Education in the age of change: A TEDx Talk

I gave a talk a week ago at TEDx RockyView Schools, and I wanted to share it with a little bit of context for it with you.  One of the biggest hesitations teachers often have when I am working with them on enhancing their practice and working with digital tools is that they are somehow losing in the process.  There is an overwhelming feeling out there that the more teachers ‘put out there’ of their work and skill, the less value there is of having them in the classroom.  I used to be unsure how to respond to that fear.

For a time I thought (mainly to myself) that if the world was changing in such a way that teachers could be replaced by online tools, then I would want to be aware of those tools, familiar with them, because someone has to know how to keep the ‘machine’ running.  If all of us were on the ropes, I would at least be as valuable as I could by understanding the new technology.  Then if the teachers were all ‘let go,’ I would possibly still have some value in the new system.  It was a naïve perspective.

In doing my research for this talk, I found that I do believe that we are in the midst of a change because of technology and that we most certainly need to become familiar with technology.  This is not because technology will replace us, but rather because it could replace us if we aren’t pushing our teaching practice to be as effective as possible.

Make no mistake, there are billions of dollars at work trying to figure out the ‘next way’ in education, you need only look to the United States and the various initiatives at work there to see how money and cost-saving can effect education.  However, if you look to Alberta, Canada, you will also see some amazing efforts by teachers to integrate technologies both personal and publicly purchased, to change practice based on current research, and the possibilities the democratization of knowledge has brought to a modern education system.  These changes have been brought about by an environment of research and study, willing to look at how to best blend the expertise of teachers with the innovation technology brings.  It’s not perfect, but it does inspire hope that instead of looking to replace teachers with some learning program or hardware solution, the answer will continue to be a blended, human approach to learning.

Enjoy the talk!

Advertisement

The Spontaneous Premiere of #edchat8CST on Twitter

I had just finished a very brief chat on #cdnedchat tonight and, as I had joined late, found myself in the mood for more educational conversation. What happened next was one of those moments on Twitter where you realize the power of social media. Darin Johnson (@AnIowaTeacher) was lamenting the lack of a chat at that moment, and so I dropped the suggestion that we start one. At that moment #edchat8CST was born and both myself and Darin sent out the call for educators to join. Within moments we had a topic: Using Social Media to Start Something New in the Classroom and I moderated the conversation with four questions. We had teachers join through the whole hour, and I was astonished that there were people creeping the chat (reading and watching without participating), new connections to both Darin and myself, and the conversation was electric. One of the greatest outcomes was the side-chats and spontaneity of the group, willing to put more ‘out there’ because it was not a ‘regular’ chat. Our four questions over the hour were as follows:

Q1: What social media do you think would be most conducive to classroom use?
Q2: What innovative uses have you found for Social Media as you teach?
Q3: Brainstorming time; If you had unlimited technology available, what WOULD you try using social media in education?
Q4: How can we spontaneously make better use of SM in our classrooms? Like this chat?

I was so impressed that a tenuously connected group of educators (I had never had a conversation of any great length with Darin prior to our staring the chat) could create such a great collection of ideas and resources, experiences and positive conversation. It was the highlight of my week on Twitter, and it’s only Monday! At any rate. Thanks to all who joined in, and we will use the hashtag again for impromptu chats, keep watching! Please read the storify below for the full conversation!

5 Great Creative iPad Apps for Earth Day {iPads in Education, iOS, EdTech}

Alright, I wanted to write a post about iPad apps that worked with an Earth Day theme, and did a little searching online to see what had been presented.  There are some nice lists of apps (like these: 1, 2) that are focused on the earth, on history, on animals, but few that seem to actually present an educational method for teaching about the purpose of earth day.  While I am all for appreciation of our planet and the beauty contained within, I am more apt to direct students toward action on preserving our planet and appreciating our world.  So, in that light, this post is dedicated to ways students can create artifacts that show their planet love with iPads.

AurasmaAurasma

Aurasma is platform forcreating augmented reality overlays for things in your immediate environment.  What it enables students to do is create wording, video, images that they can ‘tag’ to a camera location, so when others come to that point, they see the content ‘floating’ with the image.  The obvious implication would be to have students tag things in their environment with some of the environmental considerations, so others could become informed as well.  The app is simple enough to use that a single teacher account could catalog all of the student work, or you could have students create their own free accounts.  For younger students, a teacher could pre-tag a school yard, classroom or school and give students the ipads to do a walkabout and learn about things in their environment. I am very excited about this app, and have at least one big project coming up with it soon!

 

Google DriveGoogle Docs

If you have access to Google Docs, or wish to set it up with your students, you can upload your activities for Earth Day and have a paper free learning day!  As Google Docs is connected online, students can share their work with others and reach out to others taking action for Earth Day.  Another option is to have all students collaborate on a document, perhaps a group of strategies to help their peers become more eco-friendly, then share the document and see the feedback you can get.

 

MinecraftMinecraft PE

I think Earth Day provides an excellent opportunity for students to use Minecraft educationally.  In a virtual world where supplies must be gathered, scarcity exists and it takes time to create things, students could be placed into a carefully designed scenario to achieve a goal. (irrigate, build shelter, create a rare item) As students work through the challenge, parallels can be drawn to our world, and the lack of availability of some resources, or the impractical way in which we use those resources some times.

 

PathOnPath On

This little app is so simple, but so connected.  Basically, it allows a user to take a picture and then draw a line that becomes the direction of the words the user writes ‘on’ the picture.  So, you put a path of words on the picture.  However, it also has some basic editing functions, similar to Instagram and the like,  and the ability to upload the finished images to social media.  I like the idea of students being able to find something that they want to make a social comment on, taking a picture and making the statement directly on it.  Added to that is the ability to then connect those statements, facts, information to the broader world either through a moderated school account, or their personal social media accounts.

 

TwitterTwitter

Ok, so I am cheating a bit with Google Docs and Twitter, as they are platforms, but there is no substitute for connecting students to the worldwide #earthday conversation as it is happening.  Either on the projector or on their own iPads, have the students listen to the conversation, and then join in, depending on their age.  If I were still teaching High School I would be having my students research and produce valid and poignant tweets using information they have found.  How can they state their facts and a perspective in 140 characters to create a call to action?  If you have your students add a custom hashtag, you can even archive the perspectives for review and discussion in class.

 

My point with these apps is that there are ways to actually get students actively engaged in Earth Day all over the app store if we are being creative with our uses of technology.  I want to make sure my students are learning something that matters to them about the earth the other 364 days of the year as well.  I am looking forward to discovering more ideas for Earth Day in the coming weeks. I know my planning won’t stop until April 21st.  Let me know if you have any great apps or ideas you plan to use!

Project-Based Learning: Writing a Class Novel

I recently had a request on #ntchat to share a project that I have done many times over in High School English.  Writing a class novel requires an investment of time and a great deal of organization, but overall is a tremendous experience for your students, and one that can fundamentally change the way that your students look at literature. Not only is it a great team-building activity, and one that forces students to work through differences in perspective, ability, authority and discipline, but it is also a TON of work that students are willing to do because of the desire to reach the final product.

The Project

I always start this project by letting students know that we are engaging in one of the hardest acts of writing known to man, and that they have the chance to achieve something that few people ever do, and even fewer classes take the time to experience.  Now that I am more familiar with the process, I actually let my students know at the beginning of the year about the project, and that we will be working harder to complete the rest of our work and build in time for this activity.  On the assignment sheet (posted below) you will see I have listed some outcomes, but ultimately the project reaches far more standards than I could assess and the students even realize, so I simply chose the ones that matched up with what the students needed to fulfill at that point in the course.

http://wp.me/a31Gro-62

In the assignment sheet, you will see that the project functions around three central parts: Brainstorming, Planning and Writing.  Students assume different roles through the process, and some of those roles do not run concurrently, so it is important for you to plan that some students will need to complete other tasks at various points in the process.  Personally, I like having the students do some research on novel writing, structure and process during the unit to round out their knowledge.

Brainstorming

In this portion, I have students come up with general ideas for the novel.  I have done this several ways.  I have chosen two students to facilitate class discussion, with the ability to veto and modify ideas, but create a list of possible choices.  Alternatively, I have had students come into class after a night of contemplation with an idea that they have vetted through several other students, so we come up with 4-5 solid ideas to discuss as a class.  Either way, I generally give a class or two for this initial choice of topic, as it is important that most students are interested, and that the idea is fleshed out enough to begin work.  I prompt the students with a plot diagram and have them think about some of the characters, the twists and turns of the plot, what makes the story original, and the importance of time and place.  As all of this information is handed over to the committees, it is important that it gives a good starting point, but is not too prescriptive to work with.

Committees

I generally set the committees based on the abilities and need of development in the classroom.  The committee work days are some of the busiest for me as a teacher, and some of the busiest for the runners as well.  I will let you read the various roles on the PDF above, but the runner is the most essential role to working with the committees, and they must be engaged students who want to see the project work.  This is not the place to put students you are not sure about.  They must be able to resolve conflicts between the ideas and changes necessary in the various sections, and they must be constantly listening to the groups and aware of what other groups will need to know.

Writing

The last few times I have done the writing process, we have been able to collaboratively work with a Google Document, which is a much simpler process than having separate files for each chapter group as I had done in the past.  The idea of the writing groups is that the plot is divided into logical chapters that groups are then assigned to write.  They use the information from the committees to ensure consistency in the novel.  For this reason, it is essential that character descriptions, setting layouts and plot descriptions are thorough.  If these sections are not completed well, students will have trouble maintaining consistency in the novel, and details become confused.  However, if done well, then students will be able to follow the story throughout, and the editors will have a much easier time in tying the novel together.

Another advantage of the Google Doc is the ability of students to review the sections before and after them to ensure that the novel blends well together.  This is by far the most difficult area of the novel to do convincingly, and the Editors do a great deal of work here as well.  However, having students in groups consistently check with and read over sections before and after their work will pay great dividends in the end.

Editing

While it may be tempting to have many editors, in my experience one or two exceptional students will do a far better job, as they read the whole novel to make sure it all works together.  Generally, if they wish I will print off a copy of the draft novel so they can write directly on the draft and do not have to read the whole thing on a screen.  I generally give them a weekend or longer time period to complete the edits, and then they can return the drafts to the chapter groups for final edits.

Publishing

I use Lulu.com to publish my books.  My district has a policy that does not allow for the sale of student books, so I simply produce the book as an independent run, and offer the students the ability to purchase the book at cost.  Depending on the rules your own district has, I have thought that offering the novel for sale might work as a fundraiser for your department or school might be a great real-world use for this project.

Results

I have had varied results with this project depending on the students in my class in any semester.  There are times when the project doesn’t get all the way complete, and publishing is not an option.  There are times when the ideas the class came up with hit stumbling blocks, and we’ve had to go back to planning half way through the unit, and there have been times when the whole project has run perfectly.  However, one consistent takeaway has always been present; student learn much more about the novel form and understand literature much more after doing this activity.  I have had students respond after this unit and tell me that they were never able to understand how a novel works until this project, and they were so happy to finally ‘get it.’  I do multiple novel studies in a semester, and the responses to literature present after this project are consistently more insightful and deeper than prior to.

Overall, this project has become one of my favourites. Though the time investment is high, many teachers tell me they could not fit in a month for writing a novel, I believe the learning more than offsets the cost.  My advice to teachers trying this approach is to be flexible and seek to inspire learning, not push for completion.  You can’t undo the learning that an inspired student engages in by not completing a project, but a student being pushed to completion will never reach it in the first place.

I have given presentations on this process as well, and this PDF gives an overview of that presentation, it may help clarify some of what I have discussed here, and offers the research behind the process:

https://mrkeenan.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/collaborative-novel-project.pdf

What do you think?  Would you like to try writing a novel as a class? What do you need to make it happen?