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Don’t just assign it, explain it.

After going around and talking with 250 students at my school about what they really want in their classes that will help them learn better, I was surprised by many of the answers. (See my previous post – “Give the People What They Want!” for more on this process.) This post will focus on the response category I got most often.

The number one response I received was from answers such as: “Give us more detailed instructions”,   “Explain things better”, “Don’t just assign it, explain it”, “show us examples”, and “help us to understand better.”  Now, I work at a phenomenal school.  Our teachers are great and our students are wonderful and hardworking.  So these answers surprised me a bit.  And they got me thinking… do we actually give our students too much credit?  We know they are smart and with it so we don’t explain things in the…

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Posted by on April 23, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

High School MOOCs – an idea whose time has come?

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) were widely predicted to disrupt tertiary education, even to replace Universities. This has not really happened, for many of the same reasons that ICTs have not disrupted classrooms to any great extent. But this is not to say that MOOCs have failed. Despite the high drop-out rate, and concerns that only those who already have tertiary education are really benefiting, it cannot be denied that many people are getting a huge amount of value from MOOCs. I have taken several MOOCs on different platforms. Some have delivered great content in engaging and innovative ways, others have been more pedestrian in approach, but still gave great content, and so, were of value. Some were not for me, and I dropped out as soon as I realized it wasn’t offering what I was looking for.

While it seems certain that MOOCs will never replace Universities, what about High schools? On the face of it MOOCs look more appropriate at tertiary level. Students of high school age still need teachers to mediate content and scaffold learning far more actively than at tertiary level. While online delivery of lectures is hardly very different to lecture-hall fare, classroom teaching is far more interactive, and more difficult to reproduce online. This is not to say, however, that MOOCs could not be devised which are more suitable for high school students, and while they are extremely unlikely to disrupt high school, I believe they will increasingly start to fill a niche purpose. Here’s why!

The first argument for introducing MOOCs at High School level is that it would help students prepare for life long learning. MOOCs can be intimidating places unless you are confident that you can overcome the isolation of online platforms, and it seems reasonable to suggest that we need to prepare students for using online solutions to further their education.

Secondly, there are areas of the syllabus that may not be able to be effectively covered in the classroom for whatever reason. We all know that most syllabi are far too long and teachers struggle to complete all the content necessary to prepare students for high stakes examinations! Being able to take some aspects off-site and online, and maintain a guided approach to the content, could be vital to being able to complete a programme in preparation for an examination. For example, my colleagues and I are really struggling right now to get through The Merchant Of Venice with our grade 8s. Our Head Of Department insists that we cover every word, and I would like to ensure that I can help students unpack the major speeches in some detail, and do exercises in class to explore their own understanding of the play. This balancing of the need for instruction and meaning making activities, combined with long syllabi and shrinking contact time means that I am always chasing my tail. All it takes is one day lost to a Biology field trip, or school photographs, and I’m sunk!

Using the Flipped Classroom model, I could certainly record some videos in which I unpack the meaning of the major speeches, giving more time in class for discussion, and activities designed to encourage students to make the material their own. Many teachers are already doing this. If you use apps like Zaption, you can insert quiz questions into the video to ensure that students are watching it and understanding it. Videos might lack the affordance of live questioning, but they can be paused and re-played at will, and questions can be asked and answered online, or in class the next day. You can also use Open Educational Resources to add extra context. At this stage you are not just flipping your classroom, you are creating a MOOC. Platforms such as Moodle or Google Classroom will allow you to post videos and allow students to submit assignments online. Moodle even allows for peer assessment.

A third reason for developing a MOOC is that it can be used for extension or remedial programmes. Some students might need further explanation, and this could be delivered via online videos or readings. While it might cover similar material to that covered in class, it allows students who miss class, or are falling behind to review content. It also allows those who are moving ahead to be able to tackle extra questions or concerns. While moving remediation offline might seem counter-intuitive, the reality is that in the frantic day-to-day of the classroom, vital one to one interventions sometimes slip through the cracks, and careful explanation available 24/7 online forms a useful safety net.

A fourth rationale is that it allows teachers to play to their strengths and compensate for lacunae in their knowledge. If a department works together to create materials for a MOOC, it is likely to be far more valuable for all their students. Even where team teaching is not possible, it allows for students in any class to be exposed to different perspectives and approaches. The extension of this idea would be for teachers from different schools to collaborate on creating content which could be shared for all their students. This content could be made available nationally and internationally to under-resourced schools, and help to compensate for skills shortages. I believe this would make a powerful contribution to education generally.

And lastly, the use of collaborative platforms would add value to traditional aUntitledapproaches. Google docs, for example, allows for students to engage in collaborative authoring of documents such as study notes or assignments. Such documents, attached to the MOOC, would allow for students to use the MOOC platform to explore the ideas being raised and discussed in class. While this might be confined to a single class, extending to the whole grade, or neighbouring schools, considerably adds to the value being co-authored.

While high school children require more scaffolding than tertiary level students, I believe that setting up your own MOOCs, by sharing them with other faculty, and schools presents a powerful model for transforming student learning. It is indeed an idea whose time, I think, has come.

 

Thinking Maps Software

thinking_mapsDavid Hyerle’s Thinking Maps are an effective set of tools supporting cognitive processes. Each map affords a particular process:

  • defining,
  • describing,
  • comparing & contrasting,
  • classifying,
  • identifying part/whole relationships,
  • sequencing,
  • analyzing cause and effect
  • and seeing analogies.

Thus they are different to Mind Maps, which map content, or generate ideas. The sharp focus on a particular cognitive process helps to stimulate very precise thinking around particular purposes. In the English classroom, for example, a Double Bubble Map can be used to compare and contrast different characters in a novel, while a Flow Map can be used to analyze the narrative structure of the text.

The Thinking Maps form an essential aspect to any teacher’s cognitive toolbox, and, like de Bono’s Thinking Hats, Visible Thinking Routines or Tony Ryan’s Thinker’s Keys can be used productively in many situations.

There is also a software download available which is easy to use and can be highly motivating for students, creating thinking maps with ease. These Thinking maps can be exported as image files for inclusion in projects or presentations. When you are researching a topic and typing up a report, the ability to compile a Thinking Map on the computer is invaluable.

 

E-learning and Digital Cultures

Online learning is experiencing an explosion at the moment. The rise of the MOOCs such as EdX, Coursera, Venture-Lab and Udacity, amongst others, has placed the potential of the Internet as a platf…

Source: E-learning and Digital Cultures

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

A Sport for the Mind

edtechdigest.com

What if we honored students’ STEM accomplishments with school-wide pep rallies, bulging trophy cases, and varsity letters?

GUEST COLUMN | by Don Bossi

CREDIT FIRST int nonprofitImagine walking down the hallway of your school past the science labs to see the latest trophies and medals honoring student athletes. Yet, none of these shiny accolades are for scoring state football or soccer championships. Rather, they are trophies awarded to students for creative problem-solving capabilities during hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) challenges. Such a scenario is within our grasp.

In school districts nationwide, important discussions are happening about how to increase access to hands-on learning opportunities and engage more students in STEM studies and careers. To help accelerate those conversations, let’s put aside traditional thinking about solving this challenge – such as teacher workshops or applying common core standards – and explore an unconventional approach: a sport for the mind.

In school districts nationwide…

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Posted by on March 3, 2016 in Uncategorized

 
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Rethinking differentiation: getting the most out of questions

jenjaynewilson

“Inspectors reported concerns about Key Stage 3 in one in five of the routine inspections analysed, particularly in relation to the slow progress made in English and mathematics and the lack of challenge for the most able pupils.” (Ofsted, KS3 ‘The Wasted Years’, 2015)

hitting-target-300x300 Credit: Betanews.com

When I trained, the common approach to differentiation was to teach to the middle, stretch the top and support the bottom. The (anecdotal) result? Lots of time-consuming creation of single-use resources, extension tasks that lack rigour or provide ‘more of the same’ or support pathways that remove the complex thinking – and that’s before you have to cater for the range of learning styles in your class! As a trainee teacher in an era when teachers were told ‘Ofsted want progress every 10/15/20 minutes’, it felt like there was a perverse incentive to make the visible learning as easy as possible to show.There were weeks where I’d spend hours making different worksheets…

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Posted by on February 29, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Hack Your Life!

tdLearning to Code is all the rage right now, but how to implement a coding for all programme is not as easy as it sounds. There are a number of decisions which need to be taken. The first decision is around whether it will be merely open to all, or compulsory for all. At my school we expose all the students to a little bit of coding in their computer skills classes, in the form of some Scratch and some JavaScript. I also do a Game Design unit using Flash, with a little bit of Action Script. It works in that everyone can meet the requirements, but not all students embrace coding enthusiastically, so there might be a great deal to say for going the extra-curricular route, or maybe both.

I suspect that both is the right answer for most contexts. Everyone needs to be exposed to some coding, but I’m not convinced everyone can handle a full-on programme. the second decision is what programming language to use.

I started teaching some coding back in the late 1990s, with some Logo, and then quickly moved to JavaScript. The big advantage of JavaScript is that you do not need a compiler. All you need is a browser and a web editor. Currently I get my grade 9s to use JavaScript to create a quiz which will tell the user if they are right or wrong, and tally a score. When they create Flash games, I teach them to use AS3 to create drag and drops, and how to use tutorials to learn more skills. However, with many new interfaces for creating mobile apps appearing, my gut feeling is that this is the way to go, and I am probably going this route this year. MIT has a platform for creating apps, but there are so many popping up, I haven’t been able to research them all.

Here’s the introductory video for the MIT App platform to give you an idea of how it works.

The third decision is around how to build enthusiasm. Some students will enter into it with gusto and there is so much available online that they will be able to teach themselves. But getting the social aspect to work is vital to any programme having staying power. If you can meet face to face that is the best option, but in many schools the normal sporting and extra-curricular programme is so full, finding a mutually agreeable time is well-nigh impossible. I have tried running a virtual club, but the buy-in is limited. Special programmes which run for a limited period of time, such as a Hackathon or Hack Off may work better if you can find a niche in the calendar. I have been trying to shoe-horn some coding time into whole school programmes such as Cross-curricular tasks, or end of year programmes when teachers are marking exams and willing to sacrifice curriculum time, but for some reason staff meetings tend to resist the idea as soon as you mention coding, or even worse, hacking. For students the word hacking has a much more positive valency, however.

I honestly don’t know what the answer is, to all three questions, but I do sense that this year the zeitgeist is different. The idea that everyone should code is so out there, I think it may just take hold!

 

 

 
 
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