Sunday, August 6, 2017

South Africa- The promise and Challenge of Education

My last day in South Africa I had lunch with faculty from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. I had an enlightening conversation with Vusi Msiza a lecturer and current PhD student. The conversation was focused on what I prefer to call the South African miracle- the fact that South Africa was able to emerge from Apartheid with a bloody civil war.  Vusi helped me see how close South Africa came to a civil war and how the combination of luck and leadership prevented a downward spiral. We then turned to the recursive relationship between poverty and educational attainment. I made my argument that for South Africa to succeed in its lofty educational goals it needs a different approach. What I saw around the country was mostly a striving to reach 20th century panaceas. At the same time we both recognized the impact of economics on potential outcomes for kids as can be seen in the figure below.
On the flight back I continued thinking about this as a design problem and came up with a few interesting ideas that emerged from my observations of education in South Africa.
1. Elementary schools should be bilingual immersion program that include a local non-English language (say isiZulu) and English. Right now some school are monolingual in k-3 and then switch to English. The research literature really supports bilingual immersion programs and they can offer many cognitive benefits. They also offer identity benefits as home language can be supported longer. Finally it prevents hard transition when language of instruction switches to English.
2. An effort like will need an emphasis on teacher training for teaching in bilingual environments- a job for leading university. Another need would be to create enough curriculum in all 11 languages so a vision like that could come to pass.
3. Use out of school time to encourage entrepreneurship and technology use. The current school system is not equipped to provide these development tools quickly and it may be easier to do outside the traditional systems with their established matric goals.
4. Realize that change in education has to come with community development and job opportunities. Without those any effort will die because those participating will lose hope and may eventually become a radical element.

There is much more that needs doing but these are my ten cents and my frustration. I dislike not being able to do anything about it!

Sunday, July 23, 2017


Yesterday we visited the Langa township and took a walking tour. One of the things that struck me as we walked around was the ingenuity of the inhabitants in reusing materials to build what ever was needed.
We saw a little girl play with a colorful push toy similar to the Fisher Price one. It was ingeniously built, rotated nicely and I have a feeling worked better than a real one would given the conditions.

A second example is the radio transistor for sale (in the picture). The cretors have emptied a transistor radio and then used recycled materials (bottle caps, wire, cans to create a beautiful pop art product. Even more ingenious is the fact that the creators found ways to mass manufacture the device.

It made me  think about the potential of the same minds if we dropped a "Do Space" in the middle of camp. I suspect that with minimal guidance kids, young and older adults could create products in 3D pronter , learn from computers and CODE like demons. I know I have sometimes naive ideas and that they may not work. What I know for sure is that the other, standard ways, are not really setting up the kids of that area for success.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Neads, Wants, and Tech

In the las two days Jennifer Davidson and I have been discussing needs vs. wants. Which led me to ask myself a few questions. The first is what are needs in 21st century education. I would argue those are access, connectivity, internet, caring teachers, mixed with hope and actual opportunity to enact your hopes.

Yes there are more basic needs (air, shelter, health,, nutrition) without which educational needs matter less BUT in the 21st century the internet and person to person connectivity are items that must be available. Without them distributed equally, gaps within and between nations will continue to grow.

What are your tech needs vs. wants?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

South Africa, Tech, and the Future of Education

I am in South Africa with a vibrant group of educators. It is my second visit to South Africa. We are on the dawn of our second day in Cape Town.

The visit to one of the leading countries in modern Africa poses real educational questions and concerns. From my previous visit it is fairly clear that there is great concern with "catching up". My sense is that this game of catch up will never succeed. Nor should it. I think that the potential of the new economies and the innovator nations is in finding alternatives. In redefining.

My mind keeps coming back to Mitra's presentation in his 2013 TED Award presentation. He claimed that our current education system was designed to feed the human computer system in the Age of Empire. This argument rings true, it combines many claims by others about the industrial nature of modern education with a much more practical aspect of it.  But the most powerful statement is the one I think can guide schools in a nation like South Africa just like it can in a nation like the US. Education is NOT broken. It is obsolete!

If it is so, then South Africa (or any developing country) is on equal footing with any developing nation. Technology and new ideas can serve the foundation to a whole new approach that is alternative to the Imperial Machine. Somewhat appropriate if it grows in post colonial countries. I doubt this happens until someone decides that chasing 19th and 20th century goals.

It is akin to the revolutionary effect of cell phones in developing countries- hurdling over multiple development phases and landing in the present. I do not agree with all of Mitra's points (it is hinted at in this article) but he presents a compelling rationale for change.

I have embedded Mitra's presentation below.


I'm Back

It has been almost a year since I blogged last. I took much needed time away from blogging to think, rethink and pursue other duties in administration. But now, that I have finished some of my administrative duties I have decided it is time to come back to blogging as a path to thinking and sharing projects ideas and thoughts. My goal for blogging is to think through what is next and tinker with bringing some of that vision to life.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Ten Ways to Use Pokemon Go in your Classroom this year

You may or may not be a Pokemon player. Either way as Pokemon Go fever sweeps the world it can serve us well to understand it and find ways to make it useful in our classrooms. And, NO, I do not mean use it as a reward. We have been here before with Minecraft so you can definitely take some of the ideas and use with other games as well.

1. Make them write fan fiction about Pokeomn Go adventures.
When it is appropriate let and even encourage students to write about Pokemon Go. Students often lack detail in their writing, Pokemon Go can be a great catalyst to adding details to a story. The complexity and richness of the Pokemon world can also encourage students to write fan fiction stories that spean multiple chapters. The advantage of supporting longer more complex writing is conducive to writing development, new and rich vocabulary and reading comprehension.
2. Make them write tips or steps.
Expository writing is often hard for students. One expository task is writing directions. I have seen many students struggle to write out directions for making a sandwich. Instead, we could challenge our students to write out the steps to achieving a goal on Pokemon Go. Imagine the direction to hatching a Pokemon egg, or getting your squirtle to evolve. If you know nothing about Pokemon, that's OK, your students can generate these ideas very readily.
3. Make a directions video.
This is very similar to the previous point but this time the composition is multi modal. Students can use still frames or video of a partner playing to create those. They can even narrate and edit the video teaching 21st century composing skills.
This will create a sense of audience and provide examples of products

4. Learn about cultural or art sites.
POkemon Go relies on public sites. Ask your students to report on the sites available in the community. Students can write down the sites and then research the site, artist and significance.
You can use non- gaming apps like Google Maps or paper alternatives.

5. Work on the metric system and conversions.
Poekemon Go is metric. This is a great opportunity to discuss metric measurement and their conversion. This is great because I hear that metric is important for science.
6. Discuss the value of effort and learning from experience.
When we develop Grit in students we emphasize the role of persistence and coping with failure. Make students relate their efforts on Pokemon Go. Every one of them will have a story of persevernce that you can then turn into a story about academics.
7. Gamify your classroom with Pokemon Go like idea.
This is definitely for those ready to use game mechanics in their classroom. You will need to get at least a rudimnetary sense of the game before you start. I can easily see a classroom in which workstations are poke stops generating tokens for completed works. The tokens can be converted to Pokemon eggs. Hatching eggs can be related to number of pages read, homework completion- you name it. Leaderboards would also be helpful.
8. Create a Pokemon Go diary.
Have students write a daily diary about Pokemon or other daily activities. The richness of their experiences can help support their notion of strategic thinking and problem solving- if you help them occasionally to think in those terms.
9. Use Pokemon go ideas to teach about observation in nature (bird watching, animal watching etc.
10 Teach self-regulation with devices using activity journaling.
Maybe the hardest challenge in teaching 21st century kids is the difficulty in teaching self monitoring of device use. A way to negotiate this difficulty is to ask students to log in their device use as a way to start thinking about how much and for what ourpose they use the phone. Manuaaly logging the information in is crucial because it makes them actively think about their use.

In short I belive we can use popular games to support learning of skills and as a way to update our classrooms and make them more engaging!

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Three (Plus) Collaboration Apps I Use Every Day

1. Google Drive
There is nothing like it! No one has figured out how to enable real-time digital collaboration like Google did. At the composing and creating phase, I do everything in google drive and especially in google docs. The ability to travel in time in a single fully integrated documents has made collaboration seamless and always a blended experience. Even when I work right next to colleagues, we all look at the same product. In the days before the Google suite, we shuttled documents back and forth often losing the flow at one point or another.

2. Video Conferencing
I did not name one such app because I use different ones with different collaborators. Since I am fairly adept at technology, I use whatever others are used to. That is why I use: Adobe Connect, Skype, Zoom, Hangouts, and even Facetime. If I were pressed, I would name Skype as my most commonly used video conferencing app. This is how I connect to co-authors, students, and potential collaborators.

3. Social Media
Social media is my way to learn from people I do not know (or at least know well). My favorites are Twitter and Google Plus. Twitter has a massive reach, and I find many like minds. The downside is the 140 characters limit that collaboration- and I often find myself frustrated by the speed and brevity. Google Plus is a much smaller community, but I often find that interactions are productive and more enduring.

There are many ways that technology complicates our lives, but in collaboration it allows us to collaborate better and further than ever before.