Reaction 8: Computational Thinking

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 11.00.49 AM

Articles this week:

Grover, S.; Pea, R. (2013). Computational Thinking in K-12: A Review of the State of the Field. Educational Researcher. 42(38): 38-43.

Berland, M., & Lee, V. R. (2011). Collaborative strategic board games as a site for distributed computational thinking. International Journal of Game-Based Learning, 1(2), 65-81.

Resnick, M. (2012). Reviving Papert’s Dream. Educational Technology. 52(4): 42-46.


Since I’m familiar with computational thinking, I also read Berland & Lee’s article about students playing the board game Pandemic, and I went back to a Scratch project I haven’t worked on in awhile and attempted a little debugging.

My favorite quote was this: “None of the groups understood the rules by reading through the guidebooks without attempting to play through the rules” (Berland & Lee, 2011). The idea of “playing through the rules,” I realized, is how I have approached learning with students because it’s how I approach my own learning. If it’s science, I need to see or do something. If it’s Twitter, sign me up and write a few tweets. If it’s Tinkercad, drag and drop a few objects, then ask why or how it works. I learn rules by interacting with them, not by thinking about them.

This low barrier to entry (sign up and start) is the idea of “low floor, high ceiling,” which has been “one of the guiding principles for the creation of programming environments for children … since the days of LOGO.” (Grover & Pea, 2013) Whether it’s Tinkercad or Pixel art, programs or suites of programs have embraced an easy entrance and seemingly unlimited complexity. (As an interesting aside, this might be an interesting antidote to what Sennett negatively describes as our modern passion for consuming incredibly powerful devices that we never use to their full potential. We might Continue reading “Reaction 8: Computational Thinking”

Reading Notes: Ch. 3 & 4 of Social Network Theory

Social Network Graph. Retrieved from

The next two chapters in the book, Social Network Theory, edited by Alan Daly, are examples of social network analysis studies in elementary schools. Chapter 3 examines the dynamics of and changes in tie formation in a districtwide mathematics reform. Chapter 4 examines network characteristics before and after school-based change efforts aimed at implementing the Literacy Collaborative model of instruction. Going back to the typology described in chapter 2, the first study is an example of Type 2 and 4 because the researchers examine at dyad and network levels and make conclusions about the consequences for ties as a result of the change efforts. The second, on the other hand, is both Type 4 and 6, comparing engagement in coaching (an indicator of implementation of the LC model) with network density (network level variable), coach centrality and isolation (node level variable), and school climate. Both drew on data from larger, longitudinal studies.

One brief observation as to my general understanding of social networks is that these methods of analysis gives us a different way to understand our reality and experiences. It’s not about searching for the “perfect” school-based social network, because these are dynamic systems. Continue reading “Reading Notes: Ch. 3 & 4 of Social Network Theory”

Reading Notes: Ch. 1 & 2 of Social Network Theory and Educational Change


Daly, A. J. (Ed.). (2010). Social network theory and educational change. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Education Press.

As part of my research this fall, I am making my way through this 2010 primer on Social Network Theory. I am going to try to blog summaries and reactions as a way to understand what I’m reading.

The big questions I’ve had over the past few years have all, in one way or another, been related to understanding “change trajectories,” to use a term that Judith Little uses in the Forward (p.xiii). I’ve observed top-down change be inspiring but ineffective at changing classrooms and bottom-up change also be inspiring but fade when the individual runs out of steam or moves on. This has drawn me to educational change that is facilitated by networks, where individual work moves toward a common goal in a way that feels coordinated and supported.

My big question: How do we understand educational change trajectories?

“Organizations are inherently relational. They are social systems consisting of people with differing interests, goals, and preferences, interacting, communicating, and making decisions” (p.29). It’s amazing how often this is ignored by proponents of a particular program who want to focus the product or goal rather than the relationships. I think what appeals to me in particular about SNT is the ability to use it’s theory and method at all levels and phases, whether it is situated practice, district curriculum goals, student graduation rater, etc. Our networks impact everything we do – it is the interstitial human stuff – and our “positions in a social structure have consequences” (p.17). Continue reading “Reading Notes: Ch. 1 & 2 of Social Network Theory and Educational Change”

Reaction 7: Blended Learning

Rocketship School, Retrieved from:

Articles this week:

Next Generation Learning. (2010). Report: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Jacob, A. (2011). Benefits and Barriers to the Hybridization of Schools. Journal of Educational Policy, Planning, and Administration. 1(1): 61-82.

Obviously I am generally in favor of technology integration and am usually one who embraces change. In principle, I like the idea of blended learning as a way to provide students with a chance to test out of material they already know, go further ahead that their own pace, and customize content. I like the idea that this method could provide all students the opportunity to develop their skills. I will admit, however, that I objected to two things in this picture of technology integration by Jacob (2011) and in the Next Generation Learning Report (2010). The first is talking about schools in terms of efficiencies to reduce costs. The phrase that particularly stung was “substituting specialized software for expensive college-trained workers.” What happens in a place where children are “managed” by technicians? Isn’t that Sir Ken Robinson’s critique of the model we already have? Maybe one nostalgic ideal that I cling to is the foundational and formative relationship between student and teacher. I suppose better “products” may roll off the Khan Academy line, but are these going to be reflective, creative, self-aware 21st century citizens? When will they learn how to think and organize their own learning instead of following a playlist? I see the opportunity of blended learning as a way to free up time for a teacher so that he/she can spend more time on checking in with students, 1-on-1 instruction, or coaching student-led projects.

The second sticky point for me is that, even though many researchers and educators say that test scores are not an adequate the measure of a child’s learning, in the absence of other measures, this “achievement” number is still used. Jacob uses “value-added anaylsis of test scores” for the analysis of Carpe Diem Collegiate. These personalized learning programs, from what I’ve seen, are almost all math or reading, so it makes sense that they would perform better on math and reading tests. I remember teaching a science lesson that asked my students to do something very basic, like scale drawings. They were adamant they’d never seen anything like it, so I got their math text book and looked it up. Sure enough, they’d studied a whole chapter about it, but they couldn’t apply it outside of the textbook chapter. Are we assuming that students will be able to apply their Khan Academy math and or Read3000 outside of the program (and not just on another standardized test)?

These two points make me wonder what it means to be a learner in these school environments. In my opinion, blended learning is something that comes after, or at least in complement with, student-driven open inquiry within a learning community. Platforms such as Khan Academy or Read3000, that are effective at transferring skills, are part of a student’s toolkit, and I think they hold a lot of potential for freeing up teachers from repetition of the basics or for providing time/location flexibility in learning. I worry, though, about lack of continuity, whether this is the rapid change in platforms or the high turnover of teachers in charter schools, and the related erosion of a community of practice, both for teachers and students. Schools guided by efficiencies and products reminds me of our conversation about consultants: charter school organizations or educational entrepreneurs come in, provide some new software, see a bump in test scores, and leave. This is, in my opinion, a short-sighted vision of 21st century education that uses incredibly powerful and creative tools for basic skills.

Reaction 6: Teaching & Learning Environments

From Getty Images

Reading this week:

Bransford et al. (1999). How People Learn, Chapter 6: Learning Environments

Jenkins et al. (2007). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century

Hattie, John. (2003). Teachers Make a Difference: What is the research evidence?

Reading Hattie’s article about expert vs. experienced teachers went straight to my heart. It made me want to be back in my 7th graders in science class, getting a chance to do many things the same and many more things differently. Several of his points made me appreciate the individuals and the communities from whom I learned to teach. Though both my parents were teachers, I went to school in the same building my mother taught in, so I usually knew the students in her class and got to see her as a teacher. To me, she epitomizes the expert teacher who respected students “as learners and people, and demonstrate[d] care and commitment for them.” (Hattie) I’ll never forget asking her how she could teach 4th graders who “didn’t really know much.” She replied that you just start by asking them questions, and you’ll find out they know a lot. To this day, she gets invited to college graduations for kids she taught in elementary school! The communities that I learned and taught in both had a positive impact on how I saw myself as a teacher. Hattie and Bransford et al. basically say the same thing about classroom and school communities: “learning seems to be enhanced by social norms that value the search for understanding and allow students (and teachers) the freedom to make mistakes in order to learn” (Bransford et al., p.133); “[Expert teachers] build climates where error is welcomed, where student questioning is high, where engagement is the norm, and where students can gain reputations as effective learners” (Hattie). These were the teachers I taught with. One of my colleagues shared with me that when a student answers a question wrong or asks a question that reveals a misunderstanding, he replies with, “Thank you for your answer/question – I’m so glad you said that because that helps me know what we need to do next.”

I think assessment is something that teachers in traditional classrooms (this was certainly true of me) struggle with, whether it’s doing enough formative relative to summative, using it to inform their own practice, or actually assessing “higher level thinking and deep understanding.” (Bransford et al.) The result, unfortunately, is assessments that seem more like judgements about students themselves rather than an accounting of what they learned (or didn’t). Participatory cultures, where there is “strong support for creating and sharing one’s creation” (Jenkins et al.), are really good at assessment, because members are constantly sifting, sampling, and sharing. I see this as a hope of the maker movement in schools, where the artifact being criticized is literally and physically separate from the creator. This allows both the creator and assessor to examine it, and the creator almost becomes a witness to the assessment rather than the target.

It would be interesting to apply Hattie’s characterization of expert teachers to participatory cultures to see what characteristics of an individual teacher might also be present and available, though in a distributed way, to learners in an affinity space.  It would be ironic if networks of people, with dynamic structures and teachers, designed for innovation and creativity, was the “idiot-proof” solution.

Boy and the Dandelion

Alexander and the dandelion

Tonight our technology and leadership class met at the Bubbler, a maker program/space at the downtown branch of the Madison Public Library, in order to learn more about the maker movement. In their media lab, we got to use their set up for stop motion animation, and this was actually the first time I’d ever done a project like this, despite all the times I’ve supported it with kids. This was inspired by my weekend with my son, who currently loves finding dandelions, picking them, and blowing away all the florets. Enjoy!

Reaction 5: Making and Arts in K12 Education

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.

(Interestingly, this picture, linked from, is actually also featured with a blogpost about 3D printing food.)

Also this is my 100th post! Reflection on that coming soon…

But for now, this post is a reaction to Neil Gershenfeld’s article, How to Make Almost Anything: The Digital Fabrication Revolution, and Erica Halverson’s paper, Digital art-making as a representational process:

If you are a traditionally trained, career teacher, you likely have no idea how creative processes work in industry. I think one of the most compelling parts of the Youth Media Arts Organizations is that they use real processes of production, like Reel Works pitching to actual directors at an actual film studio. This is what makes it authentic rather than contrived. Without personal experience as an artist, I think teachers struggle to facilitate authentic student work in this area. I know that I personally have assigned video projects without any discussion of what the rules of the genre are, types of films, camera angles, storyboarding, etc. “Creating art mindfully, that is learning how to construct and critically evaluate these representations, requires scaffolded instruction” (Halverson 2010). Being able to scaffold instruction requires deep content and process understanding by the teacher, which the majority do not have. For this reason, students who are good with iMovie flair might dazzle their teachers with effects, and teachers then mistakenly equate the ability to manipulate software with understanding the rules of genre and/or content understanding.

I see three opportunities for bridging this gap between the experiences we want kids to have and what is currently happening. First, I think we need to recruit and enlist second career teachers who come from within industry. I see this happening at the Sullivan Center at the ‘Iolani School, an independent K-12 school in Honolulu, where they have a game designer, software architect, and studio and fabrication artist, among others, as faculty. Alternately, in the same way that the National Writing Project promotes teaching writing by developing teachers as writers, there could be art and maker institutes for teachers to develop themselves as creators. I would also love to see arts integration coordinators who support teachers designing, implementing, and assessing lessons. This might see new literacies (Knobel and Lankshear 2007) and “tasks that put the arts forward” (Halverson 2010) take root K-12 schools.

Gershenfeld (2012) in his article also addresses making, but in a different context and purpose. For the most part, his article is historical or explanatory, but there was one point that I thought stood out: the parallel comparison made between personal computing and fabrication. Although some could not imagine what people might do with personal computers, users adapted its design to their own desires (shopping, connecting, sharing). One of the radical ideas of the Ito et al. (2008) report was that they observed students “in the wild,” seeing how they actually used the tools, rather than assuming that they would just be used as they were designed. I think it is telling that in Gershenfeld’s Bits and Atoms class, it was research students who came up with innovative ideas, adapting it to the “market of one” (Gershenfeld 2012), and that as adults, we often can’t fathom what to do with something like a 3D printer.

One final point is to tie the art and process of “making” in with Sennett’s three key themes for navigating the era of new capitalism: narrative, usefulness, and craftsmanship. I see making, whether digital media or fabrication, as providing opportunity for developing personal narrative and craftsmanship through mindful design, production, and performance, and the performance of making, as seen in participatory cultures (Jenkins et al. 2006) and the FabLabs in Manchester and Barcelona (Gershenfeld 2012), provides spaces where people feel useful and connected. Perhaps in contrast with the fearful reaction by many (Gershenfeld 2012), I see the maker movement as a fundamentally hopeful trajectory for individuals and communities.


Gershenfeld, Neil. (2012, September 27). How to Make Almost Anything: The Digital Fabrication Revolution. New York Times.

Halverson, Erica. (2010). Digital art-making as a representational process. Paper presented at the International Conference of the Learning Sciences.

Ito, M. et al. (2008). Living and Learning with New Media : Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project (pp. 1–58).

Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A., & Weigel, M. (2007). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21 Century (pp. 1–72).

Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M., Eds. (2007). A New Literacies Sampler.

Sennett, Richard. (2006). The Culture of the New Capitalism. New Haven: Yale University Press.