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.

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

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

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.

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.

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?