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How We Got to Now: 6 Innovations That Made the Modern World

At Anastasis Academy, we are in the middle of the inquiry block “Where We Are in Place and Time.” During this block our students are exploring orientation in place and time, personal histories, explorations and migrations of humankind, and the relationships between the interconnectedness of individuals and civilizations from local and global perspectives.  Serendipitously, Steven Johnson’s new book “How We Got to Now” just came out along with a PBS documentary. The timing could not have been better!! Steven looks at 6 innovations that made the modern world. In his telling about these 6 innovations, he demonstrates the inquiry approach in really brilliant ways. The interdisciplinary nature of this series is fantastic! I’ve been reading “How We Got to Now” (I highly recommend it!) and the students have been watching the new PBS documentary series by the same name as part of the inquiry unit. In addition to the book and documentary series, PBS has a brilliant How We Got to Now website for the classroom! What it is: How We Got to Now with Steven Johnson is a website from PBS. The resources on the site are meant to support the documentary series (or book) and recommended for 6th-12th grade. At Anastasis, we are using it with students as young as 3rd grade and they are all getting something out of it and loving the connections of history and these innovations. How to use How We Got to Now in the classroom: I love the way that Johnson explores innovation through these 6 lenses. Instead of offering up the typical “heroes” of invention, Johnson introduces students to concepts that span hundreds of years of invention and many of the unsung heroes. The six innovations include: glass, time, clean, light, sound, and cold. I’m telling you, the way that Johnson helps kids see connections in innovation and invention is brilliant! So much the way that inquiry works. The How We Got to Now site has a great “Big Ideas” section that leads students to dig deeper into the six innovations and has provocations for students to continue making connections, learning, asking questions, and even coming up with their own innovations. Students can explore and discuss how change happens and think about how we get to “next.” As I mentioned, our students at Anastasis are really loving this block. They are enjoying exploring Where We Are in Place and Time with the help of Steven Johnson and through the lens of these six innovations. It has led to a lot of additional lines of inquiry and has also prompted our students to create their own innovations and inventions for the “next.” As I was reading “How We Got to Now,” I couldn’t help but imagine a set of dominoes. Each innovation connects to something prior that sets off a chain reaction like the domino effect. I suggested to our classes that the students choose one of the six innovations to illustrate this way. The students will create a mini museum for our families to go through that is full of large cardboard dominoes with the inventions and catalysts of the chain reaction. The last domino will be their invention. I’m excited to see this come together! Tips: Watch full episodes of How We Got to Now online here. Are you interested in learning more about the inquiry model we use at Anastasis Academy? Join our conference in February! Early bird registration now available.

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My iPad Journey

Posted by admin | Posted in Blogs, collaboration, education reform, inspiration, iPod, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, professional development, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources, Web2.0, Websites | Posted on 29-07-2010

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The story above is meant to be an illustration of the school/learning experience.  The first explorer’s journey represents the traditional school model.  Here, students are given set tools and led in one direction down a river of scripted curriculum and standardized tests.  Some wonderful things are learned along the way, but there is little freedom to stop and explore more.  This is further limited by the tools provided that allow for little or no discovery.  On this journey there is a single goal in mind: graduation.

The second explorer represents a rich learning experience made available when the proper tools and experiences are made available.  In this model, there is still a destination and objective, but the journey is one of discovery, adventure, and opportunity.  On this journey, students are given the resources that will allow them to explore and learn at their own pace, deepening the learning experience and passion for  a life of learning.  While there are many resources that could enrich the learning experience and help students on this journey of discovery, the tool I am recommending is the iPad.

I choose the iPad over other devices (such as netbooks) because it is an intuitive device (particularly for the elementary level) that puts the focus on the journey unfolding.  Other devices may be cheaper, or offer Flash, or allow multi-tasking but these devices get in the way of the journey because they must be learned before the journey can even begin.  These type of devices can end up being THE journey because there is a learning curve for using the device.  The iPad is brilliant in its simplicity.  Students can pick it up and immediately understand how to navigate and use the device with little guidance.  The iPad offers portability not available in other devices.  It is the go-anywhere, all day learning device that allows students to explore, communicate, and collaborate at their own pace and in their own way.

In the current school system, students aren’t afforded the luxury of having the teacher to themselves all day.  The iPad can fill some of this void by guiding learning, offering instant feedback, giving the ability to pause-rewind-replay learning, and allowing students to learn collaboratively.  This frees the teacher to spend more time guiding students individually on their individual learning journey.

As I have written previously, one device may not make sense in every school, in every classroom.  In another demographic, the cellphone may be the best portable learning device.  I am proposing an iPad study pilot program because for my students at my school, the iPad is the right tool for the journey.  I have had an average of 400 students each year.  I know every one of them by name.  I know many of their families.  I know their hobbies, interests, fears, and passions.  Being a computer has afforded me the opportunity to teach these kids every week of their elementary school lives.  I know these kids. The iPad is the device that would make the second explorer’s journey possible for them.

Before the school year was over, an idea formed to start a 1-to-1 iPad pilot program in first and fifth grade (180 students).  I decided to make this program a formal research study to find out what affect the device really had on student learning and achievement.  I wanted the results of this program to be farther reaching than my school and my students.  It is my hope that by turning this into a research study, not only would my students be given the best, but others could benefit from the results.  Perhaps we could provide the road map of how to implement a 1-to-1 iPad program.  I wrote out my proposal and immediately sent out a tweet asking if there were any research professors or graduate students who might be interested in something like this. Many from my PLN responded positively with help, Jason Schmidt was the one I chose.  Then, I got the wild idea to take the study to another level and sent my proposal to Robert Marzano and Debra Pickering.  They agreed to partner with us on research!  The problem?  We are still working out a way to fund this project.

Below is a pared down version of my proposal:

Objective/Purpose of Study
The purpose of this pilot program is to examine the effectiveness of the Apple iPad multi-touch, mobile device on student achievement and learning in a 1-to-1 environment.  The iPad mobile device will be used to augment instruction, differentiation, inquiry learning, and innovative classroom practice with a focus on reading/English language arts and Math.  Reading/English language arts and math are the primary focus of the study since these are the two subjects that all states have been required to develop assessments under the No Child Left Behind Act.1   The study will also seek to determine if instructional practices are influenced by the use of iPad mobile devices in the classroom.

The goal of this pilot program is to provide a 1 to 1 mobile device learning environment which will:

  • Provide consistent access to technology for a fully integrated learning experience by providing each student with an iPad mobile learning device for use inside and outside the classroom.
  • Make provisions for on demand learning opportunities which will expand the reach of the classroom with the iPad learn-anywhere platform (applications, podcasts, video, e-books all selected for individual learning needs).
  • Allow for customized, individualized content to meet each student’s unique learning needs.4
  • Increase student motivation and engagement in learning.5
  • Increase collaboration among students and teachers resulting in improved achievement.6
  • Provide students with student-focused instruction that is multi-level (for different student abilities), multi-sensory (for different learning styles), and individualized.7
  • Provides students with immediate feedback on learning.8
  • Provides teachers with the ability for immediate and individualized learning assessments.

Questions to Address

  • How can the iPad mobile learning device influence student achievement?
  • How can use of the iPad improve student motivation, attitude, and interest in learning?
  • How can the iPad mobile learning device be introduced into curriculum and instruction effectively?
  • What learning strategies are most effective in instructional applications of the iPad?
  • How can the iPad be used to extend learning beyond the classroom and school day?
  • In what ways can implementation of the iPad be a catalyst for a restructuring of school?
  • What are effective ways of evaluating the impact of mobile learning devices on teaching and learning?
  • Will there be an increase in student ability to use classroom or computer lab computers?
  • Will there be a change in the way teachers think about the use of mobile technologies?
  • Will there be a change in the process of learning from being largely teacher centered, to student centered as a result of the introducing the iPad?
  • Will there be a greater sense of student ownership, responsibility, and empowerment in their own learning (how does this differ in 1st grade to 5th grade)?
  • Will students use technology more purposefully to complete a task or discover new information?
  • Will there be a change of teacher’s philosophy, pedagogy, or approach to the learning process?

The iPad pilot program offers something innovative in the classroom.  It provides the potential to empower and uplift students in their learning.  To maximize effectiveness, education in the 21st century has to be active, engaged, and customized for students.  Students must have universal access to mobile technologies that will enable critical thinking, differentiation, and problem solving.  It is our belief that the technology in Apple’s iPad meets these needs and more.

I tell you all of this because we are still searching for funding.  We have applied for grants, talked with individuals, entered contests, emailed Steve Jobs, etc., etc., etc.  I am stubborn.  I refuse to believe that money is going to be the thing to stop us in our tracks.  I refuse to believe that in all of my PLN, Twitter, and Facebook connections that there isn’t an answer.  Surely Twitter shrinks the six degrees of separation between me and someone who can help get this moving.  Surely someone knows someone, who knows someone who can make this happen.

So here is my plea:

I am convinced that with your help I can get this program started and that our ripples will be felt throughout the education community.

Comments (13)

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I’m a 2/3 multiage teacher, and this is fantastic. I will spread the word. I’d love to help out in any way I can!

I really like the idea of using an ipad in the classroom, as it certainly has its uses and great potential, but for me the killer is the lack of flash. I realize that there are a lot of great apps to use, but when there are so many great free resources on the web that use flash, not to mention flash video players, it just seems to be missing a key component for me just now, especially when the internet is so reliant on Flash right now. In the future I am sure that will change with HTML5, and if the ipad takes off then a lot more sites will make themselves ipad friendly, but until then…

This sounds very interesting! I help Red River Press build language learning apps for iPhone, iPod Touch, and now iPad. We’ll do our best to spread the word. Looking forward to hearing more about your project.

I think this is a neat study that will interest a lot of people. To make it a truly authentic study though, you’ll need a control group (a similar group that has netbooks or one that stays with what you currently have). Otherwise, you won’t know if gains (or losses) were due to the tool, the instruction, or the group of students using them.

I look forward to hearing more about it.

This is wonderful stuff – focused on the learner, forward-thinking, creative. I hope teachers become excited about it, because certainly the kids will!
Best of luck with the funding — surely that won’t be the big obstacle!

Thank you Stephen! I hope that it won’t be the big obstacle too!

I agree Mike, we will need a control. We have been discussing some different ways to do this. Right now we are seriously considering single subject design so that we can be our own control.
If we can’t get the full project funded, we could always pilot in one classroom at each grade level and use the other two classrooms as the control. It will all depend on if we can get the funding!
I hope that there is much more to tell about it in the near future :)

Thank you Tara, I would really appreciate it! I’m excited to take a look at Red River Press and see what you all do!

The lack of flash could be an obstacle, particularly in the elementary setting where you have resources like http://starfall.com. The iPad may lack flash as a built in feature, but it doesn’t mean that flash isn’t available on the iPad. Cloud Browse is an application that allows you to view and interact with Flash sites on the iPad. It works really well! I know there are a few others and now that it is legal to “jailbreak” the devices, I suspect that no Flash won’t be an issue for long.

Thank you Shannon! I really appreciate the help and passing the idea on!

Hey there,

I’m a math teacher and am really interested in the iPad as a lecture device. Right now I project my lessons onto a big screen using a laptop and an LCD projector. I use a wireless graphics tablet to write on my slides as I wander around the room. The problem with my setup is that you have to look at the big screen as you write, and it takes quite a bit of practice. I’d like to be able to hand my students the tablet and have them do problems, but when I do they spend so much time giggling about how hard it is and how they’re writing like kindergarteners that it’s not really worth the hassle. If I had an iPad, it would be much more intuitive for them. My admins have even said they’ll buy me an iPad if I can figure out how to make this work!!!

Here’s my challenge: I need to project the image on the big screen, and I really want a wireless solution. Otherwise I might as well just stand at the front and use the document camera. I tried a VNC app, so that I was writing on my computer screen using the iPad. Unfortunately, VNC is so inefficient that I can’t write at anything even approximating normal speed :( I don’t care whether I’m using an app on the computer or on the iPad, as long as I can draw on the iPad and have it show up on the big screen (and I need to be able to save the completed images/slides to post on my webpage for absent students). Does anyone have a solution to my puzzle???

Meg, I’ll keep my eyes open, I don’t know anything that does this yet (was going to suggest VNC but had not tried it that way yet). Anyone else aware of something that would work?

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