The Moss-Free Stone

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

Change the Subject(s)

August 29, 2014 by · No 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.

Tags: ····

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?

Tags: ····

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!

Tags: ····

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.

Tags: ········

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).

Tags: ·······

3 Student Activities For Easing Into BYOD This Year

July 28, 2014 by · No Comments · BYOT/BYOD, podcasting, Teaching and Learning, Twitter

byod

Image source: https://flic.kr/p/i3VoBV

BYOD (Bring your own device) initiatives have been around for more than a decade now in one form or another in schools and businesses. As I conduct workshops or engage in conversations with teachers on using student-owned mobile devices in the classroom, there is almost universal agreement as to the incredible potential of today’s pocket-sized supercomputers. There is, certainly, some trepidation, as well–questions regarding discipline, management, privacy, theft, etc.  The thing is, while these concerns are not unjustified by any means, we are not blazing a new trail here. Thousands of classrooms have gone before us, and there is a mounting evidence in the research of the benefits to students of the well-planned BYOD program. For those on the precipice, here are 3 painless ways to test the waters when school starts this year.

1. Student Planning/Scheduling –Instead of having students copy assignments off of the dry-erase board or projector screen every Monday morning, as is the ritual in countless classes, have them use their cell phones’ calendar apps to save assignments, due dates, etc. As quickly as young fingers nimbly text on their tiny keyboards, this isn’t likely to take up more time than having them use paper and pen. It’s also more reflective of what most college students or adults would do in 2014. My daughter’s principal told me last week that students at her middle school will do this starting this fall–kudos to Mr. Garza for a great first step.

2. Class Backchannel –Using free tools like Todaysmeet, Google Forms, Twitter, etc., teachers can easily leverage student devices to gather student observations, understandings, and questions. These can be used for quick formative assessment during class to re-direct activities or instruction as needed to clarify or correct misunderstandings. By creating a unique class hashtag (e.g. #mrsmithsmath), Twitter goes from a potential distraction to a very powerful group discussion tool, and it is not necessary for users to follow one another to utilize a common hashtag. Just search for the hashtag within Twitter and see the entire discussion at once.

3. Podcasting –Class podcasts, especially audio podcasts, are very easy to create and provide a powerful tool for archiving student learning, sharing creative works, communicating news, and more. If you’re still not sure what a podcast is, it’s like a TV or radio series, only based on the web. Here’s an example by an educator friend, Technlandia. The great news is that it doesn’t take incredible techiness to be able to put together a show like this. Basically, you or your students record an audio file and upload it to a host site, like Podbean or Podomatic. Even easier, try a tool like Audioboo for Education. Audioboo’s app is ridiculously simple to use. Students can quickly record, title, tag, and upload audio podcasts to their own or a class podcast. Ease into the idea by having a student record announcements into a daily/weekly class podcast, then move on to letting a student share a short summary of the day’s lesson(s) at the end of class, share their writing, etc.

These aren’t flashy, but they’re easy to get you and your students started. The aim is to give students opportunities to leverage the bigger capabilities of their phones and get students viewing their phones as something more than entertainment or 24/7 pipelines to their friends. Not an easy task, but management gets easier as the novelty fades. I’ve heard of teachers using many different strategies to varying effect. At the outset, a simple technique is to require phones to be left face-down on the desk’s corner when not being used instructionally.

If you’re planning on giving BYOD a shot this year, good luck! It’s likely to be a learning process, as with any resource, and you and your kids will come to see ways to use the devices naturally and effectively with practice.

Tags: ·······

No Place in School?

June 13, 2014 by · 1 Comment · creativity, innovation, Teaching and Learning

Braeden

Braeden and Fancy the Flamingo

I spent the day today in White Oak, Texas, speaking and learning at the TCEA Region 7 conference. I’ve come to this one for years now, and it is one of my favorites. The people and events are always fantastic, and they feed me very, very well. This year was extra special, though, because I got to meet and learn from an amazing 9-year old, Braeden. Braeden is the nephew of a talented educator friend of mine, Rafranz Davis. Through Rafranz’s Facebook page, I’ve become familiar with this amazing boy over the past several months. Braeden’s unique gifts lie in designing, creating, and using puppets. We’re not talking the paper sack puppets that were the limit of my abilities as a child, either. No, Braeden is a true artist and master craftsman. His puppets resemble something from Sesame Street or the Muppet Show. In fact, he even now corresponds about his creations with Jim Henson Studios.

The striking thing to me is that Braeden has been tested for gifted and talented programs at his school 3 times. 3 times, he has been deemed not qualified. Let that soak in for a minute. I can’t explain it. I know it is an archaic system at work in most schools, one based upon IQ tests most of all–IQ tests that measure a tiny fraction of human ability and are of extremely dubious validity. But I cannot comprehend it’s inadequacy (complete worthlessness) or justify it in the face of such an amazing talent.

Braeden

Braeden’s talents have attracted the attention of Jim Henson Studios.

The thing that hit me squarely in the gut, though, was the thought that Braeden is not alone. In fact, I’d guess he’s in the majority in our classrooms. We force sterilized, standardized, irrelevant, outdated curriculum on our students and ignore their passions and gifts. We spend our time and energy to prep them for annual tests or the misguided goal that all students should be bound for MBAs. Meanwhile, students like Braeden get to have their gifts nurtured only if they have families who gives them  their support and encouragement. Obviously, many of our kids aren’t this fortunate in their homes. We can’t always influence that, but we can change our schools, and it will require that we get past the archaic idea that education and its goals are one-size-fits-all. No discussion of educational “reforms” will ever lead to meaningful change if we don’t question the big ideas and institutions that we cling to with such fervor: rigid curriculum, grade levels, accountability systems based primarily upon tests, college-or-bust mentalities, etc. There are isolated examples where this is happening, but, frankly, we are mostly stagnant and too silent, allowing policy to be dictated in spite of its inadequacy. The power of learning is in the empowerment of the individual to achieve his/her potential, and that potential is unique to every child. When we get to a point where every Braeden is nurtured as the amazingly unique person he is, we’ll change lives, and that will in turn change the world.

Tags: ······