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Category Archives: Problem Solving

BASEBALL – HOME RUNS – ARTIFACTS

I had only one superstition. I made sure to touch all the bases when I hit a home run.”   – Babe Ruth

Since this is baseball playoff season, I though we might couch this blog post in baseball terms. If we consider baseball fieldthat engaging students is the first of the steps in improving both student retention and student performance, then “Engagement” is most surely “First Base.” The next step, “Higher Order Thinking,” would be “Second Base,” while “Decision Making” would be “Third.” “Communication,” the result of completing each of the previous steps successfully, would bring us “Home.” So, how do artifacts make you a “home run hitter”?

Maintaining our baseball analogy, the “game” is to get students to incorporate the information you have for them in such a way that they understand it more completely, and that they retain it for a longer period of time. Artifacts are the perfect strategy to insure that your students get a “hit” each time they are “at bat.” Artifacts engage students immediately. When a person is presented with an item with which he or she is not familiar,first-base-1 he/she immediately attempts to relate it to something in his or her personal experience. That is engagement. Using an artifact immediately involves your students in the lesson you have created on a personal level.  You, and they, are on “First Base.”

The next step is to take students from “lower order thinking,” simple answers to when, where, who, to “higher order thinking,” analysis and synthesis. This is achieved through presenting the artifact and asking an open-ended question. Some of those questions might be, “What do you think this might be?” “Why do you think this item might be important in our study today?” Who do you think might have used this item, and for what second basepurpose?” These kinds of questions move the student beyond his/her personal experience to an examination of the item for hints, clues, or information that can assist in solving the problem you have presented. Further, students must gather the information and order it in some fashion (synthesis) in order to provide reasonable, logical answers. Analysis and synthesis are the higher order thinking skills that our State Standards require each of us to teach to our students. We have arrived at “Second Base.”

To get to “Third,” we need to have students review the information they have acquired through analysis, and come to a decision that provides a reasonable response to your open-ended questions. They must make choices Third baseconcerning which of the pieces of information they have gathered (evidence) provides the solutions to the challenges you have presented. We have arrived at “Third Base.”

To get “home,” students need to communicate their decisions about the artifact based on the evidence they have gathered. They can arrive at home base by sharing with a group, writing a response, or discussing and comparing their results with others. Regardless of the method of communication, the route to home base comes through engagement, analysis, synthesis, and decision-making; or, in baseball terms, touching “First”, “Second”, and “Third” to reach “Home.” Using an artifact provides a simple, and effective method for achieving the goals and objectives your State Standards require, each and every time.

Using artifacts in your classroom allows each student to improve his/her “batting average” (performance) through home runpracticing the skills necessary to be successful in the 21st century. Artifacts engage, allow for immediate analysis, and synthesis, and provide the basis for solid decision making. Communicating the results of an artifact-based exercise completes the circuit of effective pedagogy. Using artifacts in your pedagogical practice makes you a “home-run hitter” each and every time, because:

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Are You Relevant?

Today’s students are connected. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, email, texting….. all of these social media avenues provide the opportunities for students to exchange ideas, opinions, set schedules, find information and stay informed about what is important to them. We older adults often think of these social media activities simply as teenagers talking back and forth about what they do every single minute of the day. I think we underestimate both the power of the combined media and the sophistication of our children.

Connection in today’s world means something very different than it did 15 years ago. Prior to the turn of the Connected People in Networkcentury, real connections with others occurred face-to-face. Email availability and video conferencing began to change all of that, but relationships remained defined as person-to-person. The term “Friends,” referred to a physical person with whom one interacted directly.  Although it seems like it happened overnight, connections with others began to rely more and more on technology and less on “looking the other guy in the eye.” As with all technology, this change had both good and bad results. The good part meant that people could see and talk with others around the world cheaply and instantaneously. Communication opened the world and commerce followed. The bad side of all of this meant that people could assume identities and hide behind the anonymity of long-range connections. It also seemed to isolate individuals in an ever-expanding world. There seemed to be less “human” contact as cyber connections grew and expanded. Societies are built on the interchange of human contact: the Greek Agora, the Roman Forum,  the Medieval Fair, the New England Town Meeting are all examples. People began to worry about the “isolation generation” and what that would mean for their future socially, and for our future as a society.

If you sit a “digital native” down long enough for a person-to-person conversation, you will find that our future is in pretty good hands. Students are “connected” electronically to information and to others around the world. That is part of my optimism. Young people are very interested in themselves and in their immediate friends and acquaintances. This has not changed over the last 200 years. However, these youngsters are also concerned globe-on-spoon_0about significant issues. Poverty, hunger, and injustice recur in their conversations. Social media has made this generation more aware of the magnitude and the impact of those subjects and their myriad manifestations earlier than any other. They see these issues, not only in the world, but also in their communities, among their classmates. Because they have connected at a variety of levels to these issues, the issues are not abstract, but, in their terms, “relevant.”  They connect to the problems and the people involved.

Engagement in education concerns connecting information and students in a manner that invites personal interest, motivates self-study, and extends the learning beyond the classroom. It seems obvious that if we are to teach our students, we should use approaches that engage them. Why not use what is “relevant” to them RelevanceImagealready? Regardless of discipline, effective teachers align their lessons with the issues, topics and ideas in which their students already are involved. How difficult can it be to link an economics lesson to poverty? How about a geography lesson? Why not make injustice the topic of an essay, or a research paper, or a short story? Would the future of the global economy make a good discussion topic for current affairs? One need not concentrate only on the “negative” side of such issues. Have students seek out those stories of people who are working effectively to end hunger, relieve poverty and reduce injustice. Those are positive stories and many of them involve children taking small steps with huge results. If you want to engage your students, focus your lessons on what is important to them. To reach your students, become “relevant.”

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DIGITAL NATIVES IN THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE

Digital natives are bombarded with vast volumes of information in today’s electronic society, which calls for an even greater emphasis on critical thinking and research skills …”
– Timothy Van Slyke

 

Today’s students are different than those who were in school at the beginning of the 21st century. Today’s students are “digital natives.” There are several characteristics that define this group differently than those who have come before them:

1. They are both familiar and comfortable with digital devices and digital information. They have grown up withDanger Will computers and iPads, tablets and digital phones. “Android” certainly means  something very different to them than it did to the “Danger, Will Robinson” generation.

2. They are accustomed to going online to find answers to their questions. Ask them something they do not know and they “Google-It” rather than refer to dictionaries, encyclopedias or textbooks. This makes good sense, since more information is available to this generation on line than has ever been available via other media at any time.

3. Through the evolution of gaming, they have learned to jump into an unfamiliar environment and try different solutions until one works. They see failure as a learning experience; as just another piece of knowledge gained. As my grandson says while playing Skylanders Giants, “Well, that didn’t work. Let’s try this!”

4. Gaming has also molded them in other ways. They are accustomed to solving problems, enjoy challenges and expect recognition for their successes. They receive instant rewards for completing tasks during a game. They rewardsgather jewels, objects, weapons, and special powers as they work their way through levels in a game. Most games provide positive reinforcement in the form of electronic hurrahs and applause combined with virtual fireworks and congratulations.

5. While it seems as if they are always working alone, they enjoy collaboration; another product of the digital world of Skype, FaceTime, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and other social media sites. They are not alone, they are “connected” with others differently than we were at their age.

6. Today’s teenagers spend approximately eight hours per day directly engaged with technology. Because they “multi-task” using several technologies at once, they cram almost eleven hours of media time into their daily regimen.

Each student carries most of these characteristics into your classroom each day. Are you employing the kind of technologies in your pedagogy that tap into these skills and characteristics? Digital natives respond to digital information, digital presentations, and digital challenges. CD’s, DVD’s, and PowerPoints are from another PPworld. They belong in the realm of the “Blackboard Jungle.”  They are passive, dull and lack the challenges that stimulate digital natives. If you want to engage the digital natives in your classroom, you need to do so with the tools that match their interests and their skills.

Digital artifacts engage digital natives immediately. When a student can manipulate an artifact in a 360 degree plane, examine it through magnification, measure its length and width, he/she is directly engaged in his/her own study. They are using the skills they have developed outside the classroom, to learn inside the classroom.

 

What digital natives lack is the ability to sort and categorize the vast amounts of information that they encounter daily. Studying digital artifacts teaches analysis, synthesis, communication, collaboration, and critical thinkingdecision-making. Employed correctly, digital artifacts teach students to base their conclusions on evidence and to evaluate others conclusions in the same fashion. In other words, digital artifacts teach the 21st century skills that today’s digital natives need in order to be successful throughout their lives.

Lead your students out of the “Blackboard Jungle” of ancient technologies and employ the 21st century technologies that teach 21st century skills. Employ digital artifacts because:

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LET’S GET ENGAGED V: PARTNERS

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”   – William Arthur Ward

Engaging students in learning means, first and foremost, that today’s classrooms must change. Our previous posts about engagement stress some of the pedagogical and technical changes that should occur in order to create the Number one teacherclassroom environment that fosters 21st century learning. It is now time to address the teacher in the room. As we begin this discussion, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: THE TEACHER  IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IN ANY CLASSROOM, ANYWHERE. Technology cannot replace teachers. The latest trends cannot replace teachers. No person, place, gadget, program or pedagogy can have greater effect on a student than an effective teacher. In order to engage students effectively, the role of the teacher in today’s classrooms must evolve from purveyor of knowledge to partner in learning,

In the 21st century, teachers must be partners in learning. This does not mean that teachers are “buddies,” “pals,” or  “friends” with students. A partner is one who shares in the planning or execution of an event, couple dancingprogram or life situation. I like the image of a dance partner for teachers. Partners in a dance work in unison to the same rhythm and beat. One leads, but both are vital to the success of the outcome. It is a good image to keep in mind as we discuss the changing role of teachers.

Teachers as effective partners in learning must possess certain characteristics. First and foremost, they must be experts in their disciplines. Teachers must stay abreast of the newest information and research. Maintaining expertise allows teachers to monitor students’ progress and provide positive feedback. Further, a highly knowledgeable teacher can guide students along their own paths to understanding, whether that is at a surface level or at more interpretive or innovative depth . Secondly, teacher-partners establish pedagogy that prepares students how effective teacherto learn beyond the classroom. Open-ended questioning, emphasis on problem-solving, practice in collaboration and communication, and required decision-making are essential elements of a teacher-partner’s lessons. Lastly, teacher-partners maintain a positive classroom disciplinary climate in which respect for all participants, an expectation of challenging and rigorous activities, and the maintenance of a safe place to explore characterize every class session. Research has shown that students, regardless of grade level, are 1.5 times more likely to be more interested, motivated and responsive to instruction when a positive disciplinary environment is present. When these three characteristics are combined, the teacher casts aside the “sage on the stage” role, moves beyond the “guide on the side” stage, to become the teacher-partner,  an active and integral part of student-centered learning.

“All of this sounds very altruistic and impossible in my classroom today,” you say. It is not. There are programs that allow you to begin the shift to teacher-partner immediately. One of those is Artifacts Teach (www.artifactsteach.com) This easy-t0-use web tool contains no lesson plans. Instead, the site provides the tools to custom design each lesson. Artifacts naturally lend themselves to collaborative analysis, skilled communication, and evidence-based decision-making. Artifacts Teach can start you down the road to becoming an effective teacher-partner in less time than it takes to write your next standardized lesson plan, and to distribute the text-based worksheets.

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LET’S GET ENGAGED

“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind.” – Albert Einstein 

It seems that “engagement” has become one of the most popular buzzwords in education today. This is because studies across the globe have shown that engaged students outperform their disengaged peers by 20 to 30 points group_3won year-end and standardized tests. As a result, educators are exploring methods that “engage” students. Over the next few entries here, we will examine the elements of engagement that seem to be most applicable and reasonable for the 21st century classroom. In the process, we will demonstrate how artifacts address each of the necessary elements individually, and how they naturally combine all of the elements into effective, engaging and productive lessons for K-12 classrooms.

“Engagement” is one of those words in the popular lexicon that everyone uses, but few can clearly define. A survey of attempts yields the following list of commonalities among all the definitions: ownership, concentration, investment, and commitment. Four our purposes, a synthesis of the many definitions provides the following: engagement is students’ active participation and conscious investment in and personal commitment to their own learning. Like most definitions, it is clear, but cold. It lacks the necessary context to engage us further.

In an article in Current Issues in Education, Leah Taylor and Jim Parson reviewed the literature surrounding student engagement. Their conclusion listed the elements that combine to create a “successful, student-engaged classroom”:

1. Relevance: learning must address real problems and be naturally interdisciplinary

2.Technology-rich environment: all types of technology not just computers and PowerPoints.

3. A positive, challenging and open learning climate that includes risk-taking and high expectations.

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4. Peer-to-peer relationships between students and teachers (horizontal not vertical organization)

5. A culture of learning in which language, activities and resources focus on learning first and achievement              second

(Source: Taylor, L. and Parsons, J. (2011),”Improving Student Engagement.” Current Issues in Education, 14(1): 26. Accessed at http://cie.asu.edu Accessed on: 7/20/2014.)

In many ways, one or more of these elements exists in almost every classroom across the country, but it is the application of the combination of all  that draws 21st century students to engage in their studies. When artifacts are used as one element of a teacher’s  pedagogical approach, the elements combine naturally to make each lesson and engaging learning experience. Artifacts engage as…..

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PRACTICING CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires a creative imagination and marks the real advances in science.    – Albert Einstein

Einstein’s words apply not only to science, but also to math, Language Arts, Social Studies, avoiding traffic jams, and plumbing. He is talking about thinking creatively. We are not born with this skill. It must be learned. Administrators at both state and national levels have recognized the importance of critical thinking for the 21st century and have set “creating thinking” as a goal in all adopted classroom standards.  How better to learn a skill than from a professional teacher who can model creative thinking AND set up the conditions in which students can practice until proficient?

Teachers are trained to teach skills. Too often, we think those skills only include our “times tables,” how to Teacherscalculate the area of a triangle, or that “i” comes before “e” except after “c” (unless it really doesn’t). These skills are necessary. We cannot possibly function effectively in the world without knowing basic math, reading and writing skills. To grow, advance, and experience the world fully, we need to be able to think in new ways about our problems, the problems of society and those that plague the world. After all, it was “old thinking” that created the problems. Why would “old thinking” provide a solution? New thoughts, approaches, and actions are required. Creative thinking develops those thoughts, approaches and actions.

Creative thinking is a process. Betty Edwards, in her outstanding book Drawing from the Artist Within, outlines that process as including five steps. Those steps are:

1. First insight: seeking or discovering problems that need solving.

2. Saturation: gathering, sorting and categorizing information that might help in finding a solutionprocess

3. Incubation: searching for a solution (trial and error, brainstorming, group collaboration, etc.)

4. The “A-Ha Moment”: when the solution suddenly appears – often called “insight”

5. Verification:  testing the insight/solution.

As with every process, practice makes us more proficient. One of the best ways to practice critical thinking is to use an artifact. Let’s demonstrate how using an artifact matches the process:

1. Place an artifact in front of the class and ask, “What is this and why is it important to us, right here, right now?”  You have presented the class with a problem that needs to be solved. You have asked an open-ended question that allows for the process to proceed unimpeded. There is no “right answer” to this question.

2. Have students analyze the artifact. Have them record all the details: size, color, shape, nicks, cracks, wear and tear, and so on. No speculation about what the artifact is or how it might be used is permitted. This is the “Saturation” step. Students, alone or in groups, gather as much information as is available. Students should write a sentence here that fully describes the object and that includes all the details.

3. In groups, students should share all of their information and begin to speculate what the object might be, based upon the evidence they have gathered. This is the incubation step. Wild speculation, i.e. “The aliens did inkwellit,” is automatically excluded as all ideas must be based on the information they have gathered in Step 2. Teachers should pay close attention here, but should only intervene when suppositions are totally illogical, as in, “This crack was created when Captain America dropped it from a spaceship.” Interventions should only appear as questions that cause the students to think further into their evidence or re-evaluate their statements. At the end of this step, students should complete this statement, “I/We think the objects is a ____________.”

4. Communication among group participants will become more and more logical as the students proceed in Step 3. Some groups will discern what the object is and why it is important before others. It is best not to share between groups until the next step. Intervention is allowed, however, it must appear only as questions that cause the students to think more deeply about their statements.

5. Have each group share its decision about what the object is and why it is important with the rest of the class. Decisions must be accompanied by  the evidence used to draw the conclusion. (We think that the object is an axe because it has a long handle and the head has a very sharp end and a blunt end opposite the blade.) This is Step 5: Verification. Other groups should be free to ask questions about the conclusions and/or the evidence. The class can vote on what they feel the best answers are based on the evidence at hand.

Artifacts quickly and easily take students through the critical thinking process. Artifacts are engaging. Artifacts are challenging. Artifacts add rigor and depth to your classroom. Regardless of your discipline,

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ARTIFACTS, APPLICATIONS AND ADAPTATIONS

“The key to success is to risk thinking unconventional thoughts. Convention is the enemy of progress. If you go down just one corridor of thought you never get to see what’s in the rooms leading off it. ”                      — Trevor Bayliss, British Inventor

In our previous blog entry, we mentioned that we often get questions about the number or type of artifacts in the Teacher’s Closet on the Artifacts Teach website. These questions come in the form of, “What Civil War artifacts do you have?” or “What Revolutionary War artifacts do you have?”, or “What do you have that is 20th Century?” These questions, while well-meaning, miss the mark. To pigeon-hole an artifact is to limit its applicability. Let me give you some examples.

Let us begin with a drop spindle. This item (pictured at the right)  is used to spin thread from cotton, wool or flax. The drop spindle has been around for over 6,000 years. So, this one artifact can be used to teach both the Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution in Western Civilization. It can be used to teach World History as it appears in all of the Ancient Civilizations at approximately the same time. National Geographic Magazine recently featured a story about finding the hidden tomb of a Mayan princess. Wrapped in a leather bag drop spindlealong with jewelry and precious stones was a drop spindle. It can be used to teach the Revolutionary War. American Colonial women began the “Homespun Movement” in an attempt to cripple the British Imperial economy in the 1770s. It can be used to discuss Native American culture. Men in the pueblos of the Southwest spun clothing and rugs while women worked in the fields. After the Spanish conquest, the advent of European ideas and religion changed pueblo society completely and women became the spinners, while men worked the fields. During the Great Depression, the WPA taught home spinning to unemployed men and women as a means of making ends meet. A drop spindle can be used to teach post-World War II anti-colonialism as well.  Ghandi used home spinning as a tool to break the back of the British economy in India and achieve independence.

The drop spindle also teaches math, science and Language Arts. The construction of a drop spindle contains circles, cones, and cylinders. Math principles involved include circumference, radius, and diameter. (math) The amount of weight added to the spindle determines the tightness of the thread that is spun.(physics) The elements that are used to construct the spindle and the attached the weight reflect the environmental and geographical conditions at the time. (science) The design of the drop spindle reveals status and cultural development. ( Sociology, Anthropology) Words associated with spinning have defined women’s roles throughout history. (Language Arts) So, how would you classify a drop spindle? What “kind” of artifact is it? To what era does it belong?

Another example is the simple American Woodsman’s Axe. It is designed specifically to remove bark and fell trees. The design of the head of the axe contains both basic math lessons (size, shape) and geometry and physics lessons (shape of the wedge, angles, relationship of head to handle, curvature of the handle and its impact on efficiency). The axe is also a Language Arts lesson. Think about the story of Paul Bunyan. If I am not mistaken,  he used an axeAmerican Woodsman’s axe. The original Anglo colonists brought axes with them. They quickly discovered that the large, flat blades of a board axe did not work well to clear trees for the planting of crops. They modified it to meet their needs. Those modifications continued as Anglo-Europeans moved westward in the 18th and 19th centuries. That is surely history, but it is also science and math. Is it Colonial history, or Westward Movement, or Environmental history? How would you classify the American Woodsman’s axe?

We can go on and on here. The Teacher’s Closet at www.artifactsteach.com contains candle molds (math, science, history, Language Arts), Minie Balls (Civil War, Economics, Globalization, science and math), a beaver hat (economics, history, art, globalization, Language Arts, environmental science and math) a toy bank (Industrialization, cultural history, math, science), a miner’s candlestick (math, science, economics, An Apple composed by several fruitshistory, Language Arts) and so on, for some forty-odd artifacts. Each of these has multiple applications over a wide range of space, time, and disciplines. Artifacts Teach has the artifacts that can help you engage your students and teach them critical thinking, analysis, synthesis, decision-making, problem-solving and communications skills? Artifacts Teach has assembled a series of artifacts on-line that students can manipulate as if they were holding them in class. We continually add to that cache, provide hints and help for students, and context support for teachers. We suggest ways in which teachers can use them in existing lesson plans. Why? Because thirty years of teaching has proven to us that

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