Why I don’t believe in putting marbles into jars

Anna Palmer was not happy with my recent review of Marble Jar. She wrote a rebuttal to the review here and it led me to ponder the underlying reason for my dissatisfaction with it.

In my review I focused on the technical aspects – for an app that advertises itself as being iPad ready it really isn’t though I imagine it works as it should on the iPhone – and touched on its added value as an app, which I felt was small as it doesn’t do anything a real container and marbles can do.

The more Anna tries to show me workarounds for the technical difficulties via blog comments and the more she tries to point me towards others who gave her positive feedback about Marble Jar on twitter, the more I feel as if I am being told – look, you made a mistake with your review. See, other people like it! The way I see it, it’s ok for me to not like the app and it’s ok for others to like it. A review is based on a variety of things, a big one being opinion.

Let me give you some background as to how I formed my opinion – the underlying reasons for my dissatisfaction with Marble Jar. Fundamentally, they point towards my essential beliefs to do with teaching and learning: the appropriate use of technology to enhance learning and the fostering of logical consequences rather than reward systems.

The appropriate use of technology to enhance learning
What do I mean by that? Some of the answer touches on a recent question I posed around using technology with children. In that post, I described how unsettled I was by my young son’s vacant gaze as he stared at a slide show in a waiting room. I was reminded of that in a comment to my review of Marble Jar, “As we know, for better or worse, kids love the screen.” If the only reason we are using something is due to its technological novelty it will soon lose its glamour. I still do not see how tapping virtual marbles into a jar on a screen can enhance learning about goal setting. As I conclude in my post (and comments) about children and tech, it is essential for me to ensure that technology is used purposefully, mindfully, and not merely for the wow factor. For me, technology is about making connections in ways that we otherwise can not. This app simply doesn’t do that.

The use of logical consequences and external reward systems

At the heart of this app is the setting of goals and the actions that are necessary to achieve the goals: essentially a behaviour modification program based on action and reward – an example given on the app’s website is if I brush my teeth x amount of times I will be able to go on a camping trip. This is no different than using real jars of marbles (or stickers on a chart or any other tracking system) in which I don’t believe, either. Why does a child have to perform unrelated activities in order to earn the right to go camping(or whatever their goal is)? And what does marbles (or stickers) have to do with it? The consequence of brushing your teeth is that you’ll have good oral hygiene and has nothing to do with camping. These are not logical consequences and don’t jive with my belief system around that. Motivation theories all point towards the concept that in order for real change to happen motivation needs to be intrinsic – coming from inside. When we try to get people (kids) to do certain actions while holding an unrelated goal as a carrot, we are more often than not either a) disappointed that the child gave up before achieving their goal and/or b) not teaching anything transferable about motivating oneself to achieve anything. Indeed, the child is working for the reward and each subsequent reward often needs to be bigger and better for the child not to get tired of it. Again, no logical connection between the what (brushing the teeth) and the why (going camping), and certainly not the how of it all (putting virtual marbles into a virtual jar).

Having written all of this I know that there are many people who do believe in the use of external reward systems to get all kinds of things done. For them, this app may very likely be useful. For me, based on my beliefs around learning, it isn’t.

I’d love to hear what others think about this!

Marble Jar: A review of the new goal setting app

A representative from Marble Jar sent me an email about 2 weeks back asking if I could review their new app for the iPhone and iPad. After a bit of back and forth getting me a promo code for the app and my little holiday to beat the heat with Jack in my parents’ air conditioned home, I am back at home and ready to write the review.

I’m writing this as I play with the app on my iPad. I don’t have an iPhone so this review will focus on the iPad experience.

It’s disappointing that the app is optimized for use on the iPhone as opposed to the iPad. As such, it is a phone sized display on a black background, the text input is phone sized as well. I evidently need to cut my nails as I kept hitting the wrong letters while logging in. It also does not change orientation. My preferred iPad orientation is landscape and it is only offered in portrait.

Creating an account is an easy process and once logged in, I am taken to my ‘shelf’ where there are already some jars with example goals, such as ‘calm mom’ and ‘morning routine’ to inspire my own goals. These can be edited or I can add a new jar if I need to.

marble jar

At the bottom of the app screen, there are 3 icons – tips, add jar, and settings. Tapping on ‘tips’ brings me to a screen where I can learn how to use the app. I’m not sure if this is because of the iPhone size on iPad or not but when I tap on any of the 3 options: ‘Parenting on Track’, ‘Using Marble Jar’, or ‘Setting up a Jar’, I am only provided with a partial ‘tip’, it ends in mid-sentence and no amount of tapping or scrolling gets me any more info. The ‘Shake to Refresh’ instruction doesn’t seem to work either. I’ve given this iPad shakes ranging from the delicate to the hardy and nothing refreshes.

I suppose I could go to the website to find out how to use it but I really shouldn’t have to.

So I start to play around with adding a jar and creating goals and actions. It is pretty easy to figure out, though it took me 2 tries to realize that I could slide a slider to a max of 30 to require more than one marble to fill my marble jar :) Once a jar is filled, there is a little audio celebration.

And that is pretty much it. All in all – not a great app for the iPad as

a) it doesn’t seem to work properly (missing parts of tips, no shake to refresh action)
b) it is really too small for the iPad.

The overall concept of creating goals with actions to achieve those goals is a nice one. I can see some kids really liking the idea of getting to put a marble into a virtual jar on their parent’s phone as an action is achieved as opposed to having to wait until they got home to a real life marble jar. However it is too easy to put in more than one marble by accident (I did it twice while playing with it just now) and a real, physical jar of marbles (or bag of marbles if one wants to keep it in a purse) that we can touch and see is more motivating. Kids like to touch and hold. It makes the attainment of goals more tangible.

So all in all, I’m not a huge fan of this app and won’t be using it. But you should play with it for yourself, it may be for you. It will cost you $2.99 in the iTunes app store, link at the top of the page.

Looking Back: Stop talking about classrooms that don’t work

As part of my Looking Back series, the sentiments I articulated in this post from August 21st, 2010 are still very alive for me. There are classrooms that work, that work very well. Click on the title below to go to the original post with its comments.

Here is an example of a ‘traditional’ classroom in Japan (scroll down to ‘Inspiration in a Japanese elementary school’). Can you imagine if these students did not have this place? What a shame that would be.


Stop talking about classrooms that don’t work

This morning I read a thoughtful post about what ADD may or may not be. Despite the timeliness and depth of thought present in the article, I was stricken by one paragraph about the perils of classrooms on our children. How our young children today, so rife with creative potential, are doomed to a future of diagnosis and boredom because they will be subjected to school.

I was not only stricken but insulted.

Does all of the work that I and many of my colleagues have done over the past years have no bearing on the future of education? Do all of those teachers out there in schools all over the world who care about their children not count?

I feel we need to get beyond the system is broken kind of thinking and focus on what is working. We see what we look for and if we keep focusing on a broken system we will only succeed in creating more broken system.

Instead of creating a doomsday effect by telling ominous stories of the proliferation of ‘traditional’ classrooms that stifle creativity and connectivity, I prefer to point towards learning that does the opposite, learning that works and educators who ‘get it’.

George Couros
Michael Doyle
Lori Centerbar
Kevin Hodgson
Glenn Moses
Linda Clinton
Elona Hartjes
Darren Kuropatwa
Kelly Hines
Karen S.
Dea Conrad-Curry
Zac Chase
Angela Maiers
Chris Lehmann
Jose Vilson
Damian Bariexca
J. M. Holland


You get the point. There are good educators who foster good learning in good classrooms in good schools. I keep this in mind as I work towards hope for the future within (and without) the walls of my own school.

Guest Post: Web-Based Assistive Technologies are Expanding the World for All Users

Lindsey Wright writes for the education resource OnlineSchools.org She has written a piece for Leading from the Heart on how web-based assistive technologies can bring us closer to equal access to education.

Thanks, Lindsey :)

**please note, the points in this article are based on US law concerning peoples with disabilities.**

Web-Based Assistive Technologies are Expanding the World for All Users

Although the law requires it, few educational programs provide truly equal access to resources. This means that individuals with a variety of disabilities are missing out on programs from which they might derive a great deal of benefit. I have found this to be especially true in regard to web-based programs.

In many ways the Internet has revolutionized the educational process. Nowadays it is possible for students to attend an online school  across town or even on the other side of the planet. This allows all sorts of educational institutions to keep enrolment numbers up and even provides these schools with more revenue. The downside is that few of these web-based distance learning programs offer any kind of reasonable accessibility for learners with disabilities ranging from blindness to mobility issues.

Although most online classes are offered at a college level, I can make the argument that children who require assistive technology to keep up in elementary and secondary school also tend to get short shrift when it comes to web-based courses that could, with just a few minor adjustments, become the sorts of programs that encourage inclusiveness for all students.

The reason that many students with disabilities have difficulty using web-based learning resources is that these tools are often not designed with these students in mind. This lack of planning leads to what are better know as gratuitous barriers. These barriers are a feature of programs that serve no particular purpose, yet effectively bar students with disabilities from using them.

However, if a few small adjustments are made it can become easy for students with various impairments to engage in online learning. For instance, including an equivalent audio program for students with reduced sight capabilities might quickly and easily transform a relatively inaccessible program into a viable alternative. Additionally, designing online courses that feature text sizes that can easily be manipulated can benefit not only those students who are sight-challenged, but students who have issues with motor skills as well. Larger text makes it easier to make certain selections. Sometimes the only barrier to a student being able to use a particular program is as simple, basic, and easy to solve as that.

Online education can be hugely beneficial to all students, increasing each learner’s knowledge base tenfold. Yet for these programs to benefit the largest number of students accommodations must be built in at the beginning stages of development. I firmly believe that this is one of the best ways to ensure accessibility for all learners smoothly and without a great deal of extra expense. For learners who have severe mobility issues, the Internet can provide an especially valuable window on the world. Not only can learners who cannot otherwise attend school have the opportunity to study but they can also make interpersonal connections with other students around the world who may be dealing with similar issues and can share their experiences and knowledge freely.

More students with motor disabilities are gaining access to specialized keyboards. Many of these keyboards feature larger keys or place them in a variety of configurations to make them eminently usable for a wide range of users. I have also discovered that some users benefit from the use of an onscreen keyboard that they manipulate through the use of a pointer or joystick. Furthermore, other students with sight impairments are being supplied with screen readers that can send internet content to a word synthesizer or a display of Braille. Even students with mild learning disabilities are discovering word completion software and other tools that can help them use the Internet as a powerful learning tool.

Each of these new technologies breaks down barriers and makes the world accessible through the portal of the Internet. Although some may require extra expense, I have discovered that many of these innovations are already built in to the keyboards most people own or can be downloaded at little or no cost. For instance, users who have relatively new keyboards can turn on certain functionalities like sticky keys, filter keys, and mouse keys that make it easier for users with disabilities to use a regular keyboard. This may not be a reasonable accommodation for all users, but it can certainly benefit a large portion of the population.

Technologies meant to improve internet access for people with disabilities are developing rapidly and I believe they will continue to do so for many years to come. As the Internet continues to expand its breadth and depth, so too will the accommodations for users with disabilities continue to expand and grow more sophisticated. I believe very firmly that users with all sorts of different capabilities can utilize web-based programs to increase their knowledge and make connections with other learners around the world. It is, I think, the next step to creating a barrier-free planet, where everyone is free to roam wherever their imaginations allow.

Sunday Synectic: How do you spell ‘love’?

Pooh & Piglet
Pooh and Piglet Blow Wishes. Image found here.

Piglet: “Pooh, how do you spell LOVE?”
Pooh: “You don’t spell it Piglet, you FEEL it.”

How can this relate to your current teaching practice? (or whatever it is you happen to practice.)