TOK, Coding, and Khan Academy

In Theory of Knowledge (ToK), Art and Aesthetics as a Way of Knowing is a unit that deals primarily with aesthetics and artistic judgements. Students consider how individuals evaluate a work of art and if there is a universal standard for beauty. This could include music, sculpture, or 2D works like photographs, drawings, or paintings.

TOK SH Happy Holidays

Made using: Khan Academy Computer Science.

One lesson that has worked well for introducing this comes from IBO’s Theory of Knowledge from Around the World (2000). In that lesson, students create simple art projects and then vote for which one they think is the best. This is the starting point for discussing aesthetic standards.

Ami – Greeting Card

Made using: Khan Academy Computer Science.

This week corresponded with Computer Science Education Week and Khan Academy’s Hour of Code. This looked looked like a great opportunity to modify this successful IBO lesson by expanding it to include coding skills.  The tutorial leads up to the creation of a greeting card which I thought that the students might enjoy. I went through the tutorial first and created a very simple card that I could show the students. Then I showed them where they could find the link on the class Moodle page and let them get to work.

I have included my sample card below. Student presented their cards in class and discussed precise and ambiguous language. I have included a few samples of their work above.

Made using: Khan Academy Computer Science.

TOK and Scratch: A Way of Knowing

In our school community, most students are bilingual and some are trilingual. Sometimes, when the discussion of language and knowing come up in TOK, it appears as if students fall back on familiar examples of how languages address different issues, like family relationships, differently.

With this activity, my goal was to ask the students to operate in a relatively new or unfamiliar language, Scratch programming from MIT. This would encourage them to reach beyond safe examples. I hoped that this would encourage them to think about language in new ways. For example, language functions closely with community, as Derek Blancey of the University of Michigan School of Information discussed in a recent paper on Scratch. Since sprites (characters created in Scratch) only respond to the programming language in predictable ways, students have to use that language to communicate with the character. When the students had completed and shared their Scratch projects, they would be ready to consider essential TOK Language as a Way of Knowing (WOK) questions from a new perspective. The discussion questions included:

  1. If a language works according to sets of rules and conventions, how much scope do we have as individuals to break the rules, to challenge conventions and to be creative?
  2. Compare one and two-way communication in the verbal transfer of knowledge.
  3. What is the difference between information and knowledge?
  4. Do you know, or see, the world differently when using different languages or when using formal or informal languages?
  5. Are vagueness and and ambiguity shortcomings of language that must be eliminated in the interest of knowledge, or can they be viewed as positive aspects of language?
  6. Can a machine know?

I started by introducing the topic and sharing the Scratch animation that I had created which was vaguely related to Japan Day at ISSH. I also shared Classy Makeover by another animator for students to see the range of projects possible. To begin, students were invited to create their own sprites, which they seemed to enjoy. To begin animating, I directed them to video tutorials which break most animation sequences into understandable chunks GUI.

These are a few examples of the Scratch projects that students completed and shared in class.

Garry Leroy Baker

ISSH History Harvest


The American Historical Association’s Perspectives magazine published an article on the new History Harvest program run by history graduate students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). The article generated so much interest that it was pre-published online before the periodical was mailed. It was exciting to read how graduate students were doing authentic, people’s history in their own communities and then publishing the interviews to create a new, digital research base. History Harvest also reminded me of a project by Yokohama International School’s Grade 2 teacher Jamie Raskin. Jamie wrote a valuable post last year in which he developed an approach to exploring family and culture while avoiding simplification and stereotypes. I thought that this would be a way students could look at their own heritage and that of others in a more enriching way.

I considered how a History Harvest could be introduced at the International School of the Sacred Heart so that high school history students could try the work of historians for themselves. After speaking with teachers in the social studies department, I decided that it would work best with the Pre-AP, Grade 10 students who study Twentieth Century History. This was a great opportunity to offer Project Based Learning at the beginning of the year and tie it to the curriculum and the international school community.

The UNL History Graduate students and their advisors have published useful advice that they have learned over three years of harvests. I used this advice, and the online materials, to sketch an overview of a harvest project. It would take three parts: 1) planning and promotions, 2) harvest day, and 3) editing and publishing online. I would provide the students with the general outline of the harvest project and examples from the UNL site. The students would fill in the details and make it their own.

First I explained briefly what the project was and why it could be a valuable experience for the students. I then showed them where they could find the UNL History Harvest site. I gave each class about thirty minutes to explore the History Harvest site, watch interviews, read about the artifacts, and consider what a Grade 10 ISSH History Harvest might look like.

Students selected a theme, designed a promotional poster, invited teachers to bring in artifacts and heirlooms, divided the three-stage project into tasks and assigned roles to students. Originally, I had thought that the harvest would be a good tie-in to the Japan: 1853-1945 unit that they study first. However, students believed that the harvest would be more successful if the theme were more inclusive since fewer people in the ISSH community have older Japanese items.

ISSH hosted Mini Day for parents shortly after the harvest day. I created a short video including scenes from harvest day, the planning process, jointly creating a project rubric using a Google Doc, and activities during the Japan unit. I will include that video here to provide an idea of what the process was like in class.

Students on the publishing team worked with our IT Director to design and create a class page, link to the school homepage, and upload the interviews and photos for visitors to see. I have encouraged the students to connect the ISSH History Harvest to online museums, like the Digital Public Library of America.

This project required non-traditional and appropriate assessment. The students created their own rubric with some input from me. My guiding principles for this type of public work were borrowed from Martinez and Stager’s Invent to Learn. I believe these projects should be enduring, shareable with respect for the audience, , beautiful, and personally meaningful. (p. 66) The final piece was a reflective writing by each student.

If you would are interested in hosting a History Harvest at your school or in your community, I do highly recommend it. There are some things, big and small, that I would advise the students to do differently next year.

My Grade 10 class has 40 students. It would probably work best if the number of participants were the same, or greater than, the number of history students. This came into play on harvest day when each interview group was made up of four to six people, each with an assigned role. However, we did not have enough guests at any time to keep all of the history students working. In the afternoon, we switched tactics so that all of the history students would sit in on each interview. Similarly, during Phase 3 the editing and writing students were busy but publishing had to wait to do the bulk of their work until the videos were ready. This could be organized so that each group of students were assigned to an interview from start to finish. This would probably work best if this were run in an AP History class at the end of the year when 10 to 15 students could run the whole project.

Secondly, I would like to invite more community involvement by hosting the History Harvest on a Saturday in conjunction with another school event.


Great Leap and Voicethread

My Grade 10 Pre-AP students recently completed a unit on the Chinese Revolution. This was a good opportunity for them to combine their own interests in Chinese history with the photographic archives and VoiceThread to create a short research project. There were several questions that students proposed and answered. These are some of the approaches that the students took.

VoiceThread projects are a unique approach to self-directed research. They can be published and shared with a wider audience, unlike a research paper. They require less time and fewer tools than a video project, and skills like public speaking and writing for an authentic audience are required.

Garry Leroy Baker

“Father or Fanatic?” Digital Propaganda Unit Project

Pro Lenin from ISSH on Vimeo.

Pro Lenin from ISSH on Vimeo.

I have been fortunate to work with the ISSH Grade 10 English teacher on a unit project which combined the learning goals of both the Pre-AP Grade 10 Russian Revolution Unit and his unit based on  Animal Farm . This project has evolved from one that Adam Seldis, Adam Clark and I collaborated on in 2012. I first tried this project in Theory of Knowledge and blogged about the results. However, after redesigning the project based on my first experience, I found this version of the project much more useful and the results were much better.

The Russian Revolution Unit Project assignment sheet and rubric are included here.

The assignment was introduced by showing two short sample videos in which opposing sides were shown of the same historical topic. All of the information was based on historically accurate materials. In English class, the teacher taught students propaganda techniques that they would then use in the videos. Students were given one double period each week for three weeks to work. Their projects were presented on the final Thursday. We divided the students randomly.

We offered several topics related to the Russian Revolution Unit from which they could choose. Each team chose a topic, like Lenin or Stalin. They then partnered with one other group and then took a positon, Pro-Lenin or Anti-Lenin, for example.

This project went well.

We wanted the students to think critically about how to use digital media to create a piece of propaganda based on historical research. We instructed the students that they should use either a Google Doc, Diigo, or another resource where they could compile and store images and articles. We believed that the strongest propaganda pieces could use the same images as the opposition but slant the interpretation of the images using music, voiceover, text, and placing the image within a swquence of other images. To support this, one class period was designated as time for collaboration between two groups with the same topic. There were healthy, ongoing discussions as to which images the two groups would agree to use. It was stipulated that the images could not be photoshopped. However, students could use almost any other editorial method to shape the meaning of an image. The two Lenin videos included above show how students made the most of these tools.

Based on their editing, selection of images, music, text, graphics and pacing, Grade 10 students are aware of the methods used by advertisers and entertainers to communicate with consumers. These projects demonstrated that students can selectively and cleverly adapt what they have seen and heard for their own purposes. This project should help students to take the next step and be able to cognitively organize what they know by using the terminology of propaganda.

We wanted students to see these historical actors and events from the point of view of a Soviet citizen or leader who would want positive representations. On the other hand, the same historical actors and events could also be seen from the point of view of a Western government or a Soviet dissident. Further, both points of view could be in play at the same time but to different audiences.

I liked this project as part of a Pre-Advanced Placement (AP) or IB course. This further prepares students to look for additional layers layers of meaning when they are evaluating primary and secondary evidence.

In AP History courses, historical analysis questions like this are common and the best students can see each piece of evidence from more than one point of view. In AP United States History (APUSH), historians frequently spar over the contributions of figures like Andrew Jackson, Robber Barons and Richard Nixon. While in AP European History, we must assess the legacies of Martin Luther, Klemens von Metternich and Mikhail Gorbachev, among others.

We also wanted the students to review Fair Use and Public Domain from the first semester.

From the student surveys, we are learning how to make this project better for next year.

One area that I would especially like to work on is how to effectively include the bibliography and Fair Use credits in the project. Students have tried including this information in the credit roll at the end, but it is hard to read. Some groups have inserted this information in the summary box that goes with each Vimeo video, but that takes too much space away from the thumbnails for other videos. I will need to ask colleagues who assign similar work for advice.

The second area for reflection is which images and film clips are appropriate. One or two groups used a few images which might have been from Germany instead of the Soviet Union. I think that, in the future, students should be required to use images that they are reasonably certain represent the topic and time period.

If you have suggestions, feel free to pass them along.

Garry Leroy Baker


Final Project Reflection: Digital Family History Project

Collapse of the Soviet Union from ISSH on Vimeo.

Manchurian Invasion from ISSH on Vimeo.

Japan Joins the UN from ISSH on Vimeo.

The Grade 10 History classes have completed the this Digital Family History Project that I described in an earlier post. Based on student feedback and my own notes during the creation of the projects, I have learned several things and have clear ideas on how to improve. The resources are available on my website and the rubric is in this earlier blog.

Student projects seemed to go better this year as I moved more toward being a coach for their projects. I made suggestions in various areas, including pacing and editing, music and sound, storytelling with video and images, critically analyzing sources, and keeping the story focused on a main character. I used On Gold Mountain as a model.

I really prefer iMovie, but students found Windows Moviemaker and Stupeflix to be very useful. Moviemaker gained attention because it is easier to move working files from one computer to another, though it does not have as many features as iMovie. Stupeflix is online, so it is accessible from anywhere. iMovie is best if you are working on the same machine from the beginning to end of the project. iMovie projects can be moved, but it can be a great deal more trouble. In the future, I will be better able to advise students on what software to begin with until our school completes the transition to one-to-one.

I will offer more tutorials for students who prefer them. I relied too much on peer-to-peer and hands-on learning of the software. While this worked, some students suggested that I offer small-group tutorials for those who may be beginners or who have not often worked on this type of project.

I need to seek advice on more publishing opportunities for students. On the rubric, I asked for two. One option was uploading to Vimeo and generating traffic and feedback on Vimeo comments. The second option was more difficult. Students were often stumped for ideas for other organizations which might accept or review their work. Others were hesitant to share their work outside of the classroom so intentionally. Students can prefer the safe harbor of an audience of one or just their classmates. I encouraged students to consider sharing their work with a Holocaust museum, a War Relocation Administration internment camp museum, or a prefectural museum related to their research.

A second option that I suggested, with the support of a teacher-organizer, was submitting to the Kanto Film Festival. The Festival is in May but my students were allowed to submit in October in order to earn credit for this assignment in the first semester. Not many have taken this option, though several deserve to be seen by a wider audience of their peers.

Commenting and responding are skills that I would like to practice more next time. If you open the sample projects, you can read what has been written. Students received and gave comments that ranged from long and constructive to short and casual. I had wnated students to publish their work and then engage in some explanation and defense of their conclusions with their peers, as Dr. Karen King described when she published her findings on a Christian text. The historical  or academic conversations did not develop as I had hoped. I will need to consider how to model and coach this in the future.

I had thought that commenting on Vimeo would be convenient. All of the student videos would be in the same place and the comments could be reviewed together. However, you must have a Vimeo account in order to comment, which discouraged some viewers. I should look for other options or else consider FaceBook as a choice. Though I would rather not visit FaceBook accounts in order to follow comment threads.

Wartime and Postwar Japan from ISSH on Vimeo.

With the added layer, the projects are closer to what I had imagined. By incorporating suggestions that are coming from students, peers, and my own reflective writing, I am looking forward to more growth in the future.

Garry Leroy Baker

Robespierre and the Backchannel

 I have been thinking of inviting Robespierre to my AP European History class this year.It started when I was hooked into reading an article by AHA Vice President Patty Limerick in which she defended live classroom teaching against the invasion of MOOCs into higher education. The real value of the article emerged when Dr. Limerick described how she had practiced channeling President Richard Nixon for an American History class. She reported that she read several biographies on Nixon and then, with the students voluntarily suspending disbelief, went on to answer questions that the students had for Nixon. She then answered in character.

I can see how this would be an opportunity to combine the higher-order thinking and analysis that is required of an AP History course with the social media tools now available. The project I am planning would begin with three students who each immersed themselves in figures central to the French Revolution:  Robespierre, Napoleon, and Louis XVI. The overarching theme could be, “whose vision has the best interests of France in mind?” The remainder of the students could prepare themselves as students of the revolution and French Empire.

The extra dimension would be added by incorporating Cliff Atkinson’s The Bachchannel as a guide. One teacher has suggested using Google Moderator as a back channel, though Twitter (#FrRevo) would be sufficient. In this way, students could be simultaneously commenting on, and responding to, the speakers while live questions are being addressed. The teacher would act as moderator. The three figures probably would not require access to the backchannel during the session.

I should model correct “channeling” first. The American Revolution is taught early in the same unit. By channeling George Washington, for example, it would help to teach the goals of the revolution in the US and offer an example of how this could be done well. It would also help me as I design the rubric which should address goals of the activity.

Garry Leroy Baker



Social Media Dictatorships

Social media offered many promises over the years. Surprisingly we were thrilled to see how FaceBook, Twitter, and Flikr could be used by students for serious political change during in Egypt and Tunisia during Arab Spring. Outsiders could follow events and organize raw data using crowd sourcing and GIS. Even North Korea, entrenched and isolated, could not keep secret its expanding prison camp system from Amnesty International in 2005. Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy was a self-published guide. It appeared as if dictatorships were on the run and the tech generation would be the drivers of change.

However, new research by William J. Dobson in his book, The Dictator’s Learning Curve, describes how dictatorships today are adapting, and taking the high ground, when the struggle could go viral. He explains the new methods dictatorships in China, Russia, and Venezuela are using to keep the pressure on activists while maintaining an admirable public relations campaign. Not all ventures into social media go smoothly, as was noted when North Korea joined Facebook. However, like Russia, nations might also create their own web entertainment sites to generate light entertainment for young people to follow. In The Net Delusion, Evgeny Morozov explains how social media can be used by dictatorships to counterattack and neutralize groups of political activists. The case of Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei makes a good example. Artistic consultant for the Bird’s Nest in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he has been hounded by tax officials who, reportedly, will not return his passport so that he can travel to the West for his New York opening. This kind of treatment by officials does not generate viral videos.

Based on this information, it may be much too soon to congratulate ourselves on our mix of tech savvy and political progressiveness. We can expect that the empire will strike back. Advocates of liberal democracy need to be ready.

The Face of a Tyrant

Poster by Freestylee  Some rights reserved

Parents and Laptops

I was reminded this week about the importance of having all stakeholders aboard when increasing the level of technology integration in the school and, especially, the classroom. It is in the classroom that students are most affected by new applications, websites, and hardware, like iPads. Parents will probably think first of the classroom teacher when students explain how on-to-one, for instance, is being implemented at school.

powered by Fotopedia

Should we do more to discuss the drawbacks as well as the benefits?

In my case, I have become better at introducing new skills and application in the classroom. I try it myself first to create a model of the assignment for students to preview.

I write my assignments sheets and rubrics as clearly as possible and try to dedicated enough time to coaching and mentoring. I have worked to create a supportive network with students, other faculty, administration, and teachers at other schools. I had thought that I had all of the bases covered. However, I did not consider the parents enough.

While working on a video project this term, I learned the troubles that can occur when trying to move an iMovie file from one computer to another for more editing. In short, a student thought that she was saving her iMovie project to her clip drive, but she did not transfer the event, or supporting, video files so she did not have anything when she got home. The school Mac on which she was working has Deep Freeze, so her work was erased overnight.

With patience and good spirits, the student restarted her video project and reached about 50% completed before the weekend. With help from our Media Department, she and I were able to save her project to my folder on the school server so that it would be safe when she returned to school on Monday.

Over the weekend I received a concerned mail from a parent asking about what had happened and what could be done in the future to better support the student and her work. We exchanged messages and I found the family to be very supportive and understanding. The issues have been resolved but it has made me more aware of how I need to involve and prepare parents to expect occasional setbacks as teachers introduce more integrated classrooms and the teaching that will make the most of this kind of learning, like mentoring instead of lecturing and projects instead of tests.

Most research into laptops in the classroom appear to include parents later in integration cycle. This Maine paper, for example, surveyed parents on how laptops were changing study habits and grades, but did not discuss how parents could have been prepared in advance for these changes. An Australian resource for parents emphasizes the positive aspects of laptops in schools but appears to have left out the potential pitfalls. The laptop guide to parents published by Mater Dei of Australia paints a rosy picture of MacBook integration. The only negative aspect to be addressed, breaks and repairs, refers to the technology department and the insurance policy.

Should educators be doing more to inform parents about possible issues related to one-to-one in the transitionary period? Would such an approach help to keep all stakeholders aboard if difficulties do arise?

Garry Leroy Baker

Flipped: The other side of the coin

Teacher as coach

I have been including the Flipped Classroom model in my teaching and I have learned several things. Flipped instruction can be  infinitely tailored to my students and their shared knowledge, it allows me to focus on what is most important compared to a general textbook, and it creates resources that can be reviewed anytime and anywhere. What I wanted to work on next was how to be sure that Flipped instruction was helping me to make the most of classroom time, especially in AP history classes. I found several ideas that have been working for me.

The philosophy that goes with Flipped instruction is that the teacher moves toward being a

All parts fitting together

coach, guide, and mentor in class. How can I restructure classes this way?

One way has been to be simultaneously have lectures and be lecture-free, as Jeff Utech described in his post. As a university professor once stated, a teacher’s goal is to teach students how to teach themselves. In the long run, we should be empowering students in order to lessen their reliance on us, as teachers, and increase their ability to read, write, reason, judge, and research. If I lecture, I have not worked toward that goal.

One modified version of the Flipped Classroom is Peer Instruction which was developed by Eric Mazur. Students prepare before class and, based on a post-reading survey, systematically work out the answers to multiple choice questions. This is an example from a physics class. I think this would be one more way of connecting a flipped classroom model to formative assessments. I will be introducing this in an AP history class where I think it will have several benefits. One is that students can practice working through the content and multiple choice question formats simultaneously. Often the multiple choice part of AP exams are the most difficult, especially for students working in a second or third language.

To see if this approach is really better, I would take advice from Professor James Schell, whose blog on pre and post testing explains everything you would need to know to start.

I tried another way this week to assess the flipped classroom. In my AP United States History class the students were introduced to the Constitution. This is probably the most important document in understanding the controversies that will be studied for the rest of the year. This week I adapted Don M. Carlson’s Constitution Power Grab Game.  Mr. Carlson explained the activity clearly on the website. I altered the questions to make them more applicable to the first three articles and all teams played instead of sitting some out as the rules suggest. After 10 minutes I had a very clear idea of who had a working understanding of the Articles and students needed to work together to scan their copies of the Constitution.

Alice Christudason offered several other approaches in her post. I will be trying each of these in the next few weeks. Her suggestions for Teach-Write-Discuss and addressing the possibility of freeloading are worth considering.

Garry Leroy Baker