The Moss-Free Stone

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old” -Peter Drucker

New Podcast: #20: 6 Skills You Should Have

October 8, 2014 by · No Comments · 21st Century Skills, leadership, Teaching and Learning

Image source: https://conventionsofsociety.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/napoleon_1.jpeg

Image source: https://conventionsofsociety.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/napoleon_1.jpeg

Just uploaded a new episode of the Moss Free Show entitled 6 Skills You Should Have. That’s have, as in already. These are baseline, starter-level skills that all educators (administrators included) should possess by this time. I was inspired after reading about 10 different such articles and blog posts this week, some with as many as 33 skills teachers need (You see–I’m actually much more concise than you gave me credit for!). These kinds of posts are extremely abundant the past few months. I found examples from Discovery, Edudemic, THE Journal, Edutopia, just to name a few. As I read, I started to see that the vast, diverse skills were connected by just a few, broader categories, and this podcast/blog post was born. In summary, the 6 skills are:

  • Find information–Use a variety of tools and strategies to find exactly the thing or information that is needed, when it is needed.
  • Communicate–Use the right tool for the message and the audience; be able to use a variety of means and media, whether written, images, sound, video, etc.
  • Connect–Use technology’s networking capabilities to build relationships with other educators so that you can share ideas, questions, answers, frustrations, victories, etc.
  • Learn–Know how to develop your professional knowledge and skills using online resources.
  • Wisdom–Be able to avoid behaviors and practices that would endanger you or your students safety or privacy, your professional reputation, or your hardware/network.
  • Fit–Understand how technology fits into the flow of instruction in ways that make learning more relevant, exciting, and powerful. This should become as natural as blinking.

I explore these 6 to a little greater depth in the podcast below. Give it a listen and let me know–did I leave anything out? Am I way off or getting close?

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The Maker Space Starter Kit

September 3, 2014 by · No Comments · 21st Century Skills, creativity, innovation, Maker Movement

The latest Moss Free Show went up today, The Maker Space Starter Kit. I discuss inexpensive tools that can make up the raw materials to get a school or classroom maker space started.

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Change the Subject(s)

August 29, 2014 by · 3 Comments · 21st Century Skills, collaboration, creativity, innovation, society, Teaching and Learning

Warning: Can of worms ahead. Proceed with caution.

3438757479_73d0de635f_zWe in education give a lot of attention to the latest ideas and shiny reform efforts, but we are fundamentally slogging around in wet cement when it comes to some of the most basic concepts, concepts such as school hierarchies, grade levels, age-based grades,  or even subject areas. These sacred cows are virtually unchallenged. Why? Tough question. Certainly, it’s easier on us to do what has always been done. It’s also almost certainly influenced by educators’ increasingly diminished power to control what they teach and how it is taught. Pressure to pass tests plays a part, as it seems to sap the creative, innovative spirit from even the best of teachers. It begins, though, with a lack of questioning. We’re a very passive bunch, we teachers. We’re also too busy, too uninformed about alternative ideas, and too darned nice. So, we just train our eyes ahead and march as we’ve always done.

The antiquated idea of teaching students subject-area knowledge in isolation is groundless (unless one considers a couple of centuries of tradition to be “grounded”). While some would argue that it once applied well to preparation for a different economy and simpler society, I would argue that it never did, and that the only place we go to learn something in isolated, sequential chunks is school. The rest of learning in life is situated in dealing with real problems with real people in real settings, and there is abundant, sloppy overlap. Quickly and without using a search engine answer the following:

  • Who was the 21st president of the United States?
  • Why did the US and the United Kingdom fight the War of 1812?
  • What is an isomer?
  • What do mitochondria do?
  • What is the slope-intercept equation of a line?
  • What is the formula for converting degrees to radians?
  • What is the difference between a gothic arch and a Roman arch?

How’d you do? I must admit, I wrote the questions, and I can only answer 3 correctly (I think.). I know for certain, though, that I learned every one of these things once upon a time. Some teacher believe he or she was imparting something very valuable to me. They may have been correct, but I can’t really judge, since I can’t remember. Maybe the girl sitting in the next row was distracting me that day.

I have 2 children, one starting the 5th grade this week, the other in the 8th. Both are bright, enthusiastic, high-achieving kids who kick STAAR (Texas’s state assessment) butt. They are great at the school “game.” While this certainly does not displease me, it is not what I stress with my kids. I don’t ask them to balance chemical equations or identify the main character and setting in Where the Red Fern Grows when they get home from school, because I frankly don’t care. I also suspect that their future employers, employees, customers, spouses, families, friends, etc. won’t care. They won’t care because these things just don’t matter, unless you’re in a tiny, specialized segment of society (Anyone have a lot of historian friends? No offense to historians–I’m sure you are very nice.). I taught 6th grade science, and I’d like to confess something to my former students: Your brilliant mastery of biomes? Completely useless. My apologies.

I know the defenders of the faith will rise up against such blasphemy. To them, I say I’m sorry. However, I’m not sure I can stand one more justification phrased as “Knowing this makes a person more well-rounded,” “Those who don’t learn from the past…” or “You need to know this to be a good citizen.” My highest priority for my children is not to be a well-rounded voter. Those are dandy, mind you, but just not good enough. What I want for my children are the traits and skills that have led to the successes of the most important, impactful people and the perfectly happy ordinary Joes alike. Among them…

  • Great communication skills. Our kids have to know how to read, write, and listen, and speak (Requires less shhhh-ing on the part of the teacher.).
  • Functional math. This means the minimum math needed for whatever direction they choose. Don’t force algebra on everyone. It really isn’t helpful. No, it isn’t.
  • Critical thinking. Don’t take everything at face value–a lot of ideas are wrong (even on the Internet). Know how to tell the good from the bad.
  • Problem solving. Failure and challenges are everywhere. Be prepared to take an alternate route, and another, until you find the right one. Innovation and creativity are closely related ideas. So is being able to figure out why your car won’t start.
  • Physical well-being. I want our kids to make choices that make them healthy (diet, exercise, etc.). I have a certain lifestyle I expect my kids to support in my old age.
  • Relationship skills. Not talking dating here–talking about being able to work with the person next to you or the person on the other end of that email. 2 is greater than 1 (That’s functional math right there.).
  • Technology literacy. Doesn’t mean every kid is a Mark Zuckerberg. It means every kid can safely, responsibly, and effectively leverage what they need when they need it.

Image source: https://flic.kr/p/4avhK1

I’m sure there are  more (Educator/author/reformer Roger Schank has a very thorough list here.). The point is, these are universally useful abilities and traits that span the traditional subjects. Couldn’t the old, establishment knowledge and skills (that still have relevance) be addressed in the context of mastering these new ones?  Couldn’t all of these be addressed in the process of inquiry- or project-based learning? If you REALLY want to get crazy, you totally abandon the neat, orderly idea of subjects entirely and put these life skills into whatever meaningful context they most naturally fit–maybe even in finding answers to kids‘ own questions.

I know this is real pie-in-the-sky stuff, but I’m an optimist. I know it can seem like we’re hopelessly oppressed under test and governmental agency and regulations. These kinds of changes would likely take too long to get started for my kids to benefit in any way. It’s good to have a dream, though, and this is mine, based upon 23 years as an educator and almost 14 as a dad. It’s also important to never settle. We can do better, but we have to be willing to question even the most fundamental ideas first, and this may be the most fundamental of all.

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SUPER Handy Guide to Copyright and Fair Use for Images

August 22, 2014 by · No Comments · 21st Century Skills, Teaching and Learning

Copyright and Fair Use questions can be very complicated and confusing. Curtis Newbold of The Visual Communication Guy blog has come up with a really great flowchart that answers students’ questions about whether or not the images they want to use in their projects are fair game. Click the image below to see the full-sized version, which would be a great tool to share with students this fall.

Can I Use This Picture?

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Kahoot! Engaging New Assessment Tool For the New School Year

August 20, 2014 by · No Comments · Educational technology, games, Teaching and Learning, Web Tools

As I made the rounds at several educational technology conferences and events this summer, one of the most talked-about technology tools was Kahoot!, a self-described “game based classroom response system.” Kahoot! is a free (unlike other student response systems) online resource that allows teachers to quickly find or create quizzes, surveys, polls, etc. that are colorful, fun, and media-rich. Kahoot! has great potential as a formative assessment or “exit ticket” tool. It has a lot of potential as a fun (where that is still allowed) tool for reviewing concepts in a humorously competitive environment. I liken it to Socrative in a lot of ways, only minus the app and with more bling. The following is a very over-simplified guide to getting started with Kahoot! (By the way, that exclamation point is part of their name, by the way. I know I over-use them, but not this time! Oops.)

Get started by registering at https://getkahoot.com.

Kahoot____Game-based_blended_learning___classroom_response_systemOnce the account has been created, you will be taken to your dashboard. For this quick intro, we’ll create a quiz.

Kahoot__-_Create_new_Kahoot_ Give your quiz a title and click Go

Kahoot__-_Create_new_Kahoot_ 2Type the first question and set the question options (for points or not for points; time limit).

Kahoot__-_New_questionIf desired, an image can now be added to the question. Below the image, enter the answer choices. Select the answer that is correct.

Kahoot__-_New_question 2Now add another question. Click the Add question button at the bottom of the screen. Repeat for as many questions as are needed.

Kahoot__-_New_question 3When all questions have been entered, click Reorder questions.

Kahoot__-_New_question 4Questions may be rearranged by simply clicking and dragging up or down the list.

Kahoot__-_Re-order_questionsClick Next: settings, then select the quiz’s language, privacy settings (public or private), audience, and difficulty level (Beginner; Intermediate; Advanced). Type a short description and enter a few tags, which will help others find your quiz.

Kahoot__-_Re-order_questions 2

 

Kahoot__-_More_info

 

It should be noted that at any time in this process, you can go back and change your questions by clicking the Edit Questions button at the bottom left of the dashboard.

Kahoot__-_More_info 3

Click Next: Cover Image.

Kahoot__-_More_info 4If desired, add an image for the quiz’s title screen here. Optionally, you can embed a YouTube video that will play as students wait for the quiz to begin.

Kahoot__-_Add_cover_imageYour quiz is all set. Now, gather around those students and have them get out whatever internet-connected device they wish to use. Start the quiz by clicking Play Now.

Kahoot__-_All_done 2

On the next screen, there are a few quiz options. It might be a good idea to turn on the “Display game-pin throughout?” option, in case students are late getting logged into the game. A warning: the lobby music option is eerily reminiscent of an elevator, only more grating.

Kahoot____Play_this_quiz_now_

Next, students open their devices’ browsers, navigate to http://kahoot.it, and enter the game pin. This is the screen view of a typical smart phone:

photo

Students next create a player name and click Join Game. They’ll see a confirmation screen, and the teacher’s screen will display the student’s game name.

image

When ready, click Start Now to begin the quiz. The first question displays for a few seconds without showing the answer choices, allowing students time to think before clicking.

Kahoot____Play_this_quiz_now_ 3The answer choices and a timer then display. Students choose the shape/color that corresponds to their answer choices on their devices.

Kahoot____Play_this_quiz_now_ 4When the timer expires or all students have answered, click Next to see the class scores. Students score points for accurate answers and for the speed of their responses.

When all questions have been completed, click the End button to stop the quiz. A result screen will appear announcing the quiz’s winner (It helps to be playing against no competition.).

Kahoot____Play_this_quiz_now_ 5The Feedback and Results button allows participants to rate the effectiveness of the quiz, including how fun it was, whether or not they learned from it, etc.

Kahoot____Play_this_quiz_now_ 6Finally, click the Final Results button to view all of the quiz’s data. A helpful Download Results button gives teachers a handy spreadsheet with student responses to each question.

Kahoot____Play_this_quiz_now_ 7That’s all there is to it. Well, it’s actually not, but that is enough to get you started. You should also take the time to check out the thousands of quizzes, polls, and discussions created and shared by other users–might be a great time-saver. From your dashboard, just click on the Public link at the top of the screen. You’ll be able to search by topic, intended audience, or activity type.

Kahoot__-_Featured

I think you’ll like the usability of Kahoot! and the level of engagement you’ll see in your students. If you have any thoughts, ideas, or questions, please share them in the comments below. Best wishes for an incredibly successful school year!

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Web 2.0 Tools for Creativity, Communication, and Collaboration

July 29, 2014 by · 2 Comments · 21st Century Skills, collaboration, creativity, Digital Storytelling, Educational technology, images/video, Teaching and Learning, Web Tools

More notes from this week’s conference presentations in Cy-Fair ISD. Here’s an ever changing list of some new or fairly new Web 2.0 tools that have captured my imagination.

Google Docs embed a little strangely, so if you’d rather access the document directly, you may do so here.

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Code Breakers Presentation Slideshow

July 29, 2014 by · No Comments · 21st Century Skills, Educational technology, innovation, STEM

I’ll be sharing some info on getting kids started with coding at the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Digital Learning Conference tomorrow and Thursday. The short slide show is below, as are links to all of the sites referenced (and a few more).

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