Keynote: STEM should include arts education

Piontek said educators must adapt to students' cultures and desire to be connected through technology.

Piontek said educators must adapt to students' cultures and desire to be connected through technology.

Not only do global learners create global leaders, but the world’s future depends on education focusing on creative and innovative science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning, said ISTE closing keynote speaker Jeff Piontek.

“I think we need to focus on STEAM–science, technology, engineering, arts, and math,” Piontek said to loud applause from the conference attendees. “Arts and creativity are needed in the future.”

Piontek, a Hawaii-based educator, was selected as “the people’s choice keynote” after a five-month modified crowdsourcing project. Piontek was nominated for his attention to excellence and his approach to delivering digital age education to digital age education to digital age students.

“STEM is going to take us to the next phase of where we’re going in education because that’s where all the money is going. But it needs to be integrated with other fields…and creative STEM is going to lead us into the future,” he said.

Piontek noted that the world has changed drastically over the past 25 years and will continue to do so in the future.

“In the next five to 10 years, we don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know we need to prepare our children for it,” he said.

Students need to be creative and innovative while urged to pursue fields they are passionate about, Piontek said. They should be given the ability to explore things they are interested in.

“Children should have the chance to give it a go,” he said.

Students need to be connected and work collaboratively in school, he added, saying that in today’s world there’s no excuse for a child to not know something.

“If kids don’t know something, what to do they do? They get on Twitter or Facebook or eMail or Gchat. They use their social network to ask others and find out the answer,” he said.

Additionally, Piontek stressed the need for students to be culturally literate, sharing a story about chastising a student who wouldn’t look him in his eyes without knowing that in that student’s culture it was a sign of disrespect to look at an adult in the eyes.

“When you’re in the classroom, you need to remember that the culture is not your own,” he told the auditorium full of educators.

Piontek also called for ISTE attendees to strive to make changes in education.

“We don’t just need to rock the boat; it needs to be knocked over. And the changes we need to make…are to STEAM ahead and make sure students collect and collaborate,” he said. “Our children are spreading their dreams like seeds beneath our feet. It’s our job to nourish these seeds, but we have to tread lightly because those dreams are needed for our future.”

Piontek is now Head of School at the Hawaii Technology Academy (HTA). A state charter school, HTA has been a hybrid model of individualized learning that combines classroom and virtual learning across the islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui, the Big Island, Lanai, and Molokai.

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Thoughts from the show floor

Interactive technologies can inspire classrooms.

Interactive technologies can inspire classrooms.

Which came first…the chicken or the egg? I sometimes wonder about that when I’m in the exhibit hall at educational technology conferences like ISTE. When you look around the show floor, I wonder if I’m seeing the latest trends that educators are interested in. Or am I looking at vendor booths offering hardware, software, and services that will become more prevalent in our classrooms in the near future? Maybe it’s a mix of both…or maybe I’m just over-thinking things again as I’m prone to doing.

Not everyone makes it to the exhibit hall because they’re busy in sessions. So like a hash tag watcher on Twitter, they experience the exhibitor booths vicariously through others. When people ask me what the exhibit hall was like, I enjoy answering by mentally playing some of the fun “what if” games.

For example: “What if you had to describe the exhibit hall in one word? What would it be?”

This year, I’d have to say that my single word would be “interactive.” From interactive whiteboards to interactive projectors to student response systems to online learning management systems to software that redefines edutainment, it seemed like there were a great deal of vendors interested in helping educators engage all our students actively, and that’s a very good thing. This year it seemed like most of the big exhibitors had some kind of interactive solution.

“What if you were stranded on a desert island and had to choose three products you saw, what would they be?”

Before I respond, I want to come clean and say that these answers will not necessarily help me survive on a desert island. They will just keep me amused. These are things that I’d be interested in having, experiencing, and/or learning more about. They aren’t necessarily new products, but they always innovate, and that’s what keeps me coming back for more.

Higher Ground Bags by Shaun Jackson Design. Okay, so there are bags and there are BAGS. The thing that amazes me about Higher Ground bags is the attention to detail. I consider Apple products and packaging to be the pinnacle of design detail, but I think that Higher Ground is pretty high up there. From their lightweight, but heavily reinforced casing to the little things like laptop lift systems, these bags make me smile as I inspect them. Whether you have a laptop, netbook, or an iPad, there’s something for you at Higher Ground. They may have student ruggedness in mind, but aesthetics and functionality are never ignored.

haiku Learning Management System. We all know BlackBoard and Moodle, and there are a whole slew of other LMS options out there, but what if you could create one that was easy-to-use, beautifully designed, extremely customizable, and had Web 2.0 functionality always in mind? Luckily you don’t have to create one because haiku has already done it for you. If I had to bet on one LMS to rise above and help all our teachers and students embrace online learning and hybrid classrooms, then my money would be on haiku….the LMS with a “can do” attitude, constant tinkering, and a strong vision for the present and future.

BrainPOP. What’s not to love about cute animations, funny characters, strong curricular ties, and a thriving educator community? Teachers love BrainPOP because the animated clips are short and curricular. Kids love BrainPOP because they are engaged and amused. I imagine that being a writer for BrainPOP would be like writing for The Muppet Show or Sesame Street–fun and fulfilling because of the good it does for teaching and learning. And they have someone dressed up as Moby (the robot, not the musician)! I know I’m a geek, but I’m amused by that. My one hope for the future is that Tim, Moby, and their other characters end up in HTML5 for all our mobile devices.

There were plenty of other vendors with interesting software, hardware, and services. Although every vendor is there to sell something, by being in the exhibit hall, they’re supporting educational technology, and I salute them for that. I hope to take each and every vendor to my personal imaginary desert island sometime in the future. Thanks for helping make ISTE 2010 a success!
Ted Lai is the director of Technology and Media Services in California’s Fullerton School District.

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Microsoft’s Imagine Cup aims to inspire creativity

As the world’s best soccer players battle for the World Cup in South Africa, an elite group of student engineers will gather in Poland from July 3-8 to crunch code for Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, reports the Seattle Times. The competition will feature students showing off software aimed at fighting global problems—such as reducing hunger and poverty, and improving education and child health. The Imagine Cup competition has drawn 325,000 students from 100 countries this year. Microsoft uses the competition to spark software creativity and to encourage students to use Microsoft software. “It’s about getting the next generation of innovators doing exciting things not only for the world, but doing great and amazing things on the Microsoft platform,” said Jon Perera, general manager with the Microsoft Education group. The competition began in April with national finals that took place online and in 68 events in different countries. The finalists from those competitions—about 400 high school, college, and graduate students representing 78 countries—are competing in Warsaw. As in the Olympics, student teams compete for titles in several categories, such as game design and digital media. Microsoft, which declined to say how much it spends on Imagine Cup, awards $240,000 in cash prizes and pays for student travel to the national and international final events. Cash prizes range from $2,000 to $25,000. “Our jaws drop on the floor” when they see the entries, Perera said. A University of Washington team designed a touch-screen diagramming program for blind students to collaborate with other students; two United Kingdom students built a Facebook app to help families separated by natural disaster, such as the earthquake in Haiti, find each other online…

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Amazon updates Kindle DX, lowers price

Amazon.com is launching an updated version of its high-end Kindle electronic reader and cutting the price in a move to address the threat from Apple’s iPad tablet computer, Reuters reports. Amazon’s new Kindle DX, which sports a higher-quality 9.7-inch screen, will sell for $379, down from $489, and will have free 3G wireless connection with no monthly bills or annual contracts, the company said. It was the second price cut for Amazon in as many weeks. Responding to the threat from the iPad, Amazon cut the price of its Kindle with a 6-inch screen to $189, hours after book-selling rival Barnes & Noble lowered the price on its Nook to $199. Both had cost $259. At stake is market share for eBooks, the fastest-growing segment in a moribund book-selling industry. In addition to the iPad, the Nook and Kindle also compete with Sony’s Reader device. Industry experts and rivals say the field will get even busier, with more eReaders expected this year. Apple’s iPad, launched in April at a starting price of $499, can function as an eReader device, but unlike competing models, it has a color screen and can be used as a full computer. It sold more than 2 million units in its first 60 days, and its own e-bookstore has quickly won market share, putting pressure on rival readers…

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Facebook launches ‘permissions’ for apps, web sites

Facebook is rolling out a new feature that requires outside applications and web sites to tell users exactly what parts of their profiles have to be shared for the apps to work, reports the Associated Press. Applications already had to ask users for permission to access anything in their profiles that wasn’t public. But these services didn’t have to specify what information they were using, such as eMail addresses, birthdays, or photos. Under the new policy, the services will say which aspects of a profile they will mine, but the user still won’t be able to pick out which pieces they want to grant access to. They have to either grant permission for all uses or disallow the app from working. The change is part of Facebook’s cooperation with Canada’ privacy commissioner, who has been among the sharpest critics of the company’s privacy policies. The world’s largest online social network has come under fire for the way it treats the information its nearly 500 million users post on the site. Most recently, privacy advocates and lawmakers have complained about Facebook’s “instant personalization” feature, which draws information from users’ profiles to customize a handful of other sites. In response, Facebook simplified its privacy settings in changes unveiled last month—though some critics still say these changes don’t go far enough…

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Microsoft pulls plug on Kin social-networking phones

Microsoft has pulled the plug on a new generation of smart phones aimed at young consumers, less than three months after unveiling the devices that were part of its efforts to catch-up with Apple and Google in the fast-growing mobile market, Reuters reports. Microsoft said on June 30 that it had canceled plans to sell its “Kin” phones in Europe this fall. The company added that the internal team working on the Kin phones would be combined with the group working on Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows Phone 7 software. “We will continue to work with Verizon in the U.S. to sell current Kin phones,” Microsoft said in an eMailed statement. The move underscores the challenges facing Microsoft, whose software is used on the vast majority of the world’s PCs, as it strives to adapt to consumers’ growing taste for handheld internet-connected gadgets like smart phones. The Kin phones represented Microsoft’s first foray into designing its own phones. The two Kin models featured built-in internet social networking functionality, as well as Microsoft’s Zune digital music player, and were aimed at savvy young phone users. But analysts said the phones lacked certain key smart-phone features, such as the ability to install software applications, and were based on a special Microsoft software called Windows Phone OS—even as Microsoft prepared to release the new Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system. “Windows Phone 7 is the real mobile strategy,” said on analyst. “The fact that [the Kin] was ever released in the first place was a mistake. When [Microsoft] went with Phone 7, they should have quietly killed this project.”

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iPhone 4 antenna glitch sparks lawsuit

A pair of Maryland residents filed a lawsuit against Apple on June 30, claiming the iPhone 4’s wonky antenna has caused them “emotional distress,” InformationWeek reports. “Plaintiffs were sold defective iPhone 4 units, which drop calls and data services when held in a manner consistent with normal wireless phone use,” plaintiffs Kevin McCaffrey and Linda Wrinn said in court papers filed in U.S. District Court for Maryland. The pair “have experienced numerous dropped calls and, as a result, plaintiffs are left with a device that cannot be used for the normal purpose and in the normal manner in which such devices are intended to be used,” the court papers state. The lawsuit also names Apple partner AT&T as a defendant. Many iPhone 4 buyers have reported that Apple’s new smart phone drops its signal if the bottom left corner of the device is covered by the palm of the user’s hand—a situation that’s common when the phone is wielded by lefties. McCaffrey and Wrinn are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and are also asking the court to prohibit Apple from selling any more iPhone 4 units until the problem is fixed…

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Google Wave for the K-12 classroom

Google Wave allows for real-time collaboration.

Google Wave allows for real-time collaboration.

Here I am at a session about Google Wave (presenters: Tim Stack, Utah Education Network, Jared Covili, and Mitchell Jorgensen). I have always been intrigued by this technology, but have not yet found a practical use for it.  This session really helped with understanding how Wave works.  To try Wave, visit http://wave.google.com.

The whole concept of Google Wave is live, real-time collaboration.  A user starts a wave.  It can be a simple post, or a more developed idea.  Users that you invite to be a part of the wave can edit your post and can see the editing being done live, right in front of you.  This session had more than 100 people, so you could see many edits happening all at the same time.  In a classroom situation, it would certainly be more manageable.  A cool feature about Wave is the ability to “playback” the edits; starting with the original post, then every edit after that point.  This makes it easy to follow the progression of the edits.  You can also make Waves public, so that anyone may contribute.

In a school setting, I can see the interface being very overwhelming for some students.  The teacher would need to present Wave in a very concise method, as to not confuse the students too much.  I like the ability to see live edits in front of you.  Add in Google chat or Skype, and you are looking at real, live online collaboration.  The session, in general, did not go into anything education-related, but was still very useful.  I would have loved to see a Part 2, getting into practical applications for the classroom.  To get started, I am going search for some public waves and get used to the interface, how it works, and come up with some great ideas for the classroom.

John P. Collins is the technology coordinator/district web site administrator for West Bridgewater Middle-Senior High School in Massachusetts, and is chairperson of the Massachusetts Music Educators Association Southeast District.

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