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Just the Facts

May 13, 2011 1 comment

A tweet by Silvia Tosiano @langwitches the other day got me thinking about research and the purpose of information.  Like most Language Arts teachers,  covering the research process is part of my curriculum.  I’m always looking for a way to make this more meaningful.   Usually I use an adaptation of Ken Macrorie’s I-Search model.   The papers are based on topics that students select and integrate personal opinions as well as facts discovered during research.   To me, this is the essence of research–to select what you want to learn about and then analyze any misconceptions you have uncovered in your own thinking.  I also like Macrorie’s model because it integrates metacognitive processes.   In addition to writing about what they have researched, students are also asked to write about their learning and the research process.

After reading Silvia’s tweet, I got to thinking about how I might integrate infographics when I teach research.   I want to see how I can make facts and statistics meaningful, and help students understand how “facts” aren’t always necessarily set in stone.   I did some exploring and found a few resources that will be helpful when we get started.

Make your own infographic

Ten Awesome tools for making infographics

And thanks to Twitter, I also have a student model to share with my class.

Me in Statistics

I’m excited to see how this comes together.

Off the Back Burner

April 9, 2011 1 comment

Serendipity–the lovely coincidences in life where things seem to connect and build on each other.  But do these connections really happen randomly, or is it because our minds are focused on an idea that we are able to see things with different eyes?

Here’s a perfect example.  Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity and risk taking.  As a writing teacher I want to foster opportunities in my classroom for students to take risks without fear of failure.  Ideally I’d like students to leave my classroom unafraid to do something different, because they will know that it leads to greater learning.  Then, thanks to Brian, I came across this article: “Teaching Risk Taking in the College Classroom.” In it author E. Shelley Reid identifies the inherent contradictions present in education that prevent students from taking risks.   According to Reid, students today, “are conservative learners: they worry about grades and want to “play it safe,” they don’t take time to imagine alternatives, or they have low skill or confidence levels that reduce their abilities to try new things. And sometimes my own teaching or grading practices undermine my invitations to take the intellectual risks that are crucial to student learning” (Reid, 2010).  However, instead of going on to bemoan this fact, Reid provides several strategies that teachers can use in order to develop risk taking among students.   While I found many of the suggestions useful, the one that stands out for me is giving credit to students who are willing to take risks, even if the final product is imperfect.   This was a forehead smacking moment.  How perfectly simple and effective, reward the risk takers!

A few days later this post, 10 Ways to Help Students Ask Better Questions was retweeted.    In it teacher John T. Spencer describes the practices he has adopted to help his students become critical thinkers and risk takers. “Question everything has become a mantra in our class and it extends all the way to me,” he explains, providing the important caveat that the questions must always be respectful.    Again, there were many ideas that I can implement into my classroom, but the most important thing I walked away with was the affirmation that if I want my students to learn these skills, they need to practice them.  This is a challenge as I often fall back into previously established habits and routines,  and I am working with students who are reluctant to be wrong.  Still, these ideas, along with the thought of how I can “flip” my classroom have really got my brain bubbling.

At this point I’m not sure what these ideas will look like in practice in my classroom, but one thing I do know.  If I really want to prepare my students for the future I need to help them move away from the need for perfection because it limits their learning and growth.  I also know that initially it will be difficult for my students to let go of their dependency on the right answer, the clean copy and the perfect score, but the benefits of making this shift will be enormous.

Who wags the dog?

June 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Right now I’m playing a little hookey from my break-out session at the New Literacies Institute. We just finished listening to keynote Yong Zhao speak to us about education and the importance of fostering creativity and difference. His concern is that with our country’s move toward standardization in education, we are actually moving away from the things that set us apart globally.

According to Zhao, one of the strengths of American education is that it allows for diversity and it tolerates difference. He tells us that American schools should be teaching students to be entrepreneurs, because this is the talent that will help them be successful. Our ability to be creative is the one product that continues to set the United States apart. “You can’t teach creativity,” Zhao states. Sadly, we can kill it. Education in the United States needs to continue to provide room for difference, so that students can maintain some of their creative, individual thought. But this isn’t the message that is saturating the media right now. Instead, we are shown a view of education that is failing, and students who are ill-prepared for the workplace. This is the image that is driving the need for greater accountabilty. Yet as I sit here in a room full of forward thinking teachers, and through my interactions with my PLN, I know this is not an accurate picture of American education at all. Perhaps we are right to be worried, because if we continue to move along the route of standardization and move away from what we do best we will most certainly fall behind.

Still, as I walk away from Zhao presentation I felt energized and excited. I know that regardless of what reforms may come, teachers will continue to infuse their work with the desire to foster passion, creativity and the ability to think differently.

Categories: creativity, education

After reading Larry Ferlazzo and thinking about the Buddha

June 21, 2010 1 comment

I was talking this week with a colleague about creating a classroom climate where students were willing to take risks, one that focused on positive behaviors rather than rules and procedures. I can’t take credit for this idea, it came to me via an elluminate session on teaching with the Buddha. One of the presenters was explaining how her students begin the year identifying the type classroom environment they want by focusing on what they would need to do to achieve that kind of environment. My colleague mentioned that she and her team had been talking about something similar. They had noticed that their students could identify positive behaviors, but they weren’t able to talk about what those behaviors looked like. For example, they knew it was important to be nice, but what would nice look like? That got me to thinking, how do I get students to think about what cooperative and collaborative behavior looks like? And how do I help them own these behaviors?

Today as I was reading Larry Ferlazzo’s blog he was writing about having students create videos that model right behavior, a sort of student generated training video. I really like this idea and I’m planning on running with it for the start of next school year. It combines the idea of having students come up with their view for a cooperative classroom environment and identifying what it looks like. I think that making videos will help them think about concrete ways to demonstrate the behaviors they identify. These videos could be uploaded and saved to our class blog to share with others. What a great way to give students voice in the classroom.

Playing with Capzels

June 12, 2010 1 comment

I recently revisited Capzels, an online timeline creator I discovered while I was taking a digital storytelling class.  Capzels allows you to upload video and images, as well as mp3 files.  You can also choose from a variety of backgrounds and fonts to create customized timelines.  It was fairly intuitive and I managed to create my own in a short amount of time.   Here is an example of the capzel I created:

This tool has a lot of potential, not only for creating digital stories, but also for creating digital portfolios.  Students could create capzels to show their progress throughout the year, or simply to reflect on a unit.  They could then share them with teachers, peers and family members.  Sharing capzels with families would also help them to see the progression of their child’s learning, not simply the final product.  There are privacy settings, so individual capzles could be available to all, or completely private. Private capzels could only be viewed by those who were given the url.

Capzels does have a couple of drawbacks. Users do have to register, so capzels would need to be managed for younger students. Also, uploading video was a little slow.  Even with its drawbacks, I think capzels will be a great addition to my classroom resources.  Given how quickly they adapt to new tools, I know my students will too.

Endings and Beginnings

May 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Well, my Capstone Journey is finally over, but with any journey, the end usually turns out to be just the beginning. I’m looking forward to what will come next.

What Fun We Had

May 13, 2010 Leave a comment

I mentioned that I was trying my hand at a collaborative assignment using Google Documents, Nota and Twiddla. After some consideration I decided against Nota, and sadly Twiddla did not turn out to be the best resource. It was unpredictable. Some students had no trouble returning to their shared work, while others lost everything and had to start over. This stumbling block aside, it was a great activity. The excitement generated as my students learned that what they did effected their partner’s work was contagious. We spent the day giggling, and then settled into some serious work. Would I do this again? You bet. Once we’re finished I’ll post some of their work so you can see how it went.

A final note about Twiddla, I would definitely use it again, but keeping in mind that it’s temporary. I can see it being a great tool for group collaboration, especially if we add a Smart Board to the mix. We could draw, brainstorm and edit as a group and then print our work. What fun!