Kids under the age of thirteen (13) are not allowed to create accounts on social media. Therefore, I had to look for something over and above platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. So I looked at different physical alternatives – I looked at using lanyards to show off skills, I tried wristbands, and finally I tried using one-inch buttons. Besides, a button machine does not really cost a fortune, so why not?
These buttons can be placed on backpacks. Kids hang their backpacks on the hooks and their friends and teachers can easily see the badges. So, if I am a teacher and if I am looking for a skill, I will notice the backpacks and think, “Oh, I am looking for video creation skills. This kid has earned a video badge. Why don’t I ask him to make a video about Tom Sawyer?”
So, for a successful badges program, you need something tangible. You also need a place for the badges to be displayed on. But are badges a really good idea? Well, it may not be a good idea if you are heading in the wrong direction. How? Let me give you an example. When I was a kid, my teacher used to place a chart with names of all the kids in the classroom. It had little gold stars on it for different activities done in the classroom. Contrary to my friends, I was really bad at reading out loud. They had all those stars shining next to their names while I had none. The Bottom line – I do not appreciate a concept, which I hated as a child. It is a bad idea to start a badges program to evaluate the content. I will discuss this further in the next chapter.
So what exactly is a digital badge?
A digital badge is an online image that tells people about a new skill that a kid has learned. Digital badges are cool since they have metadata, i.e. information built into a digital object. Digital badges have a lot of such information packed inside. If someone clicks on a badge, they will see:
We will talk about these points later in the book. In the next chapter, I will emphasize further on linking badges with skills rather than the content.
Why do I love badges?
Besides my affinity to the scouts and badges, I love the badges program because the kids want it so bad that they do most of their work for badges at home. Let that sink in for a second, my students work on their badges at home without being assigned. In my most recent informal survey of my students, I found that over 70% of the work on badges was being done at home.
My students realize that they need each other – they need to interact! Badges require teamwork as they cannot make a movie alone, animate alone, etc. No one is doing the same thing at the same time. They are all doing different things.
In my experience, badges ensure 100% engagement; there is absolutely no messing around! And if they are stuck, they can always find a classmate who has that particular badge.
It is interesting that I see girls being engaged in traditional ‘non-girl’ situations like engineering. Badges, for me, bust through all gender limitations and walls created by our society.
- Brad Flickinger
If you were to ask 1000 teachers what they thought the purpose of education is, you would undoubtedly get a lot of different answers. The reality is that there is not one singular purpose to education. Instead, there are many, and the purpose I want to focus on with my technology projects is to give students opportunities to find their passions in order to become productive members of society.
If you really think about it, isn’t this what all teachers want?
If I am a math teacher, don’t I want to inspire my students in such a way that there will be a few students that find out that math is the subject they are truly passionate about? Students that had no idea that they could be a math whiz, but now with my help they have found a spark that will hopefully last a lifetime. This is how great teachers make great scientists, writers, poets, etc.
We want to give our students tastes of different subjects and materials and hope that they find the one that “fits” them. A concept that Ken Robinson compares to dormant seeds in Death Valley that are, “simply waiting for the conditions of growth.” The Element (Penguin Group 2009). Conditions that we as teachers have control of. We need to awaken our students with a big watering can of potential.
After a few years of running my new and challenging tech curriculum and tech-clubs I had a student named Austin who signed up to be in my newly formed morning news podcasting club, and as standard procedure I asked why he wanted to be part of the morning news team on the application. His answer was that he wanted to get over his “shyness problem.”
As things developed with the morning news podcast, this shy 5th grade student ended up expanding my mind as to what I thought young students were capable of- just like Dr. Tyson promised me they would. In fact, he inspired me to write this book.
Austin had been trained on how to use our little elementary school’s news podcasting studio and was really getting the hang of being a newscaster. His shyness seemed to be disappearing with every chance he got to be behind the mic.
Then one Wednesday it happened. It was a cold December morning in 2009 and Austin had turned up at his usual time to do the morning news. His 4th grade sound tech had cued up all the sound effects, checked the mics and was now ready for the show to start at precisely 8:05 AM. Meanwhile, Austin had prepared the normal script, complete with the lunch recess weather forecast, the hot lunch menu, birthdays, etc.
At 8:05 AM the sound tech counted down, 5... 4... and then silently turned up the mics as her finger signaled for him to start.
What came out of this 5th graders mouth was amazing. He was off script and totally ad-libbing his show- sure, he was still covering the news, birthdays, etc., but he was doing it his way. As I watched his sound tech scramble to keep up, a smile grew across my face as I realized he got it; he had found something that he was really good at, and he knew it.
The show ended, he hung up his headphones and walked out of the studio to be the new shining star of our elementary school. All I could do was smile as he walked off to his first-period class.
Austin was a seed who found the right conditions to grow and flourish.
It was then when I found out that the most rewarding part of teaching is when you see a child find a passion for something that they never knew they had. This is what great tech projects can do for our students. That is why I designed my tech badges program for my elementary school.
In a world where facts are now free, what do we do with students?
For example, the other day I was on a tour of a “high-tech” middle school and I walked into a classroom to see students filling out an online quiz on the rivers of South America. Since the students weren’t allowed to use their technology to find the answers, they had to regurgitate their answers from memory.
So here was a classroom full of students with iPads staring up into space hoping that they could recall from memory some basic geography facts.
Why on earth did these students need to memorize the names of the major rivers of South America?
Facts are free, they could find these answers in seconds using Google.
The teacher was proud that his students were using technology in his classroom, but is this really the best we can do?
For students to not just survive, but thrive in this new world, they need more than facts. Anyone can get facts. They need to be thinkers and creators.
But as teachers, most of us teach facts. So what are we to do?
It comes down to skills. We, as teachers, need to shift from teaching facts to teaching skills. This is why I changed my whole approach to teaching technology and came up with a badge program that not only motivated my students to learn new skills, but it also forced them to think and to create projects using just their iPads.
I remember after the first iPad project I heard a student talking to his partner saying that he had no idea that his iPad could make animations - I knew I was on to something big.
This is why badges are so important; we have students that think that technology is only for entertainment and teachers that think technology is only good for looking up facts. My badges allowed both groups to move beyond these basic rudimentary objectives and do so much more. I don’t want to sound sensational, but the badges allowed students to literally change their world for the better.
I will be explaining more about my badges program in upcoming posts.
- Brad Flickinger
“How can we use technology to make our world better?”
When I first started to consider an essential question for my tech badges program, I must have tried seven different ones before settling on the one above. The first one I tried was “How can I use technology to make my world better?” but I did not like how sounded so selfish — with a single student in mind. I knew from the onset of this system that I wanted students to work together and collaborate. So I soon changed the “I” to “We” and the “My” to “Our” so that students knew from the beginning that they cannot do it alone.
When my system was being peer reviewed, I had one colleague suggest that I remove the word better. He said that it suggested that our world was broken — I ignored his suggestion — because the world is broken. If fact, the world is so broken that I started this whole system based on two facts that were so obvious that I could not ignore them anymore.
Here are those two facts as I see them…
Fact A - I realized that we could not wait for this techno-generation to grow-up before they make a difference. They had to be taught at a young age how to improve their world. We need changes to start now, not 10 or 20 years from now.
Fact B - This generation is stuck in a technology rut. Most of them have settled on just using their technology for just gameplay and entertainment. They need to learn that technology is a tool that they have the ability to change the world with.
At one time, I was going to drop the word technology from the essential question, but I felt that, as a technology teacher, I should keep it. I guess if I was a math teacher, I would change the word technology to math. But that would be a different book entirely since I have no idea how to use math to make our world better. This also means that you as the reader, know that this book is about how students use technology to improve their world.
- Brad Flickinger
Brad Flickinger is the Technology Resource Facilitator for The Metropolitan School of Panama in Panama City, Panama.