Friday, July 30, 2010

EDUC 504/649: How to make a concept map navigation of a wiki

A few weeks ago I was searching high and low for a solution to making a pretty concept map with text links to use as a navigation / home page for a wiki. I eventually got smart and asked Kristin for help, and in the end we came up with a pretty good solution.

You can see the end result here, on the home page for our place-based education wiki.

Here's the solution Kristin helped me come up with, in case it saves someone else some time some day:

The concept map was created using -- a free, intuitive online concept mapping tool that supports collaboration with multiple users, much like a wiki.

Within, the text label of any concept bubble can be converted to a link by adding the link address in front of the text and putting the text in brackets. For example typing the following in a bubble:[Google] will create a link in the text bubble that looks and works like this: Google.

Finally, the concept map can be embedded in your wikispaces page as follows:

  1. Click on the "Menu" button on the lower right of any sheet and choose the "HTML embed code" option.
  2. Copy the resulting html embed code from the box on the page and insert it as a widget in your wikispaces page, by
  3. Clicking the "Widget" button on the Edit menu bar, selecting the "Other HTML" tab, and copying the embed code from into the box
  4. You may also wish to alter the size of the embedded box by changing the width and height parameters within the embedded html codes.

EDUC 504: Makin' it real (Reflections on July 30 Class)

The MAC alumni who came as guest speakers today were awesome! It was great to get a feel for such a variety of settings, content areas, and ways the content we have covered and will cover in this class can be used in real teaching situations. I'm really grateful that we had the whole spread from West Bloomfield to Brooklyn in terms of diversity, SES, and technology provided by the school.

Things I will be looking up / keeping in mind:

General principles

  • Looking in the dusty corners for unused tech that could be put to cool uses
  • Being prepared to be the local "expert" in anything new I bring into the classroom (see this post)
  • The importance of a real, authentic audience in increasing engagement, performance, and ownership
  • "Did you know" by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod (Shift Happens)
  • Creative ways to use some of the tools below (google forms, response systems, wall-wisher) to make grading faster and easier
  • Use a beginning of the year survey to get a feel for access -- who has reliable internet access, computer, printer, etc. at home
  • May need to explicitly teach students how to use word processing software, even if they're totally at home with social networking
  • In low-access contexts, need to give kids lots of time and in-school or after-school access for any assignment requiring internet accedss
  • The importance of real experiences in addition to virtual ones -- real dissections, egg drops, bridge building, etc.
  • The usefulness of blurring the distinction between work and play, while still making the educational goals explicit at some point in the processs

Tools & applications

  • Wallwisher -- for reading journals, for room norms (and appropriate use of teacher-approval on posts)
  • for using cell phones instead of microphones to record audio
  • How I can use Skype to bring all my awesome earth scientist friends into my classroom
  • Microsoft's "mouse mischief" as a cheap student response system (seems to work only with Windows)
  • Sliderocket for online slide presentations
  • Low-tech substitutes for computers and cameras -- flip books
  • Gallery-walks to have students practice critiquing skills with each other
  • International Poetry Guild through ICS -- for my English-teaching friends

I thought there were a lot of provocative questions in the last half hour of class:

  • Where's the balance between using technology to "meet students where they are" and drawing a clear distinction between "at home" and "at school" uses of technology? (I think this one captures my discomfort with AIM office hours -- it's definitely on the blurry line between the two, with an "at-home" technology used for "at-school" purposes.)
  • What are the safety implications for being "always-on" and therefore more aware of safety bulletins issued by campus police, for instance, versus being "always-on" to the point where you're not aware of your surroundings because you're focused on your phone while walking or driving?
  • How can you have students help you develop appropriate guidelines for when and how to use technology in class?
  • If someone's playing World of Warcraft during class, is it the teacher's problem because they're either not engaging enough or not setting and enforcing the right classroom policies? Or is it the student's responsibility to bring the right mature, scholarly habits to class?

I don't have clear answers to any of those right now, but I'm looking forward to mulling them over as I prepare to actually start operating in a real classroom in September. Happy August!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

EDUC 504: I would give this post a clever title but I'm too distracted by my multitasking (Reflections on readings for July 30)

Reading: Klapperstuck & Kearns, The Wired Life: The Public and Private Spheres of the Gen M Community

I'm apparently not really a member of "Gen M", because I can remember a life that wasn't wired... I remember when computers were really only good for word processing and whatever games your parents bought in a box and loaded onto the computer using big, black 5.5" discs. On the other hand, I do seem to have at least some Gen M attitudes.

  • Watch TV while texting friends on cell phone and doing homework and using the Internet? Usually not... sometimes TV + internet.
  • Media used to keep me connected to my peers and the world at large at all times of day and night? Yes.
  • Sit silently next to my husband while we both catch up on Facebook? Um, sometimes.
  • Want ad content to be tailored to my interests? I'd rather see an ad for a cool new yoga mat than high heels any day.
  • Consider online privacy to be a matter of controlling which friends see which posts on my blog / facebook / twitter and then using those media to broadcast specifically to those friend groups? Definitely.

And I'm still not sure I see why the last one is bad, although that seems to be the implication of the article. I moved away from Boston three years ago and am still in daily contact with some of my best friends there because twitter and livejournal and facebook let us communicate with each other in an efficient manner. Yes I have to trust the web site in question to observe the privacy settings I select, but that's true of every online transaction from online banking to putting data in google docs -- all of these depend on a reputation for security and observing your privacy settings in order to have people trust them. I'm not sure why I should worry more about facebook than about my bank or google docs.

Yes, one of your friends can go and repeat what you said outside your walled garden, but that's just a real life problem translated onto the internet -- the problem is the friend, not the medium. And yes, for every blog post I write I spend at least a few seconds choosing between the options of "totally public" (fine for a funny xkcd cartoon), "locked to friends" (most posts which have any sort of identifying personal information), and "private" (it's only there for me to read). I don't use the last one often, but when most of my journal entries are ones I feel comfortable sharing with friends, it makes a certain amount of sense to keep the totally private ones in the same place for organizational and backup purposes.

I guess for me it becomes more problematic when "friends" online are not friends from real life. 99% of people who can see my online "private" information are people I've met and been at least friendly with in real life; the vast majority of the other 1% are no more than 1 degree removed from me -- the second cousin I've never met, the friend of a friend who takes cool pictures. When it crosses over into the territory of, "someone I only know through their online presence" that feels much more sketchy to me. I need the real world validation of the online projection, even if it was in high school 15 years ago.

As a teacher who's thinking of using things like wikis and podcasts and blogs in the context of a classroom, the part wherein the authors wring their hands over whether students consider the privacy (or not) of uploaded content is relevant, I suppose. Although I would in general imagine that anything safe for class consumption is also safe for public consumption (that at least seems to be the assumption with the blogs we've made for this class).

So it seems like I'm not fully appreciating the concerns of the authors or the points they're trying to make because the Gen M experience is too close to my own, as they describe it. I can't tell if this means I'll have an easy time of it because I'll get where my students are coming from, or I'm setting myself up for a pratfall because we're really more different than I think.

Project Runway and Education: How much are you Tim vs. Heidi?

I tripped somewhat spectacularly on my way to class yesterday, resulting in a trip to the doctor for my sprained ankle, a gimpy 1.5 hours of class (rather than the scheduled 3), and an afternoon of quality time with my cats and my DVR as I RICEd.

Which brings me to the title of this post. I may have watched several consecutive episodes of Project Runway, and I'm a little bit enthralled by the interactions between the contestants, Tim Gunn, and the judges (personified for this purposes of this post as Heidi Klum, although Heidi is always accompanies by 3 other judges).

I'll start by acknowledging the overall inappropriateness of the competitive atmosphere of the show ("Remember, one of you is going home!") for a classroom. On the other hand, there's something intriguing about the way each challenge (assignment) is always interpreted by the contestants (students) in very unique, individual ways. I think any assignment in an real classroom with enough room for student interpretation to showcase real higher order thinking is likely to result in this kind of diversity of responses:

(The challenge was to make a red carpet dress for Heidi Klum -- two of these co-won, and one was a "catastrophe", can you tell which is the loser?)

There's also something intriguing in the way Tim Gunn tries to ask the students leading questions to make sure they're really on the right path without ever coming out and saying, "I think this is a mistake." On the other hand, the judges are blunt, direct, and to the point, praising skill and good taste and excoriating the disasters, but after it's too late to make any changes in course. In most classrooms these two roles are merged into a single person. The teacher has to strike a balance between warm, fuzzy Tim Gunn-like probing / leading (Socratic?) questions and cold, final Heidi Klum & Co. judging (assessment).

How much of each do you put your time into as a teacher? Does the balance vary by age or ability of the student?

(P.S. Yes, it is hilarious that I, who have the fashion sense of an armadillo, find Project Runway so fascinating. I think it's the raw creativity on display that I find so compelling.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

EDUC 504/649: Accountability - An Alternative to Multiple Choice?

I keep coming back to (harping on?) this theme in various classes:

  1. Yes, standardized tests can suck as a metric for real, well-rounded learning (e.g. can you write your way out of a paper back, do a high level math proof, or do actual science?)
  2. Yes, there are reasons we use them -- parents and our communities deserve some way to see how we're doing with their children and their tax dollars (i.e. accountability) and standardized tests provide objectivity and efficiency in attempting to meet that goal.
  3. What's the alternative that provides accountability, objectivity, and efficiency?

Courtesy of a post by the Learning is Messy blog, I found myself reading a Washington Post blog about a potential viable alternative, which led me to a Phi Delta Kappan article describing the alternative.

The article, entitled "Keeping accountability systems accountable" is by Martha Foote, and was published in January 2007. It profiles the New York Performance Standards Consortium, which is a coalition of 28 high schools in New York that focus on "inquiry-based methods of learning with classrooms steeped in discusion, project-based assignments, and student choice." These schools have have replaced standardized tests (such as the New York Regents Exam) with performance-bassed assessments, including

  • Literary essays that demonstrate analytic thinking
  • Problem-solving in mathematics that demonstrates high level conceptual knowledge
  • Original science experiments that demonstrate understanding of the scientific method
  • Social studiesl research papers that demonstrate use of evidence and argument.

The quality of the assessments is measured using rubrics. There are external evaluators involved -- experts in the disciplines and teachers from other schools. Overall, the system is held accountable by the Performance Assessment Review Board, which has lots of nationally known educators, business leaders, and public figures on it.

That all sounds great - I love the assessments! However, I also have some qualms / questions:

  • The website is a little fuzzy on whether the "external experts" evaluate every student or only to spot check internal grading by teachers within the school. I think that for objectivity and cross-school comparability, probably external evaluators would need to be used all the time, but maybe I'm too cynical?
  • It also doesn't really speak to how teacher feedback would feed into the projects (or not) -- does my teacher read a draft of my analytical essay or help me if I get stuck in my higher-level math proof? If they didn't help me make sure my science experiment was safe, they would be negligent. If my proposed procedure isn't safe in the first draft, do I fail, or am I helped? If I'm helped, is it still an authentic assessment of my learning?
  • While 28 schools is a great start, it doesn't really speak to whether it would be realistic to roll this out over a whole state or (eventually) the whole country. I'd like to think the answer was yes, but I don't really understand it well enough to see how that could work.

Brian Crosby at Learning is Messy ties this and a recent article about standardized test scores declining in DC into a conversation about whether Race to the Top is encouraging real innovation or just helping schools making students better standardized takers. (As a side note: Second round RTTP finalists were announced today, and Michigan isn't on the list.)

What do you think? Could something like the New York Performance Standards work more broadly? Would it encourage the right kinds of teaching?

Friday, July 23, 2010

EDUC 504: Expertise (Reflections on July 23 Class)

So, today I found that 5 minutes of trying to use Garage Band last week to make a recording for our "Media Embedded Document" assignment and 10 minutes of tutorial-watching and experimentation last night made me an "expert" at podcasting. I think in my old life I would have thought something snarky about how, "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed woman is Queen." I'm trying instead to think about it terms of Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development and peer-facilitated learning. Wish me luck. (Please imagine Queen Barbie here to be one-eyed.)

I'm also still trying to work out how to make my classroom more like a game.

Would it help to have a way of keeping score -- geology money, instead of monopoly money?

What other mechanisms do games use that could be incorporated into a classroom? I think Stephanie's right that there's a certain element of fantasy to some of the games I've loved.

(My current favorite is this one.)

But there also tends to be a strong social element to playing games I like -- it's a fun way of spending time with family and friends. (So much so that the favor at my wedding was playing cards, which some of my family then used to play games instead of dancing:) The fun isn't just in the spending time -- it's also in a healthy competitiveness.

I need to think more about the interplay between competitiveness and game motivation, and whether there is a way to have some students "win" without making others feel like "losers".

Also, (inspired by many of my classmates) I decided to experiment with pictures this post. Which means it took just as much time as my prose posts, but ended up with a lot fewer words. You may sigh with relief now.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

EDUC 504: Podcast test

So it looks like I can record my voice, add a snazzy canned track, and I think (hope) upload it to my blog. I declare victory for the evening.

Update: Fail. The podcast appears in my MacJournal window, but not on blogspot. (will have to work on this more tomorrow... or host it somewhere else on line?)

Second Update: I can manually insert the m4a file as a video, but would still love to be able to do it from MacJournal... will have to investigate further tomorrow.

EDUC 504: Is this thing on? (Reflections on Readings for June 23)

PLN (Personal Learning Network)

Two (okay three) good edublogger posts I read this week:

Geektastic moment of the week: I've figured out how to share my twitter feed here on this very blog with you. You're welcome. (If you also want to be geektastic, choose "Design" from the top bar, "Add a Gadget" on the right-side of the layout, and search for a twitter gadget.)

Good video games and good learning -- James Paul Gee

I love this quote: 'A science like biology is not a set of facts. In reality, it is a “game” certain types of people “play”.'

I think this is completely true. However, while the facts without the game are no fun, the game without some started facts also isn't very fun -- I've read lots of research papers where I didn't really understand the base vocabulary and concepts; it was frustrating.

I'm not much of a video-game player (beyond DDR, which is more kinetic than problem-solving), so I don't have much of a frame of reference to evaluate Gee's claims about what learning principles good games incorporate. However, I think his discussion of Identity is a little too simple -- you don't turn overnight into a Physicist in order to learn Physics... you play with adopting parts of the identity as you learn the material; it's more iterative and gradual and tentative or experimental than Gee makes it sound.

I also have a hard time imagining what it would look like for students to help "write" the domain and curriculum they study. Is having them suggest and chose which experiments to do within a set unit enough choice to engender engagement? Or do they have to be able to chose their own units? I also wonder how this fits with the "customization" point.

The point about low consequences of failure encouraging risk-taking is well taken -- I think something that's surprised me about this program is how open professors are to grading revised versions of assignments. I think this probably increases learning but also increases work for the teacher, and I wonder how well it plays out with 150 students.

What does "a sense of agency and control" look like in a 6th grade earth science class? (Just for instance...)

I love the idea of "levelling up" in a class, but wonder how the competitiveness of that would play out in a classroom where some students would probably level up faster than others? Would the slower students disengage? Or do we do this inherently anyway, so making it explicit can't hurt (any more)? I suppose you could have a whole class "levelling up", but then are you violating the individual student's ability to customize / not keeping the fastest students challenged?

"Just in Time" is a concept tied pretty firmly in my head to inventory management of manufacturing processes... it's challenging to see it used for information supplied in learning processes.

"Pleasantly frustrating" -- congratulations! You've just reinvented Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development!

What does "system thinking" look like in the classroom? Lots of interdisciplinary projects? Group projects with strong specialties within and strong links between groups?

Overall, it's fun to think about how school could function more like games (not just on video), but I feel like I'd need a lot more concrete examples to help me figure out what they could actually look like.

Big Thinkers: James Paul Gee on Grading with Games

"Work in a group where the group is smarter than the smartest person in the group" -- wouldn't you really want a group that was smarter than the sum of the smartnesses of the people in the group? Otherwise they might as well all work on their own... there needs to be synergy to justify the increased overhead of group communication.

"Games don't separate learning and assessment" -- what would that look like in school?

I like the idea that you need engagement with the actual chemistry to give meaning to the textbook -- very Dewey, Dr. Gee.

While I'm loving all the science examples, is this equally applicable to other content areas?

I love how his whole universe is "Baby Boomers" and "Kids These Days" -- not sure where I fit in all my 30-something glory.

It seems like his "passion communities" and "fan fic" examples are about displacing / replacing school -- it's hard to see how to incorporate learning from them into schools... but don't worry everyone, "Global Competition" is going to scare us into innovation!

Let's hear it for "making teaching sexy" (but not in the lawsuit-generating way)!

EDUC 649: How getting a B is helping me clarify my educational philosophy

EDUC 649: Foundational Perspectives on Education Reform is a class that covers lots of critical topics for a teacher in training -- No Child Left Behind, the Obama Administration's proposed revisions to NCLB, Philosophies of Education, approaches to constructive conversation and consensus building, lots of great stuff.

It's also built very much around a philosophy of "learning by doing" with a rather unique grading scheme:

  • Participate in all the classes and in a group project on one of four reform topics = C
  • C & Write a Philosophy of Education = B
  • B & Undertake Educational Advocacy Activities = A

There don't seem to be tons of quality criteria attached to any of these activities, other than the somewhat nebulous "satisfactory completion."

I am totally fine with being responsible for full participation in class and (at least in theory) for being responsible for a content-related intellectual project such as the reform wiki. (I'm not a huge fan of group work in practice, but I acknowledge it as a valid form of knowledge building and assessment, and as requiring the deployment of many skills that also come in handy in real life as a professional working in a team of educators. I would also be more thrilled if the reform topic was one that I or my group had selected from the whole universe of reforms rather than being one of four choices proposed by the professor, but acknowledge her authority to guide the intellectual content of the course.) I'm also completely fine with being responsible for creating a philosophy of education -- being pushed to crystalize my beliefs about the purposes and practices of education are part of the reason I'm in this program.

However, I have a big huge block around being requested to undertake an advocacy project as part of this course. I have exactly the same, stubborn, "you can't compel me to express my values or my spirituality" feeling that got me into a big huge fight with my father in high school over whether there was any point in compelling church attendance. I am not at all opposed to either activism or church attendance. I think the former is often the seed of significant change in our democracy, and the latter is something I've been doing happily and voluntarily since the day I left home. I just feel like both are too important as expressions of my personal, uncoerced values and beliefs to be tied in any way to "doing it because someone told me to" or "doing it for a class."

Many of my classmates have awesome ideas for things to do for their advocacy projects: Creating a group to work on a more authentic, concrete, engaging math curriculum. Engaging with downtown Detroit to make a cultural center or bring more science extracurricular activities into the schools. Creating resources to help implement place-based education locally or nationally. I could happily contribute to any of those projects. But I can't do it for a grade. And (this is the part that seems to be my unique stumbling block) even getting a grade for something I would otherwise happily do independently makes it feel inauthentic and lacking in integrity.

So, I've decided to "put my money where my mouth is" -- a few weeks ago we were talking in class about whether there were any students in this program who really didn't care about grades. And I claimed not to. I think that's still true -- I'm here to learn how to be a better teacher, and to get certified so I can teach in the state of Michigan. I'm not here to get a 4.0. I value my integrity and independence more than I value an A in this class, so I'll my best to do the parts of the course I'm comfortable with "satisfactorily" and be fine with the B that merits under the grading scheme of this class.

As a classmate astutely noted at the end of class today, I may have a problem with authority. Although the professor also correctly noted that I've submitted to authority in other aspects of this program and this class. I think this paradox fundamentally reflects what I think the purpose of education is, and what I'm implicitly signing up for when I participate as a student in a formal educational venture such as this. I believe the purpose of education is to help the students develop a well-rounded knowledge base and to help them refine their concepts and beliefs about the world through intellectual debate and challenge.

I do NOT believe the purpose of education is to make students into activists. What they chose to do with the knowledge and beliefs I help them refine is entirely up to them and their consciences and beliefs, and inaction is as valid a choice as action. If inaction is not a valid choice, then I think we need to acknowledge that the teacher is imposing his or her value system on the students, which gets to the heart of why I find this so conflicting. It seems a very thin line to me between, "do anything, as long as you do something" and "do something that I think will be useful", which is in turn only a few small steps from propaganda and indoctrination.

I realize that there are well-subscribed schools of educational philosophy out there which have making students into activists as their goal, and I acknowledge the right of this course's professor to model what that looks like. But it's not my philosophy, and now I know that at the gut level as well as the intellectual level.

I've been writing this trying to figure out why all of the above made me (want to) cry for half of class today, after starting to articulate it during "circle time". I think it's some combination of frustration / sadness / disappointment that I've come to a point (so soon!) in this program that my desire to fully participate in the learning experiences offered and my core feelings of integrity have ended up conflicting. I wish I could see a way to resolve this right now that was satisfying both for the professor and for me, but other than trying to fully articulate the issue, I'm out of other ideas right now.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

EDUC 649: Does the canonical math curriculum suck? (Lockhart's Lament)

Shari sent around this article today. The whole 25 page pdf is a fairly entertaining and thought-provoking read -- I recommend it.

To tease your appetite, here is my favorite quote from p.24, when he's doing "an honest course catalogue for K-12 mathematics":

"TRIGONOMETRY. Two weeks of content are stretched to semester length by masturbatory definitional runarounds. Truly interesting and beautiful phenomena, such as the way the sides of a triangle depend on its angles, will be given the same emphasis as irrelevant abbreviations and obsolete notational conventions, in order to prevent students from forming any clear idea as to what the subject is about. Students will learn such mnemonic devices as “SohCahToa” and “All Students Take Calculus” in lieu of developing a natural intuitive feeling for orientation and symmetry. The measurement of triangles will be discussed without mention of the transcendental nature of the trigonometric functions, or the consequent linguistic and philosophical problems inherent in making such measurements. Calculator required, so as to further blur these issues."

The central thesis is that mathematics is an art, a way of thinking about and interacting with the world driven by curiosity and a drive to elegant, satisfying logic, while the mathematics curriculum taught in the US for the past many years has been equivalent to teaching only the notation and techniques of that art. The (effective) analogies he uses are teaching music by teaching only how to read musical notation and understand music theory, and teaching art by teaching only how to understand color theory and paint by numbers.

On the one hand -- he's totally right. The math curriculum we teach our students in the U.S. today is artificially divorced from its history and its natural curiosity and elegance.

On the other hand, I think he's a little bit too blithe in the way he dismisses the fact that the kinds of math notation and techniques taught in our schools are actually needed for most of the high tech professions in the world today -- computer science and statistics in all it's multitudes of applications and every kind of engineering and physical science and even the life sciences as they drill down into protein structures and DNA analysis.

It's as if one attacked an English curriculum for only teaching students to read and write with correct grammar and never engaging them in literature. A valid criticism, but if you taught them all about literature without ever teaching them to read and write themselves, it would be equally unbalanced. Lockhart acknowledges the need for balance here, but if I have to choose between my kids joyfully exploring the elegance of number theory and my kids being able to do arithmetic, I chose arithmetic. Maybe that's too pragmatic, but I want them to know whether they're being cheated when their change is handed back to them just as much as I want them to be able to read the news or a sign posted in a store or directions at the airport. Or maybe I just lack the imagination to picture a curriculum that effectively accomplishes both, simultaneously, across every school in the nation.

Which brings us to my third hand (just call me Vishnu): he also readily admits that most of the math teachers in the U.S. today (including myself and most of my colleagues in this certification program who are majoring in math) were "raised" in the current system, and have not ever done much (if any) real, artistic mathematics themselves. He doesn't really propose any solution for this, but unless all the math teachers in the nation start suddenly reading Pythagoras, Newton, and Green on their summer breaks or attending boot camps taught by math professors who can bring themselves down to the secondary-teacher level, I'm not sure there's a ready remedy. (I actually think the second part of that is harder to put together than the first -- my favorite quote about teaching math came from a friend who was teaching college-level calculus for the third time: "Every time I teach this, it becomes more obvious.") Also, we'd need to rewrite the standard curricula that have become so widespread -- just as a side hobby.

So... an interesting, thought provoking article. Which brings me back to a theme that's emerging in several of our classes. It goes like this:

  • Standardized testing is a bad way to test real learning, and frequently drives bad teaching that attempts to achieve good standardized test results but fails to enable good learning. (e.g. a math curriculum divorced from the art of real mathematics)
  • But standardized tests exist for a few reasons: we need to be able to measure the outcomes of our education system in a way a) that does not absorb all the free resources of time and money in the world and b) allows us to objectively compare outcomes across classrooms, schools, districts, and states.
  • We need to be able to measure outcomes in an objective way because it's the only way to know where we as educators are doing well and where we need to improve, at the student, teacher, and school levels.

So... what solutions exist or could be created that allow us to measure outcomes in an efficient, objective way that also measure real learning (such as the artistic ability to struggle with a math puzzle and come up with an elegant solution)? Or, should we concentrate instead of making all teachers capable of good teaching that drives real learning and also (incidentally) enables good standardized test results?

Friday, July 16, 2010

EDUC 504: An experiment in liveblogging (Reflections on July 16 class)

Lesson learned -- setting up 60 twitter accounts at once may be problematic. Also, Joe's right -- it's both distracting and enriching to have people tweeting during discussion. I found myself largely focusing on one or the other rather integrating both in a good way in real time.

Thumbs up on the student-facilitated discussion -- maybe not every day, but pretty effective, especially with a group of future teachers to give us a chance to practice facilitating substantive conversations with "easy" students. Would love it if this got propagated across other classes in the SMAC program. Also thumbs up on the "standing when I want to take over the discussion" idea -- go Bill! Visible without being disruptive. I also think this would be useful in the secondary school classroom as it pushes kids to develop presence and facilitation skills that will come in handy in all aspects of their lives.

I love the idea of using this year to experiment how to make assessment a) authentic (which for these purposes I'll define as measuring your learning, not your test taking skills), b) scalable (so adding 50% to the students in a classroom doesn't immediately kill the teacher) and, c) standardize-able (so they can be compared across classrooms, schools, districts, states, and nations).

I'm afraid it might be a "pick two" situation, e.g. "time, money, quality" but I'm curious to see whether there are things about newer technologies that can break down some of the structural issues. I love, for instance, the idea of a teacher blog or email list that makes upcoming assignments and their rubrics transparent to parents (and also maybe a regular update on grade status) so they can intervene with their children early in the process rather than waiting until parent-teacher conferences to be shocked at how things are going.

Media21 webinar: So... technology sometimes hurts (oh, the feedback!). But it was great to get a chance to talk to Buffy and Susan directly about their real experience. I think it's fascinating that the students don't equate text on screens / videos with "reading literature", and it's probably a challenge with extended this kind of project, because if there are students who resist it, how much more will the parents? If you respond to, "when are we going to read the Illiad" with "whenever you want -- how about we twitter or blog discuss it over the summer?" would that work?

Where to start: Blogs -- the gateway drug. :)

I think it's interesting that we're back to whether richer input engages or becomes white noise. I'm having a hard time tracking discussion and reacting to it electronically in real time. Do "laptops (only) magnify what's already there?" -- they also present a lot more stimuli and options for distractions that aren't a factor when your laptop is closed.

Cloud computing -- Evernote, gmail -- is amazingly convenient, but always makes me feel squishy about the level of trust required (high). I have to believe that Google and Evernote and everyone else I trust with my data is going to treat that stuff with the privacy and security levels I would wish. In the corporate world, they deal with this by having secured, gated clouds (exchange, intranets), but that doesn't seem to be as relevant in an more money-constrained education environment. (Hey, we're back to time-money-quality again!) What's our guarantee that they the free sites are trustworthy? They need to maintain their reputation... but how much can they transgress before they loose it? (Will definitely look into -- looks useful for at least addressing some of the security concerns.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

EDUC 504: Blogs and Twitter and Ning, Oh My! (Reflections on July 16 readings)

Readings for July 16:

  • "No, Never Alone" by Kate Conley in Learning & Leading with Technology, June/July 2010
  • Twitter articles by Hadley Ferguson & Shannon McClintock Miller, same publication and date
  • The Media 21 Project by Buffy Hamilton and Susan Lester
  • Cheating and Assessment by Chris Sessums

From the Conley piece I learned the acronym PLN (personal learning network) and heard of Ning for the first time, which is starting to make me feel like one of those old, out of touch people I mocked last week. (Based on the wikipedia page, I guess this emerged about the time I entered my life of corporate dronedome and stopped having time to monitor what was cool on the net.) The Educator's PLN on Ning looks interesting -- maybe there will be time to explore it in August?

Useful links and acronyms aside, the title does seem a bit hyperbolic -- does Conley really think that we should "never" go it alone? And surely she doesn't really think that social media is the only way to not go it alone... learning and research communities have existed a lot longer than the internet.

I think maybe the most interesting part of this is what's hinted at in Conley's last paragraph and mentioned much more in the wikipedia article -- the different business models Ning has moved through, and the ever-present reality for online content that the infrastructure is very dynamic and could potentially go out of business or stop supporting your key feature at any time. So while publishing costs for online writing and networking are (relatively) cheap, there's probably still a place for books for solidifying and recording for posterity particular moments in time. (But that content should also be available online so it too can participate in the dialogue there.)


The Twitter articles prompted me to do something I've been pondering for a little while -- made a new twitter account to separate my personal one (which is privacy locked and only readable by a few "real life" friends) from a public persona I can use to participate in online educational dialogues. (It's @dr_vanark if anyone wants to "follow me" -- let me know if you do so I can make sure I also "follow you". Also, it prompted me to download a new twitter client -- not tweetdeck, as the article recommends. I've tried it and I don't like it -- takes up too much screen real estate. I do like echofon.)

While I actually really like twitter, I choke a little bit to see a teacher use the spelling "Gr8t" -- it's only a character count difference of two to spell it out, why not cut those somewhere else? (Do I sound like a crotchety old lady again?) Also? (While I'm on my crotchety bent...) Twaffic?!? Must we?


The Media 21 project seems very cool. I have a few questions I hope get covered in tomorrow's webinar:

Logistically -- Where did the funding come from? How much was needed? Could this be done with less? How were the two classes chosen?

Academically -- Was the focus more on tools, content, or balanced? Do you think these students will be able to carry over their new independent learning skills to less "blingy" technology environments? Do you feel this group of students will be disadvantaged in any way for not having had the traditional curriculum content?

Technology -- How did Ms. Hamilton and Ms. Lester find the tools they wanted the students to use? Were there any concerns about privacy for the students? Or about all data living in the cloud rather than on a hard drive they controlled?

Teacher / Librarian collaboration -- What was the most challenging part of this? The most rewarding? What would you recommend watching out for or being careful of if we wanted to try something like this ourselves? This project seemed like a fairly intensive use of the librarian's time resources -- can it be scaled up?

I like the phrases "sage on the stage" vs. "guide on the side". They pithily seem to encapsulate a lot. Also, now I've been inspired to download and play with Evernote.


The Sessions blog on whether cheating is enabled because we are not assessing real learning is very interesting.

I hope that we will discuss further how to address the forces driving teachers towards "inauthentic" assessments -- namely efficiency. While the obvious answer is, "more resources!" (e.g. more teachers, lower teacher:student ratios), I'm especially interested in what clever solutions might exist or we might be able to brainstorm together to enable authentic assessments that are not much more time consuming than designing and scoring a multiple-choice test.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What's in a name?

Is anyone else tempted to name their blogs "SMAC Talk"?

EDUC 606: Boundaries and Tensions (Or: What about my bumper sticker?)

We spent a goodly portion of today's Educational Psychology class debating whether it was ever okay for a secondary school teacher to have a political campaign sign (e.g. Obama, McCain, or Nader for President) posted in their classroom.

This sprung from a question about whether a teacher in today's public schools should attend to moral instruction of their students. (There seemed to be consensus that the answer was yes with regard to upholding the social contract of the classroom. With regard to issues beyond the classroom, it got a lot murkier very fast.)

It spawned related questions such as: "Is there a difference between telling my student I'm a cat person and telling them I'm a Democrat?" and "How might conditions such as the age of the student or the subject matter of the class influence the answer?"

The basic tension seemed to be between the desire to have open and honest relationships with students and the desire to avoid alienating or creating an unfriendly environment for any student. Or, as one classmate put it succinctly, "Disclose or Impose".

The key discriminator seemed to be the power differential between teacher and students -- the age, experience, authority, and maturity differences.

In some situations, a disclosure of a teacher's political affiliation could make the students feel that they should conform to that affiliation, or feel alienated if the chosen affiliation is hostile to something essential to their identity (do I support an anti-immigration candidate in a classroom full of immigrants? or an anti-gay party in a classroom with LGBT students? or a pro-choice candidate in a classroom with pro-life students?).

In other situations, students might be curious about the background and biases the teacher brings to the discussion while being independent and secure enough in their own beliefs to not feel pressured or threatened by the teacher's affiliations.

In other words, the answer is clearly different for a sixth grader and a college student, with high school students in a mushy zone where the answer probably depends on the maturity and independence of individual students and the atmosphere of mutual respect and trust the teacher has (or has not) established with the students to counteract the implicit power gradient. The answer could also depend on the relevance of the teacher's political affiliation as a potential source of bias in the classroom discussions -- it could be different for the history teacher, the science teacher, and the music teacher.

At the end of the day, I think it's fine to say that I, as a teacher, should not use my publicly-funded teaching space to advertise for my political candidate of choice, but should be allowed to use my discretion on when it would be educationally helpful or harmful to verbally share my political affiliation with my students.

But what about the (hypothetical) bumper sticker I put on my privately-owned car three years before I thought of entering the teaching profession, and now drive to the middle school parking lot every day?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

EDUC 504: Back to the Future (Reflections on July 9 class)

It's possible the thing I'm going to remember most about today's class is the "cinematic moment" with Dick York.

I'm stumbling a bit on my post-class reflections, because I feel like I covered a lot of the relevant ground in my pre-class reading reflection.

The hour or so of class we spent on reviewing technology content resources will probably be useful in the long run, but (as Kristin acknowledged during class) the lecture presentation style was hard to reconcile with a day when we were also looking at Dewey and experiential learning. Maybe the lesson could be re-spun to a half-hour scavenger hunt in teams of two or three, followed up by some group discussion on how it went, with a long list of the useful and the curious to be found through MEL, including e-library elementary, Lexiles, MEL PR materials, and turf grass?

In the Dewey discussion, my biggest reaction was that his quote, "I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.", is a false dichotomy. It's not either-or. Education is BOTH a process of living (the life of student, with all of the fascinating questions of intellectual, social, and identity development that entails) AND a preparation for future living. Which is actually true of all of life -- we're all constantly learning something from what we're doing right now that will prepare us for how we deal with our futures.

The post-lunch discussion of "respectful work" was interesting and had some good thoughts to chew on, especially moving kids from "cut & paste" to actually synthesizing content, but the discussion was more dominated by the profs than I would have expected.

The "in-service day" exercise was fun -- it was good to sit down and brainstorm on something as relevant as how the oil spill could be spun into teachable content for the various content areas. It was also fun to finally play with a wiki instead of just talking and reading about them. Tactically, our team (physics) found it somewhat awkward to manage the version control when more than one person wanted to edit -- can other wiki software show you each other's edits live (like google docs) or is this someone an inherent limitation of all wikis? Content-wise we had a lot of great ideas and if we were actually going to come up with a workable final product we would have probably needed to down-select to a few of the best ideas rather than trying to cram it all in. And in a real school context, we would want to make it interdisciplinary and bring in the earth science of the reservoir and the oceanography of the ocean currents and the chemistry of the oil in the water and biology of oil-eating bacteria in the water and gulf and coastal environmental impact.

It was interesting to see what the other groups came up with -- I think the two most awesome things I heard from outside the Physics group were the Language Arts group's rejection of the poetry response blog "because the peoms suck" (after a brief investigation, I agree) and the comment from another group that "Everyone talks about the spill without mentioning Mexico," which blew my mind because it's completely true and such a great teachable topic.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

EDUC 504: Dewey: Not just for decimal systems (Reflections on readings for July 9)

This week's readings include

  • John Dewey's, "My Pedagogic Creed" from 1897
  • A 2006 article by Peter Rich and Thomas Reeves relating Dewey's writings to Educational Technology
  • A 2004 discussion of the implications of Google and Wikipedia for librarians by Jeffrey Knapp

I find it fascinating that of the three readings, the one that's easily available online is the one from the 19th century. The 21st century ones are still paper-bound.

In some ways, Dewey's reflections on pedagogy are also still as relevent as the other two articles. That's some longevity! I agree with his central idea that education involves an organic interplay between the core abilities and interests of the individual student and the social construction of reality the student lives in (language, scientific concepts, etc.). I think this interplay is the reason I stumble when friends tell me that they're going to home school their children. It definitely optimizes the content and speed of learning to the individual child, but it seems to deprive them of (and also, my friends would point out, protect them from) much of the richness (and pain) offered by interaction with multiple teachers and peers in a more social schooling environment. I guess that can be compensated by extensive interaction with the community outside the "home" while home-schooling, but then it starts to seem like re-inventing the "school" wheel.

I also think Dewey's statement that, "it is impossible to foretell definitely just what civilization will be twenty years from now. Hence it is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set of conditions." has been proved out multiple times since he wrote it. Which has some strong implications for what we should be teaching -- enduring fundamental skills (arithmetic and reading) and critical thinking, learning, and innovating skills (to enable adaptation to new conditions), but maybe less emphasis on the particular content of a subject matter at the moment, as the "canonical" ideas and content may evolve beyond recognition over the lives of our students.

I think it is a little more problematic to consider Dewey's statement that, "It is the business of the school to deepen and extend [the student's] sense of the values bound up in his home life.", as this seems to assume a much more homogenous community with much higher assumptions of shared values than I think is appropriate for most modern American classrooms. When the children of Baptists, Episcopalians, Conservative Jews, Sunnis, atheists, college professors, yoga teachers, business managers, computer geeks, and manufacturing workers all go to school together, whose home values should the school be deepening and extending? What would define the common core that could be embraced? My first thought would be separation of church and state and free speech. But what about when the free speech makes fun of Mohammed or features a bare breast? Or the separation of church and state conflicts with strong beliefs about evolution? Are there common values in a multicultural society, beyond respect for each other's humanity and tolerance for each other's differences?

Finally, with regards to the subjects I'm preparing to teach, Dewey says, "science is of value because it gives the ability to interpret and control the experience already had." Which aligns quite well with my experience that it's very difficult to teach students in Ghana the following concept: "Ice is less dense than water. This is important because in winter, ice floats to the top of rivers and lakes and insulates them and keeps them from freezing solid, allowing the fish underneath to survive the winter." My students were comfortable with "fish live in bodies of water". They had experienced that. But none of them had any experience with temperatures below 60 degrees Farenheit or chunks of ice bigger than a fist. What might have come naturally to rural students in the northern U.S. was very very abstract for my students, and therefore very very hard to communicate. (Absurd, really.) Which points to the importance of ensuring that the curriculum I teach is tied to the experiences my students bring to the classroom, and the new experiences I can provide them through field trips, projects, and in-class activities. It will be interesting to play with ideas about how technology can be used to create more of those experiences in an authentic way that doesn't come off as too artificial or confined or simplified.

I was hoping the Rich and Reeves article would address this, but it seems more concentrated on showing how much modern theories of learning still depend on Dewey, rather than talking about specific uses of technology.

While Dewey uses quaint language with relatively fresh ideas, the Knapp article about Google and Wikipedia has a faint "old person" whiff to the whole concept of "are [these ubiquitous tools] friend or foe?". The answer seems so obviously to be "friend (to be used as tools in appropriate circumstances with an appreciation of what they are and where they come from)" to anyone under a certain age (30? 40?). On the other hand, I'm old enough that I remember the internet before google. (Ah, Altavista and Excite -- where did you go? Oh yes, I remember now -- you were less efficient and effective than google. We ditched you.) I think this is hilarious, and true: "Early Web searchers were educated in the seeming relationship of every word in the English language to some sort of sexual practice." It reminds me of this.

Who is "Gen M"? I've heard of Gen X and Gen Y... is this a special construct just for this book? Is it too recursive if I google it and then read about it on wikipedia?

I'm not sure whether my favorite part of the "miserable failure" original google bomb is that it existed, or that "Google initially did not consider it a problem to be fixed, since its system was technically working as it was designed." If enough people think the president is not doing a good job, Google will not try to censor that consensus!

I think consensus is actually the key word here. "Old people" grew up thinking that authority came from text that had enough value that someone was willing to pay to print it on paper, preserving those ideas in a static state using expensive capital investments in printing presses and binding machines. That authority may have been valid in the humanities, but in peer reviewed science, authority has always come from a shifting, dynamic consensus around key ideas (hopefully, but not always) due to the current preponderance of data supporting them. And now, in this brave new internet world, authority is still derived from a dynamic, shifting consensus, it just happens in the blink of an eye, as google's computers crunch on what most (internet savvy) people think is the best match for "miserable failure" and wikipedia notifies all interested parties of any changes made to their pet articles. To sum up what I think the article is saying on p.164 -- we're all wrong different ways, and if you average us out, you come closer to the truth (as long as there's a sufficient diversity of opinion, enough attention paid to the topic in question, and we all get feedback from each other).

In the section on why Gen M likes google, wikipedia, and the internet in general, Knapp says, "Some clarification ... about the "shelf life" of knowledge -- that, for example, a survey about the Internet habits of teenagers has a longer useful life than, say, the score of last night's ball game -- might be in order." But really the relevant question is, "is the shelf life of the knowledge longer than the cycle for revising and printing new editions and getting them onto library shelves", and for many topics, including the internet habits of teenagers, the answer might well be "no." (This shift in focus from myspace to facebook to twitter to whatever's coming next has been quite fast in terms of publishing timescales.)

I suppose one connection between the readings is that Google and Wikipedia and "the wisdom of the crowds" represent the kind of socially constructed and interactive knowledge that Dewey talking about 113 years ago. Although I have a hard time believing Dewey would have pictured this outcome, even with his self-proclaimed "prophesy" and his intuition that the world is changing fast.