Archive for ‘TeacherBuzz’

November 5, 2012

Put the action back in interAction

by t.e.d.d.y.

There are many participants in an education process.  There are students, instructors, content, different types of media and technology.  These participants are in constant contact and they have their roles to play in order to achieve a certain goal.  The goal for all participants is common – student learning.  If everyone fulfills their role effectively, the common goal is something that happens naturally.  All roles must act together and in balance in order to reach that goal.  Often though, it seems that there is a discrepancy or imbalance that causes learning to suffer.

In an environment where there is lots of inter acting, is there enough interaction?

Have you ever attended a presentation or a webinar where you wondered why you were there?  Were you thinking of anything else but the subject of that session?  You are not alone.  Personally, I have experienced this a lot too.  So here’s the gist of interaction.

There are generally two types of interaction: passive & active.  Passive interaction is when the participants do not provide feedback to each other.  This was the prevalent type in the 19th and 20th centuries.  And unfortunately it can still be seen in many presentations and on/offline events.  To understand it better, imagine reading a book.  Communication is only one way.  You read the book and receive the information it contains.  You can’t talk back or change that information as you read.  In other words, passive interaction is literally the inability to argue with a radio.  It can only go one way.

Active interaction on the other hand, is exactly the opposite.  Communication flows freely between participants.  They constantly provide feedback to each other and the conversation evolves constantly rather than stall and stop.  Imagine a group project, in which all participants have their roles and they need to find a way to work together in order to complete the project.  Their interaction has to include constant discussion, feedback, and coordination.  Participants need to find resources and include them in the interaction, they need to share and evaluate together as a team.  Eventually they will create a final material full of information that is a result of their collaboration and active interaction.

Both types of interaction have their place at the right time and the right circumstances.  As I always remind my student-teachers: If you use a tool or method appropriately and in the right context, you can’t go wrong.  The overuse of anything is going to have a negative impact on the learning process.  Too much lecturing will limit the opportunity to hear from your students.  Too much active interaction without any straight-forward knowledge transfer, may prevent your students from learning and understanding the curriculum.  So the old cliche of “balance is the key” really is… key.

The picture below illustrates some tools and methods that create both passive and active interaction.  Combining a few of these tools will create a rich and comfortable environment both for you and your students.  Combinations I have used in the past:

1. Weekly webcast + class wiki + live chat + materials posted by me
2. Peer review + screencast + forum + social media + podcast
3. Read materials by me + webinar + wiki + presentations + live chat

What are your choices?

Types of interaction

March 26, 2012

Where to start when choosing technology

by t.e.d.d.y.

Image: chokphoto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When incorporating technology into your teaching, start by planning your content, audience, and learning goals, and then move to choose the technology you are going to use.  Adjust the technology to serve your goals, not the other way around.  Here’s how:

  1. What are you teaching?
  2. Who are you teaching?
  3. What are you going to accomplish with your lesson?
  4. What type of technology will best fit your goals?

Then start building your digital project.  Use your lesson plan as a plan for building your digital teaching tool.  This strategy will provide a direction and criteria for the end product.

November 14, 2011

Learning at School vs. Learning at Work: Are We Prepared?

by t.e.d.d.y.

Image: Maggie Smith / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It is clear that no matter how much we try to prepare students to be successful on the workplace, we cannot completely cover everything that they will experience once they start a job.  Simple reason… we can’t read the future yet.  If your students were Grade 9 six or seven years ago, and if they went to college after high-school, they will likely be starting their first “career-oriented” job right about now.  If we think of this time in terms of history of technology inventions and developments, by the time your students graduate college and start working, school will have prepared them for pretty much nothing (or very little) of what they will find on their workplace.  Take a look at this timeline, outlining what happened during these six or seven years since being a Grade 9 student:
(it’s almost 2012 now, but lets look back at 2004 as a starting point)

2004:
Facebook was launched.
Notebook PCs outsell TVs during the holiday season for the first time.
Mozilla Firefox 1.0 is released.

2005:
GoogleMaps is launched
YouTube is founded and comes online Feb 25, 2005.
Microsoft XP Professional is released.
Microsoft releases Xbox 360.

2006:
The blu-ray is first announced and introduced.
Toshiba releases the first HD DVD player in Japan.
Twittr, aka Twitter, launches officially.
Sony releases PlayStation 3.
Nintendo releases Wii.
Microsoft releases Microsoft Windows Vista to corporations.

2007:
Apple introduces iPhone.
Microsoft releases Microsoft Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 to the public.
Google releases Google Streetview.
Google releases Android.
Amazon.com releases the first Kindle.

2008:
RIM named “Canada’s Top 100 Employers”

2009:
Facebook (launched in 2004) overtakes MySpace in Internet traffic.
Microsoft released the Bing search engine.
Gmail gets out of beta and released to the public.

2010:
Apple introduces the iPad.
Apple introduces iPhone 4.
Amazon reports that it is selling more Kindle books than hardcover books.
RIM announces the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet computer.

2011:
Microsoft acquires Skype.
Apple introduces Apple 4S.
RIM lays off 2000 people – the biggest lay-off in its history.

Image: Michal Marcol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So in a nutshell, we couldn’t have prepared our students for all of the above.  We couldn’t have taught them about social media, Internet bullying, mLearning, etc.  And considering the timeline of all events, it was impossible for us to predict all these changes.  And naturally we cannot predict what changes will happen six years from now.  That’s a normal thing and shouldn’t be a reason for concern.  Until we actually learn how to use a crystal ball, we have nothing to worry about. (So educators, please stop worrying about not being able to catch up with technology :) )

However, there is another thing we don’t prepare our students for, which is quite different from what they experience at school: learning on the job.  Yes, we talk about life-long learning and constant exploration and curiosity.  However, the learning process that happens at work, is very different and could be quite challenging if one is not prepared.  When our students graduate school, college, university, they are coming out of a system which encourages a different type of learning than the one at a workplace.  Below are some characteristics of “learning at school” and “learning at work”.  While these aren’t set rules of how learning happens at both places, they represent a general picture of what happens.  There are always exceptions of course.

LEARNING @ SCHOOL LEARNING @ WORK
Follow a lesson plan Often there is no plan
Learner-focused and teacher-driven Learner-driven and company-focused
Learn then apply Learn as you apply
Individual learning style in your own pace Individual learning style in the company’s pace
Talk to go-to person (teacher) then self-explore Self-explore then talk to go-to person (mentor)
Learn for a test/exam/graduation standards (fixed quantity of material) Learn continuously (indefinite quantity of material and knowledge)
Team-work is preferable but not always a requirement Team-work is preferable AND a requirement
Change is usually minimal Change is usually constant
Learning causes change Change causes learning
Single source of assessment (teacher) Multiple sources of assessment (managers, peers, etc.)
Steady predictable learning curve (due to following a prescribed curriculum) Dynamic unpredictible learning curve (no curriculum)

Have you noticed other differences?  Please add them to the list.

So how do we prepare our students?  Are we prepared ourselves?

One way is incorporating bits of “work” learning into collaborative projects.  In one of my courses, I set a deadline (for fun) to complete a task in class.  The results didn’t have to be perfect and the activity was not graded.  In a very short time, my students had to work together (small groups) and find out as much information as possible on a topic.  When the deadline was over, they had to drop everything they were doing and attend a “meeting” where they shared what they had achieved.  The exercise was fun because the speed of work kept everyone going and motivated to finish.  There was no competition (e.g. which group collected the most information).  It was a fun thing to do.  When sharing, everyone provided their point of view and allowed for other groups to contribute.  The end result was great.  The exercise not only taught them what a tight deadline is, but also revealed that you don’t have to have perfect results to be able to share them with the team.  The team is what makes the end result… “perfect”.  Also, my students all noticed that if you set unrealistic goals for yourself (too much work in too little time), it can be quite challenging.  Finding ways to overcome these challenges or communicate their concerns openly is extremely important.  And that’s exactly what happens in the work place.  If you are not able to communicate properly and assess your abilities fairly, you keep saying “yes, I can do it” and then end up with too much on your plate and a whole lot of stress.  Sometimes on the job, you have to learn something very fast because you don’t have all the time in the world to get up to speed.  This is a task that may cause a lot of stress.  If you don’t know how to handle it, it could lead to the natural resentment and disappointment.  That’s why addressing the issue of different learning environments with our students is important and will help them become successful and more adaptable in their work.

November 13, 2011

Tech startups educators will love

by t.e.d.d.y.

Tech startup companies are known to be the sources of innovation.  As much as educators dread the “tech” word, they will like the concept behind the following startups which followed trends and needs in education and addressed them.

What is Skillshare? from Skillshare on Vimeo.

“Learn new skills.  Share new skills.”
Skillshare is a community marketplace to learn anything from anyone. We believe that everyone has valuable skills and knowledge to teach and the curiosity to keep learning new things. This means our neighbourhoods, communities, and cities are really the world’s greatest universities. Our platform helps make the exchange of knowledge easy, enriching, and fun.

Kaggle In Class

Kaggle is an arena where you can match your data science skills against a global cadre of experts in statistics, mathematics, and machine learning. Whether you’re a world-class algorithm wizard competing for prize money or a novice looking to learn from the best, here’s your chance to jump in and geek out, for fame, fortune, or fun.

  • Branch

Branch is a group blogging/debate platform.

Read about more innovative startups here.

November 11, 2011

“The Memory Project”: Bi-lingual project recording Canada’s participation in WWII & Korean War through the eyes of veterans

by t.e.d.d.y.

“The Memory Project” is a great project providing a virtual memorial for Canadian veterans who fought in WWII and the Korean war.  The site is full of witness stories, photos, and classroom materials.  You can also use the site to book a veteran speaker for your school or events.

November 11, 2011: Remembering and Honouring our veterans.

October 25, 2011

Google SketchUp in the Classroom

by t.e.d.d.y.

I found this really interesting video from the Google SketchUp site on how it’s used in the classroom.  Teachers use the tool in their lesson plans to enhance their teaching and engage their students.  It encourages students to be creative and fully involved in the lesson.

Check it out:

October 14, 2011

Cheater-teachers caught in the action: punishment and lessons learned

by t.e.d.d.y.

Image: Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How should school districts deal with teachers who participate in cheating schemes?  Is it a matter of personal moral problems or the system should be blamed?

I have been following the story on teachers in Waterbury, CT involved in a cheating scandal.  Although they have returned to work since the scandal unfolded, they still face possible loss of their credentials.

UPDATE: From the New York Times: “In cheating cases, teachers who took risks or flouted rules”

UPDATE: So now the solution is to increase test security.  How about change the system that promotes studying for the test?  Then cheating will be redundant because tests won’t matter.  I am amazed at the problem solving skills of some senior administrators.  Read about it here.

What’s your take on the matter?

(choose all that applies; add your comments too)

September 26, 2011

Studying and teaching for the test: Students’ and Teachers’ worst nightmare

by t.e.d.d.y.

Traditional or the way I like to call them “military” types of assessment have no place in an education system of the 21st century.  Are we still studying for the test?  That’s because our teachers are teaching for the test.  Teachers in the U.S. (in North America in general but mostly in the U.S. especially after NCLB was implemented) are held accountable for low test scores of their students.  So what do we have here?  Teacher who sneaks answers to students only to get good evaluations on their own work and get a pay raise based on these results.  How sad is that?!

Test scores mean that you can or cannot take a test.  They don’t represent your knowledge or understanding of a subject matter.  I have said this a thousand times.  Having worked in the test prep industry, I know that a test is taken not because you necessarily learn the content covered by the test, but by learning the tricks of test-taking.  Believe or not, it’s called “methodology of test-taking”.  Now that’s pathetic.  Who says for example that people with higher IQ are smarter than people with lower IQ?  The creator of the IQ test, Alfred Binet, warned that measuring someone’s intelligence is not a linear process and it cannot be represented by a single number.  In other words, Binet insisted that intelligence does not have a fixed quantity and it can also improve or deteriorate depending on many other factors.  Unfortunately this part of this explanation behind the infamous IQ test were ignored.  Even today, based on an IQ test, a lot of states make decisions on whether to convict someone based on their IQ test score.  How ridiculous is this?!

Anyway… before I go off topic… the bottom line is, studying for the test is wrong and cannot lead to anything good or productive… like learning for example.  Studying does not necessarily lead to learning.  There are many examples of why tests have negative effects on learning.  And there are examples of why having no tests leads to better results.  I was reading an article about the education system in Finland and I was amazed.  Finland has no tests for its students and teachers and is rated among the highest achieving countries on innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity.  Why is that?  What’s the magic formula that got them there?  Harvard professor Tony Wagner explains it like this:

There is no domestic testing except a very quiet auditing program to test demographic samples of kids; not for accountability, not for public consumption, and not for comparison across schools. The fascinating thing is that because they have created such a high level of professionalism, they can trust their teachers. Their motto is “Trust Through Professionalism.” The difference between the highest performing school in Finland and the lowest performing school in Finland is less than four percent, and that’s without any testing at all.

Can you believe this is actually working?  Not only is it working, it’s making the education system in this country flourish.  It’s making its teachers and students flourish.  The focus is on teachers’ professional development and trust.  Every teacher in Finland must have a Master’s degree.  For every ten applicants to become teachers, only one gets to go into a classroom.  This high expectation but also flexibility has turned the teaching profession into one of the most prominent in the country.  Professor Wagner continues:

So they began in the 1970s by completely transforming the preparation and selection of future teachers. That was a very important fundamental reform because it enabled them to have a much higher level of professionalism among teachers. Every teacher got a masters degree, and every teacher got the very same high quality level of preparation.

So what has happened since is that teaching has become the most highly esteemed profession. Not the highest paid, but the most highly esteemed. Only one out of every 10 people who apply to become teachers will ultimately make it to the classroom. The consequence has been that Finland’s performance on international assessments, called PISA, have consistently outranked every other western country, and really there are only a handful of eastern countries that are educating with the same results.

Professor Tony Wagner narrated a documentary on the education system in Finland called “The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System” and is the author of a book “The Global Achievement Gap” (find a link and full title in the BookBuzz page of this blog).  Professor Wagner says that Finland has “defined professionalism as working more collaboratively”.  Teachers actually have time during the day to work together and constantly improve their skills, curriculum, and lessons.

So why can’t we take this lesson and move away from the “military” 19th century type of teaching and teacher preparation?  Tests are not the bottom line of who our students and teachers are.  Giving a raise to a teacher because her students scored high on a standardized multiple-choice test is so wrong that it is beyond anything natural that might happen in a school.  I may sound like a broken record but I will quote Sir Ken Robinson here.  He says that schools should go back to a more agricultural model of functioning and move away from the industrial model; to a customized model and move away from the fast food model.  They should create the circumstances under which students and teachers can “grow” organically.  Just as you provide water and sun for the crops to grow, schools should nourish students and teachers to reach their potential and be motivated to create and love what they do.  I believe Finland’s education system has done just that.

UPDATE from the news:  Here’s what happens when college admission depends on a test score.  When colleges only need the score, then students care only about… the score. –“7 Long Island Students Charged in SAT Scheme”

UPDATE: I found this excellent interview with Dr. Ben Levin, University of Toronto on the value of standardized tests and the differences between the US and Canadian education systems.

UPDATE: Edutopia’s article on how technology will help move away from a test-driven curriculum: “Critical and creative thinking cannot, and will not, happen in our schools unless we unshackle our teachers from the confines of our test-driven curriculum.”

September 19, 2011

“Doing the same thing and expecting different results is a sign of insanity” A. Einstein

by t.e.d.d.y.

The big talk of the day is change the way we teach, change the way we communicate with our students, change school policies, change standards, change funding, etc.  It’s all about change these days.  However, no matter how much change we aim for, we can’t achieve different results if we keep doing the same thing.  We still teach in the same classrooms we studied in.  Nothing has changed in the typical classroom since I was in Grade 1 – long time ago.  It’s still the same classroom today.  Rows of desks, the blackboard is now a white board, everyone is facing the front of the room where the teach stands (or sits), same rules apply for not getting up and moving, not talking, being quiet, pay attention, etc.  It’s exactly the same as it was created hundreds of years ago.  So why do we expect students to be motivated and to change their attitude if we are not changing the environment they learn in?

September 12, 2011

Looking for funding for your next education project? Talk to the crowd!

by t.e.d.d.y.

Crowdfunding: What it is and how it can help educators?

What is Crowdfunding?
According to crowdsourcing.org, crowdfunding is “an approach to raising capital for new projects and businesses by soliciting contributions from a large number of stakeholders”. Wikipedia defines crowdfunding as “the collective cooperation, attention, and trust by people who network and pool their money and other resources together, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people and organizations”. In other words, crowdfunding provides a creative platform for you to get that brilliant project idea become reality by presenting it to interested people who will contribute financially to it. In short, this is an opportunity to spread the word, find sponsors, and complete your project.

The idea is really useful in education as budget is always limited especially to extra curricular projects and activities. There are many websites offering a platform for crowdfunding and I will mention a few of them below.

Choosing the type of funding depends on a few things:
1. Personal preference
You need to decide which one appeals to you the most

2. Scope of project
Some platforms are for small projects only so do your research before you post yours. If you need more substantial funding, posting on a website for small projects may not be a successful venture.

3. Type of project
Some websites are focused specifically on the arts. Others focus on business startups. You may find some to be more general than that or perhaps specifically dedicated to education. Again, if you do your research, you will find the right one for you.

So what are the types of funding? (from Crowdsourcing.org)

  • Donations, Philanthropy, Sponsorship

This type of finding does not require any return on investment and stakeholders do not expect financial gains by offering to help.

  • Lending

This is quite self-explanatory. People lend you money to complete your project and they expect you to return it.

  • Investment in exchange for equity, profit, or revenue sharing

In other words, this is sort of a barter. For example, if you invent a brand new instructional tool for teachers which has the potential to become super popular and you expect your profit to be millions of dollars, your investors may ask for a share of that profit in return.

How does crowdfunding apply in education and how can educators benefit from it? It’s simple. From school-wide projects to classroom projects, you can list anything you need extra funding for and see what you get. There are certain criteria, of course, on what constitutes a good project. Every crowdfunding website has terms and conditions as well as rules on how to present your project so it looks attractive. Whether it is an exhibition you are organizing and need to rent a hall, or it’s a field trip you want to take your student to… try the crowdfunding websites to get some additional funding. A great advantage to such an undertaking is that you can make it a class project and involve your students in it. you can literally watch the pledge grow by the numbers and your students will like the positive outcome. Once your project is posted, you can notify friends, family and coworkers about it and they can add money as well. If you decide to go with the donation type of funding, you can think of a gift you can mail to all your donors – a handmade “thank you” card made by your students, or something similar. It’s a nice gesture and you will teach your students a few lessons along the way.

Let’s take a look at some of the websites that offer crowdfunding:

Funding4Learning
This is a platform specializing in education projects. It was mentioned as an innovative idea on TED. Here’s how the creators describe their service:

Funding4Learning is a new and revolutionary way for people around the world to fund their studies and educational campaigns. F4L provides a simple online platform where anybody can raise money fast, with no hassles, and with a global reach.

Sponsume
This website is specializing in the arts, education, technology, writing, social enterprise, etc.

Thousands of people visit Sponsume each week. This is your chance to show your project to the world, gather support, and raise the funds you need to make it happen.

Kickstarter
Usually for small businesses, art, theatre, design, food, technology, writing & publishing, games, etc.

Kickstarter is a new way to fund creative projects. We believe that: 1) A good idea, communicated well, can spread fast and wide. 2) A large group of people can be a tremendous source of money and encouragement. Kickstarter is powered by a unique all-or-nothing funding method where project must be fully-funded or no money changes hands.

IndieGoGo
This website offers project funding for writers, school builders, filmmakers, crafters, community builders, singers, animators, inventors, etc.

IndieGoGo is an easy online platform for anybody in the world to raise more money, from more people, fast. With IndieGoGo you can turn your passion into a funding campaign, promote your idea, engage a fan base, and get funded. We provide all the tools you need to build a campaign and share it with the world.

This is just a very short list of crowdfudning websites. You can explore more and find the one right for you.
Best of luck with your projects!

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