I've been working on a series of professional development meetings regarding creating student learning targets. Because I firmly believe in modeling appropriate technology use, I created a review of our first session using a free tool (there is a paid version) called Mural.ly
, which is a neat and easy-to-use online poster and infographic maker. You can check it out below.
The drag-and-drop interface makes this tool incredibly easy to master; I learned how to use it today in about 5 minutes. You can scroll and zoom freely around your canvas, and you can add text, sticky notes shapes, pictures, and change the backgrounds to various patterns. What's even better is the fact that you can pull items from your Google Drive
, or the web onto your canvas as well. You can easily share your canvas with others by sending them a link or by (obviously) embedding it onto a website or blog. There are also collaboration features available where you can invite others into your canvas.
I think this is a fantastic tool for students to use to create and publish their work, perhaps to show synthesis of ideas at the end of some extended research (infographics). I can also see teachers using this tool to post lessons, resources, or other neat stuff on their websites for students.
Or I can see administrators using it for professional development and then blogging about it on their blog well past their bedtimes.
Background Image Credit: Cat Sidh via Flickr. Click on the picture to be taken to the original photo and license.
I hear about points a lot. I hear that students won't do something if points aren't handed out. I hear debates about how Common Core skills should be assigned more points than content. I hear about how students should be given points for completing a task because they need to be rewarded for doing their work.
I don't agree with any of those reasons for giving students points. In fact, I don't think we should be giving students points in exchange for doing things at all. All it does is promote compliance-and compliance does not lead to innovation. Compliance doesn't make students independent thinkers.
Compliance traps students in a tight little box--and if they try to get out of that box, they are punished with zeroes and other consequences that, really, are all brought about in a futile attempt to improve the math around a students' score rather than improve the student's thinking and learning. This makes students just complete assignments and tasks with a frustrating lack of effort and quality.As Dan Pink says in his book Drive
“The problem with making an extrinsic reward the only destination that matters is that some people will choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road."
So how do we stop students from taking the low road of task completion for the extrinsic reward of point accumulation?
Start focusing on proficiency rather than points. Start assessing based on how well students have progressed towards mastery of a skill or understanding of concepts. Start having students self-assess on how well they're doing so they can recognize this for themselves and not always rely on a teacher or other outside person to do it for them.
When the focus shifts from points to proficiency, the culture of the classroom starts to shift towards learning and learning how to learn. But you have to hammer the "we do things for learning not points" message from the very beginning, and structure your learning activities around helping students get better at learning concepts and mastering needed skills. You have to give students feedback on where they are on their learning journey and teach them how to internalize that feedback so they can figure out what they know and what they know how to do-and what they need to do to improve. Once the culture of your room starts moving towards getting better at learning, you start to realize that you never needed all those make-believe points at all.
And the next realization you have is that you now have a room full of learners and thinkers and doers and makers.....and potential innovators.
The first thing that has to happen, however, is a shift in our own attitudes. We have to stop viewing learning in terms of points and start helping students get better at learning, to own their own learning. We have to move from points to proficiency.
We have to make learning the only destination that matters.
I'm the type of person who always like to start with "can" rather than "can't." It's a philosophy that has seen me through the ups and downs of educational initiatives spanning 16 years of teaching. Some examples:
When faced with new Illinois learning standards in 1997, our team in my first district worked on aligning each of our units to them. We knew we couldn't teach everything that was in the standards, but what we could teach, we would teach well.
When the PSAE rolled around for Illinois high schools (our annual high-stakes NCLB test) in 2000-2001, our administrators and teachers all collectively freaked out. But after the initial shock subsided, we discussed what we could and would do to help students be better prepared. At my first district, this meant teachers giving up their prep periods to help students during their study halls after they had been identified as needing extra help via a practice ACT test. It meant shifting our focus away from some topics and towards others without sacrificing the thinking skills students needed.
When my department at my last district was charged in 2005 with leading the way in crafting common formative and summative assessments, we were overwhelmed by the fact that we would have to radically alter our thinking concerning how quality assessments were created. This meant creating learning targets first, and then determining what student mastery looked like--and putting that on the test rather than pulling questions that assessed trivial minutiae from the book's test bank. It meant embracing the fact that we could be competent test writers, because we were the ones who had clear visions of our targets, not the textbook companies. It also meant a lot more collaboration and work outside of the work day--but we were willing to put in the time because that's what was best for our students. We started small, with what we could do with one unit mid-way through the year, and we saw huge returns on our time investment.
When we were pulled out twice a month for professional development with our reading consultant, we complained about being away from our students so much. But we took away what we could from that time and started making literacy a major feature in our science classrooms. This meant students were writing more, reflecting on their learning through writing, and learning how to make their own meaning while reading. We didn't stop teaching science; we integrated reading and writing strategies where we could during our class time in order to help students acquire skills they would need for their entire lives.
When we were charged with making learning more authentic and relevant by using techniques found in problem-based learning (PBL)
, we went through another cultural shift in our classrooms. PBL means letting students take more control over their own learning, creating solutions to problems after research and synthesizing information from multiple sources to create that solution. This involves all of the literacy skills we were teaching students, but also requires that students solve real instead of contrived problems so that they can acquire the skills to become true thinkers and innovators. We started small, doing what we could manage here and there at first until our confidence grew and we saw students on their way to becoming those independent learners that school mission statements always drone on about.
I guess the point of the above little personal history lesson is this: If I hadn't started with "can" when all of these initiatives were thrown at me, I would have stagnated as a professional. I would have stayed in my tidy science teacher comfort zone of giving notes on the overhead and doing the occasional lab or activity, producing students that could spew stuff but not think with the stuff. I never would have experienced the power of students being able to construct their own meaning through reading and writing, or being engaged in a problem so deeply that they take their learning to places I would never have imagined.
We have to start with "can." What else can we do? We can't let "can't" stop us from doing what's good for students.
is a tool that I've known about for a long time. However, in searching for an easy-to-use tool to demonstrate to teachers for student use in their 1:1 classrooms, I rediscovered it amongst all of my pins on my presentation tools pinboard
PowToon claims to bring awesomeness to your presentations, and I would be inclined to agree. Below is an example of a presentation about digital storytelling that was made with PowToon:
Here's a rundown of the major features of PowToon:
1. Easy to use editor. Although the editor looks a tad busy, it is very easy to navigate once you start creating your PowToon.
To add all sorts of awesomeness to your presentation, you just select a theme from the top right and then select what objects you want to include from a range of choices. In the theme chosen above, you can choose from text effects, characters (people that don't move), animations (people that do move; my personal fave out of the theme shown above is the stick figure smashing a laptop against his head; a reflection of my own frustrations at times), props, arrows and shapes, as well as different backgrounds for your PowToon. You can also insert images of your own, as well as your own audio files. But if you're like me and have no desire to search for free audio files on the web, you can select from ten soundtracks in the free version that make for pretty decent background music.
2. They have easy-to-modify templates for those like me who are allergic to making things from scratch. When you first start creating your PowToon, you can choose from a few categories.
After selecting a category, you can then choose from one of several templates already made for that category. Below is what shows up after selecting the "Slideshow" category.
After selecting a template, you can edit it to your heart's desire. Or, if you like to have total control over what awesomeness is included in your PowToon, choose to make a blank project at the start. 3. There's lots of free stuff in the free version
. As I count right now, there are 8 themes (called "styles" in PowToon lingo) available in the free version, so you can create tons of mind-blowing presentations without ever having to shell out a dime. However, you are limited to 5 minutes per presentation, and you cannot download your final masterpiece. You can see more information about pricing options here
. They also have student, teacher, and classroom pricing available
. 4. It's easy to get your stuff out of it.
Even though you can't download your presentation as a video in the free version, you can link directly to your creation in PowToon (like this
), snag an embed code to throw it on a website, or export it to YouTube for the world to enjoy. 5. It takes a bit to master timing when text, objects, and animations appear
. Well, at least it does if you're me. I'm not known for my mad video editing skills, but after about 20 minutes of goof-ups and swear words that scared my dogs into hiding I figured out the basics and managed to have everything appear when it needed to appear and disappear when it should. When you click on an object, text box, or animation, you will see when it enters and leaves the slide on the timing bar along the bottom of the editing screen. In the example below, the blue bar at the bottom of the screen is revealing when the running man on the far left enters and exits the slide.
If you want to change the entrance or exit of an object, just drag the vertical blue lines on either side of the blue bar. To extend the length of time the slide is displayed, click on the + or - sign on the far right of the timing bar. If you create a slideshow, you can insert holds where you would like the slides to stop playing. A nice feature, I'd say, that will prevent people from being chained to their computer and scrambling to hit the "pause" button every time they want to say something about a slide.
With PowToon, you have a tool that has tons of features in the free version, an easy-to-use interface, and it makes some pretty slick presentations. But, like I said in my last post
, the power of these tools comes when students use them to create/synthesize what they've learned into one beautiful, cohesive and original whole, and publishing their work to a wider audience for feedback and evaluation. Could students still use this to put tons of copied information on each slide with some neat-o animations trying to score prettiness points? Absolutely. It's the teacher's job, then to give feedback to students during the creation process to make sure this doesn't happen. But it all starts with giving students a meaningful task at the outset that requires them to make their own meaning rather than repeat the ideas of others for the sole consumption of the teacher.
If you read this blog regularly or have worked with me in any capacity, you know I love a good edtech tool. I am a slobbering fool for these tools, especially if they are free and allow students to synthesize information to create a new "something," a something that shows how students can use and put together information in new, creative, and innovative ways.
I often use technology tools in my professional development presentations to staff, trying to model how they can be used in the classroom. However, sometimes teachers get the wrong impression and think I am trying to push this technology use on them, mandating them to use the tools and be masters of them before they unleash them upon students. My only intention is to give teachers ideas for technology use in their classroom, to make them aware of the electronic potential that's available for their students. I understand that technology is not appropriate for every lesson and every learning experience; however, it is my duty as a Director of Teaching & Learning to help teachers become aware of the tools that can help students show what stuff they have joined together to create their own understandings.
Further, teachers don't have to know how to use every single feature all of the technology tools their students use. One of the wonderful things about using technology in a classroom is the inherent problem-solving that comes along with students having to figure out how to use a tool on their own, helping them become those independent learners we all want them to be. One of the first things I learned as a 1:1 teacher is that showing students how to use a tool step-by-step to the entire class is a complete waste of time; students passively watching you do all the work doesn't teach students how to use the tool. Only students actually using the tool for themselves teaches them how to use the tool.
And the key to technology use in the classroom is just that--that students
are using these tools on a regular basis, not the teacher. The real power of educational technology comes from student use, not from teacher use. Remember, students are the ones that have to do the work of learning, and that means students have to be the ones using technology to create, collaborate, and publish their work for feedback from a larger, more authentic audience
than the teacher in the room. We have to prepare them for their world as they will know and interact with it and not the world in which we know and with which we are most comfortable.
This means that technology use in the classroom isn't just a nice add-on or a bonus after teaching a traditional and outdated curriculum that no longer serves the needs of today's students. It means that teachers can't wait to use technology until they are comfortable with it. As George Couros said
Remember, this learning thing isn't about us and our technological and pedagogical comfort zone--it's about preparing students to be the learners they need to be right now and after they graduate.
It's not about us. It's about them.
Our middle school is in its second year of its 1:1 laptop initiative. While I understand they had some infrastructure issues last year when they first rolled those laptops out, this year seems to have gone much more smoothly for them. They are really doing a nice job of integrating technology in their classrooms, and below is an example from a science teacher's room:
Students designed their own labs testing the effectiveness of various products, summarized the results on one slide, and then the teacher put all of their results together in a MentorMob
playlist. What a great idea for not only collecting and displaying student work in an electronic format, but also for allowing students to evaluate other students' work without the the fuss of emailing, scrolling up and down through Edmodo posts, or sharing documents. After putting all of the student work in the playlist (which, if you know Mentormob, is pretty stinking easy), just shoot out the link to the playlist to students via email or an LMS, and students have multiple samples to evaluate and practice giving feedback. And you don't have to use Mentormob if you don't want to-you can use any learning playlist tool out there (such as Blendspace
Mentormob...not just for putting together lessons anymore. Now you can put together an opportunity for students to practice some upper-level skills.
One of my roles in my new-ish (it's starting to feel not so new anymore, which I think is a good thing) role is planning professional development regarding the shifts in literacy instruction that the Common Core Standards require. I have been focusing on close reading, which I believe is a fundamental skill that students need in order to squeeze out all the meaning from text they can. It also forces students to grapple with a complex text, giving them strategies for how to handle tough reading. In my opinion, close reading is much better than what I used to see all the time in my classroom: telling students to read something and the only thing going on neurologically was motor neurons firing when their eyeballs moved back and forth across the page.
Below is a sample presentation that I will be giving to our middle school staff this week regarding close reading, if you'd care to check it out. It was my first time using PowToon
, so please forgive any errors you see in the timing. You can check out the resources I used in it here
Close reading really means getting students to re-read. But it doesn't mean that they simply fire those motor neurons again to move their eyeballs across a page of text a second time; it means students are re-reading in order to dig deep into the various levels of textual meaning. It means getting students to annotate while they read so they can be active questioners of the text; it means giving students questions that require they go back to the reading to find evidence to support their answers. It also means developing student skills at generating their own arguments that are backed with evidence, not just opinions that come from prior experience. Further, it means getting students to develop strategies for finding meanings of those tier two vocabulary words on their own, and seeing why the author used those particular words in the first place. It teaches students to slow down when they read, and forces them to see how a reading hangs together as a whole by analyzing its parts.
In other words, it teaches students to think. And, not only that, it teaches them skills they will actually need to use independently after they graduate. Much more useful, in my opinion, than most of the content that is held sacrosanct in classrooms these days.
Does it take more time to do a close read? Yep. In fact, that's the one complaint I hear the most about close reading--that it takes too much class time. But any skill such as this will take more time to teach students at first. If it is done consistently by all teachers over the course of a school year, then it will become a habit that takes less and less time on the part of the teacher and the student.
And, like I said, it makes students do that "thinking" thing--and teaches them a skill to help them do that thinking on their own, well after they leave your classroom and your content behind.
Here is some crazy. Embrace it.
Yesterday I attended the TechCon conference
, a one-day conference put on by the Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO)
. I went to a lot of great sessions (a Google+ session put on by Hank Thiele
as well as a Google Chrome presentation put on by Bryan Weinert
; can you tell I'm a Google girl?), but Ryan Bretag's
session titled "Agility and Agency: Designing a Future Minded Learning Environment"
at the end of the day was the one that really left me with a multitude of morsels for pondering. I have organized these morsels into a bulleted list below, mainly because my type-A savage beast is soothed by bulleted lists.
- The school environment should be flexible enough that it can turn on a dime. This means adopting a culture that is in tune with a rhythm of change rather than resistance to it.
- Put wheels on other people's ideas by starting at "yes." This involves embracing the crazies. Having been one of the crazies, I can tell you that they are glad to be embraced and empowered to try new things in their classrooms.
- The most powerful learning comes from experiences. And those experiences encompass more than content and skills; it also focuses on teaching students the habits of mind so they can have the skills
- Learning today is rewindable and on demand. We need to change instruction in light of this. I think we all realize by now that shoveling content at students is not how school should be done any longer.
- Everything should be creation-focused. I agree with this, but believe it should be creation with a focus on the process of creating. The process is just as important as the outcome; otherwise, students make projects just to make projects. I can't tell you how many dioramas, posters, and videos I made during my years as a student that I remember making, don't don't remember what it was I was supposed to have learned. I also shudder to think how many of these projects I made my students do that they just did to get it done--because I had just assigned it one day and expected students to show up with the completed project in a week, without once checking on the progress of what they were supposed to be learning from the project.
- Make student work public. The quality of student work increases greatly when students are publishing their work to a real audience. And, to me, it's not just the act of publishing student work on the internet that's valuable-it's the real and honest feedback that they get from the public that's the most valuable.
- The Internet is the best textbook. Textbooks-whether they are physical or digital-do very little to improve student learning. They often simplify to the point of inaccuracy, they contain too much information, and they highlight, bold, summarize, and surface-level question at the end of each section in such a way that all the thinking is done for students, handicapping them and their learning. Quality assignments where students have to use the internet to gather multiple sources, evaluate those sources, and synthesize information are much more meaningful.
- When you enter a classroom, there shouldn't be a "front" to the room. Learning spaces need to be designed for collisions and connections. New ways of doing school require new designs to the school itself, especially if it is creation- and experienced-focus. It's hard to get students to be creative, collaborate, and critically think when there are no spaces for that. It's especially hard when students are packaged into neat little rows and spaces designed more for compliance than creation.
There was a lot to think about in one session, as you can see. But it was all centered around being future-minded in regards to learning rather than on traditional notions. I don't think that we can afford not
to be mindful of educating students for their futures--not if we really want to do right by them. Photo credit: Espen Faugstad via Flickr
"How to be Amazing: If you want a first-class trip to amazing, follow these steps."
I spent the morning in 7th grade.
Specifically, I spent the morning in 7th grade science and math classes. Here's what I saw:
- Students using technology (Edmodo) and students using low-technology response systems (whiteboards). Each was appropriate to the task at hand that students were doing.
- Students acquiring content, but being held responsible for how to organize and make sense of that content.
- Students being asked to solve problems in multiple ways.
- Students being asked to come up with solutions to a problem rather than being shown how to do a problem.
- Students being asked to persevere while solving their problems.
- Students calling the 1700s the "Dead Years" for scientific discoveries. (Too funny.)
- The lab poster above. Who wouldn't want to be amazing in the science lab?
But mostly I saw some teachers who were already amazing throwing the work of learning back on to their students, and amazing students meeting that challenge. It was a wonderful way to start the day.
It's been quite the whirlwind getting acquainted with my new position. One of my main roles this year is helping our ELA, Math, and Science teachers align their curricula to the Common Core as well as give them strategies for classroom implementation. Workshops are held during each month for meetings with each of those content areas, and I prepare the resources and activities for that time. I usually do this in a learning playlist tool of some kind; below are some Science & Math examples.
ELA and Math worked on unpacking the standards and aligning their curricula last year under the guidance of another professional development professional, and this year they are finishing any remaining alignment and working on the first stages of mapping curricula in a UbD framework. While this does mean a lot of data entry at first, the end result will be a K-12 curriculum that will be accessible to all in the district via a curriculum mapping software, and it will be in a common format with which everyone is familiar. From that point, groups can begin to have discussions about revising and refining their curriculum through the software itself, and can see how well the spiral of skills is being maintained, implemented, and assessed across all grade levels.
The challenge right now is getting beyond the specifics of filling in the UbD framework and see that larger vision of a cohesive, dynamic, and interactive curriculum. There was a lot of time and effort spent last year rewriting curricula in various formats per content area that are excellent for use in the classroom and guiding groups of teachers teaching the same course or grade level; however, all of those different formats will not serve to bring the curriculum together in a way that everyone in the district can understand and use in a meaningful way. Also, the UbD framework forces reflection concerning what is taught and why it is taught, looking at the curriculum from a vastly different angle. This can be very uncomfortable for people, and can cause some frustration.
I am sympathetic to the struggle; I've been through the mapping process as a teacher, and the last thing I want to cause or see is frustration over this. However, I don't believe you ever grow in your own teaching practice if you don't ever examine and reflect upon what you're doing in the classroom and why you're doing it. And with the increasingly ambitious skills students are required to have under the Common Core, teachers are going to have to get out of their comfort zones at times and take risks in the classroom by trying new things or modifying and updating what they already have students doing in regards to their learning. Those types of changes only come after some reflection has taken place.
But we also need to look outside of the four walls of a classroom and see the bigger curriculum picture, because the skill progressions in the Common Core require it. While each grade or course may be very aware of their piece of the puzzle, it is necessary to see the other curricular pieces and how they fit together in order to really serve students and their learning well. And, like I've said before
, the UbD mapping is just a starting point for a valuable professional process--a place where good conversations, discussions, and decisions about curriculum and student learning begin.