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.

Give ’em paths

Authentic assessment is a key word these days.  How a student is assessed should be original, and the data that comes out of it clearly describes what the student knows.  Data can come in a variety of ways, but the data has to be real.  So how can students really show what they know in authentic ways?

I reflect on how students came into my classroom earlier this year with only know what a teacher tells them.  It was difficult at first to get them thinking for themselves, but once this happened, they came to understand that how they demonstrate what they know is up to them.  I recall being frustrated and anxious at the start of school; we all felt that.  The frustration wasn’t with the start of school but with how students think.  Many of them feel I should tell them everything and all they have to do is follow.  But, that only creates sheep in the education pasture with few shepherds.  My goal was to get them to see there are multiple paths to accomplish the same thing.  For example, a teacher says to students they are to present on a certain topic.  Students have multiple presentation options that range from PowerPoint to VoiceThread.  In other words, there are many ways to get there.  With many paths to demonstrate what they know, students can display an authentic work that creates new knowledge from what they had prior to learning.

How does the teacher know if the student has really understood the concepts being taught in class?  The learning product displays the concept in a way that makes sense to the student based on a clear description of  the highest level of talent.  I read “Understanding by Design” by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.  A bullet point summary:

Developed by nationally recognized educators Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, and published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), Understanding by Design® is based on the following key ideas:

  • A primary goal of education should be the development and deepening of student understanding.
  • Students reveal their understanding most effectively when they are provided with complex, authentic opportunities to explain, interpret, apply, shift perspective, empathize, and self-assess. When applied to complex tasks, these “six facets” provide a conceptual lens through which teachers can better assess student understanding.
  • Effective curriculum development reflects a three-stage design process called “backward design” that delays the planning of classroom activities until goals have been clarified and assessments designed. This process helps to avoid the twin problems of “textbook coverage” and “activity-oriented” teaching, in which no clear priorities and purposes are apparent.
  • Student and school performance gains are achieved through regular reviews of results (achievement data and student work) followed by targeted adjustments to curriculum and instruction. Teachers become most effective when they seek feedback from students and their peers and use that feedback to adjust approaches to design and teaching.
  • Teachers, schools, and districts benefit by “working smarter” through the collaborative design, sharing, and peer review of units of study.
Teachers should begin with a backwards approach to clarify exactly what they are seeking.  Let’s be real though and that is that teachers don’t have this kind of time.  So, start with the end in mind asking the question, “What do we want students to learn?”  That solidifies the premise of assessment and that we have to assess.  I am a big proponent of talent based assessment for a variety of reasons but one that makes sense in this post is the concept that what kids know should be described vs. being a point or set of points.  Starting with the description allows a teacher to view student’s work as whether or not it meets levels of talent vs. an illegitimate point based system.

Giving students multiple paths to show what they have learned gives students a creative license to share their learning in authentic ways.  I hope students leave my first quarter class with the idea that there are a variety of ways to accomplish something.

How do you assess students in authentic ways?

Let the discussion begin!!

me: i’m here

Denise: I thought the 3rd one could use Glogster.
me: Glogster would be perfect for the third one.
In Glogster, kids can import pics, YouTube videos and more.

Denise: I’m thinking about using the iPad for apps and then the netbooks for other activities. I just feel like I have no time to prepare anything besides pencil and paper.
HOw else could I use youtube?
I need to get an account for Glogster right?

me: What do you mean using iPad for apps? I’ll do some brainstorming for the other two ideas. One of your CC goals is to have kids create webs. I have a few ways for kids to do that together.

Denise: That would be cool- I was thinking pearltrees?

me: No, you don’t need a Glogster acct. I have a subscription and can add your kids to it.
Pearltrees would be a great idea! Pearltrees is about creating webs using websites by Pearling them.

Denise: Do you know how to create an app? I thought that could be cool and see how the kids could run with it- more of a small group enrichment for accel.

me: BRB. I am going to check in Chrome Webstore for app creators.

Denise: cool

me: Ok, can’t find anything right now, but there might be something out on the web.
for which of the activities do you want kids to create an app?

Denise: I’m basically trying to start a doc for major lit skills that students are not really grasping well yet, and then work on others. my goal is to have parents in during EI to monitor and help guide these activities. I think the other I’d really like to work on is vocab. THey never do too well, so I want to use tech to increase abilities. I guess I could start with vocab games, but would like to do more.
For the view selected movie clips could this be on my youtube channel? Need huge refresher on that.

me: I have a perfect solution for game making. It is called Zondle and I am using it right now with Bev Cornett.

Denise: let’s do it. If she has the same planning as me I will come down when you’re already scheduled with her.

me: YouTube is a great place to find movie clips and add to your channel. Plus, the kids can go back and watch it whenever they want. What would you think about creating your own videos to put on YT to help teach or refresh what kids are learning in class? I found a piece of hardware I want to order that would help you do this.

Denise: why not. is it possible to use the wingclip videos in my youtube channel or is this something I’d have to link to Moodle? I’d like to streamline as much as possible. I guess I could link youtube channel to moodle?
not familiar with go animate- that’s an app?
btw I’m logging this as PLC- i will share the form with you.

Threading

As the proliferation of web technology grows, and increasingly gets into the hands of students and teachers, there will be an explosion of educational products to learn from. As it is right now, there is a vast amount of information to choose from, and as mobile devices get into the hands of more people, there will more to learn than we can possibly imagine. How can I have students create original products that show they have curated the content for what they needed? How will kids be able to choose the right web tools to show their understanding? As a technology integration specialist, I grapple with these kinds of questions to help teachers and students make the right choices that accurately portray what was learned. My students today registered for VoiceThread accounts to help them generate authentic products with voice and images as they learn. VoiceThread is one of many web applications that can transform learning.

The typical model in U.S. schools is for the teacher to download what she knows to the student who is supposed to recall, study, and regurgitate information back in almost the original form. Add to this the use of worksheets and the pump is primed for low level, unsustainable learning in the form of factoids that mean nothing. Maybe I went a little overboard there. The question for me as a technology integration specialist is how can tech be put to use to create original works that show a high level of thinking while maintaining the attraction value students love. Using a Web 2.0 app like VoiceThread helps myself and the teacher I work with to energize kids to learn.

Threading is not only about VoiceThread and working to create an authentic product that threads images, voice and video together, but also about the multi-step and multiple pathways that converge and diverge within student thinking. We call it thinking. We may want to call it threading.