It’s been a couple of years since my tech teacher advice column “Dear Otto” got its first question about classroom digital assistants like Google Home and Amazon Alexa. At that time, no one had much experience with these devices so discussion was limited to anecdotal evidence and speculation.
That has changed dramatically. Now, an estimated 20% of U.S. adults own about 100 million of these AI-powered speakers with close to fifteen percent of sales going to education. And why not? They’re affordable. They simplify mundane tasks, and students love learning with them.
But that’s only part of the story. Let’s dig into what they are, how they’re being used, and what you need to be aware of before buying one for your class.
What is a digital assistant?
A Digital Assistant is an AI- (artificial intelligence) powered virtual assistant you probably know most commonly as Google Home or Amazon Alexa. It is a physical device connected to the Internet via WiFi that you can talk to, ask questions of, and get help from on particular topics. It will sit passively on a desk or shelf until activated by a key phrase (such as “Hey Alexa”) and then will respond in conversational language. Each device is a little different. I won’t get into those today but I encourage you to check out the most common options and then choose the one best suited to your needs.
I first ran into Behaviorism in child psychology classes I took for my Early Childhood Education credential (ECE). It was developed by a renowned psychologist named John B. Watson and formed into the Theory of Behaviorism by another famous psychologist, B.F. Skinner. The technical definition they provide is:
“…scientific and objective methods of investigation concerned with observable stimulus-response behaviors; all behaviors are learned through interaction with the environment.”
They used the infamous example of Pavlov’s Dogs. No surprise, with this gobbledegook definition that used dog training as the example, I laughed, rejected it, and then forgot it.
Fast forward a decade, to a time when I was studying for my teaching credential. One of my classes reviewed education pedagogies such as Purpose-driven Learning, the Socratic Method, Depth of Knowledge, Unschooling, and Behaviorism. Applied to education, Behaviorism focuses on:
“… conditioning student behavior with various types of reinforcements and consequences…”
I still cringe at words like “conditioning” and “consequences”, but in the fullness of the class, I came to understand that whether teachers know it or not, they use Behaviorism as an effective, reliable teaching tool. I’ll get back to that later but first, I want to deconstruct how a theory that started with training dogs is now a cornerstone in education pedagogy.
Technology and the connected world put a fork in the old model of teaching–instructor in front of the class, sage on the stage, students madly taking notes, textbooks opened, homework as worksheets, and tests regurgitating facts.
Did I miss anything?
This model is outdated not because it didn’t work (many statistics show students ranked higher on global testing years ago than they do now), but because the world changed. Our classrooms are more diverse. Students are digital natives, in the habit of learning via technology. The ‘college or career’ students are preparing for isn’t that of their mothers.
What is slow to adjust is the venerable lesson plan. When I first wrote these teaching maps, they concentrated on aligning with standards and ticking off required skills. Now, with a clear-eyed focus on where students need to be before graduation, they must build on the habits of mind that allow success not only in school but life.
Here are seventeen concepts you may not think about—but should–as you prepare lesson plans:
In my summer digital citizenship classes, the biggest question I get is how to control student cell phone usage. Luckily, Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, Andrew Carroll, former High School teacher, has a great analysis of the problem and discussion of solutions below:
How to control smartphone usage in classroom?
Shoulders slouched and eyes down—you guessed it right! It’s a smartphone that your students are using.
Digital devices, especially smartphones and tablets, have become an appendage for schools. In the presence of a smartphone, children don’t pay attention to the lesson being taught. Instead, they would rather stick their heads into their smartphones and stay glued to social media or texting their friends.
But it is not their fault. In a time where digital devices are ever-present, it is difficult for kids to not be influenced by them. Smartphone are making it impossible for our children to focus on anything else, least of all their studies. And it has adverse effects on their health as well. We are all aware of the negative impacts of smartphones. It is known for causing depression and anxiety among adults and children alike. Owning a smartphone may make students prone to cyberbullies, which can bring its own trauma.
In a classroom, on average, children check on their phones 11 times a day. Distractions from cell phone cause students to get behind lessons and ultimately get poor grades. Text messaging between students, in a classroom, disturbs the atmosphere. Like a ripple effect, one student using a cell phone disturbs other students as well. This leads to inattentiveness and lack of class participation. Hence, some students are left way behind than others.
Summer is a great time to reset your personal pedagogy to an education-friendly mindset and catch up on what’s been changing in the ed world while you were teaching
eight ten hours a day. My Twitter friends, folks like @mrhowardedu and @Coachadamspe, gave me great suggestions on books to read that I want to share with you but first:
A comment on the selections: I did get more suggestions than I could possibly list so I focused on books that were positive and uplifting rather than dark and foreboding. Yes, there is a lot wrong with education around the world but I wanted a selection of books that would send me — and you — back to teaching in the fall with a can-do attitude for how to accomplish miracles with your next class of students.
Having said that, here’s a granular list of teacher-approved books to keep you busy this summer:
by Eric C. Sheninger
Digital Leadership defines a strategic mindset and set of behaviors that leverage resources to create a meaningful, transparent, and engaging school culture. It takes into account recent changes such as connectivity, open-source technology, mobile devices, and personalization of learning to dramatically shift how schools have been run for over a century.
by Clayton M. Christensen
Selected as one of Business Week’s Best Books on Innovation in 2008, Disrupting Class is filled with fascinating case studies, scientific findings, and insights into how managed innovation can unleash education. As important today as it was a decade ago, Disrupting Class will open your eyes to new possibilities and evolve your thinking. For more detail, read my review, Disrupting Class.
Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please contact me at askatechteacher at gmail dot com and I’ll answer it here.
BTW–lots of people ask why the name ‘Otto’. It’s a palindrome so beloved by geeks and nerds and techie-sort of folk.
I got this question from a colleague::
I teach computer literacy. K-4 teachers line their students up and they arrive all at one time, so with this age it would be easier to give instruction before everyone is seated. However, it is still difficult because I don’t really have enough open floor space to seat them away from their computer.
One of the most difficult chores teachers perform at the end of the school year is not final grades, saying goodbye to students, or wondering how to fill their summer free time. It’s preserving the digital files that made up their school year. Be it to close out one school year in preparation for the next, transfer student files to the next class, or the need to safely and effectively transfer teacher files to a new job, handling digital files for use later is stressful. In fact, teachers self-report that this task is one of the most stressful of their end-of-year chores.
There are a lot of products to address this nerve-wracking activity. That’s not the purpose of this article. Here, I’ll concentrate on schools that use Google products. That includes Google Classroom as an LMS, Google cloud as a digital portfolio, Gmail as an email program, YouTube to deliver videos, and other apps (like Google Sites and Blogger) included in the Google ecosystem. If this applies to you, you’re in luck. Google’s free product, Google Takeout, is one of the simplest available. It requires no installation, no new hardware, and is already part of the Google you already use. Google Takeout automates the download of your Google data across all Google services, making it ready to be uploaded to new accounts or preserved as a back-up. This includes but is not limited to:
- Google Apps (but not all of them)
- Google Calendar
- Google Contacts
- Google Drive files
- Google Keep
- Google Voice
How does it work
Whether you use Google at your school or as an individual, you’ll be pleased to learn that the Takeout process is intuitive. Here’s what you do:
Last year, only 61 percent of students who took the ACT high school English achievement test were deemed college-ready. In math, it was even worse — only 41 percent. Without doubt, we teachers recognize this as a problem but what do we do about it? An option several school districts I converse with are trying is called “mastery-based learning” — MBL. When I read this article about it, I got pretty excited. This could be a solution, if not for all students, at least for those who don’t excel under traditional teaching.
What is MBL
Also known as “competency-based learning” or “proficiency-based learning”, mastery-based learning is described by The Glossary of Education Reform as:
“a system “of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting … based on students demonstrating that they have learned the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn as they progress through their education.”
Learning is personalized, based on school standards. Students who don’t understand a topic and don’t do well on the summative assessment for that subject, aren’t automatically moved on because time allotted for that topic ran out. Instead, they are given additional support and then retested until they have the skills to move on to the next stage.
Metaverse is one of the most popular AR apps in schools. It blends a website for the creation of AR experiences with an app for their display, nimbly allowing users to create, share, and interact with their AR ‘experiences’ (or projects). It’s easy to use and requires no coding. Users can access a wide variety of AR games, lesson plans, and other experiences created by others and shared in the Metaverse ecosystem via the free app (reminder: Always preview these to be sure they fit your student group). For those looking for greater personalization, they can create their own on the website.
The top four education uses for Metaverse are Breakouts (here’s a spreadsheet with a long list of Metaverse Breakouts by topic), Scavenger hunts, timed quizzes, and Choose your own adventure stories. Other popular uses are interactive stories, AR field trips, student-led learning, and programming (like the popular Hour of Code).
If you aren’t familiar with Metaverse (and realize you should be), check out my review of Metaverse. If you already use Metaverse in your classroom, you’re going to want to know about their newest classroom management tool:
This is Classroom Management Made Simple ?
- View all of your students’ Experiences in one place
- Edit your students’ Experiences and view Experience Storyboards
- Share your students’ Experiences as a group
Purpose Driven Learning (or PDL) is a concept coined by Michael Matera and Adam Moreno to summarize the philosophy that each learner’s inner strengths can be unlocked by focusing with purpose and drive. By following the guidelines for Purpose Driven Learning, teachers avoid the biggest pitfall in many lesson plans — that they are theoretic without meaning in the real world. With PDL, resources are relevant, lessons are personalized, and real-life connections are placed under a bright light. In the end, learning is changed from pedantic to powerful and students learn to reliably connect academic studies to the world outside the schoolhouse.
The Goal of PDL
In a phrase:
…the goal of Purpose Driven Learning is NOT about a curriculum that lasts a year. It’s about creating life-long learners who fuel their future passionately with knowledge.
This applies to both 1) education pursued with the goal of college or career, and 2) the critical preparation of students to succeed in life. Purpose Driven Learning, faithfully delivered with buy-in from students, will result in students willingly participating in even the boring lesson pieces (like worksheets or podcasts) as well as exciting applications like simulations and student-devised projects.
Problems implementing Purpose Driven Learning
Engaging PDL in your classroom is seen by some as teaching students what they want to learn at the expense of what they need to learn but this isn’t true. Done right, students come to understand that real knowledge relies on a solid foundation of data upon which they build their personal interests. For example, students who want to join America’s proposed Space Force must first be grounded in the basics of science and math.
Educators who wish to use PDL often run into three roadblocks:
School Standards. Because state and national standards are often devised to serve the majority of students, they may not well-serve your students. But they do provide a necessary foundation without which the goals of your particular group can’t be met. That means that standards are taught first and additional learning is scaffolded afterward. Standards are in fact the foundation that underpins your students’ ability to achieve their PDL goals.