Just too long

At the beginning of the semester I worked with 8th grade students to identify issues they see in the world that “need fixing.” Using the well known brainstorm, the class came up with a list of ideas and they were to choose one from the list and research it. After research they created many different forms of media to let the world know what is going on. That is a really brief description because that isn’t the point of this post. The real point is that they have had far too long to complete their work.

To change this, I am going to do either one week or two week work sessions next semester.

Contrived doesn’t mean exciting or engaging

I observe students everyday as they learn and work.  A pedagogical stance of mine is that learning is to be authentic if learning is to occur at all.  Contrived instances or made up schemes seem not to have an impact as I predict they do.  Fairy tale learning atmospheres are thought to increase student motivation and generate a drive for learning. This has not been the case.

 

We brainstorm

Planning for learning is essential.  Assuming a teacher uses backwards design and that he/she plans with someone else, though someone may prefer planning as an individual.  When presented with something new a student has to learn, the teacher thinks of the best possible engaging learning experience possible.  Now, sometimes it is down right boring and that is a fact of life, but I do not believe there is a teacher out there who does not want his/her students really be into learning.  I brainstorm as many ideas as I can that would excite a student to learn.  With best laid intentions and a computer to type with, I compose a lesson plan that is astounding in terms of its creativity and learning potential.  The day comes and I deliver the instruction and you know what I quickly learn?

 

What I thought happened not

Here is a great example of what I thought was engaging was a complete flop.  I wanted students to see a problem in the district where I live and problem was that the town could use a new source of revenue.  Keep in mind this is my problem….the one I said is a problem.  So, in PBL style, I create an exciting opening event.  I made a Prezi, downloaded a snippit of the “Rocky” anthem and as students walk in I was playing it out and acting excited.  By the way, eighth graders do not get excited, and they were not excited or even interested in the Prezi that was playing and anthem.  I realized at that point, it flopped and my contrived instance of engagement went up in a puff of smoke.  I thought I developed an engaging opening sequence.  I thought I would capture their attention.  I thought and I thought and I thought.  My thoughts and planning didn’t do anything.

 

Contrived learning

When was the last time you learned something in a contrived atmosphere?  For instance, buying groceries thinking you have the metal cart under budget but the display as clerk shows the real dollars and sense blowing the food budget?  Or, when was the last time you painted a room only to find you were a gallon short and had to back to the store to get another gallon?  These are real life learning experiences that happen in real time and space.  Should learning be denigrated to contrived instances that have no meaning for students?  Nope.

 

My new plan of action

As I quickly realize the degree to which students do not connect real life to content, I must change how I go about teaching and learning.  In order for me to be an effective teacher I have to allow the feedback students are giving me to change how I go about my practice.  There is no better giver of new teaching tact than a student(s) reaction to my teaching.  If they aren’t into, I am going to have a very hard time getting them learn.  So, my new plan of action is to get a feel for what students want to learn about by proposing some ideas to them allowing them to have choice and then embed the instruction in their content preference.

 

inFORMATIVE Measures

One of the things that really excites me about learning is knowing when I have really learned something new. I know I’ve learned something when I incorporate this new piece of learning into my problem solving and critical thinking. So, as a teacher, how do I know when my students are learning and have learned content? Since I can’t get inside of their heads, I have to rely on formative assessments to tell me how much is being learned, and let this direct my teaching.

20th Century formative measures In 20th Century learning, teachers use paper and pencil having kids answer a few questions, collect them, scramble through them to figure out who isn’t learning, pull those students for intervention, while having something for the kids to do who are getting it. Another strategy is to have kids raise their hands answering questions hoping every student is really telling the truth. Both options are difficult.

21st Century formative measures In this digital age, teachers have the opportunity to leverage technology to their advantage to gain insight into what students have learned. Students have wireless devices today that may be an iPod, iPhone, iPad, Nook, Kindle, Android or laptop, and, because they have these, it gives teachers the opportunity to gather accurate information quicker, easier, and with greater efficiency. These formative measures can be embedded within instruction giving teachers flexibility when to use it. Using technology gives us instant feedback allowing for responsive teaching vs. reactive teaching. By this I mean that formative measures share quick, reliable data helping us give responsive intervention as soon as it is needed rather than wait until the next day when the learning moment is past. Dylan Wiliam, author of “Embedded Formative Assessment” shares his view on formative assessment.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3HRvFsZHoo&w=520&h=315]

Kevin Rich, English Language Arts teacher at Lakeridge Junior High School, wrote a guest blog about formative assessment in writing.  While this post is not about writing, it is about how to do this easily.  His second point brings simplicity to an embedded formative measure:

Don’t try to do too much with any single formative assessment.  Feedback is most effective if it’s given during the writing process.  That means that formative assessment must be very quick and easy for me as a teacher.  By formatively assessing just one or two skills or standards that I taught that day, I can diagnose which students have a lack of understanding as they are writing.

Formative Measure Tools
Getting caught up in measuring every part of your lesson is unrealistic.  So, the measurement tool has to be relatively easy too.  Below are a list of tools that can be used in class and are free.
  1. Tool 1 – Mentimeter  > Interact with your students letting them give you valuable feedback.
  2. Tool 2 – Quiz Star  > Free quiz maker for all teachers.
  3. Tool 3 – Twtpoll  > This is a free or you can pay for powerful features.  Create polls that others can interact with using Twitter.
  4. Tool 4 – polls.io  >
  5. Toll 5 – Edmodo  > This is a free LMS for teachers to help connect them in powerful ways by joining communities.  Once a member, quizzes can be created for students to take which can be either formative or summative.
  6. Tool 6 – Google Form  > Create a Google account and use Forms to create formative measures.
  7. Tool 7 – Socrative  > Engage students in a variety of ways in class to gather important information about what they are learning.
  8. Tool 8 – cel.ly  > Not only can you create cells for students to work within, but polls can be created for formative assessment.  Results of polls are stored for teachers to go back and review.
  9. infuselearning – This is a great site to collective formative data about your students. Not only do you have the normal types of questions – i.e. true/false, matching, and MC – but you have the ability to add in a draw response too!
What To Do Now
Preview the eight tools above to determine which one suits you better.  I have used Google Forms, Edmodo, and cel.ly and like all three.  Whatever one you choose to use, start slow.  Choose one lesson where you can use it easily, match it up to a learning standard, and use it.  The great part about using BYOD as a response system is that the data you get can be stored so you can create an anthology of learning about every student over the course of a school year.  When it is time to communicate with parents, teachers, or administrators, you can bring your data with you to show learning progress.  Having this kind of data kept over time also allows you to determine the effectiveness of RTI.

Help!

Help!

As research and projects are moving forward in my 8th grade tech classes, I am finding students have a hard time asking for help from a content expert. I think, in part, it is being shy, but I also think this has to do with not thinking in this kind of way before and doing asking. I’ll be honest, I have a hard time with this too because I am not used to reaching out to ask another person for help with the Web as the resource. Somehow it is taboo. As I am helping my students get comfortable reaching out to others who can help them, I am getting used to the idea too.

The Web is filled with all kinds of folks who are good and bad – no secret there. I cannot be afraid of all of the bad otherwise I negate the good that can come from using people resources there. This is what I am trying to teach my students. The good that can be found outweighs the bad.

Something else I noticed today was how ill practiced students are at real world – professional if you will – working. One of the girls was going to write an email to Dr. Joel Haber who started the respectu website for anti-bullying. She had a really difficult time remembering and using normal letter format. As we went step by step through the process of writing this email, it dawned on me that students know full well how to write a letter in class having practiced it but have difficulty applying it in a real world context.

This is the crux of what I am trying to teach – real world learning and working.

Content before cool stuff

I began class yesterday by asking the kids what they felt was really cool to do in technology class. This question was prompted by an email from one of my students. In the email the student asked if he could create a video game using software received from a camp he attended this summer. So, to begin class yesterday, I asked this student if he wouldn’t mind sharing his idea with the class about creating a video game. Post student explanation, the entire class wanted to make a game and I was totally cool with it! Before they can make the game, I had to explain how I view learning.

I view learning as having two essential tools and the two are dependent upon one another. The first tool is content. Content cannot be ignored or pushed to the side. Without content, or what is being taught, getting to the product can’t happen. Teaching content doesn’t have to be boring. Boring is standing in front of the class with the teacher talking, students listening and taking notes. One method of contextual learning that I am a big fan of is Project Based Learning (PBL). The Buck Institute for Education says this:

In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking).

Before I move on, another good resource for PBL is edutopia. You will find resources to help plan for and implement project based learning. The other tool a student needs are the products to demonstrate learning. The products are the cool part of what I do because kids can get online and create some really cool stuff, but they can’t create the product without the content, so the two are married.

No Guidelines, No Work

What makes for great collaboration? Great collaboration is ideal when all parties have a vested interest in the work they are doing. Parties may be interested in collaborating to create a great product. Other groups are forced to work with each other and collaboration is minimal. An observation I have is that when students get to choose their own groups minimal work gets done. Reasons?

  1. Friends want to be friends and be social.
  2. There is little accountability because friends may not want to upset one another.

Taking some time to think about this I found that groups need guidelines. Before I go further, I know this but I made an assumption that eighth grade students would know these guidelines and follow them. Not the case today.

Tomorrow will bring guidelines for students to follow.

Tech snafu

Having a computer has its advantages. I can have kids access information at a moment’s notice to find something worth looking up, or at least something I think is worth looking up, have software pre-installed, and complete needed activities. Would you ever imagine it would be disadvantage?

I had an interesting experience today that, while frustrating, taught me a great deal about helping kids learn with a computer in front of them. First, students don’t see the computer as a gateway to finding unlimited resources and information. I’ll ask a question and a response might be, “Where am I going to find the answer to that?” I might be coy and say inside your head, but it is a striking picture of forgotten ubiquitous technology. I am not saying that a student wouldn’t turn to it to find information at some point. I am saying that it was startling to note how many students need a reminder it is there. Often I over estimate student’s abilities to use a computer and to use it well. I was reminded of this when I was helping 6th graders gain access to the web or help them locate software. Shouldn’t they already know this stuff? Finally, I learned that if I am prepared, which I was prepared for the final class today (I was ready for the previous 3 but tech snafu’s always catch me off guard), that high quality learning takes place, yet to reach that high quality I really had to push the very boxed in thinking students have today in the classroom. As advantageous as computers are, and they really are, there are the disadvantages.

Learning Space

I find it peculiar that students get confused by working in learning spaces online. This is their first time doing so in a wiki and the interface throws them a bit, but that isn’t what I am I getting at. They simply find it odd to work together in a social context when the word school is involved. I think of many ways students might interact with each other digitally, likely in similar ways, and yet it is just odd for them to do so here. Just a reflection for the day.

The week went well and progress was made on the fronts of setting up web browsers, getting usable apps that can be used for productivity and fun, and the kids had a chance to start working together in their own learning spaces. It was a good week and I am looking forward to next.