Tag Archives: environment

What Work is Like at Campfire Apps

I’ve been working for Campfire Apps since December, and the experience has been great. It’s taught me so much about deadlines, scheduling, etc., many things that I’ll need when I get out to the real world.

Working at the Campfire Apps Studio

Working for Campfire Apps has been a lot of fun! It’s a very laid-back environment and everyone on the team works together to finish whatever needs to be done. We’ve spent a lot of time together, working on apps, testing apps, writing blog posts, and much more.

The work must never stop! Working while on vacation in Ocean City.

Throughout this experience, and my APPlied Club experience, I’ve learned a lot about technology, and about myself. I’ve learned that technology can be the key to anything. It can help lead to careers, friendships, and much more.

As a team, we’ve done a lot together. We’ve taken a few trips together to test apps and work on our latest projects. We’ve also participated in a lot of community outreach, such as the Insquared Conference.

Shawn and I waiting to get into the Insquared Conference

And last, but certainly not least, we always make time for fun. Whether we’re out testing Caddy2Go for hours at a time, or having a friendly competition at the go kart track, we always find time to fit fun into our busy schedule.

Riding go karts in Ocean City

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Thoughts on a Tech-Free Classroom

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published the article “A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute” which featured the Waldorf School and their method of eliminating technology in their classrooms. The school claims that technology and the devices that accompany technology are detrimental to childrens’ creativity, attention spans, and human interaction. The article also pointed out that the school frowns upon the use of technological devices at home as well, however, this particular branch of the school happens to be located in the heart of Silicon Valley, the beating heart of technology in our country.

The article makes a persuasive case in favor of the Waldorf method of teaching and learning, but it is hard to compare this school (and others in the network) with the general public schools across the nation, and that is important to note. For starters, the Waldorf school submits no standardized test data on its students, and while I am not a huge proponent of standardized testing, it is helpful in terms of comparing one school to another. This school also serves a very small cross-section of the population. With a tuition price tag of “$17,750 for kindergarten through eighth grade and $24,400 for high school” per year, you are looking at a very select group of people who can even afford to send their children to this school. Furthermore, the founder of the Waldorf School in Los Altos, Lucy Wurtz is quoted in the NY Times article as saying: “The typical Waldorf parent, who has a range of elite private and public schools to choose from, tends to be liberal and highly educated, with strong views about education; they also have a knowledge that when they are ready to teach their children about technology they have ample access and expertise at home.” This is where we part ways, Waldorf School.

You see, reading the article through the first time, I found little to argue with. Having been a teacher, I place high value on creativity and human interaction and socialization, I taught Kindergarten, this is the basis of what I spent my day teaching and promoting in my classroom. So I can’t really argue with an approach that says that creativity and human interaction are more important that technology. I believe that. But I also believe in balance. In a world that is thriving on technology and technological advances at an increasingly rapid rate, I also believe that we need to introduce children to that part of our society.

As educators, we certainly know that what works for one, doesn’t work for all. And that is a great argument to make here. Sure, the Waldorf students may have a fantastic graduation track record and may go on to big institutions to further their education, but they were going to have that opportunity with or without technology in their classrooms. They also have parents who value education and make it a priority for themselves and their children. That’s great, but that’s not all parents. These are parents who also, according to the school’s founder, have the knowledge and background enough to teach their children how to use the technology that they have “ample access” to at home, when they are ready. Again, this is not all parents.

I taught in a school on the East Coast, far away from Silicon Valley in a section of the community that was a mix of low income and middle class families. I had a wide range of students in my classes with an even wider range of abilities and skills. But I have to say, even my most well-off students did not have “ample access” to technology and devices. Nor did their parents work in the technology industry as tech leaders with the knowledge and background to teach them the technology whenever they felt appropriate. And I think that this scenario is a much more clear picture of the majority of families in the United States.

The problem with the Waldorf School’s approach is that they are dealing with an already privileged group of young people who would grow up having a vast variety of resources and opportunities that the overwhelming majority of children in this country will never have. So while you may be able to take technology out of their classrooms, they still have a better chance of learning to use the technology than others might because they have access to it at home. My students did not all have access to technology at home, so if I wasn’t teaching them about how to use it, they may never know.

The problem is that we have a whole massive group of children who will not have the opportunities to learn about technology from their parents when “the time is right.” And if we (the teachers and schools) don’t teach them about these technologies, they will never be able to compete with those people who had “ample access” to the technologies at home when it comes time for them to enter the work force. We have to keep technology in our schools for those children who don’t have the same opportunities at home or the same encouragement and support from their families so that they have a fighting chance to compete with the highly technical jobs and careers that they will no doubt be facing 10-15 years from now. Teaching them about technology now is preparing them for their future, which will, without a doubt, be more technology focused and centered than the times we are living in right now.

What are your thoughts about tech-free classrooms? Share them here in the comments or on our Facebook page.

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Bringing Technology into the Classroom, Part 2

Last week, I shared Part 1 of this mini-series here on the Campfire blog. You can read Part 1 here if you need to catch up before proceeding.

In Part 1 of Bringing Technology into the Classroom, I shared reasons why it is important to utilize technology in classrooms and why now is the time to integrate technology as a way to teach and prepare students for the future. Part 1 also suggested that you need to start early with children, allowing them access to the tools and techniques associated with a variety of technologies.

I realize, having been a teacher myself, that many teachers are hesitant to try new technology tools or unsure about how to use particular tools in the classroom. Sometimes, the access to the tools is an obstacle in itself. Some schools are lacking in their resources and this makes it challenging for teachers. However, that doesn’t mean that you should abandon all hope or agenda. In the elementary school where I taught Kindergarten, which was quite a large school serving about 750-800 children, we had only one computer lab. This computer lab was run on a first-come, first-served sign up schedule and housed about 30 computers, which all may or may not have been properly functioning on any given day. This was less than an ideal scenario for such a large school where technology should be a big priority.

lab

However, I made it a point to get my class into the computer lab at least once a month to practice skills and complete learning tasks. We started in the very beginning of the year with a fun game-like introduction to the parts of the computer called “Simon Says, It’s Computer Time!” where students learned the correct terminology for the parts of the computer and their functions. Was it always easy? Heck no! Were these trips stress and frustration free? Absolutely not! Was it always worth the stress and frustration? Sometimes. Did the students love these trips to the computer lab? Every single time. Even when the technology didn’t work quite the way I had planned or set their expectations for. Most times they handled that better than I did.

The point is, I was making an effort. I am quite a computer savvy person, so it was something I felt very passionate about, sharing this with my students. It wasn’t always perfect, it wasn’t always easy, but I continued to do try because it was important. The key was that I started small. I didn’t jump right in with both feet and tackle every program and tool I had at my fingertips, each year I learned how to use one more program in a few different ways so that I could add a lesson that used it. I certainly don’t know how to use these programs in their entirety, but I didn’t need to. Because I had the youngest children in my classroom, I was able to progress as they progressed. With younger students it was all about introduction and exposure. Showing them how to use a computer, operate a mouse, type their names, these were the things that were most important for each child to know at the end of the year. Sure, it doesn’t sound like a lot, and we certainly learned more than just those simple skills, but it was a good starting point.

Today’s lesson is just that – Start, but start small. An article found on Edutopia, “Doing More with Less (and Other Practical Educational Technology Tidbits)” prompted this post. In the article, author Adam Bellow shares a list of ways to help you get started with technology in your classroom.

1. Start Small. New initiatives can be extremely overwhelming each year, especially if you haven’t exactly mastered the older initiatives your district has put into place. With technology these new initiatives can be downright hard to follow, especially if you are a “tech-challenged” individual. But you never accomplish anything unless you try. You cannot be afraid of failure. One thing that teachers are excellent at is self-evaluation, being able to look at a lesson or a piece of a lesson and evaluate how it went. If it didn’t go as planned, that’s ok, try it again.

Bellow’s tips:
Try one new thing a week, so you don’t become overwhelmed
Try only one new thing at a time, so that you are not cramming too much into one lesson

2. Collaboration Is the 21st Century Skill. Learning to work with others and share ideas is an imperative skill to teach our youngsters. This is one of the most valuable skills that they can learn that will help them and be useful to them throughout the remainder of their lives. talk about a real-world connection? It is also a good skill for educators to possess. Often to work around the limitations of our school’s technology, another teacher and I would pair up for a tech-based lesson. We would co-teach the content and our students would work together to complete the lesson’s activity. These lessons were some of the favorite lessons of the students and the teachers!

Bellow’s tips:
Use free tools, such as Google Docs or Skype
Find new ways to collaborate, both for your students and yourself and your colleagues

3. Training is Key. Schools should be making it a priority to properly train their teachers on how to use the technology tools that they provide. Training should be on-going. This is not always an option, but the internet is always an option. During my last year of teaching, I was lucky enough to have a SmartBoard installed in my classroom. My “formal” training never came through from the school, so I taught myself. I read how to use the software on the Promethean website, learned how to do some things from another teacher who had taken a class on using the SmartBoard, and when I had issues, I troubleshooted online. It certainly wasn’t ideal, but it was something that I was passionate about using with my students, so I was determined to learn it.

Bellow’s tips:
Look outside your school as some great PD that is free and easy to come by
Suggest that each faculty meeting include a tech-share, this is a brilliant idea

4. Go Mobile. Smartphones, iPods, iPads…all of these new technologies present wonderful opportunities to use technology in the classroom. Bellow’s makes the case that the days of the computer lab are gone, I very much agree. Why would you limit the technology to a certain space for a limited number of students? “Any investment a school makes in technology should be something that can be used in multiple settings for multiple purposes by multiple sets of students.”

Bellow’s tips:
Make the case for mobile technology, make a case to whoever is making the decision about how this technology would make your classroom a better place
Fundraise creatively, sometimes the money just isn’t there, be creative

5. High Tech on a Low Budget. You can do a lot with very little. There are tons of web-based tools out there that perform comparably to more expensive options, like PhotoShop.

Bellow’s tips:
Use Twitter, to find out about these tools

6. Rethink Who Should Be at the Table. This is a big one. When making decisions about what technologies would be best for classrooms, often classroom teachers are the ones left out of the conversations. This should no longer be the case. Classroom teachers, those who this new technology will impact on a daily basis, should be the first people invited to talks about new materials.

Bellow’s tips:
Invite all stakeholders to the table, to join in the conversation and discuss the various sides of the issues
Create a small representative committee of students, who can be involved at some point in the decision making process

Bellow’s article goes into much more detail than I have given here. I just came across this article and felt that it summed up how to step into using more technology in your classroom in a comprehensive way. No matter where you are in the process of integrating more technology, you are never alone. Reach out to your colleagues, as they can often times bet the best resources. Look for new ideas on the internet, through Twitter or blogs. And again, remember, just start small. Baby steps, learn to do one thing and one thing well, then move on to the next thing.

Whatever you do, don’t wait. Start now. What is one thing you have been waiting to use with your students? Or something that you would like to know more about how to use with your students? If you have something you want more information about, leave a note in the comments and I will try to point you in the direction of some resources that might be helpful.

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Bringing Technology into the Classroom, Part 1

There are many things that we feel very passionate about around here, one of those things is technology. In particular, technology in education. Unfortunately, for many (if not most) schools, there is a serious lack of technology in their classrooms. It’s hard to believe that in this day and age (suddenly I sound like my grandparents!) more technology isn’t being utilized by schools and their students. Our schools seem to be still relying heavily on methods in the past to educate and reach students, and as time passes it becomes more and more apparent that these methods are outdated and old-fashioned.

If one thing is true, it’s that our society is becoming increasingly high-tech and complex. Our schools should be preparing students for entering the future armed with skills and tools to compete for highly technical and advanced jobs and careers. This preparation should begin in the very early grades, as early as Kindergarten, so that students can learn and adapt as they grow, instead of trying to play catch up when they are a little older. Integrating technology should begin in Kindergarten, if not Pre-Kindergarten, so children can become familiar with various types of technology tools as soon as they enter school.

Integrated technology in classrooms is not just a separate computer skills or software knowledge class in a separate classroom. Integrated technology needs to be done in a way that every student has access to the tools and knowledge on how to use them. The author of the article, “Why Integrate Technology into the Curriculum?: The Reasons Are Many” states,

“Effective tech integration must happen across the curriculum in ways that research shows deepen and enhance the learning process. In particular, it must support four key components of learning: active engagement, participation in groups, frequent interaction and feedback and connection to real-world experts.”

When I read this and saw the phrase “across the curriculum” I couldn’t help but think of the post that I wrote last week about work environments which discussed students working in interdisciplinary, project-based learning environments. Other key phrases here are: active, engaged, participating, interaction, feedback. Do you notice anything about these terms? That’s right, they are all things that your students should be experiencing on a regular basis in your classroom, all those things that teachers are evaluated on by their supervisors. So this is really nothing new, right?

Well not quite. The ideas and concepts should not be news to you, however, the methods and techniques might be new to you. If you are a teacher who has been hesitant to try a new technology in your classroom with your students, there is never a better time than now. Students are more capable of learning how to use new technology tools probably even better than you are, no matter what their age. Start out simple, sure, but whatever you do, don’t neglect these technologies out of fear or lack of understanding. There are plenty of easy to follow tutorials out there to walk you through using any technology tool you desire.

Now is the time to integrate these new tools. Now is the time to familiarize students of all ages with these tools and methods. From the same article above,

“New tech tools for visualizing and modeling, especially in the sciences, offer students ways to experiment and observe phenomenon and to view results in graphic ways that aid in understanding. And, as an added benefit, with technology tools and a project-learning approach, students are more likely to stay engaged and on task, reducing behavioral problems in the classroom.”

What teacher can argue with more engaged students with less behavior problems? Incorporating a variety of technologies in your classroom can also change the way you teach, it gives you the ability to reach all types of learners in your classroom, something all teachers struggle with ways to do. I, personally, know teacher who are hesitant about technology because they don’t feel comfortable with their skills, however, I think that’s the perfect argument for not depriving students of these tools. This was intended to be sort of a overview of why technology should be integrated into every classroom in every school. In part 2 I will write about ways to ease into bringing technology into the classroom for those who are still a little hesitant.

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Inspiration: Work Environments

From time to time I would like to share with you all things that are inspiring us here at Campfire Apps. I can’t promise how regularly you will see posts like this, but I definitely want to take time to share what motivates and inspires us every once in a while.

This week I have been flooded with information about work environments. Actually, I guess it started a few weeks ago when we attended the 360iDev Conference in Denver. One of the morning general sessions was a talk given by David Whatley entitled “Can You Really Make an iPhone Game When No One Has to Show Up to Work?” This whole talk was aimed at shedding light on the workplace management system that David had recently began using with his employees. This system is called ROWE, or, Results Only Work Environment. The type of work environment is based on the fact that employees are evaluated on “performance, not presence” (directly from the ROWE website). Whatley shared interviews with his employees on the value of their ROWE environment and the responses were incredible! Everyone was so happy and content, and actually, they were more productive than before.

So the take-away from that session really stuck with me. Being a former teacher, even though this sounds pretty close to what we should want from students (great results) it’s very far from any environment I have ever worked in. It just seemed so simple, but sort of profound.

This weekend, in doing some blog reading and catching up, I came across this article called “What Schools Can Learn from Google, IDEO, and Pixar“. The article looks at the work environments of these big name companies and proposes ways that schools can use the same approaches when creating environments for students.

Pixar's open, spacious, work environment

This article was so inspiring and eye-opening. It left me with lots of “What if…” types of thoughts and “Isn’t that the way it should be?” types of feelings. The article focuses on play and creativity as driving forces behind innovation and the ways that these three companies have kept that in mind and designed work environments to foster those attributes. Their workspaces have been inspired by lessons from childhood. The article states, “In many ways, what makes the Googles of the world exceptional begins in the childhood classroom — an embrace of creativity, play, and collaboration.” So why, then, do you find less and less opportunities for creativity, playing, and collaborating in our schools?

Pixar’s building layout was designed to create “forced collisions of people” according to Steve Jobs, because “the best meetings were meetings that happened spontaneously in the hallway.” Here in these spaces you can have people from all different areas of expertise meeting to collaborate on something potentially amazing. An environment like this offers opportunities for photographers, designers, developers, writers, and many others to see one another and meet one another and have conversations about the projects where they may be able to offer something. What if schools were designed this way, classwork that overlapped so that students were able to work together on projects across the disciplines? What if schools created a culture focused on design thinking and interdisciplinary projects instead of individual independently addressed subjects?

I have read this article over and over this week. I can’t get enough of it, actually. It just makes so much sense. There’s not a lot from the article that I can apply to my real-life situation as it is right now, it’s just my husband and I on a daily basis, but this has given me lots to think about regardless. The last thing I want to share from this article is a video about a school, High Tech High. This school focuses its curriculum on interdisciplinary project based learning, and the resulting environment seems pretty amazing. I can only dream that I went to a school like this. Again, this was completely inspiring to me.

To quote the authors of the article, “It is time to re-imagine and invest in schools and spaces ripe for creativity and cross-pollination.” I couldn’t have said it any better myself. What about you all, have you encountered any inspiring work environments? School environments?

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