Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Keyboard Training in Elementary Schools Moving Forward

On October 15, 2013 an article, For elementary students, keyboards trump pencils, appeared in The Hartford (CT) Courant newspaper. (The article originally appeared in The Washington Post and was authored by Lyndsey Layton.) Layton describes how a major shift is taking place in elementary school education: the teaching of keyboarding starting as early as kindergarten. This impetus resulted from the future implementation of standardized tests linked to the Common Core scheduled for 2014-15. These exams “... will require students to be able to manipulate a mouse, click, drag, and type answers on a keyboard; and, starting in third grade, write an outline.” Fourteen states have agreed to pilot a study to help “iron out the wrinkles” of the plan. Included is a creative writing exercise where students are expected to type a story based on experience or from their imagination. Obviously, students taking the Common Core exams who have mastered keyboarding will be at a decided advantage.
Some critics will maintain that elementary grade children are too young to master typing. I totally disagree. Failure to teach keyboarding at an early age will result in students learning inefficient skills where eyes are fixated on the keyboard and less on the screen. This causes more frequent eye shifts, typing errors and reduced speed. In 1993, I was placed in charge of a computer program in a renovated elementary school in Fairfield, CT. Third grade students would come to the computer lab each school day and receive keyboard training for about one half hour before beginning their regular instruction. The program was successful with the large majority of students mastering touch typing.
It is unfortunate that educators have to wait for something to be mandated from some external authority before it is put into practice. Many K-12 educators were too slow in recognizing the importance of the role computers would play in everyday life. Yes, there were exceptions; in the early 1980s some educators were brave enough to request placing computers in classrooms. Today, the new crop of teachers are decidedly more computer literate than those they replace.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

An Informative and Stimulating Day at UCONN

Yesterday I attended the CLAS College Experience, The Environment: Politics, Health & Nature – a conference provided by UCONN for their alumni. Faculty presenters included Prakash Fashwan, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science who spoke on “Green Consumption: Potential and Pitfalls of Market-based Environmental Goods and Services.” Debarchana (Debs) Ghosh, Ph.D., assistant professor of geography followed with her presentation, “You Are What You Eat – And Where You Live.” The final presentation, “Can We Predict Species Responses to Climate Change?” was given by Mark Urban, Ph.D., assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

I would like to thank all UCONN staff who made this program possible. All presentations were stimulating and informative. The hospitality was especially commendable. I would welcome more of these programs in the future.

Suggestions and recommendations:
The organization of the program should offer two presentations by UCONN professors detailing their research or lecturing on a timely topic. A third event that I would like to see is a discussion group on a subject of broad interest moderated by a professor or administrator. Some suggestions are: (1) the impact of massive open online courses (MOOCs) on academia, (2) the advent and implications of the “digital library:” dissemination of literature (including textbooks) via the Internet to e-books, laptops, tablets, phablets, etc. and (3) the ramifications of changes in sources of energy on the world economy. Other topics for discussion can be solicited from alumni.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Congratulations to Plainville Public Schools on their purchase of Samsung Chromebook computers

Congratulations to the Plainville, CT school system for their purchase of about 900 Chromebook laptops. These computers will be distributed to students in grades 8-12 for use at school and at home. Chromebooks can be purchased individually for about $250. I am sure Plainville paid less because of their volume purchase. These laptops can be used to access the Internet, communicate with staff and for completing written assignments. Too often school systems purchase computers costing well beyond the price of a Chromebook. Often this results in fewer computers because of their significantly higher unit cost. The decision regarding which brand of computer to purchase is too frequently determined by the personal preferences of teachers or administrators. The cost of hardware is simply ignored. Hopefully, in the future students will have access to all of their textbooks on computers resulting in significant savings for schools. If publishers fail to provide on-line texts, schools should take the initiative and have their staff create their own texts. Or these can be produced by the state and distributed to all schools. Another advantage of this undertaking is that textbooks can be tailored to meet the curriculum objectives of the district.
I believe the choice of laptops for students rather than tablets has significant advantages. Written work is facilitated when students have a standard keyboard. Students can be trained to touch type as early as grade 3. This may sound too ambitious, but I have taught keyboarding to third graders successfully when I was a computer specialist at an elementary school in Connecticut. Developing this skill early will serve students throughout their lives.

Monday, June 3, 2013

My grandson, Alek Abate graduated summa cum laude from Nease High School, Ponte Vedra, FL on June 1, 2013. He was awarded class salutatorian and gave the following speech at his graduation ceremony.

Salutatorian Speech

Before I begin, let me give some brief but whole-hearted thank you’s. Thank you to my extended family for coming out here to support me. Specifically, thank you to mom and dad, for giving your never-ending love and support to me; what I’ve achieved up till this point is entirely indebted to you two. Thank you to the teachers at Nease who have molded me into what I am today. Thank you to the men of Ronk City for being great friends. Thank you to the IB class of 2013 for keeping things interesting. Lastly, thank you to the senior class as well as everyone affiliated with Nease for making the ride extremely worthwhile. It’s been great.

Having ruminated over the contents of what I’m about to deliver, I’ve realized that speech writing is neither a practice in trying to be cute nor an effort to inflate one’s accomplishments. Rather, it is vehicle of inspiration. And as averse I am to arbitrarily labeling one as a bastion of wisdom, please lend me your ears as I glean what I’ve learned over the past four years and condense it for your consumption.

As a kid, my brain was always up in space – literally. Early on, I became fascinated with the cosmos; at night, I would tilt my head up towards the celestial show above and immediately become fixated by its expansiveness. What I saw transcended religion and race. Worries around me would melt away, and even the most pressing problems were reduced to trivial concerns. Immersed in the stars, my character was boiled down to its most real and essential elements. I felt comfortable. I felt safe.

Of course, the complexity of all our lives has expanded multi-fold since our idyllic childhoods. Emotional freedom wilted away as we stumbled towards achieving a self-made and self-desired image. Many of us were subjected to the archetypical high school experience, complete with small-town drama, suffocating vapidity, and social deviation. Our lives intertwined with others, our relationships became multi-faceted, and, for some, our characters degraded. Our existence started not to be marked by what we did or who we were, but by what others wanted us to be. So are the perils of growing up.

Personally, I learned that a human cannot be reduced to the three numbers in a grade-point average. Being able to game a system wasn’t a reflection of who I was or what I strived to be; it was a mere response to being thrust into a structure where success was based on a hierarchy. Unfortunately, this hierarchical conception got to me. I found myself to be a cog in a machinery that I previously disavowed. For a long time, I exuded a brand of rampant and implacable competiveness and intellectual elitism that, as I stand here today, I deeply regret – to the point where it makes me a little bit ashamed of being salutatorian.

You all, like I, probably have similar anecdotes of when you may have crumbled under societal constraints and morphed into something you never desired to be. Escaping such molds is, admittedly, a hard task; we do live in the 21st century, where day-to-day life isn’t quantified by the happiness we accumulate, but by the likes and retweets we accrue. Living in the modern age has come to revolve around perpetuating fake and contrived personalities in order to achieve higher social standing. And with this, many of us find ourselves at a turning point; we near romanticized adulthood, where we will find our lives become a pendulum between hedonism and nihilism, punctuated with malaise and self-loathing. We’ve got a tumultuous road ahead, there’s no doubt about that. Some of us will blindly try to carve out a quixotic career arc. Others will be tempted to embark on a self-destructive trajectory. Needless to say, this is all part of the journey. Success and, most importantly, our life’s purpose needn’t be defined by any single moment or experience. Let it all coalesce into what you want it to be.

Recently, I gazed at the stars during a perfect night. It felt like visiting an old friend, except this time I was rewarded with infinitesimal beauty. For a moment, I was floating. I imagined looking back at Earth, a light blue speck suspended in the enveloping fabric of space. There, I realized that we live a somewhat scary yet beautiful existence. Each day, we’re presented with multitudinous possibilities; and it’s entirely up to us to seize them. You all are beautiful people, or as Lil B would say, “golden million dollar babies.” And you all are capable of achieving beautiful things – regardless of what you have done in high school. Thank

Monday, January 21, 2013

My Predictions for the Not Too Distant Future

     In the early 80s when my career shifted sharply to computers, I made a number of predictions. Some of these were recorded in my monthly newsletter, Microcomputer Update for the School Environment (MUSE). One of these has already arrived: the proliferation of hand-held computing. Today these are called smart phones. Another prediction was the application of computer technology to the diagnosis of disease. This is in process, and has a long way to go to reached maturity. I believe that much health monitoring and diagnosis will become automated. Blood work will be done by computers much more rapidly, efficiently and inexpensively. Ray Kurtzweiler, author of The Singularity is Near, even believes that tiny implants will monitor our health status continuously.
Below I have listed my current predictions:
(1) Libraries will be loaning books via the Internet where they will be read on e-readers like the Kindle. The actual buildings will be used mainly as community centers as humans will always have a need to interact. Magazines, periodicals, and newspapers will be delivered electronically to e-readers, TVs, and computers. Many trees will be spared!
(2) Computerized instruction via the Internet will replace many classroom bound courses. Instruction will be monitored by frequent quizzes designed to assess learning rather than impose grades. Advancing to the next unit will occur when mastery occurs. This concept is not new, it used to be called computer-aided instruction (CAI).
(3) Robots will take over many domestic and industrial tasks. This trend is well underway. Many jobs will become obsolete as workers are replaced by robots that work continuously and efficiently. The new human work force must be technically skilled to maintain, repair, and improve the robots.
(4) The social and economic ramifications of technology will be considerable. The need for menial labor will decrease. The need for highly skilled, technical labor will grow enormously.
(5) There is a danger that society can become so reliant on technology as to become complacent.Each generation must strive to preserve and apply the knowledge needed to maintain our high level of technological development.
(6) Technology will create more leisure time as fewer workers will be needed in manufacturing, education, finance, medicine, the judicial system, transportation, and agriculture.
(7) The need for entertainment (theater, sports, hobbies, etc.) will grow as society seeks new ways to occupy its time. Participation in sports will grow as a means of providing an outlet for the need to accomplish, especially to those who have lost the opportunity to be productive.
(8) A three-tier economic system will emerge: (a) those who have the ability to maintain our level of current technology now and in the future will have the highest priority and income, (b) individuals responsible for organizing and implementing leisure activities for the masses whose jobs have been replaced by technology will have the second highest income; included here are entertainers and sports figures, (c) the "non-working class" will receive monetary support similar to social security. They will have the most time to devote to leisure activities. They will be offered many opportunities to pursue sports and hobbies on the local, and state levels. Some will graduate to the national level where they will enjoy higher economic rewards. The boundaries between these tiers will not be rigid as individuals will be encouraged to improve their status through education and skill development.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Electronic Library is on the Horizon

I believe libraries are in for a monumental change – a transition that has already started. I first talked about this change nineteen years ago in my newsletter, MUSE. Now, the advent of e-books has allowed the loaning or selling of books over the internet to be read on electronic devices (e-readers, tablets, laptops and desktops.) This technology has many advantages:

1.Books can be read on light-weight devices (e-readers or tablets). An enormous number of books can be saved on one e-reader; students will no longer have to lug around heavy books.

2.The size of text on e-readers can be changed instantaneously to accommodate the vision of the reader.

3.Optional, lighted displays allow many e-readers to be read under all lighting conditions.

4.The reader may have the option of listening (text-to-speech.)

5.Definition of any word can be accessed instantly; no need for dictionaries.

6.Many devices allow for animation to supplement textbooks.

7.Revisions/updates of textbooks can be delivered electronically – no more replacing worn out or out-of-date books.

8.Electronic storage of all literature and audio/visual media in a minimal amount of space negates the need for physical storage - no need to use space to stock shelves.

9.Fast retrieval of any book or other media at any time over the internet or local area network.

10.Library research can be done rapidly over the internet at any time from any place. Accessing cross-references is immediate.

11.Space occupied by school libraries can be used for additional classrooms or multipurpose rooms. Public library buildings will be used as meeting places for town activities and offices.

12.Schools can realize significant budgetary reductions over time due to lower prices of all texts, more space availability, and reduction in staff.

Sales of e-readers have risen dramatically (Nook, Kindle and others.) Many public libraries have started loaning books via the internet. The efficiencies and economies of electronic libraries are too real to ignore. It is only a matter of time that K-12 schools and colleges will follow suit.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Some Thoughts and Trends on the Integration of Technology into Education
I have taught computers/software (Windows and Mac OS) at the K-12, college, and corporate levels. Earlier, I was a science/math teacher in grades 7-9. I served as the computer coordinator in a public school system in the 80's and 90's. I am currently retired, but continue to keep abreast of trends in technology.
What follows are my observations and recommendations regarding technology integration into schools. Also, included are my predictions on how technology will impact education now and in years to come:

1. The three primary uses of technology in education are: (1) a tool to facilitate student research and writing, (2) an instructional delivery system for students and faculty, and (3) as a records storage and management system for teachers and administrators.

2. Generally, the younger the teacher or administrator the more open they will be to technology integration.

3. Full technology integration into K-12 education will occur ultimately over time as younger teachers and administrators enter the workforce. Having grown up in the Information Age, they will be thoroughly familiar with computers and will advocate their use in education.

4. Teachers should expect and not be intimidated by students whose facility with technology exceeds their own.

5. Integration of technology is more likely to succeed where the board of education and administration are firmly supportive.

6. Schools and colleges should seek the least costly purchase of hardware and software that will meet the goals of their technology plan. Budgetary constraints can be a major deterrent to integration. Costs can be reduced substantially when:
a. the bidding is open to all providers of hardware.
b. schools use fast-speed internet and the cloud in place of expensive,
hard-wired local area networks (LAN's)
c. on-line instruction for certain courses is implemented
d. electronic libraries and e-books are implemented (see #10 below)
e. most record keeping and office procedures are performed
Regrettably, 6c, 6d, and 6e could result in savings due to reductions in staff.

7. Teachers should have input in deciding the kind of instructional software they would like to use. Some of these programs can be developed at the local level and be designed to correlate with the school's curriculum objectives. Publishers of software should never be the primary drivers of curricula.

8. All students should have access to technology for reading, writing, and research while at school and at home. Schools should loan computers to students who do not have them.

9. Courses consisting of on-line instruction (usually supported by seminars) will increase over the years, especially at the high school and college levels. This will allow more students to meet graduation requirements at their own pace. Motivated students could graduate from high school or college in less than four years.

10.Eventually, libraries will become completely electronic: loaning books and textbooks as downloads to student computers (tablets, laptops, or desktops.) They will also dispense on-line learning. The use of physical books will decline resulting in substantial reductions in costs. Textbooks will be updated continuously via the internet rather than being replaced periodically. Electronic libraries will require much less space.

11. Instructional software should utilize the principles of programmed learning where possible and be available at school and at home. These programs would evaluate student progress continuously.

12. Feedback is the mother of progress: All teachers should have access to a classroom management system that tracks student attendance and academic progress. These systems should automatically calculate a student's progress as each mark is entered. Students and parents will be kept informed of progress continuously via the internet rather than periodically with report cards as is often the current practice.

13. Professional staff should realize that technology is progressing at a rapid pace and that upgrading of our skills is ongoing and necessary.