Redefining Assistive Tech

This week’s group presentation focused on assistive technology and prior to the presentation, I would have said that my experience with assistive tech was limited. However, the group shared a chart showing varying degrees of assistive technology from “no tech” to “low tech” to “high tech”. I have used many of the items on their “no tech” list such as pencil grips, raised line paper, slanted surfaces, communication boards, scribes, number lines, graphic organizers and some of which have been used in whole class settings. Additionally, I have used a number of the items on their “low tech” list such as visual timers, FM systems, audio books, spell checkers and so on. Following the presentation, I would say that my experience with assertive tech has been varied but that my experience with “high tech” assistive technology has been the most limited. Additionally, reading one of the related articles this week allowed me to reexamine my definition of assistive technology. The article stated that assistive technology refers to

“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 individuals with disabilities” (Alkahtani, 2013, p. 68)

Some of the “high tech” assistive technology I have used includes RAZ Kids and Clicker Connect. RAZ Kids is an e-reading tool that I use with my entire class during Daily 5. Not only is RAZ Kids an assistive tool as it allows for students to listen to reading, but it is also an assessment technology that uses a variety of means to assess student decoding and comprehension.

Clicker Connect is a writing support tool that I have recently started to learn about. I have some students in my classroom who have tried it out but are waiting devices and approval of the app to see if they will have access throughout the year. I think this tool would be very helpful for beginning writers and struggling writers to help improve organization, writing ease and writing skills.

Some of the benefits of assistive technology that I have experienced have been through the lens of the universal design model. Universal design for learning (UDL) calls for mainstreaming of assistive technology and creation of an environment that can be accessed by all students regardless of their ability. In one of the videos that the group presented this week, the speaker discussed how assistive tech tools can be taught to all students and eventually those who do not need it will stop using it while those who it remains critical for will continue and not feel as if they have been singled out because the tool was presented with equal access for all students. All students can benefit from Universal Design for learning. In fact, the UDL states that accommodations are “necessary for some, and good for all” (Sider & Maich, 2014).  The benefits I have experienced with my students (many of which are discussed in this article) include but are not limited to:

  • ability for students to become more deeply involved in the classroom community and greater school community
  • inspires a deeper love of learning and more positive experience at school
  • decreases undesired behaviour
  • opportunities for student independence
  • improved self-esteem and confidence in abilities
  • increased organization and classroom management

Alternatively, there are always limitations with each technology that we introduce. Some of the limitations, that I or my students have experienced include:

  • cost barriers – lack of funding
  • waiting time for approval of devices/apps
  • lack of professional development for usage of new tools
  • limited number of devices for access
  • tech related issues such as wifi connectivitiy issues

This week, I was able to redefine what assistive technology means to me and to reexamine the ways in which I have experienced and used assistive technology. I am eager to read my fellow EC&I classmates’ blog posts this week to learn about some of the assistive technology tools that they use!



Practicing with Plickers

This week, our professor Alec, asked us to explore an assessment technology that is new to us. I am choosing the tool called Plickers. I heard about Plickers a few months ago and have recently started using it in my classroom on occasion. I was able to use it a couple times last year and just this week, my current students used it for the first time.

Plickers is a free assessment tool which provides a quick and easy check for understanding from students. I chose to explore this tool because my students really liked using Kahoot! however because we only had access to 5 iPads, not all students were able to participate at the same time or they would have to participate in groups which did not provide an accurate picture of student understanding.

There was no significant challenges to setting up Plickers. It is quite easy to use and I was able to get going with it quite quickly. Plickers uses coded multiple choice cards. I chose to print the cards on cardstock and laminate them to ensure durability throughout the year. My students keep the same card all year to ensure further ease of use for me! Additionally, while this tool can be used for both formative and summative assessment, I primarily use it as a tool for formative assessment and unit reviews prior to summative assessments.

Some of the other pros for using this tool include:

  • Very simple to use for students.  They just need to rotate a card to show their answer.
  • Very simple for teachers to use the app, to scan, and to project answers.
  • Plickers cards are easy to handle, and come in different sizes typical to larger auditoriums, and in larger size fonts for younger students to be able to read.
  • Students are engaged. It’s fun! They are eager to get the correct answer because they get anonymous feedback following each question.
  • It is non-threatening to use because their names are not being used to show correct or incorrect responses. However, as the teacher, I can see their names on my phone so I can easily assess who is being successful with the questions in real-time.

On the other hand, many of us are aware of the cons of using a multiple choice assessment.

If you’d like more information, here is a review of Plickers by Common Sense Media. Or check out this teacher review: 5 Reasons to Try Plickers.

If you haven’t tried Plickers, I recommend that you do!


Web 3.0

This week, my group presented on Web 1.0 and 2.0. We discussed everything from the history of the web to theories of learning as they relate to the web to creating a collaborative document using Web 1.0 and 2.0 tools and finally to a discussion of social media which is a huge part of Web 2.0. We had just got our heads wrapped around Web 1.0 and 2.0 and then….Alec threw a Web 3.0 blog prompt at us!

What the heck is Web 3.0 anyway?

Alec asked us to think about the following thoughts:

“The web influences people’s way of thinking, doing and being, and people influence the development and content of the web.  The evolution of the web from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and now to Web 3.0 can be used as a metaphor of how education should also be evolving, as a movement from Education 1.0 toward that of Education 3.0.  The Web, Internet, Social Media, and the evolving, emerging technologies have created a perfect storm or convergence of resources, tools, open and free information access.” (Jackie Gerstein)

Gerstein’s metaphor of a “perfect storm” of resources, tools, open and free information access is a great description of what the web has become. We all know there are endless tools to use, information is endless and there are pros and cons to each click we make on the web. The potential effect that each of our clicks has is part of this storm. Our choices with the current web are endless but there is implications for everything we do.

This chart gives some ideas of what the world and education will look like as it has evolved in different stages of the web:

I would like to wrap up the blog post by examining the following thoughts…

This article provides some great examples of how Web 3.0 will effect education. The responses are presented by a few leading tech / education gurus. Here are a few of my favourite responses:

  • “For a generation, schools spent money on hardware and software, and the results didn’t point to the idea that these technologies were demonstrably improving learning outcomes. Now, we have millions of kinds of devices that can access the Internet. So it’s not necessarily that you have to buy one type and it equals educational technology. Eventually, all machines will be Internet-connected, and the “educational” piece will be in the way teachers use the digital world to foster learning” – @BlakePlock
  • “Another great disruption is the fact that there are people who are going to say, “We can do all this for next to nothing.” Sebastian Thrun of the Stanford AI class and his team at Udacity realized they can amortize costs across thousands of students and ultimately might be able to offer a computer science degree for as little as $500. Contrast that with the cost of a college education, and you see just how disruptive this could be”- Tim O’Reilly 
  • “Good teachers have always involved students in complex projects. But in the past, it’s been more difficult, with just the library down the hall and the teacher’s knowledge to guide them. As personal and continuous access to a Web 3.0 environment becomes a reality, teachers will be able to develop engaging, interesting and more complex assignments that are supported by a variety of resources. Students can understand more about, say, backyard bugs by engaging with an entomologist online, or earn a digital badge as they demonstrate advanced search techniques” – @OfficeofEdTech

Thanks for reading!


Tools for Distance and Online Education

I found this post challenging to write this week because in essence we are attempting to challenge traditional forms of schooling as we know it. While many classrooms implement tech integration and try a variety of new tools and activities related to emerging technologies, much of what we continue to do — especially in primary classrooms like my own — is rooted in traditional models of teaching.

In a previous blog post, I discuss how I use a blended learning model in my classroom:

In my classroom, I teach from a blended learning approach, combining digital media with other more traditional teaching methods. Before we start learning with technology, we begin in September by learning how to use technology. Included in this learning is management of time, place and the tools we use when it comes to our devices. In a third grade classroom, this means learning about safety online, privacy, being responsible digital citizens and finding balance. All of these understandings must be in place before we begin learning with technology. In my opinion, this blended approach allows for technology to enhance learning in a meaningful way. Key to this approach is the teacher and as my classmate Wendy argued, “it’s not technology that motivates and engages students, its teachers. Bad tech isn’t good learning”. After all, we live in a digital world and students need the skills that technology is providing for them.

In my classroom we use tools such as but not limited to BrainPopJr., Google apps for Education, Seesaw, Twitter, and other various apps that are available through our school board regulated devices.

In our readings this week, I came across this quote: “There’s an inherent conflict…between a culture that demands learning efficiency and a culture that recognizes learning messiness” (Source). The conflict this blogger is discussing is part of what holds, me (and I believe, many others) back from moving towards a less traditional model of teaching. Alec asked us to consider how our current context would be impacted if we were to shift from online/distance learning vs. face to face learning. In a primary classroom, I find this very difficult to imagine. In my opinion, for young children the face-to-face learning and connection with their teacher is invaluable.

However, once students gain more independence, work ethic and intrinsic motivation (among other skills!), it makes sense that online/distance education can be highly beneficial. In our EC&I833 course, there are many benefits to our synchronous online meetings. For example, as Tony Bates (2014) points out, there is a great deal of learner autonomy in our course in terms of content and learning style. There is “openness, in terms of access to the course, content, activities and methods of assessment”, diversity in terms of “varied content, individual perspectives and multiple tools, especially for networking learners and creating opportunities for dialogue and discussion” (Source). In our course, we use Zoom, Google+ Communities, Twitter and a Feedly Hub but have access to many other modes of communication between teacher-student and student-student. An additional benefit is the interactivity of the course; “communication…and co-operative learning [that] results in emergent knowledge” (Source). Lastly, there is increased access to courses and course content and the course becomes available for distance learning.

Meanwhile, Tony Bates (2014) also points out the following criticisms of the connectivist (online/distance learning) approach to teaching and learning:

  • there is no control of the quality of content, or on contributions from participants;
  • assessment can become more difficult
  • learning may not necessarily be academic
  • students may struggle with a lack of structure and can be overwhelmed by the volume of content generated by other students
  • “this kind of learning requires learners already to have at least some level of more formal or traditional education before they participate if they are to fully benefit from this kind of learning experience”.

So, while I maintain that my practice is a blended learning approach with a slight lean towards the traditional, I see great value in online/distance learning for more mature students.

In my primary classroom, I have been intrigued by the idea of a flipped (or partially flipped classroom) for the purpose of engaging students and parents in a different and potentially more connected way.

With parent engagement as one of our division’s primary goals this year, a flipped classroom could play into the action plan well. While I cannot see myself transitioning to a fully flipped classroom, I can see many benefits to using this type of model in a variety of ways. My hope would be that this type of learning would help bridge the gap between home and school. So, what’s stopping me? Well…like most new approaches to learning, there are also many barriers including student/family access to devices, student/family time (what about extra-curricular activities? family time? a break from “school” learning?), what about families that don’t engage with this model? It seems everyone would have to be on board. This makes it difficult for families with parents who work evening shifts or have other responsibilities. So, while I like many aspects of the flipped classroom model, I also see many barriers and currently, too many barriers to encourage me to switch over to this kind of model.

As I mentioned previously, I found this post difficult to craft because of my conflicting opinions on new models of learning as they have many attached advantages and disadvantages. Coming from a primary classroom plays a big role in my opinion of online/distance learning in my current professional content however as a university student, I really enjoy this type of learning. I am eager to read the posts of other primary teachers in this course to see what they think about online/distance learning in their contexts!


Single-tasking for the Win!

Multitasking with technology
One of my favourite non-fiction books is titled Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School by developmental molecular biologist John Medina. In his chapter on Attention, he blatantly points out that “Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth…we are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously” (p. 84-85). He goes on to say that “The brain is a sequential processor, unable to pay attention to two things at the same time. Businesses and schools praise multitasking, but research clearly shows that it reduces productivity and increases mistakes”. You can read more about his ideas in his blog post found here. Our professor Alec asked us to watch this video called Single-tasking is the New Multi-tasking and discuss whether the Internet is really a productivity tool or merely an endless series of distractions and whether the Internet has created a world of ‘multi-taskers’ who don’t accomplish as much as they could have without it? This video provides information that relates directly to the ideas that John Medina shares. The speaker likens open tabs on your computer to tabs as a metaphor for different elements in life suggesting that we are not good at multi-tasking online or offline. The difficult part is that society (including schools and workplaces) position multi-tasking as an optimal skill to have. We are constantly bombarded with messages from society and in the media about the value of multi-tasking. This week, presenters Amy, Amy, Kyle and Colette discussed productivity suites and presentation tools. A productivity suite “is a group of programs for your computer that includes a word processor, a spreadsheet creator and a presentation creator accessible by launching one main application. The suite enables you to share data among the three programs as well as download and use templates from online template providers” (Source). They also shared this video to compare two of the most popular productivity suites Microsoft Office and Google Suites. One of the groups’ recommended readings argued that
“Today, we often take for granted that digital versions of these once-revolutionary technologies come bundled in a single software package many of us use every day. In offices around the world, you’ll find professionals hard at work using the modern productivity suite, which can include word-processing, email, spreadsheet, and presentation software, as well as instant messaging and file-sharing apps. And these powerful office tools empower many millions of office workers to get their jobs done” (Source)
What I find so interesting is that while media/society is pushing for multitasking as an important skill, the research shows that multitasking is ultimately unproductive. Tools like that ones presented this evening (Microsoft Office, Google Suites, etc.) have become an enabler for people to multitask while simultaneously creating a significant distraction. Though as Melanie points out, our reliance on this kind of technology is indisputable. I know that I personally become overwhelmed especially during ed tech courses because I always have so many tabs open. It sometimes becomes difficult to organize my thoughts because I am clicking through tabs or one link leads me to another and down the rabbit hole I go. I would not be able to create my blog posts for this class without the use of technology and presentation tools but I wonder how much time I could save if I only have one tab to focus on! This same problem spills over into many other areas of life including in my workplace and from experiences being a student in the past decade. Technology has created so many possibilities but also so many distractions!
Designer Paolo Cardini questions the efficiency of our multitasking world and makes the case for — gasp — “monotasking (Source)

Learning to Read is as Easy as Eating Some Alphabet Soup


In his 1985 article, Learning in the Age of Television, Neil Postman wrote “…We know how that ‘Sesame Street’ encourages children to love school only if school is like ‘Sesame Street.’ Which is to say, we now know that ‘Sesame Street’ undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents”. Postman is discussing the role that television had begun to play in the education of American children and how this audio-visual technology was reshaping parent and educator understanding of what learning could look like if they revamped what the traditional classroom setting looked like. 

For many of us, imagining what the traditional classroom looked like has something like this image imprinted in our minds: 

Related image

As Haiming describes in her blog post, the teacher is placed at the front of the room, students sit in rows of desks and there is little visual stimulation in the surroundings. This classroom is rooted in behaviourist learning theory in which the teacher transmits the knowledge to the student. This image did not align with what Sesame Street taught us to thinking about learning. 

Postman writes “In searching the literature of education, you will find it said by some that children will learn best when they are interested in what they are learning. You will find it said–Plato and Dewey emphasized this–that reason is best cultivated when it is rooted in robust emotional ground. You will even find some who say that learning is best facilitated by a loving and benign teacher. But no one has ever said or implied that significant learning is effectively, durably, and truthfully achieved when education is entertainment”. Postman is arguing that a shift in learning theory needed to occur at this point in history from behaviourist to constructivist and beyond to connectivism as it relates to modern education. The group presenting this week asked some important questions about how our class thought AV technology impacted learning. Some responses were that AV technologies created opportunities for connections with others, that auditory and visual concepts were closer to real life than text and therefore easier to understanding, AV appeals to different styles of learning and can evoke emotion which in turn activates prior knowledge to create meaning (possibly through digital storytelling, songs or podcasts, etc.), and that integrating AV was more engaging that traditional styles of teaching. Many of our class’ ideas aligned with Postman’s arguments. 

The introduction of audio-visual technology began almost a century ago with tape recorders and overhead projectors and has evolved over time to include technologies such as iPads, smart projectors, robots and virtual reality devices being used in classrooms today. The importance of using AV technology in the classroom should not be underestimated and “there are two reasons for this; one, learning via AV creates a stimulating and interactive environment which is more conducive to learning; two, we live in an audio-visual age which means that having the skills to use AV equipment is integral to future employment prospects. Therefore exposure to AV technology in education is imperative”. AV technology has become important in the classroom in “facilitating improved productivity and student engagement, offering flexible applications that can create dynamic learning environments for wide-reaching audiences…technology also allows groups from all over the world to connect and collaborate in real-time” (Source).  In 2018, this information shouldn’t be surprising when we have statistics like these to suggest the relevance of AV technology in our lives. 

Today’s technology capabilities are likely beyond what Postman imagined for education in 1985 but many of the positive implications of AV technology remain relevant. If we think solely of our EC&I 833 course and the opportunities made available through Zoom which allows people to connect from various locations (Alec taught one class from Hong Kong last Winter semester!) for one common goal, it really is quite amazing! Further, if we think about how technology is being integrated into classrooms now through Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs that integrate the culture of smartphones, the use of educational programs through Youtube, and the many applications used to connect classrooms globally, the implications for learning are vast. In my own practice, AV technology enhances learning by showing students content rather than simply having them read about it or listen to me teach about it. AV technology provides another lens and context through which students are able to make meaning of the world around them. As previously suggested, students can learn more when they are engaged and interested in what they are learning. Finally, the integration of AV technologies in today’s classrooms allow for 21st century learning to take place. 

The use of AV technologies in the classroom is conducive to understanding new literacies such as digital literacy. Pitts argues 

“all communication is multimodal, that writing alone is not enough for learning, and that all modalities are ‘equally significant for meaning and communication’ …In this context written language, then, is but one part of meaning making. Moreover, it is no longer the dominant part. A literate individual is no longer one who can simply read and write, but one who can place language within a broader context – a multimodal world. As information can be expressed through multiple modes, the ability to interpret and connect the multiple modes through a variety of literacies (e.g., print, digital) becomes essential”.

New epistemoligies in a digital age: Ways of knowing beyond text-based literacy in young adult leaners

In conclusion, AV technologies have the power to revolutionize learning in many contexts and make learning more engaging, empowering and connected. Teachers have a responsibility to use this information to transform their teaching and the role that traditional classroom models continue to play in modern classrooms. After all, according to author Malcolm Gladwell, “Sesame Street was built around a single breakthrough insight: that if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them”. How are you holding your students attention? 

Coding: A New Literacy


In class this week, we practiced coding (for my first time!) We used the program called Logo Interpreter and followed a workbook called Programming in Logo. This was my first experience using computer language and instructing the program to do what I wanted using code. This helped me to understand a bit about how programs complete tasks and how I was able to manipulate the code to meet a certain objective. I was also able to make many connections between coding and the SK math curriculum.

Adding to last week’s discussion about learning theories, Seymour Papert coined the term constructionism which is a learning theory rooted in constructionism where the learner makes meaning of information based on their experience with it but further (in constructionism), the learner is “most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as constructing a meaningful product” (source).  Papert used Logo in his early research which was designed to teach young children about computer programming.

In his 2015 article “Why Kids Should Learn to Code“, Erik Missio explains that coding is being considered a new literacy and that learning to code is directly related to many future job opportunities. (Hint: scroll to the bottom of this article if you’re not sure where to start with coding. There are some great applications to start with! Or checkout this article) Missio argues,

Today, computing is involved in almost all aspects of our lives, from communications and education to social media, banking, information, security and shopping. Networked computers are capable of controlling our homes’ thermostats and lighting, our cars and our health records.

If grade-schoolers are taught biology and mathematics in order to understand the world around them, then knowing the basics of how computers communicate—and how to engage with them—should be a given.

Not only does learning to code help kids explain the world, it also helps them develop problem solving and computational thinking skills (Missio) both of which are listed as Future 2020 Work Skills. This 2012 article “Code Literacy: A 21st Century Requirement” by Douglas Rushkoff explains that kids “are spending an increasing amount of their time in digital environments where the rules have been written by others. Just being familiar with how code works would help them navigate this terrain, understand its limitations and determine whether those limits are there because the technology demands it — or simply because some company wants it that way. Code literate kids stop accepting the applications and websites they use at face value, and begin to engage critically and purposefully with  them instead”.

If you’re not yet convinced, this article, 9 Reasons Why Kids & Teens Should Learn to Code, sums it up nicely:

Finally, check out what some of these leaders and trend-setters have to say about the importance of learning to code in this article.

As you can see, there are many reasons that learning to code is important for young people today. Because technology is impacting nearly every aspect of our lives, it is increasingly important to understand how the programs being used work. In addition, coding can be used to help young people develop new programs and apply what they have learned in creative ways.

There are already many ways in which learning to code can be relevant in the context of the Saskatchewan curriculum. Do you teach coding in your classroom? If so, what programs do you use? What benefits are you seeing? What have your students surprised you with?