Thoughts on teaching & educational technology

…after several years of a combination of both

NCSS 2011: Modern Music & Historical Inquiry

November 23, 2011 by · No Comments · ABC-CLIO, Conferences, History, NCSS

You can find my Prezi at this link, and you can find a list of songs & lyrics here. And for those of you want a local copy of the songs & lyrics, you can download a PDF copy below.


And finally, if you want a local copy of my Prezi, either for Mac or PC, you can download the zip file below.

Downloadable Mac & Windows Versions

Social Media in the Classroom Top 10 Reasons; My Comments

February 10, 2011 by · 3 Comments · EdTech, Education Reform, The Teaching Profession

I read this interesting article, which lists and explains 10 reasons why social media should be in schools. I found it on Twitter from a search of #edtech & #edchat. Anyway, here are my thoughts, point by point.

  1. “For better grades and fewer absentees” — huh. I don’t know. I want to see the data, with evidence of a causal connection. The article sites an increase in grades and a drop in absenteeism, and associates these with greater student interest due to social media, but I’d like to see more angles on that. It sounds good…like a panacea, and that’s why I’m skeptical. The latter half of that reason, that it reduces absenteeism, is also a little suspect to me, although the fact that social media could enable teachers & students who are connected through digital tools to stay in virtual contact could go a long way to lessening the impact of being physically absent.
  2. “To invite experts into the classroom” — Through Twitter, blogs, and other social media, teachers can help their students get connected with the real world. The author’s mention of graphic design students following professional designers on Twitter is a great example of the potential in this. Why is it assumed that the classroom teacher be the only expert? Social media, in this case, can blow out the walls of the classroom and directly connect students with the reality they’re supposed to be studying.
  3. “To make students the experts” — The thought is that students, when given the opportunity, will pursue knowledge, and social media provides a multitude of potential for this, by connecting with people and groups around the world. I can see that happening – so long as the school doesn’t prescribe who, how, where, and what is fair game. Sure, there are legal filtering issues. We don’t want our kids learning about anatomy from Playboy. But if the social web is lateral instead of vertical in power orientation, schools won’t get the bang they hope out of it if they attempt to impose a vertical structure on something that is inherently egalitarian and open.
  4. “Because even a third grader can do it” — sure, but does a third grader need to in order to learn? I’m in my 6th year in a fully one-to-one environment that I helped plan…and the only guarantee of technology in students’ hands is that the per capita price tag of education will go up. Technology is not a cure; it’s a category of tools. I believe that there should be a clear value-add to the learning process or learning outcomes in order to use something new…just because it’s shiny doesn’t mean it’s useful in a specific case. Think hard before venturing forth.
  5. “To get parents involved” — how many students’ parents use Facebook and/or Twitter? Probably a great many. Why not connect with people where they already are? And this doesn’t mean meeting all of them there. If some percent of a school’s parent population is okay with getting some school information via FB, fine. Some other percentage through Twitter? Great! Email? Why not. It’s not difficult to write blog posts that automatically update to Twitter and through FB…Web 2.0 integration is amazing, so there won’t be redundant work. I like this one, and one day when I am a school leader will make this a parent & community communications priority.
  6. “For instant access” — to information relevant to course work, that is. I think this is true – go do a # search on Twitter for whatever you want to know and you’ll get buried in responses – but not unique to social media. However, if it’s used to add a personal dimension to it, there could be a powerful value-add. Take, for example, my Spanish-teaching neighbor (who is right now blasting Spanish rock music through my wall), who connected with a group of Canadian guys who skateboarded across the Andies, and have Skyped with her students, in Spanish, about their experiences. She tracked them down through social media tools, and it’s provided a powerful learning opportunity for her students.
  7. “To raise the stakes” — that is, by making this ‘public’ education far more public…like in the ‘spray-painted on a billboard for all to see’ manner. My American Government students do a lot of work like this between classes, and they seem to take their work far more seriously when they know it’s for a broader audience than just me. They want their peers to see quality, skill, creativity, and competence, and so they step up their game. Connecting students to the broader community & world would likely increase this. I agree completely!
  8. “To provide personalized feedback” — this is the other side to the coin of #7. I’d like to think that all my feedback to students is personalized…and that putting them in a position where their peers and others are regularly commenting on their work, too, would be helpful as it would provide more, and different perspectives on their work. This, I believe, is a case of social media facilitating more of a good thing – and that’s a good thing.
  9. “Because it’s safe” — filtering, privacy & security settings, and the many education-oriented social media sites out there (like Edmodo, a FB clone for the classroom) help provide a significant degree of safety in the wild world that is the ‘net. Here’s my commentary: we live in a society that is in large part chronically paranoid, and in small part crazy. The paranoids want to identify and eliminate the possibility of anyone ever having any problems at all; the small number of real crazies provide the necessary fuel to the fire the paranoids are so eager to stoke. My take? Better to teach people how to deal with peer pressure, booze, violence, whatever, rather than trying to pretend none of it exists. Our kids are willing if only they’ll be given good examples to follow.
  10. “Because it’s not going away” — true, and yet like my comments on #4, I don’t believe that, in and of itself, is a compelling enough reason to run down the social media road. Taken in context with the rest of them, however, it adds additional weight to the overall argument. Why bother hiding from reality? Aren’t schools, after all, supposed to help, along with families, prepare young people for reality? And you thought we just prepared them for standardized tests…

What are your thoughts?

Yoda Knows PD

December 6, 2010 by · 3 Comments · Education Reform, Teaching, The Teaching Profession

Upfront disclaimer: Twitter is becoming my go-to source of inspiration, pedagogy, edtech, and PD-related thoughts & articles. Sure, that’s not a huge surprise to those of you who already realize its power, but for me – a 2-month user – it’s really the proverbial dawn of a new day. I had no PLN before October; I think I’m developing one now (hey! you might be part of it and not even know it!). I was feeling isolated and estranged in a profession that, sadly, seems to encourage mediocrity & calcification; I’m feeling fired up now.

Rodd Lucier‘s post on PD, utilizing Yoda and a legion of Stormtroopers, is a perfect example of the mighty potential of Twitter for ideas & inspiration. If you haven’t seen it, gone through the 118 slides of it, and considered the words on each, you owe it to yourself to do so.

If we really want to revolutionize education, we need a comprehensive approach: teaching prep, PD, pedagogy, technology, and curriculum. Lucier and his team identified so many of the problems with how and what PD is, and from this long, sad list distilled some simple, direct advice.

My takeaway? With how much time we spend talking up the value of scaffolding, support of students in the learning process, spiraling, content and instructional relevance, you’d think we’d realize that teachers are human beings, too, and many – if not all – of the same ‘best practices’ we hoot about for students ought to be used for (and on!) one another. We should expect our leadership to recognize this, when it comes to PD. I always tell my students, when writing expository or analytical pieces, to write as if the audience is “intelligent and yet uninformed as to the details of the topic.” How often are these the watchwords of PD? Yoda knows it’s not nearly enough.

Read it and share your thoughts here, or with me on Twitter.

Motivating Students, Motivating Teachers

December 1, 2010 by · 3 Comments · Education Reform, The Teaching Profession

Maybe this is old news to some, but it’s new to me. I watched this video summary of Dan Pink’s book Drive, the subject of which is human motivation. Pink goes against the grain in stating that the traditional understanding of what motivates us (carrot & stick, for example) is not entirely accurate, and in fact highly inaccurate in some situations. I have not yet read the entire book, and will write another post when I do finish it, but I in the meantime I wanted to offer some observations and pose some questions on this important topic.

How do we motivate students to do work, stay on task, and do their best? Those are three different things, of course. Thinking through the traditional model, what incentive structures do we create – intentionally or not – in our classrooms and related to the work we assign, and how do these shape the answers to those three questions? Can we do better?

As for us, as teachers, what incentive structures surround us? Does the traditional school model, with the relatively new add-on of high-stakes tests and extensive monitoring from outside the classroom and school, get the best out of us? What if the institutions and systems we’ve created and are now answerable to do not get the best out of us?

Watch the video and think about how you motivate your students, or seek to get students to motivate themselves, both to get started and to keep going. Think about your school leadership and how it impacts your work. What are you doing now, why, and what outcomes – again, intentional or not – are you creating?

If you choose to respond, which I hope you do, please be specific. Talk of means & methods, not desired outcomes.

Students as Student Evaluators, or, ‘Would You Hire This Person?’

November 30, 2010 by · No Comments · Methods, Teaching, Tech Tip

Last week my seniors, in two American Government classes, completed a short group assignment in which they studied the actions of various presidents acting in different roles – commander in chief, chief executive, and so on – in order to build knowledge about how different presidents have acted and reacted under different circumstances. The work was packaged and posted on our class wiki, and is now being used as a resource for additional work about the presidency. The assignment, however, really doesn’t matter as much as the follow-up I had my students do.

Many students dread group work, collaborative education, whatever…they dread it because they fear that one or more members of their group will not do the work, and they’re concerned that this will impact their grade, or force them to do more than their fair share of the work. Some students don’t follow through because they don’t care…others because of sickness or outside issues…others due to a lack of skill or understanding relative to others in the group. Regardless, how many of you have students who hate working with others for some or all of those reasons?

I addressed this problem in this assignment in two ways, on during and one after. I made it very clear, on the front end, that since all work was to be done on our wiki, and that students need to log in to the system in order to post & edit, all student work would be tracked – that is, I can easily look at the page history and see exactly what each student contributed to their joint project. That took the burden of worry off some students, because they recognized that their work could be identified as theirs – check one.

On the due final date, I had students go to a survey I’d created on Google Docs, described in part by Tony Baker on his blog. In my survey I asked students to rate the other members of their group based on quality of work, quantity of work, work ethic, ease of working relationship, and whether or not they’d hire that student (if they had the power as a hiring manager). I created a simple scoring system that set each student as average, below average, or above average as compared against the rest of the group, and provided them space to write a few sentences describing the working experience.

Google Forms enabled me to build the survey quickly, and it created an easy-to-read spreadsheet for checking responses. I thought it was a nifty way to get students thinking about their work, and the work of others, from a different perspective, while providing me with an easy way to view their work – individually and as a group – from another perspective. I plan on using the student feedback to supplement my own when I meet with students individually to discuss their progress in the course.

How do you get your students thinking about their work contributions to groups?