Wednesday, January 31, 2018

An American Chromebook Crisis: new report shows sad trends of how students are using the devices

A new report is out that tracks how Chromebooks are being used in K-12 classrooms and it is one of the most disheartening things I have read in a long time. I am not lying or using hyperbole. My stomach dropped reading the release from Chromebook management company GoGuardian.

Read the GoGuardian Report here.

In short a huge amount of Chromebook use is being spent on educationally questionable video games, low level assessments, and YouTube with the two highest trending websites for over 5,000,000 learners (after G Suite for Education) being CoolMath Games and Renaissance Learning, the parent company to Accelerated Reader and other assessments.

Let me say it again. The two highest trending websites (after G Suite for Education) for over 5,000,000 learners are

CoolMath Games and
Renaissance Learning, the parent company to Accelerated Reader and other assessments!

Have you ever really visited Maybe I am missing something but I struggle to see how most of these games are even math-related, let alone going to build skills? Yes, there is a ton of strategy and logic involved and kids dig the site because they're always asking if they can use it in STEM. Sorry guys, we have a lot more engaging ways to build both math, strategy, and logic.'s got Math in the name so it has to be educational, right? I think that alone is a big reason why teachers allow it to get so much traffic...and that kids are quiet for long periods of time while playing on it. Sure, there are worse things they could be accessing, but when this site dominates the study it shows us that the current state of Chromebooks in the classroom is really stuck at the lowest common denominator.

Now, I am not as hugely opposed to Accelerated Reader (Renaissance Learning) as some in the educational technology community are. In the right doses as a SUPPLEMENT to a reading program and used only when students are free to choose their own books I have no problem with it. However when it shows up as the second most trending site in terms of hits and time spent on it, then that shows that far too many schools are making it the core of their reading programs. That could be a whole series of future blog posts. There are other assessments like Star Reading and Star Math that are likely contributing to this number. It would be interesting for GoGuardian to share out that breakdown. Still it's a gut punch to see activities like these taking up such a chunk of how kids are using technology in the classroom.

Okay, first rant over! The study overall is quite interesting and definitely does a thorough job at dissecting where students are spending their time online with Chromebooks.  The 2017 Benchmark Report: An analysis of emerging trends in Chromebook usage looks at what sites are being used most by students in three age brackets as well as what sites are most used by subject area. According to the report, "(The report) gives you an inside look into student device usage to inform best practices and provide a benchmark for your school’s technology programs. The Benchmark Report analyzes the aggregate device usage of 5 million K-12 students across the country."

GSuite for Education is by far the most utilized set of sites by Chromebook users and GoGuardian sets it aside from other non-Google sites, breaking down how the different parts rank. With 62.1% stated as Google Docs, it's my assumption that includes Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drawings. I would like to see the percentage that each of those is used but the cynic me thinks it is highly likely that a huge chunk of that 62.1% is typing term papers like it's 1985...albeit using a really tricked-out Smith Corona. I do not mean to poo poo the use of Google Docs one bit though. This shows that all of the great aspects like sharing of docs and access anywhere are being used in great doses. Just over a year ago, I chronicled many of the advantages that the free suite offers. It's also important to remember we don't need to live in the "redefinition" realm of the SAMR framework and that technology should support sound pedagogy and Google Docs really can do that.

What surprises me and frankly saddens me a little bit too is that so few of these students' teachers (8%) are using Classroom to manage their Chromebook environments and that Google Drive is only accessed 2.5% of the time.

GoGuardian breaks down how Google's GSuite apps are being utilized in the classroom by 5,000,000 US K-12 users.

Now we get to Rant #2. YouTube grabs almost 21% usage in the Google category. Yes, there are endless numbers of videos that can teach you just about anything. When we cut access to YouTube this Fall at one of my elementary schools due to students being off-task with it, we found out how much we rely on it for independent learning and quickly opened it back up (filtered of course). Still I would love to see a breakdown of the actual types of YouTube videos being watched by students on their Chromebooks. My heart really wants a disproportionate number to be educational but my head leads me to believe that kitty cats, dumb web series, and music videos are probably leading the pack.

To be fair this study is not all doom, gloom, time wasters, and drill and kill. Both Scratch and popped up numerous times with Scratch garnering a #5 trending overall ranking. It's good to see these computer science sites getting lots of use by Chromebook users. Teachers are also doing their best to gamify a lot of learning as Kahoot came in at the top of a number of categories. Another favorite site of mine that places highly is the set of science simulations from PHET at the University of Colorado. Also, the study opened my eyes to several new sites I hadn't previously visited so definitely spend some time going through the lists.

What bugs me the most (Rant #3): For 23 years I have been evangelizing the use of edtech tools that foster student creativity and I have recently been preoccupied with a suspicion that because fewer and fewer schools are buying Macs for students that ground is likely being lost in the battle to promote high level uses of classroom technology.  When I opened GoGuardian's email with the study all of those fears were validated. I was saddened but not really surprised. Zero sites for creativity are listed in the study. We know fewer kids are getting to create with Keynote, iMovie, and GarageBand due to device choice, but it doesn't look like they're getting many chances to use any of the Chrome-based alternatives to these apps either.

No Soundtrap. No Canva. No WeVideo. No Pixlr. No Emaze.

Creativity is so important and being able to convey a concept in multimedia is a skill all industries are demanding now. A local school board president was asking me about what's next in edtech and the discussion led to content creation. He holds a high-up position with a multi-national company that creates automobile interiors and he agreed.

"Everything, no matter the concept now has to be pitched in a highly visual and easy to understand way. Just using PowerPoint basic slides won't cut it anymore," he shared.

We need to be fostering those skills now.
At least there's Scratch which provides tremendous opportunities for students to develop creativity while building computer science skills. For me its popularity is the brightest spot in this study.
Bottom line: When the technological investment in five million learners is being primarily spent playing games with questionable educational benefit, taking low level assessments, and watching YouTube then we have an edtech crisis on our hands. We can have "certified this" and "distinguished that" honors in our email signatures and be "ambassadors" for a thousand apps and sites but this report shows us the grim reality of how devices are really being used. Many of us have dedicated significant portions our careers to helping our fellow educators use technology in meaningful ways and this report should serve as a wake-up call as there is still a ton of work to do.

We can and must do better.

Updated: ...and the conversations continue. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

It's Super Bowl Week! Get your kids moving with Vikings' Kyle Rudolph

Discovery Education is back with another Super Bowl themed virtual field trip. This year's is completely on demand and features Minnesota Vikings Tight End Kyle Rudolph along with cardiologist Dr. Courtney Baechler.

The American Heart Association and NFL Play 60 team up from the Vikings practice facility to teach about the importance of exercise and healthy eating. Like last year's VFT, this one also includes segments where your students will be asked to get on their feet and get moving in place.

Best of all, the virtual Super Bowl experience is free to all educators and not just limited to subscribers of Discovery Education. Teachers can also download a free classroom activity guide.

Visit now.

Hurry to enter Vans' $75,000 Custom Culture 2018 high school design contest

Every year Vans picks 500 U.S. high schools to design a one-of-a-kind sneaker. The winning entry scores $75,000....yes, seventy-five thousand dollars for its high school art program. Imagine what you could do with that dough!

Visit for all of the details. There is a great getting started video that explains the process.

Hurry because registration closes on January 31.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Build a cardboard chair in the latest challenge from Dyson

The James Dyson Foundation's newest engineering challenge is all about constructing with cardboard.

Photo: James Dyson Foundation

Can you build a chair with just cardboard, cutting utensils, and a ruler? Download the instructions and watch a getting started video at the James Dyson Foundation homepage. Check out the other challenges while you are there as well as the many free teaching and learning resources on the site.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Amaze em with Emaze!

Do you know what's really awesome about having a teenager? No, it's not being encouraged to venture into the world of fancy pocket jeans. Having a personal guide to what's new on Netflix is cool but when it comes to the edtech world, I love when my daughter shows me a new site or app she's using at school.

That's how I discovered Emaze. It's like a mashup of the visual brilliance of Haiku Deck with the functionality of Google Slides all tossed together with the flexibility of Canva. Bottom line: it's a great way for users to create visual content beyond just the slide deck.

If you know me, you know I live by the motto, "if you can't make it in Keynote then you don't need it." In many situations however Keynote isn't always an option or even the best one, like when all kids have access to are Chromebooks. Yes, there's iCloud Keynote but even that can be a challenge with Apple Id's and such. Google Slides is tremendously functional too and I use that a lot. I'm not throwing those out of the digital tool box, I am just excited about what a great compliment emaze is  and that it is intuitive enough for kids in upper elementary to handle.

Here's how you get started.

Logging in is available through existing Google accounts so if your kids already have those, then there is no hassle with having to create a whole set of usernames and passwords. 
Because the site is so visually geared there may be a bit of initial distraction as students find rabbit holes to explore on their first visits. Plan for this ahead and make your introductory session as fun and explore time.
Once you and your kids are ready to get serious about creating content, you will find a variety of support videos for most tasks in Emaze. There is also a ton of inspiration within emaze as the site is full of shared work and templates. So, go check out what you can do. You'll be e-mazed!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Morning Motivation: Let the Day Begin

I used to play this in the Plymouth Colt every morning while pulling up to 6 AM two-a-day football practice in 1989 and it was one of the last songs I'd play on the Walkman just before taking the field on Friday Night.

"Let the Day Begin" by The Call still gets me pumped up 28 and a half years later.

So, here's to all of you teachers in the crowded rooms. Have a great one.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Teaching With PBL Is Like Cooking Mac And Cheese

In order to successfully intertwine project and challenge based learning into the student experience, we have to be aware of the nuances that can make or break your projects.

"Embrace the suck."
"Failure is our greatest teacher."
"It's not the destination. It's the journey."

Yep we get all of that, but kids don't arrive on the big yellow buses with much ability to handle that. The best way I can describe the success I have found managing projects from a teacher's role is that is like cooking macaroni and cheese.

You've gotta regulate the heat or these kids will boil allover the stove.

Circulate and pay close attention to the group dynamics. Look for both frustration with the task and frustration with one another. In both cases, get kids to articulate exactly what the root of the frustration is. This is not only good for them but it helps you dissect where the sticking point is and if the frustration is with a classmate, have them tell the classmate exactly what the sticking point is. Simply telling them to figure it out is just lazy.

As you are watching all of this unfold, constantly re-evaluate your plans and whether the kids are ever going to make it to the goal. Give hints when necessary and pump the brakes when a full stop is needed. We want them to adapt as they work on the project; sometimes we need to adapt as they work on the project.

To avoid kids being overwhelmed, help them take that big task and chunk it into do-able bites. Add a little seasoning sometimes to make those bites more appealing. Finally, watch that burner and turn down the heat when you need to or the whole thing will just boil over into a big mess and not much to show for the effort in the end.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Take your little scientists into Peep's Big Wide World

One of my favorite resources for engaging our little scientific explorers in Hamilton STEM is "Peep and the Big Wide World".

It's a cartoon series that follows the many explorations and interactions of buddies Peep, Chirp, and Quack. Each episode features one natural phenomena that the trio try to make sense of with the same mindsets our young students have.

The production comes from PBS and has a fun website that includes videos and games organized by different scientific concepts. In addition to what's available on the site, also check YouTube for a ton of additional episodes.

Recut trailers reveal the power of music in digital storytelling

When we teach kids to tell a story digitally, a key element is helping them understand the power  background music has for setting the mood. It is a device kids don't have when they write and so it's not always natural for them to include it. Look no further than youtube for an impactful and extremely entertaining way to demonstrate this power.

Somewhere in the course of human creative history, our species became inspired to take original movie trailers and remix them with a completely different look and feel. Although the order of scenes has an effect, more than anything the background music really drives home the new mood.

With students, take time to find ones that feature movies that students know. "Scary Mary" is a remix of "Mary Poppins" and perfect for showing this adults. Many of my elementary kids haven't seen the Disney classic. As old as that makes me feel, I just had to accept it and find others. My personal favorite is "The Shining" recut as a romantic comedy with Peter Gabriel's happy "Solsbury Hill" as the background track.

This is another one that only a certain portion of the population will "get" because of the age of the original film but I love it.

The recut trailer I have found that resonates most with older elementary kids is the "Elf Recut as a Thriller". Another relatable project is the remix of Pixar's "Up". Most know the originals well. There are some "Frozen" remixes out there and a slew of "Finding Nemo" recut trailers to explore.

One challenge I found in looking for the best to use with students is that there seems to be an abundance of horror themed trailers. It's either horror movies being made happy or it's happy movies being made into horror movies. There's nothing really graphic but definitely preview all of them and decide on the fit for your classroom. It's most likely that you'd be employing these examples with fourth graders on up and it is my guess that most can handle it. Although it would be nice to have an abundance of genres to show, the contrast of happy to horror really hammers home the point of how music can really change the mood. 

When you are building that cinematic narrative or digital storytelling unit, hook your young filmmakers with one of these memorable examples of the power the right background music has on setting the right tone.

Thursday, January 18, 2018 22 Moments From 80s Movies That Sum Up Teaching Middle School

Teaching Middle School, as Told by 80s Movies

Even though this is a post from the super cool geared for middle-school teachers, all of us working in schools...especially if you grew up in the 1980's...can relate to these little gems. 
Well done Melanie Amichetti! 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

When the Internet is Down....Get Chopped

The first thing I noticed when I unloaded my laptop and iPad today was that Internet connectivity was having all kinds of difficulties. Instead of fighting through a very web-dependent exercise with third and fourth grade STEM classes, we turned to the Food Network.

Based on a cook's ability to innovate and adapt, Chopped makes contestants create gourmet dishes with some of the most random ingredients like candy bars and pickled eggs. The adaptability and innovation are the same skills we teach daily as we help kids develop into creative problem solvers.

Here's how Chopped in the STEM classroom works.
  • After dividing the class into five groups of four or five students, each group is given 10 wooden blocks, a small caddy of random Legos, and 4 marbles. All blocks have to be part of the final product as well as at least 1 marble and 1 Lego.
  • Next, give the groups a task. This varies by age group. For Kindergarten, groups simply have to build something they can tell a story about. Third and fourth graders have to create a device that can keep marbles (any number of the 4 may be used) moving the longest.
  • Once kids begin working I keep to the following timing intervals.
    • After five minutes I stop the building and ask each group to articulate its shared plan. If a group can't articulate a shared plan, then I have them move away from its workspace and sit together on the floor. Once they have it figured out and share it with me, they are permitted to return to work. It's amazing how quickly a plan can come together after a minute or two away from the materials. 
    • While constantly circulating to make sure everyone is engaged and included in the building process, I usually give about 25 minutes more of work time. Setting a visual timer  is extra helpful. I make it clear that by the end of the 25 minutes, the prototype needs to be as close to complete as possible.
    • At the end of the 25 minutes we stop and talk about how designers and engineers go through the refinement process of constantly testing and tweaking. I give 5 more dedicated minutes for this. When that is up, each group has 2 minutes to clean up any unused supplies.
  • To wrap up the activity I ask all of the kids to the front of the room and then we do a gallery walk to each table and have groups explain what they built. For the marble devices we give each group a chance to show it in action and time (usually with a smart phone) how well each functions. 
What is most amazing for me to see is how by nature each group always begins with individuals withdrawn and operating in each's own space but eventually (if properly coached) begin to focus on the shared task. Not all groups though successfully make this transition to group productivity. On 9 out of 10 times it is due to dysfunction within the group. The key teaching point when this happens is that the quality of teamwork is directly related to the quality of performance.

The biggest reward is seeing kids go from a natural tendency to stay in their own spaces to truly collaborating on one task

Give kids many opportunities to complete the same task. Watch to see how the dynamics change from one repetition to the next. 

Students who demonstrate understanding can:
3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
3-5-ETS1-2. Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
3-5-ETS1-3. Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Monday, January 8, 2018

STEM Challenge: Dyson Foundation 60 Second Marble Run

I am a huge fan of the challenges that the James Dyson Foundation hosts for budding engineers around the world. These can make great in-class projects or be issued as at-home learning. In addition to fun learning, Dyson also provides great videos that feature real engineers sharing a handful of hints while tackling the challenges themselves.

One we are tackling in Hamilton STEM is the Sixty Second Marble Run Challenge. Kids have to build a marble run with just cardboard, tape, and of course a marble. The marble must travel for exactly sixty seconds, no more and no less. The whole experience is a great manipulation in potential and kinetic, energy, and friction.

Each challenge comes with an easy-to-use directions card. Materials are clearly outlined and directions are kept as simple as possible.

Dyson encourages those who complete the challenge to share the results on social media through designated hashtags. Check out other challenges and some the results at #JDFChallenge.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Tiger Woods Foundation Offers Scores of Resources for College Seeking Students

Tiger Woods may be facing an uphill climb to return to his old form on the golf course but his foundation has created a ton of resources for students exploring college choices and ways to pay for their educations.

Students can replay a virtual field trip from the Silicon Valley offices of Facebook or explore a career in biomimicry. Best of all, it's all free.

Visit TGReduExplore.