Students have certainly discovered the opportunities afforded with Internet searches that might aid them in their homework needs. A new app called Socratic is just six-months old but already tops the downloads from Apple’s App Store for education software. What began as a resource for questions from middle and high school students in the content areas of science and history has developed into a wider resource. Content areas now include English, economics and even some mathematics. Calculus is next to be conquered.
Creator Shreyans Bhansali (who used to work for Google) used artificial intelligence to teach Socratic to learn algebra. The team at work behind the scenes “had to write an algorithm that could analyze a photo of a math problem and solve it” (Pullen, 2017). Developers worked with teachers to provide explanations for the answers provided so students would understand how to get the answer. The program “combines cutting-edge computer vision technologies, which read questions from images, with machine learning classifiers built using millions of sample homework questions, to accurately predict which concepts will help” (MacDonald, 2017) students solve their questions. The step-by-step explanations that follow help students know the details about how the question is answered.
Students are able to visit Socratic.org on the Web or download a mobile app that allows them to take a picture of a homework item. On the Web, students type in a question. Questions are given answers by the site, plus those who ask questions can also answer questions and earn points to advance in status on the program itself. With the scan app, the program searches the Web and its own internal database for solutions. Parents can visit Socratic to help their child with homework topics that they may not have seen in many years and need to review. Either way, Socratic is helping students get more homework done, and done correctly!
For technology to gain respect in the educational world, it needs to be more than just clever, colorful, and creative. It needs to align with the standards to which educators are held responsible. The educational website Socratic.org aligns with ISTE Standards 1, 2, and 3. Standard 1, Learner, supports leveraging technology that improves student learning. When students attend to the explanations for the homework answers, their learning deepens. Standard 2, Leader, supports student empowerment through technology. Since Socratic is an optional technology for students, they show empowerment when they engage in the experience of asking and learning. And when they answer other students’ questions on the site, they are fulfilling Standard 3, to responsibly participate in the digital world (ISTE Standards, 2018).
Beyond aligning with the ISTE Standards for Educators, the program Socratic promotes thinking and reasoning skills, as supported in Bloom’s Taxonomy (Armstrong, 2018). As a tool, Socratic utilizes four of the levels: knowledge, comprehension, application and analysis. Students approach Socratic with a question about knowledge and in a matter of moments, acquire material for comprehension, which they then can apply to further homework problems. As they work through the step-by-step explanations and apply it to their knowledge, they analyze and grow in their knowledge and academic abilities. With Socratic, this growth can happen quickly. A teacher in a classroom cannot always meet individual needs at this pace.
Finally, Socratic promotes self-directed learning; in short, it motivates students. According to Lehman and Conceicao (2014) technology “can make it possible to save time, travel, and cost” (p. 11). Students need support to engage and advance in a class and when the affordances of technology make learning available everywhere and anytime, students are motivated. Because they are in control, their self-efficacy grows (Lehman & Conceicao, 2014). With the help of Socratic, students can know that help is available when they need it, encouraging them to prepare better for classes
Socratic is an innovative program that helps students get immediate help and explanations for troubling homework problems. It also helps parents gain confidence that they, too, can assist their child when they need to review content to help. When used for appropriate purposes, Socratic is a positive asset for students and their parents. Discussions may need to happen regarding inappropriate uses of the website. It is for the occasional struggle, not the ongoing assignments in full. It is for knowledge growth, not for plagiarism or cheating. It is somewhat social, which “helps solidify information in the brain in a very different (and sometimes more effective way) than working alone” (McQuillen. 2018).
Because Socratic is improved every day (Pullen, 2017), users benefit more from this technology option. The resources from which it draws can be increased at will, as well. The affordances of such a broad connectivity multiply accordingly. This is good for students who are using it of their own volition, but could Socratic be an option for teachers? It could, but only with some modification. When students engage with Socratic, there is no record of how often they use it or what for. There is no proof that students are comprehending the explanations or are able to transfer that knowledge to similar problems. The Socratic team could include a couple of new features. One could be supplementary problems that imitate the one involved in the question. Student knowledge would deepen as concepts are applied to more problems. Another feature could chart engagement of students which could be shared perhaps via email with instructors. That way, students could learn and earn respectability from peers and teachers, show their increasing sophistication of skills and even perhaps receive extra credit!
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Tools for Secondary Education majors to consider
Because I teach General Secondary Methods in my college, I am always searching for tech tools (and the appropriate pedagogical frameworks to guide the incorporation of those tools) to teach to the mixture of preservice high school teachers in my class. With my background in Language Arts education, I am particularly interested in tools to engage, enhance and extend students in this area. Tools that work for Language Arts will apply across various subject areas, fortunately, so what I can present to my class will likely be useful to most of them.
Tools that address classroom learning overall include Socratic, Socrative and Quizlet. For Language Arts specifically, I know one English teacher in the Lincoln Public Schools that relies on NoRedInk (NRI) for her vocabulary and grammar usage training. Because I already know Quizlet, I will focus on Socratic and Socrative. Since I do not know NRI at all, I will include that tool in this collection of three tech options for secondary education majors to consider.
First, Socratic is a free tool that uses artificial intelligence and info from educational sites like Khan Academy and Crash course to offer explanations for homework problems, including videos and step-by-step instructions. It offers support material for subjects across the curriculum. Students can be taught to reach out to this resource before they reach out to teachers or even peers. In this way, students learn to take control of and responsibility for their learning.
Hong, C. E., & Van Riper, I. (2016). Enhancing teacher learning from guided video analysis of literacy instruction: An interdisciplinary and collaborative approach.
Journal of Inquiry & Action in Education, 7(2), 94-110.
Using videos in education is a prominent practice and has been for many decades already. Using them for promoting growth in pre-service teachers for the understanding of teaching techniques is a newer field. Many studies now “document the use of videos for teacher development, [but] teachers’ analysis of their own videos or others is not considered a routinized practice in teacher education programs” (Hong & Van Riper, 2016, p. 94). The edTPA program has affected views on that. Because the students’ videos are critiqued by nationally trained specialists, the scores are valid. Teacher colleges ought, then, to teach their candidates to evaluate themselves on video, and then collaborate with peers and instructors to check their own analyses (Hong & Van Riper, 2016). The studies that have been done on this process “are consistent, suggesting that video-recorded lessons facilitate teacher learning, challenge teachers’ existing knowledge and skills, and enable teachers to reflect on their instruction in order to make changes and positively impact the learning of their students” (p. 96).
This article described a study where instructors and students from two different fields worked together to use video to train pre-service and veteran teachers. They watched videos of teachers working with students who struggled with reading issues. Those who watched it learned not only about teaching literacy, but about teaching those with disabilities. Both the language arts and special education departments collaborated to provide videos, to watch said videos, and then, as groups, to discuss what was learned. One result the authors gleaned was to provide better training for those viewing videos. Observers need guiding questions and then time to reflect individually and collectively. Results showed that 92 percent of the participants learned important skills to improve their own teaching, though the veteran teachers went deeper in their reflections than novice teachers, which was understandable (Hong & VanRiper, 2016).
A study such as this took the research in the field a new and valuable direction, from just watching videos and writing a reflection, to being trained to analyze more effectively, to sharing knowledge collectively, and to applying the knowledge to their own varied classrooms. No research had been done that focused on all three aspects: viewing one’s own teaching, viewing published authentic classrooms on video, and viewing other teachers’ at work, and then doing analysis with guidance and collaboration (Hong & VanRiper, 2016).
While the authors were excited to be taking research in this field to new places, they admitted that other questions need to be asked: “Did the teacher candidates try the techniques they observed? Were they able to modify and adapt the strategies they liked easily?…Was their application practical within the classroom setting?” (Hong & VanRiper, 2016, p. 106). The need to look beyond college into the first job is the call here. I would like to do that in my own research project. I want to look at the use of training videos and their effects in practicum experiences, in the student teaching semester, and into the first job opportunity. Teacher colleges such as the one I work for already collect data on this. The data just need to be strengthened somewhat, organized, compared, and analyzed better to find results to these questions.
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Literacy, 54(1) (September 2010), 61-63.
Steinkuehler (2015) described a novel approach to studying the effect of video games on students and concluded that video games are “important literary practices” (63), much to the disagreement of parents and teachers who see video games as distasteful distractions. Period. Quite by accident, during her afterschool lab time created to study boys and gaming and the disconnect from school, Steinkuehler met “Julio.” Through that acquaintance, she learned that when a boy is allowed “to choose what to read, he [may] read four grades above his diagnosed reading level, not three grades below,” as was happening to Julio in his English class. His English teacher decided he was troubling for her and sent him for testing in special education. Steinkuehler concluded that the English classroom had become a female domain and that students were being forced to love only what the teacher loved — a demand that Julio and others like him were not going to meet.
Even though the article offered no compromise with parents, teachers and especially English teachers, the point was well made that boys, in particular, may do well in school only when they have choice in their content. Technology that could be used to engage boys and hopefully open the way to academic development should be encouraged. Studies that highlighted just such a practice would be supportive of the stance taken in this article.
As an English teacher, I stand guilty as charged (by Steinkuehler, anyway). I have given very few choices to students as to what they would prefer to read, considering that an option for their spare time. The classroom curriculum was outlined for me and I complied. I did not include video games or other more creative technology to engage disinterested boys, for example. Looking back, I wish I had. There were more unengaged boys in my classes than otherwise. I knew they weren’t reading, and their grades reflected their choices. The opportunity to reach them is lost now, but I can encourage my teacher candidates to be more open to how technology (namely video games, for the sake of this discussion) could enhance their future classroom curricula.