Monday, December 21, 2009

The Purpose of Grades

I have been thinking about grades and grading for some time now. An excellent post of questions by Glenn Kenyon got me thinking as did the last #edchat on twitter about assessment. I think every one of Glenn's questions could be an independent post.

I would like to do a series of posts on the various aspects of grades and grading. I would like to approach the subject from an optimistic viewpoint that educators actually can change the purpose and meaning of grades if they so choose. I think articulating an "ideal" scenario helps give us a vision on where to go.

Before I spout off on grades I would like to hear from you. What do you think about grades and grading? Specifically what is their purpose in schools and education? Do grades mean the same thing to teachers, students, and parents? Are they a "necessary evil?" Let me have it!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Twitter addict confession

Why am I addicted to Twitter? It's not the links. They're great, but I love the conversations...
I can control my use of Twitter. Really I can. But last night was an example of how powerful of a conversation tool it is to me.

First, I watched an interesting discussion that Jon Becker (professor at VCU) had with plugusin (teacher in North Carlina) over the "validity" of a survey that plugusin created and used. Now I was not very interested in the survey itself, but in the discussion of what makes something "valid." I would have to say that I sided with plugusin as far as twitter and social networking giving voice to teachers working in the field vs. professors writing for peer-reviews journals.But I must confess I am not an expert on what makes something "valid" so when Sylvia Martinez (a leading educator from LA) asked Jon to explain this more I joined the conversation and asked too. Jon patiently answered our questions. The thing I know and respect about Dr. Jon is that he is not condescending or narrow-minded about the equalizing power of social media. 

Meanwhile Jane Vanhof (choir and ELA teacher from my school!) and Ira Socol ( from Michigan, too) joined the conversation too. The end result is that Jon Becker decided to do a session on "What makes a survey valid" open to anyone who wants to join in (Here is the signup for time).

At the same time I was asking questions of some experts from my PLN about educational history (Teaser: stay tuned over break for some posts about grading) including Ira, Shelly Blake-Plock (Maryland Latin and history teacher), and Andrew Watt (classical history teacher in Connecticut). During this multitude of conversations Tomaz Lasic (an excellent teacher from Australia) tweeted to Ira and asked him to quick Skype into his class that was in session. Ira did and re-joined our conversation a few minutes later.

Wow! There is no way this is possible ten years ago. I would have to enroll at VCU and sign up and PAY to learn from Jon Becker. I would still not be able to attend faculty meetings with him, which is what it feels like as I "watch" conversations he has will leading educators from around the world. I have personally met only two of these people (Jane and Ira about two weeks ago) but yet I can learn from them anytime, anywhere around the world. And added onto it  is the ability for Ira to off-the-cuff join into a classroom discussion on the other side of the world at a moment's notice.

I have never been so motivated and excited about my own learning. And I am working out methods to share this with the other teachers and the students in my building. I am truly amazed at the knowledge and GENEROSITY of the people in my PLN. It really is about the conversations and the giving. Thanks to all in my PLN, and of course I would highly recommend following all of the educators mentioned here.

Why am I addicted to Twitter? It's not the links. They're great (especially the ones to thought-provoking blog posts), but I love the conversations ...
                                                               with some of the greatest minds in the world.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Would you steal a CD from a store?

This is an opener (bell ringer) question that I asked my 8th graders to lead up to a discussion about illegally downloading music. Student response:

Ummmmmm no. Who just uses CD's?

Cd's are on their way to 8 tracks to students.Time to change my example to something more current, but stealing an Ipod is not really parallel to stealing the music.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

What Do You Do When Your Students Follow You on Twitter?

I got my first student (8th grade) following me on Twitter yesterday. I have heard lots of educators discussing students friending them on Facebook, but I do not have a Facebook account so I never thought about it too much. But I have not really heard people discuss students following them on Twitter.

Later in the evening, she sent me an @ message:

hey mr. kaechele.(: im with ________ :) hows your weekend going? im gonna get told not to reply to your tweets on monday arnt i?

I did not reply as I wanted to think about this more. I have students e-mail me and I think nothing of it, and e-mail is private. Twitter is a public conversation so should I be concerned at all about "how it looks" to be communicating with a student on Twitter outside of school? If I see a student at a store the conversation we have is more private than on Twitter, but the location is public (safe).

My first impulse is to not block her and not follow back. But I also need to decide what to do about @ messages to me? I am also quite sure that she will share this with her friends and there will be more students following me soon. It does make me think about my posting a bit also. Not that I post anything questionable, but I want to make sure I do not post about anything related to my classes or my district even in a generic sense.

Technology creates new questions of appropriateness. What do the rest of you do about students following you on Twitter?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Volunteering in Second Grade

I had a half day because of parent teacher conferences this Thursday. So in the afternoon I went to my son's second grade class and helped the teacher with a "technology" lesson. My son has weekly time in the computer lab that is usually spent playing games like I Spy or Math Blasters. My goal was to demonstrate to the teacher how she could use some free web-based tools with the students to tie the computer time into their lessons. I had already shared some resources with her and she was willing to try something new with my help.

The class has been studying mountains and islands as part of their social studies unit. So the plan was for students to create a slideshow on Animoto out of pictures of islands and mountains. The first challenge was figuring out what was unblocked in my son's school district. I have had filters wreck lessons too many times at my school, but it is even more challenging to figure out the filter in another district. I used people in my PLN who worked in that district for advice. Special thanks to @Tee62 and @zmanrdz for helping me out. I found out that Animoto was unblocked, but Google images, Flickr, and Picasa were blocked. We were able to access Google Image swirl and ask.

I had never used Animoto before and my education sign up did not come through. Luckily my son's teacher's account went through quickly so we were set (so I thought). I got to the school about a half hour early. His teacher did not realize we needed to set up individual student accounts. So I figured out how to sign up as a student.

It was a little crazy trying to get over twenty second graders to fill out a sign up form. We used the gmail hack to set up multiple accounts on my gmail. I had each student use +"their computer station number" so that it would be easy for them to remember. We ended up with four adults helping us (a special thanks to the principal for coming and helping us). After we got the accounts created the students started finding pictures on the web and put them on their desktops. Then they added them to their Animoto. We ran out of time so the students did not get to add music and render their videos. They will finish them on another day.

I had a great time. The students needed a lot of help as they have probably never filled out a form before, but they were excited about the program and learning. The best part is that their teacher was not discouraged or intimidated even though things did not go as well as planned. She is excited about finishing them and has ideas to use Animoto for other projects. I also plan on helping her class use Skype to connect with another class (probably mine) later this year.

Ultimately my goal was met: I exposed my son's teacher to how to use the web to allow students to create projects about their learning. I truly believe this one day will help shape her teaching in the future for the better.

How have you influenced your own children's teachers? Do you complain about them or their methods? Try volunteering to show another way to them. You might be surprised by how open they are to your ideas if you are willing to help them learn and implement them

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Parent Conferences Using a Computer

This week is parent teacher conferences. My new plan for this year is to use my laptop to show parents the student blogs and our class wiki. We have our conferences in the gym so I had our IT department get me a 25 foot cable to connect to the internet through the gym closet. I am excited to try this format for conferences.

My gut feeling is that many of the parents do not know or have not looked at their student's blogs. The other thing that all teachers are doing is passing out "business cards." The cards are color printouts of our names, e-mails, and class blogs or wikis. Again we are trying to get parents to visit the sites since this is the first year that we have all created them.

Has anyone else done this or something similar? How did it go for you?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Twitter Shoutouts

"Showing off Twitter. Tell me where you are from and why your PLN is important."

I was at a technology conference and a "big name" conference speaker sent one of these tweets out and of course received 20-30 responses from around the world in five minutes from his thousands of followers. I must confess that I usually respond to these when I see them. It feels like I am supporting a "Twitter evangelist" and I am a definite believer in the power of my PLN. I want to help people show how useful Twitter is.

I have been thinking about the message that this activity sends to people who are new to Twitter. First of all they usually think Twitter is only about "what are you doing" and that the answer is something mundane or ridiculous. I think Twitter shoutouts can come across more as bragging than as anything productive:

"Hey, let me show you how great Twitter is by showing off how many people listen to me and when I say tweet, they say 'How high?'"

I know that this is not the intent of any presenter, but that they are trying to show the power of a PLN that is both worldwide and always available, but I am not sure that this is how it comes across to people unfamiliar with Twitter. The Twitter shoutout does show how far your network reaches, but does not demonstrate what your PLN can do.

So I have a suggestion, a minor tweak to this presentation of Twitter. Demonstrate how educators actually use Twitter. Ask a random member of your audience what unit or topic they are studying with their class. Then tweet out and ask for resources on that subject. Then instead of "Hi, I'm Concretekax from Michigan and my PLN rocks!" The speaker can then show how PLN's help each other.

Wouldn't educators be more impressed seeing results that are practical and useful. I would definitely think the teacher picked out of the audience leaving with real resources would see the power of Twitter.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Balsa Tower Podcast Rubric

With all of the talk on #edchat this past week about differentiated learning, one tweet stuck with me about having students create their own rubrics. Off the cuff I had students create the rubric for the podcasts we are making about our Balsa tower project.

I played them part of this student podcast from uptonben  We talked about the good things we heard: music, multiple speakers, enthusiasm, and interviews.

Then I had one student write down our requirements on the board:

Podcast Rubric

  • 45 points total
  • must have a written script before you are allowed to record
  • podcast should be 2-4 minutes in length (-5points/ 15 seconds off)
  • Introduce yourselves with first names only. (2 points)
  • Explain the project-what were the requirements/goals. (5 points)
  • Explain how you made your tower and your design ideas. (5 points)
  • Tell about your results-weight of tower, sand, and efficiency (5 points)
  • Explain what you learned. (5 points)
  • Creativity and making it interesting (8 points)
  • Cooperation (15 points)
  • Music is extra credit-5 points
This is my polished version. I added the total points and points for each item. I also required them to have a written script, creativity, and cooperation. So the rubric was not totally created by the  students :)

Matt Townsley, who always gives me great pushback, asked me on twitter:

"Also in the spirit of reporting learning, how many of your podcast points are based on process/requirements vs. learning/content?"

My response is that 20 points are for the learning/content of the podcast and 10 points are for style (intro. plus creativity). The cooperation points are for effort and are primarily to make sure that both partners are doing their fair share of the podcast. So a little less than half of the points are for learning/ content from this perspective.

But this is a technology class and learning how to make a podcast is also a learning objective for me. The students have already received a grade of 140 possible points on the Balsa Project itself for things like research, drawings, construction, and how much sand their tower held before breaking. Therefore the purpose of the podcast is two-fold: to report their learning from the Balsa Tower project and to learn how to make a podcast. So in my opinion all of the points represent learning/content.

Finally I do not believe that true assessment of student learning can always be measured. Some of my top students tried some experimental designs. They looked cooler than the rest of the class's towers and were voted by almost every member of the class as most likely to be the champion. Ultimately they were failures as designs and broke under the weight of the bucket with no sand. 

These students definitely learned about design from their failure, probably more than the rest of the class even though their grade may not reflect it.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Interview Questions

Paul Bogush is creating a list of interview questions for his student teacher. I added this to his list:

"Tell me about your PLN. Explain how you interact and its importance to your professional development and growth."

If I were an administrator this would definitely be a question I would ask of any teacher I interviewed.

I would also be asking it of my staff after I modeled how valuable mine was to them.

I have only met a few members of my PLN face-to-face and have never seen any of them teach a class, but somehow I feel very confident that they are excellent teachers that I would hire in a second.

PLN as litmus test. Legitimate or not?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Youtube as Bulletin Board for Student Work

As regular readers have seen, I uploaded a couple of student projects (and here) to youtube this week. I tweeted about them so each video had some views on them. The next day I told my class that I had a youtube video to share with them that I "found" yesterday. They were quickly excited when they realized it was from our classroom.

Their questions were for the URL address, how many views it had, and how do you make and upload a video to youtube. It was fun that I could show them that it already had 15 views and explained how I used twitter to share it. So I have thought a bit more about the power of this simple act on my classroom.

Traditionally teachers hang "excellent" student work on their bulletin board or on the hallway walls. We try to honor their work by sharing it with others in our buildings and parents when they come to conferences. Of course many of us are now using many forms of technology to showcase student work to the world including blogs, wikis, and hundreds of specialized sites such as voicethread..

But I really think youtube is in a special class of limited platforms (I would include Facebook, Bebo, and MySpace too). Youtube is "cool" to students. It is not some educational platform (which I am afraid is how students see blogs sometimes), but a cultural platform that people love to go to from around the world. Students want to put themselves on youtube.

I beleive I have just greatly increased the motivation in my class. I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed that I only had one group take the Lego robot project to the next level and create their own program that performed a unique task. But I can almost guarantee when I show that video to my next class that they will be motivated to create something. I am sure students will start to ask me if they can put their projects on youtube and I will then challenge them by saying "If it is good enough, sure."

The irony in all this is that only I can access the youtube videos at school because the filter blocks it for students. On the other hand it creates a reason for students to go to our class blog at home and show it to their parents.

I don't think as teachers we should ever underestimate the motivating power of showing off student work to as many people around the world as possible!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lego Robot Erase

My students, Cullen, Jordan, and Jordan designed, built the robot, and implemented this program where the robot follows a black line and then erases it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Math from Canada

My student teacher, Kyle Webb, in Canada sent us a video problem to solve. Check it out on his blog.

We solved and sent a screencast back to him. This was my favorite thing that we have done this year so far.

Pneumatic-Powered Truck

My 7th grade technology class always designs a pneumatic-powered device. We use syringes and tubing as the power source. Anthony made the best one ever: a dump truck with doors that open and hydraulics. I then made my first youtube video to document.

I love projects that let kids be creative!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Master Learning

I took a big step in my math class this weekend and started moving toward master learning. We had a geometry test on Friday and had mixed results: a few A's and B's, many C's, and a few D's and E's. I am a bit of a perfectionist and I woke up early Saturday, not able to sleep from the students that failed. So I e-mailed the parents and started a new policy: re-takes for tests.

The rationale behind this is simple for me. I believe in mastery learning. My job is to teach the 6th grade mathematics standards. I really don't care when students learn them. Some of my students "get" it the first day and some of them may not "get" it until after the first test. Why should I punish them because it takes them longer. For a more formal and detailed argument for this approach check out the blogs of Matt Townsley and Becky Goerend who have influenced me a lot on this topic.

So my new policy looks like this (although I still consider it a work in progress): homework will be graded based upon completion, but I am not going to tell students this. I think that will encourage them to give their best effort but not punish them for "mistakes" while learning. Any student who does not do well on a test based upon their self-assessment can re-take a different version of the test after completing further review work and tutoring with me.

This creates more effort for me-new assignments and test have to be created and I will have to find time to re-teach students outside of class, but that is my job and I will make the extra effort to help my students learn.

Will the students make the extra effort to schedule time with me and do extra work? We will see.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wood chips

I should have wrote this before my last post to better describe how my math class has been going. We are currently working on a basic geometry unit of area, perimeter, volume, and surface area. I was excited because this would be "easy" to teach with out a textbook.

I started off by explaining a problem I had of needing to know how much wood chips I needed to cover some landscaping that I did with a class last year. We discussed what we needed to know to figure this out and then went outside and measured the circle. They told me we needed to know the length and width of the circle so I had them measure where they told me those were. I did not try to correct their improper terms. We came up with 7 meters and 6.9 meters. One student noticed that they were approximately the same. We ran out of time for the day.

The next day we started in class and discussed the wrong use of terms. I had them search and find the area of a circle and we talked about what the formula means. Then I asked which of our measurements was right. They argued that 7 meters was correct because it was a whole number. We finally concluded that we did not know which one was right and that we had to go outside and take more measurements and then average them. We also talked about the fact that the circle was eye-balled when created and not perfect.

We ended up solving the problem and then solved two more wood chip problems for some rectangle gardens. Through out these lessons I asked lots of questions and guided their learning but did not give out any information. The students either came up with the answers themselves or surfed the web for them.

My evaluation of this teaching method was that I did not see the high engagement that I had hoped for by the class. My top students were with me and the bottom students seemed to be daydreaming or not really participating. I don't have a great story of the student who always fails getting excited and being successful.

Next I needed to cover parallelograms and triangles which are harder shapes to find in the real world. So we did some visual proofs together in Geometer's Sketchpad so they could play around and see why the area formulas work.

Again I have to give the district unit test so I gave them some practice problems with area and perimeter of parallelograms and triangles. They were totally lost. They could not remember the formulas or even use them when I gave the formulas to them. I ended up going around the room and individually teaching how to use the formulas.

We measured a bunch of food boxes and found their surface area and volume. I demonstrated how to use the formulas on the board and the majority of the class still needed me to re-teach individually.

So in response to the comment from Matt Townsley on last post about teaching at a deeper level. I have tried (I am not giving up!) but in the end I have to prepare the students for the district test. That is why I found ThatQuiz to be a useful tool for students to check their work on the basic problems that they need to know. I know it is not technology integration but doing the same old thing just on the computers. I do think the immediate feedback to students of whether or not they found the right answer is helpful. And unfortunately these are exactly the kinds of problems on the required tests.

All right push me back some more readers :)

Better "homework" practice

I was just venting Friday about how when I teach a new concept in my math class the majority of the students do not seem to be listening very well. When I have them start working on their own problems, too many of them need me to re-teach to them. I enjoy doing this but I find that I run out of class time before I can help them all. So my first solution is to pair them up and have a few of my students that "get" concepts quickly help those that tend to struggle.

Then I found a great resource to help on twitter. That Quiz is a math site (and some geography, science, and vocabulary in English, Spanish, German, and French too) that I learned about from @karlyb. It covers many of our math topics and is designed for teachers to make and give quizzes. My purpose will be a bit different. First of all I can have students select specific problems related to our current unit. But what I like about the site is it immediately gives feedback on whether they got a problem right or wrong. This will serve the same purpose as giving students the answers to their homework ahead of time as recommended by Matt Townsley. The problem I have with just giving them the answers ahead of time is that this unit (area, perimeter, volume, surface area) is so easy that it is really just memorize the formula and plug and chug.

Therefore I can have students practice on this site and they can self-assess the areas that they understand and those where they need help. I think I will be using this site as a review tool from now on. Then I can spend my time helping re-teach the concepts that they tell me they need help on.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Skyping in a Student Teacher

Just a quick note that one of Dean Shareski's education students that will be working with a couple of my classes skyped into class today. Check out how it went from him, Kyle Webb .

Nice job, Kyle!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Edchat Suggestion

First, I would like to thank Steve Anderson , Tom Whitby, and Shelly Terrell for their great work in organizing and promoting the weekly #edchat on Twitter. I have enjoyed participating and reading the varied opinions on the Tuesday night #edchat''s (7:00-8:00pm EST). My favorite topic was the homework discussion as it really made me think through the purpose of homework. I have also found great educators to follow through the weekly discussions.

But I read these tweets yesterday and it made me think about #edchat a bit more:

iMrsF : "Definitely did not vote for an edtech topic. Seems like we're just having "preaching to the choir" convos too often..."

and mctownsley replied: "@iMrsF as an edchat outsider/lurker, I agree. deep conversations need well-researched or deeply opinionated sides w/opposing views"

Now Matt Townsley's point about deeper conversations is probably one of the disadvantages of twitter and is best served in blogs and comments. But iMrsF has a legitimate concern. I definitely have felt this about Twitter and blogs in general and also about edchat. Now this is not a criticism of any of these ideas, just an admission of what we probably can all agree on that we need to involve more teacher into our PLN networks.

I have an idea that we set up an #edchat for next week with a topic for "newbies." Something aimed at teachers who have never been on a blog or seen Twitter. Some suggestions would be sharing examples of tech. integration, or sharing how our PLN helps us learn. I think it needs to be very introductory and inspiring. Then I would challenge all of us that normally participate to invite all of our teachers in our building/district to "lurk." Show them how to use twitterfall or a similar tool where they can "watch" without having to sign up for twitter.

So what do you think?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Standardization Kills Real Learning

I have not written about my math class much yet because I have been frustrated. My goal was to use the textbook as little as possible and to use authentic learning sources. The reality is that my scope, sequence, standards, and assessments are all mapped out for me with little wiggle room.

My first unit was on factors, multiples, and prime factorization. The more I think about these topics I find them to be quite abstract and separated from the "real world." The best real world example I could come up with was matching up hot dogs, ten in a package, with buns, 8 in a package, for multiples (Thanks to Becky Goerend for that tip on Twitter) to which another teacher responded, "I just let the extra buns rot in the frig."

This kind of example and others like it in the textbook just feel like the contrived story problems that drive students nuts. No one actually takes the time to figure out the right number of hot dogs and buns because nobody wants to buy 40 of them unless they are having a pretty big party!

I could have used multiples today when we bought candy for my son to bring as birthday treats for his class to make sure each student got the same amount. Instead we bought enough for each kid to have one package and we will eat the leftovers :) This is where math becomes too abstract and irrelevant to students because the questions that are asked in the book would never be worried about in the real world.

Although I do not have to use the textbook, each of our ten unit assessments (read tests) are already created for me by the district. I am required to use these tests. So on top of preparing (read teach to the test) students to take the MEAP next week (Michigan's assessment for NCLB) I feel that I have to teach to the test for every unit. I can not make an alternative assessment such as creating a mathcast or some other portfolio type project.

The push in this country to standardize everything in education to guarantee that each student receive an identical education is a fallacy and just plain ridiculous. It is time for the pendulum to swing back to professional teaching that is creative and individualized. We need to trust teachers to teach the right content at the right time for each student instead of trying to teach everybody as if they are in the same place at the same time. We need to start treating students as humans who are naturally curious, intelligent, and motivated by authentic learning experiences instead of as lab rats.

I am tired of hearing about how we are behind all of these other nations based on some test. The United States is still the creative center of the world. Last time I check the elite of the world stil come to our universities. This will eventually change if we continue down this overkill of standards and cookie cutter assessments that kill curiosity and creativity in our kids.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Paper Platforms

I usually write about the new things that I am trying in my classes, but I realized this week that some of my "old" lessons are worth sharing. In my 6th grade technology class I have always taught the paper platform lesson. The source of this comes from my mentor technology teachers Larson and Roode, a true master of teaching kids to come up with creative solutions.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

The paper platform project challenges students to build a three inch tall platform that can hold as many pennies as possible. The beauty of the challenge is that it is cheap and simple, yet not easy. I do not give students hints or help but ask lots of questions about their practice models. I often see all A students frustrated by this project because I will not help them solve it. I also feel it validates some students hands on skills that are often undervalued in school, but are important in the real world.

I have had lots of very different solutions over the years. The current world record is over 1500 pennies and the students get their names posted on my "Wall of Fame." What lesson do you use to teach problem solving?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bumps in the Social Media Road

I used Edmodo for the first time yesterday without the greatest results. Edmodo is a site designed for teachers to use for a private chat in a classroom. I used it for a backchannel with a large 8th grade class. We watched the commercial "Think before you post" and the video of Brad Paisely's "Online".

First of all students had difficulty signing up because the site would not pull up the sign in page properly. The solution was to keep refreshing until it did but it took some students over half an hour to get in. This resulted in a large amount of down time for the rest of the class as I tried to help/figure out why the site was not loading properly.

When we watched the videos I asked them a question about each and some of them responded, but no real discussion came out of it. There were a lot of silly, irrelevant comments about other things which I expected as middle schools "play" with something new to figure it out.

The most disappointing part was that a few of the students posted rude comments about each other and even some inappropriate remarks. We had talked about following our social contract in the chat and that it would all be monitored but that did not matter to a couple of them. The main problem was a student who signed in as another student in the class and made fun of him.

I caught him, of course and had an archive of the chat to prove it, and turned him into the office. I want the students to take this seriously, not as a joke. I was very frustrated yesterday, but felt better after looking through the transcript and realizing it was mainly just one student.

In the future I see this as a problem with edmodo that students can sign in under any name they choose and I will not know who they are unless I physically go around the room and check their screens. Anyone have any ideas to prevent this?

Today we set up individual blogs. We talked about the problems with the chat, and I showed them how people from around the world had viewed our blogs last year. Most of them seemed interest in blogging and I think they understood that they are representing themselves and the school on-line. We will keep talking about appropriate netiquette and creating a digital footprint.

Mistakes are a part of learning. I will never be afraid to try something new. We will use backchannel again. I refuse to let one student wreck this learning opportunity for the class. One little bump in the road might slow us down but will not change the direction we are heading.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Still Working on Teacher Websites

We are working as a school on setting up teacher sites. We ended up going with two platforms. Those that felt comfortable created blogger sites. Many had already made them. The teachers new having their own site are making wikispaces. The unifying feature is that each teacher is embedding Google Calendar on a separate page to share their lessons and homework.

It is exciting that many teachers are willing to take on this task by themselves. Also my principal and teachers who have 1st hour prep are subbing for teachers at the begining of the day when we show Channel 1 News to the students and have silent reading. I then can meet with five teachers for a half hour and help them get set up. Many of these teachers are anxious, but have left me set up and feeling confident and understanding the usefulness of the websites.

One of the most important concerns for me is that teachers see the websites as useful, productive, and not as a worthless adminstrative task that they are being forced to perform. So I am very excited by the great attitudes of the staff in my building (they are great to work with).

I hope to get some time to teach the staff how to use Google Docs to store their assignments and post them on their sites so that parents can see and/or print the work at home. Next year I would like to push everyone to have the same kind of blog.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Math History and Pre-tests

On Friday I had my students write their "math history" and then take a pre-test on factors and multiples. I know this is probably not revolutionary to many of you, but it was new for me and I am very happy with the results.

First I had my students tell me their "math history." I got the idea from Glenn Kenyon's blog. I just had them write one paragraph of how they did in math class in elementary school and how they feel about math as a subject. They were very honest about their past performance and grades. Many really like math and say that they are good at it. A few others have struggled and not surprisingly do not like math very much. None of them sounded like they have given up though, and were hopeful that they could be successful this year.

The pre-test was simply 7 questions covering the basic topics of our unit: prime and composite numbers, factors, multiples, LCM, GCF, and prime factorization. We did not review anything ahead of time so it was cold turkey. I could now compare my students self-assessment of their math abilities with their knowledge on our first unit. Most of their abilities matched what they said about themselves.

I also found out the overall strengths and weaknesses of the class. They did best on primes, composites, and factors. Some did not know multiples and only one student got the correct LCM of 4 and 5 being 20.

Based on their self-assessment and pre-test I know now where to spend my focus in this unit. Furthermore I have a good starting point of their math abilities whereas beforehand I had no clue of their level. I am now able to divide them into pairs for this week by their abilities.

I highly recommend both of these strategies to start a new class or new unit.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hoax Site Research Results

A quick update on my "cloning research" assignment. Out of 60 students only 4 gave a clear indication that they did not believe that this site was real. The last question that students had to answer in a Google form was:

"Would you trust this company if you wanted to purchase a clone? Explain"

Many students said, "No" but they did not want a clone for various reasons such as fear, not wanting one, or even ethical or religious reasons.

So the next day I congratulated the students who figured it out and told the rest of the class that they had been tricked. We then had a short discussion about how they should trust no one including the internet, TV, newspapers, textbooks, and teachers. I told them that they should question and doubt everything until proven.

My hope is that it was be a memorable lesson for them.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Filters and Fake Sites

Today was my first day of class, and it flew by. I was not able to have students do my fun research project because it was blocked by the school filter under the category of humor. Wow, humor sure is dangerous! The good news is that I e-mailed my IT dept. and they had it unblocked by the end of the day, and I can teach it tomorrow. So for those of you in the #edchat on Twitter tonight about filtering, don't give up and keep asking for things to be unblocked.

I was inspired by Cattywampus in an old Reader's Digest article. Go read it a minute-its better than this post I admit it.

OK, you're back. I just had to try this idea in my technology classes. I found this site on buying a human clone. The students will answer the questions in this Google form. If you look very closely the site is not very believable. It is also a bit dated from 1997 I think. But most students will not question its authenticity because it is on the Internet and the assignment is from a teacher.

The key question I will analyze is the last one: "Would you trust this company if you wanted to purchase a clone? Explain." This should show me whether or not they believe the site.

I do not plan to give the students an actual zero in the grade book. But I will be telling them they "failed" if they do not figure out it is fake. Quote of the day will be "Question everything."And that is the first lesson I want to teach this year.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Creating Teacher Websites

At a staff meeting this week we talked about our "Homework Hotline." This is a phone feature where teachers record their homework daily for parents to check on in the evening. Among its inconvenient features is that parents have to call back to access different teachers. We quickly agreed this technology was past its prime, and I volunteered to help set up teacher websites that could all be linked to the district site. week from tomorrow I have one half of an hour to train over 30 teachers to set up and use their own blog (Don't worry no one expects to complete this in that limited time. It will be an introduction). Maybe half of the teachers have been exposed to or set up some kind of on-line site before. The other half are likely to be a bit intimidated by this and are looking for simple and easy. I created a Google Doc survey to try to determine what the teachers want to do on their site. Most teachers do not check their e-mail on weekends, let alone a holiday so I hope to get most responses on Tuesday.

My thoughts are to show them my blog, class blog, and class wiki along with a few other teacher/school blogs so they can see some possibilities. In particular, I want to show them how I am using Google Calendar as my lesson plan book and embedding it in our class wiki to share with parents and students. I am leaning against a website because it might be too complex. I am also thinking against blogs because I feel like they are more difficult to customize. I think teachers do not really want posts as much as pages divided by their classes.

Therefore I am leaning toward teaching them to use a wiki, in particular Wikispaces. It is simple yet allows them to add almost anything. It is also easy to maintain different pages. The biggest disadvantage that I see is that "the look" of them is simple and not very attractive. But the biggest thing is that they are easy for teachers. Later I can introduce something more complex for those who are interested.

Teachers will be able to choose whatever platform or site that they want, but most will use whatever I show them. So readers what platform would you recommend? Blog, website, or wiki? What site would you use? Remember we are looking for simple use.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

PLN as Crediblity Test

This week I sat through a six hour ESL training that was painfully presented. The presenter was a university professor. We were given a book co-written by a husband/wife team who were her colleagues at her school. The intended audience of said book was student teachers in a college ESL program.

She presented with "Death by Powerpoint" the whole day using almost 300 slides. It was a canned presentation of the author's work with many slides being identical text to the handouts sitting in front of me. I am positive that she did not create the powerpoint presentation herself. She was working for the publisher of the book.

Now you can probably already guess I was not engaged or overly impressed with this professional development. During a break I went up to the presenter and asked if she knew Larry Ferlazzo from my PLN. Larry is in my opinion one of the top educational bloggers and sources of ESL resources in the world.

She said, "No." When I explained who he was she said, "I am not good with technology." (I already knew that I am watching your Powerpoint for hours) Later is her preso, she shared his name with the whole group again telling everyone, "I am not good with technology."

This was unacceptable to me. Now I have lost all credibility with her. How can a professor, paid speaker, "expert" tell us that she "is not good with technology"? How can she not know other experts in her field? How can she NOT be connected with other ESL teachers from around the world? I do not teach ESL but off the top of my head I can name 5 ESL teachers located around the world that I could tweet at anytime and have answers in less than 24 hours.

What if I told her, "Oh, I don't teach ESL" and dismiss her whole session as not relevant to me. That would not be professional of me. I am expected to learn new teaching strategies, and rightly so. Of course it was repeated over and over that the reason she was brought in was because our ESL students were our greatest weakness on the state standardized tests.

Since I have been involved in building a PLN on-line, I now feel that this is a new standard to evaluate speakers in my professional development. So am I being too harsh? Is it fair/right to judge people based on whether or not they are connected to other experts around the world? Should a professional speaker lose some credibility (notice I am not saying all) if they do not have a PLN who pushes them philosophically and keeps them engaged in current discussions in their area of expertise?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Google Docs Computer Use Survey

Thanks to a tweet and link from @intrepidteacher I got the idea and source to create a survey about computer usage to start off the school year. He shared this PDF file to me via twitter. I do not know the original author to give credit to.

I find PDF to be terrible to work with plus I wanted to tweak it a bit so I used it to create a survey form in Google Docs.

The beauty of this is that it is paperless and I can invite students by e-mail to fill it out and the results will automatically be put into a spreadsheet for me to easily see the results. If you do not know how to do this check out this video which explains how to make a quiz in Google Docs simply.

I have shared a copy of this Doc with everyone giving you editor's rights. Feel free to use this survey or adapt as you see fit. Just go to this link. Got to File-Create a new copy. That step is important; otherwise you will be sharing results with everyone and they can edit your copy.

Next rename it as you please and change the rights so it is not shared with everyone.

If you goto Form you can see options to edit form, see live form, and embed form.

To use with students share it with them to view only by their e-mail addresses.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Teaching math backwards

As I have mentioned I will be teaching my first math class this year-6th grade (not counting student and substitute teaching). I want to drop the textbook as much as possible, but have to admit that I am a bit intimidated to commit to not using it at all. I see textbooks as a crutch for teachers because I think that they are terrible. But textbooks do make it easier to plan and teach and I am not sure I can prep without it every day.

Today I was challenged by two blog posts to give it a realistic try. The first is by Nancy Stewart about 8 principals that she will use in teaching her special education math class. She mentions ditching the textbook which is encouraging just to hear that others are taking the same step. She also gives some good ideas on how to at the same time make math more real world and personally relevant to students.

She also mentions one of my favorite bloggers Ira Socol and links to this post. Math teachers you must read this post as Ira paints alternative ways to teach math and turns much of my thinking upside-down. He shows examples of using sports, construction, cooking, and money to make math authentic and meaningful. I am sure he would argue that my times table idea is a waste of time.

The most challenging thought to me was a comment (you must read the comments) by Homer the Brave:

"Start with philosophy. Teach kids about logical systems. Teach them how to understand a provable statement and how to spot a fallacy. Then say, 'We're going to now apply this same set of rules about philosophy to math.' Then teach algebra. The details of arithmetic will then follow, imbued with purpose and meaning.

So basically we teach math backwards arithmetic, algebra, and then philosophy. I personally was an excellent math student in school because I was very good at memorizing and working algorithms. It was not until taking classes about teaching math in college that I understood the philosophy and reasoning behind the math. Homer argues that we should start with the philosophy (logic) and then move to algebra with arithmetic last. This is very new to me but does make sense.

Of course this change would have to happen at the district curriculum level. The easy cop out for me is that I must teach to the standards assigned to me. But I can at the same time as teaching the standards, teach the logic and philosophy behind the math. I can teach authentically without the textbook as much as possible. I am up for the challenge. How about you?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Is rote memorization a 21st Century skill?

A common theme in blogs and twitter feeds is the need to teach 21st century skills. The point has been made over and over that we should not be requiring students to memorize facts that can easily be googled. Without getting deep into the argument of what these skills are or whether they are new, let me say that I agree this should be a primary focus of education. I believe in focusing on problem-solving using authentic, real world learning with collaboration both inside my classroom and globally.

But....this year I am teaching a 6th grade math class for the first time. One of the things that has amazed me in my 5 years of teaching a math-focused technology class is how many kids do not know the answer to simple math problems like 3 x 7. They want to use a calculator for basic math facts that I think they should know. So for my class I am thinking about starting the year off by requiring them to review and recite to me the times tables through 12 x 12. I believe that this foundation is necessary for most middle to advanced math concepts including fractions, multiples, factors, algebra, and calculus.

I think memorizing spelling words is another similar set of facts that should be memorized. Even when you have spellchecker you need to be able to spell close enough that it can recognize what you are trying to spell. You also need to be able to pick out the correct word from spellchecker's choices. I have read many papers where students lacked those two skills.

So my question to readers is what do they think about rote memorization? Is it last century or still important. When is it useful or even necessary? Am I off-base or is it important to teach rote memorization of basic skills before students can perform many higher level tasks.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What are the best tools?

I talked with the head of technology in my district today. It was great to bring up many ideas in my head to bounce off of him. Our district is just getting started investigating the on-line tools that many of you have been using for years. He understood more than I expected and agreed with my overall philosophy of opening up the filter and getting more technology into students' hands.

The big difference between us is the rate of adoption. I am a no-holds barred, dive-in, and experiment with everything at once kind of guy. He is much more cautious and wants to integrate things slowly. I understand his position as an administrator and even the philosophy as to why it makes sense as articulated here by Chris Lehman. So I left the meeting excited that we are moving in the right direction philosophically and of course offered to pilot anything that he wanted to try.

So I need to give him a list of the five tools I would like unblocked for students. The district has unblocked almost everything for teachers this past year which was great. Now will begin the slower process of unblocking for students. Things like twitter and youtube will not be unblocked. I need the best tools that can be private, or self-contained in the district. I do not think they will unblock tools that give students access to outside chats.

I would like to blog, backchannel, bookmark, podcast, digital storytelling, and make stop-motion videos this year. My list right now is :

Voicethread-for digital storytelling
Livestream or jaycut-for video
Pixton-for cartoons
xtranormal or Glogster-for digital storytelling
tinychat or todaysmeet-for private backchannel
Diigo or Delicious-social bookmarking and collaborative editing of on-line texts

Sites that are already open include:
Google Docs, Earth, and Sketchup-collaboration and drawings

So readers, as you can see my list is too long. Based on your classroom experience which ones are the best? What tools have you used? Which would you recommend? What tools am I missing that I should include instead of these? Please give opinions in comments (I know I should have a poll).

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Schools need heroes

Schools today need heroes. Not superheroes who save the day, but leaders who are not afraid to make changes to improve student learning rather than perform well on "the test."

"Those who advocate incremental change are not the heroes of history." unknown tweet

I saw this a few weeks ago on twitter and it summarizes how I feel about where schools need to go. We need to be bold and not afraid to try new things.

There is too much emphasis on teaching to the test to make AYP under NCLB. I understand that federal funds and administrative jobs are tied to the scores and that they get published in the newspaper as "failing" or "passing" schools based on complicated formulas that the general public does not understand.

Still I long for administrators to de-emphasize the tests and implement student-centered, project-based instruction. Instead of trying to synchronize every content class with common assessments, encourage teachers to experiment with personalized instruction that meets students where they are and pushes them as far as possible.

The ideal classroom would be 1:1 laptops with no textbooks. The internet and world would be the "text" along with conversations with students and adults from around the world. Teachers would not use textbooks as easy lesson plans, but would continually be exploring the web themselves finding the latest resources to engage their students. Students and teachers would learn together and document their learning on blogs, wikis, and digital portfolios. The portfolio would continue with the student throughout their school career showing their learning progress. Students would use skype and other social media to collaborate with schools around the world in real life projects that integrate multiple content areas. "Homework" would be students continuing these conversations on the internet outside of school and researching more about them. "Classwork" would be students sharing and teaching each other what they discovered at home.

There are literally hundreds of "tools" on the web that are free and open-sourced. School budgets would shift from paper,textbooks, and canned software to wi-fi, netbooks, and teacher training for the student-based learning. Schools would get creative (and save money) by allowing students to use their own laptops, cell phones, and ipods to access the web.

These kind of changes can not be implemented by individual teachers in isolation, but require leadership from the top that is willing to take risks and encouraging risk-taking by its teachers and students. Teacher training is imperative to successful implementation.

Where should administrators begin? Start with reading blogs of some administrative leaders such as Chris Lehman and Scott Mcleod. Learn about the best practices from bloggers like David Warlick, Will Richardson, Shelly Blake-Plock, and Wesley Fryer. Engage in the comments section of these blogs and join twitter. If you feel that you are "not good at technology," ask these people to help and share with you. They will meet you at your level and help you join the learning revolution. Find some one to mentor you in how to successfully use these tools. Here is a place where you can find some people who will mentor you on how to use twitter. Administrators, please go to educational technology conference yourself. Do not just send others, but experiment for yourself with the possibilities.

After you have seen the creative possibilities out there, share your enthusiasm with your staff and teachers. Encourage them to engage like you have. Demonstrate to your teachers how to build a PLN (personal learning network). Encourage innovation, get rid of filters, train teachers, and turn them loose.

If you create this kind of school, parents will not care about what the newspaper says about your school, but will know that you are creating the best educational environment for their child. They will see the difference in their children who are engaged in school and truly learning. So what are you waiting for? Jump in and become a hero. Our students deserve nothing less.

PS: more ideas from Leadership Day 09 posts here.

Friday, July 10, 2009

My twitter beginnings....

With my recent posts about the challenges of getting connected in the ed-tech community, I was very happy to see a twitter mentor project on the twitter4teachers wiki. This is what I could have used in March when I signed up for twitter.

First, the story of my decision to use twitter. I had to learn about twitter as part of my "23 Things" class. It was Thing#21 and I did not like twitter. Re-reading my post is funny as it is obvious like many people I did not "get it" or as I recall I did not spend much time trying to "get it." So I had no use for twitter and focused on reading blogs.

In March I attended my first MACUL conference. The first session I attended after the keynote was by Steve Dembo in the main ballroom. There were screens on the ends of the room that were very hard to see. I missed a link that I wanted so during the session I quickly joined twitter and asked for the link using a conference hashtag. I got an immediate response from Kevin Galbraith. After the presentation I went up and asked Steve (who I had never heard of by the way) about how to actually be heard and have conversations on twitter. I remember he explained that it was a catch-22 that no one was listening until you built relationships with people and that took time.

Well I think the time it has taken me is what led to my frustration blog about NECC and the difficulties of engaging the edu-blog community. The reality for me is that I personally knew no one on twitter or using any social media for that matter. I had no idea who to follow or how to build a PLN. I could have desperately used a guide to get me started on worthwhile blogs and tweets to follow. I since have worked hard to find some great educators to engage with. I now consider myself slightly beyond "newbie" stage with some great twitter friends who share and stretch my thinking.

But this wiki is exactly what teachers new to twitter could use. This is a great way for tech-ed leaders to mentor other teachers. A big part of my frustration with growing my twitter PLN is how hard I had to work to build it, not because I am lazy. My family would say I am addicted to twitter.

My real concern is that I want to share all of the great things that I am learning with the other teachers in my building and district. I do not think that the majority of teachers will work as hard to build a PLN. I reference Scott Mcleod's excellent post today about enabling teachers by too much handholding when introducing technology to teachers. For better or worse, I agree with the comments that I would rather enable than to have teachers never try to use it at all. So I commend this wiki and hope that mentees will find it and use it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

We are learning, not technology, experts

I heard a tweet about how many teachers have never heard the names of the "technology experts" in education. I echo this sentiment and believe it is a real and huge problem. I believe it is a problem of labels and how technology leaders are promoted. Before my "conversion" starting in December of last year I had never heard of any of the edu-bloggers and twitter people that I follow, and I am a technology teacher! In order to see the large scale changes in our public schools we need to reach the masses of general education teachers and administrators.

The first "name" I learned was David Warlick through my "23 Things" class. I found other leaders by reading the blogs of Will Richardson, Wesley Fryer, Shelly Blake-Plock (TeachPaperless), Alan Levine, and Vickie Davis. I set up class and student blogs with the patient help of Sue Waters. I went to MACUL conference and heard Alan November, Steve Dembo, and Leslie Fisher speak. I had no idea who they were when I got there. I signed up to help mentor a pre-service teacher in Dean Shareski's class even though I had no idea who he was. I keep learning about and meeting through twitter many teachers and education leaders. My blogroll keeps growing as I learn from so many of these great teachers and thinkers.

Now back to the problem of labels. These people present at conferences and workshops all over the country and world. Technology education has an image problem represented in its semantics. I have read arguments about our terminology: Web 2.0, 21st century learning, social media, etc. Some want to ban them; some want to make new terms; others try to define them more clearly; I agree with those that have argued that this pleura of terms that technology leaders can not even agree on just confuses the average teacher who is being introduced to technology integration.

Unfortunately many teachers are not active learners and can easily use the excuses that they are too busy or not good at technology to keep from integrating technology into their teaching. The confusing technology terminology is another easy excuse for them to ignore new strategies of learning and teaching. They can just claim "I don't teach a computer class."

The other image problem is how we compartmentalize and divide classes: core vs. electives. Of course, there have been schools that integrate subjects, but most schools and teachers are still segregated by subject. Our school used to have teaming, but that ended years ago because of the budget. The biggest problem is classes like mine: Technology class. We are telling students, parents, and teachers that technology is something separate from math, science, social studies, and language arts. A more holistic approach would encourage computers and technology use in every class. That is the way technology is used in the real world: integrated.

Now for the kicker: I think we need to re-term our ideas from educational technology to best practices in learning. I do not have a fancy name for it. What I mean is that the technology experts that I have mentioned among many others, need to be seen by administrators and teachers as the experts on the best practices in learning instead of as technology experts. They need to present more at general ed. conferences, math, science, social studies, reading, writing, and special education conferences. Maybe they should be on shows like Oprah and the Today Show like Alfie Kohn. By focusing their time and attention on technology educators they are narrowing their audience when every teacher should adapt the best practices that they are demonstrating. Their philosophies of education should be taught to pre-service teachers not as a separate class but in the best practices and philosophy of ed. classes.

This in my opinion is the way to reach the masses (of teachers and administrators). Integration of technology is the key-at the classroom level within subjects and by our"big name" leaders being viewed as "learning" experts instead of technology experts.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

#iranelection as spam

I had a thoughtful discussion on twitter with @AndrewBWatt about using the #iranelection hashtag on twitter. He told me that when I use that tag it was like spam in that it was filling up space that was being used by real Iranians to communicate. I had never thought about it from that angle before. I had looked at the tag as a way to continually bring attention to the struggle of the protesters for a more democratic government. He also mentioned that I could be creating noise so that Iranians who were communicating life-saving information about what was going on at the ground level would not be able to find it.

I considered his comments very seriously as he brings up important points, but as I have watched the #iranelection posts on twitter I do not believe it is being used by Iranians to communicate tactical moves of the authorities. Rather I think the primary use of twitter (and blogs, Youtube, Flickr, ect.) is to broadcast to the world what is happening in their country, begging for our support. Therefore when I "advertise" a blog post about the importance of the events in Iran or re-tweet links of events going on there, I am adding to the discussion. I believe that my #iranelection tweets are "signal" of the most important kind rather than "noise."

The most important evidence of my view is how many Iranian twitter users request re-tweets of their information to get their message out. This is also the reason that they hold up signs in English as well as Farsi.

Lastly some twitter users in the USA are using the #iranelection hashtag as "noise" by randomly sticking it in tweets that have nothing to do with Iran just to get people to see their tweets. Although I find this self-promotion loathsome, I still think even this spam has a positive purpose by keeping the hashtag high on twitter's top trends list. Just keeping #iranelection in the top ten serves as a reminder to Westerners that this is an ongoing battle for freedom that will not quickly be resolved.

What do you think?

Friday, July 3, 2009

F2F Connections

Wow! The difference in one comment and blog post. Since last night, many educators have contacted me through comments and Twitter. Thank you to each of you for your encouragement. I do believe that edu-bloggers are willing to reach out to anybody and join them in the conversation. I think that the most important word in my feelings yesterday was my PERCEPTION. I have learned that many of the people that I follow are themselves relatively new to the conversations but have just engaged others more than I have.

I specifically want to point out a post by Scott Meech in which he encourages his friends who are "experts" to get out of their comfort zones and join "newbies" in conversations at NECC. This is exactly what I am talking about happening, and I find this encouraging. I would add that I hope that they would reach out all of the time and not just at NECC. I also agree with twitter comments about setting up a more regional meeting so people can meet with their PLN f2f (face-to-face).

In re-analyzing my feelings yesterday, I think the real thing I am missing is the personal connection beyond twitter. That is what Ben Grey's post said to me. I can "feel" the friendships that he has with his PLN by reading his tweets. The real thing that is missing for me is that I have never met anyone in my PLN f2f except for two people in my school that I helped sign up for Twitter. Basically I feel jealous of everyone at NECC because of the strengthening of their PLNs through f2f contacts.

So I am very interested in regional meeting idea because I can not afford the time or money to go to DC and I am sure that there are many more like me. I do feel that there is something very powerful in the real world conversations of a PLN beyond blogs and Twitter.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

NECC, mentors, and the Matrix

I am watching the first Matrix movie and reading my Tweetdeck. I was reading Ben Grey's wrap-up post on NECC and left a comment there. I found others discussing something that has been bothering me for a little while. It starts with a tweet from Steve Dembo (who talked me into starting twitter at MACUL 2009 by the way)

"If I took nothing else away from NECC, it's that we need to spend more time bringing in new choir members, & less surfing the bleeding edge."

I could not agree more. I am a "newbie." I have been a middle school technology teacher for five years, but before December, 2008 I had never heard RSS, Readers, Flickr, Twitter, Digital Storytelling, or anything Web 2.0 or 21st Century. I took a "23 Things" class through my local ISD and have immersed myself ever since. I started as a lurker reading around a hundred blogs. I have recently started blogging more myself, got active on Twitter, and commenting on others' blogs. I have started to get into conversations with some great educators.

Although I am so new to all of this I have already presented a Professional Development session on Google Reader and Delicious for middle school teachers in my district. Compared to almost every teacher in my district I am an expert! They would be lost in even the most basic sessions at NECC.

But as I commented on Ben's blog I feel like the top edubloggers have an "exclusive group" that is easier to "follow" than join into the discussion for the average classroom teacher. While I have written this Morpheus has spent the whole time explaining the "new technology"of the Matrix to Neo. He could never become "the One" without Morpheus as his mentor.

I suggest that each of the edublogger leaders take 10-15 newbies under his/her wing and actively engage with them and guide them in their struggles implementing new teaching strategies and tools. When I tweet a question usually no one answers me. I understand it takes time to build my PLN, but an expert to guide me would be very valuable.

So in answer to Sheryl NussbaumBeach who tweeted

"pondering "agents of change" who are unknown -- can one be an agent of change if those who need changing do not know about them?"

I say yes! Start with those of us who do know about you and we will share with other teachers.

I have the opportunity to be a technology consultant for one hour a day for the second semester of this next year. I hope to engage as many teachers as possible in my building with student-centered teaching using technology. So who wants to help :)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sorry MJ, Iran still matters

I have been thinking about this post for some time. I have been trying to wrap my brain around the effect of social media on the #iranelection My emotions have run the gamut from excitement to anger to disgust to frustration. At first I was so excited about the power of Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, and YouTube to show the world live what was happening in Iran. It reminded me of the big splash that CNN made by reporting live from the First Invasion of Iraq under Bush Sr. I remember vividly gathering around TV's while I was in college to watch "live war." For the twitter naysayers, CNN has managed to do OK after that.

This time though we had the common people "reporting" from everywhere.

In recent days I have learned from Twitter about the deaths of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Jeff Goldblum (whoops Twitter rumor), and now Billy Mays. I was shocked by MJ but McMahon and Fawcett were not surprising due to age and cancer. The response of their fans around the world is a bit too much for me.

Full disclosure I have never been a "fan" of any them. I have tried to relate to their fans and their behavior by thinking of what celebrity I am a "fan" of. First of all, I had a hard time thinking of who that would be. I am a big sports fan especially of the University of Michigan football and basketball teams. So I thought of Bo Schembechler, who passed in 2006. I remember being surprised but not too much because of his age and health issues, but I never was effected by it. I would never place flowers or gifts around a shrine to him. I felt no emotional loss at his death.

For me it comes down to mourning people I know personally, family and friends, not celebrities and sports heroes. Death is the natural end of all life and I am OK with that. It sometimes surprises me, but only effects me when it is personal or tragic like 9-11.

Getting back to Iran what really disturbs me is how fast our culture looks for the next train-wreck story. I do not blame the national media on this one. Check out the trends on Twitter and you can see that #iranelection is still there but there is a lot more attention on many other frivolous things. People would rather obsess about the natural deaths of MJ and the other celebrities than the tragic deaths of Iranians fighting to change the future of their country. My avatar is green to support them (As many others were, but I can't help but notice that quite a few have changed their avatoars back to normal). For many the Iran election was an interesting story, but now it is over.

Sources from Iran tell a different story. For one the Iranian government is using the same social media as the activists to trap them down and arrest them (Read about that here). I had not heard any tweets for days from one activist until today when he tweeted about his friend being captured for days and interrogated. Another Iranian blog has a post from a friend because the authorities are looking for the blogger and have already arrested his brother. The Iranian activists are now in danger because of social media.

While I have read an interesting discussion about traditional media vs. social media and the how important is the role of traditional journalists in Will Richardson's blog and comments. I think the bigger issue is the effect of social media on the people "reporting" the news. Iranians have turned to social media because the world is listening. They hold up signs in Farsi and English because they are talking not only to their government but to the world! The attention that they get through social media has empowered the Iranian students and they will not allow things to return to "normal" in their country because they have been heard. I believe that this is the true power of social media to empower those who have had no voice against the powerful.

Personally, one of the most disturbing things I have heard from Iran is this CNN interview. The reason that it haunts me is the desperation in the woman's voice as she begs for us to help her: "You should stop this. You should help the people of Iran who demand freedom" (about 3 min. in and 5 min. in). Most of the Youtube videos that I have seen do not really have much audio, but this woman's emotions are so raw. The interviewer obviously is uncomfortable and tries to ask another question, but her desperation is clear.

My final thoughts are frustration at feeling like I can not really help them. But oh we can. We can keep re-tweeting their posts and keep giving them support. Educators do not forget about Iran. Re-tweet, Re-tweet, Re-tweet!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Students say using technology to cheat is not cheating

E-school News reports today:

A new poll conducted by the nonprofit organization Common Sense Media suggests that students are using cell phones and the Internet to cheat on school exams. What's surprising, however, is not just the alarming number of students who say they cheat, but also the number of students who think it's OK to do so.

According to the poll, more than a third of teens with cell phones (35 percent) admit to cheating at least once with them, and two-thirds of all teens (65 percent) say others in their school cheat with them.

Of the teens who admit to cheating with their cell phones, 26 percent say they store information on their phone to look at during a test, 25 percent text friends about answers during a test, 17 percent take pictures of the test to send to friends, and 20 percent search the Internet for answers during tests using their phones. Also, nearly half (48 percent) of teens with cell phones call or text their friends to warn them about pop quizzes.

First of all, where are the teachers in the classroom administering the tests? I think cheating is not that easy if teachers are paying attention while they administer tests. Surely you would notice if they have out an electronic device. Some readers are quick to blame the technology and say "why are phones in school" and that they should be banned. Cheating has been around for ages before we had cell phones. Don't blame phones for students behavior. Cell phones have a very useful place in the classroom as mini-computers that can be used for research.Reading a text message is not that much different than reading a note. Teachers watching for phones out during a test is no different than watching to see if they have a "cheat sheet" on a piece of paper.

More importantly teachers should re-evaluate their tests. If tests are really at high-level thinking requiring analysis, evaluation, synthesis, and application then they should be "cheat-proof." It is much easier to cheat on multiple choice or fill in the blank than on a test that actually requires thinking, interpreting, and students writing their own opinion. I agree with Alan November who said that tests should be open Internet. But it requires a new way of thinking for teachers and students. This open test would actually be more difficult because it would require higher level thinking rather than just rote memorization. Students would have access to all of the "facts" on the Internet, but then would have to use them to answer a more difficult level of questioning.

I personally lean toward no traditional tests, but use projects, blogs, and other forms of writing to assess student learning. For example after my students build and launch hot air balloons made of tissue paper, they must write a letter to Leon Gambetta explaining to him how to escape from a siege of Paris (1870). In the letter they must explain how to build a hot air balloon and why they fly. My 8th grade students write evaluations of all of their projects on their blog explaining their experiences for each project. Of course if it was up to me I would eliminate grades all together but that is another discussion.

Finally also disturbing to me is that students do not view this as cheating. Morals are in decline in our country and many students will do whatever it takes to get ahead just to get a good grade. I often ask ethical questions as "opening" writing assignments to students and many of them see little wrong with cheating, stealing, or lying if they think that they will not get caught. Many students admit they would take a stolen ipod from a friend or lie to get out of trouble and see nothing wrong with it. Therefore we need to teach students why cheating is wrong on top of monitoring them from doing it.

In summary, authentic learning experiences with authentic assessments with open resources makes cheating impossible. So what do you think?

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Students prove the premise of UP

My 6th grade technology class has just finished making hot air balloons out of tissue paper and launching them. We also wrote letters to Leon Gambetta helping him escape Paris in a hot air balloon after reading Horses with Wings by Dennis Haseley.

I then used this article from Wired for a lesson last week.I posed the question of whether the premise of the movie UP was possible? The class voted and then I told them that we were going to prove it one way or the other.

I then made them figure what questions to ask and what we needed to know to "prove" it. They had the Internet as their resource. It took most of the hour, but they figured it out. Learning to ask the right questions was an important part of this lesson that I emphasized to them. They had to figure how much the house weighed, how big the balloons are, how much lift helium has, and the volume in a balloon.

We then talked about the errors in our hypothesis such as neglecting the mass of the string. We also talked about other practical concerns mentioned in the article and in the comment feed such as the fact that houses are not designed to be lifted. Lastly we looked at the clusterballoon website of people who launch themselves. The students were fascinated by this site.

Overall it was a very good lesson and I plan to repeat it again next year with one change: bring in some real helium balloons and have students perform an experiment to discover the lift of helium by measuring the balloon's size and tie it to a weight on a triple beam balance.