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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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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 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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PRACTICING CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Verification:  testing the insight/solution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ARTIFACTS, APPLICATIONS AND ADAPTATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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