Tool up with a digital tool belt

tool beltIn an age when there is a call for education transformation and heightened drive to assess students knowledge, students need more than just paper and pencil to demonstrate what they know. Paper and pencil are the technology of the past. Unfortunately teachers still require students to use this deprecated technology to take notes, write, and more. I do agree students need to write as writing brings together knowledge, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation to create a composition of original thought.

We are in an age of hyperaugmentation of thoughts and ideas using technology as the tool to create personal points of content. Available to everyone, old to young, are web technologies that allow creation of video, blogs, idea maps, images, photos, wikis, and more. Impressively, webware is expanding rapidly making it difficult to keep track of every new digital tool available. While this may seem daunting, it should not dissuade teachers from curating the best webware they can find and integrate into teaching and learning.

What then should teachers be developing alongside students so they can demonstrate how they are learning and what they have learned? A digital tool belt is needed. Teachers need to shift from traditional methods of teaching to a learnership pedagogy opening up opportunities for shared learning, leadership, and technology through purposeful change. A digital tool belt are the digital tools a student thinks about, readily has access to, and uses proficiently to create bits of content knowledge for teachers, parents, and the community to see.

Shouldn’t teachers be worrying about what kids know? No. Content knowledge can be gained anywhere at anytime using a wireless device. For students who don’t have access to one, schools can provide the Internet access needed. It is more important for students to learn how to learn becoming critical curators of the Web coupled with higher order thinking skills. Students who can curate the Web, are critical of the information in a site, and use that information to create new knowledge is the new skill teachers should be teaching.

What then should teachers teach? Real world problem solving combined with content knowledge. The heavy lifting of problem solving, critical thinking, and making clear choices through inquiry learning creates a richer and deeper learning experience. From beginning to end, students are developing their own learning while teachers are exercising learnership. Project based learning affords real world learning contexts engaging students in real life decisions using technology to communicate what is being learned.

The tools in a digital tool belt is essential for students to learn and solve today’s problems.

photo credit: tokenblogger.com via photopin cc

Mashups make meaning

As a result of teaching my students about fair use of web content, I have become enamored with mashups. For those who are not familiar with the term “mashup”, it can be a conglomeration of video, audio, or pictures that are remixed or reused in a new way to create a new composition.

Mashups can be used in education as a creative means to communicate what students have learned.

On Bloom’s Spectrum
Mashups are on the creation end of Bloom’s spectrum and require students to make a meaningful composition from multiple sources. Mashups can be about anything. Educationally, students have to perform a variety of mental gymnastics to create a meaningful, original composition about a topic to clearly communicate what is learned.

Analytical. Students must be this. They must listen to audio or view a picture or video and decide what part of it they need to create that meaningful piece of art. The parts must fit into the whole so as to give the audience a complete understanding. If a mashup can use all three mediums, or just one, the author has to be explicit about his or her intent to communicate. Pulling apart the audio, video, or image media demonstrates a student is explicit about what they want and how it fits into the whole.

Synthetical. Students must be this too. To create a conglomeration of media, a student has to be able to pull together different mediums, sounds, images, movements, and more into a coherent whole. This isn’t just about being creative, but communicating creatively bringing together a variety of clips and images from multiple sources at the same time.

Creatively. Students can work to be this. Creativity has a place with all of us. Some are gifted with this and others have to work at it. To be creative is to look at something through a different lens sharing your point of view. Creating a mashup allows the student to put together various parts as he/she wants to. It should be a given, as I have already said, that the final product should be coherent and make sense given the topic.sun mosaic

The lower end of Bloom’s taxonomy
The knowledge side of Bloom’s taxonomy is take care of automatically. A mashup cannot be created if the content is not understood or known.

How to use the mashup
You can have kids create a mashup as a way of flipping the classroom so they become familiar with concepts before you teach. Perhaps it can be thought about has a formative unit measure.

Complex concepts can be interwoven in any of the content areas allowing the student to determine how they best fit together. The weaving together of complex ideas is metacognitive processes that leads a student to question how everything relates.

Another way is to use a mashup as a summative measure to diagnose competency from novice to expert. The use of video clips and image media would be most important here because the choices that are made – what to use and what not to use – demonstrate the complexity of thinking.

Students can create a mashup to introduce who they are, interests, dislikes, family, and passions.

Mashups give freedom of choice and creativity while giving the teacher an in depth look at what a student has learned through analysis and synthesis based on the final product.

Carey, Chris. sun12.jpg. October 2006 . Pics4Learning. 16 Jan 2013

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.

 

Classbadges: Award achievement digitally

I am a fan, actually an evangelist of sorts, about using digital badges as a way of awarding and delineating levels of talent development within the classroom. I often tweet about this, especially when I am in certain chats, because of the flexibility and positive reinforcement it gives to kids. When used in conjunction with a rubric, awarding badges for talent development prizes them with a visual they can return to over and over again, and when further levels of talent are achieved, new badges are awarded. Rather than display points and a percentage, it shows success and if the student doesn’t reach the level of success they want, they work harder to achieve it. This won’t always be true, but the concept is sound based on video games kids play today.  Students who play games and cannot complete a certain level will try repeatedly to “beat” the level because it shows achievement. I recall my days playing Halo with my brother. We would choose the most difficult setting and play, for long periods of time, trying to go from one level to the next. It was exhilarating to win! Here is the kicker. We never beat the level during the first try which meant we had to go do it over and over again until we did which meant we stayed up late into the night driving my wife crazy. The reward was knowing we could move on and by moving on, we were more accomplished. Give students badges as a way of showing accomplishment gives them a real sense of what it means to achieve.

I have looked for quite some time to find a site that awards badges. One site is Edmodo and another is Classbadges. Classbadges allows a teacher to choose a visual for a badge, name it and describe it. When the student achieves the a level of achievement, a badge is awarded.

Some applications. I recently wrote a post about inFORMATIVE Measures, or ways in which a teacher can use online resources to determine learning as a way to guide instruction. If a student achieves at certain formative levels, badges can be awarded. Book badges can be awarded for so many books read or achieving reading levels. Give a badge for working as a scientist or historian in science and social studies. There are many ways you can use Classbadges to award student achievement.

Digital Storytelling

Storytelling has been around for a long time as entertainment, sharing history, teaching lessons, and providing ideas. This form of communication gives us a chance to creatively share ourselves.

Two Language Arts teachers, Joe Z.and Jenn L., asked me to compile a list of digital storytelling resources and rather than deliver it in a Google Doc or other form, I decided to make a blog post and share my findings.

Snapguide
I am approaching this post from an Internet, everyone can get it point of view. This looks really good but was disappointed it was only iOS as an app.

Simplebooklet
I came across this app in the Chrome Web Store awhile ago. What I loved about this site is that it is free, I can log in with Google, create a wide variety of digital formats, and extend its use by advanced content. There are quite a few ways to publish your booklet once you are done. A downside is the free account has ads, and it will set you back $60 a year to upgrade.

GoAnimate
I know this popular and it is no wonder! There is so much you can do with a free account. The idea is that you are making a movie by using characters, sound, a timeline, and props. By combining all of these in unique ways, the movies you make are creative, fun, serious, sad, or suspenseful. You can choose pre-made characters or make your own. A plus for me is that you can get education pricing based on the number and kids and teachers in the school. A drawback are too many choices and there tends to be a learning curve. Students of mine created movies this year and loved it! I highly recommend it!

Flipsnack
Flipsnack is a part of a larger set of online webware all ending with the word “snack.” This particular snacktool lets anyone create a digital book by uploading a PDF. Anyone creates their entire book in some other desktop publishing software, save it as a PDF, and upload and FlipSnack does the rest. A drawback is your FlipSnack book looks exactly how it was designed, so there is no editing. Because it is an online book, there are no links to click or interactive content. I had students use this last year and they really liked it.

Storify
This is one of my favorites!! Storify means to make something into a story and in this case, you use search for web information right in Storify. You can search Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google, and others. The query returns tweets, images, and text and you drop this onto the story. All elements in the story are draggable so you can reorder what you want where you want it, and you can add text underneath whatever story element you want. Once saved, you can share it with others, others can favorite your story, or it can be embedded. A downside is that it might be a bit difficult to search for some things if you don’t know what you are looking for. Stories can get quite long depending on how much you want. I have created five of these so far and enjoy the experience.

Pixton
Pixton is a great comic maker that is full featured allowing control of all characters, their movements, color, background, and speech. You can demo for 30 days which is cool, but the big downside is that you are forced to buy it for at least 2 months. Doesn’t seem like a big thing, but what if you don’t use it regularly for two months. There are “just as good as” out there for free.

Animoto
Animoto is a video from pictures and music you put together using one of their video styles. What is really cool about this is that video will react based on the music you have chosen. If the song is upbeat it the Animoto will be more intense, while a slower song makes is more subdued. The great thing is that you can create unlimited 30 second videos for free. Think about it like this: This is like creating unlimited Super Bowl half-time commercials for free. An apparent downside is loss of control and you have to use their video styles.

Extranormal
Extranormal is a great way to have kids publish digital stories. Like many of the other listed here, this webware allows you to choose from a variety of sets and characters. What is different about this is choosing what actors voices sound like, how you get them to react to various things, and other background sounds. There is a free account for this too, or teachers can pay $10 per month. The downside is that the voices sound robotic.

Mural.ly
Mural.ly is based on a simple concept – making murals. I think just be my new favorite webware that has all kinds of features for customizing it just how you want it. These aren’t simple murals though, these are murals that are purposed for different needs. Make a mural for a vacation, brainstorming session, or project planning. The canvas is big with lots of space. Pictures and video can be pulled in. Stickers and notes can be added. At the end you can create frames to sequence your project if you like to create slideshow. Since this is pretty new, I am sure there are some downsides but I can’t see one right now. If anyone notes one, please let me know.

Glogster
Glogster has been around for a bit of time now and allows for free expression for a person. There are two accounts. One is free but public and the other is .edu and is subscription based. You are creating an online poster that uses text, stickers, titles, images, and video to create what you want. .Edu is good because teachers can create classes and share students. When Glogs are done, they can be reviewed by the teacher, rated, commented on, and added to a portfolio if desired. One downside is .edu costs money, and there is a bit of a learning curve involved to making a well designed poster.

dvolver
Dvolver is storytelling made easy and totally free. Picture your scene, character, and movie set. Type what you want the characters to say, watch it, and send it to someone. If you send it to yourself, you get an embed code you can put just about anywhere on the web. A downside I see is that some of the characters aren’t exactly school appropriate.

Storybird
As storybird says it, “Storybird reverses the process of visual storytelling by starting with the image and “unlocking” the story inside. Choose an artist or a theme, get inspired, and start writing.” Accounts are free. A very different way of telling stories from the other resources here.

This is another amazing storytelling site. My first ZimmermanTwins movie called “Zimmering” was easy to make. This is a great choice for storytelling. One downside is no control over how the characters look and how they act.

My StoryMaker
Another great storytelling site. I played with the characters, setting, items, and goal and found it easy to use. After saving the movie, I had some difficulty finding the movie.

More digital storytelling tools for educators.

Teacher Talking Teaching


As a result of many conversations with my colleague, Val Stowell-Hart, we decided to launch a forum for teachers to discuss relevant topics that are affecting us as a building and profession. Throughout the two years I have been at BBHMS, I have had many conversations about what is going on and how to change. Doing what is best for kids means educator discussions have to happen and when they happen some action has to come of it. It is our hope that this forum will allow the staff, whoever participates, to come to some real conclusions about issues we are facing and ways overcome these barriers.

Beyond this is a need to just get together to talk. This year, at least here, many teachers are running around frantically pulling together ideas for lessons, technology, and assessments while trying innovative ventures to enhance the learning experience for students. Ok, I have something to do with the innovative technology side of things as this is my role. Teachers here adopted new textbooks (Science and Social Studies) which included an online component and with this online component came a set of netbooks for every teacher who wanted them. So now, not only is there a new textbook series but another component online that still needs to be explored and integrated, and this integration will be a year long just to try and figure out how and where to use it. So, there is a good deal of stress right now.

TTT will give us a chance to talk through issues and find solutions.

If you have something like this at your school, send me an email so we can talk about how it is being implemented where you are. At your school, what is your forum for talking about issues and such?