Sep 242012

Games have been around for millennia and, all, debatably, have a degree of educational merit whether it be strategy, maths or more fundamental understanding of reality, life and culture. But this is not enough. Can games be used to teach deep and specific concepts? Can games make dry subjects enjoyable? Can games give often dislocated concepts a context? Can games focus students and keep them on task in this sound-bite, quick-fix, instant-fame culture they are growing up in?

Gaming Student

There are several attributes of gaming that make it an attractive strategy for education. Games, especially of the electronic variety, enjoy a high ranking in a wide range of people’s choice of leisure time. If more learning could be smuggled into that time (and probably be more effective than sleep-tapes) that alone would extend learning outside of school.

You just have to look at people’s faces to know how engaged they are when playing games. You can guess at the quality of that engagement by the complex manoeuvres, fiendish puzzles and RSI achieved by the gamer. Clever folks like scientists and programmers have co-opted that dopamine rush and turned tedious tasks into successful games such as protein folding and language translation.

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Aug 062012

Anastasia from Samara wrote about a tiny Torah scroll and a painted Pesach Haggada – her family’s heirlooms passed down through the generations.  Students in Bishkek researched the life of Boris M. Shapiro – a key contributor to the revival of Jewish culture in Kyrgyzstan. Sara from Chernivtsi created a family tree. Students in Odessa found out about their community’s historical synagogues and Jewish hospital. Elena from Dnipropetrovsk recorded recipes passed down in her family from her great grandmother Nechama.

These are all outcomes from the first year of “Chibur” – a World ORT educational project motivating young Jews in countries of the former Soviet Union, Baltic States and Eastern Europe to take an active interest in collecting and documenting their local and family histories.  Students have created highly informative individual and group blogs – which you can browse at – to record and share the stories of their Jewish communities and ancestry. Over 200 students from 13 schools – both ORT and non-ORT – were involved, with the best blogs winning prizes. In addition, 140 teachers from across the region attended training seminars designed to familiarize them with using historical research and blogging tools in their teaching.

What are the educational aims of Chibur? We want students to develop a sense of excitement about the revival of Jewish life in their countries. We want them to appreciate the importance of preserving their heritage. We want them to develop important “21st century skills”: using technology; conducting independent research; curating material; presenting findings in clear and attractive ways. And we want teachers to feel increasingly confident to support their students in all of the above.

Our plans for the second year involve extending the project to include Latvia and Czech Republic, as well as any other countries who are interested.

Jul 232012

The Horizon Reports identify and describe emerging technologies that are likely to have a significant impact on education around the globe. The recently-released K-12 report  focuses on technologies that we can expect to become mainstream within the next few years and that have the potential to transform the processes of teaching, learning, and creative inquiry internationally.

It has been interesting to follow the development of the report over the last few months on the Horizon Report’s wiki where lively discussions between experts in both technology and education continue throughout the year. Dealing with a wide range of issues such as the impact of technology on wider society, changes in the future workplace, the abundance of resources and relationships available online, each of these topics is presented collaboratively. The results help to identify not only the opportunities for schools, but also some of the challenges that they need to be discussing and planning for today.

In the near-term (within a year), the report predicts that mobile devices and apps will continue to become more pervasive in the classroom as smartphones and tablets (not only iPads!) become more sophisticated and connectivity becomes increasingly ubiquitous. The report contains plenty of case-studies and links to research for those who wish to learn more.

The second set of predictions deals with the mid-term (two to three years) and describes the wider integration of game-based learning and the personal learning environments – using technology to move towards a more student-centred approach to both formal and informal learning. The Education department at World ORT are particularly interested in the inclusion of serious games as this is going to be more fully explored with a group of our own educators during the next Wingate Seminar entitled “Serious games and gamification of learning” later this year.

Perhaps the most exciting chapter of the report deals with the far-term horizon (four to five years ahead) where we can expect to see an increase in augmented reality – the layering of information over real world objects, settings, and processes – and the mainstream use of natural user interfaces that react to touch, movement, voice, and even facial expressions. Plenty of examples are provided for each of these, although not all from K-12 learning, but it seems that these technologies will be with us sooner than we may think.

Although sometimes criticised as over-optimistic, the message from the Horizon Report is clear that we need to spend more time familiarising ourselves with the opportunities that these developments can offer us. We need to prepare our educators to discover how best these innovations can serve their needs and the needs of their students and to invest time planning for change. Discussions about implementing new ideas will need to reach beyond the ‘tech-evangelists’ and our strategies for change will need to be inclusive and creative if they are to achieve a positive transformation in K-12 education.

 Posted by at 10:03 am
Jul 102012

In this post, Aviva Landie – a teacher at CIM-ORT Mexico – talks about a Facebook page, a viral video and a subsequent innovative project she carried out with her 2nd and 3rd grade technology students.

“I wanted to do something different and exciting to end the school year. After I came across a Facebook page on “Caine’s Arcade”, I knew exactly what I would propose to my 2nd and 3rd grade technology students.  After I showed them a short 10-minute video clip on “Caine’s Arcade”, they didn’t even let me propose the idea before all of my students with huge excitement asked, “Can we build our own arcade?” I was so happy to see so much enthusiasm. I told them that we would answer a few questions about the video, and then as a class decide exactly what we wanted to do with this project.

They accessed the classroom blog where I had posted a few questions about the video and we answered the questions together as a class. The one question they had difficulty answering was the question about the flash mob. They had difficulties understanding how so many people showed up to surprise Caine in the video, so we discussed what a flash mob is and how anyone with an account can create an event on a social media site like Facebook and invite people from all over the world (similar to how the flash mob was created in “Caine’s Arcade”). I also showed them a few videos of different flash mobs that have been uploaded to YouTube in order for them to see the different kinds of flash mobs that have taken place around the world.

Already knowing the answer to my question, I asked if they would be interested in building their own arcade, and without much surprise the – entire – class actually agreed on the same thing for the first this school year. I asked them to break up into small groups and draw a “design” with a list of materials that they would need to build their arcade. They worked on their design during two different class periods as they began bringing in all the materials. Once they had a well thought-out design, they were allowed to start building their arcade. Groups started creating, taping, painting, and enjoying every minute they put into building their arcade. Students actually asked if they could take their arcade home in order to be able to get together with their groups and work over the weekend! It was truly incredible to see my students so engaged, enthusiastic, and committed to their work.

There are so many pedagogical benefits from this project. My students watched the video on YouTube, accessed the classroom blog, learned about glash mobs, worked collaboratively in groups, and most importantly they were learning by doing. They used critical thinking in determining how they were going to take what they had sketched out in their designs and apply it to the building process of their arcade. Lots of critical thinking and problem solving skills were used in determining how they could make their arcade less challenging or in some cases more challenging in order to attract more people to play. There was a lot of collaboration throughout the entire process. One specific example of this was when they had to decide and assign as a team who would bring what in terms of materials.

I was so happy with such positive results that I joined the group “Caine’s Arcade” on Facebook and posted a few pictures that I took of my students while they were working on their arcade. One day after posting the pictures, one of the pictures I had posted had 260 likes. A few days later, a news reporter from NBC Los Angeles contacted me and asked for permission to use the pictures I had posted in her news report about Caine’s Arcade.

It’s truly incredible how social media and technology connects the world in so many different ways. Caine’s Arcade provided my students the opportunity to create, collaborate, think critically, use technology, and with the opportunity to learn a few things about entrepreneurship. And everything was made possible as a result of the passion and dedication of Caine Monroy, a nine-year old boy from Los Angeles, CA.”

Jul 042012

This post is contributed by Marcelo Lewkow, National Director of ORT Chile.

It often seems as if everyone in the education world today is racing to keep up-to-date with the latest technological developments and to integrate the latest technical gadgets into their teaching. The benefits of using technology to engage students in the classroom are well-rehearsed, and I have no wish to dispute them. Nevertheless, I have been involved in a project which prevents school students from using technological devices in school.  Let me give the background and explain the rationale…

Maimonides School in Santiago, Chile, is an orthodox Jewish school which achieves consistently high academic results. The school makes frequent use of technology where it enhances the teaching and learning environment – both inside of the classroom and for homework/extension tasks. We certainly have all the technological equipment that we need. However, we have decided to ban students completely from using their own communication devices – smart phones, tablets, or anything else – inside school. Of course, much of the received wisdom nowadays is that making use of students’ own devices for positive educational purposes in the classroom will involve them more in their studies.  So why are we going against the grain?

This generation of school students is permanently “connected” – via instant messaging, via Facebook, via music sharing sites and via many other platforms. Absorption in this online world can often come at the expense of developing meaningful face-to-face relationships – for children especially. At Maimonides, we think that schools can offer one of the last places for addressing this and for reducing the “noise” which comes from being constantly connected. We want students to relate to their teachers and peers on a person-to-person level, not always interrupted by technological distractions.

As a by-product, this decision has helped us also to reduce the amount of contact between students and their parents during the school day. Students would sometimes worry or mislead their parents by contacting them immediately after any minor incident that happened at school. This would also result in teachers feeling undermined, if parents knew better than them what had been going on at school. The distance at school between students and their parents is a healthy space for growth, and should remain this way. Our policy has helped to maintain this space.

Much educational research points to the fact that education is an inherently social activity. If there is no real interaction, there is no real learning. Online interaction is great, but it cannot be the only kind of interaction. That is why we are going back to basics at Maimonides and refocusing the way that our students communicate – between themselves, with staff and with their parents.

Jun 292012

“We have reached a point at which educational systems must and might finally undergo fundamental change.”

Taking this view as the starting-point for his presentation, Dr. Jorge Grunberg traces the evolution of classroom technology and charts the current social forces which are shaping fundamental change in education settings worldwide. Using the concept of “disruptive innovation”, he analyzes the potential of various new technologies to stimulate new teaching paradigms.

Dr. Jorge Grunberg is the Rector of Universidad ORT Uruguay in Montevideo.

“The Education Spring” – Dr. Jorge Grunberg

View more PowerPoint from HarrisLorie
Jun 122012

Next stop: South Africa. I caught up with Lydia Abel – Director – and Debbie Staniland – Development Manager – from ORT SA CAPE. ORT SA CAPE is a part of ORT South Africa, and works with young people and educators from disadvantaged communities in the Cape Town region.

What are the distinctive educational challenges that you face in the Cape Town region?

Young people living here come from a very low educational base. Most children come from very poor homes, where they receive very little educational input. Parents themselves are often illiterate. Given that many parents often have to work very long hours, perhaps away from home, a number of young people are raised by their grandparents – who are likely to be even less educated.

Linked to the first challenge is the issue of language.  The everyday language spoken in the region is a colloquial mixture of local dialects.  This offers little opportunity for young people to develop proper language skills. If their ability to speak in their mother tongue is limited, it is extremely difficult for students to acquire the skills necessary for learning English as a second language. They will only hear English spoken in the couple of lessons they have at school in the morning. Even then, many of the teachers themselves are not proficient English speakers.

The size of classes is very problematic. There are never less than 40 children in a class, often more than 50. Schools are often stretched beyond capacity because they are loathe to turn away local children who would otherwise have to travel large distances to another school. In addition, there is no money available to government sponsored schools for employing teaching assistants. As a result, one teacher is left responsible for controlling a classroom of 50 energetic young people – not an environment conducive to serious learning. Another difficulty within the school system itself is that children can only spend one extra year in any phase (collection of year groups) of the school. This means that they are moved up beyond their capabilities, resulting in real problems when they get older and yet still lack basic literacy and numeracy skills.

A further challenge is that the regional authorities do not like outside organizations coming in to support teachers in the classroom – for example, to provide expert advice or to teach model lessons. This is because a new and very structured curriculum has been implemented across the region, with little room for outside input. This is a shame because the huge pressures on the schooling system necessitate teachers going beyond conventional pedagogical methods and thinking outside of the box. A little bit of outside help might just prove to very helpful.

Given these numerous challenges, where do you start? What areas of work has ORT Cape been focusing on?

One of our most important projects is running educational after-school clubs. Life at home, and the educational opportunities – or lack of educational opportunities – which children have at home, make a huge difference to their educational attainment. Children who go home from school in the afternoon to nothing are massively disadvantaged.

In response to this need, we offer constructive educational programs which take a community-wide approach. Reading and maths support programs are staffed by retired teachers and university students, who will be able to continue this work after our involvement finishes. It is crucial that we aim to make our programs sustainable in the long-term. We also encourage mothers to join their children at these clubs. Owing to high unemployment and seasonal work in the rural areas we work in, mothers are often at home with little to gainfully occupy them. By coming to these clubs, they can improve their own literacy and numeracy skills, as well as building confidence to offer more learning opportunities to their children in their own homes.

Of course, in addition to the young people and their families, we must work on upskilling teachers as well. To that end, we provide training in English and maths teaching. In order to have the biggest impact possible, we our concentrating our efforts on reception class teachers – who can positively influence students at the earliest stage of their school careers. In terms of raw numbers, we have over a period of 5 years delivered accredited training to over 300 teachers. We have also set up professional support networks for teachers.

A lot of your educational programs make use of robotics. Why is this?

Kids find robotics fun! They get excited about making things and using computers. Practical, hands-on activity stimulates young people, particularly teenage boys who are traditionally very difficult to engage.

Drawing on engineering, electronics, and bio-engineering, robotics teaches young people how to think and solve problems. They have to plan, design, make, assess and improve on their designs. They also write up and present what they have done. Therefore they are using and developing a whole range of cognitive processing skills.

We make sure that the activities in our robotics workshops and clubs link to concepts in maths and science, like vectors or acceleration, which are difficult to illustrate in poorly-equipped school laboratories. Using robotics is not only cost-effective but also encourages active learning.

The final important point about this is that we run our robotics workshops and clubs on a socially inclusive model. The programs are funded so as to be self-sustaining. As a result, for every child who pays, we are able to sponsor a child who cannot pay.  We provide lunches – including both kosher and halal food – to ensure that everyone gets the same whilst they are with us. Given that robotics activities require teamwork and cooperation, we have found this to be an excellent way of encouraging young people from different racial, religious and financial backgrounds to not only mix and get to know each other, but also to really work together for a constructive purpose.

Feb 272012

In a recent blog post Karim Kai Ani wrote of Khan Academy (and reiterated by Audrey Watters):

“Some even wonder whether it will eventually replace teachers altogether”

Teacherless Classroom Cartoon

Teacherless Classroom, Matt Hall

You don’t have to be a teacher to understand that there is a complex and sophisticated interaction between a teacher and a learner where the teacher sensitively tests, encourages, explains and tries different models until the teacher knows the learner understands.  So I would hope that every teacher and every parent would reject that statement. Repeating some of the viewpoints in the blog’s comments, Salman Khan never argues that Khan Academy should serve as the only source of instruction that a student should receive. If any teachers think that Khan Academy can relieve some of their teaching burden then the criticism should be directed at those teachers.

“Our obsession with Khan Academy may be one of the most dangerous phenomena in education today”

Can our obsession with interactive white boards, ipads, virtual learning environments, mobile, social and other new fangled pedagogies not be more dangerous?  Perhaps, if they remain undeveloped, unfamiliar and only for those schools that can afford them and their infrastructure. But Khan Academy is constantly developing both in terms of technology and pedagogy (and gameification).

Gamification – The New Loyalty from Gamification Co on Vimeo.

If we take the successes of KA for granted and rest on our laurels then perhaps we’ve got something to worry about. Where KA could also be seen as dangerous is when learners work at their own pace and hence cease to be a cohesive classroom where a teacher can bring everyone with her. But then one could argue that the potential to use Khan Academy to enhance differentiated learning (i.e. when students progress at a pace suitable to them, rather than be restricted / pressurized by the class pace) is surely a good thing.  Perhaps teachers can’t expect to bring everyone with them at the same pace and they should use the tools and attitudes that allow them to deal with the challenge of mixed ability classes.

“Maths: “I don’t know what it means or when I’ll ever use it.” This is understandable.”

Can this be understandable as a reasonable attitude for any accomplished maths teacher?  At the very least, basic maths and even some quite advanced maths (compound interest, probabilities, unit conversion, etc.) are, or should be, essential life skills. If nothing else, students need to learn it simply to pass the test but if you want to work in engineering, science, finance, logistics or a host of other roles (including academia) then you’d better understand what it means and when to use it. Most young people will not (and may never) have developed the sense of perspective, maturity, breadth of knowledge and controlled imagination to love maths for maths sake. Numberphile might help though and who could not be moved by the fact that Pascal’s triangle, squares, triangular numbers, the Fibonacci sequence and Sierpiński gasket can be derived (to some extent) from powers of 11. But parents and teachers have the responsibility to ensure that their respective charges understand why mathematics is important and relevant (and fun).

“Khan Academy’s repackaged paint-by-numbers method is ineffective instruction related to ineffective content and is identical to what students have seen — and rejected — for generations.”

Firstly, students are not rejecting KA. Secondly, it is not identical, it is not ineffective and is not paint-by-numbers. What KA may be suffering from is somewhat clumsily constructed questions in some topics due to their digital origins. And questions where the questioner has some purpose in mind and which the student must divine through symbols and various levels of obfuscation are in most textbooks and exams. Even the Centre for Innovation in Mathematical Teaching is guilty of this and while Mathelicious lessons are dressed with multi-media, when it comes to understanding, they’re not that far away either. How does video instruction, providing multiple mental models of concepts, practice within a hierarchical framework of concepts and multiple methods of feedback, reflection and review constitute ineffective instruction?

the real issue with Khan Academy is its lack of underlying pedagogy.”

Why get wound up about a lack of, say, a constructivist pedagogy [or any other pedagogism] when learners are not even invested in their own learning? By saying that students do not learn maths in any meaningful way is describing them as inside Searle’s Chinese room - Erlwanger’s 1973 study is dated and limited. Teachers at all levels of education can be effective good teachers without any knowledge of Bloom and are arguably better for it (although the world seems to struggle to find good maths teachers – so we should thank Sal for stepping up).  And you can’t expect students to follow an underlying pedagogy when you run student led classes, peer mentoring and transparent teaching. But wait, isn’t self paced gameified instruction just another pedagogy?

There is much more to read and discuss in the, I must say, entertaining and thought provoking blog post of Karim Ani. So if you haven’t already, please read it in full and comment there or here.

Feb 212012

There is a lot of talk in the business world these days about developing BYOD (‘bring your own devices’) policies for the office rather than providing and maintaining computers for staff. Apart from the obvious cost saving for the employer and the flexibility that it offers the employee, there are many other implications that perhaps we need to be considering for the world of education.

Until quite recently many schools preferred to block their students from accessing their networks to reduce the risks of malware and from using their own devices in class to avoid distractions. But perhaps it is time for us to reconsider being the providers of all hardware in educational setting too. The proliferation of laptops and handheld devices providing more power for less money means that students are increasingly finding it more convenient and comfortable to work on their own devices.

Many schools and colleges are moving towards providing a campus-wide wireless network, cloud based email, web based apps and an online learning platform that can be accessed by any device. It would seem that the barriers are no longer technical, but organisational and educational. How can learners access and use their devices safely and with appropriate support? Do we need to differentiate between personal and work use? What about students who can’t afford to bring their own devices?

As our current ICT hardware becomes obsolete we will have to consider more prudently the costs of replacing them. It would seem that a move to BYOD is inevitable, but for most of us the issue is not about replacing existing ICT facilities but supplementing them. By allowing some classes to bring their own devices for simple tasks such as word processing and internet use, you free up specialist ICT rooms for use by others, making more efficient use of your existing provision.

Although we aim to prepare students for the workplace, it’s important to differentiate between business needs and educational needs. Our primary responsibility should be to address the educational needs of our learners rather than trying to mimic office life. Yes, working with their own devices would mean that students could access their work from home and at all hours, but what are the costs of trying to get ever-increasing productivity out of our students?

In many cases, students will have better devices in their homes (or in their pockets) than they use at school, but we shouldn’t assume that every student is fortunate to be in this position. Is it our responsibility to ensure that all students have equal opportunities to learn? Then there are questions about providing appropriate training for teachers to deal with a new way of working, including developing new policies, rules, and codes of conduct.

These are just a few of the considerations – there are many more (see here for example) – but the time certainly seems right for us to be considering BYOD now. It does seem to promise the most practical solution of achieving a 1:1 ratio of devices to students, but there needs to be some serious discussion to make sure that if and when BYOD is adopted it works.

Feb 172012

Dr. Ari Yares is the Head of Middle School at Krieger Schechter Day School (KSDS) in Baltimore, USA.

Ari’s presentation – given at the 13th Wingate Seminar in January 2012 – explores the use of Google Apps for Education at KSDS  and how the school implemented this new tool. Ari reviews the most commonly used components of Google Apps and analyses how they support pedagogy and school administration at his school.