Is it Meaningful?: Blending Assessment and Technology

assessment-icon-tab-340x340The marriage of assessment and technology has not been an easy one in many respects.  Documenting, assessing and tracking student learning has been done on paper for many years and even by me in my first few years of teaching.  (No, I’m not that old).  I used to type up my report cards as word documents and print them out for parents.  As technology improved in the world of assessment, many wondered how student records could be kept in digital formats securely.  In recent years teachers have been turning to technology to aid in providing meaningful feedback to enhance learning.  As Logan points out, why has assessment remained the one area in which technology has yet to be well utilized for many teachers?  One of the tools that I enjoy using for formative assessment is exit tickets that can be automatically graphed and analyzed to tell me which students have understood the content and which ones have not.  This information can be collected in a variety of ways. Photo Credit

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One simple way is to send out a Google Form.  Formative assessment can easily be achieved using non-tech methods such as exit slips, thumbs up`or thumbs down, think/pair/share, etc.  However, for many of the students in our division this makes the most sense because they all have a full GAFE suit.  The data is then sent into a google sheet for you or it can be graphed to show you what percent of your class understood the concept for that lesson.  Another tool I have used in the past is Padlet.  This tool allows students to populate a page with their responses to a question.  The responses can be arranged in various ways and it produces a quick visual to allow a check for understanding.  Because our students all participate in BYOD, I have not had a chance to try Plickers but the idea intrigues me.  It sounds like it would be ideal in a situation where students do not have their own devices.  Mentimeter and Polleverywhere are tools that can be used for even more immediate formative assessment and feedback as results can be displayed via projector in word clouds or by most used phrase.  This way, student feedback can be immediately provided verbally.  These are some of the formative assessment tools I plan to implement to a greater extent in my Math and Health classes.

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Of course for the more summative pieces of work we must use tools that are consistent, measurable and testable.  Rubrics are one way to ensure that students work is assessed fairly and accurately against the outcomes being measured.  However, creating rubrics can be a daunting task.  From deciding on wording to how many marks to offer per category it can often be the task that requires the most time.  Assessing final pieces of student work can be even more difficult.  EdTEchTeacher has gathered a tidy group of rubric generators, tutorials, and samples.  These samples include rubrics for evaluating, wikis, graphic organizers, coding, podcasts, videos, digital story telling projects, websites/digital portfolios and even social media.  I plan to use these tools to hopefully increase the efficacy of my summative assessment techniques when I have students completing digital projects.  Attaching rubrics to each outcome measured and making these outcomes clear to students is one of the best ways to improve student learning.  It’s very easy to be caught up in the hype of a new piece of tech to have students demonstrate their learning but without the tools to assess these projects they may be deprived of meaning.

In the above video, several assessment tools are highlighted as being beneficial to the learning process.  I would agree with Mackenzie Zoner in that the use of technology in the assessment framework provides faster feedback and therefore higher value instruction and learning.  What does this look like in Phys Ed or Wellness?  As @PENathan has demonstrated, there are many useful tech tools that can play a major role in assessment in a Phys Ed or Wellness class.  In his blog, he describes an app smash project that sounds like a lot of fun.  In essence he had his students use GIFO to create a Gif of an exercise routine and then upload it to Google Slides to present their workout videos to the class.  @JoeyFeith aka The Physical Educator uses Giphy to create looping skills videos to showcase new skills to students and help them practice.

I think this way of melding physical activity and technology is a great idea and a huge motivator for kids to take pride in their physical and mental accomplishments.  These types of video tools could be very useful in solidifying movement techniques or sport skills.  Even apps like Coach’s Eye or IDoceo could play a key role in providing meaningful feedback to students about skills being acquired or how to improve their technique.

As has been mentioned before during this course, it can be extremely overwhelming trying to implement new technology in the classroom.  Therefore, my goal for these next few weeks is to use Gifs in some way to either assess or analyze student progress with a movement skill as well as being more purposeful in creating meaningful rubrics in digital format that can be attached in Google Classroom.  Finally, I hope to use formative assessment tools such as Google Forms or Padlet to inform instruction in Math and Health.  Once again it is paramount that learning outcomes be accompanied by meaningful feedback as soon as possible after the assessment has taken place.  Technology can play a significant role in this but as Andrew pointed out, it may not necessarily replace building relationships with students.  Sometimes, conversations or verbal interactions are a key component in solidifying learning.  Meaningful conversation may not ever be replaceable by technology.  Do you agree?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Let me Google that for You…

This week I had a tough assignment.  I had to debate the question, ‘should schools teach things that can be googled?’  I was arguing the agree side of this debate and I found it challenging to say the least.  I enjoyed researching the science behind how people learn and the importance of meta-cognition in the ways we organize information in our brains and make sense of it.  In essence this debate question came down to whether students should be taught the basic facts that have been standardized across our society or whether we should be encouraging more critical thinking and skill development.  On a much deeper level this becomes a question about curriculum and who decides what knowledge is required for use in society.  For example, is it necessary for everyone in our society to memorize the periodic table of elements?  For those of us who did memorize it in high school, is the recall of that information possible or necessary at this point? Furthermore, the periodic table is easily searchable online and readily available.  I am far from saying that the information in the table is irrelevant, however I am suggesting that the memorization of these types of facts may not be necessary or beneficial for life after school.

Is this to say that we shouldn’t teach anything that we can find online?  On the contrary, their are some sets of knowledge that are necessary at a base level in order to continue the scaffolding of knowledge.  Amy Signh brought up a good point concerning reading and the alphabet.  Can we find the alphabet on Google?  Of course we can, so why do we teach young children to memorize a song that helps them remember the letters?  We do this because this base knowledge is necessary for the development of the SKILL of reading.  Students need to be able to recognize the letters of the alphabet in order to practice and develop their reading skills.  This is a key element because if we intend to prepare students for life after school, we must take the next step and help students move beyond base level memorization of facts to the synthesis, analysis and constructive phases of learning.

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“Students who create, build, invent and lead SOMETHING in high school are those who not only stand out in the college application process, but they are also those who are more sure of themselves and more confident about their abilities.”-Alex Ellison

So how should we be preparing students for life after school.  Firstly, students should be given opportunities to deepen their understanding of material through practical application.  The difference between memorization and understanding is an important distinction that needs to be present in the organization and planning of learning activities.  In essence, teachers need to assure that students are being moved from passive learning to active learning.  In other words, instead of listening to or reading information from a textbook or computer, students should be given opportunities to participate in hands on learning and then reflect on what happened and why.  Research has shown that as knowledge is applied and experienced, it is embedded further in our active memory.

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I have been very involved over the past number of years in the Middle Years Practical and Applied Arts.  As my fellow teachers and I developed kits that allowed the hands on application of scientific and mathematical principles, I began using these types of Project based learning and Inquiry models in my classroom.  I quickly discovered a few very important things.  Firstly, there is an improvement in student engagement inherent in any activity that requires practical application.  I have definitely witnessed students who normally struggle with traditional styles of teaching and learning soar to new heights when given the opportunity.  Students who have difficulty sitting in desks thrive when given a chance to use and develop hands-on skills.  Secondly, the light bulb moments come thick and fast while students are building and discovering together through experiences.  Here’s an example from our classroom in which the students created a Mbira (Finger Piano) while working with fractions, measurement, sound waves, and world cultures.  I could have given my students this information in other ways but I wanted to have them share in a challenging hands-on experience and then reflect through blogging on the process (Meta-Cognition).

It will always be a difficult question to consider.  What and how should students be learning in schools?  Let’s not forget that the entire traditional classroom design was born out of the Industrial Revolution.  Society had to find a way to produce workers for factories that would have a set of basic skills in math and language to be able to continue in the labor force.  Education systems sought to have a standardized set of skills and values adopted by all society members and students, just like future labor force workers were to be compliant and obedient to authority.  The rise of public education was due in large part to the Industrial Revolution but the school system itself was modeled in large part after the factories of the time.  As we now know, we cannot educate students as we move pieces through a factory.  This is why it is crucial that teachers focus on giving students engaging and investigative opportunities for experiential and problem based learning.  In case I’m boring you with my history ramblings, take a break and enjoy Bloom’s Taxonomy According to Sienfeld.

So can we forget about teaching base knowledge because most of those tidbits of information can be found on Google?  The result of this type of teaching approach would most likely result in much confusion and lack of direction.  On the other hand, teaching through wrote memorization exclusively does not serve to challenge our students, make them curious, help them solve problems or give them skills necessary for life in the real world.  Scaffolding is the key and any good teacher is constantly evaluating, planning and reflecting on their students as they move through the levels of blooms taxonomy.  I think we can all remember studying for hours for an exam, only to write it and immediately forget most if not all of the information.  If students are simply memorizing answers for a test, deeper understanding is lacking.  We need to ask ourselves, are our students being given the skills and understanding they need to thrive after the last school bell rings?