Lessons Learned | Interdisciplinary Graduate Seminar Exposes All

In graduate school, I took a geography seminar on industrial ecology. It not only sounded cool, I had been tired of writing papers that were weighed down with philosophy. I wanted to work with numbers and do some quantitative analysis.  

The professor was an economics geographer and had a Scottish accent – a well educated one. The seminar was about seven graduate students, some working on masters degrees in environmental philosophy, while others were working on interdisciplinary studies. 

We read articles for homework, prepared positions, and discussed the concepts from the articles while exploring different cases. Most of the analysis focused on the extent to which the case established a symbiotic relationship among its firms.

I write about foundry sand waste streams and the logistical issue of reusing the sands in construction aggregates. It was fun because it was what I consider very concrete scholarship. Additionally, I learned that I could apply the research skills I was developing as an anthropology student to almost any discipline. 

More importantly, I learned how to engage in an interdisciplinary setting, which can be highly critical. What's particularly challenging is the lack of confirmation bias. When scholars of the same discipline are making observations with similarly trained lenses, it's easy to feel more confident in assumptions when new evidence is presented. Scholars without investment in an area of study sometimes offer a fresh look at the data and offer alternatives to the analysis commonly found in the discourse. This is a bit oversimplified for the purpose of this post, especially considering literature and peer reviews often look for alternatives to the published theory to avoid this issue.  

If you've read my blog, then you know that I am a classroom teacher. I am surrounded by colleagues who are not working on publishing their work. They are grading papers and planning a crazy amount of lesson material. They are managing behavior and trying to keep up appearances to avoid too many troubles ending up in the principal's inbox. This is not a scholarly situation. It's a learning factory.

Why write about it? Why even bring it up? 

Experiences like the one described above gave me the opportunity to grow as a scholar because I had to find objectivity wherever possible, just to survive. These days, this blog is my catharsis that enables new looks at common routines, avoiding falling into too many routines and patterns that become toxic in the long run (homework because we've always done it, for example).

Objectivity, unfortunately, is not something I see a lot in a high school. People do things the way they do them for 20 years and get frustrated when they have to change. I don't mind changing because I always change. If you are observing the world right now, it's changing more rapidly than ever. In fact, change is inherent in my efforts to stay relevant. I don't know any other way. 

I guess if I were told to stop changing, it may make me feel like the 20-year veterans do when they have to change. Regardless of which side of this spectrum you are on, the changing world will make you vulnerable and exposed. I embrace it, no matter how much trouble it gets me into.

Flattening Classrooms: Collaborating With Google Apps

When James Caudill asked me if I wanted collaborate, it was an easy decision. Why not? Quite truthfully, I had never collaborated with a teacher in another state, never mind another time zone.

One of us suggested the geography of things and Google My Maps, and the rest was some direct messages on Twitter and a Google Hangout.

James (@teachcaudill) said the video reflection is spot on, which is significant because I commented mostly on his students' work, and we have yet to debrief on the data or methodology.

This video explores collaborating across time zones with Google Apps. It includes several basic and advanced tips for making products in My Maps. Additionally, skills like customizing map points are explained, as well as responsible use of other people's content.

Share your collaboration story so we can flatten our classrooms.

10 Chrome Extensions I Won't Teach Without

Chrome extensions are right where you need them. When the time comes, it's easy to call up a tool to process what's in front of you the way you need it.

But I'm not partial to a particular developer when there are several options. My favorites are chosen based on how often I use them and how much work they can accomplish (or time saved). For some of the following tasks, the Chrome store has plenty of options.

My suggestion is to read the reviews and do your homework before choosing one over the other. But don't worry if your choice does not work out. There are plenty of others to try.

Here are some of the extensions that I use regularly.

1. Clipper

Although I prefer to use a native tool (built into the device), sometimes that's not possible. For example, I used Snagit (discontinued as extension) to clip content and add annotations, etc. Since Snagit is now only available for desktop, I use Nimbus, which also serves as a tab recorder.

2. Link Shortener

URLs can clutter emails and other documents. They're also too long and distracting for most social media platforms, like Twitter. Shortening the link only takes a couple of seconds, and your audience will appreciate the ease of use.

Since I use Google Apps, I chose a link shortener that connects to my account shortening app (goo.gl). It's nice to be able to keep a record of links and access the same link for future use.

3. Tab Recorder

Screencastify is my favorite tab recorder. I use the paid version and enjoy the simplicity of use. It places videos in my Google Drive and allows me to upload directly to YouTube.

If I need a screen recorder with more options and tools, I use Screencast-O-Matic (not an extension). I can blur student data and edit the final video with ease. Plus, I think the quality is much better. But for a quick tutorial or message, the Screencastify extension works great.

4. Keep

My juniors are currently working on a term paper and seem to be having difficulty finding sources. Perhaps they need the process (or organizational strategies) modeled with more depth.

As I search for resources and find good ones, the Google Keep extension allows me to save an article or website and apply a label to stay organized. After four or five sources are collected, I can go back to Keep and click the label to filter the sources I want to evaluate and use to formulate my argument.

5. Insert Learning

Want to insert questions into a webpage or a YouTube video into a Google doc? Insert Learning does those things and more.

Formerly called DocentEdu, Insert Learning is a tool that allows users to insert images, annotations, videos, assessment items, annotated highlights, and discussions into a webpage or published Google Doc. You have to try it to realize its value for classroom teachers.

6. PDF Printer

I use this extension as often as four or five times a week pulling materials from the Internet. It converts a webpage into a PDF and allows users to edit out images or chunks of text and formatting that are unnecessary.

If you need to pull text from the Internet and convert it to a Google doc, open the PDF with the Docs app within Drive (see below).

7. VideoNot.es

This is a great tool. It's particularly effective with short videos with excellent content. Only a couple of my students have chosen to try it, so I will use it for explanation videos to model note-taking expectations.

8. Poll Everywhere

I used to add lots of multiple choice questions to Google Slides with the Poll Everywhere extension. My students have enjoyed Kahoot!, Quizlet, and Google forms for multiple choice, so I use Poll Everywhere for the other assessment items.

We use the word cloud generator and the vote up response, and the ranking tool. I particularly like the vote up because students can read through other responses and learn from their peers. We don't do vote down because it's a waste of time. By focusing on the good responses, the expectations become clearer.

9. Drive Slides

This is one of my new favorite tools. It makes a Google Slides presentation out of all of the image files in a Drive folder. It takes about five seconds and saves a lot of time bringing together student contributed content.

Here's a post about some of things my class is doing with Drive Slides.

10. Share to Classroom

The Internet has changed the way we access information, which is why my class does not have a textbook. It does, but we don't consult it exclusively or regularly. The textbook-free classroom, however, is supported by tools like Google Classroom and the extension Share to Classroom.

My favorite feature on this extension is the ability to push content students. With a classroom full of Chromebooks, this becomes a very easy way to manage materials on the fly. Likewise, students can send material to the teacher who can then redistribute it to the students.

Share to Classroom, of course, includes its namesake feature of the ability to share something from the Internet directly to Classroom. This can be done in any of the ways posts can be made to Classroom from within the app.