Sunday, October 27, 2013

Have students make infographics with Easelly

Infographics are now on many websites.  We also see them shared in social spaces like Twitter and Facebook.  They are eye-catching graphics that allow us to quickly learn some interesting information, as well as exploring more complex topics from different points of view with the aid of sophisticated graphic art.  New tools abound that make it easier than ever for us to create and share our own infographics as well, and one I've been using with students lately is Easelly.

Often when students are in the process of exploring a topic, there comes a point in time where they have discovered some interesting things, and would like to share this with classmates, or others. An infographic is the perfect way for them to do this. They can be creative, and present what is most interesting to them in a way that fits their own schema about it. This allows the viewers to learn a little bit more about what they are researching, but in short bites so that we don't necessarily have to read their research paper. Even better, it allows us a little insight into how they see it as well - an infographic is a great visual way to bring out what we would call "voice" in writing.

How do I use this in the classroom?
This year, I've been teaching 7th grade students how to organize web pages.  They use the sites as a repository for their favorite things.  Students are using their own interests as a basis for learning about many new tools this year, and one of those has been infographics using Easelly.  After a certain amount of inquiry and research, they created infographics about one aspect of their research that they personally found particularly interesting, and posted these on their web sites.  Here are some examples of their creations:
Beaches by Anisa

Mythological creatures by Shelby

Legos by Kyleigh

Inquiring Minds: Tackling the process of inquiry in the classroom

In a story last year about Tony Wagner, author of The Global Achievement Gap, they quote him as saying, "The culture of schooling as we know it is radically at odds with the culture of learning that produces innovators." We can tell you the kinds of environments where we know kids are excited, enthusiastic, and open to inquiry and discovery - it happens naturally for young children almost anytime they are given a little freedom to explore, experiment, and create.  However, the structures we set up in school, many ingrained in us from preservice texts, and even before (anticipatory set anyone?), often have schools doing things that take away those very opportunities. 


How do I use this in my classroom? 

A couple of years ago, I started to simply turn my social studies lessons upside down so we could practice inquiry. My 8th graders had not had much practice.  At the beginning of a lesson, I'd show them something - usually a picture, a piece of art, an article, a short video, an illustrated map - something.  I'd tell them what it was, as in naming it, and maybe giving it a little context, and then they had 5 minutes to write down all of the questions they had about it.  Initially, this was a difficult exercise for them - they would not have many questions.  When we talked about some of their questions, sometimes another student would shout an answer, even though none was obvious.  There was one boy who I knew was very sharp, but routinely would only write down about 3 questions.  After the 3rd time we did it, I asked him why he had so few questions in 5 minutes.  He said he didn't want to write down very many because he was just waiting for me to assign an essay paper on all of them if he had a bunch!  What an eye opener for me!  Apparently, without any ill-intent to squash inquiry, I had done just that!

Depending on the unit we are studying, the students share their favorite questions (according to them) in a Google spreadsheet.  We collect questions here over the course of a unit. At some point, students decide which one (or more) they really want to pursue, and we make an initial plan of attack.  At varying points, through reflective journaling, concept maps, and more questioning, they continue to plot and re-plot their plans as their studies unfold. 


I've continued to use, refine, adapt, and modify this process ever since, and I have to say, by the end of the year - even mid-year - my students are extremely good at asking questions.  They also learn to categorize questions.  Level one questions are those to which it will be relatively easy to find an answer - a couple of Google searches. Level 2 questions are a little more complex - there is an answer, but it will require some further research in order to get more context and bring together a variety of sources.  Level 3 questions don't lend themselves to just one answer, or to easy answers.  They are questions that often people have opinions about, rather than answers. 


By learning to get comfortable with questioning, and then with analyzing their inquiry, this makes approaching their discovery process a lot easier to tackle.

Have I quit assigning essays? No! However, instead of saying at the beginning that everyone will write one, I now wait and see where their inquiry goes.  If they are culminating in something that really lends itself to an essay, I'll suggest it, and they very often can see the sense in presenting their findings this way by that stage. But I'm also open to other ideas for presenting. Teaching this way has the added benefit of being much more interesting for me - it's common during an initial inquiry session that I get as much into the questioning and discussion as they do! 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Do you have TPACK? What does this mean for helping teachers integrate technology?

What is it? 
TPACK is an acronym that stands for "Technological, pedagogical, content knowledge" (this site explains it more in-depth). You can see the need for the acronym!  Sometimes this is also referred to as TPCK. The idea behind TPACK is that if teachers have it, they are more intuitive, creative, innovative, and successful in their efforts to integrate technology into their classrooms in ways that yield not just meaningful, but high impact results on student learning.

TPACK is based on the idea that teachers have at least one of the following kinds of "teaching" knowledge:

CK - Content knowledge: This means that if I am a social studies teacher, I know my content at what would be considered a mastery level.  I probably hold an advanced degree or certificate that shows I have completed intensive studies in my content area.

PK - Pedagogical knowledge: This means that as an educator, I am aware of pedagogies - methods and practices of teaching. I have an understanding of best practices, and also understand and apply strategies that implement these successfully.

TK - Technological knowledge: This means I have an understanding about certain ways of working with technology, tools, and resources, and know how to apply them.

These basic three components of knowledge can intersect (see diagram) in ways that give rise to new knowledge. The intersections can produce the following kinds of knowledge:
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by tpack.org

PCK - Pedagogical content knowledge: If I am a social studies teacher, I not only understand my content, but also understand and can apply the appropriate methods and practices that will help my students to learn and explore the content.

TCK - Technological content knowledge: If I am a math teacher, I understand my content, and also understand and can apply technologies, tools, and resources that can support the learning of this content.

TPK - Technological pedagogical knowledge: I have an understanding of how teaching and learning can change when certain technologies are applied in certain ways.

At the intersection is nirvana. Just kidding - but truly, when we are discussing what successful technology integration looks like, this is what we are striving for:

TPACK - this exists when a teacher understands clearly how their content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and technological knowledge can work together seamlessly to create constructive ways to teach content.  This is what we would identify as truly skilled teaching.

Here is the really interesting part of all of this - based on an extensive study done on Asian preservice teachers (see citation below), it seems that the road to TPACK needs to be a purposeful one.  The study widely conducted on preservice teachers showed that in order for a teacher to reach TPACK, there must other conditions in place, and more specifically, it would be especially difficult for a teacher to make the leap to TPACK if only certain kinds of knowledge existed without others.  To summarize:

A teacher having only one or two of the basic teaching knowledges (CK, PK, or TK), would have difficulty reaching a state being successful with technology integration.

However, a teacher having any one of the intersections - the new derived knowledges (PCK, TCK, or TPK), would most likely be successful in development toward technology integration (TPACK).

What does this mean for professional development and teacher readiness?  

Obviously, the TPACK model is a powerful tool for a teacher's ongoing self-assessment and reflection on practice. Understanding where teachers are starting from in terms of their content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and technological knowledge is crucial in making decisions about appropriate support and professional development.  Leading a workshop for teachers on how to build wikis will probably not have a lasting impact on a teacher who lacks pedagogical and technological knowledge.

I think the TPACK model has a lot of implications that should make us consider (re-consider?) ideas currently floating around about how we use apps, and the still-current tendency to treat technology as a separate component or content area with our school curriculum.

It also raises the question: How can we use this tool to help teachers self-assess, and more importantly, how can teachers use this to move their practice forward?

Citation:
Chai, C. S., Ng, E. M., Li, W., Hong, H., & Koh, J. H. (2013). Validating and modeling technological  pedagogical content knowledge framework among Asian preservice teachers. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology29(1), 41-53.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Weebly and the beginnings of project based learning


Weebly is an excellent web page tool that is easy to set up, edit, and publish, and has a beautiful interface with a wide array of nicely designed templates.

Recently, I've had my middle school tech students, who are fairly experienced with blogs, set up Weebly accounts and begin some fun projects just to learn the tool.  I allowed them to select whatever interested them, then categorize that for the purpose of building pages.  They then had to add and cite images, videos, and text while building these pages.

Of course, the Weebly environment helped to make this exercise practically fool-proof - their sites and pages are beautiful, and they loved working with it.  What really got me thinking was what they chose as the subjects for their sites - and it gave me some great insight into my students! The students chose topics I had no idea they were interested in; art - specifically anime - to include pictures of their own creations, slideshows of their work that they were proud of embedded into the pages, how-to videos of them showing their process of creating a particular drawing, personal pictures of their pets, dog breeds I'd never heard of but that they seemed quite knowledgeable on, musical genres I had no idea they might be interested in, flowers, custom home-built cars, the list goes on.
How will I use this in my classroom?
The point is - this was a teachable moment - for me! Rather than leaving Weebly behind for the next arbitrary tool on my list for them to learn, let's run with this!  This week we'll begin planning Blooms projects based on their websites.  I'll use the Blooms Planner with them, and we can begin the process of them mapping out the "discovery" that will come from their initial Weebly dabblings.  Through this process, I'll be able to help them incorporate lots of new tools to curate, explore, collaborate, create, and design. This will be the path their learning will take for the rest of the semester, and the vehicle for the rest of their technology learning - and any other content area will most likely find it's way in!

What's the risk?
Put into perspective, this is yet another case where going with a PBL and inquiry approach is risk-free! What's the worst that can happen? My students will reach the objectives originally set out in the tech course.  But now, instead of that being the best-case scenario, it's merely a baseline!


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Strive for invisibility

This idea may seem counter to many ideas we have about teaching, but when it comes to edtech and technology integration into classrooms, it's when the technology becomes transparent that you know you have achieved true integration.

Think about all of the tools and skills we use to function in our daily work and personal lives.  Every time you use your vacuum cleaner, dishwasher or washing machine, you don't have news crews beating down your door.  Every time you drive your car to the post office there are no professional observers coming in to watch and record data about your every move.

Likewise, when your students choose to work in a small group on a project and open a Google Doc or a wiki to collaborate, or choose a particular web 2.0 presentation tool to post a project on their blog for comment, it should not be met by wild applause.  This doesn't mean that there should not be acknowledgement for a job well done, or a choice well made.  But when technology is truly transparent in the classroom, these kinds of actions and choices simply represent students doing what they should do - they are using tools and skills to function and interact efficiently in the world.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The power of MOOC

I have recently found myself in a MOOC. A #diffimooc to be specific. For those not in the know about this, a MOOC is a massive open online course.  It's a way for a university to offer a course, incorporate many useful and relevant communication and collaboration tools, and promote the idea of openness and sharing of information and ideas - the essential heart of web 2.0. People who are taking the course for credit have some specific assignments to complete, but the discussions and ideas are available to anyone who wants to participate.

It's a model that actually puts together tools and ideas many have spent time cobbling together on their own, and in a pretty neat way.

One of the great benefits of a MOOC, and the #diffimooc I am part of, is that it is giving educators this whole experience of networking, collaborating, and sharing in a fairly structured way (even though I know it doesn't always feel that way to participants sometimes!). Building a network is a fairly sloppy process on it's own - how people personalize it and use it varies widely.  The MOOC is allowing them a safe, guided way to build networks and find the key tools to begin with, rather than leave them to find it for themselves (as I had to).  Many teachers will and do find their way into this on their own, but many more do not - and would not - if it weren't for MOOC experiences.

I was excited to begin the #diffiMOOC, and as we move through this course, I find I sometimes have conflicting attitudes.  I am always happy to work with educators who are either new to the profession, or even just new to technology - it's a part of my work that I really enjoy.  However, I have to remind myself, when I went through this whole processes, I did it alone, and at my own pace. I did not feel the pressure of time, credits, or deadlines. I did not have any colleagues going through the same experience to express frustration to.  I do understand where there are frustrations with the MOOC, but when people let their frustrations overcome them and become disheartened and defeated, I feel disheartened too. I keep hoping that at some point they can find that spark that will help them to keep moving forward.

I don't know if other MOOCs are similar in terms of their requirements, but I suspect that of all the people who participate in a MOOC, about 1/3 will continue to actively build and participate in their networks. Depending on the size of some of these MOOCs - that is quite a number of educators (and other interested parties) who will learn to use and add to the power of our networks!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tell stories

“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; Through the Looking-Glass 


I have been giving a lot of thought lately to the importance of stories in our lives. In this digital age of information overload, the age-old tradition of storytelling is more important than ever. We have swung on a pendulum from the days before the written word, to the days before much of the population was literate, to the information age, but in each phase, storytelling has played a vital role. Who we are is defined by the stories we have been told, and the stories we tell.  Much of our learning would have been lost if people had been subjected to bulleted stone-age PowerPoints instead of compelling, meaningful stories. Storytelling used to be the primary means of learning, internalizing, and passing along our history, our culture, our morals, and life lessons. Ironically, in the age of instant information, it is now one of the only truly powerful tools we still have that allows us to engage in, remember, and internalize the ideas that shape who we are.

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
Philip Pullman


Storytelling is the primary way I communicate what I am doing in my classroom, and still the main way I teach to my students. I use my own stories, and listen to the stories that others tell me. When students tell me about their lives and their learning, I listen closely. When teachers tell me about experiences, I listen closely. I repeat the stories of others often. When I'm teaching a lesson to my students, I tell them stories about the experiences of other students in similar situations. When I'm working with other educators, I tell them stories about my own experiences, and the experiences of other teachers that I've been told. When I'm working with administrators, I tell them stories about how the decisions they have made (or have yet to make) impact real people.

“It's like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”
Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

 
We engage in personal stories that are told to us because they are directed at us for a specific purpose. It's not like having a random selection of books or articles - stories are told to us at a specific time, in a specific situation, for a specific reason. Because they are interesting, engaging, and real, we listen, we empathize, and we internalize them.

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here.”
Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

 
Stories are one of the main reasons that I have felt the pressing importance of keeping one foot firmly in my classroom practice, even though I spend more and more time working with other teachers on their own practice. It allows me to continue to draw from a wealth of relevant stories that I know will have an impact on them. Personal stories give me credibility.

My students are exposed to so much media in their daily lives, how do we cut through the noise and make them hear us? We tell them stories.

We want our students to have "digital literacy" - part of that means being able to critically evaluate what they see, but it also means being able to communicate in an impactful way. We need to make sure they know how to tell and communicate stories people will listen to.

  • Listen closely to the stories people tell you - even if they don't realize that's what they are doing. 
  • Tell your stories to others.

Most of my posts on this blog tell my classroom stories. They are about experiences I've had, the experiences of others, and also about ways you can teach aspects of impactful storytelling to your students.

Here are just a few storytelling resources from this blog that your students can use:
ProPrompter
Screen Casts
Book Trailers
QR Codes
Propaganda
Virtual booklets
Cameras
Wordle
Blogging
Blogs and Wikis
Time Lines
Teleprompters
Xtranormal
Online Slide Shows
Map Making
Podcasting
Glogster
Vokis
Animoto
Magnetic stories and poems
Concept Maps

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

An EdTech Professional Development Pyramid

What is the most effective way to encourage/deliver/integrate edtech professional development? The layout of this infographic should come as no surprise to anyone.  The pyramid is meant to work as all pyramids do - with the stuff on the top being necessary, but to a lesser degree than the items down the pyramid. The bottom layer is most essential for sustained professional development, but the middle layer is crucial in order for this to happen. I developed this infographic for an easy way to begin these conversations with district and site administrators, meant to be followed up with evidence and a plan.

To see a larger version, click on the image, and please feel free to share it. 


Here are just a few resources:
Classroom Technology Integration
Teacher-Led Professional Development
A Brief Guide to Tech Training
NETC: Assessing Technology Integration
Professional Development for Teachers Must Change

Sunday, December 2, 2012

UNfortunately, gig sticks are still necessary. Fortunately, they can help transform your classroom!



Gig stick: aka, mini-USB drive, thumb drive, geek stick, flash drive, memory stick, jump drive, pen drive, I'm sure there are many more synonyms out there for this ubiquitous little device, which is not platform dependent.

First, let me say, I can't think of anything more uninspiring to be doing right now than writing a post about gig sticks.  However, until the world of k-12 education catches up to everyone else in the modern world, these are still quite necessary for most tech-integrating classrooms. There are still many many schools out there with limited equipment, and limited or locked down internet access.

So instead of writing a post about gig sticks per se, I'll get into a few quick and easy ways to use these things so that your classroom can operate with some semblance of a rich variety of tech-enhanced experiences for your students.

How can you use these in your classroom?

1. Video streaming locked down or narrow bandwidth? No problem - you'll need to do a little bit of work where you (the teacher) can get access to the video.  Use one of the many easy methods for downloading video.  Put it on your gig stick - build a collection if you have the time or inclination. 
2. Get a collection of gig sticks - a 1GB stick costs around $10 at an office supply store, but I have been amazed at how many I have collected free from conferences - many of the vendors are giving these things away like candy!  If you keep an eye out, you'll start seeing them lots of places. What should you do with this collection of gig sticks? This is your new digital library that you create and share with your students (or vice versa). Alternately, you can have your students bring them as part of your classroom supply list - a relatively cheap replacement for notebook paper, binders, etc.
3. Want to have students view video at home, but access is a problem? Load your video or other multimedia content onto a stick (or have them do it) and send it home with them.
4. Students creating video and multimedia you want to share? Have them drag and drop it onto a gig stick - then you can publish it easily on your class website, wiki or blog.
5. Ebmed a video into a worksheet or activity sheet you want your students to complete - drop it onto the stick. I know this is very easy to do on MS Word and Pages.
6. Make your own instructional videos for students using your own software, or free online movie making software like Movie Maker, Stupeflix, or others.  Make a simple screencast. Drop it onto the gig stick and distribute.
7. Much of my day is spent in a 1:1 iPad setting.  My students create lots of video on their iPads, but sometimes want to use some of the extra effects and settings on iMovie that the iPad version doesn't offer (green screen, slow motion, etc.).  They should be able to email the video to themselves and download it, but due to some of our filter restrictions, they can't.  So they either email it and download it at home and put it on a gig stick, or email it to me and I do the same. Then it's simple to transport their video to a computer where they can do some more extensive editing. They also have to do this to publish their videos from school, since our filter blocks them from uploading to YouTube.

The multitude of ways to use this little device are endless. For classrooms that don't have much equipment, little or no internet access, or in communities where students don't have access at home, the USB drive is a cheap, simple, and fast solution that can help you infuse some life, excitement, connections, and relevance into your lessons.

What I'm Reading Lately (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.