AMERICAN CANYON, Calif. — Student creativity spikes when they're given the opportunity to make something. And that's an opportunity schools are cashing in on.
The Maker Movement, Common Core and mobile devices were popular topics at the annual fall CUE conference for educators. Keep reading to see highlights from the conference.
NO BOUNDARIES WITH MINECRAFT — Minecraft is like digital legos for kids, said John Patten, director of technology at Sylvan Union School District in Modesto, Calif. The digital game allows players to build things with others. Diane Main, assistant director of instructional technology at The Harker School's Upper School in San Jose, Calif., said her son sets goals more often in Minecraft than he does in real life. He can do amazing things when he has no restrictions, she said.
Students can use Minecraft to create a setting for a novel they're reading and play the characters. That way, it gives them a deeper understanding of what they're learning. "Minecraft is a good entry-level drug," Patten said.
RIPPING OUT STITCHES — The Maker Movement should take a page from sewing classes, where students rip out stitches whenever they make mistakes and then try again, Main said. All making activities involve failure, and it's important for students to be able to fail and get a second chance. But educators shared that they struggle to find time for students to redo projects that they didn't do well on, especially in a six-week grading period with 50-minute class periods. Main asked, "Can you give points for kids who take a risk?"
LOW BUDGET, LOW TECH — Making things doesn't have to cost anything, Patten said. If a young boy named Caine can build an arcade out of extra cardboard boxes and duct tape, then so can students in schools. And it doesn't have to be high-tech either.
MEANINGFUL WORK — Instead of passing out meaningless worksheets, students can code, knit and help other people in the process. After spending half an hour manually filling out a multiplication table, Patten shared that his daughter created a code with the LiveCode programming language to do the work for her. But in order to write the code, she had to really understand multiplication. She also recorded a screencast of how she made the code to show her teacher.
TAKING BACK EDUCATION — Parents have already decided that their students need to learn more important things than they're learning in school, Main said. They're taking kids to maker faires and going to online websites like Etsy to find ideas for what they can make. Now educators can jump on board and provide both physical and digital projects that will engage students.
Other hot topics of the day included Common Core and mobile devices.
NO INFRASTRUCTURE, NO WAY — Wi-Fi and other infrastructure pieces need to be in place before school districts allow students to bring their own mobile devices, said Mike Fury, chief technology officer for Rocklin (Calif.) Unified School District. While this may seem like a no-brainer, not every school district is doing it. "If it's not reliable, if it's not predictable, it's going to be abandoned." He recommended conducting a stress and load test on the wireless infrastructure before students bring devices.
A CLOUDY FUTURE — Because IT staff like to keep control of technology, many have been reluctant to move to the cloud. But Fury said Rocklin’s use of cloud-based services is winning converts. "The cloud actually is better, and we're starting to like it," Fury said. It's helping district reduce costs, provide collaboration tools for students and enable the creation of new student ideas.
TECH POLICY LOWDOWN — Technology policies should be as general and flexible as possible because technology is constantly changing. And districts need a separate bring-your-own-device policy because user-owned devices can’t be treated the same as school-supplied technology, Fury said.
COMMON CORE TESTS, OH NO! — Oh, yes. They're coming, and the California Department of Education is now requiring school districts to test students on the Common Core in third- through eighth-grade and 11th grade in the spring. That means schools will need enough computing devices for students to test on. A number of school districts have gone with carts of Chromebooks because the cost of ownership is less: $300 for a device that lasts three years compared to a $1,000 PC that lasts five years, Fury said.
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