Benefits of iPads in classrooms outweigh the problems: study

Here is the Gazette version of the La Presse article I published at the beginning of the week. It is an interesting example of how two newspapers took the same study and put their own spin on it. The La Presse article leaves you with the feeling that we are all doomed- that the iPad is only  a distraction factory and that the state of education is crumbling before our techno-blurred eyes.

The Gazette article chooses to emphasize the benefits of the iPad and everything it can do, while sandwiching the distraction between the benefits of the iPad and ways teachers are finding to negotiate their students’ distraction.

Here is a link to the full report. It sounds like it might be best to read it and make up our own minds…

(Also-for an iPad study in Montreal, why weren’t we included?)

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Thierry Karsenti remembers the intense look in the young girl’s eyes when he moved to take her iPad away. “My Precious!” she said, Gollum-like, clutching the tablet to her chest.

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The Beginner’s Guide To Creating Digital Portfolios – Edudemic

I found the article below intriguing for several reasons. First, the idea of creating a digital portfolio of their work that spans their career at the school- is that possible in a high school?

My daughters did this with their reading journal in elementary school- they have a nice booklet with the books they read from grade 1 to grade 6. Wouldn’t it be cool f they had a collection of the creative writing they are most proud of?

I was also intrigued by the author, Holly Clark’s stance on why she doesn’t use avatars when putting her students’ work online (though she does not publish the last name-she is an elementary  teacher).  She makes the excellent point that students need to be accountable for what they put on line. If we teach them at an early age to hide their real identities behind avatars, what are we telling them?

She also gives some practical guidelines on how she uses mostly google products (google drive, forms and sites) for her workflow. However, there are many ways students cash create a wonderful , innovative portfolio for themselves. Book creator, iBook, a presentation app all come to mind.

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Last week on the Connected Student Series, I discussed the ‘why’ of digital portfolios. It is imperative that in 2014, students be able to curate, archive and expand on the work they are producing in class.

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Duolingo: Apple’s choice for App of the Year

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 9.04.50 AMI agree with Apple- I downloaded Duolingo last year when I was searching for language learning resources, and love it. I am using it on my phone and take advantage of its easy interface and fun game style to learn a bit more Spanish.

The app has several levels as well as different types of exercises, from filling in the right word to speaking the right word into the microphone. Once you have completed a level you get a badge!

It really helps that there is an audio component- you need to speak, but the app speaks to you as well so you can hear how the word is supposed to sound.

It is a great recommendation for students who need extra practice. Oh and bonus- it is free!!!!

You can also use it for learning French, German, Portuguese English and Italian.

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At Carnegie Mellon University, where he teaches computer science, Luis von Ahn and student David Klionsky thought there should be a way to use smartphones to teach new languages.

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Un élève sur trois joue sur son iPad en classe | Michael Oliveira | Produits électroniques

Thanks for sharing Geneviève!

Here is an article from La Presse on a survey of schools with iPads. The results are not so surprising, though it does emphasize the need for ongoing professional development, especially in terms of how to adjust teaching practices to accommodate the technology and how to integrate it effectively into a simple, time-saving workflow…


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Un tiers des étudiants du Québec sondés sur l’usage du iPad en classe ont admis pratiquer des jeux durant les heures d’école, et une étonnante proportion de 99% a dit…

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Myths About Coding: A Personal Journey

In honour of Computer Science Week I thought I would talk a little about my own personal journey with coding. The decision to try and learn to code was something I had been thinking of for about a year now. It was always in conjunction with what I saw as a growing need for our children to learn how to program ( or at least to understand the basics of coding) and a moral imperative to put my money where my mouth was. But in order to begin, I had to let go of some preconceived notions.

Myth #1: I am not good at math.

Severus-Snape-rip-severus-snape-13701628-2560-1707 Now I was one of those shy kids who didn’t understand math right off the bat. Unfortunately, early on in my scholastic career I met with a math teacher from the Severus Snape School of Instruction by Intimidation and my brain shut down to anything that was designated math. This was in fourth grade, so yeah. I have some catching up to do.

Unfortunately many girls (and probably boys) have convinced themselves that they are simply bad at math. Here is a great article from the Atlantic that talks about the “Fallacy of inborn ability”. Here is a quote:

“I’m just not a math person.”

We hear it all the time. And we’ve had enough. Because we believe that the idea of “math people” is the most self-destructive idea in America today. The truth is, you probably are a math person, and by thinking otherwise, you are possibly hamstringing your own career. Worse, you may be helping to perpetuate a pernicious myth that is harming underprivileged children—the myth of inborn genetic math ability.-Miles Kimball and Noah Smith

Now in my very late thirties, I am realizing just how much I have shot myself in the foot by believing this. It took a university course entitled “Math for elementary teachers” with an awesome teacher who could explain things to me in a way where I actually understood for me to realize that I could actually “do” math. It was a revelation! I am also shyly interested in science and the more philosophical side of math (ideas of different geometries and such) but always felt like I really had no business thinking about those high-falutin’ ideas  because I could not possibly understand that theory behind them.

If I do anything in life, it will be to try and dispel this kind of thinking in my own daughters as well as any young person.

Myth #2: I am not a math person therefore I could not possibly code

Who says you have to be good at math to code? From my very shallow forays into the vast sea of programming, it seems more like learning a language than math.

Yeah I know. Math is also a language. But I wish someone had mentioned to that me earlier in my life. If I could have viewed it as such, it might have been less scary for me, as the flip side of the “bad at math” coin is that I feel I am pretty good with language.

I have been taking about 15 minutes a day to learn to code. (I like the 15 minute thing- it means that I do a little everyday and it isn’t so daunting).

So far I have earned the following badges in Codeacademy:

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 9.41.25 AM


Hmmm. I do love me a good badge!

I have gone through the basics of HTML and CSS and have started learning the basics of javascript.

Although Code Academy is a great start, it doesn’t allow you to play around very much. Ever practical, I wanted to see how I could put my new skills to good use. I am in the middle of building a practice website for the upcoming Battle of the Books.

Here is a screen shot of my website:

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 9.53.58 AM

Here is a screenshot of the code for my homepage:

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 9.55.59 AM


As you can see, I am very proud of myself.

Myth #3: Programmers or coders are socially awkward, chubby males who live in their parents’ basement.

I read this great NY Times article (which I think I might have posted already) that made this interesting point:

Public narratives about a career make a difference. The most common career aspiration named on Girls Who Code applications is forensic science. Like Allen, few if any of the girls have ever met anyone in that field, but they’ve all watched “CSI,” “Bones” or some other show in which a cool chick with great hair in a lab coat gets to use her scientific know-how to solve a crime. This so-called “CSI” effect has been credited for helping turn forensic science from a primarily male occupation into a primarily female one.

Where are all the cool hacker chicks with great hair and funky outfits? They are working for Google. Or Ubisoft. Or Facebook. But they certainly aren’t on TV, which means there is no one out there to represent women in the profession.

I just had a meeting with two cool, young hacker girls (one works for Google, the other teaches computer science). They were telling me that the concept of working in your little anti-social bubble couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, it is one of the professions where leveraging the knowledge and support of their peers is not only encouraged but essential. They are in constant contact with their team mates but also with the people working on different aspects of a larger project. Think about Google and its vast online omnipotence. Then think about how many little worker ants it takes to make the Google kingdom run.

Now that I think about it, my profession, librarianship, is way closer to the coder stereotype. For instance, I can spend a whole day not talking to anyone if there are no classes in the library (which suits my personality if not enabling certain anti-social tendencies).

Myth #4: There is no creative aspect to coding.

After the Hour of Code event I wrote about, I asked my daughter if the idea of what programming is synced up with her experience. She shook her head vigorously. “I thought coding was a lot more boring,” she said. “That it was all numbers.” Since Sunday, she has found Codeacademy on her own and is going through the HTML tutorial. She has already used her HTML language skills to peek inside the code behind her tumblr account and find a part of the code that makes it look like it is snowing on her page. We looked at the code she pasted more closely and were able to decipher where the person who built it was calling a javascript sheet. She was so happy that she could actually figure out what was going on!

If coding is a language, then once you learn it you can manipulate it to tell any story you want. You can make a website. You can make an interactive game. You can make 3D renditions of actual spaces or an app that connects volunteers to charitable organizations. The possibilities are endless!

I heard a woman argue on the CBC show Spark that Coding should be taught as a liberal art. This would definitely help to dispel the myth that coding is only for the highly unimaginative, left-brained dominated folk.

From a self-image (fallacy of innate ability or, in most cases, innate inability) to a profession image problem, the above myths are going to have to be blasted out of the water if we really want to get the attention of our young people.