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Knowing Everything and Students with Names

This post is in response to a Newsweek article titled “What if You Could Learn Everything” “Imagine every student has a tireless personal tutor, an artificially intelligent and inexhaustible companion that magically knows everything, knows the student, and helps her learn what she needs to know.”   Jose Ferreira, the CEO of Knewton, has made this artificially intelligent companion a reality for k-12 students.  He has partnered with three curriculum companies including Pearson, MacMillan, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as part of his vision for making Knewton the adaptive learning tool that will make textbooks obsolete.   This “adaptive learning will help each user find the exact right piece of content needed, in the exact right format, at the exact right time, based on previous patterns of use…  Knewton, at base, is a recommendation engine but for learning. Rather than the set of all Web pages or all movies, the learning data set is, more or less, the universe of all facts. For example, a single piece of data in the engine might be the math fact that a Pythagorean triangle has sides in the ratio 3-4-5, and you can multiply those numbers by any whole number to get a new set of side lengths for this type of triangle.” Knewton works as you might suspect, it begins with a test to see what a student already knows.  Content is pulled in the form of reading and videos to teach the student the things that they do not know.  This is similar to what many other “personalized” adaptive learning systems are doing.  What makes Knewton stand apart is the way that the technology “reads” the student.  As the student is learning, the technology is recording timing, confidence, tabulating each keystroke, and whether the student is guessing or taking their time to answer questions.  So, the more that a student interacts with Knewton, the smarter it becomes and the better that the study recommendations get. When I see technology like Knewton, it astounds me.  I am always excited about technology that has the potential to improve learning and that feels seamless for humans to interact with.  While the geek in me rejoices that someone is tackling a project this substantial to increase learning, the educator in me is disappointed.  Knewton is all about knowing things. It is about facts.  But, is it really worth all of the effort for technology to train humans to be computers?  I mean, that is essentially what this is doing, no?  We are creating a new factory model, this time the technology is programming us.  Ironically, this is exactly what Knewton’s CEO is working to overcome. Don’t get me wrong, there are things that are worth knowing.  Important, foundational things that shape the rest of what we are able to do.  But, who gets to determine what is foundational and essential for a student to know?  As far as I’m concerned, most curriculum companies are already overreaching in what every single child MUST know.  So, with the vast amount of knowledge available in the world, how do we determine what is really critical for us as a society to know?  The rest of it, while interesting and important, is not necessarily worth forcing.  Even the title of the article, “What if You Could Learn Everything?” makes me cringe.  I don’t want to know everything.  I don’t want to be so crammed full of facts that I can rock a game of Trivial Pursuit, but I can’t actually DO anything useful. My bigger problem is that once again, we are introducing a tool into education that intends to personalize the learning experience for the student, and in doing so, strips away their humanity.  You see that don’t you?  This is turning children into computers and fact recallers. But students have names.  They have stories.  Teachers have a different kind of urgency to make things better because we begin and end with students who have names.  This goes beyond the altruistic, “wouldn’t it be great if education worked better” motivation of politicians and curriculum companies who have the ultimate goal of improving our  rank in math and science.  As a teacher, you deal in humanity.  You are concerned with the life that is being shaped.  You want kids to know that they are more than the collection of facts that they have memorized.  The are unique and have something important to offer the world.  That they matter.  Humanity. So, while I find the concept behind Knewton fascinating, it isn’t what I want for education.  It may fill a need for a piece of the puzzle (namely the foundational knowledge piece), but it isn’t going to make education better if it becomes education.  Being educated is more than just knowing facts (and I’ll remind you again that we already have computers for that).  Being educated means that a child can make connections, synthesize, analyze, evaluate, apply, create something new.  It is learning that is applied. Technology will play a critical role in the evolution of the classroom.  The role will be different from what Knewton offers.  Instead of assuming that all kids need is facts, the technology will recognize and embrace the humanity.  It will offer more than one way to learn, because while some kids will really enjoy sitting and reading, watching videos and taking an online multiple choice test, others will want to try out a concept through experimentation.  They will want to build something new with their knowledge, or launch further investigation into a concept, or take a field trip and see the learning for themselves.  Learning cannot be reduced to a computer.  This changes the recommendation engine and relies heavily on skilled educators.  This takes into account who a student really is and makes learning recommendations based on that.  The recommendations aren’t relegated to a computer, they can be field trips, videos, apps, projects, activities, experiments, books, and anything else that can be used to learn.  This is utilizing technology for personalization beyond pacing and content exposure to pass the next multiple choice test.  This is empowering teachers to truly shape the learning experience for each student.  This is recognizing that students should have a say in how and what they will learn.  This is why I created the Learning Genome Project. The Learning Genome Project recognizes that learning is more than just a collection of facts.  It embraces humanity and rejects the idea that humans should be computers.  It will be transformative because it works to make each student the best that they, individually, can be.  It works to strengthen the WHOLE child, not just the fact reservoirs in the brain.  It goes beyond remembering content and challenges students to do something with their knowledge.  I can’t tell you how many students I have met that know their multiplication facts inside and out, but have no idea why finding area requires multiplication.  Knowledge is useful when it can be applied.  The Learning Genome Project urges students to go beyond knowing into the other, rich areas of learning.  Blooms Taxonomy is a useful for thinking through what it means to learn.  Knowledge and understanding are a portion of the learning, but so is the ability to analyze, evaluate, apply and create.  Learning is multifaceted and alive.  It can’t be so neatly all contained in this sort of adaptive learning technology.  Education should utilize technology (I tend to believe this will be the Learning Genome Project) in order to reach the individual.  It must reach outside of itself and meet that student with a name.  It must be able to recognize a student’s need without demanding that the need be met with a predetermined question/answer set. This post took me some days to think through and write.  It spurred some new thinking for me.  It made me go back through the Learning Genome Project wireframes to dig out any hidden corners that may harbor something that would strip the humanity.  It caused me to think of a new Bloom’s Taxonomy image.  I welcome your thoughts and comments! Hat tip to @alexbitz for sending me this article! **If you know an investor who might be interested in the Learning Genome Project, I’d love an introduction!

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History for Music Lovers: Brilliance

Posted by admin | Posted in Analyze, Create, Evaluate, History, inspiration, Knowledge (remember), Language Arts, Middle/High School, Music, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources, video, Websites | Posted on 08-02-2011

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What it is: Thanks to a tip from Jan, an iLearn Technology reader, I learned about the History for Music Lover’s YouTube channel yesterday.  Oh. My. Goodness. Instant love. Seriously, if I had learned history this way, I would have rocked it!  As it turns out, I actually met @amyburvall, the genius history teacher behind History for Music Lover’s at ISTE 10 in Denver and didn’t make the connection (feeling like a jerk for not figuring that out!).  I starred in a video with one of the stars of the MansaMusa video “Magnus” the fashion police guy at ISTE.  Small world.  You MUST check out this YouTube channel, even if YouTube is blocked in your building. (As a side note…someone remind me WHY we block students from learning opportunities??)

History for Music Lovers is a collection of music videos (high quality I tell ya!) centered around events and people in history set to popular songs.  Amy Burvall, IB high school history teacher, is the creator and star of the videos.  Coolest history teacher ever. My high school history teacher sang one song to us: I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. True story.  It was not engaging, inspiring, or helpful in my learning of history.

On the History for Music Lovers YouTube channel you’ll find:

I think it is awesome that the 80’s is so well represented in this list :)  that Amy Burvall is one talented girl!

How to integrate History for Music Lovers into the classroom: This is my new favorite way to introduce a history topic.  If this doesn’t grab student attention and leave them wanting to learn more, I don’t know what will.  The collection of videos is a fantastic place to start learning.  The lyrics give students just enough information that when they begin fleshing out the period or figure in history with additional reading or research they will have a solid base to build from.  The lyrics are catchy, students will forever associate William the Conqueror with Sexyback.

Students can embed these videos in their own history Web 2.0 creations and presentations.  I’m currently using Capzles with a group of 8th graders and imagine them embedding these videos in their timelines along with images, and their blogged reflections.

Are your students as inspired by music as Ms. Burvall is? Encourage students to tackle a figure or historical time that hasn’t been done yet and create their own historical song parody.

Tips: For those of you who don’t have access to YouTube in your building (again I have to ask why?) you can still use these awesome videos in your classrooms with a little bit of pre-planning.  Download and save YouTube videos so that you can show them at school without accessing the YouTube site. Use KeepVid, YouTube DownloaderHD, Kick YouTube, SaveVid, or Zamzar.  Some of these tools will even let you download at school if you know the YouTube url.  The downloaded video should have no trouble playing at school!

Follow History For Music Lovers, historyteacherz on Facebook and Twitter.

Also, did you know you can become a fan of iLearn Technology on Facebook? It’s true! I don’t have a fancy dancy Twitter account especially for iLearn Tech but feel free to follow me on Twitter. I like talking education, technology, and am in general a geek :)

** This is the LONGEST it has ever taken me to write a blog post, I got sucked right in and watched each and every video.  On the bright side my knowledge of history has increased substantially today.

Please leave a comment and share how you are using History for Music Lovers videos in your classroom!

Comments (7)

WOW! Thanks for the lovely comments and encouragement! And the student project idea is a good one- I’ve been doing that for a few years and the results are amazing!
More to come!
-Amy Burvall of the historyteachers

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shelly S Terrell, ktenkely, Kyle B. Pace, nancyrubin, Helen S T and others. Helen S T said: RT @ShellTerrell: History for Music Lovers: Brilliance http://bit.ly/eNA27M by @ktenkely #edtech […]

Thank YOU Amy for such an awesome resource!

I am so thoroughly impressed by all of these videos! I never knew they existed before. I teach 6th grade Social Studies and we work with the Ancient Civilizations. I can’t wait to put some of these up on my Smartboard. Thank you so much for giving directions to download them for schools who can’t use youtube. (I am at one of those schools, sadly)

Aloha from the waves in Hawaii. Great post. How you can be so fashion forward, beautiful and a total geek is a mystery. ;) “Twitter, like our lives, is neither stagnant nor
stream of conciousness. Neither rehearsed nor improv.
Rather, it is the ever-shifting life in the now,
the creative spawn of the consantly evolving present
moment, fresh and exciting, combined with the steady,
calming presence of our knowledge of the past.” — Mr J aka Magnus Von Magnussen

Magnus all I can say is…it is a gift- ha!

You and me both Stacy! Hope that the download option means that you can share them with your students!

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