Integrating Technology Into History and Social Science

The website which I have built this semester focuses on Social Sciences in general but  in particular teaching history to 5th grade pupils. Initially I included some geography resources but then began to narrow down to just history so the project would have more focus. In learning and reading about the benefits and advantages of using technology to support social science subjects I have learned a lot. The reading I have done has also helped me to confirm that I am on the right path in how I have been going about things so far.

In teaching children about the past we aim to try and help them reflect and become better equipped to reflect on their own ideas, thoughts, behaviors and contributions to society. History is not about learning facts and figures but about understanding who we were, who we are and deciding who we are going to be. Technology tools enable us to improve the teaching and learning experiences of our students. They, “make possible a variety of strategies to enhance learning for the diverse topics and concepts that comprise social studies.” (Roblyer  p. 340)

In teaching 5th grade history there are a number of relative advantages of using technology. The nature of the subject often makes in inaccessible to children. They have little in their lives to help them relate to the past and so the more we can ‘bring it to life’ the better their learning experiences will be. It is important that educators ask, “Does the technology-based product help in designing activities that actively engage students in significant social studies content?” Don’t assume just because it is there it is better. Evaluate the Tech. (Rose & Fernlund  p. 166)

The relative advantages of using technology to teach History can be seen through exemplification. Below is a list of ways that the technology provides opportunities that don’t exist without it.

  • Virtual Field trips. The reality is that most children can’t travel the world visiting historical places. A ‘virtual’ field trip can not replace the experience but it goes a long way to making it more exciting than simple book work. Here are some examples of American History Field virtual field trips.
  • Digital Storytelling. Combining images with audio is something that ordinary books can’t do. Students can either use others’  digital stories to enhance their learning experiences or create their own. A digital story can really bring history to life and especially if a student is able to relate past events to their own life. Here is an example from TeacherTube.
  • Simulations. Software which simulates different historical scenarios is a powerful way for pupils to try and understand tropics which are complex and difficult. Problems solving scenarios can be involved, encouraging students to think through different possible scenarios and make decisions based on what they are learning about. Have a look at Making-History to see one example of using simulations at work.
  • Electronic research strategies. A wealth of information is available to our pupils now -largely because the internet has connected us in ways we cold not imagine 25 years ago. Information is much more quickly available but care must be taken that students have good search strategies. Building the correct search skills online just as important as it was pre-internet. Knowing how to look for and then assess results is very important. Historical websites, and online records can be used to help pupils connect with the world around them.
  • Access to Primary sources. Many historical artifacts and records have now been digitized and are available to students to access. “Primary sources foster the visual literacy and historical enquiry of students by making academic content meaningful and building on prior experience” (Robyler p. 341) The National Archives is a great place to start.
  • Visualization tools. “Students often have problems visualizing abstract concepts and data” (Roblyer  p. 343). Trying to have 5th graders understand the scale of deaths in the American Civil War for example is hard. Using software is is now easier to create graphs, charts, pictograms with available data. Looking at a visual is far easier to access for most people than sets of numbers. Have a look at Datawrapper to get an idea.

Teaching history is not always easy. Many pupils think it is boring to learn about the past. If we can excite them about history (and social sciences in general) then I really believe that we can help them to become better citizens. Learning about now as a result of the past is what we all do every day. Prior learning is the foundation of our new learning. The tools available to us now present opportunities that were not there before and advantages which are huge. Explore and find out how true that is for you.

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References:

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching. 7th Edition. Massachusetts: Pearson.

Rose, S.A., & Fernlund, P.M. (1997). Using technology for powerful social studies learning. Social Education, 61(3), 160-166.

Obstacles and Solutions for Integrating Tech

I am on this course because I believe in the power of technology to help us develop and improve the education of our children. Pretty simple really. The truth is that as with many things in our education system, change is very difficult and can be very slow. There are good reasons to not jump into things. Often we get it wrong, we can be too quick to embrace something before it is fully developed or given time to grow. I know why we must be careful, but it seems like the topic of Educational Technology causes some to become especially fraught at the thought of change. Maybe the opposite is true too – that change can be far too fast and embracing tech before it is fully understood can set us back. I don’t know but it makes me think a lot

For someone like me who has been an early adopter and passionate supporter of embracing new technologies in my classroom I have come across lots of obstacles when it comes to integrating. They seem to happen at 3 or 4 levels. Grade level, School level, Authority or District level and Nationally. I wanted to write about my personal obstacles as I think they mirror the ones which I have read about.

At a grade level, there are numerous obstacles to integrating technology into our planning and teaching. The biggest one has been a lack of resources, and I include teacher support and training in that category. Lack of communication between staff, which fails to create a supportive team environment has also hindered the process of trying new things and attempting to integrate new ideas and technologies. Staff like myself who are keen to integrate, can sometimes be too pushy and not understanding enough of the fears and anxieties of our colleagues and make it difficult to implement new ideas and approaches.

At school level, the single biggest factor which impacts and provides obstacles is the quality and support of the school leadership team. When they don’t understand the potential that technology has to improve and support learning, then the school ethos and environment suffers. If funds and training are not directed towards technology integration then there is not a whole school approach. Without a whole school approach then everything is harder.

In towns and cities across America, local school districts control and set both policy and budget. This directly impacts the schools and their ability to embrace new technologies. There is huge inconsistency across the country. It only takes 5 minutes reading online about the state of the Chicago Public School district and the condition of many school buildings to realize that, one-to-one policies, high speed internet, teacher training etc are pretty far down the list.

Nationally there are many voices and special interest groups shouting and trying to influence policy. More and more the value of echnology integration seems to be valued and is apparently  here to stay – but we all know that politics plays games with education and so predicting the future is difficult.

Now how does that impact the integration of technology cross-curricularly into a 5th grade classroom? It does and it doesn’t. I scrap, beg, borrow and . . . never steal what I can to try and find the resources I need to integrate the technologies which I feel will benefit my pupils. I make it work by being resourceful, pedantic, and probably annoying. I know I am a reflective practitioner and so I think about what might work and then when I have tried it, I share the good and bad with my colleagues. It works. To an extent. However, without proper investment in resources this year, it has been a struggle. Failing internet connections when lessons are planned. Only 14 computers working out of a set of 20. It gets frustrating and despite the best will in the world, supporting and inspiring others is not always easy, especially when the technical aspects don’t work.

The secret is to just keep going, to step back and ask yourself if you believe in what you are doing and then to try and find others link you to connect with. Twitter is great for making connections as are different online communities. From there, just don’t quit. Model to your pupils the residence that they will need when they enter the world and find a way. You don’t have to have the best, newest or fanciest technology to improve a lesson. You just need to have enough, determination and a can do attitude. I used to stress a lot more than I do now. I step back and remember that my pupils are with me for under 200 days of their education. If something doesn’t work and the tech fails. It’s not the end of the world.

As a subject area, social sciences have a wealth of resources and tools available to teachers. Sometimes it is hard to decide what to try and use and other times, it can feel forced to and link different areas of the curriculum. The difficulties lie in the areas I have mentioned and   in one I have not yet. Personal responsibility. Each and every individual teacher has to look at themselves and ask if they are doing everything they can to prepare their students for the world they are going into. Most are, some are not. In a perfect world everyone would be perfect. We are humans first and teachers second so we get it wrong. As long as we persist in trying to be better then we will get there.

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Assistive Technology built into OS X

We have an iMac at home. Before that we had . . . another iMac. I have used a Mac since my first Apple II in 1995. For 20 years I have been a Mac fan and I’m ashamed to say in all that time I have never explored the Assistive technology features. They always seem to have been there but I didn’t need them, so never took time to explore them.

Assistive technology devices are identified in the IDEA 2004 as:

Any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities. (Rubblier, p. 408)

This week I have explored and played with the features which currently run on OS X Yosemite. Wow, there are a lot more that I realized! Although I have taught children for 17 years with a range of different educational needs, I have never really had access to Macs in school, and so it never crossed my mind to look at the features.

Below are some of the key features which are available on the iMac on OS X . The feature set available on the Mac is rich and has a high level of customization. You access the options through the preferences menu and the Accessibility Icon. By clicking on  the relevant option in the left hand menu you will find the box on the right changes to provide setting levels.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 11.18.40 AM
This screenshot shows the Accessibility menu on an iMac running OS X Yosemite

For those who have are blind or visually impaired there are a number of features which can be enabled to help them access content:

  • Cursor size can be made larger
  • A Zoom feature can be set to make the images on screen up to 20 times larger
  • Contrast and color are highly adaptable to personal requirements for a wide range of different visual disabilities.
  • Video descriptions can be enabled for some content which give spoken descriptions of visual content

The most powerful piece of software appears to be the VoiceOver tool. I always thought it was just a text-to -talk tool but in playing with the built in training tool, it is clear that it is much more than that. It lets the user pretty much control the computer without the need to see it. There are a high number of customizable tools which make it easier for the user. There is built in Braille support for Braille displays which can be used plug and play with the computer. Controlling  VoiceOver can be done with gestures on a magic mouse or trackpad.

For users who are hearing impaired there are also a number of features which can improve their user experience.

  • Captions can be turned on and different sizes of font can be set
  • The computer can be set to use Subtitles for deaf and hard of hearing (SDH) can be optioned
  • A visual flash can be enabled on the screen to let users know that an alert sound has been played
  • Volume can be adjusted as and stereo can be set to mono so both headphones play the same sounds. This means users who might have less hearing in one ear do not lose content from a stereo track.
Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 11.51.28 AM
A screenshot of the captions menu with a preview of subtitle style

There are a number of features which assist users with different cognitive disabilities.

  • The VoiceOver tool can be used for text-to-speech recognition to assist with reading
  • The Dictation tool can be used to assist those who need help with writing by turing their voiced thoughts into written words
  • In certain Mac apps such as Pages or even TextEdit you can enable word completion and suggested words are presented in list form to choose from. This also supports writing for users who find word retrieval or verbalization difficult.

The features mentioned so far will often also help those with physical disabilities. In OS X there some additional accessibility tools built in to help those who might find keyboard or mouse use difficult.

  • Switch control is a feature which lets users customize their ability to navigate and use menus and commands. It enables a range of different input devices such as a joystick be used to navigate
  • The Dictation tools built into OS X are reasonably wide ranging and voice can be used to write and format a document as well as create your own commands
  • An onscreen keyboard is available for those who cannot use a traditional keyboard for access
  • For those who have difficulty controlling a traditional mouse or trackpad, the computer can be set to use the numeric keypad like a mouse.
  • The keyboard can be configured to assist those who find typing difficult. Where using two hands is not possible the Sticky Keys function lets you combine keystrokes to mimic the two key command pressing (e.g. for saving or Capitalization)
  • The Slow Keys function adjusts the sensitivity of the keyboard by adding a delay to keystrokes, another tool which supports those who have difficulty with motor skills.

“Mild disabilities are considered to be the most prevalent type of disability. They include learning disabilities, emotional disabilities and intellectual disabilities. . .Typically, the important issue for these users is not the physical access to the technology but reading, writing, memory and retention of information” (Roblyer, p. 410). I have to admit that my rather narrow view of disability and assistive technology was weighted in favor of those with more severe disabilities. This statement by Roblyer made me reflect on the use of these tools with other pupils. We have one iMac in class and I can see how using these tools with a pupil of mine who has an IAP would benefit him. The VoiceOver tool and the dictation tool especially would really support his learning. He would have the ability to get more of his ideas down on the page and showcase his learning.

What is not clear to me as someone who does not need these tools myself on a daily basis, is if they really work as intended. I did some scanning of different web forums and indeed it seems that Apple is a leader in terms of including free and embedded tools. It would be good to hear how you use them in class or in your educational context.

 

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching. 7th Edition. Massachusetts: Pearson.

The relative advantages of Digital Game-based Learning

As I read and researched this week, I learned that there are not as many history based games for a 5th grade curriculum as there are for a subject such as Mathematics.  I wrote this blog from a wider standpoint rather than just focusing on one subject area. The benefits I learned about apply to all subjects that I teach in elementary and so it seemed natural to write a post which reflected on my thoughts in a wider sense.

6 Years ago, I wanted to try and get a group of 5th grade boys in my class more involved in their creative writing. They all loved video games and so I set about creating a way to weave a game into our curriculum. I had a smart board in the class and that was about it. I read some ideas on message boards (this was well before I discovered Twitter) and decided to use an older game to engage them  – The classic game MYST.

Often the group struggled for ideas, or wrote simple variations on the same thing, over and over. I decided to hook the game up to the smart board and use it as a story opener. The class watched as different pupils took turns to interact with the game and used the graphics and scenarios to prompt short writing pieces. It was deeply flawed in many ways as a series of lessons but what was clear was the engagement of the large majority of not just the reluctant writers but all of the class. The children got excited about using the game, they were drawn in and I remember comments about how it was, ‘fun not school’ and ‘awesome to play’. The reality was that most children were not playing games at all but simply watching and using the constructed digital world to help jump start their own imaginations. However, the result was higher engagement and some wonderful pieces of writing.

Since then I have loosely followed the game-based learning movement out of interest and have experimented with using Rezzly (formerly 3D Gamelab) and regularly use MangaHigh in my maths lessons. It is clear that game-based learning has been around for a lot longer than many of us think but is now  really starting to take off. As with any ‘new’ idea in education there are instant detractors and champions of which I lie somewhere closer to champion that detractor.

There is not wealth of academic research into the subject at the moment but it is growing steadily. Using the word ‘digital game’ in schools seems to send some people to a dark place. Comments about the negative impact of Video Games are often made in the media. I would argue that from the earliest age, we learn through play. Early years programs for students are play based – that is how children learn to construct and make sense of the world around them. The fun factor seems to also scare some detractors away. Fun. . . in school? Game-based learning is “effective and engaging” (Van Eck p.18) so why would we ignore it.

So what are the advantages of game based learning? Well there seem to be a few key benefits which I have summarized below. As always it should not be taken that games are a ‘solution’ to all educational issues but that using them with pupils can help in the following areas.

  1. Problem solving skills and strategic thinking develop as a result of many games being structured about solving problems often under a time constraint
  2. Memorization skills develop as a result of many games requiring the pupil memorize facts and information to proceed or be successful
  3. Games can contribute towards Neural plasticity development as a result of complex multi-step processing that occurs during games.
  4. Attention, focus and motivation increase as rewards for pupils in games are often based on their step by step achievements. Feedback on performance is immediate which keeps the student engaged. No waiting for teacher.
  5. Computer literacy skills are developed. Playing and using games makes pupils more fluent and confident with technologies that they will use in later life.

As a teacher I have always tried to tune into what children that I teach are interested in. Gaming is something which most of my pupils now do at some point in the week. Embracing that is something I should do. In their article, “The benefits of playing Video Games” authors Isabela Granic, Adam Lobel, and Rutger C. M. E. Engels present a clear study into the topic arguing that there are social, emotional, cognitive and motivational benefits to the use of games. They do acknowledge that more needs to be studied but argue that games, “likely provide benefits similar to those provided by play more generally” (p. 76)

I have always believed that as educators we have to embrace new things and approaches Not blindly as ‘cure-alls’ but in the same way a company would product test and launch a new line. Try it small, evaluate the results, try again with more people, evaluate again. If it seems to work add it to the product line. Don’t get rid of all the other products. Game based learning is the same. Add it to the toolkit, don’t expect it to replace it.

References:

Granic, I., Lobel, A., & Engels, R. C. (2014). The benefits of playing video games. American Psychologist, 69(1), 66-78.
Van Eck, R, (2006). Digital game based learning: It’s not just the Digital Natives who are restless. EDUCAUSE Review,  41(2), 16–30.

 

 

 

Acceptable Use Policies

Acceptable Use Policies (AUP) are documents which are designed to give guidelines and set rules for the use of technology and the internet in an institution or organization. These important documents are used in both education and business protect both the user and the institution. Being a 5th Grade teacher in a K-12 school has led me to focus on educational AUP’s in this post.

AUP’s have evolved and continue to evolve as technology improves. In our school we are currently rewriting our policy due to its failure to deal with mobile technologies in school. As a small school we had relatively few issues and didn’t look far enough ahead. There is a current re-write of the AUP in our school going on which involves students, staff and parents. The previous devices policy which was in place can be seen here. For confidentiality reasons you will need a BSU account to log in to see this. It is clear to me my reading, that this document is lacking in content and structure. Something which has now been picked up on in school.

Commonsensemedia.org states that an AUP should, “publicly define  what is deemed acceptable behavior from users of hardware and information systems such as the Internet and any applicable networks.” AUP’s set boundaries which the users in a environment must stick to. In schools these policies apply to pupils as well as staff and provide guidelines as well as sanctions and responsibilities. In our school, pupils are required to sign a copy of the AUP and younger pupils sign an amended copy with their parents. The policies are only effective if they are enforced consistently. In my context that has led to an attempt to involve Middle and High School students in redrafting the policy.

Reading through various policies it is clear that they are all different and have to be for each context. There does appear to be a format which is relatively consistent across many of the policies. The summary on education world.com  which I read is paraphrased below and gave me the best overview of the process.

  • Firstly the goals of the policy are made clear and established
  • A second section often given definitions of technological vocabulary used in the policy. This is written to avoid any ambiguity and so that all parties signing the document fully understand the terminology. (This should be available in key languages spoken in school)
  • A statement of policy makes clear which computer services in the school are covered by the policy – this can include cell and mobile technology, school network, email etc.
  • The following sections should give clear definitions of acceptable and unacceptable usage. This should be as specific as possible making sure no language is ambiguous.
  • The final section should cover violations, consequences and sanctions. Often this will be linked to the general school behavior policy or code of conduct policy.

Some different examples that I found across different schools included

  1. Needham public schools (which is the town where I live)
  2. Boston Public School’s AUP webpage has policies for different aged pupils and available in a variety of different languages.
  3. Keene School district is in N.H and its AUP has some clear definitions for students.
  4. Webwise.ie has a helpful set of guidelines for download which help to shape and write an AUP
  5. An example I found which seemed to follow the guidelines clearly was from the SANS institute. The policy was very clear and although not aimed at my grade level made it easier to understand the structure.

Although I was aware of what an AUP was before this, what I didn’t really know was the structure or the scope of what was required. AUPs have to be dynamic documents which are constantly revisited in light of new technologies, especially in schools. They are documents which serve to protect students and their schools.

 

References.

Acceptable Use Policy (nd) Retrieved from: https://www.techopedia.com/definition/2471/acceptable-use-policy-aup

Acceptable Use Policy (nd)Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acceptable_use_policy

 

Sample Acceptable Use Policies (nd) Retrieved from:http://www.webwise.ie/teachers/sample-acceptable-use-policies-2/

Getting Started on the Internet:
Developing an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP)  (nd) Retrieved from: http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr093.shtml

1-to-1 Essentials – Acceptable Use Policies (nd) Retrieved from: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/1to1/aups

Tech Fail

I filmed 5 teachers in school today for our assignment. I was out of school a lot of last week so couldn’t get it done then. Tonight I came home to find that I apparently had recorded nothing. Well nothing that I could get onto my mac. I’ve spend most of the night at it. For the second week in a row, I have had a glitch but because I am working late and last minute have no way to fix it. I should know better.

I will record myself tomorrow as a personal blog and add it in. I don’t think asking teachers to talk again will go down too well.

Lesson learned I hope. I thought I was all set with the film. In the mean time I have added a video I made for another course about the benefits of YouTube in education. I will remedy the situation tomorrow. Have to go to bed now.

Spreadsheets and Collaborative documents in 5th Grade History

This week in EdTech 541 – I developed two different lesson frameworks which included Google sheets and Google docs. I think to this point in the course, I had taken a slightly too wide approach to the creation of my website. I initially chose computing for my subject area but that just didn’t seem to work as most of the work we do involves technology anyway. I decided then to make my resources about Social Sciences in the 5th grade. I wanted to make sure that all the things I create for the course were artifacts which I could actually use with my pupils. That way I can share within my school and across our group of schools – there are 42 worldwide which are connected.

Where I think I have gone wrong. . . possibly. . . is in going back and forward between history and geography. I see the benefit in making most of the resources focus on a narrower area of the curriculum, but also see opportunities to experiment. Our curriculum is very different from the American curriculum and so I was second guessing myself a lot. This week I was struggling to see how to build spreadsheets into a history lesson about the American Revolution – but time helps. I came up with the idea of thinking about historical data and planned a lesson with lots of casualties.

I don’t know if I put enough detail in the framework – we didn’t have to create a whole lesson with all resources. What I did realize was that being creative . . . just takes some time. I also realized that you can’t always force it. If I’m honest I don’t think lots of people will be using my website. If I design activities which are broader in nature and cover both geography and history then I can share them across our school groups – they might well be used. I’m still thinking it over. How can I make resources which are really useful to me but also to others in my school, the group of schools and other schools which use our curriculum? I also want to pass the class!