Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Organizing Student-Centered Learning

As I have "flipped" my classroom from a teacher-centered learning environment to a student-centered one, I found it helpful to have a framework. A few years ago I came across a great one that is tailored to a history classroom using Common-Core standards. But I think this framework could be used in several disciplines.

It is called the C4 Framework and was developed by Glenn Wiebe (@glennw98). One of his main purposes in developing it was to help teachers help students to move beyond memorizing content. Here are the fours steps:

Collect: Content is in so many places so for the first step, students should go out and collect as much of it as they can. As a teacher I may set up a list or folder of suggested resources. These resources may also include lectures that I have recorded or other YouTube content videos. I may also have student "specialize" in an area they are collecting information about, for instance, the Pacific Theater of World War II.

Collaborate: Typically at this stage I have student pool their information together. They can decide what is the most important information and what isn't necessary. They can fill in nay gaps they may have missed. But this can also mean a Socratic Seminar about the topic or some kind of interaction with others about the contents. The C4 website has some cards you can purchase for ideas about each level. This may be a stage where I could use a little help.

Create: Students must gather the information they collected and create something with it. Ideally, they create something that answers a driving question, with supporting examples. The possibilities for a product are endless and the choice is best left up to the students. This step is so much more valuable than memorizing a fact and spitting it back out on a test. It is more important that students know how to use facts to support and argument.

Communicate: This is the 21st Century and learning should not be contained to the four walls of a classroom, let alone a private exchange between the learner and teacher. New learning should be shared. I think classroom blogs are a great avenue for this. Students can publish their work on the blog and reflect on their learning. The online publishing opens up the possibility for authentic feedback beyond the teacher.

This framework has really helped me plan out inquiry-based, student-centered lessons. Please check out the website for more information and ideas. Glenn's blog is also a great resource for teachers, especially history teachers that love technology!

Must-Have Resource for History Teachers

If you are a history teacher there are a few resources you must use. One of my main goals as I started my teaching career was to show students the grey areas of history. In practice this was more difficult than expected. Finding good primary resources that high school students can access is a challenge. Finding sources that contradict each other and guiding students through the thought process of making a supported conclusion seems equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest! So imagine my excitement when I found the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG).

At the site, go to "Curriculum" and then "Reading Like a Historian." I love the introductory lessons that offer great plans that teach students the skills of historians. The Lunchroom Fight lesson always goes over well in my classroom and is a memorable scenario I can refer back to all year.  There is a vast amount of US History lessons and they are building more World History lessons.

Students have enjoyed these lessons, sometimes they get a little sick of them because they would rather just "know" the answer. However, students have also expressed that they like working through these resources. So if you haven't already been to this website, make sure you check it out!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Twitter Teachers

This August I will be presenting at a education conference about becoming a connected educator. One of the main ways I have done that is by joining Twitter. I know that many of the educators at this conference do not currently use Twitter. So I'm looking for help, please complete this survey and add specific testimonials or stories in the comments. Thanks!

To what degree has Twitter had an impact on your teaching?

One More Reason

As I look to next school year, I am trying to prepare to defend gamification. I feel like it is a somewhat unknown and misunderstood topic. As I continue to build up my arsenal of evidence, I continue to learn more. The YouTube clip below provides some great reasons for gamification and an awesome idea for a unit. It suggests that you give students two unrelated topic, they each have to find a series of links that connect the two. An award will be given for the student that connects the topics with the least number of links. I love this idea and many others found in the video below. Enjoy!

More Gamification Resources

Perhaps with some of my posts of gamification you might be considering trying it yourself and/or you still want to learn more. I am still a bit of a novice. I gamified one unit last year and I making plans to gamify an entire semester next year. There are several teachers that have more experience than myself. I'm attaching a few podcasts here that have three middle school teachers discussing gamification in their science and history courses.

Introduction to Gamification: What it is, what are some good resources to get started/learn more, how it works and how you can get started
Podcast Link

Gamification Part II: Continues to discuss examples of how to gamify especially focusing on XP and rewards/items
Podcast Link

And if you don't have quite that much time to invest, here's a powerful, quick explanation of WHY you should use game elements in education.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

A huge part of a teacher's job description is to motivate students to learn. This is not a very easy task, but educators take it on year after year. I feel lucky to work with students that are generally very motivated, but some of them care more about their grade than they do about trying and learning new things. This can be another frustration of a teacher. As a school we are planing to move toward Standard-Based grading to help shift the focus from the grade to the learning. In my own classroom I want to implement gamifcation as means to increase both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

I found the above image on Pinterest and its source is acknowledged in the picture. It  appears to offer a criticism of gamification as only inspiring extrinsic motivation through points and leaderboards, represented by all of extra greens on top. But the real motivation (the carrot) is very small. I agree that points and leaderboards will only motivate you for so long. Certainly, I would not invest so much time in this if were only to add some bells and whistles to my classroom. What really excites me about gamification is the way it allows me to feed that intrinsic motivation that is deep and significant. Video game elements within the classroom naturally lend itself to a mastery based system. If you don't meet the clearly stated standard the first time, you receive feedback and are challenged to try again. Each quest is tied to a standard so students know why they are doing the activity and what learning should come out of it.

I think gamification does provide both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Students may start off with enthusiasm for the game elements and language but will eventually come to appreciate the process and challenge of learning.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Is Technology Changing our Brains?

This week in my EdTech 537 course, we are asked to address this question. I have already given my thoughts about these articles in an earlier blog post found here.

If a colleague came up to me and expressed belief in the notion that our current students are digital natives and must be taught differently, I would be hard-pressed to disagree. While I don't want to begin researching more articles to support Prensky and refute McKenzie, I think there is more to both sides of the story.

Based on my current knowledge and research I might tell my colleague that while technology has not fundamentally changed students and their brains, technology has changed the world we are preparing them for. Most of our current school models were designed during the Industrial Revolution, preparing students for work in a factory. Content knowledge was safely kept with the teacher to be given out in controlled portions. Technology has changed our world. Most of these students will not be working in factories. We are preparing them for jobs that probably don't exist yet. Teachers are fooling themselves if they think their classroom lecture is the only means for students to discover the content. Information can be found in a matter of seconds.

The brains of our students are not functioning differently due to technology, technology has changed our world and demands that our schools and our teaching change to better serve and prepare our students.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Guest Blog--From my Mom

Below is a guest post from my mom. She spent 30+ years in education. Below are a few of her thoughts, specifically the impact of technology.

I retired from teaching in 2012. So much had changed from my initial experiences in the early 1970's. The kids might have been happier then. Parents were less distracted by society's demands and not frustrated with technology changing their lives. Families spent quality time together. High tech was color TV and music on cassettes. 

I remember my first Apple IIe computer in the library. We we supposed to learn how to program it. Right! Computers were supposed to make teaching easier. Paperwork would be stream-lined. I believe we generated more paperwork and still had paper copies just in case. Forms and programs were improved and updated taking up more time to learn a new system. Technology can be fun and it does help to visualize ideas better, but nothing can replace a teacher who takes a special interest in her students. We all yearn for someone not something to care about us.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ban Multiple Choice Tests!?!

As a high school student, I did not like my history classes. Everyday it seemed, we sat through a lecture and then took notes. Before the test I would review my notes, memorize them and usually perform well on test made up of mostly multiple choice questions. I'm not sure I would call that "real" learning. In fact, this Edutopia article reveals the flawed creation story of multiple choice assessments.

Later on, in college, I found out that history was not just a series of names and dates. I discovered that history was full of interpretation and grey area. Based on that discovery, I decided I wanted to be a history teacher. I certainly do not lecture every day, in fact, I rarely lecture. But I do tend to give multiple choice tests (along with some short answer and essay questions). Multiple choice questions don't sit well with me, they certainly don't reveal the grey area of history. For this reason, last school year I gave several all-essay tests. I even attempted two rounds of discussion tests in the form of a socratic seminar (credit to @LS_Karl and his blog). I feel like these other kinds of tests force students to use facts as a way to support their claims and not just memorize some random facts the night before the test.

But are multiple choice tests really so bad? Several teaching professionals discuss the idea here. Perhaps testing factual content via multiple choice isn't the end of the world. Students do need to be held responsible for content knowledge and a multiple choice format (coupled with other types of questions) are an easy way for students to demonstrate that knowledge and teachers to assess it. I am in favor of the move away from history as names and dates, but in the end, there are some names I would like them to know.

Luckily, I teach in a private school so I am not worried about high-stakes multiple choice tests from the state. I also feel confident that if I hold students to a high standard of thinking and learning, they will do well on on college-entrance exams. In the coming school year, I will continue to distance myself from multiple choice tests, but I see no reason to ban MC questions altogether.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Just Say "no" to Gamification

In my last post I talked about all the reasons I wanted to gamify my classroom in the upcoming school year. But perhaps I should be skeptical of this "trend" in education. Later this summer, I plan to present to the Education Committee about why I would like to add a course fee for a Learning Management System (LMS) that helps manage gamification in the classroom. I have a feeling they are going to be skeptical about this idea (the course fee and gamification).

Please help!
  -If you have experience with gamification, what were some of the questions/concerns people had when you tried to implement it?
  -Play the devil's advocate, why are you skeptical about gamification?
  -If you don't like the idea, what are some reasons I should just say "no" to gamification?

I very much appreciate your input.

Five Reasons to Gamify your Classroom

First, what is gamification? It brings video game elements (leaderboards, levels, missions, badges) into a non-video game atmosphere (classroom, fundraiser, campaign) in order to increase participation and motivation. If you want to dig deeper into this concept, I would recommend Tom Driscoll's gamification series (scroll to the bottom of this link).

This ideas was very intriguing to me. I jumped in quickly with Tom's resources and then ordered Lee Sheldon's book, The Multiplayer Classroom. Inspired, I designed a gamified unit on Imperialism, complete with an alien invasion. It was successful and taught me some things I would change for next time. My current plan is to work on planning an entire semester of gamified US History. This may be a crazy, but here are five reasons I am planning to do it.

Reasons I want to Gamify:

  1. Student Engagement. Games motivate us. Even as adults we get a thrill from advancing through a progress bar. Countless apps for teens and adults use awards and leaderboards to keep us coming back for more. Don’t we want that for our class content?
  2. Allows you to fail. In a video game it is very common to not make it through a level on your first try. Its not a big deal, you learn from your mistakes and try again. As much as we want our classrooms to be this way, teachers and students have a difficult time living in this culture at school. 
  3. Helps build student confidence. Games are designed to intermix easy and difficult levels at just the right time. Missions (assignments) start out easy, building student confidence so they feel equipped when they advance to a more difficult level.
  4. Holds students to a high standard. Unfortunately many students are playing the game of school, just collecting points and going through the motions. They often turn work in that is “good enough.” Gamification requires that they meet a minimum standard before they move on, if they don’t they must re-do it (see #2). When I tried it out this year students would try to rush through, but as their papers were returned with only one star, they learned to slow down and do it right.
    1. Allows me to work toward Standards-Based learning/grading. Each mission demonstrates a particular standard, throughout the year the student builds a body of evidence that they meet the standards.
  5. Builds community. Students are placed in guilds. While they may complain at first of some members bringing their spot on the guild leaderboard down, eventually they learn to encourage and help each other. Furthermore, individuals don’t want to disappoint their guild so they make sure they are caught up. In my one attempt this year, I noticed student grades were up and I feel that this and other factors contributed to it.
What do you think? Are these good reasons? What would you add to the list?
Undecided or opposed, check out my next post where I try to get you to talk me out of it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tried and True Web 2.0 Tools

At a recent conference I attended, I realized how much teachers are creatures of habit. While I love to incorporate technology, I have to make room for these new tools. These are a few of the Web 2.0 tools I have regularly incorporated into my teaching. They are free and have been successfully used by my JH and HS students. Give them a try and see if you don't make a habit of using them.

Some Basics:

Edmodo --It is very important to have one place where students can access materials, ask questions, and communicate with each other. Edmodo does all of that and more in a user-friendly way. It has been especially helpful when we have mock-elections in Government class. I create a small, private group for each political party and they can connect easily.

Google Drive -- I love that I have all of my class documents with me wherever I am. Students have also grown to love it and find it to be a great way for students to collaborate group projects.

More Advanced:

LiveBinders -- Allows students and teachers to create a three-ring binder of sources online. I have created binders that students can use for sources for a project (organize tabs and subtabs). I have also had students create their own binder of sources that they share with me.

Infogr.am -- This is awesome! Students can create their own infographics. They can drag and drop different visuals, inputting the numbers they need to customize it. Looks really impressive.

Padlet -- An interactive, online bulletin board. This is a great online space for students to share ideas and respond to each other. It is great if you are crowdsourcing facts and/or ideas because students can access it on the web as opposed to writing down ideas on a big piece of butcher paper and having to take a picture of any information you want.

Screencast-o-matic -- Students can create their own screencasts. They drag the recording area to be as large as they would like and then start recording. They don't even need to log-in and it easily uploads to YouTube. I especially enjoyed having students create a Renaissance Art Gallery Tour. Although, I recently ran into some problems trying to run it on my Mac.

Timeline JS -- As a history teacher, I usually assign at least one timeline. A few years ago I gave students the option to create one using this site. They were skeptical at first, thinking it would be impossibly complicated. They were pleasantly surprised when they simply entered the information into a Google spreadsheet and the program did its "timeline magic." Many have used this again in other classes.

Looking for more? These tools are all east to stumble upon if you are looking. Resources are always getting shared on Twitter. And the jackpot of all kinds of free, educational tools and websites is Richard Byrne's Free Technology 4 Teachers. You will not regret visiting that site!

What are some Web 2.0 tools you are in the habit of using?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Is all this technology good for us?

One of my main motivations for starting the EdTech program at Boise State is to attempt to get a firm handle on how and why to use technology effectively. I enjoy technology and I like incorporating it into my classroom. But is it helping students learn? Are the "old-fashioned" ways better for them overall and are they losing important life skills by being plugged in all the time? The articles we read this week for EdTech 537 don't exactly give me clarity on the subject. I look forward to hearing the thoughts of my classmates, especially those that are further along in the program that I am.

In Marc Prenskey's article he defines digital natives and digital immigrants. I personally find myself to be somewhere in between these two. He generalizes that most teachers are digital immigrants and that students are digital natives. This is a broad stroke, but I see what he means. He says that digital native students learn differently, they multitask, they like to receive info quickly, they like random access, networking, and instant rewards/feedback. I definitely have seen this with my students, especially the random access. As a teacher, I give directions step by step before they get started. More often then not I end up frustrated when I have to answer the same question several times because that direction was not really relevant to them until they actually got to that point.

Prensky says that games (like a video game) are the answer for meeting the educational needs of digital natives. When I read that I was completely on board. I have recently delved into the idea of gamifying my courses. I tried it with my Imperialism unit this year and it was great, I saw it meeting the needs of my digital native students. After reading Prensky's article I was giving myself a pat on the back. But then I read Jamie McKenzie's critique and I wasn't feeling so confident. McKenzie criticizes Prensky's lack of research to back up his finding as well as the broad strokes he uses to the portray digital immigrants, like claiming they don't think learning should be fun. He also pointed out that we assume to much about digital natives, they really are not as tech savvy as we think. I totally agree with this, I find that many students can use technology to entertain themselves and communicate but they don't know how to use their devices for learning. Oddly enough this criticism of Prensky is what compels me to incorporate technology. Students need to know how to leverage technology for more sophisticated purposes. Relating to that, McKenzie also points to the fact that most researchers agree that too much screen time is not good for us. Students are connecting with their devices more than actual human beings.

The final article referenced research about the generational differences and tried to reach a conclusion about if we need to take them into account in our instruction design. The article seemed to reach the conclusion that it certainly does not hurt to account for generational differences. And many studies referenced gave high praise to gamifying the classroom. Perhaps this is the conclusion I wanted to reach, but I do plan to continue to question the use of technology in my classroom and strive to help students balance their use of technology with the face-to-face interactions needed for a fulfilling life.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Greetings, EdTech 537!

Welcome to my blog! I have been working at this for about a year. I must admit, that I am not very good at updating it. I started it to document and reflect on my ventures into inquiry and  flipped learning in my history courses. I chose to use the Blogger platform because I love all things Google, but in my own classroom I am having the students use KidBlog.

I have just started the Boise State University EdTech program. I have always enjoyed educational technology so I look forward to learning more about it. I'm also pleased that I can take classes from the comfort of my home in Seattle, WA where I live with my husband. I am currently two weeks away from finishing my eighth year of teaching JH and HS Social Studies as well as advising the yearbook staff and student council.

Twitter is my favorite tool for professional development, you can find me @kaelynbullock. My PLN (Professional Learning Network) has inspired me to try flipped learning (#flipclass) and inquiry-based learning (#inquirychat). More recently, I have been looking into Standards-Based Learning (#sblchat) and gamification (#leveluped). These topics will be my summer projects and I hope to use this blog to reflect on my learning and progress.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Historical Thinking Skills

With the adoption of Common Core standards, history teachers are becoming more concerned with historical thinking skills. Many of us are happily leaving behind the long lists of content to be memorized. In fact, many history educators on Twitter blogged about that very topic on the new History Blog Circle, proposed by Joe Taraborrelli. I contributed to last month's topic here.

This month we are discussing how we plan for historical thinking. Recently the historical skills of my students have been put to the test through the National History Day competition. Students have been working on these since October and now I am assessing them. Over the past several months they learned new research skills. They learned more advanced Google searching techniques, they learned how to use library databases, and they had the opportunity to use the University of Washington's Graduate Library.

They were able to find great sources and analyzed them by using pre-made questions based on source type. However, as it came down to crunch time and I read their outlines, they struggled to put those sources to use in a historical argument. When I recommended they find a few primary sources to "beef-up" their arguments, they reverted to basic Google searching strategies.

They were asked to create Annotated Bibliographies and I was surprised at how much they struggled to make accurate citations. They turned entries in a total of four times, each full of red marks, and I am happy to say that most of them now have a better understanding of how to work with citations. Some of them even discovered Easybib for the first time.

At the heart of this project is a historical argument which they have showed competency in, in the past. Typically, they are able to do this with a "formulated" topic and given several resources. It certainly is more challenging to create your argument on your own in the midst of a vast array of sources. Some did it beautifully. However there were some that hardly incorporated the primary sources that had found (a certain number were required at checkpoints). One student did not use a single primary source.

It is hard to say if the students lacked the skills to complete this project well or if they did not commit the amount of time necessary to do this project well. Either way, I have learned a few things about what I would do differently in the future. An experienced NHD teacher advised that we incorporate the skills students need for this project in the content we are teaching all year. A few thoughts of what I can change:

  • As a class we often look at primary sources together, but I think I should assess them more on an individual level. I know I already do this to a point, but I can always step it up.
  • I also think I should regularly ask them to find scholarly articles and primary sources for class. 
    • We often have inquiry questions and I allow students to do outside research, but I could include more detailed standards for those sources.
  • Already in my "flipped mindset" of planning I am always trying to think of ways to gets students active in discovering their knowledge, not just sitting and hearing what they "are supposed to know for the test." But I think I need to open things up a little and allow them to develop historical arguments based on areas they are interested in. Like I said, I may be interfering too much, setting up the questions and often providing the resources.
I am excited about these changes and hope they will lead to improved historical thinking skills for my students.

On a related note, I think it may be a sin that I have not read Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Chartign the Future of Teahing the Past by Sam Wineburg. Although I have read many similar books, I think I need to order it immediately.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Few Gifts in December

For the past few months I have been loving what is going on in my classroom. In December, students were doing on some great, inquiry/project based learning.

Western Civilization students worked in groups to create an Art Gallery Tour, answering the question, "How did the Renaissance bring us both back to the past and into the future?" Students used Power Point, Prezi, or Google Presentation to put together the works of art and then use www.screecast-o-matic.com to narrate the screencast. I talked a little about the Explore-Flip-Apply approach I used with this here. The products were great. I was really pleased with their command of the content. I also like how some of their personalities came through in the tours, like this one.

My United States history course, had followed more of a "flipped-101" style. Now that we have progressed through the year, I wanted to step it up. We briefly went through information on Manifest Destiny. To get the students to process the information and create something meaningful, I turned to this awesome post, 15 Assessments that Don't Suck. I decided to use the Notecard Confessions assessment. I found it very valuable to have students approach Texas Independence and the Mexican-American War from the perspective of Mexico. It was so nice to come alongside groups, checking in and encouraging them to add more in various areas. It really helped students to not settle for the result being "good enough." But instead they know I am there to push them and support them to do their best.