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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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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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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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LET’S GET ENGAGED IV: CLEAR THE AIR

“I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
                                                                                                                      Albert Einstein

Every teacher wants his/her students to be successful. In nearly thirty years of teaching and mentoring, I have yet to encounter a teacher who wants his/her students to fail. I believe it is the principal reason we all became teachers in the first place. We know the joy of learning and want others to experience the same excitement and pleasure we feel as we learn. Learning occurs best in a positive, supportive environment. The definition of that setting has changed radically over the last 20 years.

When I began my career, we were taught the basics of lesson planning, classroom management, and assessment. Our pedagogy instructors concentrated on teaching us to create interesting and informative lectures combined with assigned textbook readings, and summative assessments that tested retention of the material presented. Basically, we were taught to disseminate information and then test to find out how much sage on stageour students had retained. For its time, the late ’60s and early ’70s, this worked pretty well. High school diplomas and Bachelor’s degrees indicated that the holder possessed a standard level of knowledge and competency. Extensive research was reserved for those who would go on to graduate school. Then, along came Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and the creators of the Internet, and everything changed….. except for classroom practices.

Students today enter our classrooms with the capability of finding information instantaneously. Using phones, tablets and/or laptops, they can access not only basic information, but also critiques, reviews, extensive research and opposing ideas concerning just about any topic. In addition, today’s employers want employees who can ttcskillswork effectively in the 21st century workplace. Thinking critically, working collaboratively, synthesizing large amounts of information into understandable conclusions, and communicating those decisions effectively are the skills necessary in be successful today and tomorrow. Our job as teachers necessitates that we create the classroom conditions and the instructional pedagogy that teaches and supports those 21st century skills.

Let’s clear the air about classroom instruction. Textbooks are on the way out. They are either too generic, too biased, or too outdated to be of much use. Students don’t read them, preferring to find out the “facts” from sources on the Internet. Knowing “2 times 2 equals 4” is less important than understanding how many different ways we can get “4.” Memorizing the Table of Elements is less important than understanding atomic theory and how it affects matter and energy. It is the substance of learning – how, why, to what affect, and in what way – that our students need to understand, and that our classrooms need to foster. So, what can we do? Here are two very important elements for your success and that of your students:

1. Create a classroom environment that allows for extensive risk taking.

2. Maintain the highest levels of expectation for every student

Regarding risk taking, make sure from the first day of class that you create an accepting and open atmosphere that treats mistakes as steps to learning.This does not mean that every answer is correct, or even acceptable. It does mean that every answer should be supported with evidence. “I believe the answer is  _____, BECAUSE ______” works for Kindergarteners as well as college seniors. This approach allows for the greatest risk-taking. If the answer misses the mark, it is the process of risk-takingcoming to the conclusion that is in error, not the student. As the teacher, you can point out the missing link in the cause and effect, and allow the student to revisit the question, the evidence and the answer. This works for science, math and Social Studies equally well. It works in PE and Choir and chemistry and English composition. But, it only works if you establish the openness in your classroom that allows for mistakes. You must establish an atmosphere of support for students’ ideas, efforts and conclusions. Point out the steps in the process that resulted in a “wrong answer” rather than pointing out that the student was wrong. You are not rewarding incorrect answers as the student still needs to return to the process until the expected result is achieved.

Regarding high levels of expectation, the literature concerning expectations and achievement convincingly demonstrates that students rise to meet the levels of expectation that are established and consistently applied. This means that the burden is on you, the teacher, not only to establish and maintain the expectations, but also thigh expectationso demonstrate how those expectations can be achieved. Base your instruction on evidence supported conclusions. Show students how to assemble arguments and communicate ideas. Ask them for opinions and conclusions drawn from materials they have just read or studied. Will every student perform at the same level? The answer to that question is “no.” If they did, we wouldn’t need teachers, would we? You are the professional. You have been trained to identify the skills and the needs of each student. Use what you know to set the bar high for each student based on his/her potential. You already “differentiate,” make sure that your adjustments are maintaining your expectations, not diluting them. At the end of the year, look back on your instruction and know that you maximized the potential of every individual in your classroom. Nothing beats that…. nothing.

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LET’S GET ENGAGED II: GETTING REAL

“23 Exabytes of information was recorded and replicated in 2002. We now record and transfer that much information every 7 days.”    Robert J. Moore, RJMetrics

In today’s world, more new information comes online in a week than had been previously produced in a year. This information – data, facts, opinions, ideas and images, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Tumblr posts – has shaped every student’s perception of his/her world and changed the 21st century classroom.

Today’s students have different expectations when they enter a classroom. First, they already possess access to more information than you can give them. They don’t seek your sage insights from behind the podium. They can go online and get all the sage advice that they need from “experts.”

They expect a learning experience that is “relevant” to them. “Relevance” means something very different to relevance_imagethem than it did/does to older generations. For those in school during the final decades of the 20th century, “relevance” was a negative term. it connoted “sameness,” “blandness,” and “lacking specific defining characteristics.” Relevancy was equated with absurdity, as in “making everything equally important.” Ironically, “relevance” relegated a person or an idea irrelevant for consideration. Today, the word carries much more weight.

For students today, ideas, information, problems, or studies are relevant if they affect the students’ lives. Today, relevance equates with “real,” as opposed to theoretical. For instance, a person in math class would consider an algebra problem that pertains to the production and transportation of grain to 3rd World countries to the more standard, “A train left the station traveling at 30 mph. Four hours later another train left the station traveling 20% faster than the first. How long….” While most 7th and 8th grade algebra students are not directly involved in ending world hunger, they recognize the problem as important to them individually and to their generation environmentalscias a whole. In history class, studying ancient empires as attempts to organize solutions to problems created in the competition for resources carries more relevance than studying leaders, memorizing dates, and listing their cultural characteristics and contributions to society. In Language Arts, an argumentative piece about “fracking” would engage students more readily than one about the effectiveness of UN policies. Third and Fourth grade students are more engaged when addressing problems of community in their school than they are with state politics. Topics that touch students’ lives engage students immediately because they meet students’ definition of “relevance.”

Artifacts are probably the easiest method of establishing relevance in the classroom. If you want to talk about community, have your students analyze a sign restricting access to a park, or a neighborhood. If you want to are-you-ready-1talk about the environment, bring in lawn fertilizer and determine where all of the contents go after they are dispersed over thousands of lawns on the weekend. If you would like to engage students in math class, have them work on the population rates in their city and state. Might that engage them more than the odd percentages problem from the math book? A couple of words of advice, however, BE READY for their answers and allow them to engage in solutions you might never have thought about. If you are going to open your classroom to artifacts, you must be open to the discussions they generate, because, above all

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ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS ABOUT ARTIFACTS

“Give pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.”     – John Dewey

Employing artifacts in the classroom provides many benefits for both teachers and students. We have discussed and reviewed those in previous entries here. Today, let’s look at introducing artifacts into your pedagogical practice from a slightly different perspective.

When we attend national and regional education conferences, many educators are fascinated with the idea of using 3D artifacts in their classrooms. Most, however, think of applying artifacts in terms of their curriculum rather than how artifacts influence students, regardless of discipline. Our Many People Thinking of Questionsmost often-asked question goes something like this, “I teach (enter any discipline and subject here). What objects do you have for me?” Our answer is “All the artifacts in the teacher’s closet on-line work for you. You are the person who knows your curriculum and your students. You need to decide HOW you will use the artifacts to teach your subject.” Initially, this response frustrates teachers/administrators. It is, however, the only meaningful response.

Introducing artifacts into your lessons is a “semi-constructivist approach” to education. Piaget and others who enunciated constructivist theory would have students discover the necessary information without instructor interference. At Artifacts Teach, we  favor a “guided practice” approach in which the teacher Jean-Piaget-9439915-1-402monitors and assists students – especially very young learners – in their analysis, synthesis and decision-making processes. In today’s educational environment, teachers are charged with teaching critical thinking skills. So, what question should you – the science, art, math, Language Arts, or Social Studies teacher – be asking of the artifacts at http://www.artifactsteach.com in order to teach those 21st century skills?

The most effective questions to ask of any artifact are, “How can I use this to achieve my goals and objectives in class today?” “Do I want to use it to stimulate interest or curiosity about the lesson/unit?” “How can I use it to help students discover important skills, or clarify important concepts?” “In what ways will this artifact allow students to discover and understand the important points of this lesson/unit?” “How will this artifact help my students relate their newfound knowledge to their everyday lives so that they retain it longer and apply it more effectively?”

Questions

 

Let me give you an example. One of our first grade teachers used a 12 pound  cannon ball and a Union Minie ball to teach her students about height, diameter and radius. Using the measuring tool on the Artifacts Teach website, her students measured the diameter of both items and recorded those measurements on a chart. They divided the diameter in half to obtain the radius and recorded that measurement. They also measured the height of each of the

12 pounder

items and recorded their findings on another chart.  As a final step, the students compared the size of the Minie ball with the size of the 12-pounder according to each of the measurements. This teacher taught math and vocabulary (Language Arts) to her students using Civil War artifacts, while never teaching a lesson about the Civil War. She knew her goals and objectives were to teach math and vocabulary, but she engaged her students using artifacts that would demonstrate the principles through hands-on learning. She asked the right questions of the artifacts MM357-782015she had available.

Thinking only in terms of curriculum topics as in, “Is this a math artifact?…a Civil War artifact…a science artifact?” only limits you as a teacher and your students as effective learners. Your job, regardless of discipline, is to teach 21st century skills. That is the end-goal of every set of State Standards and the Common Core. Your job is to determine how best to achieve it. We have shown again and again over the last year that artifacts automatically teach analysis, synthesis, decision-making and communications skills. Determine where and how to insert an artifact into your existing lesson plans, guide your students in the critical thinking process and watch how

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