Sunday, February 17, 2013

Programming is not just for Programmers - Guest Post

One of the big elephants (and there are lots) in education is the misuse of technology. We can do so much better. Take for instance the role of creativity. There is a general consensus that creating is a good thing for kids. From Sir Ken Robinson to Yong Zhao, it seems everyone thinks getting our kids and country to be more creative will do wonders. I agree and yet, I think we are still setting the bar way too low when it comes to creating with technology.

Like most people, I enjoy uploading some images, choosing a song, and letting Animoto “create” a video for me. But lets not pretend I am creating anything. Animoto is the creator. And yet, educators (myself included) have convinced ourselves that this is the type of creativity which will get our students thinking at a higher level. We can do so much better.

Now, take Scratch, a free programming platform from MIT. In the “old days” programming was viewed by many as a nerdy domain, where few people could even comprehend what code (if they cared enough to inquire) was. I was one of the these people. To me coding was as Greek as well....Greek. But alas...I have finally seen the light with Scratch.

Scratch gets kids to think. And that is after all, what we want in school. Here are some quotes which happen regularly in my Scratch class:
  • One student to another- “can you help me with this variable?” 
  • Another wonders aloud, “are my coordinates right?” 
  • A student asks the teacher “can I work on my project at home?” 
  • A student stays behind after dismissal, saying “he just needs to fix one thing” 
My Superintendent does a great job of asking all of us to focus on “minds on teaching.” This is what Scratch does. Kids are working with their “minds on” and creating stories, games, and animations. Take a look at this example from two gr 4 students at my school.

Scratch Project

What type of thinking was involved in this project? Critical thinking, creativity, systems thinking, planning and (get ready for this.....) heavy doses of failing. Failing is a regular part of Scratch, but kids quickly think of how they can learn from their failures. Who doesn’t like to hear that?

But wait... isn't programming for future programmers? I once thought this his too. But Mitch Resnick, creator of the Scratch program, reminded me that when we teach students to write we don’t expect them to become professional authors. Scratch isn't for future programmers. Lets get kids thinking and creating with Scratch and worry about their jobs later.

Rob Ackerman is the principal of the Lane Elementary School in Bedford, MA. Twitter: @Akee123

Promoting Visual Literacy with Haiku Deck - Guest Post

Update: Haiku Deck is now available as a web app and as an iPad app. 

“We live and work in a visually sophisticated world, so we must be sophisticated in using all the forms of communication, not just the written word.” ~George Lucas in Edutopia

As access to the creation and consumption of digital media increases, educators must embrace an expanded view of literacy. Teaching the skills of reading and writing is no longer enough. Students need to be able to use images as a currency for exchanging feelings, stories, and opinions with the world at large.

Further, as scientists learn more about how our brains work, it appears that many learners are hardwired to understand visually depicted ideas. Recent research from National Academies Press reminds us that using words and pictures (as compared to words alone) boosts generative processing which leads to lasting learning.

So... maybe a picture is not worth a thousand words. Perhaps a picture is worth a thousand ideas?

Recently, I’ve been trying out Haiku Deck as a teacher and a learner. Essentially, I’m telling stories through images.

If you haven’t used Haiku Deck before, it’s a free iPad app that makes beautiful slide presentations. You can only fit a word several words or a phrase on each slide, forcing you to communicate primarily through images. The constraints of the app actually promote visually literate presentations.

With Haiku Deck, you can upload your own photos or search their large gallery of images with Creative Commons licenses for non-commercial reuse. Their gallery is a powerful tool, and my students this semester have really enjoyed the high quality selection!

Once you’ve finished creating your masterpiece, it’s easy to spread your message digitally. You can share your slides on your social media networks, embed your slides on your blog, or download your slides for offline use.

Here’s a short slide deck that I created using Haiku Deck: Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app for iPad

If you are an iPad user, be sure to check out Haiku Deck. It’s a great way to share your story through beautiful, impactful pictures!

Kristen Swanson is a learner, leader, author, and teacher. She works alongside Grant Wiggins to help teachers use Understanding by Design. Kristen recently published Professional Learning in the Digital Age: An Educator’s Guide to User Generated Learning. Kristen is one of the original founders of the Edcamp movement, and she is also a Google Certified Teacher. You can find Kristen online at

Practical Ed Tech Webinars

Earlier this month I launched my new site,, which is devoted to offering PD webinars for teachers. The first two webinars I'm offering through it are How To Use Google Drive in School and To Geography and Beyond With Google Earth and Google Maps.  Both courses begin in the week of March 11 and run for three weeks. Both course are currently at 50% of capacity.

How To Use Google Drive in School is a three part series designed for teachers and school administrators that are new to using Google Drive. The course covers everything from the basics of creating documents, presentations, and forms to advanced uses of scripts in Google Spreadsheets. Click here to register today.

To Geography and Beyond With Google Earth and Google Maps is a course that I am co-teaching with my friend and former colleague Jim Wells. Jim has twenty years of experience in teaching social studies and digital mapping. In this three week course we will teach the basics of using Google Earth and Google Maps while introducing a variety of ways to use the tools in social studies, language arts, science, and math (elementary level math). Click here to register today.