In a recent post
, I talked about how I am wanting to phase out multiple choice in my classroom. So what did I do at work most of last week?
Write a multiple choice test. The irony and frustration of this is not lost on me.
We implement common assessments in our building, which means that all teachers teaching the same course must develop all of the assessments for each unit, making sure they are aligned to our student objectives (I can statements) and that what students should know, be able to do, and understand are clear to us so we can make that clear to students. We do this because it does help us have some lively and interesting discussions at times--often in the past we have pushed our thinking about learning, teaching, and assessing in a way that helped some of us grow from the experience.
I like the process. I just don't care for the final assessment product: that multiple choice test.
I stated as much to a well-respected colleague of mine, right after my Biology students didn't do so hot on one of these multiple choice assessments. I hadn't given my usual multiple-choice formative assessments along the way during this past unit, so my students weren't as prepared as they could have been (should have been?). It's not that they tanked the assessment; they just didn't do as well as I had thought they would. We spent our time analyzing, creating, and writing during class rather than take multiple choice assessments. You could say that my end assessment didn't match my instruction. Bad teacher.
My colleague had given more multiple choice formative assessments throughout the unit, and her students had done better. But she also told me that we still needed to give multiple choice questions because they were going to have to take them not only in their junior year on the state standardized assessments, but also later in life. She pointed out that the driver's test our students take is multiple choice, and that even our teacher certification tests we take here in Illinois are multiple choice--and that a lot of professions have standardized tests people have to take in order to get licensed. Her point was that our students would be taking multiple choice tests in real life, so we should be preparing students for them now.
But doesn't the driver's test also have a performance component? Don't teachers still have to student teach, not only to learn but also to display competence? Don't other professions have internships and apprenticeships? Even Grant Wiggins' son
had to do the ultimate performance assessment to get a job, not some multiple choice test. If you read the postscript to that post, a health care professional describes what they do to make sure their new hires can perform to the standards required of them on the job in a real hospital--and nowhere in there does it mention taking multiple choice tests as being an adequate measure of their performance.
Don't students still have to do
in real life, not just fill in bubbles? Haven't they had enough practice at bubble-filling? And why are we letting multiple choice assessments become the end-all and be-all of how students demonstrate what they know? I guess I'm really railing at the bubble-riddled, it-could-be-a-guess-or-they-could-have-really-understood-it system that's in place.
But, really, what's more important: that students can successfully complete multiple choice tests, or that they are prepared with thinking, doing, and reasoning skills that they'll need to perform well in life? It also doesn't help that multiple choice tests are easier to administer and score, and come with a false veneer of objectivity that some tout as "better" than performance assessments. Yes, reading blogs and scoring short stories and looking at lab presentations and talking to students about what they know takes so much longer than whipping out a multiple choice test--but they give a much clearer picture as to what skills and understandings students actually
possess. The more I teach, the more I find that I don't really care that much about how well student do on our multiple choice tests--I find myself taking much more interest in what and how they're doing on their blogs, their labs, and other performance-type assignments. I find I'm caring more about what students can show me they can do and helping them get better at how well they do it rather than how many correct bubbles they can fill in on an answer sheet.
Because I spend most of my time in my dark, quiet science prep room these days while my student teacher slaves away setting up conditions for learning in my classroom, I get a little stir crazy from time to time. My colleague next door knows this, so she steals me every now and then to make videos for her flipped classroom. She started doing this because she recently attended a session with Jonathan Bergmann
at the ICE conference
, and one of his tips for making quality videos is that you make them with someone else. She decided that "someone else" would be me.
Now, I have seen teacher-made videos that are brimming with professional quality. Their cup runneth over with prettiness and video-editing proficiency. These videos have a shiny perfection that makes "oohs" and "ahhs" escape my lips without me even realizing it's happening. I am usually awed by their professional and educational goodness.
Our videos aren't like that. Nope. Not one bit. We obviously don't use fancy video software (although we would love to). We do practice and plan out our videos ahead of time, even if it doesn't look like it. Our videos aren't perfect, but we do try and focus on the objective and what students should be able to do when they have mastered it. Our videos may (will?) make you guffaw and cringe and roll your eyes. In fact, that's what they make my colleague's students do, so I'm pretty sure that's what you'll do when you watch the one we made recently below. (It's a little long; however, you should watch the end of the video below about making Bohr diagrams for a good laugh.)
It's pretty obvious that our videos are far from perfect.
But that doesn't matter to us. Her students report back to us that, while they really are cringe- and eyeroll-inducing, the videos we make together are more engaging. Why? Because, apparently, it is more interesting to watch us interact than a talking head babbling on and on about science. (By the way, I still find it fascinating that students are more engaged watching videos of us than watching us live and in person.)
What I'm interested in is the learning, however. I want to see if the learning is any different, better, or worse. It's hard to do, though, when you sit in a dark office all day. But my colleague is reporting positive results so far on her students' progress checks, so I'll have to take her word for it.
At least she lets me have a bit of fun (some say too much fun) during the day.
(I sincerely apologize for any damage done to your brain by our behavior at the end.)
It has been a while since I have blogged. That's because my life has been a whirlwind of activity lately, with me taking on some things that have made my life busier than ever:
- I am training for my first marathon, which takes a lot of time. I get up early to do my workouts (and go to bed early so I can get up early to do my workouts), so this hasn't left a lot of time for my social media addiction. I have, however, made time to chronicle my adventures in training for this event in another blog, which you can check out here. I find that I just have enough mental energy to write about my workouts before sleepiness takes over each night. Just be forewarned that I write a little more casually in that blog.
- I have been exploring other opportunities for my career. More on that in another post.
- I have a student teacher this semester. I love giving back in this manner, but it takes a lot of time at the start when the student teacher is getting acclimated and finding their own footing, style, and voice. But I do like to give them tons of room to experiment, to test, and to fail, so they can learn how to be learners along with my students.
However, I do have some ideas and practices that I have started with my students that I would like to see my student teacher also implement as well, not only to maintain basic continuity between teachers but also to continue the ongoing process of thinking skill development (which, like marathon training, takes a lot of time). One idea with which I have been experimenting (science teacher pun intended) lately is phasing out multiple choice as much as I can from my classroom.
I know that students supposedly need practice at answering these questions because of those tests they have to take as juniors at the high school level here in Illinois, and they are still going to get that practice on our common assessments that have already been developed in our departments and which are mandatory for me to use. But, as far as giving me useful information about where my students' learning is, I am pretty much trying to get rid of the methods of assessment as much as possible that were developed to be convenient for the teacher and which have inadvertently developed a need in our students for a quick bubble to fill so they could move on to the next question and finish in the allotted time.
Also, I have had an increasingly hard time giving out assessments to students where the element of chance (i.e., guessing randomly at the answer) can blur the picture of what my students know and don't know--it doesn't help me design effective instruction to meet their needs, and it doesn't help them see where their true learning gaps are in order to determine the next steps for fixing their broken knowledge.
In short, handing out multiple choice just doesn't make sense if you really want to see what students know, understand, and are able to do. Not even the teacher that tried to convince me one time that multiple choice is the only type of score that should go in the gradebook because it is "purely objective" can change my mind on this one.
So what am I doing instead if I'm not handing out traditional comfortable, easy-to-score-but-muddy-to-interpret multiple choice questions? One thing I am trying to do is implement more of what I call "Show me that you know it" days. Since I put my student objectives in my gradebook rather than tasks, students can log in to the online gradebook and see which objectives at which they are not proficient, having been assessed primarily through their blog posts and the screencasted feedback I give them these days. Then, students can decide how to fix the problem (often by discussing with other students), and then go fix it. They are then responsible for showing me that they have fixed their understanding in a manner that they have chosen and is comfortable for them.
Whiteboards are a popular choice.
Do these days give you huge payoff in helping you and your students see what they still don't know? You betcha. Better than any multiple choice assessment ever has in my sixteen-year teaching career.
Does it force the student to really look at the learning objective and see if they can do what it says? Every time. I send students back for fixing multiple times at first, simply because they have not read the objective. For example, I have an objective that reads, "I can draw and summarize Newton's 2nd law of motion." Students see the law of motion, go copy a definition from the internet, and then come back and show it to me. I then have to have a conversation with them about what the objective says, what the verbs "draw" and "summarize" mean, and then ask the student to verbalize what exactly they will do to meet the objective. I then send them back to go do that, and come back and see me a second time. It's all about emphasizing to students to make their own meaning rather than steal someone else's.
Do these days help you have more meaningful one-on-one conversations and relationships with students? Absolutely, and that's my favorite part. I feel like I really know my students as learners by having these fixing knowledge days, and I feel like I have made much more solid relationships with my students by sitting down and discussing not only science stuff, but what they could do to learn the science stuff. Even though I have a 1:1 classroom, these conversations are still crucial. It helps my students get their eyes off their screens and onto their learning. Discussions with me and with other students about what they don't know and what they will do to fix what they don't know are still key to helping younger humans learn--and students can still have discussions while having devices in front of them.
Do these days take a LOT more time? Absolutely, but the time spent is so well worth it. If we're ever going to break our students of the mindset that school and learning is about copying stuff from the internet, a book, or a teacher's brain, then we've got to carve out the time to help our students be better learners.
I know it's going to be hard for my student teacher to really see the value of these days, especially since teacher preparation programs are more concerned with what the teacher is doing rather than how the student is learning (I noticed on my student teacher's evaluation forms that all of the areas are concerned with what she is doing in class--there are no discussions or areas of rating for what the students are doing to learn and to support their own learning).
But these "Show me that you know it" days are something that I am going to make sure keeps happening. I know she won't be comfortable with not giving multiple choice to my students, but one thing I will keep emphasizing to her is this: often what's best for students isn't the easiest for us.
Last week my life was filled with grades, scoring, more grades, parent phone calls about grades, and even grades other teachers were giving students (one of the joys of being a Division Chair, you see). We issued final exams before our winter break, and, as I've written recently
, mine didn't go exactly as planned. But now it is time to somehow summarize all that students have learned in one letter.
Even though I had a lot of students choose not to do my final exam project
(30, to be exact--a number that was whittled down to 13 after giving them more time to complete it after break), I refused to let their only source of feedback on this project be a virtually meaningless letter on a piece of paper they receive in the mail next to the phrase, "Final Exam." So I decided I would screencast their feedback on their final exam projects. I also decided to screencast because talking out my feedback would take a little less time than typing feedback on each one of their blogs, which was where their projects were located. I used SnagIt
for the majority of my screencasts, mainly for the simple reason that I paid for it when Jing Pro went away and it was already installed on my Windows machine at home, where I was doing most of my screencasting. However, I also used Screenr
, a free web-based screencasting tool, for any ones I had to finish up at school (where we run Linux and SnagIt or any other Windows-only tool wasn't going to work).
Below is an example of a screencast I made using SnagIt:
After recording each screencast (which I tried to keep between 2-3 minutes), I then privately sent each student the link to theirs in Edmodo via direct post. (For the ones I made with SnagIt, I uploaded the MP4 file up Screencast.com
first and then was able to generate a link from that location.) I had students watch them in class, and then fix whatever needed fixing on their projects in the two days we had between the day we came back from winter break and the day my grades were due in the office.
I expected that students would view the videos, fix what was wrong, and that would be the end of that. But it wasn't the end. It was only the beginning.
All last week I noticed a subtle shift in the attitudes of some students. Students that I had verbally tangled with throughout first semester were civil to me, polite to me, joking with me, and much more willing to work. Students that had not said a single word to me in person during the first semester had come up and asked me question after question on the labs and projects we are now doing to launch the second semester.
It was like dealing with a new group of students at times.
It may have been they all got a needed recharge over break and are ready to start the new semester with renewed vigor. But I think at least some of the change I saw was due to some of the feedback I left in their screencasts. If you viewed the example above, you'd see that I got to personalize their feedback to them, and got to talk to them
about their own skills and progress. I took the opportunity that screencasting provided me to talk to them as people, telling them what I appreciated about their efforts during the semester as well as what I would like to see them focus on during the second semester. This may be why the one young lady from whom I got nothing but pushback over every thing I did or said is now much more willing to work with me; during her screencast I got to talk to her about how much I appreciated her talent for writing and the way her brain made unique connections. It may be why a young man in my Biology classes is now joking with me and talking to me this semester rather than sitting in an apathetic funk at his desk, because in his screencast I told him he was better than what he showed me on his blog--much better.
You see, I got to say things to them that I never get the chance to say during the hustle and bustle of a busy class period, where my class sizes are bursting at the seams and it's all I can do just to make sure no one harms themselves or others during the 50 small minutes I see them a day. And I think that, even though I wasn't talking to my students face-to-face, it helped to build relationships with them: they finally knew what I actually
thought instead of having to guess from 50 minutes of time with me a day where I have to divide my time between many students.
When I asked my students if they would like me to continue screencasting their feedback, the overwhelming response was positive. You better believe I'm going to keep doing it, if these are the types of changes I can get out of a classroom just by screencasting feedback, just by giving them 2-3 minutes of my undivided electronic attention.
I know that lately there's been a lot of pushback against edtech, with much of the concern being that people use the technology tools just for the sake of using them without concern for the sound pedagogy that should be in place when deciding to use a certain tool in the classroom.
What could be more a part of that "sound pedagogy" than building relationships with your students?
I recently updated my 1st generation iPad by gifting myself with a 4th generation iPad for Christmas. I had to give this gift to myself because I am the only one who shows Apple the love in my house. It's pretty safe to say that I am completely enamored by my brand new iPad, and mostly it's for reasons other than allowing me to Facebook and tweet from the comfort of my couch. As other teachers who have used iPads for years already know, there are some very cool educational apps out there, and recently I have been exploring various screencasting apps to record lessons for my classroom. I have also had tons of fun playing with all of them over the winter break, screencasting from my couch about goofy things (mostly involving my two glorified throw-rugs of dogs) with my husband shaking his head at me from his armchair.
I have listed some of the apps I have found below with a brief review of their pros and cons. While I know that there are many, many more out there, these are the ones that I have played with and found the highest potential for use in a middle or high school classroom--not only for teacher use, but for student creation of evidence of understanding if your classroom happens to be equipped with iPads.Explain Everything ($2.99)
This is one of my favorites. It has a plethora of lot of intensely cool features that don't overwhelm the user (at least not this user, anyway). You can insert pictures, web pages, videos from a variety of sources, including Dropbox. You can also add text on the fly while recording, annotate using the pen tool, and there is a pointer for, well, pointing things out. During creation, you make individual slides for each toipic, question, or whatever you'd like to discuss, and then record each slide individually, When you export your finished masterpiece, it will be magically compressed into one smooth video, which you can upload to a variety of sources, including YouTube (or save a copy on your iPad to message or email to your friends and family. My family just loves it when I do that).
Below is a nice video that gives you a good overview of the features of Explain Everything that was not made by me, so you know it's gotta be good.
This is a fully-featured app that is akin to Explain Everything. You can insert pictures from your iPad or by taking pictures via the iPad camera, draw, highlight, and insert shapes and lines. Linking to your facebook, YouTube, and Twitter accounts is available so you can share your creations with the universe, and you can present your screencast from your iPad using AirPlay
. There is also a desktop version of this software that is available
Below is a video (again not made by me--you're still safe) that gives you an nice overview of this tool.
This free app doesn't have some of the bells and whistles that Explain Everything or Doceri have, but it is still a nicely featured little app--one where you can make screencasts from your iPad or from their web app. You can insert pictures you take with your iPad camera, ones already in your camera roll, from Dropbox (awesome), or you can search the web for images. You can add text and freehand draw/write on your screen as you record (a feature that works much better here than in Voicethread). You can only save your creations after recording, so there's no prepping for a screencast and then recording it later, unfortunately. Also unfortunate is the fact that there is no way for you to download and save your videos like you can in Explain Everything; if you create a free Educreations account, you can login and access them there. You can also get a link to your screencasts, or embed them in a website after grabbing the embed code that is generated for each video.
Below is the very first very rough-around-the-edges screencast I made with Educreations on my iPad while icing my shins after a very very long run. (What better to do when you've got both legs in a bucket of ice water than make a screencast? Gotta use every minute wisely.) The neat little Educreations feature that had me hooked was having the video automatically pause while you inserted text, which makes it magically appear on screen. It's the small things that amuse me, really.
This app reminds me of a less-feature-rich version of Explain Everything (but maybe it's just the similar layout that's causing that). It is super easy to use and has all of the basic screencasting tools you'd need--inserting pictures, text, PDFs, and freehand writing/drawing. When you're finished, you can upload your note to Dropbox (as a zip file), YouTube, or save it to a file.
Here's an overview of ReplayNote I made. That's just a warning.
This is another nice little screencasting app with the basic features you'd need to make a simple screencast. This one does not allow you to upload PDFs, insert text, or grab any files from Dropbox, but it gets the job done, and it's very easy to use.
Here is a brief video overview I made regarding Doodlecast (again, you've been warned):
This looks like an amazing app. It has a lot of features that are found in Explain Everything and Doceri--and it allows you to create some amazing-looking lessons (which look like they can only be uploaded to the Knowmia website
after you create a free teacher account). I would have loved to have made an awe-inspiring lesson myself for you to see, but the app kept locking on me every time I tried to add text to a slide, forcing me to uninstall and reinstall the app (only to have it lock again when I hit the text button--very frustrating). I don't know if this is caused by a bug within the app or a little gremlin running around in my iPad that needs to be disciplined, but don't let it stop you from trying it out in your classroom or on your own iPad. Until I can make one of my own with text, feel free to check out the screenshots of the app itself at the bottom of this page
.Other iPad screencasting apps that are worth looking into and/or using on a regular basis for work or play:ScreenChomp by TechSmith
(Free): A nice basic screencasting tool; can upload pictures from Dropbox. Finished videos are uploaded to Screenchomp.com where you can grab the link to share or tweet out the link.SonicPics
($2.99): Just upload images, put them in order, and record. No text or freehand drawing/writing capabilities. Can upload final video to YouTube, email it to someone or yourself, or save it to your iPad library.ShowMe
(Free)-Can upload photos from your iPad, take them with your camera, or seach for images on the web. Simple recording and drawing tool; can't insert text or upload files from Dropbox.
Did I miss any that you know of or use in your classroom? Let me know and I'll add them to the list. Until then, you can find me on the couch Facebooking, tweeting, and screencasting with my new iPad (still mostly about my dogs). Update
I know this is a post about iPad screencasting apps, but Allanah (see the comments) pointed out Skqueak
, a free iPhone app (optimized to work best with the iPhone 5) that allows you to do some quick and easy screencasting. I watched a pretty good one on how to make guacamole (yummo), and then made a very bad one myself, which you can see here
. But it is a very easy to use little app, where you can sketch, add text, and upload pictures from your iPhone photos or take a picture with your camera and insert it. After you're done, you can make it public or private, and then decide to share it through a variety of means. Below are screenshots of the editing screen and of the sharing features.
The only caution I would suggest when using these with students is to be careful if you're having students search for skqueaks--there's no filter on that, and some of them are a little sketchy (no pun intended). Also, when using this app on my iPad, I had a variety of issues with the text feature and trying to save the finished video to my camera roll. When I used it on my iPhone, I had none of those issues. However, Allanah is right--it has definite possibilities for quick and easy screencasting.
There's been a lot of talk recently about whether or not the flipped classroom is good, bad, of the devil, etc. I usually keep my mouth shut about things like this, but I'm having a hard time coping with all of the flap going on over flipping, mainly because I feel that a lot of people talk about the flipped classroom without ever having actually tried it with a group of younger humans. Call me old fashioned, stupid, or crazy (I've been called a lot worse), but I'm a big believer in the phrase, "Don't knock it until you try it."
A lot of the posts I've read have talked about how they don't like assigning the videos as homework for students, it being the equivalent of sending home any other assignment for students to do. Most of these posts operate under the assumption that homework is a bad thing, so any type of homework, whether it be on paper, computer, traditional, or video, is straight out of the pits of hell. Some have suggested that they already flip their classroom with these things called "books" out of which they assign readings for homework, implying that the flipped classroom neglects teaching students to read by watching videos all the time (I used to feel this way until I realized that videos were just a small part of the learning that goes on, and reading is still essential to a flipped classroom). While I haven't decided how I feel about the issue of assigning homework in general, I feel it's an issue being used to draw focus away from any of the benefits of the flipped classroom.
I am a recent flipper, and I have been modifying the basic flipped classroom concept to fit the needs and realities of my students. I don't assign the videos for homework because the vast majority of my students do not do homework that is assigned (not trying to be negative; just being honest. When you have 5 out of 27 students do an assignment on any given day in one class, you tend to get very realistic after awhile). My students work through their lessons at their own pace. The videos are there so students are more engaged during these brief digital moments of direct instruction, because when they're watching me live and in-person, I am usually met with faces that are there but not there, if you catch my drift.
But you know what's been happening since I started flipping? Learning. Not perfect learning, but real learning.
My students aren't sitting around watching videos mindlessly all period (some of them try--classroom management is still a necessary component of the flipped classroom). They are learning how to construct good, useful notes. They are using that information and creating their own meaning by making mindmaps, blogging, or screencasts. They are talking to me and to each other about concepts that I mentioned briefly in my videos but they had to go and dig deeper into after the video in order to make connections to other concepts. They have to be responsible for their own learning, working through the activities and asking questions when necessary of myself and/or of other students. I have had more time to have one-on-one conversations with students, which has been more valuable to me than any formal progress check I give.
Have I perfected my version of the flipped classroom yet? Absolutely not--as with anything, this will be an ever-changing work in progress, adjusting the process to adjust to the needs of my students. I would eventually like to adjust it so my students are making the videos rather than making them myself, but they're not ready for that yet--not after years of being standardized when there is no "standard" student and having their learning reported as an oversimplified single test score and filled with information they quickly forget.
But, you see, that's the reason I started flipping in the first place--because I believed it could be tailored to help improve my students' learning and start them on their path in taking ownership of their learning. Let's look past the videos and the homework and focus on what's happening with regard to how students are learning in a flipped classroom; that should be the focus, and nothing else.
I spent my morning giving feedback on student blog posts. Specifically, the posts of my Biology classes. The ultimate purpose of their blogs is to serve as portfolios at the end of each semester, with myself and the students deciding what will go on their blogs as their evidence of understanding--not only of the I can statements, but of the overarching big questions and the connections between them. Until the end of the semester, however, I require some assignments go on their blog so I can see where they're learning is at. At the end of each semester, students will reflect on all of their posts, adding and taking away whatever they feel does or does not represent their best representation of their acquired understandings.
I spent my morning frustrated. Some students have not been keeping up with their blogs. And the majority of the ones that wrote their required posts had only presented a surface-level understanding of the concepts, giving one or two sentences where a few paragraphs would have been needed to show evidence of understanding. I had even given students time in class to complete the posts, which only served to deepen my frustration.
I spent my morning trying to figure out where I went wrong. Perhaps I hadn't given explicit enough directions. Maybe there was some confusion in what was supposed to go on the blogs in my sub plans, since they did their posts on days when I wasn't in class. Maybe my prompts just really sucked and were boring and uninteresting to them, even though I tried to jazz them up by having them write a love letter from E. coli to their human host or write a Dear Abby letter on behalf of a photon named Phil. I agonized over the fact that I should have let them write more from themselves than from any prompt I give them, that maybe the lack of effort was really from a lack of relevance.
But all of those were possible explanations. That didn't excuse what hadn't happened on their blogs.
I spent my afternoon upset and disappointed. I was upset and disappointed in myself, mostly for not providing more engaging opportunities for them to show me what they knew. I chastised my students, though, giving them my usual rant about getting work done, that this was evidence I needed to see if they understood the I can statements, telling them that they would get all of their posts done because it was their final exam they should be working on all semester, blah blah blah. But I ended my usual rant with something a little different.
I told them that I know they're better than this. Instead of blank stares a few heads popped up, a few eyes rolled towards me quizzically.
They're better than this. They have been trained that school is a series of tasks to slog through rather than a place to learn; they can't see what they can really do when they're learning, when they take a risk, when they do something other than the usual mundane tasks of school such as completing a worksheet or copying down definitions.
My students are better than what they showed me on their blogs. But I don't think they realize it yet.
Did they ever realize it? And, if so, where did that realization go?
Today my students were working on designing their Newton's Laws lab
. They are realizing that this is not as easy as it looks, that this not simply a surface-level lab where they can pick an easy relationship and then measure a distance and shove that into a graph. They are bummed that they have to use math, and--even worse--they are saddened that they have to use two equations, not just one (one to find the acceleration of the air puck and another to then calculate the force applied on the air puck) to finish their data collection.
A lot of them were upset that they couldn't find a simple way to get this lab done. They are often programmed to complete tasks, not necessarily to understand them--and they expect learning to be easy, you see.
But this is my level 5 opportunity
, after all. Students have to show me they know, own and can use the information. They have to be able to do multi-step thinking. They have to support any conclusions they draw with the data they calculate and collect. They have to solve the problem of their lab design and then show that their results mean something, that it's not just another project they put on poster board to be thrown away. It's not meant to be easy, because synthesis of several concepts at once isn't easy. But the value in it is that it leads to higher quality learning and skill-building that isn't seen in weeks or months; the return on time investment comes years later.
Because of the "expectation of easy," as I call it, there was a lot of frustration today, aimed squarely at me. I had to explain to my students that I could not:
- Tell them the exact words to write in their hypothesis
- Confirm that each thing they wrote in their pre-lab was correct
- Give them an example of how to set up their data table
- State what type of graph they were to make
- Show them the steps in which they need to use their two equations and how to do the math step-by-step (to me, this is like cookbooking a lab, only you're cookbooking the math for them)
If I did those things, I would be doing their thinking for them. I did ask them questions to try and lead them to the answers to their questions, but I did have a student erupt in frustration:
"You're supposed to tell us how to do this. It's your job. You're not being very helpful."
But I was being helpful--just not in the ways they expected, and not in ways that they can see an immediate impact. I think I'm being more
helpful in the long term by being less helpful
Just like their lab, though, being less helpful isn't very easy.
I am always on the lookout for new presentation tools for my students to use for their PBL presentations--and I especially look for ones where creativity tends to trump copying a lot of stuff onto slides that can be read to (and bore) an audience. I came across Vuvox
about a month ago, and I have to say I am impressed with what it can produce, which is some extremely aesthetically pleasing presentations. Vuvox has three presentation "formats" that you can use:1) Studio:
This is Vuvox's most feature-rich presentation option. You can upload pictures, audio files, or videos from your computer, the web, Flickr
, or Picasa
, arrange them in whatever order you'd like, pick a style, customize it (if options are available for that theme), publish it, and voila! You have a brand-spanking new Vuvox presentation. Below is one I made (very quickly) as an example out of some of my racing pictures:
I know you dig the retro TVs as much as I do. 2) Express
: As the name implies, this is a faster version of the Studio presentations editor. However, this option doesn't allow you to upload files from your computer--you can choose from Picasa
, an RSS feed, or Buzznet
. You then pick your style and any variation on that style you like, and it generates a preview for you. Click "I'm done" and it publishes your presentation, generating a unique link and embed code. Below is a picture of the express option editing screen--as you can see, the express option really is "one stop shopping" for making presentations.
The Vuvox Express editing screen
Here's an express presentation that I made in nanoseconds from what's popular on Yahoo! News (click on each picture and then look for a description at the top):
: This is by far (to me, anyway) the most interesting type of presentation Vuvox offers. You can manually add pictures, video, or audio, or have it autofill with media from a variety of sources (pictures you've already uploaded, Smugmug
). You can also add text in lots of funky fonts and colors, as well as what they call "hot spots" where you can link to other websites, add a text description, or add media. Below is a collage presentation I made about pre-assessments and how to use them to differentiate instruction so you can see the neatness that is Vuvox (press "play" or hover your mouse over the presentation to start it). Please note my feeble attempts at hot-spotting:
As with any presentation tool, it can be used for good (thought-provoking presentations that capture a viewer and won't let them shake loose) or evil (lots and lots of text waiting to be read to an audience). I can still see how students can use Vuvox to try and write everything they want to say into the collage format, or upload a lot of random pictures they found through a Google search into any of the Vuvox formats and call it a presentation (I see this a lot lately with how my students use Animoto
). However, what I like about Vuvox is that it has the potential to be a pretty powerful presentation tool if used wisely, and I think it leaves room for a lot more creativity and expression. Here are some classroom-use ideas I had while concocting all of Vuvox's various presentations:
- Digital storytelling. The studio or collage presentations would be great ways to have students tell digital stories.
- RAFT assignments. Students could answer RAFTS in a visual, auditory, and text combination rather than just in writing.
- Concept collages. Students could put together digital collages that represent concepts, such as photosynthesis, nationalism, polynomials, or the elements of a good story. If using the collage option, adding "hot spots" to links or other media would be nice additions.
- Making connections. This is essentially the reverse of student-made concept collages. Using the express or studio option, teachers could create a photo collage representing a concept, and then students could discuss or write out what the unifying theme of all of the pictures are as well as what smaller concepts or details they represent--and how they are connected to the unifying theme.
- Cause and effect chains. When I do cause and effect, I often have a hard time getting students to think beyond just one effect for a cause--I like to have them "follow the logic" through to all possible effects (for example, listing all of the consequences in a logical order of agricultural runoff into bodies of water). The studio or collage presentations might allow them to make a cause and effect chain that is made of text and of visuals as well--and maybe with "hot spots" to other media to provide more information about those effects.
Those are just some ideas about uses for Vuvox that leaked out of my brain in the short time I've been using it; if you have more, please feel free to have them leak out of your brain into the comments. Overall, I feel Vuvox
is a neat little tool with a lot of potential to make great presentations in a classroom.
My students are blogging this year. All of them. Every week, twice a week. One post is prompted by me, and the other is about anything they'd like to write about that doesn't violate the school AUP, any local ordinances, or the boundaries of good taste.
I told them today that people would be looking at their blog posts today and the rest of the week--teachers and students. A nervous, tangible ripple moved through the room. I raised an eyebrow and asked them what was the matter.
"I'm nervous about this."
"I don't want to look dumb."
We addressed and eased their fears by listing out some strategies to deal with the nervousness and the "looking dumbness." But the most important response that followed that was:
"Why are we doing this?"
I rambled at them with the typical teacher reasons, such as the Common Core standards, how I wanted them to be better writers because good writers are good thinkers. But then I noted the glazed-over looks on some of their faces, and I decided to be completely honest with them.
"We're doing this because I want you to find your own voice. Because I want you to be able to deal with an authentic audience--an audience you're going to find out there after you graduate from this building. A global audience that is much larger than me, this building, or this town. And I want you to carve out your own little piece of that audience, stake a claim on it, and not be afraid to stand on your soapbox from it. You need to build your own online confidence, and that starts now--not after you graduate."
Some were still in their glazed-over cocoon. Others eyeballed me thoughtfully. But one student responded, "Man. This is, like, real."
Exactly. That's why we blog.
Image courtesy of futureshape via Flickr