Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's Not About Learning Styles... It's About Good Teaching

More evidence to support my previous post...

Education: Learning Styles Debunked from

Idea of Learning Styles in Education Further Derided by Psychology Researchers from

This research does not mean that we shouldn't use various methods and media to deliver content to our students. It just means that we shouldn't try to limit ourselves due to the labeling process that the learning styles movement has been pushing for the past decade or so.

Good teachers use audio, video, group activities, critical thinking, and many other methods throughout their teaching. It is the combination of these that makes a teacher effective. It isn't about reaching the "auditory" or "kinesthetic" or "visual" learner. Rather, we should strive to reach ALL students through auditory, visual, and kinesthetic means. In the end, we all learn from the information we gather through each of the senses, not just one sense, as the learning styles theory would have us believe.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Lesson for Our Students from Iran

This is why social networking is such a powerful tool. I'm humbled to think of the power it holds. I just might share this story with my students in the morning to demonstrate how far Facebook can take them. The truth is that, aside from occasionally organizing group work, they use it for silly banter and even online bullying. It isn't that these activities aren't important for developing 21st Century social skills, it's just that social networking can do so much more!

December 7th commemorates an important day for Americans; Pearl Harbor Day. In Iran, the date has a different significance. It is 16 Azar, AKA National Student Day. An article explains that on this day students on university campuses around Iran stage demonstrations to show solidarity for the three students who were killed while protesting the Shah in 1953. Traditionally, these protests have included some anti-American sentiment, but this year was different.

Iranian university student protesters from Tehran Bureau

First, there was the deeply questioned reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June that led students to question whether their votes were truly counted. Then, in the protests that followed the announcement of the controversial election results, millions worldwide witnessed the violent death of young protester Neda Agha Soltan. It was posted on YouTube and distributed virally for days. This year, instead of targeting America, Iranian university students directed their 16 Azar protests at their own government.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from by Daniella Zalcman

Neda Agha Soltan from by GlenFa

The Iranian government issued notice to the media just before December 7 that their licenses were suspended for three days to prevent reporting on the protests. The government also orchestrated a "wave of arrests," as it is put in a Tehran Bureau article, of student leaders in the days leading up to 16 Azar, but their efforts were unsuccessful. Largely due to social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, university students are more organized than ever.

Videos of student protests that started on December 7 are all over YouTube.

These are the kind of global events that we need to show our students so they can understand the true power of social networking.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

BACKchannel, feedBACK, bounce BACK

Steve Anderson (@web20classroom) published a blog post recently about the role of backchannel at professional conferences.

So what does the term "backchannel" mean? Wikipedia explains:

The term "backchannel" generally refers to online conversation about the topic or the speaker. Occasionally backchannel provides audience members a chance to fact-check the presentation.

Twitter is also widely used today by audiences to create backchannels at technology conferences. When audience members add an event hashtag to their tweets (for example, #w2e was the hashtag used for the Web 2.0 Expo New York in 2009), anyone can run a Twitter search to review all the backchannel tweets related to that event.

As mentioned above, Twitter is the most common backchannel tool. (If you're on Twitter, you can find me at @KerryHawk02.) Critics of backchannel discussions contend that they are rude and disruptive. That is the primary focus of Anderson's blog post, although he disagrees and is a big proponent of backchannel. He has links to several examples of backchannel causing problems at conferences.

The other hand, proponents of backchannel assert that backchannel conversations offer audience members a chance to critique and fact check the information they are receiving in real time. That got me thinking...

How often do we give our students an opportunity to critique and fact check the activities and information we present to them every day? Student feedback, positive and negative, shouldn't be something we shy away from. In an effort to get more feedback from my freshmen, I have one student each day post a comment on our class blog reflecting on their work AND my teaching that day. It isn't in real time, like backchannel is, but the blog instructions require that students include what they liked or disliked about the class that day. Whenever a student offers a critique, I acknowledge it and thank them for the feedback on the grading rubric the next day. I want them to know that their opinion matters to me. Here are some excerpts (positive and negative):

The explorer's chart was due today. You had to fill in each explorer's sponsering country, job, and their greatest achievment. It helped me get a better understanding about each of the explorer's, but I think that we should've gone over it more slowly because I missed a lot of the information because we were going so fast. While we were going over the chart, we filled in the exploration routes of some of the explorer's on our maps. -Alexa B. 10/22/09

Nothing was due today in class except for our presentations on the Native American tribe we chose. My group chose the Aleut tribe, and I enjoyed the assignment. I learned a lot from doing this presentation, about the Aleut culture, and what they ate, and where they were located. I liked that we used Google Docs for the powerpoint, because the collaboration feature makes it really easy to do during groups. -Jon R. 11/18/09

In class we finished taking notes on the posters. Everyone got in the small groups of 3-4, and dictated the information that they wrote to the group. Each of the posters were about the Spanish explorers, their background, and goals/accomplishments. Personally I thought the whole process took way to long and I did not like it at all, but if I think about it I would rather do that than take notes from the board. -Jackie T. 12/3/09

Mrs. Gallagher prepared a few slides with information about section divide up into different topics with pictures and links to videos. She would talk about the stuff on the slide and then show a video or point to a picture. The information was easy to understand because it was presented in a way you can visualize. I liked this activity because it wasn't just taking notes, it was watching the videos and listening to the teacher as well. -Nicole A. 12/7/09

bounce BACK
Their opinions have helped me tweek my lesson plans and project designs already this year. Why wait for the end of the year to hand out a student feedback form? Immediate responses are more valid and more likely to prompt you to make real changes to your lesson plans. Digest the criticism, bounce back, and move forward.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Don't Diss Interdisc

Don't Diss Interdisc

After three colleagues and I presented a mock grant application in our graduate class this evening, which focused on "Innovation Through Technology and Interdisciplinary Studies," I really spent some time thinking about the value of interdisciplinary work, especially at the high school level. Accordingly, I decided to do some further reading on the topic.

Michael Streich, a teacher, historian, and experienced traveler, wrote a short and well-thought-out article on The benefits to the teachers involved are notable:

Collaborative teaching exercises enrich the curriculum and allow teachers to share in a meaningful experience, bringing together diverse expertise and enhancing collegial respect.

The benefits of interdisciplinary work to students are even more important. Shelly Blake-Plock (AKA TeachPaperless) wrote a blog post in February about improvisation in the classroom. He explained that sometimes the kids, when permitted to go on a tangent every now and then, come up with better ideas than we, as teachers, could have ever imagined when we were writing up our lesson plans the night before. When we let the kids do this, interdisciplinary connections happen naturally. He argues that improvising while teaching shouldn't be thought of as scary uncharted territory:

Rather, improvising puts you on the hot seat; it lifts the energy level and immediacy of your class discussions; and, with the use of immediately accessible Internet resources, it demonstrates to the students in an authentic and representational way the power of history, the natural interdisciplinary quality of comparative analysis, and the value of being able to access and distinguish valid and documented support for one's position in a discussion.

As usual, Will Richardson is a forward thinker. In a blog post from way back in 2006, he contends that he wants his legacy and value in the world to be based on the work that he has done in collaboration with others, not based on his expertise in a certain area as proven by the letters he has accumulated after his name.

My point here is to talk about how this relates to the whole teacher as learner discussion in that we are now living in a world where collective intelligence is becoming more powerful and relevant to being a learner, but we’re educating our kids in classrooms still under this idea of experts at the front of the room. ...You can believe me or not…your choice. But you can believe me based on my track record and my participation as a learner in the community, not simply based on the letters after my name or the diplomas on my wall.

These are the opinions of only three well-respected educators, but I agree. Interdisciplinary education is important because we are preparing our students for a world with complex issues that require a multi-perspective approach. Without showing them how the different areas of study relate to one another, we are not meeting the needs of our 21st Century learners.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Connected... But Not Making Connections

Our students, whether we like it or not, are VERY connected. They are connected via Facebook and MySpace, text message and IM, and even email in some cases (although they view email as a tool for those of us who are "old"). But what does "being connected" mean? Are they learning anything from these connections? Have they mastered any information or skills through all of this networking?

I recently read two different blogs with interesting graphics that got me thinking about this.

First, Dean Shareski (an edu-blogger I have referenced in past posts) wrote Why Audience Matters. He quoted a member of his PLN, Chris Lehmann, who asked, "When having audience is no longer novel, simply having one is no longer motivating. We still must help kids have something powerful to say."

He illustrated the point with a cartoon by Hugh MacLeod (MacLeod doesn't always use kid-friendly language...just a warning).

The second blog I read that mentioned similar ideas is called I Don't Need Your Network by Will Richardson. He asks a lot of great questions in this post, but what really meant the most to me was this image of a classroom:

Richardson asks, "I wonder how many educators look at that picture and think 'OMG, puhleeeese let me teach in that classroom!' (I suspect not many.)" As much as I love the 1:1 computer ratio, I wonder how it detracts from the human connections and social skills (NOT social networking skills) that are essential for success in the adult workforce.

Sometimes it can seem daunting to teach content, skills, technology, and manners (which I think we should teach, by the way) all at the same time. Imagine how our students feel as they sit in the classroom. They must feel like the last kid left on a losing team in a game of dodgeball, pelted from all sides with an overwhelming amount of information.

YIKES! (Image reused with permission from The Met Online)

So is being connected enough?

I say, "NO!"

We need to also teach our students how to maintain those connections and develop relationships. Sure, they can learn from the Internet, but they can't live their lives behind a computer screen (or a mobile touch screen). It isn't healthy or normal, and it would mean they are missing out on the riches that face-to-face interaction provide in our lives.