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Feb 14, 2012

Play-based learning

Play-based learning for younger children, project and problem-based learning for older children is not a new concept but, it is becoming more popular again. A pedagogical idea supported by John Dewey's "learning by doing", PBL (play, project or problem) allows students to work through complex problems individually or in teams by moving through multiple steps and using all the strengths of each child.

Irresistible Ideas is an amazing blog with hundreds of ideas for PBL in too many categories to mention here. Mostly focused on early elementary education many of these projects can be altered for older children, used by teachers as display pieces in their classrooms or as a way to connect a field trip back to the classroom.      

The blog is well written, beautifully photographed and contains so many links to other amazing PBL blogs and websites it is easy to get lost in the ideas. I love the dot mad challenge. It could be used to learn about predicting, finding patterns or having a discussing about randomness. It's a simple, inexpensive project that can scaled up or down based on number of students, length of time or age. The dramatic-imaginative section of the blog has a few great ideas about how to create dramatic centers in the classroom. A home center is great for dramatic play and is usually what you see in a pre-school and kindergarten setting but if you are looking for something new or different check out this section and read about the camping and hospital centers.

PBL can take lots of time and preparation to set up but the rewards for the students are huge. Teaching students to share, to work together, to realize their own and other people's strengths, these are just the beginning of a list of skills PBL help teach.

How do you use play-based, problem-based and/or project-based learning in your classroom?

Feb 8, 2012

Apple Education Announcement: A short series

The fourth and final post in this series is going to focus on some of the technical concerns I have about iBooks Author and how those technical issues effect iBooks and, possibly, the future of e-textbooks in general. Apple would have you believe that the company has revolutionized the e-textbook and inviting authors into their ecosystem will allow for major pushes forward in education and open educational resources (OER).

iBooks Author uses a file format based on the epub2 specification. Why Apple choose to use epub2 instead of epub3 (whose specs were public as early as Feb, 2011) is a mystery. Epub3 has many of the same interactive features that iBooks Author has but it also has one very important difference: epub3 supports HTML5. For publishers of math and science textbooks, this is extremely important. MathML (usable under HTML5) is a markup language that makes it easier for math and science content developers to publish on the web -- so complex math and science symbols can be natively rendered in a browser. Epub2 does not support HTML5 therefore, it does not support MathML. Apple is a step behind in the e-textbook market before even starting.

Apple only allows you to export to a text or pdf file (instead of the epub format). Ideally, when creating your content if you use none of the interactive widgets proprietary to Apple, you would be able to export to the epub format. But, Apple is focused only on funneling content to iBooks. It is to their advantage to keep the output in a proprietary format that only iBooks can read. From a business standpoint this is understandable: iBooks Author is free. From a user standpoint, this rigidity is another strike against Apple. E-textbooks and OERs are about flexibility.

The hope of e-textbooks and OERs is to give people the content in whatever format they are most comfortable with: The Kindle, the Nook, the iPad, a laptop, desktop or tablet. This is a leap away from how traditional publishing companies have operated. With it's proprietary format and exclusive licensing agreement, Apple has pushed this movement backwards.

How long will it be before people realize the shortcomings of iBooks Author? This is a tricky question because, regardless of the shortcomings, access to the secret garden may be too good to pass up. Major publishing companies have already made the leap, how long before others follow?

Remember, Vimeo may have better quality content but, everyone uses youtube.

Will you be taking the plunge into iBooks Author?

Apple Education Announcement Series:
- iBooks Author: A game changer?
- E-textbooks and the adoption cycle
- The digital divide: the true cost 
- Technical shortcomings