Tech isn’t the focal point

Aside

When is technology the focal point in learning? Never. It never should be. There is no magical component that help students learn and while tech has been touted to have a major impact on learning, it hasn’t. It is easy to blame technology as not having impact when it should. Something has to get blamed. Technology by itself cannot be the focal point for learning.

People using strong pedagogy and technology as learners themselves produce learning.

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.

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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

Digital toolbelt

Digital literacy is knowing what technology to use for a specific purpose. This is one of the 21st century skills students and teachers should have in their tool belt. If a task is given to me I should be able to think of a numerous ways to complete it, but be able to choose the one web technology that allows me to complete the work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs I said, the tool belt needs to expand for all learners. Expanding it takes a bit of perseverance and determination because trying to search for specific webware isn’t that easy. To really take full advantage of finding resources I suggest doing two things. First, get a Twitter account and follow two hashtags: #edchat and #edtech. Then, learn how to curate the Internet using something like Feedly, Pinterest, Evernote Webclipper, Zite, or Flipboard. These apps or sites allow you to aggregate RSS feeds into one place for you to read as you wish.

Using Twitter and a news aggregator, look for all of the resources that are shared. Choose the ones you feel look interesting to you. Doing this will expand your digital tool belt. With a repository of digital tools tasks like research, presentations, writing, reading, podcasting, video, and others gets to be pretty easy.

There are so many ways to demonstrate what is known. Growing up there were a few ways to make things which usually involved a great deal of time. Given the current nature of technology, and the ease of obtaining content, knocking out a piece of work that shows your true understanding doesn’t have to take that long. For you perfectionists out there, devoting more time means a well rounded product.

The 21st century learner will have a large repertoire of digital mediums to choose from and know when to use them. Put on your digital tool belt.

photo credit: jwcline via photopin cc

The worth of self-reflection

Learning is a complex and often tedious task for students as they typically wonder why they are learning what they do. As kids get older worthwhile experiences become more important to them as they assign personal meaning to certain learning experiences.

Me as a young learner
I think back to the time I spent in elementary, middle school, and high school. My mom spent a lot of time with me at home hounding me to do my homework, study for tests, and finish projects. I hated it. I still hate it. I hated the work that was assigned to me because I found no meaning in at all. Sitting in middle school math class was laborious as wondered when I would ever use concepts of fractions. Or, writing poetry when I had no intention of ever writing it. High school geometry was simply awful. Having to memorize theorems to prove something that was already proven made absolutely no sense.

I was much like the students I teach today. If what I was learning was meaningful to me and I found it worthwhile, it was easy to learn. If not, it was a grudge match with myself to learn.

In my years as a young learner, which I place halfway through college, I never took the time to think about my own learning.

The new learner
A key component of learning today involves the ability to think about thinking and reflecting on what learning means as an individual. While this idea has been around for a long time, students today are not familiar with it nor know how to go about doing this.

The new learner is bombarded with information on a regular basis. The Web hosts millions of ideas, thoughts, blogs, facts, opinions, theories and more. With so much to consider there is little time to sit back and think about what is being learned and why. A critical component of a 21st century learner is to think critically about problems to form solutions, but critical thinking goes well beyond this. Critical thinking about learning and not learning and how learning takes place and does not is of vital importance. The importance lies in being able to create solutions to problems that have not existed before, or develop innovations. Critical thinking allows us to parse, synthesize, and create based on what we know. The self-reflective learner, the new learner, is a deep critical thinker about their process of learning.

Learning discontent
The new learner is no longer content with teachers downloading information to them as they sit passively taking notes and then leaving the class with nothing but white noise in their head. Passive learning is nothing more than doodling, wasting away time as the teacher from Snoopy speaks, “blah, blah, blah.” A 21st century learner wants an active, engaging experience.

Active learning is self-reflective learning for there is no disconnect between experience and information because the student is keenly aware of pulling together information to form new ideas, to understand them, or creating ideas that weren’t thought of previously. Inquiry dominates active learning, and without inquiry, the new learner is discontented as there is nothing new learned.

Self-reflective learners are active learners with inquiry at the center of their learning universe salivating upon deeper new knowledge that can be had. Anything other than this leads to a learning discontent.

Self-reflection
As I watched the eighth grade students struggle to stay focused to create a self-reflection of the Skype experience with Will Richardson, I realized the unanimous passive learning experience they have had since their elementary years. They had not an idea where to begin or how to log their self-directed thoughts. This passive learning experience dominates education today though there is a tremendous out cry for students to be engaged in active learning. Self-reflection is active self learning.

I meandered about my computer lab facilitating student thinking asking questions, or making comments, to guide them into thinking

African visitors at meeting

African visitors at meeting

about their thinking as a learning experience. We are not teaching students how to be self directed, self reflective learners for a variety of reasons. Those reasons include state wide tests, too much curriculum, too little time, too few resources, and too little talk to students about self-reflection or allow them to do it.

Learning how to learn
What students really need to know how to do is to learn how to learn. Back to my early learning years – I had no idea, even in college, how to learn. I have since learned how to do this and do it well in a variety of contexts with success.

Learning how to learn is THE skill a student needs to construct what they need to further their own knowledge in the 21st century.

If kids say no, what do they say yes to?

I have been reading a lot about how students today want to be in control of their own learning deciding where and when they learn.  I asked my students today about whether or not they should have to come to school.  The answer was decidedly – no.

The current trends in education say that students are wanting to direct their own learning by deciding what, when, and when they learn.  I believe that a growing society is also to have population of learned citizens who produce the wants and needs of life other than just saying what they want to do.  Why do students not want to come to school?

Learning in a classroom is, at best, contrived.  The current methodology is to teach a mass of different skills, in different classrooms, with different teachers without any context or application.  Learning to learn is one thing, but learning with no meaning is another.  This is why students do not want to come to school, though they would argue it is just boring and are not learning anything.  I would also think they do not want to come to school because they lives are lived with hypermedia, and they receive information at whim and smile quick as light.  There is no waiting for the website, music, or video – maybe just a little depending on the connection speed.  In school students sit at a desk with a book and have to read, discuss, and answer.  Video games immerse the student in other world experiences to build and destroy stimulating all of the senses, yet they learn.  One girl said today that games can teach and they do.  The deck is stacked against education in this “learn in school” paradigm.

How do I respond to this negative attitude towards formal learning?  I have to seek ways that authentically engage students.  I like questions that starts with “What if?”  Getting the students to wonder how something would be different and how they would make it different will engage them because there is a sense of wonderment.

Any thoughts on how to further engage students who have such a dislike for school?

photo credit: Madison Guy via photopin cc

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.

 

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.

The sandbox is open

At BBHMS we are moving in this direction though I haven’t come out and said this to the staff. I work with a Technology Committee and we are currently discussing what the tech culture should look like at our school. In our last meeting, all agreed there needs to be a wider array of tech being used and that tech is transforming teaching. We have not yet come to the point of researching the technology that should be used in our school as we are now beginning to phase in BYOD with a 1:1 in the future.

On Friday, October 19th part of the staff attended a tech forum that addressed BYOD and why we should use it. Some reasons we came up with were

  1. allows kids access to the Internet for information and webware
  2. opens technology to a wider range of teachers
  3. less expensive than a 1:1
  4. opens a culture of learning through technology
  5. kids are already using it

A step in the right direction
There has been a no cell phone use policy for years and for good reason. There is really no way to monitor what the kids are looking at or if they are accessing sites for information. This was a simple measure to keep students from doing what they should not. However, as a Cindy Hubert said in class, “…were born into the digital age…” and the students do not know what life is like without a computer. I recall my mother’s first computer which ran on DOS and had one stick of RAM. We had 5 1/2′ in floppy disks that sometimes worked and sometimes did not. The personal computer was beginning its way into homes. Now, the phones we carry in our pockets have the power and capability to do everything we need, and this is where we can leverage the power of BYOD.

Use it while you can
I cannot say that Brecksville-Broadview Heights Schools will go to a 1:1 in the next year, though we are on our way with the purchase of netbooks for science and social studies, but I do know that students have access to the world inside their pocket, so why not use it and abuse it for all it is worth. Students are eager to pull out their wireless device – show and tell to everyone! With such eagerness schools can engage kids in learning while helping them to learn how to search for information and then use Web 2.0 technology to create a new piece of information that documents their learning. While we wait for a 1:1 to come, using BYOD is a great way to engage students.

Conundrum
Heading down this path is awesome and I am excited to see what comes of it when teachers and students construct new knowledge! There are a few barriers that I could use some help with and would appreciate some feedback:

  1. What policies should we put in place when in appropriate digital citizenship is inappropriate?
  2. What do we do when students do not have a wireless device?
  3. How can the teachers come to some consensus on this topic?
  4. How do you get teachers to buy in?

The sandbox is wide open because we don’t have a view of what webware and hardware is out there to use. The important part is that we are beginning to use it.

Do you use BYOD, and, if so, how?