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6/23/2016

Beyond the Blend - The Age of Customization

By: Stephanie Donofe Meeks

It seems like no one really orders just coffee anymore. I was in a coffee shop recently, and the person in front of me ordered one of the most complicated drinks I've ever heard. It was something like this: iced-half-caff-ristretto-venti-four-pump-sugar-free-cinnamon-dolce-soy-skinny-latte. What does how we order our coffee have to do with how we should be treating education? A lot, actually!I was thinking how simple my coffee order was — a coffee with extra cream and Splenda — but then I realized, I also have a choice. I have the choice to make it simple, and I have the choice to customize it, if I want. Even with my simple order, I also had the choice of three different kinds of roasts and three different sizes of coffee.

We can have almost anything in our lives customized. Amazon suggests products for you; Netflix suggests entertainment for you; apps exist for your phone that allow you to customize what kinds of food, travel and even dating you would like to do. There are even apps to personalize your apps experience.

I think this begs the questions: If we have the ability to customize and personalize such trivial things as ring tones, should we not look at a bigger opportunity to use these tools to customize something as important as education?

Why should we shift to using digital experiences and tools to transform learning?

We are living in the information age and using digital technology anytime and anywhere to access information. Students in the 21st century need to be as engaged in their learning as they are engaged in their lives by using the technologies and tools of the digital age. It is not about the hardware though, it is about the headware. (Google Ian Jukes for more information. By the way, “Google,” as a verb, was added to the definitive record of the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary, in 2006!)

Being about the headware means it is not the devices or the apps. It is the thinking…it is the learning of what to do with the information that is now available 24/7. Jamie Casap, senior education evangelist at Google encourages this line of thinking for preparing students for new technologies that will be used in their future careers, “Instead of asking what students want to be when they grow up, Casap asks, ‘What problem do you want to solve?’”

Customizing learning for students is not a new concept; great teachers have always done it. The transformative piece is that by using digital tools for some parts of instruction, we now have the ability to customize for all students, giving them all educational opportunities that meet their needs as learners, as well as allowing them choices in the process. Who wouldn’t want that?

Next up in my blog series: What is personalized learning and just how do we customize education for students? One way is to adopt a blended learning approach to instruction, which you can learn more about by clicking here.

Stephanie Donofe is director of integrated technology at the Ohio Department of Education, where she supports technology integration innovations and blended learning initiatives for districts and schools across the state. You can learn more about Stephanie by clicking here.

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11/10/2016

GUEST BLOG: What is Computational Thinking and Why is It Important? A New Role for Students — Megan Brannon, Garaway Local Schools

By: Guest Blogger

Computational ThinkingIn today’s technology-driven world, the role of the student is changing. Teaching used to be focused on learning facts, but now we are changing how we teach so that students can do more than just learn information…they use the information! Students today are less fact-memorizers and more innovators, creators and thinkers. They are learning to think outside the box and apply that to real-world problems. Because of this, we have seen a recent influx in the last four to five years in the amount of “computer programming” seen in both elementary and secondary schools.

Computer programming allows students to learn programming languages, which are integral to many jobs of the future. Programming (also known as “coding”) allows students to learn skills like explanatory writing, problem solving and a plethora of other skills applicable to the real world as a 21st century student. It also lets students refine their mathematics abilities. With coding, students are using computers to create worlds where only their imaginations can limit them.

Computational thinking is a cornerstone in all coding programs today. This step-by-step cognitive strategy is important for students to learn in order to become successful. It is a method that teaches students to think as if they are computers. With computational thinking, students are taught how to approach new information and new problems. Trust me…this strategy is not just for computer science classrooms! It is broken down into four steps: decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction and algorithms.

Decomposition

Decomposition is when you break something down into its basic parts. This is an important skill because it teaches students how to become better learners by breaking large pieces of information into small chunks. It’s like taking small bites of a steak instead of trying to eat the entire steak in one gulp.

Pattern recognition

Pattern recognition is when students find order to something and then analyze (follow) the pattern to the logical answer. Pattern matching teaches students to look for commonalities between things. Then, once students see what is the same in the problem, they also can look for differences that might lead them toward an answer.

As humans, we tend to search for patterns in things in order to make sense of them. I find that this step is the easiest and most natural to teach to students. We teach children to sense and continue patterns from an early age.

Abstraction

Abstraction is taking the differences that students have found in the last step (pattern recognition) and then discounting them because they didn’t fit the pattern. Abstraction is important because students typically assume that all the information they have been given in a problem is typically going to be used to solve the problem, which isn’t necessarily true.

Removing unfit or unhelpful information is truly a valuable skill for students to have. It’s not only teaching them to double check information; it’s also teaching them to edit themselves and look for true solutions to a problem.

Algorithms

An algorithm is basically a list of procedural steps to complete a task. With this process, after figuring out the problem, students create steps to solve the problem set before them. Students should be able to write algorithms so that anyone can follow their directions to complete the task or solve a problem.

Why the computational thinking method?

As a K-6 computer teacher, I was first introduced to the concept of computational thinking through the Code.org curriculum that teaches computer science skills to students in grades K-5. Since then, many more learning modules have been added to cover more grade levels, but the foundational skills remain the same. All of my computer science students in grades K-5 learn the basics of computational thinking as well as giving step-by-step directions (algorithms) with this program.

I can honestly say that the first introduction to this lesson was difficult for even my higher level of students. As educators (myself as well), we tend to give students problems without teaching the method of problem solving explicitly. This method not only helps students with math and science challenges, but it helps them to become better thinkers across the board. Additionally, teaching students this cognitive strategy gives them something (in my experience) that is lacking in education today: dedication. The steps involved with computational thinking help students to “keep working” or “keep trying” to solve a problem. Our society tends to deliver information and solutions at the speed of light, so our kiddos aren’t used to sitting down and working toward a solution for an extended period of time — or sitting down and working at a problem that takes longer because it could have multiple solutions. Dedication and conviction to one’s work is most definitely a skill of the 21st century.

Why the four steps?

After teaching this method for a few years now, I have found that my students are much more detail oriented because they have learned how to decompose a problem. Breaking a problem into parts allows students to better explain their thoughts and ideas to both myself and each other. In that way, students also turn into better explanatory writers. This also is true for the algorithm step in the process. Breaking down a problem (decomposing) and then turning it into directions (algorithms) are key skills that can be used across subjects.

Additionally, the concepts of pattern matching and abstraction are ideal for an educational setting, especially when you understand how the brain works. When we learn a new topic, we put it into a category in our brain (activate a schema/prior knowledge). This is like pattern matching — we are looking for other things with the same pattern somewhere in our memory bank. Research says that activating schema helps students understand and remember information better because it fits into a pattern or category we already comprehend. In this way, I believe that teaching students to pattern match and abstract teaches them to put things in categories in their brains so that they cannot only comprehend and remember the problem at hand, but they can process it easier as well.

Classroom resources

Below I have listed some links for resources on this concept. Check out the Code.org Lesson on Computational Thinking as an introduction. There is an accompanying video that helps to explain the concept very well!

Teachers Pay Teachers Products

Adult Literature

Children’s Literature (K-5)

Megan Brannon is a K-6 computer teacher at Garaway Local Schools. You can contact Megan by clicking here.

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1/25/2017

GUEST BLOG: Innovation Begins with the Problem — Dr. Susan Tave Zelman, Ohio Department of Education

By: Guest Blogger

Straight-A-Fund.pngIn four years with the Straight A Fund innovation project, I have been gifted with the experience of seeing some highly creative and effective changes to the way we do school across the state. Ohio’s Straight A Fund supports ideas from local educators to promote better learning and cost savings within schools and districts. Working with our projects has led me to understand not only what works on the path to improvement, but also some of the pitfalls and distractions that may interfere with solid innovative thinking.

Successful change starts by defining a problem. A problem may be some nagging area that demands a solution, but a problem, in innovation terms, may also be something that is currently working but could be improved. Defining a problem before we look for solutions may seem quite simple, obvious even. However, without thinking about what we want an innovation to accomplish, it is very easy to become sidetracked into adopting some shiny new solution that does wonderful things—but is not a good fit for our situation. In education, just as in our personal lives with things we purchase, new bells and whistles can sometimes be very appealing. But like a Christmas toy that is only played with for a few moments before it is cast aside, some attractive new education toys also fail to live up to expectations. They may be too difficult in comparison to their value, poorly understood by the students who use them or offering a solution to a problem we don’t have.

As an example of innovation working well, the Straight A Fund has created a number of technology solutions. These projects have purchased hardware and software and trained teachers to be able to use them. As we consider how well these projects put their new technology to use, it is clear that the ability to successfully use these innovations and keep using them over time is increased by understanding the distinction between technology “toys” and technology “tools.” Successful projects have put technology tools to use in solving a problem they identified up front. Problems that have been addressed using technological tools include the need to teach students in a classroom who all have different strengths and abilities or the need for small and rural districts to connect their students to a wide variety of courses.

Defining a problem may require that we take a careful look at the way things are—even things that have always been and seem to be working as expected. Transporting students to and from school is an example. One of our innovative projects has improved transportation at a lower cost by merging across districts and using software to lay out the most efficient routes, compute idle time and even track when students are picked up and dropped off. This first required them to think outside the box of what they were accustomed to (that every district must have their own transportation system). A bonus associated with that project was the launch of a mobile app to communicate with parents on whether their student’s bus is on time, running late or on the way. And, the savings they experience from innovation can help expand on other education programs.

One final understanding that is helpful to the identification of a problem is look at it locally. Research and data can help us spot general trends in education to be on the lookout for. But, they may still need to be considered in terms of how they impact our own district. As an example, the cause and strategies to address chronic absenteeism will vary for each district.

In 2017, we hope to see continuing innovation in schools across the state, building on what we have learned in the Straight A Fund innovation program.

Dr. Susan Tave Zelman is an executive director at the Ohio Department of Education and oversees the Straight A Fund. You can reach her at Susan.Zelman@education.ohio.gov.

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4/21/2017

Superintendent's Blog: On the Road in Northern Ohio for the 2017 State of the State

By: Paolo DeMaria

One of the things I love about my job is traveling to different schools around Ohio and seeing education policies in action. On April 4, Gov. John Kasich’s annual State of the State Address was held in Sandusky, Ohio. In events leading up to the address, I visited several northern Ohio schools and got a glimpse of just a few of the outstanding education programs offered in our schools.

Community-connectors-1.jpgOne of my first stops was to Tiffin Middle School, where I spoke with students and mentors in the Seneca Mentoring Youth Links program, made possible by a Community Connectors mentoring grant. Students in the program otherwise may not have positive adult role models in their lives. It was encouraging to hear directly from students and mentors about the roles they play in one another’s lives. Particularly notable was the observation that mentors learned and grew almost as much as their student mentees.

I visited a preschool at Bellevue Elementary school. This amazing program earned five stars — the highest rating — in Ohio’s Step Up To Quality rating system. I was impressed with how these students are already developing a sophisticated academic vocabulary. During one activity, they were naming shapes like “sphere,” “cone,” “cylinder,” etc. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t doing that when I was 4 years old! The district’s investment in its youngest students — many from low-income backgrounds and who may have other special needs — will lay the foundation for future success in school, including giving them a leg up on meeting the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. My visit concluded with a discussion with the students’ families, where they shared with me the powerful impact the program has made in their children’s lives.

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At Terra State Community College, President Jerome Webster hosted a great event that highlighted the power of partnerships. I heard from panelists representing businesses, colleges, high schools and education partners. The panelists talked about how the partnerships they formed are meeting the area’s workforce needs and creating hope and opportunity for adult learners. Programs like the Ohio Adult Diploma and College Credit Plus are helping Ohioans, young and old, find paths to better employment or advanced education. College Credit Plus helps students get some college credits while in high school. The program is free and can help students reduce student loan debt and begin their college freshman year ahead of their peers. Earning an Ohio Adult Diploma can be life changing for the 1 million adults in Ohio who do not have high school diplomas. It opens new doors to better jobs and, for many, it offers a pathway out of poverty. 

Fab-LAb-2-4.jpgCulinary students at EHOVE Career Center treated me to a fantastic lunch, where school leaders joined me to discuss programs at the career center. We toured the school and experienced 21st century learning as I tried out the school’s fascinating virtual reality model of a human heart. The school exemplifies project-based learning in its Fab Lab. It was phenomenal to see what students were able to create here! The lab lets students identify engineering projects and see them through from concept to design to production using a wide variety of high-tech equipment (laser cutters, 3-D printers, etc.). Students have fabricated everything from engines to a huge version of Ohio’s state seal — all while gaining STEM skills and exploring in-demand jobs. Superintendent Mastroianni is providing great leadership at one of Ohio’s great career centers.

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Next, I visited Perkins High School in Sandusky. At an Ohio Business Roundtable discussion, business and community leaders talked about how to develop a skilled workforce that can grow Ohio’s economy. We learned about programs in Perkins Local School District and Sandusky City Schools that are creating partnerships with businesses, as well as opportunities for students to make connections to careers. Students made presentations about how the skills they are developing now will help them in the future. It was inspiring to see students making those career connections early on and taking full advantage of their high school experiences to get ready for the future.

My final visit was to Sandusky High School. Sandusky City Schools received Straight A Funds that they used to create internship opportunities for students. The students are interning at local companies and organizations that are connected Straight-A.jpgto the global economy, such as NASA, PNC Bank and the Ohio Army National Guard. I very much enjoyed talking with students in the program. They have great insight and they tell it like it is — one student asked me about the emerging alternative graduation requirements, wondering what motivation students would have to attend classes and do their best if we make graduation easier. I also enjoyed talking with teachers about the joys and challenges of teaching in high school.

It was really neat to see so many aspects of Ohio’s education system in a single day! My colleagues on the State Board of Education, President Tess Elshoff and Board Member Linda Haycock, joined me for several events. At every event, we were able to have meaningful, engaging dialogue with educators, students, families and citizens. It was clear to me that we all want the very best for our children. Educational opportunity is critical to advancing individual students and Ohio’s economy as a whole. I genuinely appreciate all of the teachers, administrators and school personnel who work every day in the best interests of our students. I also want to thank all of the schools and districts who hosted these events. There are some truly fabulous things going on in our schools. It was an incredible experience, and I learned so much in our conversations. 

You can follow State Board of Education President Tess Elshoff at twitter.com/Tess_Elshoff and Board Member Linda Haycock at twitter.com/linda_haycock.

Paolo DeMaria is superintendent of public instruction of Ohio, where he works to support an education system of nearly 3,600 public schools and more than 1.6 million students.

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Last Modified: 6/1/2016 4:16:44 PM