Truth About Tech Use & Focus

The decreasing level of attention span in our…what was I saying?

Technology is providing amazing and entertaining new ways of learning and doing that were not available years ago. Students have access to countless sources of information, and knowledge. They also spend countless hours viewing a multitude of sites designed distract, entertain and engage their attention, often in the classroom, while they should be paying attention to the lesson. With policies in school boards that encourage students to bring their own devices (BYOD) to school, is it any wonder that teachers struggle with keeping the minds of their students on task?

Even in the “real world” adults in the worlds of business and industry easily fall prey to the countless distractions available through social networking, emails, twitter feeds, and even checking the stock market every 5 minutes.

It seems apparent that our society is changing at its core. As technology is becoming more invasive in our everyday lives, we can see the results can be disastrous at times. In one example, cities and counties around Canada are adopting laws that are geared a cutting down on distracted driving, as people are being killed or are sustaining life-altering injuries because they cannot put their cell phone down.

What is the story behind this fight for our attention? What can we do about it?

What is technology doing to our brain?

Though research in this area is taking place, it is still early in its development. In the field of neuroscience, professionals like Dr. Gary Small are studying the effects of technology on the brain. In an article, Dr.Small (2008) states that our brains are developing and learning to master the ability to process and respond to multiple digital stimuli which in turn provide instant gratification. These changes do lead to shorter attention spans and a lack of interest in other activities that provide a delayed reward like reading or even watching a longer television program or movie.

This information coincides with other research conducted by specialists such as Dr. Rich who also believe that the brains of our young people are being habituated to distraction and away from focus.

How can we help ourselves? How do we, as educators, cope with this in the classroom?

What can we do?

In some articles, researchers like Dr. Taylor (2012, December 4) suggest that it may not be a case of technology being all bad, but about which technology children use and in its frequency of use.  Others such as della Cava (2010, August 4) also take a very common sense approach in suggesting that we need to monitor ourselves and teach our students and children to set limits on use and take breaks.

The reality is that developments in technology are going to keep coming. We need not take the position as many did in the 1970s and 1980s thinking that television would destroy the brains of our youth. It did not, and technology, if used properly with self-discipline will not.

Since we have such vast tools at our disposal, I encourage educators to rise to the occasion. Put a few past teaching practices aside. Take interest in a new digital tool or two this month. Find a way to connect with your students at their level. Personally, in trying to incorporate more technology, I am seeing greater engagement and enjoyment in my students.

Help Yourself

If it is you who is struggling with finding a good balance with technology, there are a variety of online tools and resources available to you to help with distraction.  A few tools to get your started are listed below. Hang in there!

1.Focus (Mac)

2.Focusbooster (Mac/PC)

3.Freedomto (Mac/PC)

4.Dejal:Time Out (Mac)

Making the Cut with Audacity 2.1.2

microphone-audio-computer-sound-recording-55800.jpeg

Overview

Description

Audacity 2.1.2 is an updated version of the Audacity audio recording freeware program. It allows users to record, edit and create audio files in a variety of formats (e.g., MP3, .WAV, .MID) This tool enables anyone, anywhere, the capability to create high quality, audio tracks for playlists, podcasts and even video projects.  Whether you are a teacher, musician, beatboxer or audio recording hobbyist, this tool is for you.

Key educational benefits of this tool:

  • Use this tool to record student presentations, and musical or dramatic performances
  • Create and send short audio clips to students for immediate feedback
  • Use Audacity to easily create Podcasts of lessons, or teach students how to create their own podcasts
  • Students can record and edit musical performances to publish in portfolios or for reflective exercises
  • Audacity provides the potential for teaching students how to sample, create loops and create backing tracks for beatboxing or rapping
  • Use to support ESL students in practicing and reviewing their new language

Access Details and Cost

Audacity 2.1.2 is a free download! No cost is required for the full version of the program. Donations to the creators of the program are suggested but not required.

Audacity is a multi-platform program available for both Apple AND Microsoft.

 

Getting Started

Teaching Ideas

Idea 1 – Speech Preparation and Feedback (Grade 7, Language Arts)

Learning to speak clearly and effectively in front of an audience can be challenging and quite threatening. Audacity provides a way to rehearse, listen to, polish and re-record an oral presentation. In addition, if you have a particularly shy student, you can provide recording their speech as an alternative.

Want to create some instant feedback for the students? Record your comments on your phone or mobile device, then save and send it to your computer. Audacity can open the file and allow you to copy, cut or paste any segment of your recording to be used to help your students in their journey of learning. Just sent them the file.

Idea 2 – Readers/ Radio Theatre (Grade 6, Reading/ Oral Communication)

Want to provide your students with a realistic way to present their drama or script reading? Why not have them record it in Audacity to create a radio play? They can listen to the file, edit or re-record and even add sound effects, and background music.

Idea 3 – Instrumental Music Recording Projects (Grade 7 – 12)

One of the best ways for students to improve at playing their instrument is to be able to listen to their own performance and reflect on it. Using Audacity, students can record their performances, both individually and in groups. They can even create multi-track recordings one track at and time and combine them for a truly complex sounding piece of music.

Are your students needing to create an audition recording for college or university? Audacity makes it easy and free to create quality sound recordings to use for their application portfolio.

Idea 4 – Sound Editing, Mixing and Sampling (Grade 10/11 Music, Open)

Are your students interested in pursuing a career in sound engineering or computer technology? Programs like Audacity allow for easy entry into these complex areas. With many great informational websites and “how to” videos available, students can get right into recording, editing, and sampling with just a computer with a microphone.

Idea 5 – Podcast Interviews with Historical/ Cultural Figures (Grade 12, Canadian History)

Are you tired of having your students complete the same old presentations in front of the class yet again? With Audacity, they can create professional sounding podcasts to present their knowledge about anything from geographical regions to Canadian history the 1940’s. Why not have them record an interview with a member of the community and make it into a podcast to share with the class? It’s easy with Audacity.

Helpful Resources

Resource 1 – Complete Tutorial for Beginners

A full explanation of the various aspects of using Audacity 2.1.2 for beginners. Functions and terminology are clearly explained.

Resource 2 – Complete Operations Manual

The complete text based resource to answer all your questions about Audacity 2.1.2

Resource 3 – How to Create a Podcast in Audacity

Interested in creating your own podcasts? This brief tutorial will show you the basics of creating one.

Resource 4 – Recording a Song with Audacity

This is a VERY detailed video of how to create a music recording with melody and background track. It also explores some editing options and effects.

Resource 5 – How to Create a Rap with Audacity

Ever want to try your hand at rap? Thought your students might enjoy some rhythm with your poetry unit? This is how we do it. (Caution: contains some explicit lyrics)

Author

Submitted by Mark McPhail

Email: mark.mcphail@uoit.ca

Twitter: @treblebasschal1

Bio: Mr. McPhail is a musician, teacher, and student of technology.  He has taught in a variety of grades and subjects over the last 18 years. Currently, Mr. McPhail teaches high school music for the Peel District School Board.  His passion is to see students, not only survive, but thrive in their teenage years.

Get your Students Coding with CodeCombat

Learn programming through live coding in an immersive multiplayer strategy game.

Written by: Josh Charpentier

Overview

Description

CodeCombat is a gaming platform that allows users to learn computer sciences. Users explore this web-based sword-and-sorcery game by programming characters with Python or Javascript coding languages. These programming platforms allow players to command their on-screen warrior, ranger, or wizard into action, navigating the character through the level, engage in battle, and destroying foes. Gamers are rewarded for devising clean programming solutions. However, if the user writes a buggy code or fails to find an appropriate solution, their character will wander through the level or could be destroyed by an enemy. This results in the player investing in trial and error strategies, experimentation, and collaboration with peers to find solutions. The player can also access in-game video tutorials to learn new coding strategies.

Key educational benefits of this tool:

  • Students learn and develop skills in computer science and web development.
  • CodeCombat motivates children to learn programming languages through a fun and engaging platform.
  • The important principles of coding and the step-by-step introduction of the syntax of various programming languages aids in students becoming proficient in computer science and web development.

Access Details and Cost

Free Version

  • Clicking on the Play Now button allows the user to create a character and start coding without creating an account. User progress will NOT be recoverable if the user leaves the game.
  • An individual can create a free account, by clicking here. This will allow the user to maintain in-game progression when re-entering the game.

Paid Version (Teacher and Classroom Users)

  • A teacher can create a classroom account. Each student is assigned a license and classroom code for logging into the system. The student would click on the I’m a Student button and then enter the classroom code to gain access to the game.
  • The first course (20 levels) offered to classrooms is free. However, additional courses can cost $25-$50 CAD per student per year depending on which course licenses the teacher wishes to purchase.
  • The pay for access site offers extra levels and in-game video tutorials.
  • The teacher will have access to resources and course guides to help students with programming.

Paid Version (Individual User)

  • For $9.99 US/month individual users can create an account, access premium levels, receive weekly challenges, and have email support from professional programmers.

Getting Started

Teaching Ideas

The following teaching activities can be applied to any class ranging from grades 2-12.

Idea 1 – Coding Competitions (Game Development, Computer Sciences and Mathematics)

Use CodeCombat to create coding competitions. Students will be divided into equal teams. Within their teams, students will write code for a level entitled Wakka Maul. Students will use mathematical concepts to develop code, observe how the code fares against their classmates, and then students will make improvements and resubmit.

Idea 2 – Engineering Challenge (Computer Sciences and Mathematics)

Engineering is all about tackling problems, but the first rule of engineering is that you might not get it right the first time through. Use CodeCombat to teach students about the Engineering Cycle of thought. First, students will DESIGN a solution to a problem that is presented by the teacher on the level Power Peak. Students will identify the issues and break it down into smaller parts. This includes problem-solving and finding mathematical patterns in code. Then students IMPLEMENT their design, which is putting their ideas into action. Third, they TEST their solution. Does it work? Is the problem resolved? If the test fails, students have to decide if it was because of the design or the implementation of their program. Students can discuss issues openly and collaborate on finding solutions.

Idea 3 – Reflective Writing (English and Computer Sciences)

Students can write reflections about their progression through the CodeCombat levels. The teacher can also encourage students to use coding vocabulary that has been gained through different levels of the game. The teacher could have students contemplate questions, like:

  • Do you know more code now than in the beginning? What skills do you have now that you didn’t have before?
  • What advice would you give someone just starting out in CodeCombat?
  • What kind of strategies do you use when you encounter an obstacle?

Idea 4 – Headlines and Headers (Web Development and English)

CodeCombat offers courses in web development. Students can apply their skills to writing in HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Students can write a paragraph regarding any topic, and then they can apply the elements like <p>, <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, <h4>, <h5>, <h6> to the left margin of their writing. Students can then apply additional elements of basic syntax, headers, images, and organization to design a webpage. Once students have placed the desired elements into their work, webpages are automatically published to a custom URL so that students can easily share their finished work with others.

Idea 5 – Boss Level (Computer Sciences, Mathematics and English)

Students will work collaboratively to find a creative way of defeating this boss. Students also have to apply skills in mathematics and computer sciences to develop solutions for collecting coins, hiring mercenaries, and to heal their hero (character). Students can work in pairs and they can share their strategies and tips with other teams. Students can make observations about the level on grid paper before tackling this level, and then teams can plan out their solutions.

Helpful Resources


About the Author

Josh Charpentier has been an elementary school teacher for 10 years. He has taught in the Bronx, New York, and is currently working for the P.V.N.C.C.D.S.B. in Peterborough, Ontario. He started the graduate program at UOIT in 2013 and has been completing his Master of Education degree as a part-time student for 4 years. From his experience in elementary school, he definitely sees the potential benefits of introducing computer sciences and web development teachings to students in elementary classrooms and is a proponent of technology integration in education.

email: joshua.charpentier@uoit.net   Twitter: jjncharpentier

Quizlet: Do You Need It? You Decide!

Study on the go, challenge your friends and engage your students with a fun and mobile quiz application.

Overview

Quizlet is an online study tool available on any device (desktop, iOS, and Android) for students and teachers to practice learning in an engaging way. Any age group of students can use Quizlet either in class, individually or with friends (see how they started).

Key Benefits:

    • Study on the go with Quizlet.
    • Encourage students to take ownership of their learning.
    • Promote in-class engagement using Quizlet Live.

Getting Started

To appreciate the benefits of using Quizlet, you will have first to create a study set and determine how you will deliver the content to the class using the many different study mode options. Below are two videos to help you get started using Quizlet.

Teaching Ideas

Idea 1 – Visual Knowledge Practice (K-12/Higher Ed)

Placing an image in any Quizlet study mode allows the student to review a picture and define what it is they see. An example would be a series of famous paintings from a particular art period where students are required to identify characteristics of the era or movement. The quiz could prompt them to determine the name of the artist’s style, the period, the artist’s name and name of the work. Students can add levels of complexity to their quiz questions as their knowledge on the subject evolves.

Idea 2 – Audio Knowledge Practice (General/K-12)

Using Spell study mode, students can review and test their vocabulary knowledge and “type what they hear” when they hear the audio. Users can also set up Quizlet to read descriptions of an object and have the student identify what it is that they hear labeled. Listening to audio allows students with accessibility challenges to participate and for all students to strengthen their listening skills.

Idea 3 – Vocabulary Strengthening (General/K-12)

Students studying vocabulary can review definitions or attributes of a word or phrase using Quizlet Flashcards. Images can be used to support student memory through repetition delivered in a fun game (remember images are only available in the paid versions). Adjectives can be provided to help students identify the word (noun) associated with the attribute. Students can use descriptive keywords in any language and can assist in strengthening their comprehension. Teachers can create their study sets or choose to explore other educator’s quizzes. Students are also able to search existing quizzes that may support their learning or decide to set up their own.

Helpful Resources

Quizlet.com | How Can Teachers Use Quizlet
A step-by-step guide to setting up your class on Quizlet

Edshelf.com | Quizlet Review
Video: Educator’s overview of Quizlet used for a secondary English class

Ditchthattextbook.com | Game Show Classrooms
Educator’s review of Quizlet, Kahoot and Quizalize features

PCMag.com | Quizlet Review
The pros and cons of using Quizlet

Cost

Free Version

  • Quizlet is available for free with a variety product features. Quizlet for free is available for desktop, mobile (iOS and Android) and is also available as a Google Chrome app.

Paid Version

  • Quizlet Plus is available for $19.99 USD/1 Year or 2 and 3-year discounted subscriptions. Quizlet Plus enables users to create their voice recordings, add their images, study over time with Long-Term learning and study ad-free.
  • Quizlet Teacher is available for $34.99 USD per year. School discounts are available for multiple users and larger groups. Quizlet Teacher enables teachers the ability to add their voice recordings, images and search teacher-created content. Additionally, teachers can use features for managing multiple class activity and student progress. Teachers with a Quizlet Teacher account will receive a specialized “Teacher” badge next to their user name, which means faster support when you need it.

3 Ways to Support Technology in Education (without breaking the bank)

Students today have a lot on their plates, such as school, jobs, volunteer commitments, extracurricular activities, home responsibilities and of course, their social life.

According to Statistics Canada, 85% of Canadians have access to a home computer, 87% have access to home Internet, and 86% have cellular phones.

Good, right?

No.

Why?

Because there are still 15% of households who do not have a cell phone or a computer or an Internet connection and out of that 15%, 42% are from low-income families.

These might be your students next year; they might currently be your students, and they might not tell you about the challenges they face.

We, as educators, can’t fix Canada’s internet access problems (the CRTC is handling that).

What can educators do to help bridge the technological divide in your school and classroom?

A Tech Swap

Similar to a ski swap, communities are invited to participate in a technology sale where participants drop off gently used technology meeting a specific standard (e.g. Under five years old) and can sell it on consignment it for a reduced price or choose to donate the item. A Tech Swap provides students with smaller budgets to access modern technology for a fraction of the original price. The key point here is that the tech cannot be obsolete and has to be able to run the latest operating systems to support the applications used. An online event or a community posting that provides the details of the swap is a good way to ensure people know what schools and students need.

Crowdfunding or Cause Funding

A crowdfunding initiative using GoFundMe or Booster could be helpful for an educator looking to support their classroom technology by setting a goal and requesting donations. Social media can be leveraged to help get the message out about the funding, why the need, and who is initiating the campaign. It is important to outline the funds are being raised to support technology inclusion in the classroom. Bonus points if you can get your local news publications and businesses to help promote it.

Booster allows users to create and sell t-shirts for donations. Students can be involved in the entire campaign process where they are responsible for concept development and design of the t-shirts.

In the U.S. there is a site called DonorsChoose.org, which is used by educators to set up projects for their classrooms to receive financial support. DonorsChoose.org enables individuals to donate to the programs of their choice in any denomination, which enables contributing to a local community cause very simple.

Invest in the Students

In a report conducted by Media Insights, Canadian educators identified “lack of technical support and maintaining software and hardware” as being the number one concern when using technology in their classrooms (Johnson, 2016). As part of the commitment to technology in education, it could be both constructive and inclusive to provide students the opportunity to form a “Tech Support” club, where teams of students can create a group and provide IT support to faculty and staff during scheduled extracurricular programming. Using the student talent pool is a win-win for both participants and school staff. Placing some ownership on the students to contribute to the technology support requirements can help alleviate some of the frustrations surrounding the integration of technology into the curriculum.

I would love to hear how your schools have overcome financial barriers to creating inclusiveness in your classrooms when it comes to technology-supported learning.

Please share in the comments below.


References

Dobby, C. (2016). CRTC rules high-speed Internet a basic service, sets targets. The Globe and Mail.

Dwelling characteristics and household equipment, by province (Canada). (2015). Statcan.gc.ca.

Johnson, M. (2016). Connected to Learn: Teachers’ Experiences with Networked Technologies in the Classroom | MediaSmarts. Mediasmarts.ca.

The Daily — Canadian Internet Use Survey, 2012. (2013). Statcan.gc.ca.

Kaizena: Terrific Tool for Giving Meaningful Feedback to Students

Online program is easy to learn and navigate. Allows teachers to give personalized feedback on student work.

Overview

Kaizena is a student feedback program that allows instructors to provide meaningful and personalized commentary on submitted work. Teachers have the ability to highlight specific areas of submitted work (sentences, words, or paragraphs) and leave audio or written feedback for that highlighted area. This is an effective tool for both blended and online classes as it allows for teachers an intimate setting where feedback on student work is specific and finely tuned to student’s needs.

Getting Started

Do you dread sitting down and marking student work? Kaizena offers an amazing alternative where assessing student work becomes a rewarding experience for both teachers and students. Check out this short video on how to get started on Kaizena!

Teaching Ideas

Idea 1- Provide Personalized Feedback

Kaizena allows teachers to provide detailed written and audio feedback to student work. Teachers can highlight specific sections of student work and link that area to written or audio feedback.

Idea 2- Connect Lessons to Student Work

Through Kaizena teachers are able to construct a group of lessons, for example a YouTube video detailing how to use APA Citations, and link that lesson directly to the specific area of student work. This tool allows students to be linked directly to lessons to see where they might have gone wrong or alternatively where they went right.

Idea 3- Connect Feedback directly with Assessment Criteria

Teachers are able to highlight specific areas of student work and provide a leveled grade on the associated skill being assessed. For example giving students a level 3 for citations or a level 4 for persuasive writing. This tool allows teachers to be as transparent as possible when assessing student work.

Helpful Resources

 Costs

The greatest part of Kaizena is that it is free to use!

A Roadblock to Technology Use in Education

Technology Infrastructure: The Ultimate Barrier In Technology Integration

By: Ufuk Yagci

Today, the use of technology in education is entirely dependent on a reliable technology infrastructure at schools. With the integration of mobile devices, the demands and needs for technology infrastructure have also changed. Without adequate infrastructure, there will not be an effective use of technology at schools. Education decision makers need to understand the role of infrastructure in the use of technology in their teaching and learning environment.

Increase in  Mobile Devices and BYOD Programs

North American homes currently have an average of seven active connected devices.  With the increase in the use of mobile devices, many schools are seeking ways to implement 1:1 computing programs, where each student is assigned a mobile device for learning. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs are a cost effective solution for implementing 1:1 computing at schools.

Need for Increased Bandwidth

Implementation of BYOD programs requires additional bandwidth.  Some schools don’t realize the need for the additional bandwidth. Some schools have limited budgets and they struggle to upgrade and get affordable access to high-speed Internet. Jon Bergmann indicates that throughout the implementation of mobile learning, YouTube took 50 percent of his bandwidth at his school and he had to increase his Internet bandwidth by 10 times. Some schools restrict Internet access which defeats the whole purpose of the BYOD program.  Therefore, the first step into implementing a 1:1 computing model should be increasing the bandwidth.

Need for Network Infrastructure Upgrades & Additional Resources

1. Access Points & Switches

Increasing the bandwidth does not guarantee connectivity of mobile devices in your school environment. It is also important to plan and configure the number of access points that the mobile devices will be connected. The more mobile devices that you have, the more access points you will need at your schools. Certain devices have limitations to the number of devices that can be connected simultaneously. You must think of your access points as a funnel into your pipeline. Even if you have a large pipeline (your internet bandwidth), you will not have a good connection if your funnel is too small. You need to have the adequate number of access points. You will also need additional switches to connect your access points.

2. Wiring

Having a wireless network is great, but you also need the wiring from your switches to the access points in your schools. This requires extra investment and work for wiring on your network.

3. Interoperability & Cloud Based Solutions

Another overlooked aspect of infrastructure is the “interoperability” which refers to the ability to share and transfer information between different applications and software programs. The different software platforms can make accessibility difficult for some devices. Therefore, schools need to host their data on platforms that can be accessed by all the different devices. Many schools are moving away from on-premise applications and are switching to cloud-based solutions for interoperability but this also requires increased bandwidth.

Need for Support and Training

Schools need additional resources for supporting the community of teachers and students in the integration of technology. Technical support and educational technology coaches are needed for supporting the users with the infrastructure.

Create a Strategic Technology Plan

There are costs and time associated with the updates on technology infrastructure. Infrastructure issues come in a variety of forms and there will always be a need for updates in technology infrastructure as the technology advances.

The common challenge with infrastructure is not only updates and investments but it is the lack of strategic planning and reactionary implementation. Technology experts and leadership teams need to create  a strategic technology plan that will allow them to see the whole picture with requirements for additional technology upgrades. This plan should be reviewed and updated at the end of each academic year. The strategy plan should cover the implementation of all technology projects along with all maintenance, operations, and training requirments.  A thorough review of all technology projects will bring out the need for updates on the technology infrastructure.

Conclusion

In order to prevent technology infrastructure issues, leadership teams in schools need to create  a long term and short term strategic technology plan together with their teams.Without a plan, schools will not be able to streamline the needs and updates for their technology infrastructure. Without a plan, schools will not see the whole picture and technology infrastructure needs for integrating different applications and tools.The strategic technology plan will cover all  technology related upgrades.  Every additional project will have an impact on the technology infrastructure. Every additional user will have an impact on the capacity of the technology infrastructure. This is why the infrastructure needs should be reviewed and planned accordingly. With proper planning and implementation steps, technology infrastructure will no longer be a barrier in education.

Further Reading

Technology in education: An Overview

Tablets in education: Is Your Network Ready?

References

Cantech Letter. (2016). Households Now Use Average Seven Connected Devices Report. Retrieved from http://www.cantechletter.com/2016/08/households-now-use-average-seven-connected-devices-every-day-report/

John Bergmann. (2017). How to avoid the 17 deadly sins of flipped learning technology selection. Infrastructure. Retrieved from http://flglobal.thinkific.com/courses/take/TechCourse/lessons/751695-9-infrastructure

Edtech. (2006).Technology Infrastructure. Retrieved from http://www.edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2006/10/technology-infrastructure

George D.S. (2014). The Washington Post Education. Schools move toward ‘Bring Your Own Device’ policies to boost student tech use. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/CxwjrH

Sandvine. (2016). Sandvine report: North American homes average seven active connected devices. Retrieved from https://www.sandvine.com/pr/2016/8/24/sandvine-report-north-american-homes-average-seven-active-connected-devices.html