Chicken or the Egg – Whose Learning Should Schools Prioritize?

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The topic for Thursday night’s #moedchat was “Out of the Box PD”. I guess the first question was my favorite, because I’m still thinking about it.

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MY RESPONSE:

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I didn’t get the feeling that it was a very popular answer – maybe only because the focus of Thursday’s chat was on TEACHER learning – but the more I reflect on it, the stronger I’m convicted. Wrapping it as a chicken/egg paradigm instead of front burner/back burner makes it a slightly different question, but the principle remains.

Student learning should be the primary focus of a school or distict over teacher PD because teacher learning would have to be a part of the discussion to serve that goal.

What happens when teacher learning comes first? Reflecting on my own career gives me a few things to consider.

1. Saying the right thing and having an instructional plan that LOOKS good takes precedence over evidence and results.

We can have high-quality PD and high-five each other for the great conversations we have at edcamps, other conferences, or on Twitter chats, but there’s a big step between knowing best practice, attempting best practice, and ACHIEVING best practice. In my own experience, when MY learning is most important, its tempting to blame anything that is unsuccessful in my classroom on various student factors.

2. PD that does not focus first on the impact of a strategy or tool on students serves only the people in the room.

I am not a fan of “cool tool” sessions at conferences or PD trainings that focus on one particular tool, because in my own experience, my excitement to squeeze that tool into my own classroom sometimes results in a negative impact on learning as students hurdle the tech to learn the content or demonstrate their learning. If “how will my students use this” or “what challenges will my students face” is the first question, we risk complicating an environment that is already difficult to navigate for high-needs students.

The first semester I had iPads in my classroom, I tried giving a final exam on the Socrative “clicker” app. From my perspective, this was a slam dunk. My students had already used the app several times, so I knew they liked it, and while you could not put images into your Socrative quizzes at that point in time, I had gotten around it by printing copies of the exam with Socrative setup as a bubblesheet. What I thought was the big advantage for me and the kids was that Socrative was going to score their responses as they worked, making the feedback immediate – they would not be stressing for hours to find out how they did on the final. There was only ONE problem – Socrative forces the students to work linearly through the exam, so anyone that would normally skip around and do the work they were most comfortable with first could not. On top of that, if a student accidentally pressed a response different than what they wanted, there was no way to go back and change it. Bottom line: for as much added benefit as Socrative provided with its immediate results (and easing my grading burden) the times kids were penalized for an errant finger resulted in a net impact of ZERO at best.

3. Focusing on teachers’ learning needs FIRST ignore the needs of the students in their context.

Instructional design 101 demands that before you prepare any instruction (or in this case, provide training for teachers to better teach the students), you conduct a needs assessment to meet the students where they are culturally, and what they bring to you in prior knowledge.

The students’ learning must come first because they are the school variable that is always changing! Yes, there are circumstances for which meeting a set of students will require more training for a teacher, but that is in response to the student context.

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WHAT DO YOU THINK?

5 Reasons NOT To Use Remind 101

Remind 101 is a website and mobile app with one singular purpose – sending text or email alerts to your subscribers’ cellphones or inboxes. Its used mainly in an educational setting, but there’s no reason any organization with a need for quickly distributing information to its members could not utilize Remind 101.

We’re hosting a Remind 101 session in our building this Friday during our half-day PD, so I wanted to get ahead of those that may be curious and give you some reasons NOT to use Remind 101.

1. You don’t have a smartphone. Or a tablet. Or a computer.

Oh, you do have at least one of those? Nevermind. There are many ways to access and send Remind 101 messages! I don’t have a smartphone, but I use the website and the app on my iPad equally.

2. You don’t know how to write an email.

Sending a Remind 101 alert is as easy as sending a short email message. In some respects, its easier, because you do not have to address it to individual recipients. You just click on the class, type the message, and it goes to every student that has subscribed to that class. Even BETTER than email, you can schedule the message and control when it gets sent. I usually type my messages during class, but set it up to send during passing time or after school.

3. You don’t want students to have your cellphone number. (or you don’t want to be responsible for knowing your students’ numbers).

NOT A PROBLEM! Students sign themselves up using the class code you provide and Remind 101 takes care of all the phone numbers. The only thing you see are your students’ names and YOU never even have to enter your number.

4. You want your students to be responsible for ALWAYS writing down the homework off of your chalk/white/SMARTboard.

Sending reminders and alerts to their cellphones will train them to be lazy. Just make sure you’ll hold yourself to that same standard when it comes to your own text and email alerts. I get the responsibility angle, but does that mean we SHOULDN’T use a technology at our disposal? Honestly, if I could get a text alert every Tuesday night at about 10 o’clock to make sure I put the trash at the curb, it would change my life.

5. Homework is really just a tool to punish kids who refuse to do it.

Sending a reminder to a kid’s phone would increase the chance they might study on any given night, and you won’t be able to triumphantly enter a zero into the gradebook the next day.

THE BOTTOM LINE
Our students look at their cellphones ALL DAY LONG. We compete all day long for attention with Instagram, Twitter, and text messages from family and friends. Remind 101 is an easy to use tool that puts your class information right in front of their faces.

Blogging Options for Teachers

I offered a challenge to the Web 2.0 Resources course I’m teaching for teachers in my school district – start a blog and reflect on your journey.

Ar least one of them must have been interested, because just a heartbeat after I issued my challenge “homework,” they asked, “Which website would you suggest?”

TouchĂ©. I had not considered that question. 🙂

So, without further ado, here’s my take on leading blogging platforms for teachers who want to share their craft – both successes and failures.

Note: While i enjoy it as a blogging platform, i did not include Tumblr in this list for teachers because we block it on the filters in my district (and i assume thats true for others).

BLOGGER
Blogger is (for now) my platform of choice.
Pros:

  • Integrated with Google, so it plays well with images you may have saved in other Google services, and can track your user stats easily with Google analytic tools.
  • TONS of options for customizing your layout or design, whether you know HTML and CSS or not.
  • mobile user focused layouts available. (You dont want your blog to be a pain for someone to navigate on their phone or smaller tablet
  • One-step sharing to Google+ helps get your post in front of an audience
  • Add widgets to your site with javascript. My Twitter feed is right over there on the right (if you’re reading this on Blogger)

Cons:

  • It’s a little difficult to find other teachers to follow within Blogger, which would also mean its a little difficult of other teachers to find YOU.
  • How many people “follow” my blog? (Subscribe to it such that when I update they receive an email, or it is fed to them through an RSS feed) I have no idea. This is hard to track in Blogger.
  • The only thing you can do on the iOS app is publish basic text and plug in photos. Not even any embedded HTML, so I really must ALWAYS write from my desktop or macbook.

WORDPRESS
While Blogger is my main squeeze, I cheat on it with WordPress because my wife uses it and sometimes I get blog tool envy.
Pros:

  • Reblogging. Did you find another blog post that is inspiring you to add commentary on or write your own on the subject? Reblogging puts that post along with your own text onto your blog. I think it builds community as other teachers share ideas, and it can drive a little more traffic to your own blog.
  • Following other blogs and finding your subscribers. WordPress has a reader built within it, which makes it easier to find other teachers, read other teachers, and find out who else is subscribing to you. This is what I most wish Blogger had.
  • Built-in user stats are more easy to use AND more extensive than Blogger. All or most of the data on the stats page of WordPress is available for Blogger bloggers if you also use Google Analytics, but who wants ONE MORE TOOL to check? I mean, you just added blogging to your list, right? 🙂
  • AMAZING iOS app

Cons:

  • Short on HTML and CSS customization. If you use the free version, you’re pretty stuck in the official WordPress templates
  • No custom widgets on the free version. (although there are some official WordPress widgets you can add)

EDUBLOGS
Edublogs has been around since 2005, so they certainly have the most experience with teacher and student blogs, and (in my opinion) have a lot of polish on the product. The platform is built on the bones WordPress publishes for companies, so operationally, it quite similar.
Pros:

  • COMMUNITY. Edublogs has a tab on their home page that takes you to a page organizing the community of edubloggers according to interest. Whereas I can do a search on WordPress.com and find many relevant teacher blogs to my interest, the Edublogs community page lists TOP blogs in that category. I see value in that because I don’t want to sift through potential junk.

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  • Professional development. New to blogging? Take the “Edublogs Teacher Challenge.” It’s like a self-directed online course in blogging.
  • Mobile-friendly. I set up everything on my iPad.

Cons:

  • COST. Unless you pay $7.95 a month to get a pro account, you might as well have a WordPress.com or Blogger account. The power of Edublogs is in organizing all of your students’ blogs in one place and having control over who sees your posts and their posts, but you have none of that power with a free account.

KIDBLOG
The favorite thing about Kidblogs is how they market themselves. Essentially its, “Do everything you would on Edublogs, but for free.” There’s a chart on this page spelling all of that out.
Pros:

  • WordPress platform. Just like Edublogs, its built on WordPress’ product for hosting your own blogs, so the platform is easy to use and manage.
  • TONS of privacy settings. If you’re writing only for your class and your students’ parents, you can completely lockdown privacy by making your blog visible only to individuals who login from that class. The younger your students are, the more important this is, obviously.
  • Have your students blog and reflect with you. (For free this time, as opposed to Edublogs). Set up accounts and blogs for your students and manage their posts, comments, and privacy setttings.
  • There’s an iOS app, but it’s slow to be updated.

Cons:

  • It’s called KIDblogs. My high schoolers are always super sensitive to being “grown,” so I don’t know how jazzed they would be with sharing their super thoughtful reflection from their Kidblogs account.
  • Just like WordPress, a little short on the customization of the layout and design. That’s a con for me as a teacher that likes that, but it might actually be a positive for kids who are going to spend all of their time on the layout instead of writing.

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SUMMARY
Whichever tool you choose is up to your needs. Giving each of these an honest assessment, I would feel comfortable using any of them, with a slight reservation with the kidblogs name. I’m a grown man, for crying out loud. 🙂

If you’re going to write WITH your students, I would strongly suggest Kidblogs, but I would at least peek over at the Edublogs community and professional development pages. I know I will.

5 Reasons Why Common Core Will PROMOTE Creativity

There are a lot of reasons to #stopcommoncore, 5 of which I shared here about its effect on creativity, but let me give you 5 ways CCSS could be good for our right-brained students, and actually promote creativity in our schools.

1. Modeling with mathematics. 

Modeling “real-world” situations with arithmetic, formulas, and statistical displays and inferences is one of the the Standards for Mathematical Practice, which while not much different than the current Missouri process standards (the “placemat”), go a necessary step further for no other reason than acknowledging that technology beyond scientific calculators exist.

Modeling can often leads to multiple solutions and different approaches to the solution of a problem, and require much more holistic thought to a task than simply “Solve the quadratic function by factoring.”

Another aspect of CCSS math standards in particular that encourages creative thinking is the new prevalence of statistical literacy in nearly every level. Something I love (and some hate) about the study of statistics is that there are seldom black and white answers in inference. Interpretations of results given a particular situation makes statistical study inherently more of a right-brained activity.

2. Evaluating Authors’ Differing Points of View

Is role-play not an element of creativity? When we evaluate viewpoints, replacing the author’s attitude for our own, we experience fresh perspectives and we can express individuality in new ways. How do we innovate without empathizing with what is different from our own?

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6 Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.

3. Using and consuming diverse formats and media.

If you’re assessing in your classroom in student centered methodologies, I trust that you’re doing more than giving students homogenous paper tests and you’re pushing them to use more than 5 paragraph essays to provide evidence of and for learning.

I don’t think drawing upon multiple info sources is too much of a problem for teachers, gathering info for lesson plans, but how often do we actually model that and expect it of students?

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
4. Using Design and Digital Media Strategically
Using color for emphasis = good
Using color because its cute = bad
It’s a creative work to thoughtfully include media and design in a presentation or project. It’s lipstick to have an item on your rubric that says something like, “Student used color.”
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5 Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
5. Writing Narratives for Real or Imagined Events
From my social studies background, this might be my favorite creativity-promoting standard of them all. I had my Algebra 2 students do this for linear inequalities last fall and a lot of students really got into it. (Kids made up or recounted a scenario in which they could have used a linear inequality to make a decision and gave details of how the inequality was set up and how they used it in the story)
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
As far as history class, you’re challenging your students to know just tell you what happened at the Battle of Hastings – they should be trying to make you experience it. Like World War Z.
Conclusion
English class, is, admittedly probably less “fun,” now, but how many kids were getting overly expressive about Huck Finn and The Scarlet Letter, anyway? The good news is, “creativity” in every other discipline is promoted and has been emphasized. Creativity hasn’t left our schools, its been given a purpose and legitimized.

Foil Wrapper iPad Stylus for your Classroom

If you’ve had your students writing/drawing/creating on their iPads you probably quickly noticed that writing or drawing with your finger is not so great. And your students probably aren’t too keen on it.

Buy a ton of $10-15 styli online or through my supply catalog, right?
If you’ve purchased one for yourself, you also know that they aren’t the most durable of products out there. The FIRST time I let a friend use my first stylus, they rubbed the rubber nub right off the end. You could get by with buying a ton more cheaper versions like this or this from Amazon, but especially if kids have to share them, they’re not going to last for long either.
Innovation time.
I saw this article on Lifehacker over Spring Break featuring this how-to on YouTube from +Walt Mosspuppet to make a capacitive stylus out of a pen, some tape, and the foil wrapper from any candy/granola/protein/energy bar.
Here’s my attempt. My favorite part about making these styli (or having kids make their own) is that we’re using trash I see the kids throw away nearly every day.
I made 5 today in a little more than an hour, and only took that long because I was trying different methods, seeing which was cleanest for the least time. If you make them how I did in the video, just smushing and taping, you could make at least 3 in about 10 minutes. I was limited most today by materials, not skill or time.
Other DIY Stylus Tutorials

Cheap pocket sized iPhone/iPod Touch stylus