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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 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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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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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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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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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?”

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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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THE START OF SCHOOL IS THE TIME TO START ANEW

“Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.”

– G. K. Chesterton

It is the beginning of August. At this time of year, teachers and students are inundated with the “Back To School” advertisements for the latest fashions and the required classroom supplies. I don’t know about you, but as the days become shorter and the mornings a little more crisp, I begin to feel refreshed. Now, I know that most people look to Spring as the “new beginning” in the calendar year, datecard-aug-1but I have always thought of Fall and the start of school as the time to begin anew. This could be because my mother was a teacher and she involved all of us in cleaning and decorating her 1st grade classroom. It might also be the result of so many years of “starting again” with new shoes, new shirts and pants, or a new teacher and new classmates. Regardless, the coming of August and the hint of Fall makes my heart beat a little faster in anticipation of “things new.”

I would suggest that, for teachers, the coming of August also means adjusting to the return to the classroom, but in a much different way. August brings a time for self-reflection and self-assessment. Those lesson plans that didn’t quite reach their goals and objectives, the supplementary materials that didn’t add to the learning process, and the desire, “at least this year,” to connect more directly, more quickly and more permanently with your students still 13894709-he-is-thinking-about-his-identity-looking-at-himself-in-the-mirror-this-is-a-computer-generated-imagawait your attention. Now is the time to shake off all that summer sand, drop the late-night movie habit, and trade the flip-flops for shoes that can withstand 8 hours of constant wear and tear. Now is also the time to reevaluate your pedagogy and replace what does not work with new, engaging approaches that have proven to teach 21st century skills to students from Kindergarten through High School. I suggest you try teaching with artifacts. You will be surprised at the effectiveness of this approach.

I have used artifacts as the introduction to lessons and units, as the focus of individual lessons, and as a summative assessment for lessons and units. There are several advantages to the use of artifacts in your classroom:

1. You do not have to rewrite lesson plans, merely plug in the artifact where the lesson needs improvement.

2. If you use artifacts correctly, the students will take responsibility for their own learning and teach themselves.

3. Artifacts engage your students from the first day. Students will retain the information longer when artifacts are used.

4. Because they teach critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and communication skills, students perform better on those springtime standardized tests.

In order to take advantage of these benefits, you must employ artifacts in your classroom. You can’t do it everyday. That is ludicrous. However, you can employ them “once-a-unit.” Give them an artifact to assess and allow them to discover its lessons, as you secretly build the 21st century skills they will need to be successful in your classroom and all the learning situations they will encounter for the rest of their lives. Where do you get the artifacts to do this? Go to the Artifacts Teach website (www.artifactsteach.com), and sign up for FREE. Use it FREE for 30 days. It’s the time of year to start anew. Start it right.

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