Category Archives: Information Fluency

Global Digital Citizenship: Elementary Physics Project Part I

I had a hard time coming up with an idea that incorporated global digital citizenship in a physics curriculum meaningfully. Ultimately I had my students work in small groups to plan and teach 20 minute lessons to small groups of lower school students. I had considered this idea initially, but was skeptical that it was practical. I owe a huge thanks to Roxanne Warner for putting all of the logistics together!

The planning stages of this project were very interesting. I wanted to ensure that my students were teaching meaningful physics vs. just playing with the elementary students. In that sprit, I let students know that a part of their grade would depend on the elementary students learning at least one thing from their lesson. They immediately bulked at this idea. What if their students didn’t pay attention or worse purposely sabotaged the lesson? As a teacher, it was great to see my students realize that teaching might not be as easy as they thought.

The lessons themselves were very successful – the elementary students loved them. It was fun to watch the elementary students experiment with and explain simple physics concepts. My students enjoyed the experience too. We used four class periods to complete the project  (two planning, one peer editing, and then the actual lessons), but I feel like it was time well spent. From a physics standpoint, my students were learning as they taught. I was also pleased when I heard my students say things like:

 

This [teaching] is hard.

You do this for five periods?

 

Continued….

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Global Digital Citizenship: Elementary Physics Project Part II

Global Digital Citizenship still feels like an abstract hodgepodge of all the other fluencies wrapped in one to me. The 21st century learning site even states:

All the 21st Century fluencies are learned within the context of the Digital Citizen, using the guiding principles of leadership, ethics, accountability, fiscal responsibility, environmental awareness, global citizenship and personal responsibility.

As my students saw, teaching is almost the embodiment of this fluency. My novice-teachers solved problems, interpreted and manipulated information, thoughtfully used media, and worked collaboratively/creatively while planning and executing their lessons. Several of the guiding principles including leadership, ethics, global citizenship and personal responsibility were also key to our success. I especially like the fact that my students bought into the project as something “real.” I think it is very hard to encourage characteristics like personal responsibility or leadership in venues that seem artificial to students.

I was glad that this fluency was our last – I feel like it was great closure for our journey through 21st century fluencies this year!

Wiki: Skeptic Turned Supporter!

While reading through my student’s Wiki time logs and checking their contributions thus far (spring break was a partial deadline), I came across a comment I had not expected!

This was actually kind of fun and very helpful! Can’t wait to see next quarter’s Wiki!

This same student was very skeptical just three months ago! At that time, she felt like it was the “blind leading the blind” and seemed unsure how to contribute to the Wiki.

Likely because of the spring break deadline, the site has improved greatly even since I posted a couple weeks ago (check out a history page to see how it evolves). There is still much that can be done to improve it – but eventually I think it has the potential to approach the breadth and quality of a professional site.

Les Miserables Project

I wanted to provide an optional extra credit project for my 7th grade English students. I asked them to attend a performance of Les Miserables Student Edition presented by our very talented Performing Arts department. I knew that information was going to be the key to the success of the project. Ask good questions- I wanted to know how much my students knew about the play and the time period. It turned out that the resources that came with the script were invaluable to giving enough information to provide background, but not too much to turn the students away. Access and acquire material- the actor’s guide gave an overview, and I provided a summary that did not give away too much of the plot. We also got to see the set and costumes prior to the performance to get into the time period and place. Analyze-the students had eight questions to review prior to the production, and they were asked to select at least five of the items to discuss in their review of the play. Apply- the critical analysis asked the student to apply their observations and assemble their thoughts in written format. Assess- this worked for both the student and the reader. The critical analysis asked the viewer/writer to explain why the reader should make an effort to see the show.
Seventeen of my students accepted the challenge, and I was very pleased with the results. Across the board, the students recognized the power of the story and the music. The show ran almost three hours, but the students were not put off by the length or amount of singing. I believe that the key to the success of this project was the gathering and use of information to create a memorable experience before, during, and after the performance.

Teaching on a “Need to Know” Basis?

Below is an interesting video about how “Connected Learning” is causing a shift in education. It was put together by the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, which can be followed on Twitter @DMLCentral. Underneath are some highlights and my reflections. See if you agree…

Material and pace are clearly dictating our nation’s current systematic approach to education. It’s more important to cover as much content in as little amount of time as possible. This inch-deep, mile-wide approach is hurting our kids; we’ve got to allow them to explore learning on a deeper level. I feel so blessed to work at a school that recognizes – and always has – that learning isn’t just about content acquisition.

According to the DML experts in this video, we can do this by starting all learning initiatives in class with an emotional, intellectual, or identity question that inspires a true “need to know” in our students. This kind of approach will not only lead to increased retention of relevant knowledge, but also promotes a passion for learning, in general, among our kids.

Who contributes…and who is ultimately responsible for helping young people survive and thrive and grow up to be curious, engaged citizens?
[Katie Salen, DePaul University Professor]

Education is no longer solely the job of the school. It is a community endeavor; we must all embrace learning together. Schools do not wield knowledge and control learning. By doing so, we instill a notion in our students that learning is a one-time thing that spans 14 years and then you graduate. Learning is, in fact, forever. Let us inspire our students to become self-motivated, lifelong learners.

How can we use these resources to bring people together who want to learn together – and not the model of how can we deliver content more effectively from a single source to many listeners?
[Mimo Ito, Cultural Anthropologist]

The central principle, according to DML, of 21st century learning is CONNECTEDNESS. This ties directly into the modern ideal of open knowledge. “It’s about expertise that’s widely distributed in our society culture…the fact that anybody can help somebody get better at something,” says Ito. Connected learning is a work in progress…and will always be such.

At HH, we are clearly already on the right path…let us stay the course…and help our students reap the rewards of connected learning.

Make them need to know.

Honors Physics Wiki Update

My students have started constructing their Honors Physics Wiki. Right now the site is quite raw. We are almost exclusively creating content, mostly text-based. There are some errors on the site and it’s not polished yet. I’m itching to correct the errors, but I’m holding back because I think peer revision is an important part of the process.

Our first peer-comment was posted a few days ago! I’m hoping that as more and more of the obvious content appears on the site, students will begin to shift some of their attention to multimedia creation, revision, organization, and refinement. I’m excited to see where this site goes!

A couple example pages:  Relativity, Dimensional Analysis & Right Triangle Trigonometry.

Rethinking How Students Learn: Chris Dede

Are you sick of all the talk about 21st century skills? I mean, we are almost 12 years into the new millennium. Some educational pundits go so far as to demand we stop using the term, but Chris Dede attempts to rationalize the “21st Century Skills” movement:

Inventing new problem-solving heuristics when standard protocols have failed is an important skill; when all diagnostics are normal, but the patient is still feeling unwell, for instance, a skilled physician can think outside the box and become an expert decision maker.

Will your students fit IN the box, or think OUTSIDE of it?

Our kids NEED to learn how to think outside the box. This isn’t always an easy skill for them to pick up. You see, they’ve grown accustomed to the 20th century educational method whereby the teacher provides the answers and the student regurgitates them on paper homework, quizzes, or tests to prove they’ve acquired knowledge. They have already mastered this educational “game” and they like winning it. Our students want to be able to finish tasks quickly and easily, with great success. But what they want isn’t necessarily what they need. How will they answer those difficult questions that may not have a clear or easily-accessible answer?

Dede goes on:

…the nature of collaboration is shifting to a more sophisticated skillset. In addition to collaborating face-to-face with colleagues across a conference table, 21st century workers increasingly accomplish tasks through mediated interactions with peers halfway across the world whom they may never meet face-to-face.

Our students NEED to be able to collaborate; this goes beyond mere communication skills. They need to be able to work in groups to achieve project success. They need to know how to use modern-day tools like Skype or Apple FaceTime to connect and work with colleagues on the other side of the world. The only way they are going to begin life after Heritage Hall with that skillset is if we, their teachers, allow them time and setting to develop the essential skill of collaboration.

I love the comparison Dede makes next:

Conventional, 20th century K-12 instruction emphasizes manipulating predigested information to build fluency in routine problem solving, rather than filtering data derived from experiences in complex settings to develop skills in sophisticated problem finding.

Ask yourself, “Do I provide ‘complex settings’ for my students to work in? Do I allow them to find problems instead of memorize information? Do my students create their own data?” Hopefully, the answers to these questions are affirmative. Our students live in an information age – in fact, some have called it the “Age of InfoWhelm.” As Dede suggests:

The ability to separate signal from noise in a potentially overwhelming flood of incoming data is a suite of 21st century skills.

The 21st Century Charger needs to be prepared and able to filter the meaningful information out of the endless deluge of data. He needs to be able to ask questions about the data and explore resolution to such problems in a journey mapped out by himself. It is critical that the teacher becomes the “guide on the side” in this process for meaning can only be 100% relevant when it originates from oneself (the student).

In the book I read, Dede refers to Henry Jenkins’ interesting list of digital literacies. They are: play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transformed navigation, networking, and negotiation.

To me, those are clearly skills that would make a person successful in the world of the near-future. The question that lies ahead of us is…

How can we prepare our students for life and the workplace of their future?

Book report – 21st Century Skills Learning For Life In Our Times

After looking at several choices for books to read on this subject, I selected Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel’s book in digital format. I had hoped to find a book that provided a great overview of the topic as well as practical suggestions. This book did not disappoint. The prologue sets the tone with the title, “The Search for Innovative Learning,” that took us to Napa New Tech High School. They are famous for their project approach to learning. It was a fascinating glimpse into one school’s mission to keep the spirit of innovation and invention alive. My favorite focus word for the book also appears- balance.
The introduction to the book makes the case that the world has changed so much in the last few decades that learning and education have also changed. The authors then present a four question exercise that challenges the reader to explore past successes and future possibilities. The answers fuel the nine chapters of the book as they present a handy guidebook for the topic.
I liked the past and future comparisons that focused on the shift from the Industrial Age to the “Knowledge Age.” The statistic that stood out was that with new skills, the job shift will mean that people between the age of 18-42 will have 11 different jobs. It presents a powerful case for the shift from “brawn to brain” while retaining critical values and traditions. The key concept is again balance and learning balance.
Part Two outlines 21st Century skills that reminded me of traditional fundamental ideas with the addition of media literacy and applying technology effectively. The career and life skills section hit home with concepts that I would like to see my students master- initiative and self direction, accountability, and leadership.
Part Three puts the learning into practice with an in depth discussion of project and design based learning. There was a brief discussion of obstacles. Since the emphasis was very positive and directed, I think the obstacles were mentioned primarily in passing.
The creation of a productive, prepared student is a goal that educators have had for years. This book presented a new look at the challenges and the shift of ideas and tools that our students will face in the coming years.
The resources at the end of the book were very well organized. Section A was by chapter, section B was Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and section C was a summary of skill sets. The book was infused with diagrams and charts for those of us who like the visual as well as the text.
For those who are looking for a great overview of the topic with thought provoking ideas, I can highly recommend this book.

News: Apple to Enter e-Textbook Market?

The invitation was cryptic, but significant. Could it change the skyline of the U.S. textbook industry? Watch and see.

Apple has a date with the Big Apple. Wednesday the 19th.

Apple announced an education event in the Big Apple scheduled for next week. Speculation is abound that Apple will unveil a new iBooks for education program. Some say it will have an impact that rivals the splash made by iTunes in the music business about a decade ago (CDs are on their last leg, just in case you haven’t noticed).

Many conjecture that the new program will be designed for use on the iPad, and will provide tablet-toting students with weightless e-textbooks that incorporate interactive features.

Walter Isaacson, the official biographer of the late Steve Jobs, was first to hint at this as he cited Jobs’ plan to circumvent state certification of textbooks by making them free to the public on the iPad. In his book, Issacson indicates that Jobs planned to hire textbook writers to create electronic interactive versions for the iPad. Pearson Education has been speculated to be the first major company to cooperate with Apple on such a project.

According to Jordan Golson, an editor for the popular site MacRumors, “It seems likely that Apple will work with existing textbook makers to build interactive iPad editions of existing textbooks, rather than Apple hiring textbook writers directly and offering the content for free. Apple loves to be disruptive, but the company hasn’t turned into a publishing company like Amazon has. Just because Jobs had the idea, doesn’t mean Apple will follow it to the letter.”

While many are speculating on the announcement, Apple remains quiet about the event after the cryptic message. Only one thing is certain…

The education world will be tuned in.

Rethinking How Students Learn: Howard Gardner

One mind is not enough. It takes five minds to be successful.

This according to Howard Gardner, author of many books, including Five Minds for the Future. Gardner was selected to write the first chapter of 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn. I found his comments very interesting, and look forward to reading his books in the not-to-distant future. Here are some of the stand-out points I gathered from this selection.

How can we create well-rounded citizens of the future? Howard Gardner says we can give them Five Minds.

Gardner says that there are five minds that educators should strive to cultivate in the future:

  1. The Disciplined Mind
  2. The Synthesizing Mind
  3. The Creating Mind
  4. The Respectful Mind
  5. The Ethical Mind

The Disciplined Mind. Gardner states that there are two connotations in play regarding this mind. There is discipline, as in art, craft, scholarly pursuit, or profession. And then there is discipline, referring to a continuation of practice and hard work to remain at the top of one’s game. Interestingly, he stresses four disciplines for precollegiate institutions to focus on: math, science, history, and at least one art form. It’s not about mastering the content of these disciplines, but rather the skills. Can you think like a scientist? Do you analyze like a historian? Can you appreciate fine art? Gardner says that in previous times, mastery and refinement of a single discipline may have sufficed; however, in today’s world, “mastery of more than one discipline is at a premium.” Bottom line: We must help our students learn to think in different ways.

The Synthesizing Mind. In the Age of Info-whelm, our students are bombarded by information 24/7. As Gardner says, “Shrewd triage becomes an imperative.” Those who develop a synthesizing mind will rise to the top. Synthesizing is not a one-time process according to Gardner; “new information must be acquired, probed, evaluated, followed up with, or sidelined…there is constant reflection and tinkering.” Good synthesizers always keep an eye on the big picture while securing and arranging the smaller details in useful ways; “one must know what works for himself and for those who make use of his synthesis.” Bottom line: We must help our students learn to make use of information and media in meaningful ways.

The Creating Mind. In order to truly acquire a creating mind, one must first develop an adequate level of disciplinary mastery and some capacity to synthesize. Gardner states, “You can’t think outside the box unless you have a box.” Creators must take risks, tackle the unknown, fail, and then fearlessly try again. Creators are motivated by, and keep their eyes on, the prize. Educators must pose challenges, obstacles, and boulders to their students. According to Gardner, if the Disciplined Mind involves depth and the Synthesizing Mind entails breadth, the Creating Mind features stretch. Bottom line: We must help our students learn constructively and in innovative ways, to solve never before seen problems.

The Respectful Mind. Gardner says, this mind “starts with an assumption that diversity is positive and the world would be a better place if individuals sought to respect one another.” Bottom line: We must help our students appreciate the ideas, methods, culture, and values of others in the world.

The Ethical Mind. According to Gardner, a person who has an ethical mind can think of himself or herself abstractly and ask questions about their own quality of life. What kind of worker do I want to be? What kind of citizen am I? What would the world be like if everyone too the stance I do? What happens as a result of my decisions or actions? Bottom line: We need to teach our kids to think abstractly, make predictions about outcomes, and weigh their options against what they know is right or wrong.

In conclusion, Gardner names the Synthesizing Mind as the most important for the 21st century. He goes on to states that integration of all five minds is more likely to occur, and more quickly, when role models – parents, teachers, coaches – regularly display aspects of discipline, synthesis, creation, respect, and ethics.

The (Ultimate) Bottom Line: Show your students how you use all five of your minds.