Thursday, January 23, 2014

Great Tools to Develop Essential Skills

I have been fortunate to be able to travel, speak and share at conferences and workshops around the country and internationally. In October I traveled to Doha, Qatar to share technology integration ideas and best practices with teachers. I truly enjoy learning about other cultures and meeting new people. It occurs to me that I always learn much more from my travels than I share and that the 21st century skills that are important in Gainesville, Ga., are important all over the world.

We now have many tremendous technology tools available to support our desire to help children develop the skills that will help to prepare them for not only today but the future. The National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) is a great list of essential skills.  It includes creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration, research and information fluency, critical thinking, problem solving and decision making, digital citizenship and technology operations and concepts.

The program Algodoo by Algoryx is a great example of a tool that fosters creativity, critical thinking and problem solving. The program allows for playful experimentation with physics principles to build amazing inventions or to visualize the effect of actual physical forces. Imagine using Algodoo to build a Rube Goldberg machine.  This afternoon I served as a judge for our middle school robotics team and a 7th grade student demonstrated the effects of an earthquake on various building materials using Algodoo. I must admit that I was incredibly impressed by the presentation.

Hyperscore is a new program from MIT that allows students and adults of all ages to creatively express themselves by composing music. I learned about Hyperscore this summer while visiting MIT’s Media Lab as part of the Constructing Modern Knowledge Conference.  Hyperscore uses a graphical interface that provides users with immediate visual and audio feedback. A sketching paradigm allows students to sketch ideas onto the canvas, listen and adjust which allows students to skip the theory and get right to the practice. In our Computer Applications course our students were asked to create an audio recording of their favorite children’s book.  They used Audacity to record the narration of the book, mix in sound effects and then added music created with Hyperscore.

One of my favorite data visualization programs for high school students is Fathom because it brings relevance and meaning to courses such as statistics or even history. One of the cools things that I shared with teachers while in Doha was that one can take data sets directly from the internet and drop them into Fathom to immediately manipulate and analyze. I believe real world data produces a depth of understanding that is powerful.

New tools and resources are developed every day. I never dreamed that 3D printers and digital fabricators would become affordable to many of our schools or that early elementary students would start learning to program using programs like Robot Turtles, WeDo Robotics and later Scratch but they can if schools have the vision to plan these opportunities with the focus on making the learning fun.