Thursday, March 31, 2016


Once a month or so, various colleagues share articles suggesting that note-taking via pen and paper is superior to note-taking through a laptop. Here is one such article from Scientific American. Here is an abstract of another article which argues the same thing.

I get the frustration. I really do. Currently, I am teaching a history course in a somewhat traditional ("reading and discussion") way. My department chair wants all students in the grade to have a broadly similar experience across the 3 teachers who are teaching the 5 sections, so while I tinker some at the margins and embed tech and (some) student choice in assignments, my class is not much different from my colleagues' classes.

During class, I admit and confess to wondering what my students are doing behind their screens. And when I check their notes, I am not always impressed. Now there are obvious avenues that are worth thinking about further (such as teaching mind-mapping tools, teaching kids to use apps such as evernote, thinking more about the difference between taking notes with a stylus and tablet vs. typing) . Yet, that's for another blog-post.

I have donated to a kick-starter campaign for RocketBook Wave which seems to marry the best of traditional note-taking with the organization and search-functions that technology affords. I hope to someday use this tool with my students.

as Alfie Kohn, Will Richardson and many others point out worksheet generators, Flubaroo, Kahoot, electronic whiteboards, plagiarism software,  etc...allow schools to do exactly what schools did 25 years ago. Yes, note-taking is an important skill. So is looking up information. I acknowledge this. But technology COULD let us do things we never could do before.

Also, I've written recently about the forgetting curve. Basically, if no attempt is made to retain information, we forget it. So, how much does it really matter how well we remember information SHORT TERM, if it is disappears anyhow?

So, what is a the appropriate response the next time I get an article such as the ones I link to above?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Letting Parents See Behind the Curtain and Using Literature Circles

I did a spring cleaning of sorts and moved a bunch of stuff off of my iPad. Some I uploaded to Google Drive and YouTube. I removed much from my iCloud storage as well. I had been paying 99 cents a month for extra storage. The cheap price let me be lazy. But why pay anything at all when free is also an option?

Anyhow, what I really wish to share is this video I came across while "spring cleaning".  I made it last year for the parents of my 5th grade students. I was trying to give them a glimpse into class. I like this video for many reasons:

  • It explains far better than anything in writing ever could what is going on in class. (As a side note, as an elementary school teacher I communicated weekly with parents. As a high school teacher, I've only emailed them twice. I have to be better.)
  • It reminds me that the best teaching usually isn't teacher centered. This video highlights Literature Circles.
  • Literature Circles is a technique/ learning format which allow students to choose from a variety of good books, not everyone is reading the same thing.
  • Literature Circles has kids assume different roles requiring different cognitive and executive skills. Twice a week, the children would talk about their assigned books through the lenses of a defined role. Some children were tasked to direct the discussion, other children were “word wizards” and had to define challenging words present in the text, still others were directed to serve as “literary luminators” and had to pick passages that they particularly liked and explain what they liked about the writing. 
  • I clearly remember that as I circulated around the room, I was so impressed at how engaged the children were in their discussions. Sometimes good teaching is getting out of the way.
  • If I may say so myself, I think the video is well made.
Takeaway? Good kid-centered teaching doesn't require tech. But tech allowed me to share what I was doing in class in ways I never could before.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

History Tests and History Tests

Last week I gave my students four choices from which they could choose as a summative assessment.
-About 20% of them took a traditional test.
-About 40% of them took an open internet, open text, open everything "test". They had to write an original argument on the net effect of the Protestant Reformation.
-About 40% made a listicle or comic summarizing the main events of the 16th century.  Below is one of the comics my students' made. The girl who made this used ComicLife. It looks quite nice, doesn't it?

More importantly, I wonder which of these assignments will be the "stickiest"? Which one will allow for long-term knowing? We know that the forgetting curve is a very real thing. Of course, this begs the question, why are we so worried that kids have to know things when odds are they will forget most of it no matter what we do? Why not build research and thinking skills into our formative assessment.

I still worry that all of my students did not choose to take the traditional test. I did tell them that the entire 9th grade gets a final (not designed by me) and that it will formatted as a traditional test and that I was concerned that they may not have enough practice in taking them. However, I think it is interesting that when given a choice, most students chose not to take the test. I stacked the deck in a way in favor of the test. It really was the easiest option. (I even gave them a study guide!)

I still don't have all the answers to these questions. Still, I was very pleased by the results.

Friday, March 18, 2016

I Don't Believe it

I just came across this today. No way. This just can't be true.  Progessive educators do themselves no favors when we cite "studies" such as these. Yes, I totally agree that doing and teaching others will lead to greater retention than listening to a lecture. But isn't one at all suspicious but the neat increments of increase this chart shows? 

I did I bit of digging and found this article. It seems my hunch was right. I wonder how much received wisdom is equally questionable. 

Teaching for Values

I I teach in an independent school which is guided by powerful vision and mission statements. For instance, we say our goal is to "peacefully transform the world." Can one get any loftier than that? Many other schools, both public and private, from the university level to the elementary level have phrases that aim at similar lofty goals.

Yes, I think that much of what my school attempts to create for students is in the ethos of the place. We have a religious and spiritual service at the center of our school week. Teachers go out of their way to create bonds with their students. We celebrate service at our school. We offer a remarkable array of rich and varied club offerings, many of which foster civic engagement and public service.


Yet, so little of what we seemingly value makes its way into our formal curriculum even while it is implicit in our hidden curriculum. Our history, math, science, and foreign language curricula are largely similar to the nearby public and private schools while our mission and vision statements indeed distinguish us. This disconnect between what we say we value and how we have students spend 90% of their day hardly makes us unique, I expect. Why is this?  I'm not sure I have the answer to this.

One of my goals moving forward, especially as I begin to teach an International Relations course to 11th and 12th graders is to imbue the course with the values my school says it fosters and thus celebrates.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Will Richardson

+Will Richardson , a leader in ed 2.0 argues in a recent article that we should stop innovating in schools. Huh? I've been an avid follower of Richardson's since being in an early Powerful Learning Practices Cohort way back in 2009. I read his blogs and wiki book way back when I still used books to figure out how to leverage the Internet. So what's behind his clickbait plea? Has he abandoned the cause? Say it ain't so, Will.

No, he hasn't. But he points out something very basic. Innovation isn't about the LMS a school adopts. Nor is it in the iPads, Chromebooks, or whiteboards. Richardson posits that, "Innovation in schools of any type needs to start with the idea that the goal is not to force kids to abandon their passions and interests for our curriculum when they come to school, which is what we currently do."

It's a provocative read. Check it out. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Religion, Reformation and Relevance- Teaching Luther and a Class Activity using Tech 2.0.

So... I'm teaching the Protestant Reformation to a 9th graders in our Religions and Revolutions World History Class. Did you know this is the 500th anniversary of that event? More than 2/3rd of my students are not Christian (or are Christian in that Santa Claus comes at Christmas). Only five students in my class indentify as practicing Christians. Three are Protestant. Names like Calvin, Luther, Zwingli and Menno mean little to nothing at all to most of my students. Yet, the Reformation sparked a revolution that is felt (for better and for worse right down to this day). To most of these students, the past is irrelevant.

How to make this seem important? I tried to put my students in Luther's shoes. I pointed out the roots of the words Protestant Reformation. I wanted to tie his protest and reform to issues students care strongly about today.

So, after studying about Luther and his reforms I created a Google Presentation via Slides. Each student was assigned a blank slide. On the slide they had to pick a contemporary issue they wanted to protest and then reform and explain why. I then posted the presentation on the class blog. Students then had to respond to at least two other students' posts.

I liked the activity. It wasn't a game-changer. I've given better lessons and I have used technology in more creative ways. But I liked the collaborative aspect of this. I like that we have a digital artifact. Finally, my hope was to make Luther's protest seem more real.

Here is what my students came up with:

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