Classroom Technologies

Tomorrow, at a professional development workshop at my school, I’ll be asked to share my experiences using technology in the classroom. In an effort to both recall and organize, I’ve compiled a list of applications. Those under the heading “Essential” should be added to your tool-kit immediately, though I expect I’m preaching to the choir (or worse still, I’m the choir preaching to the preacher)…

Essential:

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  • Organizes notes, references, photos, videos, and anything else that can be digitized.
  • Amazingly easy to use, and simple to share information
  • Students love the “cute elephant”
  • I use it often for MYP criterion B: Investigating
  • Students create separate ‘Notebooks’ for each project I assign
  • Upon submission of the project, they share the Evernote “Notebook,” which shows me the entire process of investigation.
  • Also highly recommended for adults!
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  • Essential Apps: Drive, Sites, Docs, Presentation.
  • Google Docs allows for real-time writing and editing collaboration between students and /or teachers.
  • Google Presentation allows for real-time presentation creation between students and / or teachers.
  • Sites is much more comprehensive with mind-boggling potential for both students and teachers (More on this later).
  • Drive is the place where your google docs and presentations can be stored and easily shared.
  • I feel I have only scratched the surface of what Google offers students, educators, administrators, districts, planets, galaxies, …

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  • Incredible collaboration tool. See this: http://elsaibhistory.wikispaces.com/
  • All of the topics along the right menu bar were created by students working together, and editing each others work. This History Wiki functions as a student created interactive text. The students ASK to create new pages… Need I pitch this further?

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  • In terms of blogging as an educational tool, I’ve drank the kool-aid, I’m blitzed, and I want more!!
  • In my opinion, one of the most underused, under-appreciated tools out there.
  • If you have doubts, create one of your own, record your reflections, and see if you don’t evolve as a writer and graphic designer. See if you learn to locate relevant information more rapidly. See if you are able to convey this information to an audience in a more creative way than before you started the blog. Then, ask yourself:  “what does it mean to be literate in the 21st century?” Then, ask yourself: “has blogging improved my literacy?”

Not Exactly Essential, but Fun…

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  • I’m a big fan of any technology that allows useful information to come to you, instead of you searching for it… 
  • My students still associate Twitter with comments like: “Doritos for lunch, mmmm”
  • They are surprised when I show them my own Twitter feed, the famous authors, politicians, journalists, artists, academics, think tanks, climate watch groups, design and technology gurus, all-star teachers, etc.. that share their latest ideas with me via Tweets. RSS feeds are even more spectacular in this regard, … I’ll come back to RSS in a later post.

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  • I’m new to this one. But as I am looking to “flatten my own classroom” ( get rid of the walls that separate my students from the world that awaits them after graduation) it seems face to face real-time global collaborations via Skype in the Classroom would be ideal?

Hope this was useful for some of you… If you have any “Essential” technologies, do the right thing and unveil those gems right here and now!!  … told you I drank the kool-aid  😀

Student Led Assessments

My MYP 3 Humanities class recently finished a unit on the russian revolution. For the summative assessment, I proposed what I thought would be a fun and creative project. We would create an interactive textbook using i-author. The response was, well… unenthusiastic. The biggest complaint was that it would involve a level of technical expertise beyond the students’ current level. Fair enough. So, I asked, what do you all suggest? Here is their response:

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I had never heard of ‘Top Trump’ cards before. I’m told they are popular in Europe. Anyways, one of my students suggested they could create Top Trump cards for the most significant people and events of the russian revolution. They would include a photo,  a mini biography, and categories representing certain traits, with corresponding numbers for measure. For instance, in the category ‘Violence’ Josef Stalin would get highest marks. For the category, ‘Role in the Russian Revolution,’ Rasputin might receive average marks. You get the idea. As I hope you can see from the photo above, the final product was brilliant. The students grumbled a bit on the amount of time required to create the cards (all the formatting was done by them), though the level of engagement during the process, and the pride revealed at the final unveiling, was well worth the suffering.

On another level, this event marks a paradigm shift in my own approach to teaching. It has forced me to re-think what is meant by “student-led.” Previously I would give students several options, giving them the freedom to choose an option that best allows them to display their talents. Now, before assigning the options (which, let’s face it, is not “student-led”) I will consult the class on how they think the significant concepts discussed throughout the unit can be illustrated.

Ps. For those of you who would consider the Top Trump option. I assessed for criteria B and D, investigating and communicating. The format of the cards doesn’t exactly promote critical thinking– what does it mean to say Trotsky gets a 78 for “Unity.” That said, the students learned a lot in the process, and more importantly they continue to learn while playing the game with the cards they created.

Perils of Differentiation?

” I’ll have a tall almond soy half-decaf half-regular extra drizzle of caramel latte. It’s for here but can I have it in a to-go cup?”

Starbucks’ were the early masters of differentiation. They understood that coffee drinkers are not the uni-dimensional horde assumed by the Folgers’ and Nescafe’s of the industry. And this attention to individual needs has catapulted Starbucks to the commanding heights of the coffee industry. The MYP program has been built around a similar logic. It accepts, and rightly so, that different students have different strengths. The curriculum is (or at least should be) designed to effectively engage these differences. For example, on a recent unit covering the Spanish conquest of South America, my students were provided with three options to express their understanding of the roles played by guns, germs, steel, and geography. They could choose to participate in a play, create an imovie, or deliver an oral presentation. ( I have lately been moving towards more ‘student-driven assessments,’ where the students themselves help design the assessment. The results have been pretty amazing, and I will be sharing these in an upcoming post.)

However, I still wonder sometimes where to define the limits of individual tailoring. One thing relatively certain about the future work-place, is an increasing trend towards collaborative projects, and an increasing reliance on technology. Both of these trends will favor socially-savvy problem solvers, able to locate and discern relevant resources quickly, with sufficient artistic skill to create a compelling digital presence. It seems, therefore, that to graduate students who have not learned these skills would indicate a disservice. So, here seems to be one example of a “limit.” Despite the multiplicity of “intelligences” in any given classroom, all students need to learn how to solve-problems and discern relevant information both quickly and creatively. They also need to learn the social skills required for collaboration among diverse personalities. Moreover, these students need to learn how to promote ideas, causes,… indeed themselves… to a virtual community with increasingly high expectations for what constitutes “creative.”

I think the MYP program is unique in this regard, providing a framework flexible enough to accomplish all the goals I have just enumerated. Does the MYP also provide the less glamorous preparation for the so called “real-world”: exposure to failure, and ego-shattering disappointments? Having one’s interests or inherent strengths dismissed as irrelevant for particular assignments?  I think the answer is yes, provided there is a clearly defined “end-game,” which is to say an articulate response to the question: ” what kind of adults should we as teachers encourage these children to become?”

I hope to have gone some way in explaining my own response to this question, though it remains a definition in progress. I hope some of you take a minute to chime in…. Nina? you seem to have thought quite extensively on this topic…

Are Teachers Agents of Stultification?

The child who recites under the threat of the rod obeys the rod and that’s all: he will apply his intelligence to something else. But the child who is ‘explained to’ will devote his intelligence to the work of grieving: to understanding, that is to say, to understanding that he doesn’t understand unless he is explained to. He is no longer submitting to the rod, but rather to a hierarchical world of intelligence.

The quote comes from Jacque Ranciere’s ‘Ignorant Schoolmaster.’ To position oneself as a teacher in the role of the “one who understands” and whose vocation is to “bring the light of understanding” to the benighted pupil, is to set up an antagonistic classroom from the outset. A hierarchy is erected. Following Ranciere, I think this duality between the wise-master and the groping subject, along with its pedagogical expression–teaching as explanation— is a source of stultification. It ignores the idea of knowledge as a process, a construction, and perhaps most fundamentally a conversation. It offers instead a classroom divided between light and darkness, and promotes a culture of submission rather than innovation. This, at least, is my take. It would be great if some other teachers would give voice… It would be even greater if some of you could offer strategies on how to overcome the said duality..

IB History Workshop Review

Two weeks ago I finished an on-line IB History workshop. The workshop lasted six weeks and dozens of countries were represented. The aim of the workshop was to help teachers new to IB History learn how to put a course together.  Throughout the six weeks, collaboration among participants was encouraged, and often required. Regrettably, those of us who collaborated so intensely for six weeks, dissipated into the aether after the workshop was finished. I never had the chance to share thoughts, positive or otherwise, with my peers. So I have invited you all here to see what I thought of our workshop, to share your own thoughts with me, and to hopefully remain in contact as our careers evolve.

On the positive front, I learned a lot from you all, in terms of course materials and creative teaching strategies. I also found the essay marking exercises very useful. As there are no higher History authorities at my school, it was a relief to see my own marks were in the range of those who actually do the final marking. It was also nice to read and take part in discussions, whether parsing out the meaning of “analyze,” or grappling with the essence of the ‘Learner Profile.’ On the flip side, my biggest gripe has to do with the uneven pacing of the workshop. Some of us clearly have more free time on our hands, and were thus able to mow through the various stages. The regrettable upshot of this is that I often found myself having discussions with the same few people. However enlightening these discussions may have been, I would have liked more exposure to the other eighty percent of our cohort. In a perfect world I would have the time to casually peruse the posts made on previous stages, but I lacked the time to do so. I also would have liked to engage more closely with our facilitator. I realize the very title “facilitator” suggests the role will be sort of behind the scenes, encouraging and provoking when required. But I know our particular facilitator knows a ton of useful stuff about IB History, and if we were in a classroom based workshop, it would have been much easier to learn from her expertise. On balance, then, I did learn from the workshop more about “how to put a course together” than I knew before going in, and for this I’m thankful. In the future, however, I will avoid the on-line platform, as the three days of face-to-face is richer, quicker, and much more fun…    Please take a minute to comment, and please also check back here from time to time. I promise to keep this blog crackling with fresh materials, useful links, and sappy reflections on life in Hong Kong, and teaching at an International School…   HO HO HO!!

Term One Reflections

It’s December 20th, 2012. The first term is complete. The corks have been popped, the holiday chocolates consumed, but my mind has not yet adjusted to the freedom. It is still swimming with the triumphs and disappointments familiar to those in the trade. Though before I reflect on what worked and what did not, a tribute to Tony Danza is in order. For it was Danza who penned the magisterial confession titled: ‘ I Wish To Apologize To Every Teacher I’ve Ever Had.’ Yes, like Tony, I used to be a complete menace. A menace to my teachers, a menace to my peers, a menace to anyone who ‘didn’t get it,’ which included just about everyone. Alas, the wheel of karma has spun. Retribution is at hand. I am now confronted daily with the child I was, multiplied, and weirdly energized. Still, I enjoy what I do. And as I reflect upon my own adolescent distrust of institutional authority,  my own repulsion at the things I was forced to learn, I think my feelings were justified, though the expression was immature. Ditto for my karmic avengers.

So tonight I will address the first-term disappointments, as these weigh most heavily. First, I feel like my energy and creativity was unevenly distributed. In the future I hope to provide all grade-levels with an equal amount of energy, preparation, and care. My integration of technology into the classroom was unimpressive. We watched videos, experimented with different presentation platforms, performed collaborative projects using google docs., and used Evernote to document investigations. But there was still too much reliance on text, and way too much paper was consumed. I hope to leave the twentieth century behind, resolutely, in the coming terms. I would also have liked to be more “hands-on” and less theoretical, particularly when covering units on geography. Having the children “do” rather than “think.” But the disappointments I wish to touch on tonight are on the inter-personal level, and relate to two common, and commonly misunderstood personality types.

The first is the smart and lazy child. This child defies the ordinary teaching logic. In the teaching workshops and seminars we are told: If we could only make things interesting–more engaging, more stimulating,..more “student-centered”– the child will rise like a phoenix from the muck of apathy. But the issue, it seems to me, is one of will and identity. In many important respects, school reduces children to an undifferentiated mass. Identical uniforms, identical chairs and tables, identical food. To assert a unique identity against these forces of standardization requires a heroic act of the will. Unfortunately, the will to disobey, or to “un-learn”  are common manifestations. These children willfully repress the intelligence with which they have been blessed. They mock the anticipated “feed-back”:

” You have soo much potential”….  “if only you would apply yourself”…

These kids  know it, expect it, and are amused by the nauseating routine.

My role as a teacher is then to create an atmosphere where mind and identity can co-evolve, where learning is not a threat, or a “sell-out.” I think there was some progress made on this front, but much, much more remains to be done.

The second personality is the child who is simply out of place in a school environment. For many years I was one of these kids. I know about ‘Multiple Intelligences,’ and I believe Gardner is absolutely correct, and deserves a Nobel Prize for re-framing the discussion of intelligence. But let’s face it, schools are not designed for kids who think almost exclusively with their bodies. Their very physicality becomes enemy number one. Forced to “sit still” in hard, uncomfortable chairs for six hours a day, the active body revolts. In this case I don’t believe will-power is the issue. A healthy body demands to exist, and the mind and body are one. Another teacher once said she wants to tell these kids that if they can just make it through school, these strengths that now obstruct their success will very likely be a source of success. I agree. And this goes equally for the “class-clown,” whose devilishly outspoken nature is valued beyond the spartan walls of academia. In the coming term, I will therefore be more conscious of these “body-learners,” and will design collaborative activities that allow the body a chance to express its (in many ways superior) wisdom.

So much for Term Reflections. I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I did writing. See you soon!