Monday, October 17, 2016

RE@L Guest Blog: Accessible Technologies For ALL Learners!

Modern Museums Using Virtual Realities & 

Accessible Technologies For ALL Learners!

Reposting of Guest Blog by Dolly Santos Published on RE@L Blog October 17, 2016

Babylonian Museum, 500BC
Babylonian Museum, 500BC
RE@L welcomes Guest Blogger Dolly Santos to our growing list of contributors on cutting-edge EdTech topics. Dolly blogs regularly on her site:, with useful tips and current information for teachers, kids and parents.
Dolly picked a topic dear to our RE@L heart: EdTech Resources for K12 that focus on the latest technologies. Technology makes our many museums more accessible without our actually being thereThese new devices use what’s called Virtual Reality. Many educators see great potential for K12.
Museums have been repositories for useful knowledge since artifacts were first created by those who came before us. What we discover anew today is based on what was discovered and archived in the past.
RE@L thanks Dolly Santos for bringing virtual reality to the attention of our RE@L Blog readers. Here are Ms. Santos’ thoughts on these new Virtual Reality technologies, and the help they bring to ALL learners:
“Museums are a centuries-old method for preserving and displaying information about the world around us. (Click on the graphics or links in this blog to learn more). Dinosaur bones, ancient pottery, and artifacts educate us on unique local histories. These museum collections are informative and available to the public, thanks to the tireless efforts of many museums and their highly-trained staffs.
“As we learn more about education and the human mind, an increasing number of museums are recognizing that not everyone can learn from an exhibit sign. Language barriers, disabilities, and differing learning styles all are potential information blocks for museum guests. Fortunately, modern innovation has allowed museums to alter the way they educate the public.
“Here are just a few of the ways museums are using technology to make their collections more accessible:
1.   Self-Guided Tours:
virtualmuseum1“With the rapid spread of smartphones, many people have access to thousands of unique mobile apps.Many museums now are offering self-guided tours using free apps that can be downloaded directly to your phone. The “apps” link here will take you to a tour of the American Museuem of Natural History. “Virtual tours” can:
  • lead you on the best route in the museum to ensure you don’t miss anything;
  • verbalize the information for people who struggle with vision or word comprehension;
  • offer exclusive background information for people who want to know more about the exhibits.
“Click on the graphic to the right for more information on: “Accessibility and New Technology in the Museum,” – photo courtesy of A&MI.
“Some apps also provide extra resource activities such as quizzes, scavenger hunts, or other stimulating games for children and kinesthetic learners. This type of active learning works to keep museum guests engaged and can be perfect for someone who has difficulty focusing when learning.
2.   Virtual Tours:
virttours“Large-scale museums are beginning to create and publish online virtual tours of their exhibits. 45 Museums here have virtual tour links. Some of these virtual visits are conducted through apps, while others can be found on the museums’ websites.
“These virtual tours can be especially useful for students who cannot attend a field trip as a result of illness or disability. Schools with limited field trip budges use them, as well. Rather than being left out, these students can engage in discussions about the exhibits thanks to the virtual tour they were able to take from their homes or classrooms. This innovation makes all the difference to people who otherwise would be unable to visit the museums.
3.   Customizable Exhibits:
virtmuseums“For many people with disabilities, the standard museum exhibit can pose challenges:
  •    •   Perhaps the font on the signs is too small to read or the chosen font style aggravates a dyslexia issue.
  •    •   Some people may struggle with crowds or excessive noise.
  •    •   Others may need a slower audio rendition of the exhibit information.
“To remedy all of these potential blocks to accessibility, museums have begun developing a customizable museum experience. Exhibits feature interfaces on which visitors can select options like font type and size, audio, volume, etc., to make gathering information easier. While these technological advances still are in the works for some locations, other museums already have implemented interface systems for their guests, such as those shown in this link.
classroom_smiles“Beyond technology, museums have continued to work on more visitors being able to learn from their exhibitsHands-on learning, films, workshops, special events, and other extra activities already are commonplace in most museums. These technology enhancements help learners of all kinds enjoy all of the offerings at museums.
“While these supplemental activities certainly are helpful to all guests, technological advances especially aid people with disabilities. Though accessibility is not yet a standard in all museums, it is a work in progress in the vast majority of them. There will be more help coming to those museum visitors who need it.”
RE@L thanks Dolly Santos for an overview of this new and helpful museum access phenomenon. We hope you enjoyed the virtual tool link she cited as much as we did. We keep clicking on this link for new sites and tours. As the website says, “They never close,” and the virtual visitors can stay as long as they like!
We see the potential of these new Tech-Tools, too. Virtual Reality is the next best thing to being there without going there. That’s one reason why RE@L is exploring affiliations with museums, like The Strong, that feature learning technologies. Last spring, The Strong Museum selected “Oregon Trail™ software as a Hall of Fame product to be featured in their museum in Rochester, NY. Here’s the link to our RE@L Blog on that topic. Oregon Trail was created by MECC back in the 70′s by a team of creative software designers, several of whom are now a major part of Team RE@L. Here’s a link to The Strong Museum site, where you will find information on thousands of game artifacts in addition to Oregon Trail.
RE@L has several new products in various stages of development which bring the same kind of innovation, effectiveness and broad resources that Oregon Trail and 300+ other MECC products did many years ago. We at RE@L see Museums of the future as partners in extending the “reach” of our products to learners everywhere. Museums show us how new artifacts and ideas build on old ones. Whether in school, at a museum, or at home, these new virtual reality tools  can “virtually transport” the learner to the museum displays.
In today’s RE@L world, the right learning resources can be brought directly to the needs of each visitor and make learning far more accessibleFurthermore, it takes Social Media to a new level. We at RE@L like to think of these new tools as the “Cooperative Media,” where each of us can learn with all of us. More powerfully, teachers and students can create our own Virtual Museums to share and show others what we have learned.
What a virtual world we learn in today!
Please email your ideas, suggestions, comments or questions to:

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Frustrated with Trying to Find What Works in K12?

Let’s Ask Instead: What DOESN’T Work? — Why? It Can Lead Us To What DOES WORK!

(Note: this is a reprint of a recent blog I authored with my co-Editor, Dale Lafrenz, for Real Experiences at Life. It's on a topic that many of your readers may find interesting and helpful).

unknown-1Your Blogmeisters were both math teachers who cut our teeth and sharpened our pencils and chalk-nubs in the early 60′s. EdTech and EdReform were just beginning to come up on our national radar. When then President Kennedy made his famous, “Ask Not…” inaugural speech, we took him at his word. We both set about trying to find ways for more kids to learn more. We actually made it our own motto, but we took different paths to find those answers.
We and RE@L are still looking for and trying out what works best. In one way or another, we are still trying to spread the good ideas and learning resources that actually help more kids learn more.
Here’s Dale’s and Tom’s short stories:
imagesWe were both young teachers  frustrated with the nonsense of grouping kids by age in classrooms, instead of grouping by their needs. Kids differ greatly in the way they learn. To ask a teacher to meet the individual needs of 30 kids, just didn’t make sense back then. It still doesn’t.
We both knew hands-on learning was a better way to learn, so Dale hauled old car tires into his classroom so kids could measure them. He wanted them to learn that in all circular objects, even tires, the distance around divided by the distance across is π, or 3.14+. It really helped all the kids “get it” and it didn’t come from a textbook and soon forgotten. We’d bet they still remember π to this day!
Tom & Students Programming
CAMP TextTom found that if students made their own flowcharts on how to divide fractions, then wrote a computer program to “teach the computer” to do it, they had a significantly better understanding of how to divide numbers like ½ by 1/3. Amazing how quickly students “got it” when they did their own getting and were able to “instruct” a computer to find the answer. If you can “teach” a computer to do something, you understand it.
In search of more and better answers, we each earned graduate degrees, which left us with more good questions than good answers. Actually, we do need more good questions if we want better answers. The thousands of questions about learning we ask these days, and the huge amount of funding we spend on looking for answers, is misdirected and, largely a waste of time and money.

On the “What Doesn’t Work Well Enough” viewpoint,  here’s what passes today for so-called well-planned projects, initiatives, research, feedback and policy-making:

  • A hundred thousand Apps for K12 classroomsfew of which cause any positive, lasting change in better learning, resources and the effective management thereof.
  • Mobile devices for every kid in every classroom, and NO comprehensive, effective plans, including staff training.
  • Over half a billion $$ being spent by our federal government on “Racing to the Top” and competitions such as I-3 that benefit very few.
  • More billions being spent on standardized testing that does not improve student performance differences, shown to be largely worthless, excepting the testing moguls.
  • Significant grants of another ½ billion $$ from well-meaning foundations to K12 organizations and to higher-ed policy-making institutions that are insulated from K12 representation. Who best knows what doesn’t work than our teachers and school administrators, including the customers: our students and parents?

Here’s a list of several of the top private funding foundations; 

click on their graphics below for more information: 

Acknowledging their well-meaning intent, we submit that these funds could be far better spent. With all their time, money and effort, there is little or no evidence that K12 learning is significantly better for our learners. Plainly put, there are no significant differences. There has been little systemic change. But, there are some hints and even some answers, if we take the time to look.

So, what does work?

One of our graduate school professors dropped this “nugget” on us years ago (and we paraphrase): “Instead of doing research,and teasing out what works best, why not load up all the promising practices you can find, and see if that makes a difference. If it does, tweak it and tease it to work better for the kids you serve.”
bushWe at RE@L want to cite our own local Bush Foundation for their many, successful efforts to fund reform in local educational communities and support leadership training for local educators. When the renowned Saturn School of Tomorrow was launched back in 1987, The Bush Foundation funded the entire evaluation and assessment to the tune of $100,000. It clearly showed to other practioners what worked and what still needed working on. The results are still accessible to those who want to learn what worked and what didn’t.
One of RE@L’s leaders, early in his educational career, received funding from Bush to attend a promising post-secondary program in his southwestern MN community. He went on to become a significant leader in EdTech reform at MECC, and now at RE@L.
Recently, Bush announced a large grant to Yellow Medicine East Schools for a new STEM initiative. Bush is busy changing our local school communities for the better. The Bush Foundation truly addresses the needs of their local community.
imagesAnother of our RE@L staff played a major role in the launching of the New Tech Network in Napa, CA. The school featured a sound, effective project-based learning program and has been adopted by over 80 schools across the country. Other PBL schools, many of which are also STEM schools are springing up everywhere.
RE@L is playing a major role in developing both PBL software for learners and resources to help teachers teach it effectively, the same program that MECC used for many years. Our RE@L colleague and contributor, Bob Pearlman, maintains a website that includes the most recent best practices and strategies for school reform (click on his name for more information on PBL and more).
unknown-4Lastly, we want to cite the Minnetonka (MN) Teacher Grants program. Under the direction of Assistant Superintendentt Eric Schneider, small but powerful grants are made to teachers and teams with good ideas on how to improve the effectiveness of learning in their classrooms. Many other schools and districts offer mini-grants to staff for their exemplary proposals. Virtually all of them require a reporting back of what worked and what needed working on. These programs empower teachers and their inventive ideas.
unknown-6Minnetonka also has an exemplary, cooperative program called Vantage.They work closely with businesses in their community to offer real-world, on-the-job training to students while still in school. Many students from this program become new hires from the businesses where they studied and interned.
Yes, this also happens frequently at the college level. It needs to happen even more at the high-school level, so that the skills learned are relevant to careers in the real world.
unknown-3RE@L believes that what K12 needs are more “feedback loops” that better inform what we is being done to improve the learning loop: Vision, Plan, Implement, Observe,  Measure, Report, Re-Up! It’s a process that keeps on getting better. There’s never a failure….only more learning about what works and what doesn’t.
There are many more examples that mirror JFK’s call for our own efforts of betterment. RE@L plans future blogs that still need to be told.
Maybe you have an instructive story about reform you’d like to tell. If you do, email us below. We’d be glad to help you help others looking for better answers on how “more kids can learn more.”
We are, all of us, more able to make changes for the better than any one of us. 
Please email your ideas, suggestions, comments or questions to: