It has become a lovely fall tradition to attend the product kick-off for the most recent round of Imagine K-12 start up companies. I always love this afternoon of events. It is exciting to see the newest in educational innovations, some of which have not even been fully constructed yet. It is also refreshing to see so many educators, from a wide range of backgrounds and settings, rubbing elbows with the product designers and inventors (often the same people).
I also love to sit down and write this blog post. It is a point of pride for me that I am able to provide feedback to the aspiring edtech-ers on my first impressions of their products, how I plan to integrate them into teaching and learning situations, what potential I see for truly changing education for the better, and sometimes what I feel would make this product more useful to me, the teachers I work with and the students we serve.
First up was EDpuzzle, a group from Barcelona. I had the pleasure of seeing EDpuzzle in more embryonic stages and providing the founder with some comments on feedback, as well as ideas for refining and improving. We had a great discussion about the Flipped Classroom model, about Blended Learning, and about how technology can support learning. It was clear to me from his passionate stories about his students that he truly loved being in the classroom. EDpuzzle is designed so that teachers everywhere can take advantage of the plethora of video tutorials that exist, and make that they can make sure that the video is still perfect for what they are teaching. Many teachers would like to assign a video tutorial for homework, so that students can preview material or get extra help, but finding the exact right video can be tough, and making the video can be time consuming. EDpuzzle allows users to edit existing videos, crop what is not needed, record over the original sound so that movies can be dubbed into any language or students can simply hear the familiarity of their teacher’s voice, and teachers can insert questions along the way. I see great potential in EDpuzzle. For our teachers who are using a blended learning approach I see them being able to easily provide differentiation by inserting different questions into the videos. Additionally, those teachers using mrbarrette.com (for more on this tool read my previous post) to organize their courses online can upload these videos and students can access these whenever they need to and work at their own pace. And lastly, for the past few years students have been using Upside Down Academy to showcase their own video tutorials, a rich project that has connected students learning in mathematics across the years as the new 9th graders get to watch the now 10th and 11th graders videos. I think that using EDpuzzle as one step in the editing process will allows students to really reflect on what helps them learn, and how to recreate this for others.
One of the other groups that caught my attention was netclick. This product presents a very simple concept that I think enhances the educational experience. Now even though I know that using powerpoint slides and the stand-and-deliver method of teaching, there are times when this is most effective and appropriate. Not only that, but our students must learn how to given succinct and powerful presentations, and modeling what this looks like is a part of that process. So, what netclick does is enhance the educational potential of this instructional practice. This is achieved by allowing your audience members to log in from their own web-enabled device and follow along with your slides. Firstly, just this feature is great for any students with visual impairments or attention challenges. And it doesn’t stop there!!! Netclick has developed a system wherein the audience can click on the slides, netclick then aggregates the responses and then reveals a ‘heat map’ of what the group is thinking. For example, we were shown a slide of a cell (at least, I think it was a cell) and we were asked to identify the mitochondria. Once the aggregate of everyone else’s clicks showed up, I actually learned where the mitochondria is! And it doesn’t stop there, because any biology teacher would want to know that I had no clue, right? Well netclick can do this for you too. The back end provides a simple spreadsheet of how your participants responded, if students log in then this is attached to their information, and with a quick scan the teacher can see who the outliers are. Netclick has a fine product, I get the feeling they have been at this start up stage for longer than some of the other teams, so this is not a free product.
Another interesting idea was Class Central. This site proposes to aggregate MOOCs from a variety of sources, including the big providers such as Udacity and Coursera, so that users can find and attend a variety of courses. This seems like a very useful tool and I look forward to its completion.
From down under geddit brought us a unique take on the ‘check-for-understanding.’ Rather than always having kids answer a pretty low level question about the content, really the only type of question that a teacher can ask that can be answered quickly, geddit suggests having the students rate their confidence on the subject matter. While this, of course, got many scoffs from the back of the room about the absurdity of leaving it up to students, the presenter was not naïve about this reticence on the part of adults and he simply stated that kids get better with practice. I like this idea. Of course this would not be the only source of data in the room. The teacher would have to use other ways of checking whether kids are moving along or stuck on a concept. But I really like the idea of involving the students in being metacognitive about their own learning, and instilling the practice of reflection and honest self-assessment. This routine can only lead to more thoughtful learners, learners who think about how they learn and whether they are learning at this moment in time.
Here are my quick mentions:
I also love the idea of Kodable, an app for kids that introduces them to the fundamentals of computer programming. I would like to download it for myself!! As well as our schools ipads, of course, and see if students are interested in learning more.
Classroom IQ was interesting. They tackled the problem of grading, specifically, written answers. This is a challenge for teachers, and will only become more intensive as we move towards Common Core and teachers must prepare students for these types of non-multiple choice questions. However, the solution was a little lack luster. The idea is that teachers scan all of the paper results and upload them to the IQ system. Then the teacher can select the part of the page where the answer is, and the IQ system will replicate this selection across all scanned pages. This produces a number of small screenshot looking boxes where the answers are, and teachers can click and grade. Supposedly it saves time, and I am sure once all the stuff is scanned and uploaded and selected, it would be faster than flipping through paper, but all the scanning and selecting takes time too, not to mention dealing with all the other people who need to use the school’s scanner. What would be great is if they had developed a system that could use handwriting recognition to read and grade the selected answers. That would truly be a time saver!
Finally, Front Row presented a math app the focused on providing differentiated math practice, using Common Core standards. This is built for 1st-5th graders, I believe, so there wont readily be wide spread use in my teaching context. However, there are some students who are really struggling with math and this may be the perfect thing. Additionally, I am very curious to learn what common core math means to them. This is such a nebulous new thing that each new product or assessment, for better or worse, will end up defining what we mean by common core in some way.
In summary, I want to thank Imagine K-12 for bringing us all together, for the tasty snacks and adult beverages. It is not very often that teachers get to feel like experts with other adults, as so much of their days are spent with the students. This is a great way to honor the teacher’s know-how, to build collaborative relationships between the designers and the classroom, and to insist that the newest Edtech products are as relevant as they claim to be. Thank you!