Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Mind the Gap

In my World History class I did a  lesson today which I really liked and will review below. After finding the activity on GapMinder , I shared it with my class and we all liked for a lot of reasons: 
  1.  It helped broaden my students' view of the world.
  2. It was interactive and fostered communication and community.
  3. It told a very hopeful story, which is nice to hear in this age of uncertainty. 
  4. It generated a great conversation about how to display data in an interesting, informative and visual way. There are a lot of tools that help with this. This image of Napoleon's retreat is probably the most famous data visualization of which I know. 
After asking students to rank 16 countries from around the world by how developed they were, I showed them the interactive timeline I link to below. We watched the rise of China, saw the effect of the Industrial Revolution and World Wars, and traced the success story that is the world of the past 200 years. A very lively discussion ensued. I then showed students this video. I love the way Robling announces this data with as if he was commentating on a football match or horse race. I like how data, if presented the right way, can tell a story far more powerful than text alone.

This gets me to thinking about the synergy we could and should create between the humanities, the digital humanities, the sciences and the arts. The main media for communication these days are not text alone. We need to be better (myself included) about teaching kids how to highlight their findings via a visual medium. 

If you are looking for a rock-solid, one-off lesson or a solid supplement to a broader lesson, I strongly recommend this lesson from Gapminder.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Repost using Adobe Spark

To vet the tool before giving it to my students, I made an Adobe Spark of a recent blog post
I like the visuals and potential for interactivity this tool allows for. My next assignment for my new 9th grade class will include this as an option. Take a look at how Adobe Spark dresses up my blog post from the other day. I'm definitely going to use this tool more.

Playing Expert

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Never ending Improvements to Google Suite

Google's newest sheets update will make for a better looking presentation.

Note that this rotated text allows for a better use of space in addition to a better looking use of space. If you want to fit longer headers atop smaller columns and more text on one screen, this rotate feature lets you do it.

These changes to Suite will be made over the next three days across all platforms, including IOS and Android. Nice...

Friday, February 17, 2017

Getting to Expert

Teachers are the experts. In some very real ways, we should be expert most of the time. As a history teacher, I should understand deeply my content area. But I shouldn't create a class where I have to know everything. I will have failed it I do that. Teachers shouldn't, really shouldn't set up a class where they have to be the expert all of the time. Instead, teachers should set up class in a way that encourages students to play the role of expert. Too often, a teacher has a certain idea in mind and wastes time asking when we should be telling. Instead, the questions we ask should be probing and asking students to make their own meaning and find their own answers. Of course of course, sometimes mastery of some facts matter. But how often?

How many teachers lead "discussions" where the real game is for students to guess what is in the teacher's head? "Anyone, anyone, Bueller?" Of course this scene exaggerates, but by how much? This bastardization of the Socratic method too often passes for teaching. We've all seen it. Surely in my sloppier moments, I've done it.

So, to remind myself and others, some thoughts and tips.

  • Learning shouldn't be about giving answers! 
  • The audience shouldn't always be the teacher. Have students search for meaning by talking to each other in small groups. Give a prompt that gets students to do that. Remember, calling on one student of the time means for much of the class most students are passively listening. Get them involved! This week, I had my IR students get up and walk around the room engaging in different conversations with their peers. They weren't giving me an answer, they were exploring a topic with a partner. By the way, research suggests that mobile students activate their brains far more than their sedentary counterparts. 
  • PBL. Project based learning encourages students to play the role of expert. Simulations and role plays put students into expert roles. Have students know their decisions matter.
  • With all the world's knowledge at a student's fingertips, why do teachers still think they need to do most of the talking? 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Fear or Faith/ 27th Psalm

There's so much to be worried about. Personally, professionally, politically, economically, financially, and globally these worries could consume me if I let them. For instance, my school is going through a real rough patch. We are in news nationally around a recent decision made by school's leadership. My colleagues are scared, angry, worried and nervous.

When people ask me, "How are you?" I don't want to insult them by saying, "I'm doing well." So I don't say that, I say I'm okay. I'm not dismissing their worries. My point is that I try hard to dismiss MY WORRIES! I've come to learn to let go what I can't control. It's a choice I'm able to make sometimes and the more I practice it the better I get at it. It is something I work on all the time. For instance I still have 4 and a half college tuitions to pay for. I have no idea how I will pay for it if my kids don't get a healthy amount of financial aid. I've saved as much as I'm going to be able to save. Worrying about it will make no difference.

I've had and I am having a harder time with the political situation in the United States right now. But again, beyond donating to a few causes I care about and getting involved in local politics, I can't change much. And worrying won't change it. Lincoln said- and I paraphrase- "Most people are about as happy as they make there minds up to be." He's so right. That's my point.

This is also how to approach teaching and learning and trying new things and being willing to fail. I'm a very religious person. I don't wear that faith publicly. But the 27th psalm is something I try to live by. In the time of trouble, whom shall I fear? Nothing!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Brainstorming TechStyle

Ever do the dots and brainstorming activity? I've been to more than a few professional development workshops and in-service days, and have even led a few. Dots and brainstorming is a frequent, though not unwelcome, way to gauge the sense of the group.  If you've never done it, here is how it works. First folks brainstorm ideas on large sheets of paper around the room. Then it is customary to give participants five dot stickers and have them walk around the room and put the dot next to the ideas they like the most. It works. And there is something to be said for getting people up and moving around a room. However, there is also something to be said for doing things efficiently and being able to archive and share results quickly.

Dotstorming  replaces the get up and walk around the room dot placing exercise. Last week in a workshop led by Chris McCaffrey, he shared this really great tool with us. Most of the teachers at the conference were somewhat savvy tech users. They liked using Dotstorming and saw some immediate ways to use it with their students in their classrooms.

Folks pointed out that it has some similarities to Padlet, which is one of my favorite ed tech tools . What dotstorming offers beyond Pallet is the voting feature. What I also like about it is that students can comment on any item on the page. Nice! One can embed links to YouTube videos. Finally, one can export the entire dotstorming board to a spreadsheet.

It is a super simple and easy tool to use. It doesn't do all that Pallet does but it does some things Padlet can't do. It is also much simpler to use than Padlet.

I have embedded a dotstorming wall onto this blog. Add ideas and then vote with your four dots on your favorite ideas. (I don't think you have to join to participate) but I'll know soon. I'm taking a risk here and it may not work. If the embedded wall doesn't work, try participating through the link that I provide.

Beware, dotstorming is mostly free, but more precisely it is a "freemium" service. You can only have five boards (collections of ideas) in a free account before you have to pay (or delete a board).

Update- It seems it did work! One commenter suggested that one would need a larger class to use DotStorming. For the polling feature- sure. For getting students to interact, share pictures, ideas, and for archiving student feedback, I still think this is a very solid tool.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

EdPuzzle and Google Classroom

Whether your class is flipped or not, EdPuzzle should be on your shortlist of essential tools. Why is EdPuzzle essential and so useful?

For starters, take any video from YouTube or Khan Academy (and other sites). Make any video interactive, by embedding questions right in the video.

This allows for:

  • self-paced lessons. It lets students move through content they already understand to focus on what challenges them. Students are also able to stop and review content they missed the first time the teacher taught it. 
  • students to ask questions that they too embarrassed to ask in class
  • teachers to easily add images, interactive graphs, websites and comments to a video lesson
  • students to respond to teacher posed questions
  • full integration with Google Classroom.
Take it another step. Tape yourself either during class delivering the content or in advance of class. Now your lesson is archivable and interactive in ways it never was before.

Last week, at a terrific math conference hosted by the local intermediate unit, called Google and the Student Centered Secondary Math Classroom. EdPuzzle was highlighted an essential tool for the presenters. I'll give the conference a separate post soon.

By the way, I rarely go to edpuzzle.com as I usually use the chrome extension to do my edpuzzling. It gives me all the utility I need and saves me some clicks.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Prussian Model

Bob Sornson writes a great article in Medium about the Cover and Test model of education that Horace Mann imported from Prussia in the 1840's. Check it out, it is a convincing read. He writes:
"Cover content, give tests, and sort students. Our existing system does this effectively, year after year, until a vast majority of our students have been sorted away from the love of learning, sorted away from the economic and social opportunities that are part of the age of innovation, technology, and learning..... 
As an observer and participant in this education system, the most amazing thing to me is how tenaciously we hold on to a model that offers such limited success. (my bold) 
The Cover Test Sort education model was never designed to help all students become successful learners. It may have generally served the needs of society in the late 19th and early 20th century, but ...., as learning and complex thinking skills have become more important for us to develop the academic and problem-solving skills that lead to good jobs and social opportunity, the CTS education model is failing our society.
  • All students are limited by standardized one-size-fits-all instruction, but it is a special catastrophe for vulnerable children who are less able to keep up with the pace of instruction.
  • By the beginning of fourth grade only 34 percent of American children are at proficient reading levels (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2013)
  • Only 20 percent of fourth grade children who are eligible for free or reduced lunch are at proficient reading levels (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2013)
  • Among 12th grade students — remember that a significant group of students has already dropped out by this point — 26 percent score at or above proficient levels in math, and 38 percent are proficient or better in reading (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2013)"
1943. School in 2017 in USA looks much the same. 

I'll be the first to say that many things ail American schooling. The Prussian model is only one cause of these dismal stats. Indeed, you can argue that poverty and socio-economic status play a larger role than any instructional method in the failures listed above. What I am struck by most, however, is that the solution offered to any of these problems is usually a doubling down on the Cover and Test model. Sornson is right; it is an amazingly tenacious model.  Kids aren't learning? More cover and test. Poor kids? Extra cover and test. Falling behind the Chinese?* Double down on cover and test. This system is so ingrained that most people find it hard to imagine a different model of schooling. Even worse, our schools perpetuate this. It is one of the most effective lessons we teach. Future voters and stakeholders and policy makers learn very clearly what school is "supposed" to look like. We at least teach that very, very well.

* Arguably, China seems to do cover and test well. But many consider the Finnish system to be the best in the world. The Finns to not Cover and Test.

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