Drawing Kids In

Posted December 20th, 2012 by Paul Johnson
Categories: E-learning, Education Methods, Technology

Tags: ,

With our recent Agency pilot, I was amazed to see how kids interact with software.  It has been a while since I’ve been in junior high, so it was an experience seeing how they dealt with each other and with technology.  What I came away with was that technology was a way to enhance their experience with education, and seeing their excitement about science really made me a believer in how social media and peer interactivity can enhance the learning experience.

Agency is a program that guides junior high kids through a curriculum as determined by the educators.  It is a platform, not a course.  Any type of curriculum can be put into it.  The kids choose a character and are awarded skill points based on other students’ reviews.  They also receive badges and can talk to each other on a Facebook style stream.

Kids love to talk to each other.  With Agency, they kept changing their names and trying to guess each other’s identity.  Does this say something about what it’s like to be a kid?  Is it fun to imagine yourself as someone else and let others be in the dark about your true nature?  I learned that interaction is king; young adults are all about working with each other, whether it’s posturing about how great their assignment was or giving accolades to other fellow students for a job well done.

It’s true that social media has changed the dynamics of our lives, but why?  We were able to talk to each other before.  Social media has just intertwined our technology with our need for interaction; it has made it so that our devices come alive.  We are more than our machines, and drawing kids in means melding technology with their day to day lives in a way that is fun and engaging for them.

They craved to be reviewed by other students; they wanted their approval.  That is the heart of what the Agency project is all about.  Education can be fun, but it needs to be challenging and interactive as well.  Seeing the results of our pilot, I think that software can be a catalyst for learning; in fact, learning and software can be joined in a way that makes education a real life experience, rather than a dry chapter in a textbook.

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Seward Funnies #2 (vol.1)

Posted December 11th, 2012 by Nick Wanserski
Categories: Seward News



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Test-Writing Basics

Posted December 4th, 2012 by Melanie Ruda
Categories: Content Development, E-learning


Today we’re going back to the basics—test-writing basics, that is. Regardless of whether a test is on paper or online, the test questions need to unambiguous and be clearly written. Today’s blog is intended for subject matter experts without teaching experience who are suddenly called upon to develop an e-learning module that includes a test.

In an online environment, tests usually contain only closed-answer questions because they can be judged and graded by the system rather than by a human being. Here are some guidelines for writing two of the most common question types: true-false and multiple choice.

Guidelines for Writing True-False Questions

1.     True-false items should be stated clearly and specifically.

Poor:     All things considered, oranges are best.

Better:  Oranges contain more vitamin C than bananas.

2.     Do not write statements with more than one central idea.

Poor:     Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world, with a population twice that of Tanzania and an area that is about three times as large.

Better:  Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world.

3.     Use specific quantitative language to provide a firm basis for reply.

Poor:     A large percent of the earth’s surface is covered by salt water oceans.

Better:  71% of the earth’s surface is covered by salt water oceans.

4.     Avoid stating the question in the negative.

Poor:     A snake is not a mammal.

Better:  A snake is a reptile.

Guidelines for Writing Multiple Choice Questions

Multiple choice questions consist of a stem, which is the question itself, and the response alternatives or choices.

1.      When possible, state the stem as a direct question rather than as an incomplete statement.

Poor:     Tides are caused by ___________ .

Better:  What causes tides?

2.     Present a definite question or problem in the stem.

Poor:     Geology…

Better:   What is geology?

3.      The stem should be unambiguous, clear, and simply stated.

Poor:     A line graph, which is a type of chart that displays information as a series of data points connected by straight line segments, is commonly used in which situation?

Better:  In which situation would you use a line graph?

4.       Avoid using negatively stated stems.
When unavoidable, bold and/or capitalize the negative word.

Poor:     Which of these plants is not a tree?

Better:  Which of these plants is NOT a tree?

Most adults are experienced with test-taking. Test writing is another matter, and it’s harder than it looks. Take the time to write questions that won’t leave your students guessing about the questions’ intent and meaning.

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The Emergence of the Teacher-to-Teacher Marketplace

Posted November 27th, 2012 by Jessica Bryson
Categories: Seward News


In recent news, a Georgia teacher made headlines for reportedly making over $1 million dollars selling educational resources on Teachers Pay Teachers. Teachers Pay Teachers - an open marketplace for educators, enables teachers to buy and sell original lesson plans (as well as used textbooks and other teaching resources).  Started in 2006 by a former NY teacher, TpT states that they currently have:

  • 60,000+ Free Resources
  • 350,000+ Products
  • 1,400,000+ Users
  • 50,000,000+ Page Views/Month
  • $15,000,000+ Teacher Earnings

Teachers Pay Teachers has also recently opened up their marketplace to publishers with the caveat: “Though hard to compete with our amazing teacher-authors, you are welcome to try.”  As a result, we’ve recently launched several of our literacy products for sale on TpT. Teachers not only can purchase the resources, but they can review them for other teachers’ information.

While in my opinion, TpT (and sites like it) are great channels for teachers to both share their knowledge and to make a bit of well-deserved extra cash, this new trend of teacher-to-teacher marketplaces has also spawned debates about whether teachers should be allowed to sell their lesson plans and what implications of selling resources may have on the teacher community.

Those against the trend state that:

  • Selling resources means teachers might not share what they typically would (for free)
  • It reduces the value of what educators do
  • There are potential copyright/ownership issues

Those in support of the trend state that:

  • Sharing resources makes it so that teachers don’t have to constantly “reinvent the wheel”
  • It allows teachers to make some extra money, especially when you consider that most teachers often spend their own money to purchase supplies and resources
  • Teachers generally spend their own time creating lessons and therefore should be allowed to sell their own intellectual property

What do you think?

Other teacher-to-teacher marketplaces:
Teachers Notebook - http://www.teachersnotebook.com
Teacher Lingo - http://www.teacherlingo.com

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Home-grown Gaming

Posted November 13th, 2012 by David Porcaro
Categories: Content Development, International Education Development, Seward News, Technology Trends


As a follow-on to a blog post I wrote over a year ago about games that make a difference, I thought I would share a few games that are innovative not in their content, but in their audience.  I recently heard about the growing industry of mobile games designed to be played on mobile phones by and for an African audience, and I thought it was an idea worth sharing.

These games take advantage of the huge rise in mobile penetration across the continent, not only in terms of feature phones, but increasingly web-enabled mobiles.  For instance, Ghana now has 23 mobile-broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants (much higher than world-wide average of 16%), and up drastically from 7% in 2010.  With this many people with the ability to play these mobile games while waiting for a bus, standing in queues, or just hanging out with friends, there is a growing market for games that make a difference.

While the games themselves are quite simple, they are deeply localized, dealing with themes such as riding an Okada through the potholed streets of Lagos to trying to ransom your generous neighbors.  Here are some of my favorites:

Okada Ride: Try to drive your Okada motorbike around potholes, pedestrians, hawkers, and three-wheeled cars as you rush off to work.

Kidnapped: Throw darts at the thugs who kidnapped your neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Do-good, but try not to hit your friends in the meantime.

Mosquito smasher: Get back at those pesty Mosquitos in this Malaria-free version of the popular global past-time.  See how many you can smash with your giant thumb before time runs out.

Aboki: Practice archery in your new home in the big city.  I just wonder what happens to the arrows that go astray.

Adanma: Collect the mangoes that fall from the trees.  But be careful not to catch the rotten ones.

Class Fight: This is no war between the haves and have-nots.  Rather, you throw paper wads at students hiding behind desks before the teacher comes.  But be careful that you don't make too much noise.  Fun and... educational...????