Tag Archive: education


I’ve had the Polar3D (www.polar3d.com) printer for a couple of months and it is a delight to use. Norma found this printer at the ISTE conference, and it generated a lot of interest.

If you use PLA filament, the adhesive to the glass base plate is simply hairspray.  It does raftless printing very well so there is often no scrap to remove, and the print quality is amazing. The designers really thought this printer through.  It works right out of the box – no calibration required.  Filament loading and unloading is a breeze.  The initial software setup takes some work (and can be improved) but once done, you are all set.  The only challenge I’ve had is when I take the printer on the road and have to switch to a different network, but the phone help is quite patient with me.

Polar3D

Unlike my other printers, it prints from the cloud, so your stl files are saved in your online account.   Also, a built-in camera lets you see your job as it is printing from anywhere in the world you are logged in.

An advantage in school settings is that several printers can be set up in a central location and print jobs can be sent from any classroom using any internet-connected device.  This is clearly a printer worth looking at!

That said, this is a dynamic field and I’ll  be keeping my eyes open.

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Flipping the Flipped Classroom

Many years ago, when buzzword bonanza was hitting the world of business books, I wrote a joke booklet with the name: In Search of the One-Minute Megatrends.  I was happy to see that I could include pieces of titles from three popular books at the time.  Had I actually published such a book, it would likely have risen to the top of the heap, just based on the title alone.  People like buzzwords.  For one thing, they absolve you of actually having to think about the thing being described.

I mention this because we are seeing a buzzword blast in education today that I think we should step back from a bit and think about quite carefully before jumping on the bandwagon.  I’m speaking of the so-called “flipped” classroom where students view instructional lectures online from home, and use class time to do “homework” with the active support of the teacher and, one would hope, peers.  The premise is that the online world is ubiquitous in student homes, even though one-to-one computing in schools is still a distant dream.  Every kid (it is assumed) will just pop online after dinner and watch a series of online lectures that (presumably) stick like mental superglue to their noggins.  Free from the distraction of chatting with friends, posting on Facebook, or doing other social things, our kids will gladly take their own time to watch such riveting videos as The Commutative Law of Addition found on the Khan Academy site.  I can’t wait for the Oscar nominations to come rushing in for these gripping titles!

OK, let’s buy the idea that this riveting YouTube entry is better that the average cat video, what chance do students have to ask for help as the presentation is proceeding?  The answer, of course, is none.  The video plays until the end and that’s it.  There are post-tests given to be sure you learned what the video told you and, if you are lucky, you might even remember the material until the next day.  But, if you are confused, there is no recourse – no chance to interrupt the teacher to get clarification.  Even B. F. Skinner never went this far – he provided feedback throughout the process of his classes.  But many educators don’t realize that B. F. Skinner said shortly before his death in 1990, “The worst mistake my generation has made is to treat people as if they were rats.”

The fact that Skinner, himself, recanted his basic premise has had little effect on those who persist in thinking of minds as vessels to be filled with disconnected facts.  And so it continues with the flipped classroom.  Do flipped classrooms produce results?  Maybe over the short term.  But electric shocks increase learning in rats running a maze also.  That doesn’t make it effective over the long term, nor is it humane.
Of course there will be some students who do not have broadband at home (Hey, if our schools still don’t have enough bandwidth, how can we expect EVERY household to have it?)  These students will thus be freed from any didactic presentations at all because they (or their families) lack the resources to provide tools many of us have fought for decades (and failed) to get into schools!
But even this is not the reason I’m so concerned about “flipped” classrooms.  All it does is take what happens in the typical class and moves it to the home.  We are not stopping to ask whether the load of didactic presentations that make up so much of the school day is the best, or even an effective way for students to learn.  Where is inquiry?  Where are sustained student projects?  Where are any of the educational ideals dating back to Dewey that are known to be effective in reaching all learners?  Apparently they are not important.  Words like Papert’s Constructionism, Project-based Learning, and the like just don’t have the Madison Avenue zinginess of words like “flipped,” and thus proven pedagogical models remain in the back of the bus, if not being kicked off entirely by the new team of educational zealots who would love to see teachers replaced with videos.  The forces behind this kind of change may be pure (I doubt it), but you can be sure there are many people who think of children as wallets with bodies, and you can be sure they are watching this new trend with great attention.
But there is a positive side to this.  I have a new book title that should be a winner:  101 Ways to Implement Common Core Standards with iPads in the Flipped Classroom.

Brazilians love their technology.  I remember decades ago when I first visited the country to see that people would mark their seat at a buffet by leaving their cell phone on the table.  In fact, Brazil was probably among the first country to have cell phones outnumber wired lines, although that was largely due to the difficulty of getting a new wired phone line at the time.

But technological romance remains quite high.  Our local shopping center’s Apple store is full of people.  Samsung’s store in the same center is also quite busy.  Even Nokia, whose future remains uncertain, gets some traffic – and this is not just window shopping!  The number of iPhones, Galaxy tablets, and iPads coming out the door is amazing to see.  In fact, a recent study by Accenture shows that Brazilians are three times more likely than the global average to be purchasing a tablet in 2012.

This caught me by surprise given the explosive growth of this sector worldwide.

While tablets are coming into US schools at a fairly good pace, some Brazilian schools are listing them as back to school accessories along with crayons and paper notebooks.  The explosion is not restricted to the private schools.  In Pernambuco (the state where I am in the northeast of the country) the government is purchasing 170,000 tablets in a pilot with second and third year high school students.  Nationwide, other pilots in the public sector are adding 350,000 more tablets to the mix, with the goal to bring these devices to every student in the country.

Now if tablets were cheap devices, this would be one thing, but they are not.  The duty on imported electronics is so high that, for example, Apple products are nearly twice as expensive in Brazil compared with their price in the US.  Of course, with the rapid growth in sales volume, Toshiba and other major players are opening Brazilian factories to avoid duties and thus bring the price down.

The alpha-geek in me loves to see all this activity.  I’m an avid and active tablet user myself.  But when it comes to education, huge projects are taking a big risk if they are not thought out in advance.  For example, what is the wireless telecommunications infrastructure of the school?  Can it handle a thousand kids online at the same time?  How will the tablets be used?  If they are just glorified textbooks, much cheaper alternatives exist.  If the uses are more in support of creativity and inquiry, what tools will the tablets have?  Most importantly, how (and when) will teachers be provided not just with the mechanics of tablet use, but with the pedagogical support to transform education in rich ways?

Without thinking these questions through, the huge influx of tablets will likely fail to effect permanent change.  With the right support, though, we may see that the consumer driven romance with technology (especially among the young) will produce benefits that far exceed the cost of these devices, and this is a result worth seeking.

Why is change so hard?

One of my favorite paintings was created in the mid-1300’s by Laurentius de Voltolina.  It depicts a classroom at the University of Bologna.

University of Bologna, c. 1350

While many students seem to be paying attention, a casual glance will show that sleeping and talking among the students was known, even then.  Out of 21 students, I count four talking, three asleep, and others who seem to be distracted by their own thoughts.  This powerful painting shows that lecture-based instruction was known to be failing to engage some students almost 150 years before Columbus sailed to our shores.  And yet, in the face of the known failure of this instructional methodology, this model of instruction remains entrenched today.

The idea of students sitting in rows being talked to by a teacher in the front of the room is still so commonplace that many school architects (and their clients) continue to design classrooms in which the teacher in the picture above would feel quite comfortable.

Of course, our tools have changed.  Many classrooms are set up for teachers to use powerpoint, and the blackboard has turned into an interactive whiteboard, but this is just putting lipstick on a pig.

And we can’t say we’ve resisted change because we don’t have alternatives.  Read Rugg and Schumaker’s Child-Centered School (assuming you can find a copy), look into Dewey, Francis Parker, Albert G. Lane, and a host of others who built alternative schools with fantastic results, just to be marginalized on the fringes of education.  These pioneers of the 1800’s not only had new visions, they brought them to fruition with great results.  And yet, the system as a whole never changed.

Why is this?  More to the point, why do we continue to accept an educational system that is so dreadful that 25% of our students never complete high school?  And, if we care at all about repairing the economy, how can we allow the emerging brain trust hidden in these children to be squandered in the face of an educational system we’ve know to be an abysmal failure since 1350?