabic, as the minority in the situation I was willing to communicate in their language.

There were 16 attendees in total and it was immediately clear how close this group was. They were not just colleagues but almost like a family. In fact, when we were discussing SEL and some common classroom scenarios, one teacher told me that their students are more like sibling rivalry than classic fighting. This really was a micro-community in the heart of a larger city. They are neighbors; they pray together, work together, and go to school together.

Since I had not thought ahead but didn't want to disrespect their space, I offered to eat my lunch outside rather than bring non-Halal food into their mosque. I explained that when I've trained at the Jewish Day School I would pack a kosher lunch but wasn't thinking when I prepared for the day. One of the women told me that Halal and Kosher foods are very similar and that in-fact they are likely to take a kosher meal on flights or in hospitals because Halal isn't an option. I actually found that statement extremely impactful because I was under the impression that Halal eaters were more common than Kosher eaters.

In the afternoon the group went downstairs for the prayers and I stayed upstairs in the classroom. One of the teachers that was not praying with the others invited me to watch if I was interested in learning about the culture. She explained why she was not praying with the others that day. As we spoke and watched, I saw more similarities between their culture and my own. I am not an Orthordox Jew but I do know the rules and customs. The men stood at one end of the room while the women were on the other. When they got down on the floor, some were sitting in chairs and the woman I was standing with explained that health always comes first and adaptations can be made when needed.

The final interesting thing that came up was when we were talking about parental communication. One teacher gave an example of a time when a new student who didn't speak English or Arabic joined the class. He said something that sounded like a bad word in English but actually meant something very innocent in his own native language. This led to a discussion that online translators aren't perfect and that they translate literal statements. I used "It's raining cats and dogs" as an example of an idiom that makes sense in America and English but might confuse someone when translated.

I will be going back to this Mosque at the end of the month to provide another session and I am interested to see what more I can learn from them while I am facilitating the training. The upcoming training will be technology rich, specifically Microsoft tools.

Disclaimer: This blog post is my personal reflection to a training I completed on behalf of my employer. However the post is my own experiences and opinions. It does not reflect my employer.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

What's in a brand?

I'm going to use an analogy so that I don't specify specific brands of EdTech but hopefully the point of this blog post will make sense.

There are many brands that make similar products and while one brand is well known for good reason it's not the only brand available. We'll start with an analogy using crayons. When teachers send out supply lists, while some teachers will just specify crayons other teachers will specify Crayola crayons. Why is this?

Do the store brand crayons not come in multiple colors? So why do teachers constantly recommend Crayola? The answer is simple. They are known for their quality and consistency. They're stronger and don't break as easily so even though they cost the little more upfront at the end of the day they will last longer.

There are tech products that also follow this pattern. From 3D printers to interactive panels there is always that one brand that is slightly more expensive but has a greater reputation. There is a reason why when you go to purchase a 3D printer for a classroom you go to the EdTech specialists or the vendors that sell industrial quality printers and not to your local Amazon page to buy the cheapest 3D printer available. It will still work, but it won't work as well and it will probably break down faster meaning you will have to replace it sooner.

Personally, I own one of those $200 3D printers and I use it at home. But I am one person and I am only printing the occasional object. A classroom is printing multiple projects and often running a printer constantly for days at a time to complete the entire classes queue. My printer at home would never be able to keep up with the demand of a classroom so while it is much cheaper up front I would probably have to purchase multiple printers and then replace them often because they don't last. For those people who know me you will also know that I am very obvious with my likes and dislikes in the Ed tech world. I will talk with a school to see what their goals are and I have recommended products that I don't personally use because I know that they are probably better for that individuals needs.

You may now be thinking that there are multiple brands that make quality products so how do you choose? For this analogy I'm going to use cars. If all cars are required to have standard safety features, why would some people prefer one brand over the other? Sometimes it comes down to the aesthetics. Sometimes it comes down to something as simple as what features are standard and what features are costing extra. My last car was a Ford but I currently own a Toyota. I love my RAV4 but that doesn't mean my next car is going to be a Toyota again. When it's time to upgrade my vehicle I will compare the different brands, compare the features, and take a test drive. Only then will I be informed enough to make a good decision about which car is best for me.

This is another reason that I like to keep up with all the trends even though I'm no longer in the classroom. Because when I give somebody an opinion it's an educated opinion based on my personal research and experience. I may recommend one brand this year, but that doesn't mean it will always be the best brand.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Reflections From New Orleans (ISTE 2022)

This past week has been a windstorm of awesomeness. Less than a month ago, I wasn't scheduled to attend ISTE. However when my waitlisted session got switched to accepted, my supervisor helped make it possible for me to attend. We had a booth in the expo hall, so I joined the team representing down in New Orleans.

Like many travelers right now, my flight down to New Orleans was delayed by three hours. Luckily the airline knew ahead of time about the delays so I was notified prior to leave for the airport and was able to relax at home a little longer. This also meant I could attend the virtual MIEE event since I would have been mid-air otherwise. However, I sadly missed Tara and David's wedding which took place at the opening keynote. Since I wasn't originally going to attend ISTE though, Tara already knew I couldn't attend but I did get to meet up with her during the week.

Otis hanging out in Minecraft
I spent most of my days at our booth in the expo hall but I did get a chance to walk around a bit in the morning on Monday before the expo hall officially opened, I walked around with Otis to take some #WheresOtis pictures. I also took advantage of this time to catch up with the teams from Microsoft, Wakelet, and more. Thank you to Wakelet for hooking me up with a t-shirt before the hall opened.

Attending ISTE as an exhibitor was an experience in itself and I was really fortunate to be working with such an amazing group of people. As an exhibitor I wasn't able to attend sessions or keynotes but if being completely honest in previous years, I've missed the sessions I wanted to attend because they were too crowded or at the same time as other sessions where I never choose which to attend. Throughout the week, I was able to reconnect with many friends and make new connections. These connections are honestly the best part of conferences such as ISTE.

Time to present my session.
On Tuesday afternoon I presented my session, Turning Consumers into Creators. It was the end of the day so the audience wasn't huge but they were active and we had some amazing discussions take place. When we talked about the type of creating we want our students to learn one attendee shared a story of how her students began creating videos about social justice. We also discussed using Canva to teach social media marketing.

During ISTE, I learned that I was included in Scott Nune's ISTE'22 hitlist. I also learned after the conference that my session was actually listed on Screencastify's Can't Miss Sessions ISTE'22 list they published before the conference. So that was really cool to discover. I have been working so hard to grow my reputation in EdTech as an influencer so seeing my name showing up on these influential lists really made me feel awesome.

The only thing I was sad about was missing some of the events I would have otherwise attended in years past. Events such as Flipfest and EdTech Karaoke. The schedule was so packed that there were difficult decisions to make.

Following ISTE I took a Covid test when I arrived home on Wednesday night and again every day for five days. Luckily all were negative because I did see many friends that I had spent time posting about positive results. This is sadly the new normal we live in. ISTE was the first time I really went out in the public without a mask on in over two years. I knew I was taking a risk by not wearing a mask in public spaces but I did anyway. While this easily could have ended differently I was fortunate that my good time in the big easy didn't result in a week of quarantine.

Disclaimer: My attendance at ISTE'22 was covered by my employer. However this post is my personal opinion and does not reflect my employer.