Mobile STEM in the Hood

In “What Tech in Schools Really Looks Like,” Audrey Watters describes the distribution of technology in US K-12 classrooms. Watters offers some notable examples of how schools are using digital media for learning, “[b]ut stories like these don’t represent what’s happening in most of our nation’s schools,” she points out. I argued a similar point re. mobile learning at this fall: despite promising anecdotes and amazing potential, mobiles are not being leveraged for learning. The central idea for Watters, though, concerns inequity: “…the distribution of technology in our classrooms remains radically uneven. It differs by school and grade level. It differs by region. It differs in the make, model, and operating system of various computers. It differs in usage.”

There are a number of reasons why this is so, some of which I will examine in an article I am writing for IJLM, but for now I’d like to discuss a central point in Watter’s piece: BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) / mobiles. More specifically, could the mobile device be a step toward addressing the radical inequality Watters describes? While this inequality reveals itself in varied regional and socioeconomic contexts, I’d like to focus on urban youth. We know from Pew Research that mobile adoption in black and Hispanic populations has been strong. In many instances, some less advantaged socioeconomic groups have skipped landlines and laptops, and have gone directly mobile. Is this an opportunity?

Here’s where Chris Emdin comes in. Emdin is a professor at the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University. His recent work focuses on how to teach, or inspire the curiosity to learn, STEM subjects.

Emdin has a new book out, Urban Science Education for the Hip-hop Generation, one he recently discussed  in conversation with @NewBlackMan, Mark Anthony Neal.

In the interview, Emdin proposes our using the languages and culture of the “‘hood” to teach sciences. He suggests focusing on urban youth culture, a black vernacular that has been marginalized in STEM disciplines. How, Emdin asks, may hip hop culture be used as a pedagogical tool?

This makes sense: Use the forces and influences in brown and black students’ lives (what Emdin describes as “a way of knowing and being”) to connect content and skills for learning in sciences.

So, what if we were to connect the dots between Emdin’s ideas, Audrey Watters’ ideas, and mobile devices?

I can imagine an entire program designed and implemented around mobiles—the devices many students already own—to leverage mobile technology for STEM learning. Why don’t we design curricula that are mobile, using the neighborhood as the science lab? (You could easily use platforms such as And thinking about Connected Learning, I also imagine Mobile STEM for the ‘Hood as successfully embodying connected design and learning principals.

Connected Learning

Learning Principles

Academically oriented

Design Principles
Openly networked
Shared purpose

On Connected Learning

And Audrey Watters

What Tech in Schools Really Looks Like

And Chris Emdin

Mobiles 4 Learning 2012 (M4L2012)

I’ve been playing soccer with Joe Cleary for years. He teaches mathematics at The Loomis Chaffee School (CT) and was always curious about, so I’d keep him up to speed. One thing led to another, and now Joe (@jhcleary), Scott MacClintic (@Smacclintic), and I are hosting a mobile learning conference on April 23, 2012 at Loomis. On board to present are Professor Eric Klopfer, MIT Associate Professor and Director of the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program; Jared lamenzo,; Ralph Morelli, Trinity College, Department of Computer Science (on App Inventor); Jon Moser, finalsite; and Crystal Fantry, Wolfram Alpha Research (using mobiles).

If you’re interested, please sign up. It’s a mere $25.

Further info.: Mobiles4Learning 2012 explores current practices and future uses of mobile technologies by/for secondary school educators and students. Hosted by The Loomis Chaffee School, this one-day gathering will bring together innovators who are leveraging cell phones and other mobile devices for educational purposes. In addition to teacher-led hands-on presentations and an Ignite Mobile Session, there will be a keynote address by Professor Eric Klopfer, MIT Associate Professor and Director of the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program. Klopfer is also co-director of the recently created MIT Center for Mobile Learning.

Super Awesome Sylvia, DML2012, destroying, making

I met Super Awesome Sylvia at DML2012 in San Francisco a few weeks back.

Super Awesome Sylvia at DML2012

Her dad @techninja42 took this photo of us.

Super Awesome Sylvia spoke on a panel with Gever Tully (tinkering school), Jess Klein (Hackasaurus, Mozilla) and Dr. Preeti Gupta. She showed some clips from her maker show, episodes where she gets to destroy things, make things, experiment with stuff—sewable circuitry, Arduino, Coke Mentos Rockets, and MakerBot, among other things. Totally fun.

I had just spent the last few days at The California Academy of Sciences, working on our Universal Badges project for the Mozilla Foundation, etc. Seeing all the kids at the Academy (they supposedly have close to 2 million visitors a year), and talking a bit with Super Awesome Sylvia at DML2012, made me think of our projects at home. I was inspired to push forward with Hazel to complete our Etsy DIY amp (hesslerk).

After viewing some of Super Awesome Sylvia’s shows, we set to work soldering (lead-free!).

We need to troubleshoot, as the amp is distorting, but it still sounds pretty dirty and fun.

Here are some resources, in case you’d like to check out Super Awesome Sylvia:

Sylvia Show

Open Mobile Learning badges

Open Mobile Learning Badges: Scenarios

Digital Media & Learning Competition: Badges’s proposal for Mobile Learning Badges was selected for the next stage of the Mozilla/MacArthur/HASTAC DML Competition. Here are some of the mobile learning scenarios I described in the application.

Mobile Environmental & Citizen Science

As a member of the local river and watershed organization, the Hoosic River Watershed Association (HooRWA), Tony participates in the annual flora and fauna census, collecting data and documenting the health of the local river ecosystem. Tony uses his mobile phone to geolocate, record, and contribute vital data sets to the larger study. Tony has earned two badges for his work with HooRWA—a Mobile Environmental Badge and a Mobile Citizen Science Badge.

Tony’s badges appear on his website, social media pages, and in Tony’s Learning Tree, an online dossier documenting his lifelong accomplishments in any number of activities and fields of study—both formal or informal.

Mobile Local History

Catherine, a college History major, uses her mobile phone to create several key bodies of content that the community now uses for educational and historic purposes.

For The Architectural Record, a work that documents noteworthy architectural structures and stories in her small city, Catherine uses an online map (Google, FourSquare, Layar, etc.) to geolocate and photo-document houses and buildings of historic merit. Community members use their mobile phones to tour the city, learn from the tags and audio recordings, contribute details and narratives, and view historic layers over their city.

She uses her phone to photo-document and record veteran’s narratives which become living documents on the community Veteran’s Center website. Further, students from the local elementary and high schools contribute fresh narratives each year, thereby perpetuating the growth and relevance of the veterans’ stories to community history.

Catherine received several badges for her work in this field: a Mobile Local History Badge, a Mobile Veterans’ Services Badge, and a Mobile Civic Engagement Badge.

Mobile Art

Ben is a digital and performance artist living in Pittsburgh, PA. His work concerns massive open participatory media events where disparate participants briefly form mobile art communities. Recently, Ben received a grant to implement his latest project: a mobile symphony. Ben set up seven telephone numbers, each with a different note, and another five lines that play found percussion sounds. Using trunking lines from a mobile VoIP (Voice over IP) provider, each number can be concurrently dialed and played by multiple callers. On July 14, over 85 participants gathered at Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning to create a “mobile sound wave” with their phone speakers, and with the local experimental dance collective, create a spontaneous collaborative performance. Part of the artist’s interest lay in if and how a group of strangers could gather and then self-organize to make “art.” The event was a success.

Ben earned a Mobile Art Badge and a Mobile Music Badge. Participants also earned Mobile Community Art Badges for their involvement.

Mobile Fundraising and Civics

Margaret, the first of her family to graduate college, knows from personal experience that early intervention plays a powerful role in helping reverse failing trajectories. To help her Early Childhood Literacy Center raise money for their new initiative in underserved neighborhoods, Margaret collaborated with a local friend who had expertise in advertising and graphic design. Together, the two created a simple yet successful QR and Text For Literacy campaign in the city. They postered and distributed flyers, and they placed PSA ads with various media outlets. Community members, by texting “literacy” to 54454, could contribute $10, $20, or $50. The two women also persuaded a local business to host a coffee hour, where they shared success stories of the literacy program. Attendees could text in their support immediately.

Margaret earned two important badges through her work: a Mobile Volunteer Badge and a Mobile Educator Badge.

More on Open Mobile Learning Badges

Badges for Mobile Learning just submitted a proposal for the HASTAC / Mozilla Foundation / MacArthur Digital Media & Competition on Badges for Learning. See this link for our ideas on using badges to recognize achievement in mobile learning.

An excerpt from the application:

Because these learning activities fall outside the aegis of “school,” they go unrecognized. We must acknowledge noteworthy and meaningful achievement in use of mobile phones to pursue fields of learning or civic engagement outside traditional educational structures.

To address this need, proposes creation of the Open Mobile Learning Badge program to recognize achievement using mobiles in various fields of interest—both in established learning practices and yet-to-be discovered modalities for learning that are made possible through mobile technology.

Please comment if you have insights that might be useful.

corrupting “games”

“If you fall into the trap of using games just as any other medium and you aren’t understanding the broader social changes and values that the technology is promoting, then you are going to be using new tools to reach old ends.” —Kurt Squire.

This fall has been researching mobile use at the K-12 level, trying to understand if students and teachers are actually using mobile phones for learning. We have been interviewing superintendents, principals, IT Directors, teachers, and students, representing over 15 schools (and nearly 10k students) in Western Mass.—charter / public, elementary and high schools. Though this work is still in progress, we presented some preliminary findings at Mozilla/HASTAC/MacArthur’s several weeks ago at Parsons The New School.

Among other things, we have found that while many administrators, teachers, and students had some sort of mobile device, phones were not really being used for learning—either formally in class work or informally outside of class. At, we presented some of the reasons why mobile phones were not being leveraged, then made recommendations for how we might address the situation. We argued for creation of Open Mobile Learning, an open web-based resource for mobile learning lessons. And building on James Gee and Michael Levine’s idea for a Digital Teacher Corps, we recommended creation of a Mobile (Digital) Teacher Corps.

Why the quote from Kurt Squire, then? Squire’s caution about “using new tools to reach old ends” resonates with a sub-theme emerging from the research. When asked about games, some students remarked that there are two types of games: ones designed by Educators and ones designed by gamers (people who love and actually play games).  “The ones designed by educators suck,” said one student candidly. Of course, the binary is not absolute—there are educators who design good games, etc.—but the point is a well taken, and that’s what Squire begins to address in his DMLcentral interview when he discusses how we can design good, comprehensive games for education. What I am also hearing in conversation with students is that the meaning of “game” has already shifted. Kids are suspicious of  computer “games” when they’re rolled out in school settings. And when I watch third graders perform rote memory exercises in the guise of a game, I fear that we’ve corrupted the “game,” moving it away from what Jane McGonigal describes as  “gamefulness.” Clearly, a game does not necessarily ensure meaningful learning, but a proliferation of bad games might just ruin the very passion-led learning opportunities that games make possible.

Streaming Video from/to Your Phone

Metropol938 Bambuser

Thanks to Katrin /, who introduced me to Bambuser allows you to stream video from your phone or laptop to another phone or website. Totally fascinating. As I write, I am watching/listening to a mobile feed from acampadaparis_int France, a gathering of students and stakeholders describing their experiences with Occupy Paris (Streaming vidéo officiel de Démocratie Réelle Paris – Réseau International)) essentially real-time. What is striking, beyond the often refreshing lo-fi spontaneity of some of the streams, is that many of the videos are coming from mobile phones. With Bambuser, the mobile is broadcast tool; the mobile is the portable camera, studio, and news channel. A quick glance reveals mobile video feeds from Syria, Brazil, China, Spain, Sweden, Russia, and many others. And they’re streaming any number of events and happenings—business conferences, sports matches, political gatherings, performance art, pets, documentation of the quotidian.

As you’d expect, video content and production quality are varied, and the streams are evanescent—popping up briefly, streaming, then disappearing, though there is an archive available on the Bambuser site.

I am not sure who is monitoring these streams or even if there are rules to enforce. (Users can flag streams  as inappropriate, though.)

I also wonder how Bambuser will bring better quality to the content experience so that instead of sifting through thousands of videos, there is a viable way to parse and view the content efficiently. Search is helpful, and the channel subscription model is a start, but right now, it seems fairly random. And maybe therein lies the beauty.

No doubt, ads are imminent.

I see a lot of potential for Bambuser, especially for mobile learning. Watching Sweden’s Metropol live i Skärholmen!, I see news organizations utilizing the tool for real-time, on-the-street reporting, polls, and census taking. There are potential privacy issues, but beyond using Bambuser merely as a video documentation tool, students could leverage mobiles for real-time reporting on events, scientific data collection in the field, or instructional lessons from remote locations anywhere in the world. Another tool in the citizen journalist/scientist/activist kit.


By smalandskavlen from Sweden: Smålandskavlen 2011 Mariannelund – Dagsträckor

Delivering, Accessing; Creating, Designing

Last Thursday, The New York Times hosted SchoolsForTomorrow, an all-day event featuring a variety of speakers sharing their vision for “bringing technology into the classroom.” The conference leaned toward corporate (Skype, Pearson, Scholastic, Intel, Cisco, etc.), or at least it felt that way. Conference symbiosis is always a delicate balance, though. And Yes, some teachers and administrators were there, but a student panel or two would have offered a useful contrast with the corporate discourse. Youth sometimes provides a healthy reality check (crucible?) for the ideas adults espouse.

The panels were too crowded—eight people (plus moderator)—but they generally uncovered some worthwhile ideas on the current state of affairs in education and technology. Keynote (Harvard University president emeritus) Larry Summers stated emphatically (paraphrased): 1. technology is dramatically transforming education, and 2. the mobile phone is central to that transformation.  And on a broader level, one of the more important ideas of the day was that the event happened, that The New York Times gathered these groups to share ideas with a broader audience. A good sign, I hope.

Mitch Resnick (Scratch), in the K-12 panel covering The Student, noted something revealing. Most of today’s discussions, he remarked, were about delivering and consuming, not making and creating. While delivering/accessing information is important, new technology can also broaden they way we create and design things…to be full citizens in society, said Resnick. Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten at MIT Media Lab states:  “We develop new technologies that, in the spirit of the blocks and fingerpaint of kindergarten, expand the range of what people can design, create, and learn.” I could see Nichole Pinkard (Digital Youth Network, Remix World) and Esther Wojcicki (Palo Alto High School, Creative Commons) nodding in agreement as Resnick spoke. I did, too.

Herein also lies a problem, I fear. Are most of the efforts to transform learning with technology merely duplicating old (ineffectual) models? Delivering and consuming, instead of designing and creating?

At the end of the day, I stopped by one of the new edtech showcases. As I  watched the black box theater and chatted with the rep, a hologram of Nicholas Negroponte (OLPC) emerged from the darkness to present a lecture.

Badges liberate mobile learning?

I just listened to the HASTAC / MacArthur/ Mozilla Foundation announcement on the DML Competition and badges.

Digital Media & Learning CompetitionI wrote to a colleague but decided to include some of the thoughts here, as well:

Badges as assessment/proof-of-accomplishment tools are especially intriguing in that they could liberate the inquiry-based mobile learner to pursue his/her questions more freely, flexibly. Mobiles, I believe, open up new learning possibilities in that they offer the power of the Internet in the student pocket (“anytime, anywhere” or “anyhow, anyway”) while untethering the learner from the traditional institutional strictures (class periods, school buildings, etc.). This move into new learning environments is often unmappable to state/federal standards. Badges, then, hopefully, might address new assessment needs that arise from mobile learning.

This of course is just the start of a long conversation regarding mobile learning and assessment.

Mobiles in Museum Context

nu colossus - nari wardI have been working at MASS MoCA for the last six months, helping them among other things raise capital for their educational and artist programs. MASS MoCA is a fascinating place—frugal, efficient, innovative, caring, supportive, and often sometimes exploring beyond boundaries. They are a making museum, one where the artists (and sometimes the entire staff) create installations/art on premises, real time. Most recently, for instance, we helped Jamaican born artist Nari Ward construct a  massive 60′ basket-woven fish trap ensnaring a 30′ fishing boat that Nari had found at a local garage.

This August, though, I will be doing some work with MASS MoCA’s KidsSpace and local B-HIP interns, discussing how mobiles (and digital media) can be leveraged for learning and curatorial opportunities in the museum context. (B-HIP is an intensive arts management internship program in the Berkshires.) Given MASS MoCA’s unusual circumstances, what is context when the museum is a 13-acre campus with 25+ buildings offering hundreds of thousand of square feet? This campus was the home, for example, of the Solid Sound Festival, a Wilco-curated arts festival spreading out into every nook and cranny of  the massive campus.

What, also, is context in terms of art that is yet to be created? And what is context when the mobile phone by definition liberates the participant from a fixed context to a more discursive, untethered experience.

I’m just thinking through some questions. If you have ideas on mobiles in museums, please send me a note; richard AT . I’d love to hear what you’re doing.