Thursday, April 26, 2018

Guest Post: Digital + Traditional = Teaching at Its Best


Rachel Salinger is a high school English teacher at my school, St. John's Prep in Danvers, Massachusetts. She is passionate about literature and about giving her students learning experiences that arm them with the skills they need to be thoughtful and good stewards of our future. I asked her to share her recent project on my blog because I think it is a stellar example of how traditional teaching and learning strategies can be effectively combined with digital tools for a deeper student learning experience. I referenced this project briefly in my recent EdSurge column and wanted to be sure to highlight it in detail on my blog.

Introduction

In my CP sophomore classes, we read Macbeth over the course of a few weeks. The students really enjoyed the play (surprisingly!) and I wanted to do a more creative assessment at the end instead of a typical paper or test. In the past, I’ve done an iMovie project with Macbeth but really wanted to do something different this year. I met with our digital learning specialists, Julie and Kerry, to try and brainstorm some new ideas for what we can do. I also needed to incorporate some research this year, though a traditional research paper is a lot for my CP kids to take on.

Assignment

In Macbeth, we focused on two main themes: Power and destiny/fate. With those ideas in mind, we came up with the idea of giving each student a historical figure from the last 100 years. The list included politicians, athletes, celebrities, and authors. Students were assigned a person (randomly assigned with the opportunity to re-pick one time)

Students then researched their historical figure using library databases, and found connections to Macbeth.

After they did their research, they put their research and comparisons on an infographic and presented it to the class. The infographic showed the main ideas and comparisons that they found between their historical figure and Macbeth. 

Modeling

I first did this project myself for two reasons:
  • To figure out how much time it would take the students so I could plan accordingly and make sure they have enough time to complete it.
  • To show them a model so they could visually see my expectations of what it should look like and refer back to what I did to avoid some repetitive questions. 
I chose Hitler as my example, since I knew all students had heard of him and he was not an option on their list. I also created a graphic organizer to help students keep their research focused on the topics they needed to cover in the project and completed the organizer with my own Hitler research. Then, of course, I designed my own infographic detailing my analysis.



Student Example

This example was one of the best and I particularly loved it because comparing someone like David Ortiz to a Shakespeare character is not an easy feat. It is an unusual pairing, but this student really did a great job going above and beyond with his analysis. His research was really well done and it was clear that he spent a lot of time working on this.




Overall Reflection

I absolutely loved this project and my students really enjoyed it as well. I got an email from another teacher on campus saying they overheard students talking about it and how it really helped them understand the text better, which is such a wonderful and reassuring thing to hear. While this was a major risk for me to take, I am so glad I did it! It was something new and challenging for me, but the students really did benefit from it much more than they would a traditional paper or test. I look forward to trying more things like this next year!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Stop Thinking About Screen Time

I was lucky enough to be part of an Ignite breakout session at ASCD's Empower 2018 conference in Boston, Massachusetts this weekend. My co-presenters were impressive educators from throughout Massachusetts. My Ignite was focused on the changing research and education around screen time. Please watch, think, and comment.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Why Student Creation is the Hardest/Best Form of Assessment

The goal of assessment has traditionally been to measure student mastery. With that mindset, some students measure high while others do not measure up. While that seems pretty cut and dry, it can be problematic. The students who measure high tend to always measure high. And the students who don't measure up tend to experience disappointment over and over. For students who experience continued success, the consequence is that they believe in their abilities and continue to challenge themselves to achieve more. For students who don't measure up, the consequence is that they learn not to trust their own work and fall into a cycle of self-doubt. They tend to avoid challenging tasks and always take the easiest path to completion.

Why Students Prefer Creative Assessments

When students are able to go through a creative process (rather than taking a traditional test or quiz) to demonstrate their learning, the process includes benchmarks at which students receive feedback from their peers and their teacher. Feedback in this instance is not in the form of a score or a grade, so it feels less like a rating and more like an opportunity to improve for many students. While traditional tests and quizzes are intended by educators as an opportunity for students to improve, that is usually not how it feels from their perspective.

The final product that results from a creative assessment is a unique expression of each students thinking and learning. Because it is unique, students are often proud and empowered to share that work with an audience beyond their teacher or classmates. These creative projects tend to be the ones students choose to share via digital portfolios or as part of applications to internships or even college. If the students are younger, these are the projects that are put on display at parent nights or open houses.

Why Creative Assessments Are a Challenge for Educators

In traditional tests and quizzes, answers tend to be correct or incorrect. Grading is measurable, simple, and usually efficient. Putting a number or value on student work in the form of a creative artifact is more challenging. Sometimes teachers meet this challenge by creating instructions and rubrics that resemble step-by-step recipes. Their students follow the recipe and create a product that looks just like their classmates' products. This is actually not a creative assessment at all. It is an exercise in ensuring students can comply with instructions.

Another question from educators: How do we come up with these creative assessments? For many of us, both our experience as students and training as teachers comprised of readings, lectures, note-taking, studying, and test-taking for scores and certifications. The answer is that educators need both training in project-based learning (Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy's Hacking PBL is a great place to start) and opportunities to observe teacher leader colleagues who are successfully implementing that model in a tech-rich purpose-filled way. At St. John's Prep, a group of teachers who have excelled at this implementation and who want their colleagues to experience the same challenge and joy with their students banded together to create this video:



Wait... No More Tests and Quizzes? Ever?

That's not what I'm saying. Not even remotely. Short quizzes and summative tests have their place in every learner's academic experience. There are regulated, standardized, and necessary. They help colleges and professional organizations determine the readiness of their applicants. They have their place. At the same time, every learner deserves to experience an iterative creative process filled with plans, mistakes, feedback, and micro-successes along the way. In the course of day-to-day work for most professionals, this is the process:

  1. We pose a question or are challenged with a task by a supervisor.
  2. We do some research. Usually this includes reaching out to our networks, crunching numbers and data, and consulting academic/scholarly suggestions.
  3. Based on the unique question/challenge and what we've learned, we come up with a solution.
  4. We ask for informal feedback from colleagues and friends we trust.
  5. We use that feedback to edit and revamp our work.
  6. The first, and still somewhat rough, draft of our idea is proposed to a supervisor.
  7. More feedback.
  8. More editing and revamping.
  9. Rinse. Repeat. You get the idea.... It's a process.
If the purpose of school is to prepare our students for the experiences that await...
If the purpose of school is to prepare them for the challenges and successes they will encounter...
If the purpose of school it to help learners build the skills they need for success in the modern professional world...

It is worth noting:

Source: Partnership for 21st Century Learning
If creativity is the "premier skill", then schools should focus their work on building creativity into lessons for their students. Student creation activities open the door to meaningful feedback, more honest relationships among learners and educators, and an environment that build the characteristics of creativity.

Encouraging student creation is hard, but it is also what is best for our students.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Semester Check-In: Three Tools That Are Trending at My School


One of the most important values I hold as a professional coach for educators is that I must model risk-taking with new strategies and tools constantly in my work. If I take a risk and use the tool in a professional learning workshop or as I facilitate a meeting, then my colleagues will see the potential of the tool in their own classrooms.

Now that we are halfway through the school year, there are a few tools that have caught fire after my digital learning colleagues and I demonstrated their use whenever we could.

Adobe Spark Post

To facilitate professional learning or even co-teach classes of students, often I create slides with prompts or instructions. Spark Post allows me to create more beautiful designs that inspire my learners to think bigger or make more connections. When words are cleverly paired with an image, mood and tone are more evident and the audience will not just process the information. They will feel or experience the information. One of my favorite examples comes from a keynote I've presented to educators and parents about the impact of screen technology on the human brain and on teaching and learning. Notice how the colors, words, and images combined can send different messages about the same idea.

 

We've taken Spark Post into professional learning by asking teachers to set goals and then create a Spark Post to share their goals with their colleagues. The resulting quote graphics capture their willingness to take risks and also inspired many of them to use similar strategies with their students in their classes. Some of our students even created PSA style quote graphics, after learning about digital distraction and the skills of concentration and focus, in Spark Post that are displayed on our middle school plasma screens in the hallways and lobby.

 

Worth noting: Educators should be sure to review this guide for information about privacy and security when using Adobe Spark.

Flipgrid

I'd heard about Flipgrid in the spring, but really didn't get a feel for it until I talked to some of my edu-friends at ISTE in June about how they were using at their schools. My colleagues and I decided to give it a try at the annual in-house conference, we call it #JumpStartSJP, for our teachers in August. To help kick off the week of professional learning, I reached out to some of the top education experts to ask for their tips for our teachers. Then our teachers used Flipgrid to reflect on some of the most used and most misunderstood education buzzwords. At the end of the week they used Flipgrid to give us feedback on their top takeaway from the week and how they were planning to use it in their teaching during the school year.

Since then, many of our teachers have been using Flipgrid with their students. It has been especially popular in our world language classes. Students tend to work harder at speaking the language fluently when they know they will be recorded on video and those videos will be shared with their classmates.

Grade 8 German students record interview in Flipgrid.

Of course, we are planning to continue to use Flipgrid in lots of upcoming meetings and workshops so that more teachers can experience how fun and easy it is to use and how valuable it can be to share ideas in the form of a selfie video to make the sharing feel more personal.


OneNote

Oh. My. Goodness. Creative, collaborative, multimedia notes are at their best in OneNote. I have tried pretty much every other note taking and note keeping tool out there and this beats them all. I can draw, type, embed documents, record audio, hyperlink, and collaborate all in one place. Once my school integrated Microsoft 365, it wasn't long before I started tinkering with and was won over by OneNote.

Recently, my colleague and introduced it to the teacher leaders in our innovation cohort. We asked them to each create a note in a shared notebook and use that note to share out photos and artifacts from a recent lesson or project implementation they were proud of.

Note that each page was created by a different teacher in the cohort.


It is only a week later and one of those teachers has already rolled it out in her high school Latin classes. Others are using it to take their own professional notes in faculty and team meetings.

_________

There are at least 3 more tools that are on the brink of catching fire now that we've started 2018. I can't wait to see how they're used by teachers and students and share those stories here soon.

Which thoughtful uses of edtech tools are trending at your school this year? How have you modeled those strategies and tools for your colleagues?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

How Evil is Tech? A Response.


I believe in the power of technology to connect people, to empower people to be creative, and to open doors to opportunities that would otherwise be closed. This does not mean that there aren't mistakes that people can make with technology. I have made it my mission and my work to educate people so they can know the difference and use technology to make real positive change in their lives. Unfortunately, in a recent op-ed for the New York Times, David Brooks focuses only on the mistakes and boldly states:

"Some now believe tech is like the tobacco industry — corporations that make billions of dollars peddling a destructive addiction. Some believe it is like the N.F.L. — something millions of people love, but which everybody knows leaves a trail of human wreckage in its wake."

Brooks starts his argument by talking about teenagers. He references data from Jean Twenge, to whom I responded in this recent post, showing that teens on social media are less likely to "hang out with friends, date, and work." He failed to recognized data that demonstrates today's teens are actually more healthy than their parents were as teens. The Center for Disease Control recently found, and Vox.com reported, that today's teenagers are 46% less likely to binge drink and 21% less likely to have tried alcohol at all than 20 years ago. The percentage of teens who smoke cigarettes is down from 34.8% twenty years ago to 10.8% today. Teen pregnancy rates are also dropping. In many ways, perhaps due to more options for how to connect with their peers using social media, teens actually feel less compelled to engaged in risky behaviors. We are looking a new pattern of teen social behavior. New does not necessarily mean worse. In many ways, these new patterns are healthier.

The second concern expressed is the "compulsion loops" that capitalize on "dopamine surges" with social media use. The research behind this phenomenon is the basis for much of my recent work – as a blogger and speaker – for educators, students, and parents. Brooks argues that media companies like Facebook and Snapchat use what they know about our biological responses to certain stimuli to increase their profits. There is plenty of research from UCLA, Harvard, and more that demonstrates how posting about oneself on social media and getting likes and comments help with those "dopamine surges". Just as parents faced the reality of helping their children learn healthy nutritional balance with the increased popularity of fast food in the late 20th century, today's parents and teachers must help their children understand this research and learn how to balance healthy intake and production of media in an era of media-overload.

The third proffer in the op-ed is that tech companies produce and sell "technologies [that] are extremely useful for the tasks and pleasures that require shallower forms of consciousness, but they often crowd out and destroy the deeper forms of consciousness people need to thrive." When Brooks makes this assertion, he fails to recognize that the users of technology are the ones in control of whether they are using "shallower" or "deeper" forms of consciousness. Technology itself it not evil or good. Technology creators and users determine whether they will create and use tech tools toward positive and active purposes. These uses include connecting with far away colleagues/friends/family, collaborating on a movie/infographic/digital artwork, building momentum for a social movement, and more. Does this mean that those creators and users will not make mistakes at times or indulge in some of those "shallower" activities? Of course not. Just as we indulge in a bowl of ice cream or a glass of wine, it is permissible to indulge occasionally in a game of Clash of Clans or a scroll through an Instagram feed. It is up to us to share our positive digital products far and wide, and to own up to our mistakes so that we can learn from them and use technology better moving forward.

Brooks closes saying that he wants tech to "pitch itself" with "realism" and "humility." He says, "Imagine if instead of claiming to offer us the best things in life, tech merely saw itself as providing efficiency devices. Its innovations can save us time on lower-level tasks so we can get offline and there experience the best things in life." I certainly agree that offline time engaging in hands on, in-person, nature-filled experiences is an essential part of being human. Tech can never offer us those things. In fact, tech is incapable of "pitching itself" to us at all. It's creators can, but remember that those creators are also users. Blaming the tech itself is not helpful or useful. It is step back from taking personal responsibility for our behaviors and encouraging our children to do the same. We need to shift mindset away from blaming the tech, step up, and take action toward living healthy, positive, productive, full lives in a tech-rich world.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The "Good Kid": Compliant or Engaged?

It's interesting when I hear teachers describe a student as "a good kid". I was that good kid in school. And, unfortunately, I definitely described some of my former students that way earlier in my career.

But what do we mean when we say "good kid"?

A good kid completes school work without many complaints. A good kid never breaks school rules. A good kid studies hard and carries out assignments to the best of her/his ability. A good kid is quiet when appropriate and participates when appropriate in class.

So, when we say that a student is a "good kid" we are actually describing someone who is compliant. A teacher with compliant students is able to get through each school day rather smoothly. But, from the student perspective, is using the path of least resistance actually the best way to learn?


Instead, we should encourage our children to be engaged at school. The Glossary of Education Reform explains student engagement in this way:


Inquisitive, Interested, Inspired.

These three descriptors – inquisitive, interested, inspired – are the defining elements of student engagement. In order for student to be engaged, they must be curious about their topic and task (INQUISITIVE). They must be wondering what the answers are and where they can find them (INTERESTED). They must believe that finding those answers and sharing them with others will make an impact (INSPIRED).

A student who is quietly completing instructions provided by a teacher and contributing to a peaceful silent classroom might be engaged. But she also might be merely complying.

A student who participates in class activities and games, often filled with music and fast-paced rewards, might enjoy playing the game. But it is not guaranteed that he is invested and engaged in his learning.

A student who turns in a high quality final project might have been engaged throughout the process. But she might have been merely complying through each step.

How can we tell the difference?

Students who are compliant:

  • are quiet or are vocal and obedient.
  • never (ever) question the lesson or asks questions the teacher doesn't anticipate.
  • when faced with a mistake, the student worries about the impact on his/her grade.

Students who are engaged:

  • are eager. Sometimes this manifests as quiet and busy. Other times it manifests with vocal and even disruptive questions.
  • wonder out loud about the facts and ideas they are being asked to learn. They are inherently curious.
  • when faced with a mistake, the student redoubles effort toward the goal or adjusts – not dilutes – the goal accordingly.

How can we make the difference?

The answer is student choice and voice. These terms have become buzzwords and, for many, have lost their meaning. Still we should ask our learners questions like:

  • What do YOU want to research?
  • What do YOU need to be successful?
  • What story do YOU want to tell?
  • What do YOU want to make?
  • How do YOU want to show what you've learned?

When teachers ask their students these questions, students are often ready to share their ideas. Some students have been ready their whole lives and the ideas will explode. Others will be hesitant because they've become accustomed to a compliant school culture. These learners will want to know the formula or recipe for success. Resist. Respond to their questions with the questions above. Stir the curiosity and engagement inside of them.

As parents, teachers, coaches, and administrators we can rise to this occasion. We can show the learners we care for – whether they are our students or our own children – that we want them to be curious and engaged, not obedient and compliant. Engagement is the key to deep learning and active citizenship.

I don't want anyone to describe my daughters or my students as "compliant." What is easier is not always better. When it comes to the children I care for, whether they are family or students, I'd much prefer adjectives like "engaged" and "curious."

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Getting Real About the Teen Depression-Cyberbullying Connection

A couple of months ago I wrote a response to a psychologist's theory that smart phones are responsible for the increase in teen depression and anxiety. The overemphasis on screen technology as a root cause for the increase of major depressive episodes among teens and young adults is not new. The most popular articles about this topic found online, like this recent one from Time, will continue to confirm that screens are the problem because it is an easy answer and soothes adults who are not sure how to manage the tech use of the adolescents and teens in their lives. There is not doubt, the stories of individual teens they tell in those articles are touching and concerning.


According to the Mayo Clinic, the true causes of teen depression are:

  • biological chemistry
  • hormones
  • inherited traits
  • early childhood trauma
  • learned patterns of negative thinking

Surely some of the learned patterns of negative thinking can stem from some interactions students have online, especially cyberbullying. While cyberbullying is a phenomenon educators and parents need to help their children understand and overcome, its prevalence should not be overestimated. In fact, a recent survey shows that most bullying is verbal and the vast majority is in person.


This information is not meant to minimize the traumatic impact cyberbullying can have. (There is help available. My favorite resources are ConnectSafely's Parent's Guide to Cyberbullying and Parent, Educator & Youth Guide to LGBTQ Cyberbullying.) It is meant to provide a realistic understanding of the myriad of causes of teen depression and anxiety. Even if we were able to eradicate cyberbullying among children and adults, the major causes of teen depression would still exist. It's time to stop blaming devices and apps and start addressing the true root causes more holistically.


You can follow Jocelyn Brewer on Instagram at @diginutrition.


The well-being of the teens and adolescents in your life depends on your awareness of ALL potential causes of depression and anxiety. In addition to the Mayo Clinic webpage hyperlinked earlier, I also recommend the National Institute of Mental Health. Read them, build your awareness, and be careful to avoid simple explanations – like blaming cell phones and social media – for the rise in teen depression and anxiety. Raising and educating healthy children is challenging, complicated, and incredible rewarding.