Category Archives: Courses

EdTech 543- Classroom 2.0 Webinar: Inquiry Learning and Empowering Students

On Saturday September 29, I attending a webinar hosted by Classroom 2.0.  The featured guest was David Truss of the Learning Innovations Network Coquitlam,  Coquitlam Open Learning and the Inquiry Hub.  David has spent a number of years working towards creating learning environments in which the students are able to formulate their own questions and pursue the answers to those questions, with plenty of learning happening along the way.

The webinar began with general introductions and some polling of the attendees on questions like “Have you used project based learning in your classroom?” Once underway, David gave a description of what he does with his classes and, more importantly, why he feels this form of inquiry-based learning is important for students.  Chief among the reasons was the fact that by allowing students to pursue questions they have developed, the students become much more motivated and engaged in the learning process.  David provided a number of slides with images and inspirational quotes from those involved with the transformation of education.  David went on to develop all 7 of his “Ways to Transform Your  Classroom.” As seen in the above screenshot, these include inquiry, voice audience, community, leadership, play and networks.  All of these lead, in one way or another, to a more engaged and empowered student.

As the webinar continued, the chat box was very active (I am a bit of a neophyte, so I assume this is what is referred to as the “backchannel”.)  Attendees spent a good deal of time sharing opinions of what David was saying and admiring his inspirational quotes.  I did feel that the experience as a whole lacked a bit of what I love- “how to” information.  Connections did seem to be made, but for the most part they seemed to be already well-established.  I added my share of comments and questions (see image below), but did shy away from stepping up to the microphone.  Next time.  And yes, there will be a next time.

My initial opinion of this experience (it was not my first) was that it was very interesting and inspirational, but lacked a bit of substance in terms of practical application knowledge.  However, as I reflect on the experience now, I see that I am still so stuck in my “sage on the stage” mentality that I was expecting David to tell me what to do.  I wanted him to say “do these steps and you will have a transformed classroom.”  As I sit here know,I realize that David is the catalyst.  He gets the conversation going around a particular topic and it is the attendees that make what they want and need of it.  From there, they go out and did through the resources, connect with others in attendance (and the connections of those in attendance) and build their understanding and application in a way that is tailored to their own situation.  A tough process for sure, but one that seems to have a much better ending than the more directed “do as I tell you approach.”

Hmmm, sounds an awful like inquiry learning.  Go figure.

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EdTech 543- Thoughts on Twitter for Just in Time PD

I can’t say that I am totally new to twitter.  I have been on Twitter for about three years now (I am sure that is considered “new” by many.)   I have bunch of followers and I follow my share of people.  to be honest, I am not exactly sure what an average number of followers is, but I’m sure that Justin Bieber skews that number anyways with his 28+ million followers.  So, yes, my Twitterverse is a small one.  However, as I get to learn more and more about twitter, I am finding it a wonderful place to learn.  For this module in Social network learning, I have set up Tweetdeck and incorporated a number of hashtags.  Because I teach science, I wanted some to reflect that discipline.  I also wanted to include one more related to technology.  As such, I have added columns with the following hashtags:

  • #scichat– This hashtag is dedicated to science teachers sharing ideas, resources and other science related material
  • #edchat– A general education chat that is quite popular.  There are many planned discussions using this hashtag.
  • #edtech– This hashtag has a blend of both education and technology.  There are resources geared more towards education, those geared more towards technology and ones that blend the two together.
  • #plpnetwork– This hashtag helps bring together those who are in Powerful learning Practices (PLP), those who guide the learning and for PLPeeps (those who have been through PLP).  A great combination of resources and thought provoking blogs/articles.
  • #edsci– Presumably a hashtag for discussing science education.  Unfortunately, it seems to be fairly quiet.

Here they are in all their glory via Tweetdeck

Some sample of resources I have connected to through these hashtags are:

I first heard of the idea of “Just In Time” learning in the introductory conference as I began my 8-month journey with Powerful learning Practice (PLP).  Will Richardson drew all of us in with his idea of how learning is happening in the lives of teenagers (and many others, but teens were his focus) everywhere (except in school.)  The world has changed is huge ways and the amount of information that is easily available if simply incomprehensible.   I recall reading something once about how it used to be if a question like “How old is Julia Roberts?” came up in conversation, it might never be answered.  Now, you simply have to reach into your pocket for your phone and BOOM, there it is.  (Here it is if you were wondering.)

Now, not all the information is trivia (or trivial).  A person can learn a foreign language, learn the properties of Neon gas or just about anything else you can think of.  The fact is, all of this potential learning has to impact what schools look like.  I teach Science and often ask students to learn things like the parts of a cell or the prefixes used in the metric system.  The question is ‘why?’  Most of this information can easily be looked up.  So, should I have my students spend their time and energy learning these facts or should I get them working on work that requires deeper thought and assumes that the facts are easily available.  To be honest, I am still somewhat on the fence.  There is a necessary balance if we want our students to be truly ‘educated.’  Having some facts at the ready is helpful when in a conversation.  How could smooth conversation happen otherwise?  However, the easy access also allows the deeper conversations to happen when an otherwise unknown fact or idea is easy sought out.

In the end, I want my doctor to know what my thyroid glands do without heading to his smartphone and my students to know enough to carry on an intelligent conversation without having to Google anything.  However, I also want my doctor and my students to use the resources the world has made available to them.  The idea that my doctor is conferring with his network on my case is comforting.  And knowing that my students can learn what they want, when they want it is downright cool.

Integrating Technology into the Teaching of Science

One of the best parts of being a Science teacher is that my students get to investigate the world on a regular basis.  So much of science is based on observing the world around you, asking questions about that world, investigating your questions and drawing conclusions from those investigations.  It is formal inquiry at it’s best.  For most students, however, there is a limit to what they can see.  Even now, in the 21st century, most of the world we experience is fairly limited in scope.  We know our houses and families, our schools and friends, but only rarely get to peek to the world beyond.

Assuming one has a curious and inquisitive mind, this is where technology can step in and pay huge dividends in the science classroom.  While I am a firm believer that the bulk of science that our students do should be hands-on work, there are many ways that technology adds to that experience.

Looking into Other Worlds

As stated, our view of the world is fairly limited.  Technology allows students to look into the heart of an atom or out into the unknown reaches of the galaxy through experiences like Absorb Learning’s atom tutorial or the Hubble Deep Field Academy.  The fact is that resources are being developed all the time that broaden students world and what becomes observable.  This broader view leads to more interest and investigation on the part of the students.

Learning from Others at Your Own Pace

Another wonderful aspect of technology integration is the fact that students learning is no longer limited to the teacher’s experiences.  Nowadays, students can learn from MIT professors or experts on subjects from around the world.  They need only reach out (with guidance) and follow their path at their pace.  Unlike any other time in history, students can truly follow their passions as far as they desire.

Using Inquiry to Learn

All science education should be inquiry based to some degree.  Technology integration supports such learning by allowing students to learn through experience as they tweak conditions in simulations, design and run experiments online or use tech-based data collecting in their own in-class experiments.   Technology supports a number of various ways for students to both gather information about their world and to visualize that information as they work to draw conclusions.

The fact is that the list goes on and on.  Students can utilize tutorials to gain better understandings of concepts, make connections and develop learning projects with partners around the world or simply track their own learning through the keeping of a blog.  Technology has always played an important role in the teaching and learning of science and that connection is growing deeper every day.

Resources

Haury, D. L. (1993). Teaching Science Through Inquiry. ERIC CSMEE Digest (March Ed 359 048).

Roblyer, M.D. & Doering, A.H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Reflection following the Project

The project comes to an end and the students have presented their work.  Ideally, this is a time when we can all step back and celebrate.  Then what?

Evaluation.  Once the project is done, it is time to review what took place during the project.  What were the aspects of the project that went well?  What needs to be tweaked? Things to look at include the driving questions themselves and the direction they took the class (this seems like a good one to do with the students), the timeline of the project and the different skills needed to make the project flow better and become more relevant.

Who will you involve in the process?

  • As I reflect on the project unit, it seems essential to have student input.  It is easy for a teacher to feel like the work they have put in front of the students is interesting and meaningful.  Students, one the other hand, may not feel that way.  Developing a system for open and honest feedback is critical to continued development of  that project unit.  It is also important to get feedback from all teachers involved and from any “experts” who got to review the final project.  Essentially, it seems like the more information coming in, the better the chances of making improvements.

What will your process look like?

The process of reflection will likely have many different looks.  Personal reflection in the form of my own learning log, interviews with students and teachers involved and online evaluations that allow for anonymity all seem like valid ways to  elicit information that can be used in project evaluation.  ironically, even the process of valuating will likely have to be evaluated and tweaked over time (which answers the last question- Is this a one-time assessment?)

Internet Safety for Students

The following post is a guide to internet safety for students in high school.  It was completed as part of work in Boise State Ed Tech 541.

As young adults in a connected world, you likely spend a fair amount of time online.  Whether you are gaming, connecting with friends or doing research for school, there are some things that you must keep in mind to develop a safe and healthy online presence.  Much of the advice boils down to common sense, but there can be aspects of working and living online that are trickier to pick up on.  As you work your way through cyberspace, keep the following in mind:

  1. Be Respectful– Always be respectful of the people you are talking to and talking about online.  Because online work creates a sense of distance and anonymity, many people say things they would not normally say to someone in a face-to-face situation.  When working online, what you write and what you post will likely be permanently out there for all to see (even if you delete it!)  Be smart and show the world you best side.  Also, refrain from tagging friends in pictures.  Let them make that decision on their own.
  2. Be Safe– As most people know, there are many dangers out in the cyberworld.  While making connections with people can be very rewarding and helpful, never give out personal information.  Using your first name only (or include last initial if you have to), keeping locations and addresses to yourself and not sharing other personal details are all great ways to stay safe.
  3. Be Smart– As you search for content on the internet, you will very likely come across information from questionable sources.  Now that anyone connected to the internet can share their opinions, it can be difficult to determine what is fact and what is opinion (or fiction).  Always ask yourself “who posted this?” and “why did they post it?”  Being aware of your virtual surroundings is an important skill to develop in this modern world.
  4. Be Careful– While much of what you do on the internet poses little danger, you have to be aware that there are very real dangers.  Emails and other downloads can contain viruses and other malware that can harm your computer or send out personal information.  Never open emails from unknown senders.  Delete them immediately.
  5. Set Limits– As young adults, you are gaining more and more independence.  With this independence comes the need to set limits for yourselves.  Just like overindulging in food can have negative consequences, overindulging in time online has potential negative impacts as well.  Set limits for both work and social time online.  Take the time to meet friends in person, not just online.

For more information on Internet Safety, visit the following sites:

Resources:

Common Sense Media. (n.d.). Internet safety tips for middle school kids. Retrieved July 15, 2012, from http://www.commonsensemedia.org/advice-for-parents/internet-safety-tips-middle-school-kids

Common Sense Media. (2012, June 19). Parents’ Guide to Protecting Kids’ Privacy Online. Retrieved July 14, 2012, from http://www.commonsensemedia.org/advice-for-parents/parents-guide-to-protecting-kids-privacy-online

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. (2012, July 12). Netsmartz Workshop:  Safety.  Retrieved from http://www.netsmartz.org/safety/safetytips.

An Integrated Curriculum- Worth the Effort

What is the daily experience of most teachers?  Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but for me it is, sadly, a fairly isolated experience.  I plan my lessons on my own, I prep them on my own, I deliver them on my own and evaluate their effectiveness on my own.  Do I do a good job?  I like to think so.  I also work hard to stay innovative and to make the work and learning interesting for my students.  When push comes to shove, however, my students are working in isolation much the same as I am.  They are studying Biology (or Chemistry, or whatever subject I happen to be teaching) in isolation from other disciplines.  Sure, I like to slip in historical context when I can and I certainly help them through math skills, but the reality is that this type of isolation just isn’t real…except in school.

What happens when the students toss their caps and head off into the real world?  They are asked to complete projects for work that integrate all of the subjects they learned separately in school.  In some ways it seems like learning to hit a golf ball by learning small parts of the golf swing, the initial takeaway, taking the club up, starting the downswing, etc., from different coaches, only to ever take a full swing when it really counts- on the course.  Chances are the first few times you try that full swing, it will be awkward and not so successful.  The same goes for those first integrated, real-world projects.  Awkward and, perhaps, unsuccessful.

What would serve the students better?  An integrated curriculum.  A curriculum in which they develop English skills, Math skills, Science skills and all of their other skills through work on the same project.  A chance to see how the world connects outside the classroom walls.  Imagine a student who spent their time in school in this fashion as they attack that new, but familiar real-world project when they get their first job.  To say the least, they will be better off for the experience thay had in school.

So how does a school deliver such an experience?  To be honest, I don’t know.  It seems to take dedicated teachers, hard work and long hours.  What I do see, however, is that the first step is to create a culture of collaboration.  Administrations must make this a priority.  Creating lines of communication between faculty members is the essential first step to building an integrated curriculum.  Perhaps replacing faculty meetings with grade-level check-ins is a start.  Simply getting teachers together to talk about what they are teaching and how they are teaching it.  Can’t you just imagine the conversation as teachers begin to see the overlap in their subject matter.  It seems to me, it wouldn’t take much for that conversation to turn into an idea for small-scale collaboration, which could lead to…who knows.

The reality is that such conversation would not likely turn into a fully integrated curriculum.  That type of teaching is just too complex to come by through sheer enthusiasm.  But, the conversation is the starting point.  The communication between the people students spend their day with.  The realization that there are common goals and ways to make every subject more relevant, real and meaningful.

I like the sound of that.

Walled Gardens Voicethread Post

Voicethread on Walled Gardens

This post is a Voicethread completed as part of work in Ed Tech 541.  The topic is on the opening of so-called “walled gardens” in school settings.  (I attempted to embed the voicethread, but had no luck.  Sorry about that.)

Ed Tech 541- Multimedia Video Blog

This video post was created to answer the question of “what are the benefits of incorporating multimedia in the classroom?”

(The links embedded in the video don’t work.  Sorry about that.)

Ed Tech 542 Learning Log Entry #2

Having settled on a school garden as a project, I am quite optimistic about where I can go with this idea.  In my vision for this project, students will start by seeing the issues that exist in our modern world of industrialized agriculture.  Utilizing a film such as Food, Inc. I hope to help them see there is a problem.  From there, they will learn alternatives through research and begin to design a small garden that will become part of the school.  School gardens are not new, but the development of a garden seems to allow for so many learning opportunities across the field of biology.  Students will learn about plant needs, photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, nutrition and more.

As far as tools go, it seems like a great opportunity for students to share what they learn with others.  Development of a school garden website that can be a future resource for other class and school and some sort of multimedia project (I can see a public service announcement made by students) seem like very good, authentic forms of assessment.  I am still struggling a bit on how to create an audience for the students.  Ideas like fellow teachers, and students (maybe an assembly) see ok, but it keeps the work of my students within the school community.  It would be nice to expand their audience beyond the school grounds.  Perhaps involving parents would be a nice addition.

Is it PBL without an audience?  I would have to say yes, as long as the students are motivated by the learning.  However, most students need added incentive.  This, in my mind, is where the audience comes in.  By expanding the audience to include people outside of the students world, the motivation to do well increases.  This comes not just as fear of looking foolish, though many students will see that, but as an opportunity to look great.  A chance to make a difference.  That is something that is different about today’s students- the work they do doesn’t just hang in hallways, it has the potential to impact society.  So, while the project can carry on without an audience, clearly, students benefit from having one.

Project-Based Learning- Ed Tech 542 Post 1

As I begin this exploration into project-based learning, my initial thoughts are very positive.  Most articles and sources that I have come across paint a picture of motivated, engaged students doing work on project that have real and lasting results.  Edutopia.org provides a laundry list of benefits of  PBL including improved standardized test scores (although I wouldn’t want that to be the main goal of a learning situation).  Projects seems to bring life to classrooms that few other strategies do.  Students learn about topics that are important to them and develop some product that they the share with the world.  The learning is authentic and seems to be a wonderful way to approach learning.

As a science teacher, I ma often confronted with the question of covering content vs. helping students learn science.  The fact is that our understanding of the Biological world, for example, has exploded in the past century and there are simply too many facts to cover in a school year.  Even if I were able to cover the enormous textbook cover to cover, there is little chance that my student would retain more than a tiny fraction of the facts they learned. PBL seems to provide an alternative.  Yes, you do sacrifice the amount of material covered, but the depth of what is covered and the learning and retention seem to make it very worth the trade off.

One aspect of PBL that I do find intimidating is the fact that so many teachers do this within groups.  They lean on each other as they develop projects and share experiences and learn from each other as projects progress.  At my school, we have created a somewhat isolating culture in which teachers don’t collaborate as often as they should. While I think i want to incorporate PBL into my teaching for the students benefit, I also hope that my colleagues will be open to sharing that experience.  Who knows, perhaps my embracing PBL might help start a cultural shift at my school.

As far as ideas for a project go, there have been some moves at my school towards embracing a gardening curriculum.  I think I would like to explore that as a project for this class.  Some of the work has actually been done here, but I will approach it as if ground has yet to be broken.