5 Ways to Move the Education Conversation Forward

This week's #YourEduStory is about how to bring new people and perspectives along to grow the conversation about education. Here's five ways to avoid the echo chamber.

1. Read new books and share your connections.

Use social media like an online book club. It can be organized by hashtag, part of a scheduled chat, or just a slow chat that evolves over time. The great thing about sharing the connections you make with ideas from a book is that others can compare their connections to yours and grow from your contribution to the conversation.

2. Share student work.

I love student work. It is the best data educators can look at. By default, it is unique, however similar it may be to whatever else is being shared by educators. Student work is where the rubber meets the road, so it doesn't matter if it's very much like the work that's already shared in your PLN because the contribution is always relevant.

3. Discuss new data.

We read reports about various studies in books and online, but how often do we stop and look for data sets that say otherwise? How often do we search for updates on a study's conclusions?

For example, the first edition of Classroom Instruction that Works reported an achievement gain of about 40 percent for using similarities and differences. Since then, a report published by Marzano Research showed an achievement gain of almost half that. However, the conclusion from the first edition did not change because the gains relative to the other strategies were consistent. So, be careful with the data. Just because the numbers change, doesn't mean the significance changes, as well.      

4. Try old ideas in new ways.

I love working with veteran teachers. They always have something to offer. I'm a techie teacher who looks for the traditional methods that can be made more efficient using digital tools. After all, the brain and how it learns hasn't changed. It's how we learn that's changed.

Try making videos in lieu of an oral presentation. Since making videos for students, I've noticed that my public speaking and writing have become more fluent and clear. Now, I'm trying it with my students, and so far they are finding it very difficult because they are critical of the way they look and sound. This brings together self evaluation and oral presentations. But don't think of it as replacing oral presentations. Think of it as practice and differentiation.

5. Participate in online PD with other connected educators.

Professional development opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. If you want to contribute new ideas to the conversation, try some of the learning series and sharing opportunities for educators on social media.

This year, I've participated in Todd Nesloney's award-winning Educator Learning Series (#EduLS), a weekly educator blogging series (#YourEduStory), and George Curous's weekly Twitter video share #EduIn30. I like these three for the variety in terms of forms of communicating and the new ideas people share.

5 Google Apps for Collaborative Notes

Note-taking and summarizing are important learning activities that everyone needs to master. But your students don't need to do it individually to maximize learning. Our brains don't actually work that way. You might be surprised at the assessment results when students collaborate and share the note-taking tasks. 

The key is to have students review their notes and those made by peers in order to summarize the complete set. This is the synthesis task that builds the knowledge. It's not extra. It's critical.

1. Docs

For my classes, Docs is our go to for making class notes. Students rotate the responsibilities, including a total of four roles for each note-taking session. The roles are based on Alan November's digital learning farm and include scribe, researcher, curriculum reviewer, and global communicator.

My students access the notes document in a folder shared by link on the "About" tab of Google Classroom. The folder permission is set at anyone with the link can edit whatever is in the folder. Since my students need to be in the class to access the folder, it is still password protected.

Students like the ability to use the chat tool during a lesson as well as make comments on the document. The comments help reduce distraction when a student has a suggestion for the scribe or one of the other roles listed above. I particularly like it when students share links to resources via comment or chat.

Lastly, when working in groups, we use tables to give everyone a cell(s) to keep one another from fighting over typing space.

2. Blogger

Using a blog for note-taking makes it easy to share and use for instruction because of simple URLs and the comment tool at the bottom of each post. You can add your students as contributors, but I do not advise adding the whole class.

The limitation is that you can't have more than one student working on a document at any given time. But the advantage is that your notes are published for anyone on the Internet to access and make comments. This creates an authentic audience for student work, which means they are more likely to do their best.

3. Sites

With Sites, you can make pages for notes that users within your organization can edit. There are different template options, as shown in the image (right), including the potential for making custom templates that meet your needs.

I used to make slide presentations on a weekly basis. Now, my students make one every few weeks. This got me thinking that they should begin contributing website content, as well. There's no rule that says it must come from me. In fact, several teachers have wikis written by their students.

4. Slides

I love Slides for projects because one class can work on one presentation. Each group works on its own slides, and the print and presentation options allow the products to be displayed as placards or used in an oral presentation.

Slide presentations also work well for screen casting and uploading screen shots for a slide show on YouTube.

Like Docs, Slides has the comment tool so students can make suggestions about what they like or think should be changed without interrupting a classmate's thinking space.

5. Keep

Google Keep just received some important updates. You can now label the notes, which makes it easy to organize. Consider labeling your notes with multiple labels to make it easier to access particular topics and groupings that may be related in different ways.

Notes can also be shared with specific people or added to a Google Doc. Try having students write their notes individually and add them to a Google Doc. It would be great if you could add the notes to an existing Doc, but at the time of this blog post, it was not possible.

You can also share a label grouping of notes via URL.

Bonus Tips

Try taking notes on Google My Maps for a map activity or use Google Slides to make timelines or steps in a procedure. Collaborative lab reports sound interesting, too. Check out this video!

Thanks for reading.

Empowering Student Voice: Building Confidence through Anonymity

I'll never forget the day my 12th grade English teacher announced to the class that I could write. She sounded surprised – and not, at the same time. It was halfway through the year, and believe it or not, I was really quiet in school.

I had to wait four more years before someone with authority told me that I was a good writer. Reflecting on this experience, I now realize that proficiency had very little to do with anything. It was the audience that I craved, especially considering that it was the only way I could learn about which parts were helpful.

This week's #YourEduStory is about how teachers empower student voice in the classroom or at school. In my classroom, I deal with the confidence issues before students are expected to make themselves available for criticism or validation. Here's two examples of confidence issues on either end of the spectrum. 

Two Students We Know

The student who raises his hand for everything but has very little substance to contribute is sometimes viewed as a positive contributor. His ability to articulate his thoughts with such confidence has teachers distracted from his lack of evidence and analysis to support his response. Whether he's right or wrong, he's charming and got his stage time, even though the teacher smiles, thanks him, and calls on another student.

The second student is a discovery that I equate to spotting a golden nugget while drinking from a mountain spring. She is the quiet one who almost always has a good response with evidence and reason to support her claims. But she is afraid to raise her hand, so you won't meet her contribution in a cooperative learning setting. The life of the lesson will not include her contribution, which could have turned good teaching into great learning.

Know these two?

Anonymity Builds Confidence

Consider the power of anonymity for both of theses students. When their names are taken away from the contribution, whatever motivated them to speak, or not, becomes irrelevant. All they are left with is the idea, which will be the focus of scrutiny, not their personality.

In a paper classroom, activities could include nameless sentences or paragraphs taped or tacked to the wall. A more cooperative exercise like synthesis writing requires students to add one idea and pass it to next student as everyone makes their contribution to each finished product. For example, I like it when my students make synthesis graphic organizers because students can build authority on their contribution while learning about other ideas.

These activities don't provide anonymity perfectly. For complete anonymity, you'll need a digital tool that collects student responses and makes them available to an audience beyond the teacher. This helps students feel safe and expands their audience and multiplies the feedback, which is key to building confidence.

Empowering Student Voice with Verso

Verso is a response management system that prompts students to respond to a problem, called a flip, designed by the teacher. Once they've responded, they gain access to a wall where they can open other student responses and comment, like, or flag if something is not academic. No names are visible, so students focus on the response, not the individual.

As the teacher, I can see the names of the respondents. This feature allows me to build a stronger profile of each student earlier in the year than after winter break, like my 12th grade English teacher. She was great, by the way.

My favorite feature on the Verso app is the progress report (image right). The blue line represents how many comments students made, while the green line is the amount of likes received from comments or responses. The students can see their own progress report, and each flip includes a progress report of all the students in the teacher view.

Most importantly, Verso takes away the judgement of character that most of us fear and provides a safe space for sharing knowledge. It also encourages students to consider who's reading their responses and commentary.

Focusing on the Outcome

We want our kids to be literate so they can identify a worthwhile problem and formulate an appropriate response. This goal can be achieved when we provide students the opportunity to discover and develop their voice in the safety of schools.

As we move into a time when digital technology will be accessible to all, educators need to not forget that use of technology only supports pedagogy and the pedagogy only supports our learners finding and developing their voice.

10 Technology Transitions for the Paper-Based Classroom

Just hearing the word "technology" scares some teachers. But perhaps it's not the word that's the problem. Maybe it's the context. What if we thought about technology in more transitional ways?

edtech, educational technology, paperless classroom

Through acknowledgement of paper-based media, we can better understand the concepts and pedagogy that may get lost in a paper-less setting.

1. Name: _________ = Login: Username / Password

The importance of writing one's name at the top of the paper does not change when students turn in digital documents. Actually, it becomes more important in the paperless classroom because it's hard to identify individual handwriting. Teaching this skill on paper is still relevant, especially if students can transfer what they learned to the digital world.

2. Heading = Naming Conventions

Every year, I hear students complain about how English teachers expect them to write a specific heading on their papers. I've never required it in my paper-based classes, but I've learned that paperless work flow must include a naming convention that makes the work searchable on the cloud and identifiable by students and teachers.

3. Addressing Envelopes = Uniform Resource Locator (URL)

The concept of a web address is easy for me to understand because my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Brown, taught us the anatomy of an addressed envelope. In addition to snail mail formalities, students need to learn the parts of web address. The sooner they learn the basics of computing and the Worldwide Web, the better their chances of becoming more efficient and effective at work and play.

4. Reading Packet = Portable Document Format (PDF)

I'll never forget the e-mail I received a couple of years ago. It was a PDF of the grading cycle failure report. The principal apologized for the almost 60 pages that we were expected to search (manually) to find our students. I felt bad when I realized that not everyone (in fact almost no one) knew that the PDF, like most digital documents and webpages, could be searched using CTRL+F.

I likened this tool to skimming a paper-based reading packet for keywords. Again, a skill my awesome teachers nurtured in my elementary school years. Sometimes I feel like learned everything useful from those teachers. No offense high school Ts. You were important in different ways because I knew everything, right?

5. Worksheet = Google Apps

This one is simple. A bad paper-based worksheet is a map with political boundaries and physical features. A good paper-based worksheet is an outline map, only. A great paper-based classroom expects students to draw the map and choose the style based on the nature of the data used to respond to a problem. Google Apps allows students to do any of these worksheets collaboratively. Guess which one is best outcome for students.

6. Assignment Notebook = Google Classroom

Students need to commit to completing their assignments. In fact, they are about 30 to 40 percent more likely to complete them if they write the time and date in a planner or on a calendar. But they don't have to write all of the details or maintain a copy of the materials if teachers use Google Classroom.

I use Classroom as an online lesson planning space. I actually have two administrators acting as students in my class so they can see how it works. Consequently, they also know what we are learning each week.

7. File Folder = Google Drive

The benefit of a file folder is the visibility. You can see the big cabinet and quickly scan your color-coded folders and neatly labeled tabs. The great thing about Google Drive is that you can access your files anywhere with Internet, which is almost everywhere you would need to, these days. Plus, you can share a folder with someone on the other side of the world with a few clicks. Try doing that with your manila.

8. Notebook = Google Docs

I love writing in journals. I love writing in my Google Docs app even more because it's on my phone and I can search a few keywords and come up with notes I forgot about. Paper-based note-taking cannot do that. Also, I can take notes for a meeting on a doc in a shared folder so team members can follow along and add details, comments, links, and fix my mistakes. Next time it will be their turn.

9. Flashcards = Quizlet

Making card decks is important. They work great as study aids to practice recall, but they are also good for organizing ideas on the table or taped to the wall. Quizlet is a great place to start if you are thinking about making the transition from paper-based to digital technology. You can use the materials in either medium. I still like printing the words and having students sort them. I can't say enough about how important this tool can be for a class with one computer or one for every learner.

10. Scantron = Google Forms

Do you love the speed that bubble sheet readers provide? Personally, I like the sound a Scantron machine makes. You know, the telltale grind when most of the responses are wrong. It's bittersweet for my auditory proclivities.

Google forms is quiet, but you can edit the test up until the moment you share it with students, and marking the assessments is quick and easy with the Flubaroo add on.

Thanks for reading. I hope you feel strongly about both paper-based and digital forms of media. Here's a sample Quizlet deck based on the list above. Play around with the options. Click on the label in the bottom left to access the site. It's a great place to start.  

4 Norms for Educators to Consider

I have this crazy idea that rules are boring. Rules are important, but they are often a turn off for people who like to have fun. We can have fun and be productive without hurting anybody, right?

Here are some "norms" for your professional development or just a laugh at the next department meeting. 

1. Norman Schwarzkopf

“We are leaders.”

Being a leader is not about being in charge. It's about being ready to make the right decision regardless of its popularity. Strong leaders believe in the choices they make and empower colleagues to do the same.

2. Norman Rockwell

“We are illustrative.”

Talking is easy. Providing relevant examples that tell a story about how we learn is the key. If we haven't done anything that can be learned through example, we haven't done anything.

3. Norm (from Cheers)

“ … where everyone knows your name.”

People are important. Relating to people is how we show that we value their contribution. Every student, teacher, parent, and administrator deserves to be valued for something. Find it, and tell them. Better yet, show them that you value what they do.

4. Norm McDonald

“Have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously.”

Sure, assessments are important. Grades and scholarships are important. But if we act like the experiences that we have together -- the fun, the joy, the sadness, the success -- are not why we do it, we are missing out on the time of our lives. Our kids deserve an education that allows them to enjoy learning. We want our kids to run to school, not away from it.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it.

5 Tips for Writing History Essays

It's that time of year, again. Students are cramming on facts, teachers are sighing over forgotten essay formats, and the dates for exams are fast approaching, ready or not.

After a few years of teaching writing for history, I've learned five steps that work.

1. Understand the Problem

We naturally ask questions as we attempt to understand a problem. Write every question that comes to mind. Use the "W" questions to guide your inquiry. Organize your questions by historical thinking skills and themes (see 3 below). The questions you write will help you make choices in the next step.

Helpful questions:

What is the question asking you to do? Analyze? Evaluate?
What evidence will you need to support a response?

Historical Thinking Skills:
  • Chronology
  • Causation
  • Comparison
  • Context
  •  ... and more.
2. Find and Interpret Sources

Even though Google is full of information, we still need to know which keywords will produce the most relevant results. Choose words based on the questions you wrote in step 1, and use Google operators to filter search results and access more relevant areas of the Internet.  Try the Google Guide. It's my favorite.

As you search, you'll need to make quick decisions about which sources are worth reading. Think about the origin and purpose of the source as they relate to the value and limitation. In other words, can you trust it? And, how does it help support the main point? 
  • Is it primary or secondary? 
  • Who wrote it? 
  • Is the author credible? 
  • Why was it written?
Determine the point of view and any potential bias, which is not a bad thing. Bias is something we have to understand to develop a context for the information we are using. For example, if the essay is about Hitler's views of German Jews in 1938, the bias of his diary will not be contextualized as if we were writing an essay about German Jewish culture of the early Twentieth Century.

3. List, Group, & Label Evidence

Based on the evidence you select to support your response to the question, how can it be organized thematically so focused claims can be made to formulate your argument? 

List your evidence and group it according to similarities. Use themes to label the groups, but be sure to choose specific themes like "new labor systems" instead of something too broad like "economics." 

Click on the images below for original documents

4. Write a Response Statement (thesis)

This is your argument. Make sure the reader is not left with questions about the position you are taking to respond to the problem. A strong thesis will help the reader understand the time period and themes you are using to organize the evidence.

Think of the thesis statement as historical thought's moving truck. You collect the evidence and pack it into boxes (grouping) and label it so we know where to put it on the truck. Then, you load the boxes into the truck, or in this case, the thesis statement. The body paragraphs are the unpacking of the boxes, one paragraph at a time.

5. Develop an Essay (body paragraphs) 

The tough part is already done. If your work is solid on the first four steps, writing the body paragraphs should go smoothly.

Include two to four pieces of evidence to support the main point each paragraph develops. The main points are based on the thesis statement and the themes that you used to organize your evidence.

Remember to include the bias and point of view of the sources. Not every source is perfect, so your authority will be well established if the reader knows the value and limits of each source. This is why god history writing requires so much time spent on reading for context. We don't want to misrepresent the facts or ideas as we use them to substantiate our argument.

Be confident. Start with what you know, and make connections. It's time to unpack your ideas.

Bucket Seats: A Classroom Design Brief for #YourEduStory

I went to #TCEA15 last month and was most intrigued by the classroom furniture in the exhibit hall. I know! It's a computer educator conference and I am excited about desks, tables, and chairs.

But you should see these chairs. They're bucket seats with a tabletop that unfolds into place from the side. They have casters (wheels) and a big space for stuff beneath the bucket seat. This design is great if you're like me and have a small room with 32 desks that don't like to move much.

Since this week's #YourEduStory is about classroom design, I thought it was time to share my curiosity for new furniture possibilities and current disdain for traditional desks.

Changing the Set

The bucket seats take up very little space. I've had enough of the large desks that have almost no room for students to put there bags and other stuff. The time and effort it takes to get unsettled and rearrange the classroom during instruction is sometimes not worth it. The bucket seats allow students to stand and move their seat and stuff quickly, which means we could reset the room for each lesson activity.

Although mobility is a plus, it's also a drawback. For some teachers, it will be one more thing they will have to manage, especially when students decide that office chair races in the hallway are the best use of time.

Whatever the classroom looks like, it needs to support immediate changes to activity design, which could mean moving furniture quickly or switching to different types of technology - digital and paper.

Heads Up!

If my students are listening to me or their classmates present a part of the lesson, they often don't need their desktop. They often fold their arms on the desk and lay down their head, which creates another classroom management issue.

With furniture that is mobile and compact, we can change a desk to a chair in seconds. At key moments, teachers can have students unfold there desktops and write a few notes before pausing the writing and resuming the listening furniture orientation for the next presenter.

These might seem like minor details, but it only takes a second for a teenager to distract another and the learning turns on and off, on and off.

The Design Brief

The room has three important features: (1) Mobile furniture, (2) Mobile computing, and (3) Displays that have AirPlay or Miracast mirroring capability.

(1) The furniture can be moved into tightly grouped rows for stadium seating or moved into circles form discussions. Half-circle tables can be grouped into large round workspaces or placed up against the wall for stations and other group activities, leaving the center of the room open for movement.

(2) The room has at minimum one mobile device for every three kids, but should be closer to one for every two. Ten Chromebooks and 10 iPads are ideal because they have different strengths. Tablets are good for make videos and taking pictures, while Chromebooks have more computing power and can run full web versions of learning sites and apps.  

(3) The displays include an interactive short-throw projector that projects to a floor-to-ceiling whiteboard at one end of the room. The room also has two extra large monitors on each side of the room. These monitors can be used by students to display information from their devices. Each monitor can have a different paring code, and in seconds students can share their work and switch between presenters. These displays can also be used to conduct video conferences with other classrooms or anyone, really.

This classroom exists somewhere, and as the technology becomes more affordable and easier to manage, this classroom will exist in many more schools.


Piktochart for #EduLS: 5 Tips for Writing History Essays

The Educator Learning Series (#EduLS) has been pushing me to come up with new ways to present historical thinking skills to secondary teachers. I can't wait to see what my students do with this site and Thing Link. 

Getting Inside Out: Making Inquiry-Based Learning Visible

One of my student teaching mentors told me his secret. He said that as long as the question is framed right, the lesson will go well. Even though he was right about the importance of framing the question, he didn't succeed at giving every student an audience to develop their voice.

Over the last five years, I've tried to solve this problem by using high-yield strategies, digital tools, and regular feedback. These are important parts of any lesson, but it wasn't until I started using inquiry-based learning that noticeable results were showing up in my students' essays.

Getting Inside Out

It doesn't matter which high-yield strategy I try, questioning and making thinking visible always works for my students. The hard part is coaching them to become more aware of their own thought process. It helps when I remind them to not take any questions for granted.

Last week, I used the trailer to the new Disney movie "Inside Out." This worked better than anything I've tried in the past. Our discussion about the movie trailer was based on a simple question: What did you see?

Inquiry-Based Activities 

To solve the problem my mentor failed to address, students need time to write their questions individually without interruption from others. Digital technology can help with the process of managing so many responses, but both smart and dumb tools need to be used strategically.

The following activity includes a balance of paper and devices, as well as individual and group contributions.
  1. Teacher poses a question or prompt that could assess the learning target(s) through constructed response (essay). 
  2. Students think about the given question and write their thought-process questions, each on a separate slip of paper, to be collected by the teacher and placed into one of 6-8 baskets. I call them the "Ask-It Basket." It's worth the chuckle, and laughing is learning. 
  3. Groups of three or four each take a basket of anonymous questions to sort before deciding which three the group wants to report to the class via Google Forms. 
  4. Discussion is based on the group responses. 

A Closing Note on Technology 

I've tried this lesson with everyone using Google Forms and 1:1 devices. It actually took longer than the steps I explained above. This paper-digital hybrid balances the use of technology and allows group members who are more confident with digital tools to model for their peers. 

I like having a Chromebook for every student, but unless the course is designed to let learners work at their own pace, it's not faster or better than pacing the class together. Sure, some students benefit from working alone and at their own pace, but most of my students learn better when they have the opportunity to work on their own and with others in the same lesson. 

Here's some of my other posts about inquiry-based learning.   

Digging Deeper with Technology Published on Smarter Schools Project Blog.

5 Digital Tools for Inquiry-Based Learning Published on Instructional Fluency.