Tech Doesn't Teach… But it can Help

Here is an fairly typical example of technology use in an early elementary school classroom. I’ve seen lessons much like this at my son’s school. I have to say that I am conflicted in my thoughts about this. On balance I think it is probably effective in that the very fact that it is using technology rather than a simple blackboard, there may be some increased interest from the students. However, there is definitely nothing here that couldn’t be done with a blackboard or cork-board. What do you think?

Cdonnelly33's Blog

SMARTboard in a 1st grade classroom.

With the advancement of technology today classrooms are now being fit with the latest instructional technology.  However do all teachers use the technology in a way that benefits the students.

Many classrooms today have a SMART Board installed in them.  I have seen many teachers use this interactive piece of technology as just a white board and a projector.  They lack the training and/or desire to learn how to use this technology effectively. Districts should provide teachers with technology in their classrooms with staff development to help assist them in using the technology effectively.

An effective way to use the SMART Board in a classroom is to use it with the SMART Response system where the teacher can obtain instant feed back about a lesson.

View original post


A great essay re-iterating how hardware and software (and teachers) must work together to make technology in the classroom work at its potential.

Yuza's #Techtalk

I have always been an advocate of the integration of technology in the classroom. I believe that technology can enhance the classroom experience, increase the motivation of students, and improve the overall results of education.

That is, if it is managed correctly.

Much too often I meet or read about people who thinks that “technology integration in the classroom” is equal to introducing a “laptop based learning environment”. They think that by supplying the hardware, educators and students would magically figure out how to integrate the technology in the teaching and learning process. More often than not, this mindset led to massive failures.

As nicely outlined by educator Mark Warshauer in,

without professional development or curriculum development, and with little of the infrastructure that makes computer use in schools effective, teachers for the most part ignore the computers, which thus go largely unused in schools.

In short, hardware should not…

View original post 488 more words

Creationism in the classroom

I have, at times discussed creationism in my science classroom because students have had questions about it.Although, I don’t typically address it as anything other than historical context for the origin of scientific theories if no student pushes to discuss it. What has your experience been? If you are a student, leave a comment about how this was addressed in your classes.

A quick post that’s slightly off topic

I worry about writing anything on this topic because my goal is not to have some sort of focus for a creationist ‘debate’, but I recently saw an article about the construction of an Ark in the Netherlands. ( I don’t know what to make of this article – or more to the point, of the subject that the article addresses. There’s nothing I find objectionable about someone building whatever it is that they want to with their money. But I can’t overlook the statement that the “the Dutch creationist and millionaire building contractor Johan Huibers”. What can’t I overlook? “Creationist”

There it is, I’ve done it. I opened the door. What’s so objectionable about being a creationist? Well, it’s not the man himself that I care about. What I do care about is that the purpose of this thing is to serve as some sort of creationist ‘museum’. We already have one of those in the States. It’s located in Kentucky (where else?), but you can check it out right here:


I’m not sure how I should phrase this in order to communicate my point best, but I find it to be a severe obstacle to education that these institutions are out there. I have no problem with the religious story of creation (any of them), but there is a problem with the relationship that Churches have with the rest of the world. That is, in order to be tolerant of all religions and to respect the distinction between religion and science, nothing can be said about any claim that has the word ‘religious’ tacked to it.  

I think most scientists are OK with the fact that religious questions are outside of the purview of science (most – not all). Whenever there is a discussion about something that cannot be tested scientifically, I’m happy to say, “well, science can’t address that question.” and let it go. 

But fundamentalist religions don’t respect that division any more than scientists like Richard Dawkins (Whom I respect greatly even when he is attacking religion – I just don’t think it’s a good idea). I’m talking about creationists that want to make claims about the real world that are testable, but they either don’t want to test these claims or don’t respect the power of a persuasive argument against their position. 

Scientists dislike this for several reasons. First, creationists approach the question with the answer in hand and don’t  give credence to any non-supporting evidence. Second, scientists think it’s not playing by the rules if you don’t give up a flawed argument (it’s the hardest thing to learn as a science student: you are not your argument. If your argument is wrong, let it go) Lastly, science isn’t going to admit “it’s in the bible” as evidence – and I think this offends fundamentalists.

Why don’t scientists accept biblical truth? Well, because there’s no reason to. Even if everything in the bible happened exactly as it was originally told, the fact that the bible was cobbled together from a handful of oral histories after floating around for a number of years makes that pretty hard to accept as evidence. A court won’t accept hearsay even if it’s only a couple of weeks old. The game ‘telephone’ has as its entire premise that people can’t repeat what they’ve heard just a second before.

OK, I’m ranting here – and it’s exactly what I didn’t want to do, but I teach biology and I have had students come to my class with ideas supported by creationists and creation museums before and it’s very difficult to navigate / remedy.

And one last thing – on a personal note: Just as the mathematicians and astronomers of the 17th century were in awe of the motion of the planets and how wonderfully sensible God’s creation appeared to them, there really are a lot of scientists who marvel at the beauty of God’s creation in setting life in motion to follow the elegant rules of evolution over time.



Assessment and Technology

Assessment has emerged as a touchstone in education. Although assessment of the student has always been a central part of education, it has also become a critical measuring stick for whole institutions. With the passing of “No Child Left Behind,” educational assessment changed from determining whether a student had learned enough to merit a passing grade into determining whether whole institutions should live or die.


It is valuable to ask what some good reasons for assessment are…

  1. Pace – Assessing whether a class is following a lesson or more time is needed.
  2. Methodology -Determining which teaching methods are more or less effective
  3. Teacher Centered – Assisting educators in refining their art
  4. Student Centered – Ensuring that students take an appropriate level of comprehension from a lesson


The first two points concern how teachers manage the classroom in order to ensure that students learn. The third point is really the sum of the first two and helps the educator determine what material should be presented and how it should be done. Further, it is intended to evaluate the skill of the teacher. Finally, the last point is the most important of all, given everything that came before, have students learned the material?


It is the second last points that I want to consider here. How do we know what students have learned and what methods get us the best results?


“If I could just meet you in the hallway and talk to you once in a while that would be enough for me to know whether you’ve learned all you can here or not. If it were up to me, that would be it. There’s no reason we really need to do the dissertation…”

                                                            -A loose quotation from an academic advisor


Knowing what to assess and how to assess it is critical to determining whether a lesson or whole course is working for students. When working one-on-one with advanced students a good assessment can be as easy as the quotation above suggests. The advisor’s point was that objectivity is an illusion and in graduate education, the first three purposes of assessment are often not in question. However, when working with a larger class of introductory students, more quantifiable assessments become valuable.


Simply asking a class whether they understand as you go along a lecture or other classroom activity is no help. Teachers know that the answer to this question is, more often than not, a murmur of agreement – only to find that only a small fraction of the class can demonstrate their comprehension (personal anecdote).


Why is this? Do students think they understand when they don’t? Do they expect that they can figure it out later? Do they just not care? Perhaps they get the ‘gist’ of a lesson, but just can’t deliver on the details.


Pop quizzes are one way to make assessments in these situations. But this method has some drawbacks. First, it requires a substantial break in the class to administer. Second, even if a quiz can be administered without loss of time or the disrupting class, it is difficult to assess the results and move forward appropriately without taking more time out to grade.


Technology in assessment


Clickers have provided a high tech answer to this problem. Without allowing students to shape their answer by their peers in a call of hands, clickers (or similar feedback) provide a way for educators to poll a classroom and get real-time, honest feedback on specific questions in a way that does not seriously jeopardize the flow of a class.


Another way to use technology in support of a lesson and its assessment is to use games that are played within or outside of the classroom. With the advent of new devices, this is becoming increasingly possible. Further, because information can be shared between devices over WiFi, it is now possible to have collaborative games in which measurements can be taken not only of final outcomes, but also of the collaborative steps taken to attain these outcomes.


Collaborative peer learning has been shown to be a successful approach to teaching 1, one would expect to see a direct correlation between instances of shared information and final assessment scores. To my knowledge, such ‘real-time’ collaboration assessments have not been made. This could be one avenue to improving student outcomes that could change the way content is delivered.


I am still relatively new to teaching having only been at it for a couple years, but I am very interested in improving my techniques. In a recent conversation with a program officer for the NIH, he indicated that making assessments of new classroom materials was vital to obtaining grant money for developing those materials. I am now very interested in learning how to measure this and determining what questions I should be asking in evaluating new technology in the classroom.


What assessment tools have you found to guide how your classroom functions?

Other than a strict measure of whether students can reproduce material they have been exposed to, what other questions are valuable in assessing a lesson plan/ strategy / technology?


1.         Johnson, D. & Johnson, R. Active Learning: Cooperation in the College Classroom. (Interaction Book Company: Edina, MN, 1991).

Hmm. What does it mean to ‘like’ this post? Well, I’m very sad to hear this story unfold. I am a fan of Mr. Lehrer from both NPR and The New Yorker. I’m not sure how this happened, but I hope that he can find a way to redeem himself. I certainly don’t excuse the actions he is charged with taking, but I also would hate for the science world to lose such a clear voice.
Good Luck Jonah.

-Ps, I should probably disclose that I wrote the above comment on another blog first (see dispatches from pangea).

Dispatches from Pangaea

It’s been a rough couple of months for the science Wunderkind. Jonah Lehrer resigned today from his post at the New Yorker after acknowledging that he fabricated quotes in his most recent book, Imagine. His publisher is pulling the e-book that contains the misquotations and is halting production of physical copies.

Lehrer admitted that quotes that he had attributed to Bob Dylan “either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes.”

This news comes on the heels of a smaller scandal, in which Lehrer admitted to reusing or “self-plagiarizing” his own work in numerous published pieces without telling his editors. At the time, Lehrer had just left his post at Wired, where he was a contributing editor, to become a staff writer at TheNew Yorker.

Lehrer issued an apology this morning:

I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize…

View original post 442 more words

Why Video Games Can Achieve Educational Objectives

Video games have several key features that make them attractive as a means to meet educational objectives. Primarily, games are intended to be enjoyable pursuits and video games have achieved this to amazing success leading to $65B of gross revenues in 20115, a figure surpassing that of the motion picture industry which grossed $10.2B that same year.6 In addition to their appeal, video game design has evolved to incorporate a number of features demonstrated to be successful as pedagogy.

One advantage of using games in the academic space is that they commonly employ a self-paced model of ‘concurrent chaining’ in which tasks are first presented in their simplest forms, but gain complexity following each player success. This approach has been shown to be successful compared to other methods of teaching by continuously involving the player in trial and error testing and thus providing more interaction and engagement with the teaching device compared to lecturer-based education alone. 1,2

A second feature of video games is that they specifically engage players by the use of storytelling – an art as old as human culture itself. Story is central to the way that people grasp the events of their lives and as such, it is vital that education be delivered in this form in order for it to make sense and be memorable. 3

However, engagement is only valuable inasmuch as it affords greater academic gains or improves attitudes towards a subject or learning in general. In an assessment of students enrolled in an undergraduate Physics course, learning outcomes were greatly improved by any implementation of interactive learning. 4

The challenge is to provide software that is 1) interesting enough to students for them to actively engage with and explore and 2) of high enough quality that this engagement is not achieved at the expense of the educational purpose. Few games achieve both of these goals simultaneously. Presently, much of the educational software market is awash in flashcard / random quiz question generators that provide test preparation without any attempt at engaging the student. Likewise, entertainment games give short shrift to scientific principles of any kind, instead inventing new rules for nature that serve only the interests of the game without providing any educational content.


Together, these features describe a successful means of improving education and, possibly more important, the enjoyment of education. At long last, having ‘computers in the classroom’ may provide a real, measurable benefit aside from assuring parents that technology is being used and that we assume this must lead to some improvement… we hope.






1.     Graesser, A. C. & Person, N. K. Question Asking During Tutoring. American Educational Research Journal 31, 104–137 (1994).

2.     Peck, A. C. & Detweiler, M. C. Training Concurrent Multistep Procedular Tasks. Human Factors 42, 379–389 (2000).

3.     Zabel, M. K. Storytelling, myths and folk tales. Preventing School Failure 32, 28–41 (1991).

4.     Hake, R. R. Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics 66, 64 (1994).


5.      Reuters-

6.      Boxofficemojo –



Why Technology in the Classroom Anyway?

The AppCampus Blog is premised on the notion that technology in the classroom is a good thing that educators should embrace, but why?

Here, I argue that technology (and gaming in particular) is a central part of many people’s lives. Games are the most embraced part of technology by younger generations and, over time, older generations have accepted gaming into their lives as well. Leveraging this interest to teach STEM subjects is vital to engaging students and improving global competitiveness.

Game use has increased not only in absolute number of users, but also in penetration of older age-group markets and amongst female users. A Pew Foundation report on teens and video game-play found that “nearly one-third of all 12- to 17-year- olds report playing video games every day or multiple times each day, and three-fourths report playing at least once a week.” The reach of video games greatly outdistances the number of students graduating with STEM bachelor’s degrees and may thereby extend the penetration of science instruction outside of the classroom. 1,2          Further, the reach of videogames into the older demographics has climbed such that more than half of all adults play video games of one kind and seniors are reported to play, on a daily basis, more often that all other demographics. 3

The public’s embrace of technology and gaming provides an opportunity for STEM education to reach out to students and the public at large. There exists an opportunity to seize the opportunity that mobile device technology offers to engage students of all ages in a form of entertainment that integrates education into the game seamlessly into an integral part of young people’s lives.

Despite the primary role the US has played in many technological achievements of the 20th century (including developing nuclear power for war and peacetime use and putting a man on the moon), the US is no longer a leader in STEM subjects. The 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report found that the proficiency of US students in Math is lower than many other developed nations including Iceland, Estonia, Poland and Slovenia. 4

Improving performance in STEM subject education will improve competitiveness in the world market. This connection is no hypothetical assumption lacking objective evidence, data from Hanushek et al shows a direct correlation between academic performance and Gross Domestic Product, suggesting that further improvements in education can have beneficial economic consequences. 5Considering the primacy of technical job skills in the current labor market, it follows that STEM education may be a driver of this relationship.

The use of interactive, multiuser games promotes not only collaborative-, but also active– learning. Together, these techniques improve student involvement and retention by instilling a sense of personal responsibility for the material. 6,7 Further, using mobile games immerses students in science and meets them in a technology that is a central part of their lives.


Alltogether, games-especially those played on mobile devices- should be part of a comprehensive approach to education because they engage students in science in such a way that is vital to capturing the imaginations of scientists-to-be.







1.     Mayo, M. J. Video Games: A Route to Larger-Scale STEM Education? Science 323, 75–79 (2009).

2.     Lenhart, A. et al. Teens, Video Games, and Civics. Pew Internet and American Life Project 1–76 (2008).

3.     Lenhart, A., Jones, S. & Rankin Macgill, A. Pew/Internet: Adults and Video Games. Pew Internet Project Data Memo 1–9 (2008).

4.     Peterson, P. E., Woessmann, L. & Hanushek, E. A. Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete? 1–48 (2011).

5.     Hanushek, E. A., Jamison, D., Jamison, E. & Woessmann, L. Education and Economic Growth. Education Next 1–10 (2008).

6.     Bonwell, C. C. & Elson, J. A. Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. ERIC Digest. 1–5 (2012).

7.     Johnson, D. & Johnson, R. Active Learning: Cooperation in the College Classroom. (Interaction Book Company: Edina, MN, 1991).



For the educators out there…

The iBook Revolution

Apple is decisively positioning itself to take the education market by storm.  This is clearly evident from their website (, “The device that changed everything is now changing the classroom.” This movement could be felt earlier, but it became a stated mission when the company introduced the iBooks Authoring tool in January of 2012. At this moment Apple placed the muscle of its publishing and distribution network in the hands of educators interested in creating their own material for the classroom. By material, I mean textbooks.  And by creating textbooks, teachers / professors / educators everywhere have the power to make an endrun around one of the most dominant, top-down forces in education: the textbook publishers.


For years textbook publishers have been dictating what material is taught nationwide. On one hand, this is no problem, teachers need a resource that provides content, support, lesson organization, etc. On the other, given a limited number of textbook publishers, teachers are bound to follow conventions set by very few people. And those people (the publishers) are bound by the market. And when I say ‘the market,’ I mean Texas and California.


Because of their size, these two states play outsized roles in determining what textbooks are used throughout the country. Being large states with high populations they are the largest purchasers of textbooks for public schools in America. This means that textbooks publishers bend to the market forces operating in these states. Where this becomes a problem is that these forces actually transform the content of the books. It may seem that history is history, math is math, etc. But anyone who has read The People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn knows that history is told by the winners and can be presented very differently by different people. For instance, states that had one time been a part of the union teach the civil war as being a war over slavery; states that had once been part of the confederacy refer to it as a war concerning states’ rights. These are both accurate statements, but they mean two very different things.


The effect of these market forces has documented in decades of publications on the topic, appearing in education journals and even a multipart series in the Baltimore Sun by Mike Bowler back in 1976. The question raised by many of these publications is, “should the content of textbooks be subjected to the same forces as those for cola and breakfast cereal?” That is, is the content of educational material a matter of taste?


This could easily be another article, but this topic has been reviewed many times elsewhere.* However, with the introduction of the iBook Authoring tool, Apple places the power to do something novel in the hands of educators. Teachers and Professors have been providing supplementary handouts and packets to their students for years. With this new app, they can now consolidate these supplemental materials into a single professional document for digital (or .pdf print) distribution.


But a funny thing happens once you start putting all this material together. You realize that you may be well along the road to creating your own textbook that is perfectly tailored to your own syllabus. Then you start wondering what that other book is really offering that yours is not.


I can’t promise that iBooks will revolutionize education, but I can say that it has revolutionized my own approach to providing materials to my class and that what used to be a packet of handouts is quickly becoming a rich multimedia document that looks an awful lot like a textbook. So, how much longer will the textbooks be the centerpiece of my students’ focus for my class? I can’t say yet – we’re only about to start my first semester. I’ll be sure to write more about how it goes though, so check back here later in the Fall 2012 semester and see.











*among others:

1.“Textbook Publishers Try to Please All, but First They Woo the Heart of Texas” Mike Bowler, The Reading Teacher, Vol. 31, No. 5 (Feb., 1978), pp. 514-518.

2.“Textbook Publishing” Gilbert Sewall; Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 86, 2005

Post Navigation