Throwing It Out There

September 30, 2011 · Posted in Middle School · Comment 

The two of us – Chris Fox and Kristin Rowe, Team History in Grade 8 with “Ancient Civilizations” – have enjoyed the early days of our new course. We have had lots of space to dream, and we’ve been throwing around big ideas and grand visions regarding Flipped Classrooms, reverse instruction, the Mastery Learning approach, vodcasting and computational thinking, etc, and what we could do in an ideal world/school/classroom.

But the dream is about to end, because we have to nail it down to reality! At this point, we have identified our year-long IT/IL project as the best opportunity to stretch ourselves regarding IT integration. So far, we have been working in collaboration with our middle school librarian to dip into database research and note-taking with NoodleTools alongside our daily classroom instruction, for which the textbook provides a foundation. The recurring themes holding our civilization study and research together are the five common Essential Questions (EQs). So the question is, besides picking up valuable research habits along the way, what is the final product for which they are doing all this research?

First, let’s consider the path we have started down, and what else we hope to encounter on this road. Students have been steered towards school-subscription databases like  Encyclopedia Britannica and Grolier Online as well as an appropriately titled  Ancient Civilizations Reference Library eBook for information and note-taking.  We will continue to broaden the resources to which we point the students; for example, we are want students to become Google power-users with advanced searching capabilities, and we want students to develop a more critical approach regarding website evaluation as we set them loose beyond the school database boundary.

We are encouraging students to practice titling their notecards with the five thematic EQs and “tagging” their notecards to allow for later comparison of aspects of civilization, and we know we want to include this higher-level thinking – a more in-depth comparative study – as a key descriptor of the final project.

But perhaps we don’t need to narrow it down much further than this:

  1. We want a comparative project around the EQ themes.
  2. We want student choice to allow them to pick up whatever ideas have intrigued them through the year.

And perhaps the rest should be a matter of student choice. One of the points identified by ISTE and CSTA  as key to 21st century computational thinking is the idea that students should have exposure to a range of research tools and strategies  so that they are in a position to identify, analyze, and implement the most efficient and effective combination of steps and resources to achieve their goals. If we narrow it down too far, we are taking away the opportunity for students to work through the chaos of choice to good decision-making around the most appropriate means for the most effective end. And if we want students to be able to follow their passions and for their passion to come through in their final products, then they need plenty of choice regarding final presentation of their learning.

Thus, our task would be to clearly define the options and support them with a framework for the process of planning and preparing a final project of their own design.

Personal Snip from Website

As we continue to brainstorm how students could present their research products, we really want to give student options regarding what tools they can use.  Of course, we have the standard GoogleApps or Inspiration 9.0 resources, but we are interested in exposing the students to a wide variety.  In our research, we are pleasantly surprised to find so many great sites about web 2.0 tools.  One of our favorite sites is Web 2.0: Cool Tools for Schools. It provides a plethora of options, each with a unique twist on its special features.  For example, one program that is new to us is ClipGenerator.  Students can create their own cool video clips, add music and images, plus their own photos, and finish with a professional film cut and animation.  What a great way to hook the audience with the research topic.

YouTube Preview Image

We are shooting for a new way to present research, using collaboration and creativity.  It would be easy to simply have students complete a traditional two or three page research paper with cover page and Works Cited, but we want to arm the students with tools in order to be truly successful as they move to Upper School and prepare for what lies ahead –  the resources and opportunities are endless.  So, we are excited for the first time to throw this challenge out there to the students and see how it goes!

Flippin’ Out

September 18, 2011 · Posted in Middle School · 1 Comment 
Old School

Attribution Some rights reserved by dullhunk

A bit like the movie Old School, when people become disillusioned with their lives, some teachers have become disenthralled with teaching in traditional conservative ways.  As I read more about this new and revolutionary method, it is all too apparent that this wouldn’t be possible without computers, internet, and all the other support soft and hardware.  Before vod and pod casts, teachers didn’t have a option of recording and uploading both and voice and visuals for students to watch on their own time.

In and article by Jonathan Martin entitled “Reverse Instruction: Daniel Pink and Karl’s ‘Fisch Flip‘ “, he explains with examples the benefits and having students do the higher level thinking in the classroom and text and material work / worksheets at home.  Ironically, this could be a podcast students download and listen to on the bus ride home.  Students are multi-tasking more and more with each generation (or graduating class).

History _'s photostream

This new and exciting year has brought many changes in my life at school.  For the first time 19 years, I’m not teaching English.  With the split of our humanities program at Taipei American School, I asked and was placed in the History and Social Studies Department.  With this came a new curriculum and textbook.  Teaching Ancient Civilizations could be a bit old and boring, but a new and exciting online text with ample resource materials has made it truly exciting.  The Holt McDougal series has allowed Kristin Rowe, my teaching partner in grade eight, and I to give students reading and note-taking opportunities outside of class while stretching kids with higher level thinking during many lessons.  And to think, this is only September, and we are just scratching the surface with Reverse Instruction opportunities.  Stay tuned for more lessons and an update on what we have yet to create.

Ensuring Tech Integration

September 13, 2011 · Posted in Middle School · Comment 

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At this point in my career, I’m more concerned with Social Studies Standards and Benchmarks than anything else.  Also embedded in our teaching are our ESLR’s ( Expected School-wide Learning Results ) and most recently weaving Character Education.  Ironically, integrating technology into the curriculum happened much earlier than the last two.  However, it seems that as a school, we have put a lot more focus on the “academic” terms and treated technology as “it’s a nice tool when appropriate.”  Not to say that the ESLR’s and Character Education are not important, because they identify and mold the quality of a human being.  But, we should not continue to ignore is disregard technology skills.  So, how do we ensure that they are taught?

One thought might be offer a separate technology course in which students are taught how to use each piece of software and web 2.0 tool. However, this secluded instruction doesn’t seem to transfer to students in the long term.  So naturally, these skills must we weaved into classroom projects and expectations.  The problem is, now a teacher must not only know the tech skills and tools, but they must be able to smoothly modify units. This is obviously time consuming.

After looking at the Technology Integration Matrix Grade Level Index, I think this would be great way for K-12 teachers to look at ALL the skills and opportunities there are to use.  What the best part of this is that teachers are no longer limited to purchased software on their machines.  Now, teachers and students need to learn different tools and have options.  Some of the categories to select from are as follows:  Audio Tools; Drawing Tools; Presentation Tools; Spreadsheet Tools, etc. Additionally, teachers can perform and integrate at different levels as listed:  Entry, Adoption, Adaptation, Infusion, and Transformation.  What this means is that teachers don’t feel pressure to master the technology and keep it forever.  They can play and experiment with different tools.

For me, this is far less restricting and intimidating than the prior way technology was presented.  This will empower teachers to experiment without locking in.  This will be relieve some of the pressure off teachers – which is what I really worry about.


Nothin’ but NETS

September 8, 2011 · Posted in Middle School · Comment 

As a basketball fan, I love this line.  But as an educator, not so much.  Why?  Are the NETS useful?  Clear?  Appropriate.  Initially, I bulk at the idea.  Are you kidding me?  More Standard and Benchmarks?  But, as Jeff Utecht our COETAILInstructor pointed out, we are already doing so many of these anyway.  So, as we move forward, we will really just need to identify at which grade level we are hitting the S and B’s and document them.  Though it will be more work, it is necessary for our 1:1 computing school to ensure and prove that we are doing what we say we are.  Additionally, this covers us with the parents and validates the need to continue to improve and invest in both computer software and hardware.

AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Betchaboy

After watching Julie Lindsay’s talk about “From Paper to Practice”, it clear and using and embedding the NETS in our weekly lesson plans and teaching is extremely important.  She talked extensively about her Flat Classroom project and explained how the process worked.  Though very time consuming and involved, it truly offers many opportunities and involve students and teachers from around the world.  Though I’m ready to jump in tomorrow, I see the benefits and opportunities in the future.

I will revisit this video again in the future as I find it very thought provoking.  I’m looking forward to going further with the NETS.