Monday, 6 December 2010

Managing Everything


Or, this?

In this week's blog post, we're to consider the essential question: What are ways to manage the use of laptops in a classroom environment? However, first I see it's important to consider the assumption in the question: that we have (or should have or will have) laptops to manage in the classroom. What underlies the assumption is that having laptops will improve student learning, given that our administration is celebrating the accomplishments of the grade 6 program and looking ahead to where ISB is going with the laptop plan. Jeff Utecht, our IT Coordinator, announced ISB's plan just recently at a faculty meeting: "9th and 10th graders getting their MacBook Pros in 2012-2013 and the 11th and 12th graders the following year." So, ready or not, here we come...

So, instead of answering the essential question itself, since I'd have defer to the experts themselves who have already incorporated laptops into student learning, I'll make no claims on 'how to manage' anything in this post. But I do want to consider managing that and 'everything else' and especially consider the underlying assumption that laptop use will improve student learning. In 'Blending Computers into the Classroom,' for example, an experimental program in the US is going on to see if we can discern such a difference in a digital over a traditional classroom. 'Blended learning' as it's called is being researched in the 4th grade whereby two hours per day are being devoted to 'laptop' instruction. The Department of Education (New York) is planning on spending $30 million over the next three years to reach 400 schools:
"Yet there is little hard evidence that the movement will have any lasting effect. There's been a lot of experimentation in the past with technology that hasn't produced a lot of learning gains," said Robin Lake, associate director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, who has been studying the DOE's efforts."
Nevertheless, as these decision-makers know, you don't know unless you try. They're relying on an Israeli-based vendor, Time to Know Inc. that is supplying ready-made 'blended learning' curriculums and are boasting of a trial program in Texas where verifiable improvement has already manifested. Ideas on how to differentiate and meet the needs of a range of students apparently is part of the program. Sounds convincing. And given that we're forging ahead, we need to get our hands on such programs fast. I'd say we don't want to waste time and money figuring out details about how to do good daily lessons using the laptops, or sorry to say admin, figuring out what the newly-written ISB tech standards mean and how to apply them to daily lessons and actual teaching.

But, let's also consider that there's more to student learning and achievement gains than adding laptops, good programs and even teacher training. I just read 'How to get good grades' in the recent Economist. What first struck me was the chart: 'Class, not mass' that shows Finland and Singapore, in particular, significantly ahead of the US in education spending and student performance. We at ISB tend to emulate education programs in the US in particular, so for us to be forging ahead with a country showing mediocre standings like those of US schools is a bit scary. So what else is going on to maintain high standards, if not technology? Teachers. Remember us?
"Countries where schools have already attained a higher standard should become pickier in choosing teachers. Another study by McKinsey in 2007 concluded that making teaching a high-status profession was what boosted standards.... When it comes to getting the very best grades, it seems that teacher still knows best."
What's interesting here, is that we at ISB make claims to 'best teachers.' We're told 'we're the best in the world,' so maybe this variable is already taken care of? But do we have enough numbers of 'the best'? This might be something we'll come to find out soon enough with the laptop plan underway.

What else? Well, I say we need to take a closer look at what's going on in Korean and Finnish schools. How about this for a title: 'World's best classrooms are light on technology.' This got my attention. The old standard chalk board reigns in these classrooms, with old PCs stuck in the back of the room—with overhead projectors being celebrated as something to take with you if you got stuck on an island and had to bring the most important item to teach with (I guess the island would have electricity!). Old-fashioned lessons, with full engagement of students without digital distractors are found. What is also found is longer studying hours and old-fashioned values for learning—in S. Korea anyway. In Finland "kids have one less year of schooling than their American counterparts, do less homework, and rarely take standardized tests." So, what gives? It's back to the teacher making the difference. It's probably back to teacher training at university I'd venture to say as well. Further in 'Brilliance in a box,' "[m]ore importantly, perhaps, school systems in Singapore, Finland and Korea recruit 100 percent of their teacher from the top one-third of the academic cohort, according to a 2010 McKinsey & Co. report in 'Closing the Gap.' One 5th grade US teacher claims that what her perfect classroom would look like is not gadgets, but another skilled teacher in the room!

So, let's see if there's a bottom line here. If we do have top teachers at ISB, at least for the most part, and we do have money and means to invest in proper, achievement-tested tech programs, and we are willing to admit that coming up with tech standards will not necessarily determine what teachers do to improve student learning, then just maybe we can make claims to being on par with the best schools in the world—even with the techy-rich environment. Will 'blended learning' help or hinder student performance at this caliber? We know we're going to forge ahead and give it a try regardless!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Subject-centered not Student-centered?

A few years back, I was attending a workshop on incorporating creativity into teaching and I passed by a display of books recommended by the workshop leader. I was drawn to one title in particular: The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life by Parker J. Palmer. It made me wonder what 'courage' meant in the context of teaching. I paged through it and decided to buy it on the spot. To this day, I still ponder what this fully means, but in at least one area that Palmer discusses, I believe I have tested my courage to teach. One chapter was devoted to being a 'subject-centered' teacher. This I grabbed onto immediately, because I had just begun teaching ToK and realized that 'subject-centered' is how I wanted to be approaching this vast knowledge area. Simply put, in 'subject-centered' teaching, you put the subject in the center and everyone is involved in the learning process. Everyone interacts with everyone else and this continuous interaction, no matter the 'knower,' is what leads everyone to better comprehend the subject. Anything can go into the center—it could be a concept, or it could be a unit aim—but regardless, everyone gains from what others discover/ uncover. It's a dynamic process and inevitably leads to a deeper understanding of whatever is undertaken. The courage to teach then seems to involve the teacher's willingness to be a co-learner rather than the possessor of knowledge who imparts what s/he knows onto the learner. I suppose courage comes in when control of the learning process is out of the teacher's hands—the courage to let it go and see where it ends up. Doesn't this sound like where we need to be going with student learning in today's technology-rich classroom?

Now 'subject-centered' contrasts both 'teacher-centered' and 'student-centered' learning. I was reminded that the ideal tech-driven classrooms today needs to be 'student-centered,' when I watched: Edutopia, about a model school in Key Largo, Florida. Principal Ammette Martimson celebrated the student-centeredness of all their programs and validated this by their high achievement. Whether there's a cause-effect relationship operating is always the debatable question found in claims tied to education. But at least it's suggested that there's a strong correlation to be found between student-centeredness and student achievement. This is where Palmer and I would disagree with Principal Martimson. Take a look at the chart above from Palmer's book that I embellished a bit to fit my ToK class. This co-learning framework is where I think we need to be going with Web 2.0 systems in place in our classrooms, rather than needs-based 'student-centered.' But before I go further, I do need to research what educators means by 'student-centered.' Geraldine O'Neill and Tim McMahon in "Student-Centered Learning: What Does It Mean...?" claim that people have different interpretations of student-centered, one being that it contrasts 'teacher-centered/ content-oriented' with 'student-centered/ learning oriented.' So, maybe this argument does boil down to one of semantics rather than involving a basic conceptual difference. Appealing to language limitations, however, sounds like a way to avoid looking a the fundamental difference. In any regard, it still bothers me to think that what drives the lesson are the needs of the students rather than the subject to be learned.

Principal Martimson further believes in teaching to student learning styles, i.e., more student-centeredness. "Brain research says... 'tailor to learning styles.'" But let's be realistic. Can anyone ever really teach to each individual's learning style, one, and two there's research that contradicts the value of learning styles. 'Do learning styles exists' by Hugh Lafferty and Keith Burley questions the very existence of learning styles:

We will see that Learning Styles do not exist because

· The forecast is wrong.

· That is not how the brain works.

We will see that Learning Styles are a 'bad' idea, because

· Matching the teaching to the learning does not work

· Learning styles are not measurable

· Changing teaching styles is not 'doable'

· Knowing your learning style does not make you a better learner.


· Knowing a student's learni. ng style does make the teachers better.

I do think many of us have made the leap away from 'teacher-centered' and rallied to the 'student-centered' approach in recent years, but could moving from 'student' to 'subject' be one of those paradigm shifts on the horizon as we Web 2.0-rich environments dominate our classrooms?

To apply these understandings, I'll speak to my experiences working in 'subject' vs.' 'student-centered' contexts. I find the courage to engage in subject-centeredness when I walk into a ToK class, but somehow I still revert to 'student-centered' when working with EAL students. (Am I losing courage here?) Do special needs determine a more 'student-centered' approach? What goes into the center when walking into an EAL lesson? I've tried putting 'theme' in the middle, and have had some success with all of us interacting with the theme, but the real 'centeredness' doesn't seem to work until I add the Web 2.0 ingredient. Last semester I watched the students in my English Language Workshop (ELW) class come to understand 'teen depression' through a three-week networking project on the novel Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. I definitely felt as though I was learning about teen depression by interacting with subject with the students, yet at the same time, I had to hand-hold the less-proficient learners in order for them to make gains in language and thus with the understandings of the content. Was I being 'student-centered'? 'Teacher-centered'? Uncentered? It seems the subtle yet powerful distinction between 'subject' and 'student' goes back to the role of teacher—the student-centered has the teacher as the facilitator, and thus as an 'outsider,' whereas with the subject placed in the center, the teacher becomes part of the unfolding of knowledge. With this underlying assumption established, I'd have to return to my original argument—this is where Web 2.0 dominated classrooms must head.

Referring again to the constructivist approach in my previous blog, it seems that 'subject-centered' (or one definition of 'student-centered') is more in line with this approach. So, it's complex once again. When Palmer wrote The Courage to Teach, Web 2.0 wasn't yet a concept. Could it be that wherever we head with the revolutionary classrooms today and in the future, that the teacher as a knower, instead of a facilitator in the subject-centered approach will allow all of us to better learners? There's much to consider: the courage and teaching style of the teacher, the needs of the learner, the subject at hand and the type and amount of technology available and incorporated into the learning. Maybe the student, the teacher and the subject all get time in the center, depending... and we have to find the courage to determine when, and all discover the illusive secret that knows to which Robert Frost alludes.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Grading for Learning & ISB21 Standards

About 4 years ago, I attended a workshop by Ken O'Connor held at Rumrudee International School. I have to admit that I'm pretty jaded when it comes to attending educational workshops after so many years of teaching—but I do look for new ideas and celebrate when I come across them. This particular workshop, however, I found to be revolutionary. It's the first time I found myself really questioning the deepest values held as educators—what is the learning that we are really grading? I couldn't believe I was asking myself this question! I couldn't believe I was really wondering if I was grading what kids were learning! Now, four years later, I'm more comfortable with these questions, although I find myself continuously asking them whenever I set up a lesson. I'm asking if the content I want the students to learn matches the standard(s) that's been defined. Of course, the assumption is that the standards have been defined. The scary part is that when I went into the descriptions of the curricula I work with, I found a variety of detailed categories and descriptors, aims and objectives and outcomes and illustrative examples, but no explicit performance standards.

So, essentially, I made up my own! It's not as bad as it sounds. I am an educated educator and have written enough curricula in my educational life, so felt (feel) competent in doing creating the performance standards I was essentially expecting my students to do. But, I should not be working in a vacuum. I should have a team of colleagues working with me on this. But given the constraints of varied philosophies, time, problems with the curriculum platform at ISB (i.e., Rubicon) and abandonment of it, I was forced to forge ahead on my own. In one course, I came up with two performance standards and set up formative and summative assessments to match within short order. I eliminated all the extraneous assignments from my gradebook. I accounted for what Ken O'Connor calls the 'halo effect,' i.e. grading the student based on his good (or bad) behaviors and not on his/ her demonstration of the standards, which today at ISB is known as the HAL grade. Now, connect to NETS-S and ISB's: ISB21 Technology and Information Literacy Standards. In looking these over, I'm back to the same considerations and questions I started with coming out of the O'Connor workshop. Here's a sample of the language of what students should be able to do by the end of grade 12:
Identifies independently the inquiry focus, data and information requirements and a range of information sources based on appropriateness to the task and reliability (e.g. recognizes the value of print materials, subject experts and online communities and coaches to complement searched information).
What I ask myself in regard to this language and in regard to how to grade for learning are three things: 1) where does the 'benchmark' end and the 'standard' begin; and 2) am I grading to the benchmark, or to the standard, and once that's determined, 3) how would I assess it in terms of a summative assessment so that I can grade it and determine student learning? I'm then led to another set questions: is this standard tacked onto the rest in my curriculum? Are the other 6 benchmarks/ standards also tacked on, or are these to be divided up among the other departments/ grades to be 'shared'? And if this is the case, who gets what standard?In ISB's past, similar benchmarks/ standards have been defined and attempts were made to embed them into existing core curricula: social studies, English, the sciences, mathematics. The IT coordinators of the time made decisions as to where which standard would best fit. For example, I was teaching English 10 at the time and I was responsible for teaching and assessing certain word-processing skills, specifically within something like a Works Cited page in the Gr 10 Research Paper. We were also tasked with searching for credible sources on the Internet, given that the paper called for researched information. I also supported EAL students in Modern World History at the time. We worked with the following chart to discern what technology skill fit with which outcome. This provided input to the coordinators to figure out a type of scope & sequence across the divisions:

You can see that resources were combined with technology, which demoted the value of 'technology'—so technology was sort of like an add-on. In some ways, at the time, this made sense, given the technology available to us. I know there exists a 'final product' developed by the IT coordinators at the time, but ironically, it's not electronic. I'm sure it's stored in a binder on a shelf somewhere--maybe even on mine, if I were to search for it. For awhile, we were sort of 'held accountable' for assessing/ grading the standards that were identified, but over time and with change in admin and changes to curriculum, etc., 'things fall apart.'

I have to say, fundamentally, it makes sense to do a curriculum analysis to see where the new benchmarks/ standards best fit across divisions and across curricula. And, some sort of 'built-in' place for change. Change not only of the benchmarks/ standards, but change as to where they should be learned/ assessed. These questions on assessment come from ISTE's site: 'Lesson Plan for Implementing NETS-S Template':

Assessment (What will students do or produce to illustrate their learning? What can students do to generate new knowledge? How will you assess how students are progressing (formative assessment)? How will you assess what they produce or do? Who will be the audience for a digital product or presentation? How will you differentiate products/outcomes?)

Maybe these can help, but this is all quite messy, which is ultimately good, if chaos does lead to order. However, returning to the original argument—given our current state here at ISB—our need to establish academic-based benchmarks/ standards so as to be grading for learning, are we putting the cart before the horse, to be expecting a grading (if we are expecting a grading) of the new benchmarks/ standards before we really know as a school what learning we're grading? Maybe the cart needs to come before the horse, and Web 2.0 skills can show us how it's all done!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Reverse instruction

I'm certainly certainly one to acknowledge the trends in education—the ones that we're challenged to try out to see if they advance student learning and understanding. So, Michael B. Horn, who apparently coined the term, 'reverse instruction' at the recent NAIS Annual Conference seems to have stirred up educators et al. who keep seeking the ideal approach to teaching and delivering instruction. Just giving reverse instruction a brief read reminded me of the principles set forth by Madeline Hunter over 20 years ago and whose lesson planning strategies I quickly found with a google search. First are establishing the objectives and standards, followed by the lesson itself: the 'Anticipatory Set' (AS) where the teacher 'hooks' the learner with an interesting start to the lesson, and then...
Teaching: Input
The teacher provides the information needed for students to gain the knowledge or skill through lecture, film, tape, video, pictures, etc.

Teaching: Modeling
Once the material has been presented, the teacher uses it to show students examples of what is expected as an end product of their work. The critical aspects are explained through labeling, categorizing, comparing, etc. Students are taken to the application level (problem-solving, comparison, summarizing, etc.).

These and the rest of the model: checking for understanding, guided and independent practice and 'closure' were drilled into teachers' heads back in the 80s/90s. These were the 10 commandments of good teaching.

Now this bedrock is about to be challenged. It appears that we can simply bypass the AS and 'input' altogether with reverse instruction. It's hard to say whether 'modeling' is also to be abandoned, since the 'problem-solving' might also precede the actual lesson. Or, maybe this where the lesson actually begins? Scary stuff.

There are many assumptions at play with 'reverse instruction': 1) that the content and understanding it can be found somewhere online; 2) that the teacher has set up such instruction online; and 3) an underlying assumption that the content of a given lesson exists online and can be accessed by students prior to the actual lesson. Is this approach in line with the constructivist approach?

Effective teaching connects isolated ideas and information with global concepts and themes.... Students need time to process 'how' as well as 'what' they've learned.... Experiential learning is most effective.... Teaching must be multifaceted to allow students to express preferences... Teaching that heavily emphasizes rote learning does not promote spatial, experienced learning and can inhibit understanding.
Not that everyone's bought into the constructivist approach, and certainly in the high school at ISB, some are not even following the standard Madeline Hunter model for that matter. But it is interesting to consider just where reverse instruction fits in. It does seem as though we are at a crossroads in education, given Web 2.0 access. We can no longer sit comfortably drilling facts into students and assessing them on their memories of these facts believing that this is learning. When students nowadays can access facts within seconds, how can we realistically believe that spending time with our students discussing that which can be researched within seconds is what we should be doing? Is this at the expense lost learning? But where to facts end and the rest of the content begin?

I like the revolutionary thinking that reverse instruction seems to suggest, but like all claims, we need to consider counter arguments before jumping onto the bandwagon. So, is this a complete reversal or a judicious one? The other day after our last COETAIL session, I was sitting at my desk watching my ToK students work in groups wondering if I should've had them 'research' the text and do the 'online' activity at home instead of using class time to do the research. But within minutes of suggesting the students divide up the reading with their partners, and after they had a quick look at the link I provided on a philosopher's game involving the arts, I was convinced that I had done the right thing. There was a buzz in the room as students collaborated on what was art, and on which criteria could best be used to determine what art was. Although I could've set up some sort of forum or chat ahead on Panthernet and then spent the lesson discussing the content researched instead, this live F2F interaction at the initial stage of researching the content was what was so precious and vibrant. So, this was not reverse instruction—nor was it the standard Madeline Hunter lesson either. Yes, I did do an AS to start the lesson, and yes I did spend 5 mins. or so with 'input' but I bypassed modeling, checking for understanding and guided practice and went right to independent practice. At least it was experiential learning, so a constructivist would be satisfied. But, was it a good lesson? I have a sense that it was. (I certainly know when I bomb a lesson!) The only way to tell is to find out from the students if they moved away from 'what' and were able to get at the 'how' from that lesson.

It does seems that we all need to do a serious reassessment of where we stand with teaching, because if we don't, we may have 'reverse learning' instead of reverse instruction!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

A Happy Follow-up

I presented the Happiness Presentation I talked about in my previous posts to my two Theory of Knowledge (ToK) classes for the real test. Was it really 'zen'? They praised it!! Here are the highlights of the comments: the word 'simple' came up repeatedly. They loved the simplicity, especially contrasted to my usual density of information on one slide. One student said:
"I like the minimalist design... doesn't hit the eye with information bomb."
More positives included: "time to think & digest more deeply;" the use of 'real-life,' relevant, personal anecdotes/ examples" seemed to be the number one thing that students found "captivating." That they could connect to what I was presenting seemed to make all the difference:
"I could connect to real life."
Others liked the "flow," the "clarity," the "pace," and so many said they enjoyed the presentation. Before I let all of this go to my head, I have to give credit to the 'novelty' factor. I talk about 'novelty' as one of the types of happiness even! It is novel to see such a different type of presentation. But I know why they enjoyed the presentation. It was because I was in the moment. I was story-telling. I felt their connection. It flowed because I loved what I was talking about and they knew it—and I believe this is what made all the difference.

On the 'suggestions for improvement' side, a couple of students thought the font needed to be more professional-looking. One thought I needed to vary the color/ theme per slide. I agree with this and if given a need to revise it, and given the time, I'd look around at different backgrounds that match up with the concepts. One wanted more dynamism in the actual Keynote slides—could be s/he enjoys the transitions. Funny that one students thought the yellow-orange color was "too warm," but another in the same class thought "the color reminds me of happiness!" One person suggested putting a summary slide at the end that shows all the types of happiness on one slide. I think this is a good idea. I wouldn't have to have a cluttered slide like the original, but one showing the different types together, maybe without any other visuals.

So, they liked it—the bottom line—and the real test. If it passes the 'high-school student test,' then it definitely passes! I made it to (Presentation) Zen Pl.!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Course 3 Project Reflection

It didn't take me long to determine where to go with my visual literacy understandings. My Theory of Knowledge (ToK) students and I are about to embark on a trip to ToK Examiner's Land. This is a distant location and requires serious considerations of what to pack—the critical supplies that will be needed to stand up to the Examiners when they meet the students. The Examiners in this cas will be meeting the students through via carefully-crafted essays. The Examiners will judge the students as worthy or not of passing into their land. Without the proper carry-ons and critical equipment, all could be lost at sea. Unpacking, analyzing supplies and creating a special designer bag are required.

We might consider climbing the mountain with the proper equipment. If we meet that challenge, we might set to go to the more distant Examiner's Land. We'll look closely at our supplies first to ensure that they pass inspection. We'll ensure success with proper rest, the right shoes to remain on track, a good GPS so we don't get lost, water to keep us hydrated, a support group just in case we get into trouble, and good communication with our authorities.

To get to the more literal understanding here, my Course 3 Project will allow me and my students to do this essay as prescribed by IB. Once I played with the packing/ climbing a mountain metaphor, I could quickly scribble down the corresponding graphics. I have this all on paper right now, and with the Course Project description, I was able to add the detail I'll need to design a set of graphics, pictures and flow charts to correspond to the metaphor. Actually, the IB examiners do use the packing metaphor for what they call 'unpacking' the Prescribed Titles (questions) the students have to undertake. I just extended it a bit further. Here's the set from this year—a quick overview of these will show how 'unpacking' is essential!

I foresee a chunk of time being needed to design the visuals for this undertaking, however, the argument that I have to take time to set up the unit anyway is a convincing one. Also, it is more fun in some ways... I may as well follow what science does say is an enhanced way to learn—by using visuals—and give it a try. And, the best way to evaluate the project, once again, will be to ask the students. But there will be another way to verify success this time—to see which students make it to Examiner's Land and back!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Metaphor, Visual Literacy & When to go digital

Recently, we've studied the impact of metaphor in the Language unit in my Theory of Knowledge (ToK) class. I used to teach English 10 and remember the challenge of getting 10th graders to first, find a metaphor in a piece of writing (usually poetry) and then, the biggest challenge, to get them to understand its figurative meaning, which often was the key to theme. In ToK, we consider ambiguity as a means to getting the mind to a deeper point of understanding via making an unusual comparison. We consider how it can in fact enhance meaning and understanding, however, because of interpretation and possible problems with denotation and lack of background information, at the same time the use of metaphor can be problematic to meaning and understanding. I've noticed a great leap from the gr. 10 mind to the mind of a senior in high school who now can more readily grasp the deeper meaning and analyze how the process of metaphor actually works. (Ironically, the metaphor above was created by a 9th grade student. He compares the Buddhist cycle of birth and death to that of the water cycle! He includes a detailed explanation of each bit of the drawing and describes accurate comparisons between the two concepts.)

I asked my ToK students to show their understandings of the different metaphors up for discussion, in small groups, to come up with a visual that would reveal the meaning of the metaphors to others. I instructed them to draw something simple with few words, using only paper and pencil. We took up the following:

1) Metaphor for explaining & understanding
2) Metaphor for challenging orthdoxy
3) Metaphors in the IB Diploma Program: e.g. the Big Bang
4) Metaphor for conditioning thought and action

Have a look at the various renditions the students came up with. Can one visual be classified as a 'Digital Story' (assuming it's digital that is)? Consider 'Communications in the human body' (drawing below) under the 'Explaining & understanding' category. Nothing need more be presented about its meaning than the picture and the label to get the meaning, assuming one has had exposure to the concepts depicted in the drawing.

With the aide of a presenter, can the other examples like the 'The Great Leap Forward (in Chinese)' under 'IB metaphors' and 'The Selfish Gene' under 'Challenging orthodoxy' become 'zen presentations'? If I had known about: Punch, Personal, Unexpected, Novel and Challenging, I could have instructed them at the start to incorporate these concepts into the mini-presentations of their metaphor visuals to the class. When they did actually present the visuals, most wanted to come up to the front of the class and use the document camera to display their creations. Some had actually prepared a few written notes for support. In all cases, their was a 'flow' that was evident as they presented what they had created. And in all cases, we could understand the deeper meaning intended by their metaphor. But, can I count these as 'digital' if only the document camera is being used?

An amazing understanding was made in this study that the use of metaphor is pervasive and 'universal.' We naturally slip metaphor into everyday speech as well as the most formal spoken language or written documents. Consider Martin Luther King's Speech: "I Have a Dream" as one of the greatest examples of extended metaphors that could move a whole nation into a new paradigm of governance. Here's a classic excerpt:
"In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men - yes, black men as well as white men - would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'"
What a way to affect the African-Americans and other supporters by comparing the action of the government to that of renigging on a money promise! Lots of possibilities here for both digital storytelling and presentation.

In researching for this post, I came across Educational Origami and followed the link to traditional and digital practice. What an amazing find! What educator could argue that it's too difficult to change a discussion style or presentation practice given this set of ideas? On the other hand, it's also daunting. Yes, we do spend time developing traditional-style lessons as it stands now and what's the difference if we switch to spending the time on digital? But 'balance' is the key concept here. At what point is the investment not worth the return. (Can't seem to escape from the use of metaphor myself...) And when/ how do students learn best? To use a now familiar metaphor (that I've used in a previous posts) on the pendulum swinging to the far left, i.e., Web 2.0 (the far right being standard traditional practices), I still argue that we have to remain balanced. It's not everything that has to change. Didn't our instructor, Jeff, say himself how he used paper and pencil in setting out the ideas initially for his Ted Talks presentation? That fact that he could have gone immediately into Keynote to plan out ideas there says a lot for the need to judge when traditional over digital might be the better call. And traditional may in fact work best all the way through to the end of the lesson or project. Although the metaphor designs my ToK students came up with were simple, simplicity here worked well with paper and paper only—through to the end. (Apart from using the digital camera to show the drawing to the class!)

So, I guess my argument here is the need to make a judgment call when lesson-planning. It could be that we also allow students to choose. I'm thinking about this very thing at the moment as the choice on how to deliver the ToK Oral Presentation for the Internal Assessment can be done traditionally or digitally. And, of course, there's always the balanced combination...

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

A Happy Presentation

As a continuation from my previous blog, 'How to make complex, simple,' I decided to give it a real test and see what I could apple fromGarr Reynolds, Presentation Zen, book. I took one of my 'complex' slides from a lesson on 'Happiness' in my Emotion unit of the Theory of Knowledge (ToK) class. Above is the original slide I've been using for some time now. At a glance it appears a bit dense, but it has worked for me in the past by using a 'screen shade' on Smartboard, and going over each part of the concept one a time. Since Jeff Utecht, our COETAIL instructor, tasked us with doing either a 'zen presentation' or a 'digital story,' I took a look over my slides and when I came to the 'Happiness' slide, I knew this was the one to play with. For one thing, it's among my all-time favorite topics and for another, in essence, it really is a presentation to the class, rather than a lesson. Whenever I use the slide, it's not a matter of 'what do you think' kind of interaction with the students, it's more the 'stand and delivering' of information.

I thought that what might work to start off is Shakespeare's Bassanio from The Merchant of Venice, asking whether what he's about to do will bring him pleasure or happiness. I realize that sometimes I get too quickly into the explanation of the types of happiness, and that I forget about Bassanio. And he's what sets the stage really. So, he starts off.

From there, I could easily set out the two underlying assumptions: baseline levels of happiness appear to be genetic and that we all naturally seek to find happiness. Then for the types/ levels of happiness I selected to move from fleeting to enduring types. Daniel Goleman's Destructive Emotions and Paul Ekman's work on emotion were two important sources in the development of the chart. Jeff suggested the use of a meaningful-type transitions in Keynote as a way to show how the different levels deepen in sustainability and fulfillment, and I was able to find one among the array of novel transitions available.

I ended with the Chinese proverb that simply sums up the movement from fleeting to enduring types of happiness.

Apart from the transitions, and after reading over Presentation Zen, I grabbed onto 'simple' and 'story-telling' as two important concepts. Thus, the theme I chose was 'simple' and the colors matched the feeling of 'happiness'—muted hues of yellow. I made sure there were few words on each slide—the essence of the type. I wrote a few notes for each slide and even printed them out before 'presenting' to the COETAIL participants, but I realized later that I just needed to get into 'the flow' and tell a story about each concept. I knew the basics by heart, but could, in the moment, decide what the audience might respond to. Thus, I felt comfortable relaying a couple of relevant anecdotes, which I hope made the presentation more meaningful.

I'll be giving the presentation a real try next week in ToK. Then, I'll be telling my students this tale of moving from complex to simple, and will ask them to evaluate the 'zen' approach. In turn, given that they're about to embark on presenting themselves for their internal assessment, maybe we will have all learned something about visual literacy.

Friday, 1 October 2010

How to make complex, simple

"There are a lot of slides, may be too many. It’s sometimes difficult to keep up especially when they are complicated. I like visuals but there’s too much information sometimes."
"I would like simple diagrams or to make my own diagrams so it is my own understanding."

"The slides don’t help to reinforce my learning. They confuse me sometimes. We sometimes don’t have enough time to look at them and think about them. If they were more direct with only one or two points that would help me know what I need to know or supported by notes so I can write on them."
Yes, the words of my own students in response to the L4L question I had a colleague ask of them at a recent ToK classroom visit: "Do the slides I use in class help or hinder learning.?" Here's one of the slides I made that I rely on regularly—'Justified True Belief' or JTB. Here are two others I use periodically on the 'Three Types of Knowledge' and 'Inductivism.'

After looking these over with the 'zen' eye, and after perusing some of the ideas in Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen, I wonder why I've not applied my lived-by motto of 'less is more' to these slides! Somehow, I have an easier time living 'less is more' outside of the workplace! Or, maybe I say it but I don't really live by it to the extent I thought I did! So, now's my chance to rectify this. I'm being called to the plate—by my students and by my COETAIL instructor, Jeff Utecht!
"Sometimes, we're presented with so much visual and auditory stimulation in such a short time that we end up understanding very little and remembering even less." (Reynolds, p, 110)
Now, this is a scary thought. To think that I actually love creating these slides. To think that I can spend 30 mins. to an hour on any one of these. To think that I go back to keep adding more. To think that I think I have to get every last bit of the concept on the slide. So, the idea that I could make 3-4 slides to the 1 slide is the breakthrough I see. I realize now, that although I'm not doing a 'stand & deliver' presentation, but rather an explanation of a concept in an IB class, there's still application to be made here. I can still fix the problem that my students are describing above. (Of course I did get some positive comments about my slides helping them, but it's those negative comments that speak much louder and get our attention. It worked here!)

Time to rethink how to approach JTB (as well as the others, but one at a time first). The first thing that stands out is to take each concept within the concept apart: 1) Justification(s); 2) True; 3) Belief. I've already made these distinctions, but all the one slide—I even use a screen shade to teach each bit at a time. I'll gear up next for a look at how to make these three parts more visually appealing and hopefully more understandable. It's already time-consuming to create the slides, so at least I won't have the time adjustment. It will instead be a new design concept. And, I do like the idea of running it by the students (or even asking them for help along the way this time...)

Monday, 13 September 2010

'COETAIL' Teaching?

The first idea that comes to mind is a feeling of confidence that I might be able to pull off a genuinely successful lesson (or even a project) trying something completely new in
the Web 2.0 world. That I might be as comfortable with these technologies as the students are in their everyday world further validates this feeling.

Last semester, I actually tried out the Final Project I described for Course 1. When I first wrote it all down, I thought it was definitely too ambitious for me and that the return would not be worth the investment. But then after deciding to give it a go, I was pleasantly surprised to read the students' final reflections in the end. Here are Shin's, Jan's and Kaho's blog posts—their reflections on the Speak Project. We basically all stretched ourselves. Once I got started thinking about how teens could connect with others and communicate about teen depression, the Web 2.0 ideas came fast and furious. Every student had to comment on a professional blog. The kids who were able to get communications back from these professionals on teen depression were amazed. They felt a real sense of accomplishment, and so did I. Here's a look at the final presentation two students put together and posted to SlideShare. I liked feeling that after all these years of teaching—kind of a booster shot in the arm.

What seems to sustain for me (and at the moment for the students), are the blogs. When I asked my Theory of Knowledge, gr. 11s last semester about the use of the blogs, one girl wrote back something like: "It's our world." This really hit me. It's as if I had somehow breached a communication gap. Maybe I'm embellishing here, but I have to say, I'm still amazed today at the level of depth and critical analysis that can result in a blog post, even without it being graded. It's that 'publicness' that seems to make the difference. They're writing well despite our help.

So, I'm left wondering this year about the need to pursue formalized teaching of blog writing. The NETS-T we looked at during the last two courses help keep me on course. It's not just a matter of looking for something motivating to do in the classroom, but it's a matter of integrating these new-found interests into the curriculum so we can ensure that this new form of literacy—reading and writing with web links (blog reading and writing in particular)—is effective.

Under Standard 2: Design and develop digital-age learning experiences:
"a. design or adapt relevant learning experiences that incorporate digital tools and resources to promote student learning and creativity"
Here it seems to point to our responsibility to further analyze what blog writing entails and add it to the standard 'text types' as a tool to promote student learning. We've got much to add to the curriculum, when you start really applying NETS-T, but it's relatively easy when we have the Web 2.0 world to work with. Found these in the blink of an eye:

"How to write great blog content"
"How to write a blog post"
"How to write a great blog post in just 15 minutes"
"How to write effective blog posts"
and this looks like a read find: "Digital Writing, Digital Teaching"
Meanwhile, we can carry on with reading and writing on the Internet and use the experiences to help all of us know what to do. Saw this week's assignment from 'Visual Literacy and the Classroom' read that reminds us of our charge:
"... if students are to successfully meet the demands of new literacy, they must be able to navigate and communicate through evolving mediums..."

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Web Power

Where does the power of the Web lie? Are we preparing students for Web power?

I'd like to take up connectivism as it pertains to the writing process relative to these questions. After looking over a few readings prior to this post (Will Richardson's post on 'Connective Writing' was a good source), after completing two COTAIL Projects—most recently on Fair Use Policy and Practice, and after having spent the last five weeks having my advanced English as an Additional Language (EAL) students complete a Web 2.0 research and blog writing project, I'm convinced that web/ blog writing, especially for the second language (L2) learner, is a distinct genre and one that requires some explicit instruction.

It's the idea of 'live' writing that Richardson refers to. It's not that writers can't stop in the middle of writing for fear the idea can't be saved, but it's more the concept that the 'great unknown' audience is out there and can be connected to within the time it takes to click onto a link. And that great unknown holds the writer accountable for meaningful ideas to be shared and for meaningful ideas to be conveyed clearly. Richardson goes on to ask:
Are their certain skills or nuances around “flowwriting” for live audiences that we need to teach and nurture? Certain “rules” or norms for use?
So, I like this 'flowwriting.' It reminds me of 'stream of consciousness' writing that any high school student learns about in high school English literature (one prime example being the Holden character in Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger). But is flowwriting capturing that 'interior monologue of thought and feeling' in the same way? Or is there an inherent process going on inside the mind as the writer writes. As I metacognize writing this post, I do feel a sense of exposing my interior monologue, but maybe it's the level of coherence that differs. In the stream of consciousness, you can let your style wander and not worry too much about coherence or even whether the reader can follow along, but here, I am concerned with the reader following my line of thinking. But in either case, whether you expect a writer to use stream of consciousness as a particular style say in a pastiche, or you expect the writer to produce a blog in class, both require identification of text type (this 'Basic Text Types' has been adapted for use in the K-12 EAL department put together), appropriate vocabulary, verb tense, sentence structure and other language features.

Let's have a closer look at the text types here and see where blog writing might fit.

Is it more 'Diary/ reflection'?How about 'Exposition'?'Discussion'?'Persuasion'?
More 'Multiple texts'?

The 'multiple texts' text type is a safe guess at this point, but a more extensive analysis is required (and beyond the scope of this post and beyond the descriptions in these charts). But I am inclined to have a closer look at what constitutes the text type of blog writing and to make this explicit to my L2 students. And, as it goes without saying, most often, these explicit descriptions work well for all students to work with. Given that students are blogging in the elementary school, are assumptions made that students automatically know how to write a blog? And, in the high school, wouldn't it be to everyone's advantage to prepare students to write their blogs well as they enter college and the workplace where blog writing abounds?

Recently, I asked for student feedback in my Theory of Knowledge (ToK) class (#14) regarding the value of their blog posts for understanding the knowledge issues we've studied. One student responded that of course it's of value:

It's preparation for my world of writing and communication.
Then when I sat to write this post, I made the connection (connectivism?) that there's a bigger picture here. One that points to the 'ole 'scope and sequence' in curriculum writing, whereby we collaborate between schools and determine what needs to be taught where so that we are preparing students for the type of communicating they are doing and will be doing (unless blog writing is a mere fad). In 'Kids Don't Try This at Home...' by Jennifer Brown Banks, Franky Branckaute, one commenter, has an interesting idea:
Not every ‘writer’ is a great ‘blogger’ and not every ‘blogger’ is a great author.
But every blogger has the potential to be a great author. And in reading through the rest of the comments, I agree that the distinction seems more to be between being great at something vs. just being able to do something, as well as recognizing the distinction between formal and informal blog writing.

So, given our ISB standards, we choose the 'great' standard for most everything, which supports the argument for incorporating blog writing into language arts/ language curriculum somewhere and making its text type explicit so we can work to assess it.

And in asking where the power of the Web lies? I'd say it lies at the heart of our ability to effectively communicate in writing.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Whose responsibility is it to teach students to be safe online?

Well, this Q obviously seems to point to 2 main constituents: parents & educators. In terms of educators, without the backing of a more powerful force, like a government, educators may fall short of being able to enforce whatever policies are set out in schools (even interna-
tional schools). It seems like 'teaching students to be safe online' also involves a set of policies that would drive the curriculum. In the States, this may be a little easier given the laws being written probably even as I write this blog post. I found these US cyber bullying state laws and policies that seem to be the result of the barn door being closed after the horse has left.

But, maybe that's how these laws and policies have to be manifested. I also found this law in Thailand that will require user tracking in Internet cafes. Although a double-edged sword hinting at violation of freedom at the expense of security, this seems to be the crux of the solution, if we are in agreement with the underlying assumption that local and government laws are fundamental to policies for educational institutions.

My husband and I recently had dinner with a friend from the States who plans to pursue a degree in Internet Law. Being a digital native he's fascinated by the unseen growing demand to figure out jurisprudence for the new web world we're in. He believes he'll be entering an ultra-dynamic world whereby laws will be written, revised and rewritten according to the new crimes that manifest with the new online developments, like cyberbullying issue that Facebook is currently grappling with.

And, we members of society, are found to be in agreement with another fundamental in ethics as part of the Ethical Domains I described in my previous post: that of not harming others (Domain 1). To further the point, 'the harming of innocents' is even worse. So, as various stories unravel, we learn of victims (especially young ones) of 'crimes' like cyberbullying, like the Palo Alto student who was victim of a hate group. Or, rather I would say members of society are in agreement with not harming others, again, until it crosses the line of freedom of speech (which BTW is under 'fairness/ rights' in Domain 2). Interesting article in the Tech Herald about Facebook's attempt to appease those in an uproar over the hate group incident, yet others who fear their freedom of speech is further eroding. It's a battle over these two fundamental values, and according to the J. Haidt research, it's more of a battle among liberals who tend to hold these domains as more important than conservatives. Try taking the 'Moral Foundations Questionnaire' at to see how you fair with these two domains.

Despite the counterclaims out there about our freedom being further jeopardized by yet another law or policy, it seems to me that it's more a matter of getting the new law/policy in and the old ones out, rather than just adding new ones. I'm hoping that more young people entering Internet Law like our dinner friend will be able to keep pace with the needs as they arise, and maybe be able to find that balance between freedom and security. Then, maybe we educators can also find the proper balance.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Do we as a global society need to rethink copyright laws? What's our role as educators in copyright usage in schools?

Do we as a global society need to rethink copyright laws? What's our role as educators in copyright usage in schools?

I'd say my initial response to the first essential question here is a no-brainer. Given that we already have so many dilemmas from 'owners' and consumers using digital technologies, we can't remain complacent and accept the 'laws' that are out there. The two examples of young people being exploited by web-posted photos: Allison Stokke, high school athlete and 'virgin', Allison Chang illustrate the problem. What's funny about these laws is that they seem antiquated. In the Ted Talks VDO on 'How creativity is being strangled by the law,' Larry Lessig eloquently points out that we're not using our collective 'common sense' when it comes to what's 'right and wrong' with copyright laws given the changing times. Are people, especially young people, the 'read-write culture' just wanting to express their creativity out of a love of what they're doing as an objective, rather than seeking commercial gain? I love the Bush & Blaire remix in Lessig's talk!
How can democratic societies guarantee freedom at the same time guaranteeing security and fairness in the Web 2.0 world? It seems as if we're moving in the right direction with the creative commons licensing, whereby informed people make informed choices before making the final click on an upload.

I'm reminded here of the 5 Ethical Domains described by Jonathan Haidt, Moral Psychologist at the University of Virginia in his book: The Happiness Hypothesis, whereby he sets out 5 universal ethical domains that seemed to be shared by humans across cultures. I made the diagram seen on this post for my Theory of Knowledge class based on these domains, since we grapple with ethical questions tied to various facets of life. 'Fairness' fits the second domain and respect for authority fits the fourth domain. Given that Haidt's research suggests that fairness is a fundamental value held by all (although political liberals hold fairness as more dear than respect for authority) and given that typically adolescents challenge the authority domain, this digital clash becomes more understandable. The youth want to rebel no matter what, and given the restrictions held by copyright laws, there's lots to get their teeth into. All seek fairness. Who would ever argue against the premise that fairness is an important value? Liberals tend to lead revolutions, so maybe the more liberal-minded will help bridge this generation gap before we educators lose more connections with young people.

And, as far as our role as educators?
We need to look for ways to embrace the younger generation, rather than widen the generation gap. There's a new definition of literacy or an extension of the literacy we've been used to, i.e. digital literacy, that we have to acknowledge. As Lessig says:

It's how our kids understand access to this culture... how they think--what they are & their relationship to themselves
So, it's that delicate balance and our responsibility as educators to achieve it with today's students. We want to avoid the 'growing extremism' that is resulting from the 'extremism' on copyright laws that lawyers must love getting their teeth into. Does the 'private solution' that Lessig talks about involve us? It does to the extent that even at a school level, we can make agreements among our inhouse experts as to acceptable use (specifically the Acceptable Use Policy like the High School one recently developed). I'd say we do still need to ensure that its' a 'practical set of guidelines' and if we need to revise it along the way to ensure that it is, that we consider it a dynamic policy, rather than a set one.

I'm a firm believer of teaching critical thinking skills and the use of reason as a fundamental key to whatever other policy or manual or set of dictates we come up with. In the end, kids have to make their own decisions. And if they believe that we truly want them to, they'll rise to the occasion. Gone are the days where we have the exclusive right to be teachers. We're all teachers in this day and age in the classroom and if we as teachers don't already know that, our students do!