7 Habits of Highly Effective Tech-leading Principals

T.H.E. Journal recently surveyed principals from across the country to identify the attributes they think a principal who wants to be an effective technology leader should demonstrate. The consensus settled on the seven attributes most frequently mentioned. They constitute our list of "Seven Habits." At the same time, T.H.E. Journal solicited insight into why each of these habits is important from Robert Farrace, senior director of communications and development with the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Jennifer Demeski writes for T.H.E. Journal, June 7, 2012.

We then spoke with three highly effective technology leaders among the ranks of principals to see how these habits have led to the successful implementation of educational technology in their schools. Patrick Larkin, of Burlington High School in Burlington, MA, and Eric Sheninger, of New Milford High School in New Milford, NJ, were recently recognized as NASSP Digital Principals. Lyn Hilt is both the principal and technology integrator at Brecknock Elementary School in Denver, PA. She and Larkin will speak on the topic of 21st century leadership at ISTE 2012.

Here are the highlights:

1. Create an Atmosphere That Inspires Innovation

Eric Sheninger, of New Milford High School in New Milford, NJ, says of his school, "If we're not trying new things, we're not learning. And if we're trying new things, then we're going to fail sometimes. It's creating an environment where my teachers are afforded a certain level of autonomy, but in turn, I need to be more flexible."

2. Foster Collaboration

Farrace: "What we have today are schools that are far more collaborative. We can attribute that in large part to principals who are leading that collaboration in their school.

"One of the things we have to teach our students is how to be collaborative, not just with each other, but on a large scale using digital tools," remarks Patrick Larkin. "If the adults in the building aren't collaborating with each other and having these open conversations using tools like Twitter, then it's not going to translate down to our students."

3. Be Open to New Ideas

Farrace: "It's the principal's job to get everybody in the school involved and invested in a new vision for the school and to demonstrate to them that their input is valued. The two of those feed off of one another. More collaboration contributes to a more solid culture that allows the kind of innovation and vision that all of us are really aspiring to. Great ideas are going to bubble up and sometimes the smartest thing a principal can do is provide support for a teacher with a good idea and then get out of their way and let them do it."

4. Be a Connected Learner Yourself

"If I can pinpoint the catalyst for all of the change and transformation that's taken place in my school, none of it happened until I became a connected learner," remarks Sheninger. "I had no idea what the term web 2.0 was. I had no idea that social media could be harnessed for learning. I was ignorant because I was not educated. Once I started learning from other educators who were doing other things with technology, I quickly learned how much I didn't know."

"As a leader I should not have to sell my staff on ways to improve and get better," he adds. "I want them to truly see the value in these shifts. I'm now sitting back with a smile on my face, watching my teachers take the lead and move us forward. But it wasn't until I actually started meeting with teachers, taking a hands-on approach, and showing them simply that if I can do this, and if I can give them some simple ideas on how to incorporate technology, then you can go from that starting point and really think of more practical ways to integrate these tools into your lessons."

5. Locate and Provide Adequate Resources

Farrace: "Unfortunately, finding the funding for these initiatives is really, really hard. Principals have to become experts at doing more with less...I don't have a formula except to say that principals have gotten very creative about where they find the money."

Funding Burlington High's iPad initiative required that Larkin "think different." For him, that meant combing through past budgets to find areas that no longer needed to be funded once the iPads were in students' hands. "We decided that we were buying no new sets of textbooks," explains Larkin. "Instead of paying for a new history textbook for 250 10th-graders at $100 apiece, we're providing teachers a lot of support and training to find online resources to supplement their curriculum."

6. Take Risks

Farrace: "Risks are really just opportunities. When you frame a risk as an opportunity, then, yeah, of course you want to be taking advantage of it.

7. Have a Visionary Focus

Farrace: "Allow the work to be focused by your vision, because there are a million different things that are crossing the principal's desk every day. What is the stuff that matters? The stuff that matters is the stuff that's really going to contribute to your students' learning."

Read the entire article here.

Upgrading Educational Technologies for the 21st Century

James Bennet and Joel Klein
James Bennet and Joel Klein

A discussion between James Bennet, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, with Joel Klein, News Corporation's executive vice president and former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, offered a realistic assessment of some of the political and practical challenges standing in the way of educational technologies. The Atlantic's Technologies in Education Forum on May 22 brought together experts and stakeholders from across sectors for a stimulating, in-depth look at how technology can and should reshape American education. Amy Southerland writes for The Atlantic, May 23, 2012.

Brandon Busteed, executive director at Gallup Education, posed a thought-provoking question: "What is the ultimate outcome of an education?" Joel Klein responded that there are many worthy outcomes--not just one. However, the outcome he worries about the most, is the one where we are failing the most. We must ensure that students "have the skills and knowledge to be effective players in the 21st century."

Paula Kerger, CEO of PBS, pointed out that employers are demanding an array of skills not taught in classrooms and once a child starts behind, they stay behind. Without early education, students are not prepared for what the workplace of the future will require.

Microsoft's Andrea Taylor and Linda Rosen, CEO of Change the Equation, both spoke to the mismatch between the large number fo STEM jobs available and the small pool of college graduates with STEM degrees. As a nation, we aren't cultivating the STEM workers we need to be competitive in the the global marketplace. Though there are ample job opportunities, when young people don't consider STEM careers, there is a disconnect between supply and demand.

New technologies can help empower educators to better prepare our students by increasing student engagement and allowing for individualized learning.

Larry Irving, founder of the Internet Innovation Alliance, called technology "the great equalizer." In a panel discussing the role teachers will play in game-based learning, Dr. Jeanne Paratore, professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Boston University, said that for students who are struggling, "we have power in these games to provide opportunities that aren't there." And Robert Torres, senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, recognized the unique potential of using games that combine high engagement with high cognitive demand to help students achieve mastery using technologies day-to-day.

We have the technology at our fingertips and transformative change is right around the corner.

Engaging Students with Technology in the Classroom

When used effectively, technology plays an important role in enhancing the learning process, engaging students... Even with all of the benefits of technology in the classroom, however, educators must use caution to ensure that students are focusing on the lesson and not giving in to distractions. Jeff Dunn writes for Eduemic, May 5, 2012. 1. Encourage direct engagement. One of the benefits of technology is that students can interact with and learn from lesson materials directly rather than waiting for a passive transfer of information. This hands-on approach to learning helps recall of key ideas.

2. Ask for more particpation.

Technology has made in-class participation easier than ever. With tools like Flow using Kinect-type technology, teachers can encourage even students who do not normally participate in class discussions to share their opinions. Rather than distracting students, used this way, technology gives them a reason to focus and think deeply about what they are learning.

3. Delve into a topic.

Students learn better when they are more engaged with the material and are encouraged to make it their own. Teachers can assign students to complete technology-based projects, including making presentations, analyzing data, and sharing ideas. Technology in the classroom makes this type of learning both easier and faster.

4. Make use of online resources in class.

The great thing about the internet is that there is a whole host of information out there about almost everything. Teachers can find webinars, videos, podcasts, photos, and industry information about topics that students are interested in and present them in class.

5. Assign research topics.

Have students prepare for an upcoming lesson or activity by allowing them to research the topic beforehand using the internet. Teachers can take the opportunity to discuss where to find reliable information online as well as how to synthesize that information into a usable format. When presenting the lesson in class, the students will be more prepared to answer questions and delve deeply into the topic.

6. Use real-world problems.

Older students, especially, appreciate learning about real-life situations and current events. Instructors can encourage students to use technology to research current stock market trends, for example, or to find out information about political campaigns. This knowledge can then be applied to topics that students are studying in class to show them how what they are learning in school has use in a broader context.

7. Review what they've learned.

Technology can also be used as a way that students can review and remember what they have learned over the course of a semester or other period of time. Students may record a video of themselves, for example, listing key facts about a particular subject or explaining that topic to other students. The recitation of these ideas helps students to process what they have learned.

Of course, technology only enhances what excellent instructors do already by giving students increased access to learning materials that support what is happening in the classroom. When technology takes this supporting role in education, students are not distracted, but rather intensely focused on what they are learning.

How have you used technology in your classroom to increase learning? What strategies do you employ to make sure that students are paying attention when technology is being used?

How Ed Tech Can Amplify Children's Curiosity in K-12 Learning

"We’re optimistic that a new wave of edtech startups will radically improve K-12 learning. New platforms and media present us with an incredible opportunity: to redesign learning, to redesign engagement, and to tap into the endless curiosity of every child." Gabriel Adauto and Jacob Klein of Motion Math write for Fast Company's Co.EXIST. Adauto and Klein belive there are 5 opportunities and trends that will leverage our greatest resource: the curiosity inherent in every child:

1. Intuitive interfaces and software make the abstract touchable.

"Keyboards and the mouse prevented young children from having fluid, complex experiences with computers." Our Flow environment uses Kinect technology making interactions effortless and intuitive with our gesture-based learning scenarios.

2. The tools for exploring technology are more accessible.

"Most of the kids we playtest with want to know: 'How can I make a computer game?' " In SMALLab Learning's Particle Interaction Game, student designers and players learn about game systems. Students use our game template to modify rules and determine what it will take to create a balanced and engaging game.

3. There's increased access to curriculum driven by curiosity.

"Technology will broadcast the work of more great educators such as our favorite math teacher, Dan Meyer, whose smart, visual lesson plans are also centered on natural curiosity." Subscribers to the SMALLab Learning Store are able to share scenarios they create, sparking new ideas and teacher innovations through the PDxDesign program and SMALLab Learning developer program. 

4. Cheap factual knowledge encourages deeper learning.

"For more than a decade, Wikipedia has highlighted the absurdity of an education composed of memorizing facts. More exciting are computation engines, in particular Wolfram Alpha, that combine data sets so that children can ask questions about real-world data using natural language." Exploring and learning in a learning environment like SMALLab or Flow, students ask questions, investigate, experiment, and develop theories. Rather than memorizing facts, they learn by doing.

5. Mobile devices allow for situated learning.

"Great teachers have always connected field trips to the classroom and made learning relevant. Today, mobile devices can bring these situated learning experiences to children on a larger scale." Through SMALLab learning environments, students can jump into a virtual petrie dish and watch what happens with molecules in Chemistry Titration. Sunshine Earth takes students to see how orbit effects temperature. Teachers can give a guided tour of STEM subjects in the classroom as students explore and work together. Adauto and Klein feel that in the learning game industry, there is often no effort to make the subject relevant, visual, or integrated. Through the fusing of engagement and learning, games can best tap into the natural drive humans have to learn, explore, and be challenged. All students need to understand and visualize data, see patterns, and be patient, rigorous problem solvers. Students will benefit in the long run from more thoughtful educational technology developments that are also engaging and fun.

Teaching with Digital Games in the Classroom to Increase Learning

Half of K-8 teachers say digital games have become a regular and beneficial part of today's classroom, according to a survey by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a nonprofit research organization that studies children’s learning through digital media. Katie Ash writes for Education Week, May 2, 2012.

The survey, which consisted of responses from a random sample of 505 teachers of those grades across the country in March of this year, found that 50 percent of the teachers reported using digital games in classroom instruction for at least two days a week.

Eighteen percent reported using games daily. Elementary school teachers tended to use digital games more often than middle school teachers did, with 57 percent of K-5 teachers reporting using games compared with 38 percent of middle school teachers.

“We were really surprised by the number of teachers who were using digital games on a very frequent basis,” said Jessica Millstone, a research consultant for the New York City-based Joan Ganz Cooney Center and an adjunct professor at Bank Street College, also in New York.

In the survey, a game was defined as any interactive digital activity, including simulations, in which students participated using any of a variety of devices, such as desktop computers, laptops, tablets, game consoles, and mobile devices.

This video case study shows how Ginger Stevens, a 6th grade special-education teacher at Quest2Learn in New York City, utilizes the intentionally game-like environment of her school to maximize learning for students with special needs. The video shows how Quest2Learn uses their SMALLab installation to increase learning.

STEM Education Technology Trends: Evolving Classrooms

A nationwide push for creating STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) learning opportunities through technology is taking center stage. Learn more about what it looks like and how students are benefiting. Melissa Rowley writes for The Network, April 3, 2012.

AERO from Bill Nye and GameDesk

U.S. students have been falling behind their international peers in STEM, and this poses a serious threat to America's competitive spirit and prosperity. In addition to this, STEM fields offer a smorgasbord of career opportunities that are ripe for the taking. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, jobs in STEM are predicted to increase 17 percent by 2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth in non-STEM-related occupations. That's why a nationwide push for creating STEM learning opportunities through technology is taking center stage.

In today's hyper-connected, non-stop networked atmosphere, kids create, share, and consume content digitally at unprecedented rates. They build their own websites. They make movies on their phones, and they design their own interactive games. However, there is a disconnect between how they're absorbing information recreationally and socially, and how they're learning in school. Textbook learning is no longer enough. Fortunately, video games and virtual learning communities are increasingly being experimented with in the academic world to foster STEM skills for the next generation, a primary goal of the STEM education initiative Change The Equation.

"There was a time not long ago when gaming advocates were swimming upstream against the distrust of those who see video games as the destructive drug of choice for disaffected teenagers and burnouts," said Change The Equation CEO Linda P. Rosen. "That is rapidly changing as more foundations, business leaders and even government leaders, including President Obama, see games as a means of getting students more engaged in substantive STEM learning."

According to the semi-annual report Game Changer: Investing in Digital Play to Advance Children's Learning and Health, video games can help develop STEM skills and systems thinking. There is also evidence that making video games cultivate STEM learning. Game-based learning product publisher, e-Line Ventures, empowers kids to do just that. For the last two years, the company has presented the National STEM Video Game Challenge, which awards students in middle school, high school, and college for developing educational games.

While many kids are naturally engrossed in games, designing them to have the most significant impact in the classroom is a tall task.

The nonprofit research and outreach organization, GameDesk, rises to the occasion. With key collaborative efforts from leaders in academia, school systems, and the entertainment industry, GameDesk is building a library of full-fledge STEM gaming curriculum for students in sixth thru 12th grade.

"For students to develop meaning and sustained STEM interest, they must develop true conceptual understanding of scientific phenomena," shared GameDesk CEO Lucien Vattel. "They must truly understand and know the material in order to effectively engage with it. Our games offer a dynamic model that allows students to view and interact with reality in ways that are not possible in the everyday human experience."

One of the ways GameDesk does this is through embodiment, which generates a learning experience coupled with physical action. For example, in an embodied implementation on "aerodynamics," using the Microsoft Kinect and SMALLab system, students become birds. The game reveals in invisible forces at play. Through this experience, kids begin to "feel" how the vectors, air, wing rotation, and flapping all work together.

GameDesk's emotion management game Dojo shows players how breathing affects their bodies, and will only let them proceed when they're in a place of calm.

Vattel says, "These embodied experiences offer group and classroom options, whereby teachers can more effectively facilitate learning and integrate the activities with group discussion and work."

Ensuring that teachers adopt new ways of integrating technology is crucial when it comes to STEM education. "Technology has the potential to disrupt traditional ways of doing things and engage students in much more authentic, immediate, and hands-on STEM learning experience," shared Rosen. "Yet it will do none of these things if we see it as a mere add-on to the traditional classroom, if we fail to train teachers and students in their use, if we don't link them closely to the wave of national reforms to standards, curriculum and assessment, etc. All too often, technology has, at best, merely supported old, ineffective ways of doing things."

Online lesson content from video networks, such as TED-Ed, the Khan Academy, and MITx are making STEM education mobile and accessible inside and outside of school. These platforms are also allowing students to work at their own pace. Khan's vision for the classroom is to create collaborative learning spaces where students solve problems together, while the teacher focuses on their individual needs, using real-time metrics. In just a few short years, the Khan videos have racked up hundreds of millions of views. (See Side Bar for More Exmaples)

Rosen says that some experts believe this online content can help teachers "flip" lecture and homework, meaning students will watch lectures at home, and then teachers will help them one-on-one with their assignments in class. "Such ‘flipping' could (in time) herald a complete transformation of teachers' roles. Asmall cadre of "star" teachers could be beamed into classrooms across the country and be seen by thousands or even millions of students."

The ability to enable students to learn STEM skills in immersive environments and through digital connectivity is more than a worthy experiment. It's crucial to keeping young people inspired and motivated, and to giving them the keys for putting the U.S. back at the forefront of innovation.

Used with the permission of http://thenetwork.cisco.com/.

New education and technology group LEAD aims to advance digital education

Experts from across the education and technology space formed the Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission. “Our schools are not yet leveraging technology to the fullest extent,” said Margaret Spellings, former Secretary of Education.  “In order to truly close the achievement gap and impact teaching and learning, we must better use technology to customize instruction, improve the use of student data, and deliver content in new and interesting ways.” March 21, 2012, reported from eSchool News:

A new initiative aims to help policy makers better integrate technology in education.

Spurred by calls for change from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED), a group of educational technology stakeholders has formed a new ed-tech advocacy commission that will “develop a blueprint detailing the opportunity for using technology as a catalyst to transform and improve American education.”

The LEAD Commission will be co-chaired by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger; James Coulter, co-founder of private investment firm TPG Capital; former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings; and Common Sense Media Founder and CEO James Steyer.

The commission also will seek to address the following:

  • Which subjects (e.g., math, science, language) or levels (e.g., high school) would benefit most from incorporating digital tools, and under what approaches.
  • Whether or not students are receiving enough guidance on the importance of behaving in a positive and responsible manner online.

“Digital tools are crucial for STEM subjects, and you might say it’s almost impossible to teach those subjects without digital tools and media. But digital platforms are increasingly important for many other areas, including history and English/language arts,” said Common Sense Media’s Steyer.  “As a country, we must make sure [teachers] have the best tools, and the guidance they need to make the most of those tools.”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said he believes the group’s forthcoming blueprint “will chart a course to ensure that educational technology will help prepare students to compete in the 21st-century global economy.”

“Technology isn’t an option that schools may or may not choose for their kids. Technological competency is a requirement for entry into the global economy—and the faster we embrace it, the more we maintain and secure our economic leadership in the 21st century,” said Education Education Arne Duncan.

What if Video Games Are Actually Good for our Kids?

In their paper "The Cognitive Neuroscience of Video Games" published in December 2004, Dr's Green and Bavelier concluded that "video games provide a medium that facilitates learning, and thus promotes changes in performance and brain organization, has led some to propose that video games are the teaching tool of choice of the 21st century." Robert Whent writes for The Huffington Post, March 16, 2012.

Cognition is defined as the scientific term for mental processes -- that is, how we learn. Since we all learn differently, it only makes sense that we all have different learning profiles.

Not only can video games determine cognitive strengths and weaknesses, but, as Green and Bavelier state, "video game play has been shown to enhance numerous aspects of visual attention including the ability to divide and switch attention, the temporal and spatial resolution of visual attention, and the number of objects that can be attended." So not only can video game play determine a child's cognitive strengths and weakness, but if played properly, they can also be used to strengthen those weaknesses, thus improving cognition over time!

SMALLab games in the classroomBrain fitness is a growing field that Sharp Brains estimates will be between $2 billion and $8 billion by 2015. An important part of education must be to give every child a more a strong brain. Physical changes in the brain underlie all of the learning that children do. It is possible to actually change their neurology positively so that they can take in more information more quickly. We know that, designed properly, video games can actually help a child's brain develop, and can help children with learning disabilities exercise the parts of their brains that are not as strong as they should be. With a constant feedback loop provided by adaptive technology, it is possible to use video games to identify and improve cognitive abilities in all children.

Read the whole story from The Huffington Post.

Kinect in the Classroom: Scratching the Surface of Potential

First-grade teacher Cheryl Arnett introduced Kinect into her classroom at Sunset Elementary School in Craig, Colo., and has been delighted by the results, which include outstanding standardized test scores. Microsoft is working with schools across the U.S. that are testing using Kinect in the classroom to develop “21st century skills.” March 6, 2012, in a Microsoft Feature Story...


“Bringing technology into the classroom inspires them,” she said. “Their lives are different than ours were, and just giving them a book and a worksheet is not always appropriate anymore. I’m fascinated by Kinect. There’s power for kids in things that capture their interest and are also something they can learn from. We’ve barely scratched the surface of where this can go; it’s limited only by our imaginations.”

Gaming is not a new idea in the classroom – what is new is Kinect, which offers a human user interface that creates a rich and simulated world that participants can be involved in. “We have the ability to get data behind game play to help inform instruction,” said Cameron Evans, National and Chief Technology Officer for U.S. Education at Microsoft. "The potential behind bringing gaming to education is immense."

The majority of time spent playing video games, the gamer is failing, he said. Yet when a player fails in a game, they come back again and again until they get it right. Bringing gaming to education could help a student who fails a math test, for example, keep trying until they get it right.

“I was a high school math teacher for 10 years, and I knew I wasn’t reaching all of the students. I knew I was missing something,” said Robin Angotti, now an associate professor of math education at the University of Washington-Bothell.

She went back to school to get a Ph.D. in math education. Then she got “bit by the research bug,” which is how she came across Kinect and decided to create a math app that would bridge the gap between the abstract formulas and the real world her students live and breathe in.

“Math is a gatekeeper. If kids don’t get into algebra by their freshman year of high school, they’re off track to major in any kind of STEM [science, technology, engineering or math] field,” Angotti said. “It’s really interesting – data shows that math is a favorite subject when kids are younger. Somewhere in the middle school years, when they’re starting to have to abstract (when math moves from the concrete world of addition, subtraction and multiplication to the more abstract equations of geometry and algebra), we’re losing them. This piece of software makes math less abstract.”

“It’s amazing. I think we’ve only scratched the surface. I see so many applications for education,” Angotti said. “We’re not just saying here’s the equation, or telling them what to do and having them repeat it. It’s a phenomenon where they can reach up and touch the equation, and move it around. All of a sudden they’re asking different questions, and there’s this sense of understanding.”

Technology and Kinect have earned a permanent place in Cheryl Arnett's classroom, "There are a lot of things I don’t know the answers to, but I’m willing to work with them, and find the answers with them. We need to be the facilitators, the ones who make these opportunities available. This is important. Learning is real.”

Read the whole story from the Microsoft News Center...

How Do We Know When Students Are Engaged?

Educational author and former teacher, Dr. Michael Schmoker shares in his book, Results Now, a study that found of 1,500 classrooms visited, 85 percent of them had engaged less than 50 percent of the students. In other words, only 15 percent of the classrooms had more than half of the class at least paying attention to the lesson. So, how do they know if a student is engaged? What do "engaged" students look like? Teacher-Directed Learning You will see students...

  • Paying attention (alert, tracking with their eyes)
  • Taking notes (particularly Cornell)
  • Listening (as opposed to chatting, or sleeping)
  • Asking questions (content related, or in a game, like 21 questions or I-Spy)
  • Responding to questions (whole group, small group, four corners, Socratic Seminar)
  • Following requests (participating, Total Physical Response (TPR), storytelling, Simon Says)
  • Reacting (laughing, crying, shouting, etc.)

Student-Directed Learning You see students individually or in small groups...

  • Reading critically (with pen in hand)
  • Writing to learn, creating, planning, problem solving, discussing, debating, and asking questions)
  • Performing/presenting, inquiring, exploring, explaining, evaluating, and experimenting)
  • Interacting with other students, gesturing and moving

The solution is simple: If a teacher wants to increase student engagement, then the teacher needs to increase student activity -- ask the students to do something with the knowledge and skills they have learned. Break up the lecture with learning activities. Let them practice. Get them moving. Get them talking. Make it so engaging that it will be difficult for students not to participate.

The ultimate engagement is to put the learner in charge of learning. Create a rich learning environment and a motivation to learn, and the students do all the hard work of learning, while the teacher merely facilitates.

SMALLab Learning specializes in creating rich learning scenarios, custom-made motivators and engaging learning content. With Flow, students are up out of their seats - playfully engaged - and physically moving as they learn. We have a track record of research demonstrating that embodied learning has a positive impact on student achievement.

ben-johnsonFrom a special blog series from Edutopia, March 1st, 2012. Ben Johnson served as an administrator in large and small schools, and at a charter school. He was the assistant superintendent of the Natalia Independent School District where he helped bring about major improvements in student learning.

Educators in Search of Common-Core Teaching Resources

States and districts are working to turn academic standards into curriculum and instruction, searching for teaching resources but the search has been frustrating and fruitless. Teachers and curriculum developers trying to capture the Common Core State Standards find their materials fall short and there is nothing to fill this void. SMALLab Learning offers Professional Development by Design to as a solution. Catherine Gewertz writes for Education Week, February 29, 2012.


The states that have adopted the standards—and districts in those states—have been responding to the need for knowledge and resources in a variety of ways, sharing information online and at "summer academy" convenings.

Even as such resources can help educators shape curriculum, they can’t address the need some feel to have lesson plans available immediately, said Mike Shaughnessy, the president of the Reston, Va.-based National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, one of the Math Common Core Coalition members.

“Teachers want something right away, but I say, ‘Look, this is going to take some time. We have to stay the course.’ Lots of folks are working on this, and there will be some good things,” he said. “But it will take some time.”

Much of the push to produce common-core resources is—and should be—about changing teaching, said Barbara A. Kapinus, a senior policy analyst at the National Education Association.

“Many conversations about ‘creating resources’ are really about professional development,” she said. “What we need is not a bunch of lesson plans online. It’s not a simple matter of step A, step B, then step C.

SMALLab Learning has been committed to developing and refining learning modules that capture K-12 Common Core State Standards for the classroom, with a clear identification of how these modules fit into learning curriculum. Together with teachers through our Professional Development by Design program, developers create scenarios for our learning environments that are embodied and engaging, custom fit to student learning levels and designed to help them achieve.

Computer Technology Increases Classroom Learning

Research done at Concordia is set out to answer the question: Does computer technology have a positive overall effect on learning in the classroom? The research was expanded from a doctoral thesis by the study's first author, Rana Tamim, and involved a team from Concordia's Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance.

Concordia researchers are looking not so much at whether computer technology in the classroom has a positive effect, but under what circumstances positive effects are observed. Engaging game simulations and learning environments achieve this in the classroom.

"Where technology does have a positive impact is when it actively engages students, when it's used as a communication tool, when it's used for things like simulations or games that enable students to actively manipulate the environment," said professor Richard Schmid, chairman of the education department at Concordia University in Montreal.

Brenda Branswell writes for The Windsor Star, February 21, 2012.

For example, rather than just reading about photosynthesis in a science class, with a computer simulation you can change the conditions - increase or decrease the amount of light or water to dynamically examine the phenomenon, Schmid said.

SMALLab Chemistry Titration

In a SMALLab environment, students are able to jump into a "virtual petri dish" projected onto the floor. They use the tracked object to “grab” molecules from the sidelines and insert them into the flask. They are encouraged to discuss how the molecules react and to note how the PH levels change. See our Chemistry Titration Lab.

"And that's where it has really positive impact."

Read the whole story from The Windsor Star...

Schools seeing improvement in math scores as students play video games

The Clark County School District released on Tuesday the positive preliminary results from a five-year pilot initiative that brought the "ST Math" software to seven of the valley’s lowest-performing elementary schools: Bonner, Cortez, Decker, Diaz, McCall, Sewell and Ward. The pilot program has grown since its inception in 2009 to 32 schools, with more than 10,000 participating students this year. February 8, 2012, Paul Takahashi writes for Las Vegas Sun. school_improvement_in_math

Developed in 1998 by Mind Research Institute — a California-based nonprofit education group — "ST Math" teaches abstract math concepts through video game-like instruction. The game is geared toward elementary students and remedial middle school students, who guide a virtual penguin named JiJi through a series of increasingly more difficult levels and learn math concepts as they play along.

Plenty of educational software has been developed for students over the decades, but many have focused on textbook-style lesson plans complemented by game-like practice problems, said Andrew Coulson, Mind Research’s president of education.

“This isn’t a textbook on a computer,” he said of the “ST Math” software. “To get transformational changes in learning outcomes, you need a different learning environment.”

At Sewell, the percentage of third- and fourth-grade students proficient in math — as measured by standardized test scores — jumped 8 percentage points between the first year of implementation in 2009 to the second.

The Henderson elementary school — which has a 60 percent poverty rate — also saw a 14 percentage point improvement in average test scores, according to Mind Research.

“There’s no achievement gap in a video game,” Coulson said, paraphrasing a colleague. “There’s a mindset that everyone can beat a video game. With this (math game), you can’t say that some kids can do math and others can’t.”

District-wide, schools using “ST Math” had more than doubled the percentage of students meeting or exceeding math standards on the state-mandated Criterion Referenced Test, compared with schools without the program, according to Mind Research.

Read the whole story from Las Vegas Sun...

White House office studies benefits of video games

Constance Steinkueler is studying the civic potential of video games and is on an 18-month assignment at the White House. As an analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Steinkuehler is shaping the Obama administration's policies around games that improve health, education, civic engagement and the environment, among other areas. February 1, 2012, Greg Toppo writes for USA Today. White-House-studies-video-games-40U7JTM-x-large

Recent research shows that video games now reach across demographic and generational lines with the advent of cell phone and casual games changing the face of the typical gamer. Researchers are also finding that video games make exceptional teaching machines. President Obama wants to create "educational software that's as compelling as the best video game" that teaches you something other than just blowing something up.

Steinkuehler is tasked with helping to develop "big, save-the-world games" across subject areas and platforms. "I want them to be top-notch, super-high-quality games. I want great educational content and beautiful design."

Read the whole story from USA Today...

Gaming for Grades - Video Games in Education

The debate over video games in education continues in Luke Thomas’ article in The Escapist, January 9th, 2012, “Will Grind for Grades” and SMALLab Learning leads the industry.

The real question, however, is not whether children want arcades in their classrooms. It's whether these programs improve learning. The good news is they do. The motion-capture rig, for instance, is called a "SMALLab." A peer-reviewed journal published a study in 2009 found that SMALLab programs that taught chemical titration and geology to high school students caused them to score significantly better on tests than students who received typical earth science instruction. The study also found that the kids interacted more during the lessons, helping each other learn. The conclusion was that SMALLab "is poised for broad dissemination into mainstream K-12 contexts."

Another hope is that when classrooms integrate digital media, their graduates will be equipped to marshal the dizzying capabilities of advanced software programs and online networks. This area, too, has recorded some big results. Dr. Nichole Pinkard, a guru of the movement based in Chicago, performed a 3-year study on a group of kids in an afterschool program called the Digital Youth Network. The subject class was from an underprivileged Chicago district with limited access to digital media at home. As a control group, Pinkard used a class of the same age in Silicon Valley. At the beginning of 6th grade, 96% of the Chicago group had less experience and expertise with digital media than the kids in Silicon Valley. By the end of their 8th grade year, however, 84% of the Chicago group had more expertise and had produced more digital output than their Silicon Valley counterparts.

The success of the Quest to Learn schools, and the development of virtual teaching systems like SMALLab indicate that educators would love to harness the unique way that games excite the human mind. Before the current education gaming renaissance created this enthusiasm, it may not have been possible to convince public educators to collaborate with those responsible for sapping so much of the attention of a generation. Now, however, the time is ripe to game the system.

Read the whole story...

But Are They Really Learning? Evaluating Student Engagement

motionmath_hungryfishMotion Math co-founders, Jacob Klein and Gabriel Adauto, have just announced the results of a recent study evaluating student engagement with their iPad app. It is easy to think that through the use of good pedagogical and usability principles learning is happening. Motion Math decided to put one of their apps, a fractions estimation game for the iPad, to the test. Professor Michelle Riconscente, an expert in educational technology and assessment at USC, was commissioned through a grant from the Noyce Foundation to determine if Motion Math HD helped children master estimation of fractions on the number line and gave the students a more positive attitude toward learning fractions. motion_math_hd_-_pie_chartsThe test items were taken from the California Standards Test (CST), the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

GameDesk recently published the results of Riconscente's study of 122 5th graders. The  main findings showed students who played Motion Math for 20 minutes for five days improved on a fractions test by an average of 15%. Students' attitudes towards fractions improved 10%. Overall students rated the game as fun and that it helped them learn.

While some reviewers feel this is overkill, Motion Math believes scientific methods are necessary to create a design process that moves educational product design forward. Without studies such as this one, "How can parents and teachers be configent that a learning app actually helps children learn?"

Read the full story "But Are They Really Learning? The First Controlled Study of an iPad Learning App" December 21, 2011, Cooney Center Blog.

Videogames Promote Creative Thinking in Children

In a study done by Michigan State University, researchers asked 491 middle-school students to test their creative thinking skills with tasks such as drawing pictures and writing stories as part of the Children and Technology Project funded by the National Science Foundation. November 2, 2011, ScienceDaily writes:video_games Linda Jackson, professor of psychology and lead researcher on the project, said the study appears to be the first evidence-based demonstration of a relationship between technology use and creativity. About 72 percent of U.S. households play video or computer games, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

The MSU findings should motivate game designers to identify the aspects of video game activity that are responsible for the creative effects, Jackson said.

"Once they do that, video games can be designed to optimize the development of creativity while retaining their entertainment values such that a new generation of video games will blur the distinction between education and entertainment," Jackson said.

Read the full article here.

Journal Reference:

Linda A. Jackson, Edward A. Witt, Alexander Ivan Games, Hiram E. Fitzgerald, Alexander von Eye, Yong Zhao. Information technology use and creativity: Findings from the Children and Technology. Computers in Human Behavior, 2011 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2011.10.006

Conceptual Blending as a Model for Student Thinking

Conceptual Blending as a Model for Student ThinkingThe theories of Conceptual Blending and Distributed Cognition are useful models for interpreting the cognitive processes that occur in the course of student interactions during collaborative learning activities in the Situated Multimedia Arts Learning Laboratory (SMALLab)—a hybrid digital-physical space. When both experts and “Just Plain Folks” (Brown et al.) engage in routine problem solving, they call upon an array of resources, both mental and physical. They may identify and list relevant features of the problem space, make drawings or diagrams, perform calculations using a calculator or spreadsheet, and activate memories of similar problems they have encountered that might serve as a useful guide. Often they call upon a friend, relative or colleague and for help.

This collection of resources transcends the bounds of the individual skull and in order to study cognition in this context, we must employ a theoretical model and unit of analysis that allows for the inclusion of tools, artifacts, representations and other people in addition to a single individual’s mental models. The Theory of Distributed Cognition (Hollan et al.) provides an apt description of this group dynamic.

Conceptual Blending (Fauconnier and Turner) has proven to be a useful framework for understanding the reasoning processes that take place within such units of analysis (Megowan and Zandieh). These researchers describe what takes place in three phases: (1) mapping thoughts from input spaces into a blended space which may include anchoring the concepts using words, pictures, diagrams or other tools, (2) filling in details and coordinating elements from the two input spaces in order to complete the new knowledge structure in a blended space, and finally (3) elaborating or manipulating the newly assembled concept to see what new insights it reveals. They call this last step “running the blend”.

This approach to problem solving is seen less often in the typical K-12 classroom setting where most of the discourse is between teacher and individual student, but in classrooms where collaborative problem solving is routinely practiced, students learning gains are significantly greater than those of students in traditional classrooms (Modeling Instruction Findings).

SMALLab is a learning environment where Distributed Cognition and Conceptual Blending provide good descriptions of student reasoning in cooperation with one another. We illustrate this with transcript excerpts from high school science and language arts classes, and explore the potential advantages of embodiment that are designed into this cutting edge learning environment.

Katie Salen discusses Learning with Games

Katie SalenKatie Salen, active game designer, founder of Quest to Learn (Q2L), and executive director of the Institute of Play, talks about the value of games and technology and the empowerment of play. Check out the video here: http://www.edutopia.org/digital-generation-katie-salen-video.  Students at Q2L are using SMALLab as part of their innovative set of curricula and tools for game-based learning.