raspberry pi and kano

kano858_2740798b“Kano kit offers an easier way to make a low-cost Raspberry Pi computer. Raspberry Pi provides an inexpensive way for aspiring computer scientists to start hacking, but its bare-bones offering can be intimidating to a newcomer. Kano is a forthcoming open-source computer kit designed to make coding as easy as assembling Legos. Among other projects, Kano can be used to build simple games, like Pong or Snake, or create music, sounds, and HD video. The kit runs a variation of Linux and includes visual coding software called Kano Blocks that outputs Python and Javascript. A Kano keyboard costs $49 more; you’ll need to bring your own monitor.” [link to read more of this article]


– excellent teacher?

This month The Atlantic published a great in-depth article on what makes a great teacher. Naturally given that I had been thinking about that myself for a long time, I found it very interesting and certainly inspirational in itself. The article followed and interviewed teachers from Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that gives the opportunity to new graduates to teach for two years at a local poor neighbourhood school. The article is largely based on a report they issued on their experience and on what makes a great teacher.

Only today I was listening to others say they cannot motivate students because students are either motivated or not and there isn’t much you can do. You can guide them, they said, but hard to motivate. I am not totally sure I agree.  I think that  if one inspires a student, one may be able to motivate them as well.

So what does make an excellent teacher? by excellent, the article in The Atlantic was giving a criteria of getting higher grades than their peers in other classes or other schools for example. While I agree with this criteria, I also think that motivating them in life more than just about grades. In any case, while the article speaks of school-age children, the majority of the criteria applies to all levels of teaching including higher ed.

One comforting note the article makes is that “effective teaching is neither mysterious nor magical. It is neither a function of  a dynamic personality nor dramatic performance.” This is good to know because it means it is not a ‘genetic’ disorder to be a bad teacher. 🙂  “Great teachers”, one of the ‘great teachers’ said “constantly evaluate what they are doing.” Yes. What a fabulous criteria that is. Constantly evaluating will, for sure, produce different results and make learning a more exciting and dynamic process. That is why teachers who are set in their ways and who refuse to change their method of teaching in any way, are such boring teachers.

A great teacher listens to the students – but never asks “do you understand” because most of the time, students THINK they understand or shy away from speaking up.  “Great teachers tend to reflect on their performance and adapt accordingly. So people who tend to be self-aware might be a good bet.”  [my emphasis]. Yes indeed. Self-aware and humble. Arrogance, I believe, does not make a teacher see beyond his/her own shadow.

When asked whether he found his first year on the job hard, one teacher said “I found that the kids were not hard. You paint this picture in your head about how you will teach this lesson, and you can teach the whole lesson and no one gets it.”this is humbleness and an admission of his own failure to engage the students rather than putting the blame squarely on the student.

Duration of teaching or previous teaching experience do not matter. What does matter are usually the things we overlook. Some success predictors include a history of perseverance. In fact, Teach for America now interviews people and grades them based on their perseverance in the face of challenges they met in their lives. What an interesting criteria! One other very unlikely criteria is that teachers who scored high in ‘life satisfaction‘ and who said they were content with their lives, were 43% more likely to perform well in the classroom. “They may be more adept at engaging their pupils, and their zest and enthusiasm may spread to their students.”  Past performance, ‘especially the kind you can measure is the best predictor of future performance. Recruits who have achieved big, measurable goals in college tend to do so as teachers.”

Believe it or not, the article quotes from the research that Teach for America made saying that “knowledge matters, but not in every case.” Ivy league grads and women teachers tend to be better teachers, but not always. Other criteria matter must be in the mix. I believe the part of ‘women teachers’ might apply more for regular schools  than for higher ed.

I think that only a minority of students are just hopeless in terms of motivation. Other factors are at play that may make the learning process unappealing or overwhelming or both. Yet the majority need the motivation and the engagement if given the opportunity. Some students are ‘lost causes’ – no matter what one does.  They just will not cooperate. Some students are just oppositional students who will hate what you do no matter what you do. There isn’t much that can be done about them. Move on. Do not let that hinder you from helping others.

After all, as educators, our role is to help and guide students towards achieving their goals.

Looking at all those criteria.. I am wondering if any more can be added. I certainly have my own list that I will post soon.

– tools of engagement

The number of tools on the web now is overwhelming, and it is difficult to know which ones to use in classrooms, and which ones are worth spending the energy and time on.  Some tools  have steep learning curves and others are simple but not appropriate for our discipline. I have noticed, for example, that there are hardly any tools for teaching technology and programming although we use the technology and programming to teach other disciplines.

We don’t have to learn everything all at once. The first thing we need to do before using a tool is ask the following questions:

  • what is my goal? what do I want to accomplish in the end?
  • will this particular tool help me accomplish my goal?
  • if so, is it an intuitive tool or does it need a steep learning curve? [if the latter then I need to assess whether I have the ability to spend so much time on it or not]
  • how much will it cost? most good tools are free unless you want additional features which might need you to pay].

As this year comes to a close, I would like to show my top 14 tools that everyone must have no matter what the discipline:

  1. Flashcards: Smartfm flashcards with audio. http://www.ediscio.com/ flashcards. Students can even download them to study offline. You can let students create their own flashcards and they will learn more as they create them
  2. Voice collaboration voxopop – great for language learning in particular and PodOmatic Like voicethread but in audio— It only needs a microphone.
  3. Video/interview tool Wetoku . Let your students conduct interviews with others. It only needs a webcam and registration and you’re all set to go.
  4. Messageboard/forum: Voicethread: the best alternative to a forum or messageboard because it is visual and incorporates audio/video and text.  Suitable for all disciplines.
  5. Mindmapping: mindomo and mind42 Just online thinking tools that could be used to map ideas and structures. Drawing to express complex ideas.
  6. Wallwisher: virtual post it notes.
  7. Wordle. A great tool to generate discussion based on keywords
  8. Animation: Sploder: creating animation; SketchStar creating cartoons and animation. Or create your own beautiful animation puzzle with this great tool Qunadry software.  Only issue with this is that it requires a slightly more advanced knowledge of technology and requires download of the quandry software but the results are outstanding. “Action mazes can be used for many purposes, including problem-solving, diagnosis, procedural training, and surveys/questionnaires.”
  9. Timelines: xtimeline – multimedia timelines with videos, photos and text
  10. Documents: writewith: upload documents, share with other people, chat, assign tasks, and track everybody’s actions with a comprehensive history. Or create a virtual book with Bookrix. Embedit.in a tool to let you embed docs in your site with markups and analytics.
  11. Collaboration: besides wikis, there is  Etherpad. Even though Google recently bought it and its fate is unknown, it continues to be a great tool for collaboration. Students may collaborate on research papers and documents they are writing.
  12. Website builders: Hipero and Wix [flash-based designs].
  13. Quizzes: create your own quizzes and share them at proprofs. Also educationalpress where you can Create free educational worksheets such as flashcards, game boards, and quizzes to print directly from your browser.
  14. Worksheets: from teachnology. While it is not a free tool, the worksheets are free and maybe used for different projects. It also has worksheet generators to create your own specific worksheets.

If you want more tools, please visit my social networking wiki. One tool I have not tried but seen at work is a free online content management system called RCampus. Definitely worth a second look because it provides a complete CMS similar to Moodle.

Any other tools? certainly there are plenty more, but if you have some must haves, please do not hesitate to let me know.

NMC 2009: Teaching Well with Innovative Technologies

Greg Leihman
Greg Leihman

One of the best talks I attend was Greg Reihman’s teaching well with innovative technologies. Here is a brief of what he said:

No discussion of particular technologies but think about what it is we want to do when teaching. How do we plan a course or help others do that to use technology effectively? Was teaching humanities [studied philosophy]. How do we make a session better? The program he is in is called the LeHigh Lab. On a paper: Think of a specific course. What is one thing your students aren’t learning as well as you would like them to learn? What technology are you thinking about putting to use to help solve that problem?

Designing classes:

  1. plan backwards: Outcomes: don’t think of you as instructor but think of the outcomes, learning objectives. What do you want students to do when they take your class? What will they learn to do? Think in term of verbs. Putting it out to them in their language. Assessment: what tools will you use to know if they learnt what they needed [quizzes, tools etc.] Activity: what will they DO to learn with their minds and bodies to gain those skills? The primary activity is they listen and they sit. Or they could do other things that could push us to a higher order of things: ruminating, creating, analyzing, debating, thinking, comparing, debating, writing, visualizing, critiquing, applying, evaluating, reading. Think of things they will do alone and others they will do with others. In the presence of instructor they usual listen and sit, but the others are done away from faculty member. When they get stomped when they are alone or with their peers, how far away will you be to offer support? All these things need to match up. Create a week on a paper and say for example on Tuesday they will listen and Thursday they will discuss – or have discussion on Tuesday and then follow up discussions on Thursday. How about writing? Use informal writing assignments – eg in blogs.
  2. What’s hard about teaching a seminar? Preparation, participation, depth Participation 30%, Final Project 20%, Paper 2 analytic Essay, Online Journal 15%, Paper 1 Comparative Essay 15%. There needs to be a midterm assessment and individual feeback that they do about themselves and that you help through. Setting up forums is important and bringing topics from that forum into the class is useful especially because you can draw in shy students. Using audio with the forum is great because you are not involved in the forum where students will start addressing you instead of each other. Ask them about the one post that they found generated comments. Now they are not only participating in the forums but they are also thinking about what makes a good conversation. Monday: lecture; Tuesday Read; online group discussion; Wednesday: write a question based on what the students wrote on the forum. Group discussion summary that I write and then give it to other groups for them to comment on. They come up with discussions for the groups. So group 4 takes the summary of group 14’s responses and come up with questions of their own to that group.
  3. Find a ‘conceptual splinter’: they are divided into groups of 5 and they bring one thing to class that they are puzzled about the following time and share what they were talking about. We took that splinter and passed it to another group. Then find a way to remove splinter: how do you make sure they all make the work? They need to write it down and at the end of the class he collects them all. Then they come back together and pick the three best solutions and from those three they need to pick one that is most plausible: which one makes a good logical argumentation? Inside the wiki he wrote the four speculations and why each is not a good answer and then one that makes sense and why. And then he writes his own comments at the bottom of the page. Knowledge survey: he asks them 20 questions in the beginning and writes their answers in a graph – the question is: could you give a philosophically sound response to this question – rate it from 0-5 in terms of confidence. Then at the end of the semester give them the same 20 questions and then put it all in a graph that starts from No confidence to complete confidence.
  4. Team teaching: bring out the sheet you wrote and see if particular technologies fit with your course and what you want to achieve.