Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Instructional Design, Game Design, User Experience

There are three broadly overlapping disciplines which we need to reconcile as we design our student interactions and activities for our educational software.

1. Instructional design. Our goal is for the students to learn.  We all know that being told something is quite different from learning it.  There are many theories and models on how student learning and instruction works.  Most are, from the point of view that I care about, very flawed. Here are a few articles on the topic:

Why do I say that they are flawed from our point of view?
 The questions that we wrestle with are how best to help build literacy skills in elementary students using technology.  This puts us smack dab in the middle of the ongoing "Reading Wars." (See also the Atlantic Article on Reading Wars).  Simplistically, there are people who stress the fact that as students are given reading experiences, their minds will figure out the patterns and they will learn to read.  There are plenty of students for whom this works.  This is the Whole Word method. There is a another camp that says that if the students are given proper instruction in building phonics skills, they have the tools to learn to decipher text and learn to read.  There are many students for whom the phonics instruction approach works.  In the real world, a blended approach with both memorization of sight words, phonics instruction, and some broad exposure is generally adopted but the wards have raged for decades on what balance and sequence should this blend be built on. Common Core seems to have titled toward phonics but only slightly. Instead, CCSS emphasizes rigor and that the comprehension skills should be far more rigorous than previously expected. This assumes mastery of basic reading skills so it's not so involved in this age-old debate.

None of the educational models are directly applicable to this high stakes intense question of strategies for teaching reading.

2. Game design. Engaging students in education through the use of the techniques of video and computer games is the holy grail of much of edtech. As a former designer of Playstation games (I went Platinum back in teh PSX 1 Days), I am both a huge fan of this  idea and I come at it with some real understanding of the limits and difficulties of this approach.

3. User Experience. UIX. How to streamline and simplify and make navigation and use of a computer program as intuitive and pleasurable as possible. 

An important question underlying all of this is what grade and levels of students are our target audience? Here's the answer

Friday, February 26, 2016

Classroom Spelling

In classrooms, spelling is a perennial subject and challenge.  How best to organize the weekly spelling and vocabulary word lists?  There is really only one great choice for how best to organize a weekly or daily program for classroom spelling.

SpellingCity! It's the best! Key features:

  1. Thousands of list by grade!  There are compound words, frequently confused words, math words, science words, social studies words, and so many types of words. Did I mention literature-based word lists?
  2. Over 35 different learning games for spelling and vocabulary for your classroom
  3. Classroom management for learning spelling and vocabulary. Automated grade book, differentiated instruction, The entire spelling process of words and tests is automated for your classroom.
So there's only one choice for classroom spelling support, that's the service!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Educations 2016, What's New?

There's a lot of news:

The Federal Govenment finally moved on from NCLB & Race to the Top to ESSA. Teh big changesa re a shift towards state control of the testing and impact of failing the tests. The only Federal government is that the testing be at a rigorous level.

Another big change is lots more money for K, PreK, and 1st. This is really great to counteract all the focus on 2nd-5th where principals poured in resource since they tended to worry about THIS YEARS TEST!

There's no new money yet for early Science education but we can always hope. I'm hoping that a tech-based approach to elementary education based on the 5E educational model will be adopted by all the Title I schools around the country.  Here's some info on that:

The first part of the 5E model, Engage, introduces the new science concept by determining the student’s’ prior knowledge while revealing student misconceptions. Our online Engage activities include an interactive digital notebook followed by a short video clip, an additional follow up digital notebook activity and then students will hear listening comprehension questions. The offline Engage handout is a hands-on activity that can be used in whole group, in centers or 1:1.
Following the Engage is the Explore. When kindergarten, 1st grade and 2nd grade students Explore, they are provided with an opportunity to “play” as they identify and develop their current understanding of the foundational science concepts. While generating new ideas, elementary students will begin to develop their own questions. The offline Explore worksheet is called, “Take it a Step Further.” This handout provides students with a hands on, inquiry-based science activity that further enhances their ability to ask questions.
During the Explain phase, elementary students are provided a clear, concise description of the new concept which will include formal labels and essential vocabulary through a fun and captivating video clip. Within the Explain segment is a “Show What You Know” game-show-like assessment that checks for student understanding. The offline handout is a graphic organizer or mind map that also determines mastery of the foundational science concept.
The Elaborate phase of the 5E Instructional Model is meant to provide in-depth learning experiences. This is also where Science4Us blends in literacy, technology and engineering components through game-based activities. Kindergarten, 1st grade and 2nd grade students can swim in the science and enhance the overall experience by adding in cross-curricular fun. Offline handouts include many literacy concepts such as compare and contrast, fluency, categorizing and classifying and creative writing.
The final phase of the 5E model is the Evaluate. This was designed to assess overall student understanding of the foundational science concepts and the progress made towards learning the science objectives. The online interactive science assessment is graded automatically for teacher viewing. The offline assessment is specialized for kindergarten, 1st grade and second grade and it includes a standardized test prep version.

And the SAT has given up on the idea of beingg some sort of aptitude test and now it tests academic skills like everyone else. Prepworks won all the awards again this year for SAT adaptive test preparation software.

Prepworks explains that the new writing section on the new SAT is option. "The Redesigned SAT gives students the option of completing an essay. This essay is scored separately from the Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing sections, using a scale of 2-8 points. The essay prompts students to analyze evidence and explain how the author builds a persuasive argument. As compared to the old SAT, the new test gives students twice the amount of time (50 minutes) to complete the Essay."