Open letter to the Book Publishers

Dear book publishers

Remember the long reign of the dinosaurs – they were supreme for 180 million years.  What’s your record?  Closer to 180 years I think.  One giant curve-ball was thrown at them, and away they went in a puff of smoke.  I remember when my home-town had record shops too.  Times moved on, they put their heads in the sand, and now they are all gone.  Now you guys face the same thing, except you can see it coming.  Evolve or be gone.


Some rights reserved by DjFello

My school has gone digital.  More and more schools will be too.  Every kid has a tablet (a computer for the uninitiated).  Our kids no longer carry textbooks.  Great we thought a few years ago – it must be much cheaper to get the digital rights to a class set of texts rather than having to kill trees, print the things, ship them halfway across the world to our school.  Um, wrong answer.  It ended up cheaper for us to buy most of the text-books, ship them to Vietnam and to put them in a room, never to be opened.  We reasoned that if we had 25 copies of the textbook, we could scan the relevant sections and share the digital copy with 25 students.  We had after all purchased 25 copies of the book, for 25 simultaneous views.  What a sad sad situation.  It will change, or you, publishing guys will go the way of the dinosaurs.

Why do I bring it up again now?  We did after all purchase and scan most of these books a few years ago.  Well, I had an idea today, that can save my school lots $money$ and may well hasten your demise, if you don’t move with the times.  Our school is growing – we need more textbooks for next year.  Today I realised that Amazon sells second hand textbooks, for as little as couple of dollars each.  Could we not buy a pile of pre-loved textbooks, put them in our back room never to be opened, yet now have the rights to a lot more copies?  This would be way cheaper than buying new textbooks, saving us lots of money, and yet no money will be going into your coffers.  Imagine if lots of schools started doing this.

Extinction poster

Some rights reserved by MarkWallace

And in this post I am not even going to enter the discussion as to whether we actually need textbooks at all, but feel that will be the direction of the future.  As I said at the top of this post, publishing guys, move with the times, or face possible demise.

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Managing laptops, or managing students?

Management of technology and management of laptops are very different things.  In this post, I will share some of my views on the management of laptops in a 1:1 class.  To begin with, I hear so much rubbish such as “you must circulate to see what your kids are doing in a 1:1 classroom” or “in a laptop class, watch their eyes” or my favourite “you have to make your lessons interesting so the kids want to stay on task”.  I am sorry but this is NOT management of laptops – this is management of students, and that part of our jobs has not changed.  Before the advent of the laptop, every “good” teacher was doing both of these already.  What has really changed???

It is however true that laptops give kids a whole new set of ways to get off task.  They will probably always be more proficient at avoiding detection, so why spend too much of your time trying to catch them.  As I said in my last post, when I eased up on being the homework police, I feel I ended up with a higher homework completion rate.  When you do catch someone off task, ensure there is a consequence ready to go.  I live in Hanoi where mirror glasses are about a dollar and a half.  For a first offence (being off task) I have a student wear mirror glasses for 2-5 days, when in my class.  The other kids give them heaps and we can all see whatever is on their screen.  For a repeat offence, tablet is taken away and they are given a pencil and paper for the lesson.  For a third offence, it goes to management and parents get involved.  We have a chat at the start of the year, and the occasional reminder, and I have yet to get to the third level of consequence.  We have only been a tablet school for 5 years though, so time will tell.

Pencil and paper

Some rights reserved quacktaculous

My advice is to keep everything online, including all your students work.  If you can avoid a school Portal (some schools, such as mine insist on using these) then get your kids to store all their work on something like Google Documents.  The work becomes accessible from everywhere, with no issues such as ”the dog ate my memory stick” or “I forgot it” or the myriad of other excuses we sometimes get…

Laptops are just a tool.  Management of laptops is about management of students and about management of classroom (and outside classroom) time.  Getting kids to copy notes from a board or to attend lectures to take notes on their tablets is not leveraging technology – tablet make transferal of one set of notes to the whole class simple.  Think of staff PD in a school.  As soon as they have you doing dumb stuff, how many of us suddenly have the urge to catch up on Emails etc.  Kids are no different.  Why not leverage this and have 1 -2 note takers (maybe even with their notes visible on the screen), while you introduce / outline a new topic.  The rest of the class can then focus just on what you are saying.  All kids (or just a group each night) can then work collectively to improve the quality of these notes. 

Not all solutions have to be high tech. This can be seen from anywhere in the class. Photo by blog author

My school appears to just be coming out of a phase where they tried to restrict eveything, so they could be in control.  To my mind, this was a spectacular failure that took away many of the advantages of having  a 1:1 program.  We were told to do all work on our school Portal (ugly SharePoint).  It did not matter that there were (and still are) a myriad of excellent (and free) programs out there that would enhance learning.  The concern appeared to be that if we went there, the school would no longer have “owned” the content.  It was never about the content – it was about the journey.  They even went as far as blocking Youtube.  I view that is “they gave us laptops to leverage the incredible material on the internet, then took most of the internet away from  us”.  Thankfully, our newer administration seems to be more on-to-it, in this respect.  Last week, after some lobbying (tee hee) we had the YouTube ban lifted.  For those teachers here with YouTube Channels, kids can now access then in class, as well as from home.  I see this as a victory for teaching and learning.  In retrospect, they were just locking the kids (and teachers in)

Why would you lock away the internet in a 1:1 school. Image generated using sign generator

Reverse teaching (or flip-class) seems to be one of the latest buzz-words in education.  Get the kids to learn the content at home.  Create your own content, or find that of others on the net – videos / podcasts seem to be particularly popular at the moment.  This can be a spectacular success, or a spectacular failure.  My view is that it depends on what you then do with all the class-time that you have now freed up.  It will work if you have a RANGE of activities that promote higher order thinking skills and that are fun, and that work to develop real understanding.

When is started to look at the readings for this week’s CoeTAIL course, they epitomised everything I personally don’t like about online learning (sorry Jeff and Kim – you guys do an awesome job) but several links were broken.  I revisit the Google Documents site, saw there was an updated version of the task, downloaded it, and was away.  Then there was the live streaming of Adobe Connect.  What a joke, but after trying to watch this on three separate occasions, I gave up.  You cannot watch anything when you have to wait for 15 seconds, every 30 seconds.  If we are going to store digital content for our kids to use, we have to become experts at digital content.  Not necessary in its creation (although it helps) as there is tonnes on the net, but at reducing file sizes for optimum viewing and download speeds on the net.

Earlier in this post, I said that I believe you need a range of activities for flip-class to work.  I recently finished a unit with my Grade-nine kids on Respiration and respiratory systems.  They had built websites, made analogies, posted and peer commented via Voicethread, and then done the same with misconception videos that small groups had created.  The previous year I had also had the kids write their own digital test, but that had been a bit of a failure, so I left it out this year.  Maybe next year I will give it another go.  To end this unit, as is customary in my classes, I got my kids to fill out an anonymous school report on my teaching, the units and how we had covered them.  A couple of repeated responses were interesting:

  1. While some kids loved the fully online unit, other really did not like it.
  2.  Several kids commented that they liked this unit because it was done differently than our previous units (which were all different in their methodology).  A few kids complained about a course they did last year, which was online, but every lesson was the same.

Some rights reserved by zephyrbunny

In the end, tablets are just a tool.  We are not managing tablets as much as we are managing the little (or not so little) people that we are entrusted to teach.  As was always the case, they need variation in what they do, if we are to keep them interested.  When I spark the kids in a 1:1 class, I am constantly surprised by just what they can produce, as with tablets, many of the barriers for the high fliers are well removed.  There is the potential however for there to be less of a safety net for the weaker (or more easily side-tracked kids) so the ability to manage students is (and will remain to be) more important than ever.

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Where is technology taking teaching & learning?

Technology will not change education.  Before you write me of, read on a touch – it is not education, but the changed thinking that (hopefully) will go along with it, that can (and will, I believe) eventually change education.  I still know teachers, in a 1:1 school, who have their students copy notes from their tablet, via a data projector.  They have the technology, but for whatever reasons, are not using it.  They are using the new technology to do old things the old way, with no gain for themselves or their students.  So, in order for technology to change their teaching, their thinking has to change first.

Egyptian tablet

Tablets have come a long way. Some rights reserved by zpeckler

This could start with how we view education, and pedagogical theories.  Traditional theories such as behaviourism, cognitism and constructivism all had their place, but it could be argued that they now miss the boat. George Siemens argues that they are no longer relevant (in this article), as they address how individuals attain knowledge, and only address learning inside a person.  They fail to address learning by groups or organisations, or data stored in databases etc.  He states that new tools and technology have altered how people work, and he argues that once we needed to know knowledge but now knowledge is not needed to be known (groovy alliteration huh?).  An example would be citing a source using MLA (my school standard).  And yes, it could be argued that MLA is a relic from the past with paper output (we are a tablet school with digital output for all assignments), but that is a different discussion.  A few years ago, each kid would have had to know how to make a MLA citation, and may well have been tested / examined on how to do this – a very individualistic approach.  Now, no-one knows how to do MLA citations correctly (not even most teachers).  Technology has got smarter, learned how to make MLA citations, and now kids  learn how to access this technology (Noodletools for example) to do the “thinking” for them.  We are all better off for this too!


Some noodletools. Not all old technology is bad technology. Some rights reserved by Harshad Sharma

It is suggested that the amount of knowledge the human race has is doubling every 18 months now.  Connectivism, Siemens says, addresses these issues.  Some of its key tenets are that complete knowledge cannot be known.  We cannot continually acquire new information.  Instead we must learn to quickly distinguish what is important and what is not, develop our own specialised information sets, and form connections with others (individuals, organisations & databases), each with their own information sets.  Learning has shifted from being internal and individualistic, to being collective.  Two quotes from his article (cited above) are “a pipe is more important than its contents” and “the ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today”.  These two kind of sum up connectivism.

Already, several recent education initiatives seem to be beating to the drum of connectivism.  For example The University of the People and MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses), where both are free community-based E-learning, where peer review & grading occur.  Before these can be adopted on a wider scale (read “in schools”) many of us need to change how we think about intrinsic student motivation.

This is where I found Dan Pink’s talk on what motivates people (embedded below) to be fascinating.  It is probably fair to say that the traditional approach by employers has been to motivate their workers with carrots (rewards) or the stick (punishments), and that many a classroom has worked in a similar way.  Dan presented the results of several studies that showed that both the reward system and the punishment system had counter-productive effects on the desired outcomes.  Both rewards and punishments often had the effect of reducing output (when the aim had been to increase it).  He then presented several examples of where the output was increased when these were removed, provided that the workers were given three things:

(a)   Autonomy

(b)   Mastery

(c)    Purpose

Probably his best example was the 20% of time Google gives all its employees to work on whatever they want, with no repercussions if it does not work, provide they share with their colleagues at the end.  Google states nearly all its “game-changers” have come from these sessions.  While the focus of his talk as definitely on business, all these ideas relate directly to teaching and learning.  When I started teaching, a was very regimented, with every-lesson homework checks, and punitive actions for when homework was not done. Since I relaxed and stopped doing that, I think my homework completion rate has gone up.
YouTube Preview Image

In order for technology to change, we need to adopt both an idea such as connectivism, where we are not ALWAYS teaching “stuff”, but rather teaching how the kids can access and filter “the stuff” and the ideas of Dan Pink, where we reduce the barriers of the reward / punishment system and give the students (an amount of) autonomy and a purpose.  We can allow our students to choose what they want to do (and no, maybe not all the time), and let them join courses outside our classrooms (or study topics of their own interest (maybe setting up their own groups to do this)) and then we can act as learning coaches to help our kids to grow from the experience.  This is occurring to a limited agree in some classes already, but before it can be performed in a widespread way, school administration, and education boards need to change to accept and allow it, as most teachers are still tied down by rigid curricula, that we must adhere to.

This is what I feel education will look like in the future.  I have no idea at all what the new technological platforms will look like, and am not particularly concerned by this.  As new platforms come along, we learn to use them. 

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Flipping out of control

Firstly, what is “reverse teaching” (or the “flipped classroom” to its friends)?

I hear all this nonsense now about how it is the new way of teaching.  Wrong.  Last week we had Steve Barkley presenting at our school and he described Flipped classrooms as teaching with videos at home.  While not wrong, he did not exactly say what it is.  The traditional classroom is where the teacher is the provider of information.  Students get this in class, and then go home and practice using it, perhaps as exercises, questions to answer or tasks…  The idea behind the flipped classroom is where this is reversed.  The teacher gets the students to gain the content at home, and then gets the students to use it in various ways in the class.  As the teacher is not delivering information to the whole class, they are free to teach to need, helping those kids who need it, truly being able to differentiate their assistance.

Some clown

Too many clowns. Some rights reserved by cogdogblog

Too many clowns are trying to say that they now have a new teaching technique.  They create videos for their classes at home.  Actually, from what I have seen for Biology at least, they generally use the Bozeman videos (mostly created by Paul Anderson), rather than to create their own.  Fair enough, as often I use them too.  This is a technique that too many websites, are proclaiming as new.  Yes, the technology of using videos that the students watch at home is fairly new, but I had a teacher in 1986 that had us read material, watch specific TV shows and come to class with the content, so we could then discuss and use it.  I am fairly sure he was not the first one, and this is equally the “flipped class” model.  I salute every teacher who has time to innovate, work to specifically improve their teaching and to try new things, create their own videos etc, but is the “flipped class” really a new thing?

Secondly, does reverse teaching have a place in my classroom?

(1)    The short answer is absolutely yes. 

(2)    The longer answer is that at times, it is extremely effective, but at times, it may not be the best way. 

(3)    The even longer answer is that we, as teaching professionals need to choose when it is the best way, and when other methods of delivery may be better.  For example, having Middle School kids learn through doing (i.e. play with chemicals, ramps, trolleys, etc) and then coming up with theories to explain, is also a very valuable exercise, but it does not suit every unit.  Enzymes and lock & key model can be learned at home, freeing up the class to investigations into enzyme activity (classic flipped classroom).

Thirdly, how does reverse teaching apply to my classroom?

As I say above, I teach some topics / units via reverse teaching.  Sometimes we use videos at home, sometimes we just read sections of the textbook or websites.  Sometimes I give nothing, and get groups of students to build websites, such as this.  The students then peer review and improve each other’s websites.  At other times I deem the topic more suitable for direct teacher lead discussion / delivery.  I feel I cannot anticipate every student’s issues with the new topic (I have kids from around 50 different countries and cultures) and feel live real time delivery is more appropriate, to cater to their individual needs and questions.  However, two weeks ago, I made a deal with my kids that I would no longer use the class whiteboard.  Some kids were shattered, really finding these explanations useful, and asked why.  I told them than from that point on I would use my tablet, the pen tool, and record all explanations.  These are now being uploaded to my YouTube channel, and these are then linked back to the online lesson outline.  After my first, with a couple of significant stutters in the middle, my Grade 12 Biology class stood and clapped.  I have not had that before!  Already, after a couple of weeks, I am already more confident with this, and feel I am doing a better job of creating these explanations.  My Camtasia Studio processing time (per video) has gone down from 80 minutes to 15 minutes (to edit out the errors, stutters and laughing when my class and I lose the plot together).  It is so hard to talk to the class, try to focus on them, but need to be focussing on the screen you are writing on.  Given more time, I hope…

Already I see I can find most information, in depth on the internet, but the initial overviews, to set the scene are more difficult to find.  This is what I have started to focus on, as you can see in my YouTube Video below.  {Note:  Since then, I have learned how to ensure my videos take up the whole window.  LOL}.

I am not sure exactly how I stand with these videos. Eventually, I might have enough material to totally flip some of these topics, so is this a time efficient way of creating material for a future class flip, or is it an alternative to the flipped classroom?  I don’t know yet.

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What is technology integration?

What is technology integration? When you start to read, there is much discussion, but unfortunately much is about the choice of words. To paraphrase what Jeff Utecht says in this blog post, he does not want to integrate, he wants to embed, stating that too many definitions of technology integration do not mean to embed technology in a way that enhances student learning. I kind of liked this, until I read a comment to this blog post, where Rick Murray said that he did not like the term embed either, as to him, it referred placing someone else’s work in the middle of his own work and it is not his. Touche! Another response suggested the term seamlessly integrate was more appropriate. Perhaps we need to stop disputing the meaning of words, and get down to doing what we have to do….

When we have to talk about integrating / embedding / seamlessly integrating technology into our curriculum, I almost think we have lost the battle already. My Uncle is a very successful carpenter who has ended up with maybe 30 people working for him. He did not give morning talks about how he wanted each employee to use a power tool both before and after lunch. He would have been laughed off the site. He trusted each guy would use the best tool for the job, and he ensured that those who were beginning their career (i.e. straight out of the Polytechnic) got to spend time with those who were experienced – from what I hear, the learning was both ways most of the time. I feel education is the same. We should not be in teachers’ meetings talking about where we can integrate / embed technology – we should just be reaching for the best tools. These tools, and ways we can use these are always changing. This makes it essential for regular teacher PD – not just off to conferences, and getting experts in, but getting those teachers leading the way in the use of technology in their classes to share what they have and do, with their peers, so they can see what the “best” tools are.


Which is best for the job? It depends on the job. Some right reserved by xcorex

People talk about evaluating the use of technology in the classroom. Can this be successfully evaluated? While I really like the four phases of technology adoption, modifed by Jeff Utecht in this blog post (from the original idea by Mark Prensky), which I have outlined below.  I do not believe that their successful use can be evaluated in a single view. Step (d) cannot be done every lesson. The solution could be for administrators to tell us when they are coming to evaluate our lessons. Great, and administrators are foolish enough to believe they saw our “normal” lessons? I am sorry technology guys, to say that the use of technology, although a mighty tool, is not always the best way. We have to cater to all student learning styles – holding, touching and physically manipulating stuff is valuable as well. To see if technology is being integrated successfully AND WELL, would take multiple visits – far more than pretty much any administrator can afford. We also have to be careful that technology is being used to enhance, because it is to best tool… not just because it is there and is way cool.

The four phases of technology integration (an example given below each point)

(a) Technology is used because it is there.

Getting a class to perform an exam (or test) online in the classroom. This is way less secure than a traditional paper test, easier for kids to cheat, and then takes longer to grade (unless it is multi-choice).

(b) Technology use allows old thing to be done in old ways.

Notes on a screen for students to copy.

(c) Technology use allows old things to be done in new ways.

Teacher using webcam to project a Science demonstration onto the large projection screen behind them, so all kids can get a close-up of the action. This can also be recorded for viewing again later.

(d) Technology is used to create new / different learning experiences.

Students build group websites then peer edit these, blog about their activities and peer comment on these blogs.

Others talk about evaluating the outcomes of technology integration. We have to be really careful to ensure we are looking for the right thing. I am yet to see accelerated and enhanced uptake of the traditional curriculla that I teach through the use of technology. Maybe I am still doing it wrong, however, I do not expect this either. Very few kids I teach will end up training and working in Biology beyond high school. Pretty much all kids will be working in an online environment where they will be expected to collaborate and create. If the traditional Biology content is not worse for the use of technology, and the kids are more savvy with technology, can collaborate together over long distances to find, create and present content, then it is a very positive outcome, just not one that is necessarily measured in the terms of academic grades.

This is where ISTE NETS standards come in, outlining expected outcomes from the use of technology, not based on content heavy curricula, but to be observed in parallel to these curricula – i.e. embedded (or integrated) into our teaching programs. Sadly, many schools (including mine) have never introduced, mentioned or even referred to these standards. How do we ensure students are meeting technology standards? Well a start would for more schools to introduce not their own standards (as is commonly done in International Schools), but a widely accepted framework such as ISTE NETS.

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Whose job is it anyway?

In a NY Times opinion piece, Kevin Kelly has suggested that ten years ago we were still people of the word, but now, we are in the middle of a Guttenberg shift to become people of the screen.  I see nothing to contradict this.  The first Guttenberg shift was 600 years ago, when the spoken word was overthrown by the technology in the printing press – the printed word.  There were doom sayers then, who said that it did not bode well for the future, but hey they were proved to be spectacularly wrong.  The same goes now, and time will tell…  Ten years ago, all teachers were teachers of English.  It did not matter if my subject was Mathematics or Science; I was still “a teacher of English”.  Now, with this “second” Guttenberg shift, I believe we are all teachers of technology. 

Old printing press

some rights reserved by benet2006

Unfortunately, this is an idealistic position and realistically, there are many teachers who are not confident or able to teach technology, even with the aid of our technology coaches.  In my school, which is a 1:1 tablet school, there are teachers who are not comfortable with the technology, let alone teaching it.  This Wednesday we have an afternoon when several teachers will be presenting workshops on how they use technology to enhance their learning to groups of our colleagues.  I believe we all have a collective responsibility to teach technology, so I have stood up to present a workshop.  Right now I regret making this call (extra work preparing it), but afterwards I am sure I will be glad that I did.  LOL!

In this post, I am supposed to address whose job is it to teach the ISTE NETS standards.  When you look at the ISTE NETS standards for students, it really reads like the higher order Blooms Taxonomy thinking skills (e.g. create, innovate, collaborate), but rewritten for technology.  In other words, teaching higher order thinking skills, but using technology as a vehicle.  I believe that is all of our jobs as teachers to teach this.  It is just a shame that many teachers are intimidated by the new technology.

The second question this post should address (for CoeTAIL Course 4) is “How do we ensure the NETS Standards are being met in an integrated model?”  Now this is a much harder question.  We have been a 1:1 tablet school for 5 years and we are still developing this.  In some areas, we have a school wide integration policy (for example for citations, we have recorded what is required at each Grade Level and who is responsible for introducing it (then all teachers are expected to reinforce the message).  Unfortunately this is the exception rather than the rule.  Perhaps future editions of curriculum mapping software (such as Atlas Rubicon), or even entire curriculums (such as IB) will need to incorporate additional strands, to address the integration of technology.

We need to map out technology integration's future. Some rights reserved by Walter Parenteau

As David Warlick says in this post, we do have to be careful to be teaching computer application, and not computer applications (He says it is all in the s”).  We need to teach the kids how to use technology and how to teach themselves how to use programs, rather than just teaching them “this is how to do it in this program”, as most programs used now have little chance of being around (at least in their present form) when the kids graduate.   This sentence, from the post linked above “Several people in the session suggested that without the course, students could develop these skills within the context of other subjects.  This has the enormous advantage of being a much more authentic way of learning.  Still, it has the disadvantage of relying on teachers, who sometimes lack the confident to adapt their lessons to include ICT” totally mirrors my thinking.  It is where we need to be aiming to go, but not where we can get to yet.

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Too plain ugly (for the Internet)

Web 2:0… Create, communicate and collaborate.  Just why is my school doing this so badly?  In the name of fairness I won’t mention my schools name here (you will have to delve deeper into this blog to find that) but I will say that we have had a 1:1 program in place for 5 years. Like every teacher, I cannot recreate every wheel needed for teaching, especially as we have gone digital, so I look online for ideas, inspiration and resources.  I think we all do.  I take from wherever I can (trying not to break copyright, and I am getting better at that).  We even go to lengths to teach our kids this.  My complaint is that at my school we keep all our teaching programs (wikis) and resources on the almighty “Portal” which is password protected behind locked doors, to the rest of the world.  We tell our kids to create, communicate and collaborate, yet we do not do it ourselves (ok, apart from the create part).  It is a case of do what the school says, not what it does, and this has bugged me for too long.

Our sole life-blood is SharePoint, where we store all resources, and all our teaching wikis.  Until this year we used 2003, however we recently upgraded to 2010.  Strange how so much would run on the old version but not on the newer version, but that is another, long and emotional story.  In my opinion, SharePoint is a great content manager, but terrible for presentation.  Or so I thought until I found out that the Ferrari website (so nice, see below) is built in SharePoint.  As I researched for this post, it appears that you can do some very cool presentation stuff with SharePoint, but it takes years of training and experience to be able to do it.  It does not sound like my first choice for presentation of material that will be designed by a multitude of teachers.  I have said before, you do not need to be a mechanic to drive a car, and the same logic should apply to building a good looking website. 

Ferrari website

Screen-clipping of Ferrari website (click on image to go there)

And then along came WordPress.  I have used it for a few months and like it.  This year we have a WordPress platform at my school, and we are rolling out blogs to pretty much all MSHS students.  In no time at all, they have created some very visually impressive material.  It is intuitive and easy, and kids don’t need to be the mechanic to create on it… and neither do teachers.  I had a thought “couldn’t teachers use the WordPress platform to create their wikis?”  WordPress is more flexible than SharePoint (for us beginners) and in no time we can build visually impressive material, which we can feel good about, which looks better, and which communicates our content better.  My school does have certain conventions, such as every Science page has green horizontal bars between sections (or with headers inside them) and every other subject has its own colour.  I think this is good, as a student (or teacher / administrator) instantly knows where they are when they see a page.  Again, it is easy to do in WordPress – build a template.  For teachers who cannot, we have tech facilitators who could make the initial templates.

Teaching wiki built in WordPress (click on image to go there)

There was a running debate earlier.  My school wanted all work on the “Portal” so when a teacher left, they did not take all their work with them, leaving nothing for their successor.  However, this made it really difficult for teachers to take the work they had created with them.  Most of us got round this by storing one copy of content on our own computer and a second copy on the Portal (and it is not so difficult to copy the content libraries from SharePoint).  What is problematic is the wikis, where we store our teaching programs.  Right now, the best way (I am aware of) to copy these, is to copy the html code, one by one for each webpage, into text files.  These can later be uploaded to another site.  All links to material on the Portal however will be gone, as after we leave, we are locked out again.  WordPress usage neatly gets around this.  A copy is still there for school, but it is very easy to export a blog and then Import it onto another WordPress platform.  So WordPress looks better, is easier to use, create material on, to embed videos in and easier to export.  Why are we not using it already?

Wiki built in SharePoint - too ugly for the internet (and don't click on image - contents are locked to the World

And I think I know now why our school Portal is locked to the outside World – it is just too plain ugly for the world to see (even if, in nearly every case, the content is great).  We now have the means and ability to change that.  I live in hope…

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“Making proteins” in a visual way

I have spent the last few weeks focusing on Visual literacy, looking at everything from where people look most often when they view computer screens (top, and a bit to the left – don’t make pages where casual viewers need to scroll) to principles of effective images (Presentation Zen revisited) and finally a swathe of new cool programs, including (but not limited to – excuse my legalese (LOL)) Screenr, Slideshare, Camtasia, (personal, for my new CV – a work in progress) and Prezi (still working on this one). Also, as part of my focus on visual literacy, I have lead an ASA (after school activity) called “Photoshop for beginners”.  We have not just focused on using Photoshop, but also on effective images and visual citations as well. Unfortunately, our school protocol suggests we should have all student resources on our school Portal, which is locked to outsiders, so I can’t share this. I did however create this Wiki, where I have asked my Photoshop kids to upload and share their work each week. There has not been such a high uptake rate, but you get the idea…  I also find it ironic that on a topic related to visual literacy, this is presented so badly (I guess that is the limitations of a free Wikispaces account).  I have two proposals in place to fix this.

  1. For the first, in our final week of the 9-week course, the kids will each design a banner for this webspace, and the best (as voted by them) will become our banner. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
  2. My second proposal is to migrate the whole site over to the WordPress platform, having a seperate blog for each week of the course (all linked togther by the blog acting as a homepage).  The kids can post their work as seperate blog posts.  This would  mean we can both make the website way way more visually appealing, and allow comments on each students work…  I would love to hear peoples thoughts on this idea!!!
A must read

A must read: Some rights reserved by mlhshino

(Back to the purpose of this blog post).  It is now time to try and pull all these ideas together to create a student activity. As with previous ideas from the CoeTAIL course, I don’t want to just be doing the stuff in class, I want the kids doing them as well. The idea I described here, is based on a comment Linc Jackson left to my blog post on Redesigning the Pentadactyl limb. To conclude this blog post, I had stated that it took me 4-5 hours to make (this) presentation that lasts 3 minutes & 42 seconds. Linc asked “can’t we get our kids to produce part of this work?”. After thinking about this a bit, I think I will give it a try, and here is my plan…

The scenario:

I teach in a 1:1 tablet school. My Grade 11 IB Diploma Bio kids have mostly had tablets for 3 years (excluding “new” kids) and are pretty proficient with them. In class, we are focusing on Practical assessed work (that means science investigations) while developing the topic of Protein synthesis at home each night. We generally spend a bit under the first 10 minutes each lesson; processing and developing the content from the previous lesson’s homework (I guess this is some type of flipped classroom then) then the rest of the lesson working on their individual investigations. I have created the YouTube Video below as a starter, searched and found a range of great videos of the content such as this, and suggested a few websites (and sections of our two digital textbooks) for the content.  Already I can see, from this video, that next time I need a bigger canvas, so the final quality is better (research suggests 1280 pixels wide)…

 YouTube Preview Image

The project:

At the end of the Protein synthesis topic, each student will be asked to produce a presentation on Protein synthesis. This can be an introduction, an overview, or details of one part – students’ choice. The kids will be asked to focus on:

  1. Clean clear visuals.
  2. Clear information (think about it – do you need all the detail, to get the big idea(s) across).
  3. Create a set of notes (with the omitted details) to go with the presentation.

The kids will post their presentations on Voicethread (with their notes as the first comment). Each student will be expected to view and comment on a certain number of other presentations, and then, via class discussions, we will select the best few presentations. With the author’s permission, these will be uploaded to my YouTube channel.

My suggested student outline:

(1) Choose a topic

(2) Map out the key ideas / content / concepts

(3) Choose clean clear images to back up (2) – CC search, or create your own…

(4) Create your presentation

(5) Read the IB curriculum again, and the write notes to go with your presentation (these can (or maybe should) contain visual elements as well).

(6) Post your presentation on our class Voicethread account, with your notes as the first comment.

(7) View other (not sure yet how many) presentations and comment

.        (a) Why it was good

       (b) Why it was not so good

.        (c) How it could be improved.

(8) Read the comments left on your presentation and improve it

(9) Class vote on the “best” presentations, which (with student permission, will be uploaded to Youtube).

My hope is that with steps (8) and (9) above, we will ends up with a few student presentations of a quality high enough that they become useful in the future. Even if no presentations are this good, the very process of creating them, then peer reviewing them should benefit the kids a lot.

As a postscript, I spent some time on YouTube looking for useful videos on Protein synthesis. I had not done this for 3-4 years and was hugely surprised by the explosion of videos on this topic, and by the quality of these. I did find a gap for the introductory video (hence creating mine) but there is quality material available now on both the main process and then on the specific parts, with appropriate details. Hey Linc, maybe we don’t need to create all the material ourselves – just plug the holes – and that we can do…

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Redesigning the Pentadactyl limb (lesson)

In this post, I will reflect on a presentation I have created and attempt to improve it using better visual presentations techniques, in order to better communicate the message to my audience.

When I looked at this CoeTAIL task, I thought that I did’t give so many digital presentations, as I try to keep my classes student lead, and when I “flip” my classes, I tend to direct the kids (when I do direct them – often I leave it open) to material that is already there, rather than create my own. As I pointed out in a previous post, creating more of my own material is one of my goals for this year.

My goal: Some right reserved by leafbug

My first step was to look at my last 6 months teaching (Grade 9-10 MYP Science (Biology), Grades 11 & 12 IB Biology and G12 IB ESS) to see what self-created presentations I had used with my class. The list was as follows. All are linked for download and use, but if you do download and look at them, please offer some feedback. It does not have to be nice – I am looking at ways to improve…

Cells visual quiz (for G11 students, at end of unit)

Instructional videos on statistical tests (for G11-12 IB Biology)

Instructional videos for Graphing (for G09-10 Science students in MS Excel 2010)

Introduction to respiration (for G09 students when I left school for a week due to emergency situation).

Comparative anatomy (for G12 IB Biology students) – -see embedded presentation below

Each of these had a different purpose. The quiz was to foster discussion, just prior to the end of unit test. The instructional videos were made so the kids could follow along to use Excel 2010 to create technically correct work, so they could refer back to how, whenever they did an investigation in Science (rather than ask the teacher, over and over…. The respiration video was, to ensure the kids got the big opening idea to the unit, when I would not be there. It is now just linked to the opening lesson, for kids to refer back to / to support those kids who were absent that day. The final presentation was the one I thought was my weakest and so the one I could improve the most (see the “old” version below).

This is a series of PowerPoint slides, which in the past I have manually switched through, as I talk to the topic. It would be so much better to be “free standing”. The kids could watch it ahead of the lesson, have a few priming questions, and arrive with knowledge, ready for a good discussion…

So why did I create a 54 slide presentation? Each slide is fairly simple (but nowhere near simple enough for Gar Reynolds) but the information is required (for the IB (exam) curriculum anyway). Usually I use information already in the textbooks / on the net – why this? Well, I made this because I had found nothing that pitched at the right level – plenty that was too simple or too complicated (to match the IB Biology curriculum). So I now have a purpose (and I know my audience). So much information, and yet there is the need to simplify (on the far side of complexity, not the near side). My decision here is for a two pronged approach (and please readers, let me know your thoughts on this approach, and how you would do this): A shorter presentation (with vocals built in) to outline the overall ideas, then a written note sheet of the details needed for the IB curriculum. Both are shared below.

I had planned to share this via Slideshare, as with the above presentation, but horror apon horrors – after I had created and uploaded it, I discovered that they do not support embedded sound – I could upload my audio as an MP3 but then there would be no syncing with slides.  My next plan was to convert it to video, finally create my own Youtube channel and upload.  I have been thinking of this for a while, and it would be good to be able to host all in one place, so here goes… actually was not so tricky at all, and here it is, my completed version of this presentation and first uploaded video to Youtube:

YouTube Preview Image

And the student notes to go with this, are here.

I do have concerns though.  This presentation lasts three minutes 42 seconds, and yet it took between 4 and 5 hours for me to create (finding CC images, modify and resize each in Photoshop, create presentation, record sound…(not counting convert to video, create Youtube channel, upload)).  Still Rome was not built in a day, so if each year we create some, and then share, Rome will get built…

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Redesigning the digestive system

I am currently doing both the CoeTAIL course, and a Teaching for understanding (TfU) course through the Harvard Graduate Education Program.  While I am finding the CoeTAIL course way more stimulating, and interesting, I am finding the TfU course a really good reality check.  It is really easy to jump onto new (and usually way cool) technology quickly, without giving real though to “how does this help my students with their UNDERSTANDING (sorry for yelling).

This week’s TfU course was to redesign a task you have commonly used, in order to foster a greater level of understanding / thinking skills and this week’s CoeTAIL course was about Visual literacy.  As soon as I saw the topics, I knew I could marry them together, with a really cool outcome that involved technology AND fostered a greater level of student understanding (rather than just use some cool new stuff)…

This week’s TfU task was to…

(1)   Describe a good activity that we used, which did not foster good student “understanding”

(2)   Create and describe a revised version. That did foster student understanding

(3)   Explain how this “new” activity would foster a greater level of student understanding / require more thinking.

And I have structured the following blog post using these headings.

(1)   My commonly used student activity

I provide a diagram showing the human digestive system and the key organs, and the kids firstly label all the bits, then record the function of each organ (which later leads into a discussion of why each bit is where it is, relating much to enzymes and a changing pH environment(which is often very teacher lead)).  This is pretty passive, and in all truth, probably fairly boring.

Some right reserved by Estonia76

(2)   My proposed revision

Create large cards (3 for tubes, lots for organs) which have an organ shape (no name to start with) and just the key features / functions of that organ.  Pairs (or groups) of students will use common sense to assemble the organs into an order that minimizes problems and is most likely to work.  I will also present the kids with a list of problems / issues to work around, such as, once water is removed, what is left behind becomes difficult to move around, or, food must be broken into smaller bits (digested) before the smaller bits can diffuse into the blood (absorption).  As a neat twist, this task is for a newly discovered alien species.  The kids make their digestion system work for the alien species, then (I hope) will be surprised to find out their system works for humans (with only minor revisions for organs such as the appendix, which has no function in humans (any more)).

I would like to have a digital jigsaw making program make an online jigsaw with all the organs (albeit simpler versions than on the cards), and with squares rather than interlocking bits (and no part touching the edge of the piece), so that after each pair / group came to their final decision, they could manoeuvre the organ pieces into the order they decided on, and then take a screen-clipping to add to their individual blogs. 

Each student would write a blog post explaining their choices.  The final part of this task is where each kid has to comment on some (or maybe five) other blog posts, on why the author’s model is good, and why / how it could be improved.  At this point, kids can rebuild, and reblog their proposed gut design, in response to other student feedback.  This final peer-review activity would be blogged and the final blog post assessed (for MYP criterion B:  Communication) to also ensure that more students take it “seriously” – a sad reflection on how many kids see education today maybe (or just a carrot).

(3)   How does this help students with understanding?

Firstly, the revised version of this task focusses on function / jobs and why they are where they are (i.e. the whole system), rather than on what each organ does (and its name).

Secondly, the revised activity is a hands-on activity rather than passive, fill-in-the-diagram typed activity

Thirdly, the revised task involves peer review by the students (to challenge misconceptions) and correction (allowing students to reflect and refigure their understanding).

Now I have planned out, and partly built the revised version of this activity, I can’t wait to use it…

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