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“HOW DID WE GET TO NOW?”

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”  – Albert Einstein, Living Philosophies

My son-in-law is an electrician. While he is tolerant of my extended cause-and-effect explanations, history is not at the top of his list of interests. He is a voracious reader, and more importantly, he is an avid fan of documentaries and the Public Broadcasting System. At his birthday dinner last week, he suggested that I watch a series on our local PBS affiliate called,”How We Got To Now.” I will admit to being a bit of a snob How We Got To Nowabout historical documentaries on television. Unless they are Ken Burns’ films with Geoffrey Ward as the script writer, I usually find them shallow, lacking substantial arguments and more commercial than historical. However, a promise is a promise, and I told him at his birthday dinner that I would try the show the next time it was broadcast. I am glad that I did.

“How We Got To Now” is a 30-minute program that looks at six technological innovations and provides a short history of how they have changed human lives over time. The program I watched was called, “Glass.” It dealt with the discovery of how to make glass and then progressed rapidly from the making of mirrors through its application in telescopes and microscopes, to its application in fiber optics today. The host, Steven Johnson, does a nice job offlat_glass demonstrating that technology is a double-edged sword that often has unintended consequences. The program is only 30 minutes in length, so Johnson is rushed to make proper and appropriate connections. However, the material is engaging. For someone, like me, who believes that artifacts teach, “How We Got To Now” is proof of my hypothesis.

Each program is focused on some artifact. “Glass” is one episode. “Light” is another. “Clean” is yet another. Regardless of the topic, Johnson uses items/objects/artifacts to demonstrate the connections from their inception to their uses today. It is a rather quick history, but it is based on artifacts. It is also extremely galileos-telescope_bigengaging. I was fascinated with the development of glass, its many uses, and its contributions to creating the global economy of today. When I looked across the room at my eight-year-old grandson, I found that he was fascinated, too. He was engaged throughout the program and this is a kid who can barely sit still for 5 minutes, nevertheless 30!

The point here is that artifacts engage human beings. The age group, level of education, or professional expertise of people rarely makes a difference. We are a curious lot. When presented with something with which we are unfamiliar, we naturally try to relate it to our experience, match it to our knowledge base, and, thereby, fit it into our milieu. As teachers of all kinds of subjects, we must take advantage of that natural curiosity. We have shown over and over again in these pages that engagement is the key to Curious-quote-Dorothy-Parkermodern learning and that artifacts immediately engage students’ interest at the level of higher order thinking. The only question that remains is, “Why are we not incorporating artifacts into our pedagogical practice on a regular basis?”

I am not an advocate of “TV History.” I am an advocate of artifacts in the classroom. I recommend that you check out your local PBS station, find out when “How We Got To Now” is on, and watch an episode. If nothing else, Steve Johnson will demonstrate how you can use artifacts to teach “big ideas” in math, science and social studies. Artifact-centered pedagogy works on the air and in your classroom because:

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DIFFERENTIATION – STANDARDIZATION – ARTIFACTS

Objects are what matter. Only they carry the evidence that throughout the centuries something really happened among human beings.” — Claude Levi-Strauss

I was checking my “News Feed” on Facebook today. Someone had posted an interesting item, one of those pictures with pithy a pithy saying written across the top. This one showed a teacher at his desk with the wordscake bite, “Why do they want you to differentiate in your teaching when they standardize your testing?” I usually smile at these types of “railing against the wind” entries, but this one triggered a thought, “What if you could differentiate AND standardize at the same time?” Sort of like “Eating your cake and having it, too,” with better benefits………..

Artifacts naturally and immediately differentiate. This occurs because we are human. When a person is confronted with an object with which he/she is unfamiliar, the first thing that happens is to try and relate the object to something in one’s past. The mind immediately begins an analysis starting with, “What does this look like (that I have seen/used before)?” The natural response to an unfamiliar artifact is to reach out and touch it. This is also an attempt to relate to the object through examination. The mind attempts to resolve the problem of hand-drill“What is this?” through the senses: seeing, touching, smelling…. What this means for us as teachers is that, each student, when presented with an object he/she has not seen before, connects with it personally through his/her natural senses. Not only is this engagement at its best, but it is also differentiation at its finest. When we ask the questions, “What is this and why is it important to us right here, right now?”, we do not add the caveat(s), “Think about this only in English.”, or “Where is this found in a 5 bedroom house?”, or “Read the essay about this before you look at it.” Instead, we ask the open-ended question, and allow each student to begin his/her road to the answer through his/her level of experience. This first step, accession of prior knowledge, occurs at the level of “higher-order thinking.” It occurs in all languages and across all ethnicities. It contains no gender boundary, nor any reading or writing skill level. Yet, it reaches every student at a personal level. Artifacts naturally and immediately differentiate.

Artifacts lead directly to standardization. Every set of State Educational Standards contains the following goal, “the preparation of students for the 21st century through teaching them 21st century skills.” That set of skills most often is defined as, “analysis, synthesis, cooperative effort, decision-making and communication.” If our goal is truly the incorporation and refinement of these skills, then artifacts are the best, and easiest method to reach that goal successfully. Divide any class into groups (size of the group does not differentiationreally matter), and ask them our open-ended question, then step back and watch what happens. Students will examine the artifact. Each student will relate it to his/her own experience and communicate with the group his/her ideas. Discussion naturally occurs as differences of interpretation naturally arise from each individual’s personal experiences. Students create an argument (“I think it is….”) based on hands-on evidence (clues they have derived from their analysis). They begin to synthesize the evidence from all in the group (cooperative effort) and then make a decision based on a group consensus. The final step is to communicate their answer (decision) to the group, “We think this is “x”, because of “a, b, c.” The artifact-centered lesson has, in the simplest fashion, just practiced each student individually and collectively in the use of the very 21st century skills we all are required to teach. We have addressed our state standards and their goals. We have taught the standards without “teaching to the test.” We have prepared our students, regardless of grade level, reading, writing, or language ability, to think critically, make decisions based on evidence, and communicate those decisions effectively. Artifacts lead directly to improved performance in a “standardized environment.”

Artifact-centered lessons provide the opportunity to differentiate naturally and teach to standards effectively 21st depicteach and every time they are utilized. Artifacts are easily inserted into your current lesson plans in math, Language Arts, science, art, theatre, and Social Studies. You can quickly and easily create an artifact-centered lesson/exercise to introduce a unit/lesson, enhance an existing unit/lesson, or assess the information in a unit/lesson.The question, then, is, “Why are you not using artifacts in your classroom?” They are readily available at www.artifactsteach.com. Artifacts differentiate and standardize simultaneously because

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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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Compelling Objects

Objects are compelling. I don’t mean the glitter of diamonds, or the flash of a new Ferrari. Instead, I am referring to the “little” things, the common things, the stuff of daily life. What makes these items compelling? It is an intriguing Pipe Wrenchquestion because the common items of our daily lives, those things that we use and reuse everyday, become invisible to us in the present. We don’t even think about them as we use them. Yet, they become invaluable to those in the future who will try to understand our history and our culture. As the “bad anthropologist,” Dr. Renee Beloq, explained to Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, “This is a common watch. Worth little today. But bury it in the ground for a hundred years and it becomes an artifact worth much to those who find it.”  What is it that makes common objects  from the past so compelling to us today?

The answer to this question has many aspects. An object may be compelling because it has monetary value. Think about the grave robbers throughout history who have plundered the tombs of the wealthy. I may be going out on a limb here, but I believe their motivation was economic gain, not thoughtful remembrance. An object may be compelling because it reminds us of past experiences. The ticket to a rock concert, that prom dress, the home run ball caught in the bleachers are all compelling for the memories that they bring back to us in a rush so real it is as if we were there again. Objects can be compelling because theymens-lime-green-leisure-suit teach us, or remind us, of something about ourselves. We all carry images of ourselves throughout our lives. That Fifth Grade report card with the prominent “D” in mathematics may alter some of those ideas, as will the lime green leisure suit with the wide white belt and/or the blue and white striped bellbottom pants and the brown platform shoes. We tend to remember ourselves in kindly fashion….sometimes fashion gently reminds us that we were slightly different than we remember. These are all good, and if you will, compelling reasons for the attraction of artifacts. There is one more; one that, regardless of age or experience, captures our attention.

Artifacts are compelling because every artifact contains a story.  Regardless of  your age, where you live, what you do for a living, how much money you do or do not make, or whether you are literate or not, stories dominate your life. They explain childhood, or college, or the birth of children or the deaths of loved the-watercoolerones. We create stories about our lives everyday. Around the dinner table, or the water cooler, we share the experiences of our lives with others through stories. The answer to “How was work?”, or “What did you do in school today?”, or “How are you?” comes in the form of a story. Facebook posts, “tweets” on Twitter, and “Selfies” on Instagram are stories….vignettes of our daily existence that we share with others. Stories are the ways in which we communicate with others in our society. Artifacts also tell stories.

Every artifact was created for a purpose. Someone had to think about its creation, its design, its manufacture and its use. Further, someone had to make the object. Others used it. Someone saved it, someone else threw it away. Someone else found it, and now someone (you) are analyzing it. How did it come into your hands? How many stories have we identified for just one object, 9 or 10?  If we communicate with each other through storytelling, and if artifacts all contain 9 or 10 stories, then artifacts from the past communicate stories of their time to us in the present. They are not just stories about history. They are stories about math (creation, design, manufacture), science archimedes_screw(manufacture, use), economics (transport, distribution), anthropology (ownership, retention, class, status), history (cause and effect) and Language Arts (how are you going to tell the story). Artifacts are compelling because they contain a rich trove of stories that tell us something about the past and assist us in understanding something about ourselves today. As the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan concluded in 1980, “Recognizing that the past is slipping into oblivion, we wish to rescue what we can. In the process we not only reclaim the people and the culture of an earlier time, but also enlarge and enrich our general conception of the world – and thereby, inevitably, though perhaps unintentionally, a sense of ourselves.”

Artifacts are compelling because they contain stories. Artifacts engage us because stories are the stuff of our lives. They reassure us that even though our experiences are fleeting, our stories will remain after us. Artifacts not only tell stories about the past, they also widen our vision of the present.

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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 III: TECHNOLOGY-RICH ENVIRONMENTS

When I was teaching at the University of Northern Colorado, the department chair established a policy of collecting electronic devices if students were found using them in class. I don’t know about anyone else at the acp5_logotime, but I never collected a single device, even when I knew that students were texting friends or playing games instead of listening attentively to my well-crafted lectures. It seemed a little presumptuous to take someone’s property – worth quite a bit of money – rather arbitrarily. Today, such a policy would never be discussed in a staff meeting nor implemented in the classroom. The difference between then and now is the proliferation of good, easy-to-use programs that assist in the learning process. Today’s world is one of technology-rich environments that support lessons, lectures, assignments and research.

The power and capability of hand-held devices is gradually changing the 21st century classroom. Today’s phones are capable of connecting with the internet from just about anywhere. The Internet contains an abundance of websites designed to assist students in researching topics from dinosaurs to dinner menus and ancient civilizations to algebra. There are even websites that vett other discipline-specific websites and offer links to the “best of the discipline.” E-books provide access to great literature for students of all grades. On-line Apple-iPhone-5steaching sites, Zahn Academy for instance, offer students a chance to practice and learn math, science, history and a variety of other subjects. On top of all of this, programs exist that allow students to create digital stories, add music to their presentations and draw material from across the world. PowerPoints are still important, but the variety of presentation programs allows students with skills in music, poetry, math and science to customize their presentations in order to demonstrate their understanding of lessons and assignments. There are “1 on 1” schools in which every student has an iPad or notebook assigned to them. There are “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) schools in which every student is required to bring a hand-held device they will use each day. We have gone from “Zero Tolerance” for hand-held devices to “How can I best use the Internet to help my students learn?”

In part, this question can only be answered by each teacher for each class. However, there are some items that everyone should consider before jumping into technology-centered learning. The first of those is that today’s students are “computer proficient” not “computer literate.” In other words, they can manipulate the literacytechnology very easily, are not afraid of blowing up the machine by making a mistake, and find the activity interesting. What they lack, and this is the most important part, is the ability to sort through all of the material that they encounter as they search. They know how to find “stuff,” they don’t know how to think critically about the material presented to them, or ask the appropriate questions, or determine the quality of the research that supports the information. They can find it. They don’t know how to deal with it. As teachers, we need to use technology to insure that our students are computer literate.

The second consideration for technology-centered teaching is that social media is not a teaching tool. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., are designed for connecting people not disseminating accurate information. Social media did not start the “Spring Revolutions” that brought down governments in the Middle East. Social media helped those in opposition organize groups and stay in touch when curfews were established and protest bans 20-social-media-iconswere in force. The seeds of those rebellions were sown over decades of inequality, corruption, and tyranny. Social media facilitated the spread of instructions, it did not cause anything. Mark Zucherberg’s technology facilitates connections, but it is not in and of itself content. Social media can be useful in your classroom when communicating with students about assignments, or in answering questions when school is not in session, but it teaches nothing.

Lastly, teachers should focus on the use of technology, not the technology itself. Use technology to expand your students’ world. Have them find information on both sides of issues regardless of your discipline. Utilize comparison and contrast as a standard pedagogy. Open the door to the entire world of thinkers, teachers, and ist2_2663047-scales-of-justiceother students and help them think critically about what they find. Create your assignments with open-ended questions such as, “Why do you think that scientists originally rejected the Theory of Evolution?”, or “In what ways does Dr. Zhivago symbolize the Russian Empire in Pasternak’s novel?”, and then provide your students vetted websites that offer opposing views. Allow them to expand their research on their own. Use the technology as it was intended, to expand the realm of ideas.

Artifacts open the door to critical thinking, analysis, synthesis, communications and decision-making. On-line artifacts that students can manipulate as if they were holding the item in their hands, are an excellent example of the proper use of technology in the classroom. Technology overcomes the historic difficulties of using artifacts: their fragile nature, the difficulty in locating them, the artsexpense of purchasing them, the cumbersome nature of carrying them from class to class, and then finally storing them. Artifacts Teach (www.artifactsteach.com), a new web tool for K-16 teachers, is the perfect example of making your classroom a technology rich environment. They provide the artifacts, the lesson planning tools, suggestions for use across four disciplines, and the initial questions to get students started. At Artifacts Teach, technology combines with pedagogy to create a truly 21st century learning environment.

 

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