And That’s the Way It Is…

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The famous Walter Cronkite would always sign off with the catch phrase, “and that’s the way it is.”  News anchors through the years have delivered summaries of important world events.  From Cronkite to Rather and of course Peter Mansbridge, trusted reporters deliver the facts.  So Krista, Liz and I thought it might be fun to try a  news cast for our summary of learning.  They are both colleagues, part of my core team and an incredible support for me in my teaching.  We had never worked with green screens before and it was a great opportunity to learn some new tech and have some fun. This semester has been an incredible journey and a great learning opportunity.  Gaining a deeper understanding of the theories behind tech implementation in the classroom was a big part of my learning during this class.   I had some previous knowledge of theory behind education but my practice has changed now to the point where I analyze each activity using tech to ensure the usage of tech for the right reasons.  Theory has also played a role in the ways that I examine my current practice and the ways that I teach.  In addition, The course created a great community of teachers and learners interested and engaged in pushing each other further along the edtech path.  Also, It offered a great opportunity to learn some new tricks, tips and tech tools to help us in our professional lives.  I especially enjoyed learning about the new technologies that may one day be the norm for teaching and learning such as virtual and augmented reality.  It seems as though the more we learn about edtech, the more there is to know.  I resolved as I was reviewing the course to keep 4 things in mind in the coming year.

  1. Evaluate tech tools based on theory
  2. Design the task and accompanying tech with authenticity
  3. Master tech tools that are useful in your practice
  4. Don’t over extend, take your time

There is no rush to the finish line in learning about edtech.  We are each learning at our own pace and doing what works in our own contexts.  The constant shifting in technology will always mean that we are trying to catch up.  Never forget where tech started.  Pencils and chalkboards were once considered cutting edge.  So I’ll simply end by saying, that’s the way it is…”

Please enjoy…

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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?

 

Creating a Computer Program Can’t Be That Hard, Can It?

For the past few weeks I’ve been working on coding my summary of learning project so I thought I’d share a little bit about the process of setting up your own program.  I decided to use Kahn Academy programming interface to set up the program which in my head would run like an interactive story of sorts.  The idea was to have characters in the story and include some animations and basic functions.  I chose to start with Javascript because so far it’s the language I’ve used the most and it allows for simple animations and basic functions like mouse clicks.  I have to admit that initially I had bitten off more than I could chew.  Mouse click functions turned out to be fairly straightforward.  The key is to make sure that the correct page is called up when the button is clicked.  Going through the process reminded me again of the connections between editing skills in writing and combing through your code to see where the problem is.  It takes a keen eye.  Sometimes it’s as simple as a missing semi-colon or an un-closed bracket.

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The second new trick I learned was how to make things move on the screen.  This was a bit more difficult because there are more parameters to keep in mind with the movements.  You have to basically tell the computer where you want the image to move, for how long, where to start, where to end, etc.  This took quite a bit longer than expected because I was reading and watching tutorials but I eventually had to take a look at some sample code to get me started.  This is where a open education course may have helped to give some further direction for my learning.  It becomes difficult to self motivate when you get stuck.  The beauty of online learning is that you do have access to a wealth of network options to ask questions.  It was great to go on some of the coding forums and ask questions to get clarification for how to set this up.  Twitter was also a huge help in finding great little nuggets and tidbits of information such as the one below.  This was a good article to read because it helped me realize how my program was being slowed done by clunky pieces of code.  For a smooth running program it is so important that the code is as succinct as possible.

The experience has been meaningful in many ways.  It has taught me patience, persistence, and has given me pride in learning a new skill.  It has also given me an appreciation for online learning and the importance of networks.  They give insights that would otherwise take years to uncover.  It’s a wealth of interactive knowledge that we have access to at any time of day or night.  In the end I will hopefully have the program finished in the next few days and will post the link when it is finished.  Although it has been a long and sometimes frustrating process, I feel as though I have definitely learned a lot and hope to continue with coding in the future.

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What’s the Big Deal About Blogging?

 

I recently did some reading about blogging in educational settings both as a tool for students to access a greater audience but also as a tool for teachers to access knowledge and engage in reflective practice.  This is my first foray into the blogging world personally although my students and I use Kidblog frequently to journal, compose and respond critically to the written thoughts of others.  I have been relying on Twitter to expand my PLN and give me access to other educators for quick tips, short discussions and easy access to resources.  However, the 140 character limit on Twitter is somewhat challenging in the sense that it becomes difficult to engage in more in-depth reflection both personally and professionally.  I have found that Twitter in our classroom has been very effective as a microblog to showcase what students are doing in class.  Our Twitter feed goes up on our class website and parents can see pictures and student written summaries of what has happened in class that day.  It’s great practice for succinct writing and sharing the main idea!

When I first started using student blogs several years ago, I was quite wary of possible issues arising from allowing students free reign in their writing and commenting.  I was also unsure I wanted to allow students access to the openness of the web.  I had recurring nightmares about all manor of parent meetings involving issues with students posts and/or comments.  At was around this time that I participated in Alec Couros’ MOOC on Digital Citizenship.  The change in my thinking towards online tools for students was profound.  I had always considered blogs, Twitter and Wikis to be only useable in the classroom if severe restrictions were in place.  After taking part in the MOOC I began to realize that approaching technology in education in this way was instead severely limiting student growth.  I some extended time at the start of the following year to focus on digital citizenship with my students and to give them the tools necessary to operate safely in online spaces.  Since that time, students have become extremely careful editors and engaged thinkers in our online spaces.

I have definitely seen that through the use of blogs in the classroom, students have vastly improved their written work while at the same time fostering a sense of community beyond the walls of our class.  When they see comments from students in other schools or provinces, they become extremely excited and engaged in the writing process.  As stated by Michael Drennan, the existence of a more global audience immediately creates a sense of urgency with regard to the witting process.  Blogs also allow a journalistic perspective to be born in students or any other participant for that matter.  There is something incredibly powerful about the sharing of someone’s personal story.  Stories connect us in special ways and across race, religion, and even time.  Personal stories are pieces of who we are and where we’ve come from.  Mena Trott is one of the founding members of the blogging revolution and shares a poignant evaluation of the power of blog’s in this TedTalk.

 

In this connected world in which anyone can put almost anything online, it is easy to begin thinking that our voices are too small and that what we are saying doesn’t matter or won’t make a difference.  As educators, I believe we have a duty to participate in the world of PLN development through blogs, twitter and online forums.  In his blog post, Do Educators Really Need Blog Posts, Tom Whitby highlights several key points that outline the merits of the use of blogs by teachers.  Firstly, as Whitby states, blogs offer a sense of voice to teachers all over the world who can at once be contributors to, and participants in, meaningful conversations with regard to best pedagogical practice.  Therefore, we have moved beyond merely consumers of information.  Teachers can now meaningfully interact with content in an open forum.  We have instant access to the authors of this content and can readily add our voices to the conversation.  Starting in ECI 831 has given me the motivation to start expanding my own voice online in a more meaningful way.  To become not merely a consumer and disseminator of information but also a valuable contributor.

Whitby goes on to highlight the importance of blogs as a way to maintain relevance in an increasingly changing world in which information flows swiftly.  If we hope to continue connecting with students and teaching them how to navigate this raging river of online information without losing their footing or sacrificing ours, teachers must be willing to embrace these types of platforms.  The freedom to create, explore and respond to new ideas related to the teaching profession should be seen as both a privilege and an obligation.  A privilege because of the opportunities that exist for teachers and students alike. An obligation because this is the digital world in which our students are growing up. We owe it to the future.