Rethinking Skills and Content (Otherwise Known as Defining Emerging Literacies)

Cross posted from 21st Century Connections.

Literacy has changed, whether we want to recognize that or not. The simple fact of the matter is that what it means to be literate for our students is not what it meant to be literate when I graduated from college. That shouldn’t be shocking or surprising as literacy has always been evolving and morphing. What could be shocking, even terrifying, is to understand what being literate today means and come to the realization that it is a skill set that I no longer possess because I stopped growing intellectually, deeming myself too busy to invest in my academic currency and now find that I am professionally bankrupt. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened to me yet, and I would wager it hasn’t happened to you or you wouldn’t be reading this. That said, it is incumbent upon us to come to an understanding of what it means to be literate; what emerging literacies must be taught along with fundamental core knowledge to prepare our students.

An interesting place to begin to look at why emerging literacies matter and what they are might be to read Mark Federman’s Why Johnny And Janey Can’t Read, And Why Mr. And Ms. Smith Can’t Teach:The challenge of multiple media literacy in a tumultuous time. It is an interesting look at how literacies have changed. He begins his 12 page article:

In fact, I am going to introduce you to the notion that our beloved literacy is now nothing but a quaint notion, an aesthetic form that is as irrelevant to the real questions and issues of pedagogy today as is recited poetry - clearly not devoid of value, but equally no longer the structuring force of society. I will ask you to consider that our society’s obsessive focus on literacy would doom future generations to oblivion and ignorance, if only they cared a whit about what, and how, we think. Further, I am going to challenge the assumptive ground upon which our institutions of education -primary, secondary and tertiary - are built, and raise the real question of our time -and of any time - namely, what is valued as knowledge, who decides, and who is valued as authority.

He details historical shifts in modes of communication of knowledge and our concept of what knowledge is and who the ultimate knowledge authority is. He includes an example of the power of participatory culture and alludes to the collective wisdom of the masses. He develops his position and ends with this nugget that for me crystallizes the current paradox in education; the notion that we are teaching them supposed knowledge with structures and methodologies that do not translate into learning and in a time and place when it is not knowledge we should be teaching but wisdom we should be imparting and developing. He ends with a look at how culture and the way knowledge can be obtained and interacted with have changed.

So why can’t Johnny and Janey read, and why can’t Mr. and Ms. Smith teach? If Johnny and Janey are under the age of 20 they are living in a world in which the Internet never didn’t exist. They are living in a world in which Google never didn’t exist. They are living in a world in which everyone who matters is either a click away, or text message away, or a speed-dialed call away among a variety of devices, all of which - regardless of what they look like, or how they functionally behave, or what they are called - are the same: they are connection devices. Unlike we who were socialized and acculturated in a primarily literate societal ground, in which our experience with technology and media is primarily within a linear, hierarchical context - all artifacts of literacy - today’s youth and tomorrow’s adults live in a world of ubiquitous connectivity and pervasive proximity. Everyone is, or soon will be, connected to everyone else, and all available information, through instantaneous, multi-way communication. This is ubiquitous connectivity. They will therefore have the experience of being immediately proximate to everyone else and to all available information. This is pervasive proximity. Their direct experience of the world is fundamentally different from yours or from mine, as we have had to adopt and adapt to these technologies that create the effects of ubiquitous connectivity and pervasive proximity. Johnny and Janey naturally make sense of the world as they experience it …..The UCaPP world - ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate - is a world of relationships and connections. It is a world of entangled, complex processes, not content. It is a world in which the greatest skill is that of making sense and discovering emergent meaning among contexts that are continually in flux. It is a world in which truth, and therefore authority, is never static, never absolute, and not always true.

Knowledge is dynamic and the way students do things, including learn, has changed. Scenarios that create engagement and stimulate intellectually curiosity are different. What remains the same is our professional obligation to facilitate the creation of teachable moments; teachable moments that intentionally include the emerging literacies.

So What Are the Emerging Literacies?

The enGuage 21st Century Skills, ISTE’s NETs, and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills Framework provide the most definitive explanation of these skills and literacies. While those documents are great, it is difficult for some faculty members to really appreciate what that means and how that plays out. I think it is important for institutions to examine what is current and try to articulate it in the language that makes sense for the internal culture, to translate important concepts into the vernacular that will allow it to take root and become indoctrinated into the culture. Our technology committee, which is an expanded PLP team, spent some time talking through the literacies and tried to sort them into themes that we believe we can breathe life into with all of our constituents. The following list was our best attempt at synthesizing the above documents into talking points for our internal culture.

Literacies of a Life Long Learner (L4)

* Basic Literacy (3R+ rigor + technology basics + disciplined mind)
* Habits of Mind Literacy
* Visual/Media Literacy
* Information Literacy
* Intercultural Literacy (Global/Cultural Awareness)
* Citizenship and Ethical Literacy (Digital Citizenship)
* Network Literacy (includes communication and collaboration in a flat world)

Let’s take a brief, closer look at these.

Habits of Mind Literacy

This literacy is the one that we claim we always teach. It includes critical thinking, persistence, risk-taking, creativity, all the ideals that an independent learner would possess. There are two slightly different schools of thought on Habits of Mind. I interpret Costa and Kallick’s philosophy to be slightly stronger on the importance of metacognition while Sizer and Meier’s framework invokes more of a sense of understanding community and acting with ethical behavior. (I think Pink would like Sizer/Meier while Friedman would gravitate to Costa/Kallick but that’s just a fun little supposition on my part.) Collectively, they describe the behaviors that are needed in future thinkers and learners. While we have always tried to teach these, technology allows me to make their acquisition more transparent and provides a tool around while a creative and engaging curriculum can be built.

Basic Literacy (3Rs+ rigor + technology basics + disciplined mind)

Basic Literacy has also been around for awhile. It covers teaching the foundational skills students need and developing Gardner’s disciplined minds.

It does not necessarily prescribe a canon of content beyond that which is necessary to allow students to acquire the skills needed to communicate and read; to develop numeracy, scientific, and economic literacy; and to be proficient manipulating electronic devices. (Yes, I’m wrapping technological literacy into basic literacy as it has become a basic skill and shouldn’t be thought of as an added skill to address but as a fundamental skill that is essential to success.)

Visual/Media Literacy

Just look around you - the recent election, the case for global warming or energy alternatives, the move to green - everywhere we are bombarded by messages ranging from subtle to overwhelmingly persuasive. All need to be viewed with a critical eye that seeks to discern truth and bias, innuendo and allusion, and fact from fiction. In the reverse, how can I select an image, series of images, video, or music that will appropriately convey my message? This expands our responsibility from teach students to understand and produce the types of documents the printing press made public to a compulsory obligation to teach student to understand and produce the wide range of communication formats that the computer makes possible.

Information Literacy

In a world where information is being created at an exponentially increasing rate, students need to learn how to manage it - to evaluate its integrity, to respect it as property, to detect the bias inherent in much of it, and to create with it. Students should become discriminate consumers, creative producers, and scholarly researchers. They have a wealth of information at their fingertips must learn to access it and construct meaning from it. We cannot teach them what they need to know for jobs and processes that aren’t yet a reality. We can only prepare them to learn how to first ask the right questions and then to construct the right answers.

Intercultural Literacy (Global/Cultural Awareness)

Students need to understand, appreciate, and respect differences in perspectives that are based on culture. They can develop this to some extent in humanities courses that expose them through art, history, and literature to other cultures. They will not become literate without exposure to other people and technology certainly affords us the opportunity to make synchronous and asynchronous connections.

Citizenship and Ethical Literacy (Digital Citizenship)

Our immediate spheres of influence are much wider now and potentially transcend what were once cultural barriers. The six degrees of separation is more rapidly unveiled. The ability to collectively interact, create, publish, connect, organize, and promote has never been greater. Students must understand what the appropriate barriers are for personal safety and global collaboration. They must understand what the implications of their digital footprint might be, regardless of whether or not they wore the shoe that created the footprint. They must nurture their online identity.

Network Literacy (includes communication and collaboration in a flat world)

In today’s networked world , students and teachers have the ability to create a learning network. They understand this power when framed in the context of a social network, largely because of the impact facebook has had in teen culture. It is our job to show them the power of networking for learning and to leverage that same power in our own professional learning. It is this literacy that requires a certain proficiency in all the other literacies as it situates learning in a global, interconnected web that understands that the intelligence of many, when properly engaged and directed, can be harnessed to do incredible things.

Can we impart these literacies to our students with the same, traditional content?

I would argue no, not even basic literacy (wasn’t I clever lumping technology into that basic category!) We need to expand the content to include more opportunities to include perspectives from other cultures if students are to achieve fluency in intercultural literacy. We need to provide students with interesting learning scenarios that force them to ask good questions, questions that demonstrate critical thinking, discernment, attention to bias, and an awareness of culture. Most importantly, we need to rethink our content so that we are asking them to work with content that is relevant and/or interesting to them. We need to use the emerging literacies to make some tough choices about what the canon of content is. If I can google it readily and get the answer, it might not be worth spending time on, especially if I have to omit something that might be genuinely engaging and interesting.

We must remember that the students must not view education as learning for learning sake - just as it should not be technology for technology’s sake. Our mission is to prepare our students for their future, to arm them with the skills that will allow them to solve the problems they will inherit; to give them the compass that will allow them to navigate their life in their world. Rather than asking them to prepare for our world, perhaps we should spend some time understanding their world better? It’s a difficult but necessary imperative. This imperative will require us to rethink professional development. If we are to be ready to rewrite lessons with an eye toward the literacies and new,engaging content, we need to rethink professional development and update some of the mechanisms we use to design curriculum, to update those structures and devices so they foster and facilitate the development of 21st century curriculum. Next blog post we will examine professional development and some of the framing constructs that we invoke in our curriculum design.

In the meantime and in keeping with visual literacy, take a look at these images which define some of the areas of education that we need to rethink. Do you understand them or do you, as most of us do, need to continue to learn to be the most effective facilitator of learning that you can be?

Time to Rethink

original post here

For the last two weeks educators from all over the world participated in a unique online conference. While the event is now over, all 40 sessions of the K12 Online Conference are still available online. These 20 minute sessions as well as several longer keynotes challenged my thinking in several areas. In the same time frame, an interesting forum entitled Brave New Classrooms 2.0 featured a series of posts that generated an active comment discussion about education today. Participants included notable edubloggers and authors of texts that have been embraced by educators. The forum paired bloggers in an embracing versus banning technology format.

I really enjoy consuming material that makes me think deeply about what I believe with respect to what is best for today’s students and both of these events did just that. The k12 conference really challenged my thinking on classroom instruction and pedagogy and offered possibilities that can be attained if we embrace change. The opposing viewpoints expressed in the Britanica Series point me to a few essential truths that should be used to force and propagate change.

One: We can’t role back or control changes in culture, regardless of whether we think the change is an enhancement or a detriment to quality of life. Technology has impacted daily interactions and changed the way we do things. It has permeated nearly every aspect of life and in so doing, it has gotten easier to use. Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody,describes this phenomenon well:

Communication tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. The invention of a tool doesn’t create change; it has to have been around long enough that most of society is using it. It’s when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen, and for young people today, our new social tools have passed normal and are heading to ubiquitous, and invisible is coming.

For education, that means we have a responsibility to harness and leverage technology’s power, to use it to engage students and to teach them the responsibility that goes with employing it wisely. To do anything else results in a futile exercise of trying to control or even ban technology when, at best, you can manage and attempt to marginalize its invasiveness while doing a serious disservice to our students.

Two. Too many of our students hate school but love learning; and if they do like school, they point to social reasons as the part they like. Michael Wesch’s post frames this concept well. His post also points out my next truth.

Three. Too many of our students are just “getting by”, working to the least common denominator (LCD) for performance instead of being motivated to push themselves. Wesch explains how and why students “get by”

Studying, taking notes, reading the textbook, and coming to class topped the list. It wasn’t the list that impressed me. It was the unquestioned assumption that “getting by” is the name of the game. Our students are so alienated by education that they are trying to sneak right past it.

This translates into:

We can’t stop change.

We owe it to kids who love learning to change.

We are failing them with LCD acceptance.

It makes you ask: How do we systemically change? It’s a big question even if scaled down so systemically is confined to the single institution of which you are a part. It is a difficult question but not to tackle it is to acknowledge and accept failing our students. For me it means rethinking several key areas. In some cases it may even mean unlearning and re-inventing.

This week join me in rethinking things. Wednesday, we will rethink assessment. Thursday, we will rethink content and skills in a way that embraces 21st century literacies. On Friday, we will rethink classroom boundaries, both time and space. This weekend, we will rethink faculty professional development.

Before we start the conversation, I’m assigning a little homework. Choose a session that interests you from K12online, read a pair of posts from Britannica, or read through an ebook that was posted on this site in this same time frame. Leave a reflective comment. Only rule, you own your words and must act and assume good intent.

Isn’t that part of being a 21st century learner? If we aren’t willing as educators to be learners first, should we rethink career choice as well?

Rethinking Assessment

Original Post

As we think about educational change, we must spend some time rethinking assessment in order to create assessment centered classrooms that foster learning rather than simply measure it. We must find ways to use assessment to help us teach for deeper understandings of essential questions and development of the ever changing skill set that today’s students need.

A search of assessment reveals many interesting definitions with a number of inherent differences that probably reflect institutional understanding and philosophy about assessment.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills note that 21st Century Assessment

* Supports a balance of assessments, including high-quality standardized testing along with effective classroom formative and summative assessments
* Emphasizes useful feedback on student performance that is embedded into everyday learning
* Requires a balance of technology-enhanced, formative and summative assessments that measure student mastery of 21st century skills
* Enables development of portfolios of student work that demonstrate mastery of 21st century skills to educators and prospective employers
* Enables a balanced portfolio of measures to assess the educational system’s effectiveness at reaching high levels of student competency in 21st century skills

Assessment is too often equated with a test or final product and tends to measure content mastery over skills acquisition. Rubrics, if provided, focus on the final product and the extent to which it demonstrates understanding of concepts rather than assessing skill development and learning process. New tools provide us ample opportunities to view and participate in the process, to provide student feedback and assess student learning as it occurs. The above definition implies a shift to continuous examination of the learning process as it occurs, advocates feedback and formative assessment, promotes the use of portfolios, and acknowledges the need to assess 21st century skills. It is important to note that you can’t assess that which you do not understand so teachers must develop a deep understanding of emerging literacies in order to remain current and proficient in their profession.

A second definition of assessment is found on the University of Northern Iowa page which highlights the Higher Learning Commission’s definition of assessment.

“Assessment of student learning is a participatory, iterative process that:

* Provides data/information you need on your students’ learning
* Engages you and others in analyzing and using this data/information to confirm and improve teaching and learning
* Produces evidence that students are learning the outcomes you intended
* Guides you in making educational and institutional improvements
* Evaluates whether changes made improve/impact student learning, and documents the learning and your efforts.”

Notice the bias towards assessment as a means of evaluating not only student outcomes and performance but also the teacher’s methods. While using assessment to grade teachers and institutions may be common within the scope of standardized tests and NCLB mandates, is that same principle honestly and consistently applied in day to day learning. Shifting the focus of assessment from measuring student progress to measuring the effectiveness of instruction and instructional content would necessitate that faculty examine what and how they teach; that they teach for deeper understanding.

Examining the two assessment protocols above would mean that a poor assessment score should cause us to ask a probing series of questions that focus on the instruction, the entirety of the assessment process, and the relevancy or engagement factor of the content and skills that should have been taught.

Questions like:

* Was the student engaged during the learning process?
* Was the content relavant?
* Did the assessment tool allow for students to demonstrate 21st century skill mastery? (meaning the assignment itself was cognizant of 21st century literacies)
* Did the assessment process provide feedback that could be utilized during the learning process to ensure a satisfactory ending?
* Did the assessment truly measure student understandings of essential questions and skills?
* Can we move forward without a satisfactory student performance?
* Did the assessment double as a learning tool?

Bottom line for assessment, if the students don’t retain what was taught, it wasn’t taught AND if they didn’t really need it to grow and move forward (in other words, we can move on without ensuring they master the skills), was even worth teaching to begin with.

Wouldn’t it be a marvelous shift if assessment forced us to examine whether or not we are teaching what students need and want to learn instead of what we enjoy teaching; if we could get to a point where assessment really was a tool for growth - teacher’s, student’s and curriculum’s - instead of for high stakes testing accountability or transcript grades for college admissions. We need to really rethink assessment so that it supports learning and fosters a love of learning instead of being equated with ultimate accountability.

A logical place to start is by examining the role of formative assessment in your practice. In How People Learn, edited in part by John Bransford, formative assessment is described as:

Formative Assessments - ongoing assessments designed to make student’s thinking visible to both teachers and students- are essential. They permit the teacher to grasp the students’ preconceptions, understand where the students are in the “developmental corridor” from informal to formal thinking, and design instruction accordingly. In the assessment-centered classroom environment, formative assessments help both teachers and students monitor progress.

Another key component of a 21st century assessment package is portfolio assessment. A recent 2007 Becta study defined e-portfolios as

An e-portfolio is a purposeful selection of evidence by the learner at a point in time, with a particular audience in mind. It is part of a personal online space, where learners can store their work, record their achievements and access personal course timetables. This space can provide digital resources relevant to a learner’s own study (personalized information) and links to other learners (for collaboration and feedback). E-portfolios benefit learning most effectively when considered as part of a system, rather than as a discrete entity. The system should include online repositories, planning and communication tools, and opportunities for both students and teachers to draw out and present e-portfolios at particular times and for particular purposes.

The study’s findings are perhaps best understood by viewing the graph taken directly from the survey below. It shows that students found eportfolios to be a positive factor on learning.

The commonality that both formative and portfolio assessment bring to the assessment arena is their potential to be part of the learning process allowing for adjustments to be made in a timely manner and their potential to document the the skills that students are being taught. (We will rethink student content and skills tomorrow.) Monitoring the learning process gives the teacher an opportunity to see if a strategy or project is falling short of their intended goals and allows the teacher to make daily modifications of the learning plan. If teachers reflect on the body of student work found in the portfolios, they have an opportunity to identify skills that are lacking and to assess the successes and failures of the curriculum.

Enter technology in the assessment process. Below are several ways to use technology to engage in formative assessment and to produce potential elements for a portfolio that can be used to assess student, teacher, and curriculum.

Writing Essays or Research Papers

It’s a traditional assignment that still has a place in education today. What technology changes is the ability to provide feedback during the process, even before the final draft is done. Have students write their essay in google docs or zoho docs. Require them to invite you to the document. Use an RSS reader to monitor changes to student documents. When you see that work has been modified by a student, take a look at their changes and comment on their progress and the state of their work. Offering feedback during the process allows students to make corrections as they happen instead of producing subpar work that must then either be redone or worse, yet, becomes a forgotten negative grade as the next assignment begins and little, for that student at least, was learned. One could argue that only offering feedback at the conclusion of a learning opportunity actually allows a student to reinforce bad skills and process poor information rather that producing learning.

Solving Math Problems with Microsoft OneNote $(denotes use of tool that has associated cost)

Good old fashioned math problems have their place for today’s students as well. Ideally our math students are also working with real data and solving problems that have application to the student’s world as well and this activity can work for both scenarios. Students should work in groups to complete the math problems. One student in the group should set up a shared session in OneNote. All students and the teachers should then be invited to join the shared session. Students work collaboratively to solve the problems. Students can take turns doing tasks and can use the record audio feature to record an audio explanation of their thinking as well. When reviewing the material at a later date, students have the audio explanation with their math work. Teachers get to hear students thinking as they work through problems as well. Putting students in groups teaches them to collaborate and peer edit each other’s work.

Writing Lab Reports with Wikis

Lab Reports have always drawn criticism from teachers that one student in a lab group did all the work or that they really missed the boat on analyzing the data. Wikis afford an opportunity to eliminate both of those concerns while adding the teaching of collaboration. Students work in the traditional lab group to generate the lab report. The only change is the lab report is it is done on a wiki. The wiki allows the teacher to see exactly who did what part and when it was done. The wiki also offers students a discussion area to negotiate the lab results. Teachers can watch as the lab report is created and can also offer students feedback during the process using the discussion tab.

Lecturing with DyKnow$

Dyknow transforms the delivery of information during what many would call a lecture. Lectures are typically one way delivery of information to a captive audience. DyKnow changes that dynamic to a two way interaction between the teacher and each student while simultaneously providing opportunities for formative assessment. The teacher can deliver content, while forcing the student to stay lock on the teacher screen on their machine. What the teacher writes in the form of notes is transferred to the students screen freeing the student to concentrate on the concepts. During a lesson, the teacher can poll the students on their understanding and a graph of the class’s collective understanding is created on the teachers monitor indicating whether the class as a whole understands the material and it is safe to move forward. The data also allows the teacher to see if there are a few students who do not understand and might need extra help after class. DyKnow also includes a mechanism for allowing the teacher to quiz students on specific concepts in the form of multiple choice, Yes/No or True/False questions. In a DyKnow session the teacher can ask the students to write the main concepts from a lesson on their DyKnow page or to answer a final question that could be used to gauge student understanding. Dyknow then allows the teacher to collect the electronic panels, provide feedback, and return the panels to each student with the push of a button. Paper is not collected and exchanged making the process of both collecting assessment information and providing feedback efficient and timely.

Researching using Google Notebook

Teaching students to do quality research is always a demanding task and is increasingly more important as the glut of information available to them increases exponentially. Google Notebook with the Clip to Notebook add on and the collaboration capability make it a great choice for monitoring the note taking process during a research project. Students should set up a notebook and invite the teacher and the librarian to their notebook. Everything that they collect electronically, text and images, can be highlighted and when the student right clicks, they get an option to send to notebook. The highlighted information is deposited in the notebook along with a link to the website that it came from, a useful feature for stressing citation and intellectual property. Each entry can be moved within the notebook by simply dragging and dropping. Each entry also has a place for those sharing the notebook; student, teacher and librarian, to make comments. The comments from teacher and librarian can help guide the research process and provide a mechanism for providing feedback to the student during the research process. It provides a means for assessing the skill that is being taught while it is being taught.

Evaluating Websites using social bookmarks

The research process can be further augmented by the use of social bookmarks. Students can tag useful information for an individual or a group project using either diigo or delicious. Students can be told to use a specific tag that teachers can monitor using their RSS reader so the teacher knows when new sites have been added. Students can record information about the reliability of the site in the notes field that is provided to them when they tag or bookmark a site. Teachers can also add sites for students and can stop students from proceeding down a faulty path of research if they notice that the only sites being used are superficial in nature and are not going to provide significant depth to result in a meaningful project. The potentially disastrous project can be averted rather than simply scored poorly after the due date and amidst another unit of potentially unrelated content.

Cell Phone as Clicker

Using polleverywhere or smspoll, teachers can ask students for feedback on their understanding or on a specific content item and rapidly collect feedback from students. The cell phone can replace the student response systems.

Notetaking with OneNote $

While OneNote can be shared as in the Math example above, it can also be used to share note taking responsibilities or to allow the teacher a window into the notes that are being taken by a student. If I, as a teacher, notice that student A is not engaged in note taking, I can ask the student to start a shared OneNote session and to invite me at the beginning of class. Any time during class, I can see what notes have been taken and can add feedback to those notes. I can also choose to copy all of my teaching notes into the OneNote notebook for the student and simply ask the student to take marginal notes and highlight. I can also prepare a OneNote notebook for my students and share it with them. I can then ask them to concentrate on making marginal notes and highlighting key points. Research has shown that marginal note taking is one of the most beneficial note taking skills a student can have. Lastly, OneNote’s audio feature allows the student using it to record the audio at any time. If a concept is confusing, the student can record the teacher’s explanation. There are distance limitations for audio but it does offer some interesting possibilities.

Discussion with Ning

Ning provides teachers with a means of creating a social learning network for their classes. It contains modules for blogging, discussion, video, and audio sharing, RSS feeds and groups. Ning can be used in the classroom to continue discussions outside of class. Students can be asked at the end of class to ask students to respond to an article or some other written prompt or to simply discuss among themselves what the key concepts were and their understanding of those. Rather than giving a pre-test, teachers can put a well crafted question that is capable of elucidating student misconceptions on the Ning site and unveil those misconceptions before coming to class. The teacher can assess students prior knowledge and make an adjustment before starting class.

Presentations using is typically used to broadcast and create an archived recording of anything a video camera can capture over the internet. It also possesses the ability to record without broadcasting; that’s where the power for assessment enters. Frequently teachers bemoan that students don’t do a good job presenting material. This is in part because students don’t get a chance to practice, the assignment doesn’t include explicit instruction about the presentation, and feedback on how to improve for future presentations comes after the fact and too far removed from the next presentation. Suppose the assignment is modified such that students are told to have visuals with a very tight limit on text and are required in teams to practice their presentation once to their partner. Now add the requirement that the practice session be recorded via ustream and ask the student to critique the recorded presentation and devise a strategy for improvement. The critique and suggestions for improvement can be entered on the comment field provided on The technology allows for student self assessment on presentations and provides a venue for follow up feedback from the teacher and the student partner.

Self-reflection with technology

Blogs can be used to have students reflect on their own learning and develop their metacognitive acumen as the year progresses,

Integration of metacognitive instruction with discipline-based learning can enhance student achievement and develop in students the ability to learn independently. It should be consciously incorporated into curricula across disciplines and age levels. (How People Learn)

Students can use a blog interface as a learning reflective journal and chronical their thinking, sharing it with a larger audience or with just the teacher. Again, the teacher is provided a window into the developing thinking or the student and can certainly leave comments to encourage deeper thinking or further probing.

Closely related to an individual journal is the collective production of a class “scribe” blog. Students take turns scribing, chronically the key points of the daily lesson and even embedding notes from the lesson. All can add reflective comments or ask questions in the comment field. The blog becomes a journal of the learning in the class, in essence a portfolio of class accomplishments and an instrument that can be used to assess the curriculum.

Wrapping it all together in a Portfolio

An electronic portfolio can be a container for all of the above learning objects. It allows the student to add selected artifacts and to reflect on those artifacts with respect to their understandings. If properly done, it can provide a window into the content and skills that a student is mastering or has mastered. Faculty can use the portfolio to gauge the job that their curriculum and methods are doing. As we look at our curriculum and identify the essential questions and understandings students need to master, the portfolio can become a better way to monitor and document a student’s progress as well as to examine the effect that the overall curriculum is having on student learning. Portfolios have a place for formative assessment and the learning process. Grade books, on the other hand, are a container for numbers that typically document a summative assessment and offer much less opportunity for feedback and growth. Granted, this is an oversimplification and at a later date we can rethink and examine portfolios in greater detail.

Lots of ideas for assessing the learning process are contained in the scenarios above. If you’d like one of the scenarios to be further explained, please request that in the comment field. The overall take away is that technology affords me ways to see learning happen, modify it before its too late, and use it to judge myself and the curriculum.

Creating an assessment centered learning environment that fosters a love of learning and develops a growth mindset that requires that teachers understand what the emerging literacies are and give students ample opportunities in the assignment and assessments they create to acquire those skills. That leads us to the need to rethink not only content but also skills. Feedback is terrific but it needs to given on work that is meaningful and engaging to students. This isn’t really homework, but before we rethink content and skills, take a bit to imagine how it would feel to shadow a student for a day. What activities would interest you? What part of the day would you enjoy? Where would you find engagement? What would you learn that would help you in your current job?


growthmindset - Nigel Holmes -

First Quarter Comments and a New Assessment Scale

This weekend teachers are writing comments marking the end of the first quarter of school It’s the time of year when teachers are frequently heard to say “Can you believe a quarter is already gone?” This year, it is different for me. I am thinking the opposite. I am thinking, “It’s only been a quarter of a year – only a few weeks that we have existed as a 1-to-1 tablet school. Look how much we’ve accomplished!”

If I were writing a comment for the faculty (using the standard what have you done, how have you done, what should you work on format) it would read:

Wow! It has been an exciting and fun quarter and we have accomplished so much! This quarter we implemented a tablet program in grades 9 and 10. Our focus has been on revising curriculum to leverage the power of this program as well as on supporting students as they learn to take notes and live in an electronic environment. We have concentrated on opportunities to formalize research and citation and have attempted to provide students greater opportunities to present and create because we have tools that give us the ability to do so.

Your work with the integrated units that started the year provided a firm foundation on which to build. I am proud of the work you did with creating graphic novels, researching and discussing in ning networks, producing political commercials, and teaching collaboration with wikis and google docs. You have done a nice job helping students begin to develop understandings of creative commons and visual literacy as evidenced in the geometry blog project. In order to reflect on what we are learning, you have participated on Elgg. You have shared information using delicious accounts. In short, you have started to build your own PLNs.

To make sure you continue to be successful, you need to begin to ask:

What does it mean to be a learner in the 21st century at MICDS?
What does it mean to be a teacher in the 21st century at MICDS?

We’ve talked about a framework for learning previously and we will now begin to give greater meaning to that concept as we develop and refine our concept of 21st century learning. We have much to accomplish in the next three quarters and I know you are up to the tasks. There are so many opportunities and learning experiences before us!

Faculty, you have done an exemplary job this quarter. I salute you! (I wouldn’t give a grade just to be consistent with the idea of fostering an environment that values learning over grades.)

To date we have used the Framework for Learning and the Library/Instrucitonal Technologist Mission Statement to guide our thinking. The Framework poses 4 questions:

    Is the content essential, relevant and engaging for my students?
    Am I addressing the skills my students need to be successful in life?
    Am I effectively assessing the learning that is taking place?
    Am I fostering the spirit of inquiry (i.e., creative, inventive and critical thinking) that will sustain learning in my students for a lifetime?

The Mission statement consolidates 21st century skills as referenced on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the NETs into 4 categories that we could understand and work with. Using this, faculty have been revising their own classes in light of the move to 1-to-1. We are now ready to progress from addressing our individual classes to collectively addressing what the new literacies are and how they are taught in a divisional and institutional scope and sequence. We are ready to create new assessment criteria for ourselves and our students.

The questions against which we must measure our progress are now reframed:

What does it mean to be a learner in the 21st century at your institution?
What does it mean to be a teacher in the 21st century at your institution?

It may seem that these should have been addressed earlier and to some extent they were but it’s time to address them again and with more sophisticated understandings that are reflective of what we have learned. It’s important to answer the questions in a way that fits our institution and is cognizant of the many initiates that are underway and competing for faculty time. Our answer will necessarily encompass elements of Charlotte Danielson’s domains, Understanding by Design principles of instructional design, and brain research. I’d argue that all of those initiatives can be brought under the umbrella of the essential questions that will drive the next steps in developing our learning environment.

For example, Danielson divides teaching into four domains.
When I read Danielson, technology is everywhere, but there are teachers who would find the domains relatively devoid of technology because it isn’t explicit. Danielson’s first domain includes demonstrating knowledge of resources, designing coherent instruction, and designing student assessments. I don’t know how to do that without using technology! I’ll stop with domain one and leave you to “see” the technology in the other domains. Danielson’s domains revised to make tech explicit could constitute an entire post. Certainly the concept of networked learning for both student and teacher needs to live within the framework if it is to stay relevant.

Similarly, if we look at UbD as a method for designing curriculum, the tech component isn’t necessarily explicit. However, if faculty understand new literacies and new technology tools and their implication for learning and can envision the possibilities for assessment alternatives made possible because of technology, then it is inextricably present. Until all faculty members are fluent with 21st century teaching, it may be helpful to update some templates to create new UbD-T (Understanding by Design with Technology) templates. It’s a delicate balance making sure faculty “see” the technology in the initiative without making it so explicit that it starts to feel like the technology is a driver and is paramount to designing the intended curriculum – technology should be integral but not paramount.

While faculty utilize UbD and the Four Domains by looking through a lens that “sees” technology, they must simultaneously develop, understand, and own the divisional vision. Faculty must create the divisional learning environment that is dictated by the answers to the essential questions above. As the instructional technologist it feels like I have owned the upper school’s institutional vision while faculty members have owned the curriculum revision and the adoption of skills in their individual courses. It’s time to move to a more sophisticated approach that shifts the divisional vision to the masses now that they have a solid understanding of what a 1-to-1 environment is. Please don’t misunderstand; faculty were part of the discussions about our 1-to-1 program and the divisional vision was communicated to and accepted by them; the shift is that they must now actually own and create the vision. As faculty gained understandings of 21st century skills and the emerging shifts in education, they made revisions to curriculum, both content and skills, first in single courses, then as grade level teams. They are now revising as departments and as a division. They understand that the skills students need transcend individual departments and must be addressed as part of a divisional and then institutional scope and sequence. This shift was a necessary piece of the evolution to developing our version of a modern learning environment (using modern instead of 21st century because one of my personal shifts will be to talk about the proper learning environment that leverages everything at our disposal to engage kids and develop their understandings and skills- seems this is appropriate given it is 2009.) What we need now is a well established common vocabulary that can be readily used and understood between departments and a well understood scope and sequence of the skills/literacies. Articulating a scope and sequence of the new literacies must not only be made transparent to all but implementing it must be mandatory, intentional, systematic, and sustainable. Fortunately, the majority of the faculty are ready to embrace that responsibility.

The Assessment Criteria Moving Forward

This year we have a group of 5 teachers participating in a year-long sustained professional development program, Powerful Learning Practice (PLP), facilitated by Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum Beach. This program forces teams to examine and articulate their thinking. Our team decided to define and articulate the 21st century literacies in a way that make sense for our school culture and that is more sophisticated than previous attempts; to take the various ways of describing the new literacies from external sources and give them categories and descriptors that can be used as talking points that every faculty member not only understands but can assess student progress against. It is important to move an understanding of the literacies into the masses instead of situated in the geek elite. Since our PLP team does not have representation from each department, we added some “adjunct” members including the librarian and devoted a half day to determining the literacies using the two essential questions to frame our work.

The NCREL 21st century skills and the NETs for both students and teachers served as our external references. We examined our collective knowledge base and while it is relatively sound, we want every teacher to be fluent in the skills and comfortable with employing them. They must achieve this fluency since we owe it to our students impart these skills to them before they graduate. This naturally led us to consider the foundational skills students should have mastered in 2 years of a tablet 1:1 program in middle school. Could we assess this after 8th grade and provide a course either f2f or virtually that they must take before starting Upper School if they are deficient? It was suggested that we offer a stand-alone course (while noting that discipline teachers must understand that they are not absolved of responsibility for teaching new literacies) as well as embed the skills in the curriculum. Our current structure has students start the year with a week-long interdisciplinary unit that serves to teach research and technology skills and attempts to embed everything else in the individual courses. The question became, what exactly is it we embed and what should that be? What are the major categories of literacies that we must address and how can they explained to the entire faculty in a way that gives them life, that gives us a common vocabulary about the skills associated with each literacy to allow those skills to be thoughtfully embedded into the divisional curriculum and subsequently assessed. How can we leverage Danielson and UbD to move us forward?

At the end of the meeting, there were 5 catergories- technological fluency, global/multicultural fluency, basic fluency, visual/media fluency, and information fluency. How do we generate a scope and sequence that moves students from introduction to mastery? Can we assess this with a portfolio? The more we talk, the more questions we generate. We put some skills and thoughts into a spreadsheet labeling the most advanced, comprehensive skill in yellow.
It might not look like much but represents solid thinking that needs to be further developed and made transparent to all.
One teacher sent an email after the meeting that confirmed for me that we do get it.

“Of course the overriding factor is that we all need to continue to learn and adapt what we do to the changing world to best produce students with the tools to be successful .. rather than just teach what we like to teach, want to teach, comfortable teaching, and have always taught(it can’t be about the teacher– must be transferred to the kid). Ultimately many different paths can be used to reach the goal but we all have to know where we are going and realize that we are 21st century learners as well.”

Not one to hesitate to push things forward, I already took the conversation and preliminary thinking to the foreign language chair. He readily took the top skill in global collaboration/multicultural fluency strand and set as a goal that all 9th and 10th grade students in world languages classes will have 1 significant collaboration with a school in another country or at least with a class learning the same language. He believes that all students should have a mini-flatclassroom experience because he understands the literacies in that strand. Likewise, I approached the history chair and he is ready to work towards a 21st century research scope and sequence that attempts to connect with the other departments. Math will continue to articulate what they expect students to demonstrate in their 4 year math research portfolio using UbD-T! We also have interdisciplinary examples of 21st century curriculum to serve as models of 21st century classes. We are participating in the FlatClassroom project and have the Sudan Project going as well. As we move forward, we will develop a continuously-evolving, divisional scope and sequence framework that does breathe life into the fluencies that are important for today’s students to obtain. We are basically creating new assessment criteria for student learning. We will make steady progress.I’m optimistic that the semester comment can be just as positive!

Opportunities to Learn

Our 1-to-1 program is off to an amazing start.Our integrated units set the tone that the tablet was an educational tool and served to begin to establish a culture of learning and figuring things out together. In my mind, 1-to-1 is a terrific learning experience that is forcing us to rethink lots of things about our curriculum and our pedagogy. I asked faculty to give feedback on their individual blogs (all faculty have a blog as part of a professional development elgg site) and was pleased to have one English teacher respond with the blog post below.

Did you ever see that Simpson’s episode where Homer goes 3-D?

Going 1:1 is like that: at first one runs through a wall to find a strange world with a shocking new dimension: depth. The consequences are a mix of anxiety and fear and wonder at the possibilities. Now, in addition to the grasp of subject matter and knowing the kids, one grapples with new sets of pedagogies, new array of tools and means of students interacting, manipulating, encoding and delivering information. And there is, on top of that, not just one tool that will do the job you didn’t realize you needed (but you do), but now, perhaps 7 or 8 different programs that might work–and deciding which on will work or fit your needs best can feel like it own hole in the space-time continuum yawning wider and wider. The kids, however are the drivers in this, adapting rather shockingly well to things. I was spectacularly impressed by them while walking down the halls during the Civilizations unit, to find student after student diligently at work, solving problems as they arose–again not without some anxiety–but diligently throwing themselves into it and solving the problems, finding work-arounds: dealing. But with some squeezing and feeling pulled along, there is a growing sense that we are arriving at a new WOW. I love the interact, dyknow and onenote use that we have explored so far; my smartboard skills are not so smart yet…

One new “difficulty” is the shift back and forth between the laptop classroom and students who do not arrive with one in hand (seniors). To go out on another “metaphorical limb” that is a bit like owning one car that is an automatic and another that is manual transmission, and your spouse suddenly took the one that you are used to driving: you just can’t expect to hold your coffee the way you used to anymore; you find yourself approaching a stoplight on a hill and are suddenly overcome with unaccustomed emotions as you check the review mirror to find a patrol car rolling slowly up behind you.

I think it is more important what the faculty think than what I think. They are in the trenches using the tablets in creative ways every day. I have a group of faculty, one from each department willing to write about their perspectives on the program beginning Thursday (or today if you count my borrowing the post from my English teacher.)

Two things stand out for me in this post.

“Going 1:1 is like that: at first one runs through a wall to find a strange world with a shocking new dimension: depth.”

Going 1-to-1 offers depth. He’s certainly right on that point and I think many faculty would agree. More than a few have commented that it is harder to teach the 11th graders and not as much fun because they don’t have tablets. We recognize that there are things we want to do and we can’t because we don’t have the toolset we need when the tablets are missing.

“Now, in addition to the grasp of subject matter and knowing the kids, one grapples with new sets of pedagogies, a new array of tools and means of students interacting, manipulating, encoding and delivering information.”

This single line is exactly where we are in our use of technology. We get that technology brings new pedagogy and new tools and we’re working to develop the best, most innovative curriculum that we can. We get that it is “deep” and we get that we can now do things that we couldn’t do before; that we must do thing differently than we did before. We make these changes not because we want to include technology but because we understand that there are new skills, new literacies kids need and we can’t explore those literacies with students without harnessing the ingenuity technology affords us. This updated presentation by Dave Truss gives a visual look at this concept.

Brave New World

Implicit in the need to do things differently, is the need to continue to provide growth opportunities and to help our teachers understand and develop their own personal learning networks. There are lots of opportunities available for teachers to learn. Below are some of the opportunities that we will be participating in, and the beauty of this new shared learning landscape is that the same opportunities (except for our internal Elgg) are open to everyone who wants to get smarter!

Almost Weekly Tech Tips

Every week or so I will provide a tech tip that should help faculty learn about emerging technologies that can enhance curriculum and deepen learning. The tips are also designed to help faculty develop their own learning networks. It is imperative the teachers become engaged with the tools that will empower them to collaborate and learn across physical boundaries. Learning isn’t just for students, it is for the entire community. It is increasingly about collective wisdom that is networked and shared. We started this process with delicious as an entry point. Currently all faculty and all 9th and 10th graders have delicious accounts.

Professional Development Portfolios with Elgg –

Every faculty member has an Elgg account and is part of our internal professional development network. We are using elgg to keep our thoughts and observations on our collective and individual growth as we move forward with 1-to-1 and as we continue to invent and revise curriculum. Elgg creates a venue in which faculty can interact in a social network and have an opportunity to both blog and comment with each other. Ideally it will force us to share and learn from each other. We have already had some interesting exchanges based on someone blogging about an idea or suggesting an article to read and asking others to give their opinion. Most recently we discussed an article by a Duke Professor on the teaching of writing. Elgg is proving to be a good place for mini-lessons about teaching and for self-reflection on why we do things the way we do them and why there might be a better way.

Powerful Learning Practice (PLP)

We are fortunate to have a team participating in Sheryl Nussebaum Beach and Will Richardson’s Powerful Learning Practice Professional Development program. Our team will collaborate with teams from 20 other schools located in the US, New Zealand, and Australia to advance our understanding of teaching and learning with technology. Just read some early framing questions that Sheryl posed for the teams to wrestle with:

1. What is it we want our students to learn? What are the knowledge, skills, and dispositions we expect each student to acquire in our changing 21st C. classroom?
2. How will we know if our students are learning and growing in their understanding? What evidence will we gather and consider collectively to monitor the learning of each of our students?
3. How will we enrich and extend the learning for students who have demonstrated proficiency?
4. What role, if any, does emerging technology and the new literacies play in the restructuring of our classrooms?

The questions aren’t dripping with technology but with learning. The answers to the questions cannot be devoid of technology, yet, technology is not the driver. It is questions like these that force us to examine the very core of what we do and that push us to do it better- and better means different and probably means technology is central to accomplishing the goal. One of my goals within the scope of this project will be to articulate what the emerging pedagogy is, not how emerging technologies can be used. I think that is an important distinction. What is it we need to teach with respect to both skills and content and how can we best do that? For example, a science teacher might say they need to teach collaboration, how to write a lab report, how to research scholarly scientific resources, and the content of equilibrium. Content is easy, but the other pieces will require new tools and a collaboration of support people - using a wiki to write the lab collaboratively so we teach collaboration; using the library databases to get information; understanding copyright and creative commons licensing; perhaps adding a video of the lab procedure instead of just writing steps; collaborating on a google shared spreadsheet to generate and analyze the data, data being collected by students around the globe; exploring real world examples that make the content meaningful and relevant. An English teacher shouldn’t aspire to teach blogging but to understand how blogging might be a great mechanism to cultivate voice, write for an audience, and learn the art of persuasion as well as to provide a mechanism for increased feedback or peer evaluation. Bottom line, because the world is different, our pedagogy must be different.

Online Course and Conferences

There are a number of online opportunities for learning. We have selected three that are worth noting.

Connectivism and Connective Knowledge

George Siemens and Stephen Downes have paried to offer a 12 week, intensive look at connectivism. The course hase 2000+ participants all sharing ideas in online spaces. Elluinate and uStream sessions compliment the asynchrous electronic aspect of the course.We have a half dozen faculty members trying to participate and meet weekly to discuss interesting topics.

Learning 2.008

Learning 2.008 is a f2f conference in Shanghai that is attended by an international contingency of educators. It features a tremendous group of speakers. Each session will be recorded and will be available for viewing. Many sessions will be broadcast live. The site features offerings by day and by strand. The learning from Shanghai starts Thursday, Sept 18th. I’m going to ask all faculty to attend at least 1 session.

K12 Online Conference 2008- Amplifying Possibilities -

The k12 Online Conference is strictly an online conference that features an impressive, international line up of presenters. The conference runs for two weeks beginning in mid October. To help determine which sessions are most interesting and relevant to you, the presenters are posting video teasers. All sessions will be recorded and archived and can be loaded onto an ipod for listening while driving, my favorite way to get all the sessions in.All faculty will be asked to attend 2 sessions.

There are so many learning opportunities. With 1-to-1, the landscape on my campus is changing. It is indeed a Brave New World, a world in which learning is paramount and pedagogy and curriculum are changing. We are all learners and collectively we can do anything. Because of technology, you can do it with us. Care to join?

An English Teacher’s Thoughts on 1-to-1

My teachers were asked to blog our internatl elgg site about the early stages of our 1-to-1 tablet program. This is what a 9th grade English teacher had to say.

Did you ever see that Simpson’s episode where Homer goes 3-D?

Going 1:1 is like that: at first one runs through a wall to find a strange world with a shocking new dimension: depth. The consequences are a mix of anxiety and fear and wonder at the possibilities. Now, in addition to the grasp of subject matter and knowing the kids, one grapples with new sets of pedagogies, new array of tools and means of students interacting, manipulating, encoding and delivering information. And there is, on top of that, not just one tool that will do the job you didn’t realize you needed (but you do), but now, perhaps 7 or 8 different programs that might work–and deciding which on will work or fit your needs best can feel like it own hole in the space-time continuum yawning wider and wider. The kids, however are the drivers in this, adapting rather shockingly well to things. I was spectacularly impressed by them while walking down the halls during the Civilizations unit, to find student after student diligently at work, solving problems as they arose–again not without some anxiety–but diligently throwing themselves into it and solving the problems, finding work arounds: dealing. But with some squeezing and feeling pulled along, there is a growing sense that we are arriving at a new WOW. I love the interact, dyknow and onenotes use thatwe have exlored so far; my smartboard skills are not so smart yet…

One new new “difficulty” is the shift back and forth between the laptop classroom and students who do not arrive with one in hand (seniors). To go out on another “metaphorical limb” that is a bit like owning one car that is an automatic and another that is manual transmission, and your spouse suddenly took the one that you are used to driving: you just can’t expect to hold your coffee the way you used to anymore; you find yourself approaching a stoplight on a hill and are suddenly overcome with unaccustomed emotions as you check the review mirror to find a patrol car rolling slolwy up behind you.

A Brief Review

We are starting to get our faculty professional development Elgg site up and running. I’ve posted a couple of articles and asked faculty to comment. I posted a review of the week and some thoughts on blogging and the upcoming Connectivism Course. I’m still going to use this blog as my main blog and will cross post or link to other blogs from here.

A Week to Possibility

This is cross posted from 21st Century Connections and better read there for links to be active.

This week we had our first full week of school as a one-to-one tablet school. We had high expectations for the week and knew we had several things that we needed to accomplish.

* We knew that we needed to put some tablet training in place for the students and to expose them to new workflows like electronic homework submission, electronic note taking, and file backup process.
* We wanted to push the faculty to teach in a tech immersion program.
* We wanted to force all of us to learn together and to develop a knowledge base among the 1-to-1 community,
* We wanted to expose the students to all of the tools at their disposal this year and to make sure that the tools and accounts worked for everyone.
* We wanted to highlight the research process in a 1-to-1 school and the resources available in the library.
* We wanted to show students how to customize their browser to be more efficient
* We wanted to give the kids a “pass/no pass” week of interdisciplinary learning that was just a chance to learn without worrying so much about grades.
* We wanted to work on the skill of collaboration.
* We wanted to create a culture that said, “If we don’t know how, we can find an answer together.”

We didn’t want to do tablet training as a separate course. Believing that it is better to teach ingenuity with technology and to build a collective intelligence that can be shared, we didn’t necessarily want to teach the exact same toolkit. We wanted to highlight the tablet program as one that was driven by curriculum revision by designing a curriculum that couldn’t be taught without being 1-to-1. I suppose our number one goal was to put both teachers and students into a learning environment that was heavily embedded with technology and to force them to examine the possibilities.

The Research and Synthesis Process

Before I talk about the units themselves, it might be worthwhile to talk about how we designed the research process in light of being 1-to-1. Our basic framework is the Big 6 and we use that terminology with the students. We prepared a OneNote Research Notebook for the students to use that contained an explanation of each of the Big 6 steps, a listing of resources and databases, a framework for website evaluation, and some suggested search strategies and alternative search engines. We are requiring the students use delicious to bookmark sources they are using and will ask them to tag sites with a unique tag so we can monitor their process. We have students keep notes in their OneNote Notebook (in the past we used Google Notebook) since it keeps track of the original source from which the material is taken. When students compose their final essay, we are having them use the citation functions built into Word 2007. We are temporarily asking them to write their final paper in word and to then post it on their blog. They are also to include an interpretive image that they have permission to use and that is properly cited or to include an interactive web element (web 2.0). We are giving them choice as we believe that we must teach kids how to figure out how to match the tool they need for the job at hand instead of teaching them a specific tool. Things change too fast not to teach kids flexibility, adaptability, and choice. We are hoping that in second semester we can experiment with Zotero. Currently, we need to improve our basic research skills before we use a more advanced tool that supports more sophisticated research.

The Toolset and Workflows

Students needed exposure to a wide range of tools and work flows. We weren’t going for expertise in all of the tools but rather for individual exposure and the development of a collective intelligence about the potential. The units needed to give students exposure to the following things.

Electronic Homework Submission – We are using interact which is an opensource content management solution similar to Moodle but not as robust. The only thing it had over Moodle was a way to submit homework efiiciently.

Electronic assessment – We use Webassign for electronic testing and gave students a short assessment largely to make sure they could login and see all of their classes.

File Backup – We use ifolder for our backup solution and students needed to learn to save everything to their ifolder. We also wanted to expose students to the sharing capability of iFolder.

Blogs – We have a local install of WPMU that authenticates against active directory. Each class is set up as a category and teachers can get OPML files for their classes so they can use google reader to monitor blog posts. Students had nightly reflections on their blogs and were able to change the theme as they saw fit. On the final posts, students had to comment on each others’ blogs.

Wikis -We had a local install of media wiki that also authenticates against active directory. We used this to do some collaborative, group research. Students learned about the article and discussion tabs.

Kaltura -We have included the Kaltura video plugin with our wiki. Students submitted one image they had edited with photoshop to the Kaltura image editor on their group research page.

Whipple Hill Portal -We use Whipple Hill to provide information and assignments to students.

Delicious Bookmarks – All students in the 1-to-1 grades are required to have a delicious account. We used google forms to create a table of school usernames and delicious usernames. For this project, students used special tags to tag sites they were using in conjunction with their research project. The librarians and I used the for: command to tag things for students.

OneNote -Most teachers are encouraging if not requiring taking notes in OneNote. We created a OneNote research notebook with a resource scavenger hunt, template pages of the big six research process, databases and technology resources descriptions, and a student planner and had each student use it for this project.

DyKnow – We used DyKnow to take attendance, to “backchannel” during the movies, and to take up panels following speakers. We also used it to monitor and control student access to both applications and URLs on occasion.

Photoshop – All students have Photoshop and Premier on their tablets. We wanted to have students experience a few tutorials and then to modify an image in Photoshop, upload it to Flickr and use Creative Commons to select a license for it.

VocieThread –We specifically included a Voicethread so kids would have an account and know this application. It was also a way to get them to use the headset and play with microphone settings.

iGoogle – We know students will need Google accounts so we had them create accounts and set up iGoogle pages. We added tabs for things that interested them to demonstrate how information can be pulled. We defined RSS and then subscribed to the delicious tags for their research projects.

Software – We have a good suite of software tools on each machine that includes Matchware’s OpenMind (an Inspiration competitor), Geometer’s SketchPad, Stella, Comic Life, Photostory 3, Art Rage, Adobe Photoshop and Premier and Microsoft Office. We wanted students to be compelled to explore each of these.

Firefox Extensions – If their machine is their personal learning environment, they need to know how to use add-ons to their browser to make them more efficient with information. We showed them Fireshot, Delicious, Clip to OneNote, and media converter.

Web 2.0 Collectively – Students had to include interactive web elements on some of their blog posts or on their research wikis. They were provided with a list of resources they could choose from. We want them to know they have options and they should use their ingenuity to figure things out.

The Interdisciplinary, Integrated Framework

So how do you put all of that into a unit? Knowing what you want to accomplish does give you the advantage of working backwards. We knew the skills we needed to teach and some experiences we wanted them to have, we needed to determine the content we wanted to embed the skills in knowing that we wanted to tie it to the regular curriculum but make it interdisciplinary. We needed to articulate an essential question for each grade. Being willing to take some chances and to throw out the normal schedule and class structure gave us even greater flexibility to develop what we called integrated units of study. Since we were going 1-to-1 in grades 9 and 10, we needed to develop these tablet training, interdisciplinary units for both of those grades.

In 9th grade we decided that the students would use the questions:

What constitutes a civilization and what factors are necessary to sustain it?

How does civilization shape us: shape what and how we behave, believe?

What impact can an individual have on shaping culture?

Students spent the first day learning some basic information, watching and discussing excerpts of Guns, Germs, and Steel, and learned and using some basic research and technology pieces in the library. The second day we has an archeologist come speak to us about excavations at Cahokia before leaving for a field trip to Cahokia Mounds. Because of its close proximity to our school, we used Cahokia as representative civilization. We had organized a packet of information to be completed on the field trip, had 8 teaching stations set up, and equipped kids with cell phones, still cameras, and flip videos. The third day students were put in research topics composed of one student from each advisory. Research groups had to answer a series of interdisciplinary questions and develop interactive web elements collaboratively and they had to answer a summary question independently. The research questions were completed using our local MediaWiki while the summary question was done on their individual blogs. During this period of time, students were also provided with some Photoshop instruction and asked to include a modified image that they created from images taken at Cahokia on the Kaltura video player on their wiki. Students then went back to their advisories and presented their topic to their advisory. The students were then given a list of 18 HOTS (higher order thinking skills questions) and were asked to select one to research and produce an informative blog post with a creative electronic element. The electronic elements could be photostory projects, comic life cartoons, slidehare presentations, or any number of other options. Students were given the morning of the 4th day to work on their HOTS topic with lunch being the targeted time of completion. After lunch we moved students into a session on an ethical dilemma related to their area of study. For example, students who researched material related to crop and food sustenance for a civilization were given an ethical dilemma centered on bioengineering of seeds. The final hour of the project was spent in assembly debriefing and filling out a self assessment rubric. It was a crazy, busy, educational week. We learned lots of things and lots about learning.

The 10th grade had a similar week centered around the essential questions:

To what extent does humankind manipulate or control the environment?

How have humans impacted the environment and are the negative impacts reversible?

How do we ethically and responsibly balance competing interests?

The 10th grade week planned to use the recent summer flooding in Missouri as their representative environmental impact. We made plans to begin the unit with some media clips and some reading about the flood and its local implications as well as its potential impact on the Gulf’s ‘dead zone.” We had hoped to then take the students on a service learning trip to help take down the sandbags in Winfield MO. Unfortunately, the Friday before the trip was to occur, we learned that the sandbags had been infested with snakes and we were back to the drawing board for the structure of the first day of the unit. We rebounded by electing to show the students Life After People and to engage them in a discussion around ways that humankind has impacted our planet. We followed the movie with a campus service learning project and some reflective blogging about our impact on our campus environment. Students then went into a tech workshop on delicious bookmarking and photoshop. It wasn’t ideal but it was a satisfactory Plan B. The remainder of the week included a series of speakers, a research project, exploration of a mathematical Stella model, a look at the historical significance of the Flood of ’27, and a Voicethread discussion of global environmental problems. Next Tuesday we will take students to the public library where Alan Weisman. is speaking about his book World Without Us.

Both units more or less met their desired objectives. Student accounts in delicious, blogs, wikis, webassign and Google were established. Students got exposure to using a variety of web 2.0 applications. They now understand the use of iFolder and Interact Homework Submission. They get that research is more than google. They have some familiarity and comfort with several library databases. They heard that citation is important for text, images, and video. They know that they have lots of software at their disposal. In short, they get that the tablet is a learning tool and that’s a big and important lesson. We also made progress changing the school culture to one of “try to figure it out before you panic or run for help.” In my mind, if we spent a week in this unit and only conveyed the message that students and faculty needed to be somewhat self-reliant in this one-to-one environment, it was a week well-spent. However, we did more than that. We made gains in teaching students and teachers to learn together, in creating a community of learners who realize that they have a powerful tool to help them if they use it well.

The unit was not without its share of shortcomings. We failed to take advantage of the cell phone capabilities on the field trip. Next year we will use them to take pictures and email to flickr as well as to anwer a few poll questions. We also failed to follow up on the geocaching activity at Cahokia and will definitely add this to the docket for next year. We are exploring using mediascapes in each of the units.We didn’t have enough time to go into creative commons licensing as much as we had hoped. We briefly mentioned it and got them thinking about ownership of images but would have liked to have had them select a license for their own blogs. (Sometimes I have to remind myself this was a four day unit and we still have the entire school year before us.) We had logistical errors and there was definitely some confusion over where to be and who was covering. This logistics piece gets eliminated next year when we expand the learning week to all grades and can assign faculty to participate in one grade’s unit only rather than having them involved in all the grades in which they have teaching assignments. We are already working on a “Discovering the Undiscovered” unit on frontiers for the 11th grade next year using the Lewis and Clark journey as the representative frontier.

Where does that leave us?

We are back to the normal schedule this week but we are not back to business as usual. We are fully engaged in learning in a 1-to-1 environment in two grades. I am proud of my faculty for the way they have embraced technology this year. I think last week went a long way towards creating a culture of “If we learn together, there are lots of possibilities.” I’d say that’s where we are- in a world of possibilities.


Delicious Tech Tip

This is technology tip number 1 for 2008-2009. I’m hoping this is a weekly tip or mini-lesson to help us become better at creating curriculum that hastens student acquisition of 21st century skills. While the NETS for Students are, in my opinion, the best articulation of the skills students should have (just as the NETS for Teachers define new expectations for teachers exceedingly well), it has been helpful to distill the student standards down further to four talking points or categories/goals to embrace as we redesign curriculum in light of our new one-to-one program. Below are four areas to keep in mind as we design new curriculum:

Inquiry, Research, and Information Literacy

Students should understand how to identify and frame problems; find information and evaluate it for authenticity and reliability; adhere to ethical use stemming from an understanding of intellectual property and copyright; and be intelligent readers and consumers of information in a variety of mediums.

Digital Citizenship and Personal Learning Networks

Students should understand what an online identity is and how to protect it; act and interact ethically and responsibly in an online environment; and understand how to create and benefit from an online network whether it is for educational or social purposes.

Communication and Collaboration in a Global World

Students should be confident in their ability to collaborate and share effectively both internally and with the world at large; learn to communicate ideas in a variety of formats and for a variety of audiences; develop an awareness of the cultural differences and similarities in an increasingly flat world; and understand their potential to contribute in a positive way to the world at large.

Creativity, Inventive and Critical Thinking, Design

Students should develop flexibility and adaptability in their reasoning processes; understand how to use real world applications to explore and express ideas; be confident, self directed, risk-taking learners; and utilize elements of inquiry and design to produce relevant, high quality work.

These four talking points lead to two important goals for each of us this school year. One goal will be to learn how to use technology to help manage information effectively. One way to manage information is to use some networking tools which leads us to our second goal for this year, creating a learning network (part of the second talking point) and that is where we will start our tech tip series. Our learning network will also be a social network but the focus for us will be on building a network that facilitates our own learning. The images below show the way a teacher’s network has changed, evolving from some localized, static resources to a shared, dynamic web of possibilities.

From this

to this:

Images from flickr user courosa. (


A simple place to start constructing this network is with social bookmarks. Delicious and Diigo are two great applications and you can’t go wrong with either. However, the simplicity of delicious and the singularity of purpose make it more suitable for first steps into creating a learning network.

Commoncraft has a great video to explain what social bookmarks are and I see no reason to reinvent the wheel, that’s an advantage of today’s participatory culture provided we remember to give credit.

Educause has a terrific series, Seven Things You Should Know, that attempts to explain pros and cons of emerging technologies as well as to predict where the technology is headed. One of their articles in on Social Bookmarking and is worth a read.

The Nuts and Bolts of the Highlighted Tool – Delicious

Step 1: Create Account and Install Toolbar

To begin using delicious bookmarks, you’ll need to go to (formerly and still and create an account. During account creation it will ask you if you want to import your current bookmarks. I’d go ahead and import them and say goodbye to browser based, one computer only bookmarks.

Key Advantage 1 - You can access your bookmarks anywhere that you have an internet browser, they aren’t located on just one computer.

Key Advantage 2 – You can easily share your bookmarks with others- teachers of the same course, students if your class, anyone in your learning network.

After you create an account, you need to click on the Help button and go to the section labeled Need tools? You’ll find options to download the delicious extension for the browser of your choice. We choose firefox.

Step 2: Understanding the Interface

Installing the toolbar puts three buttons on your browser toolbar. Image and functions best described with a picture from the delicious site.


You will use the Tag button frequently. Start to think of Tags as folders (or keywords.) Using more than one tag on a bookmark is the same things as filing the bookmark in more than one folder. Tags are better than folders because the same single file can be put in multiple folders.


You will also find a delicious toolbar in your browser header. If you don't see it, use the View menu to access yout toolbar choices and make sure delicious is checked.

You will also find Delicious as a choice in your menu bar. You can select many of the delicious functions from this menu.


There are several ways that you can set your delicious toolbar to display. I prefer to show favorite tags. This look will show my favorite tags(folders) and provide a drop down menu of all the bookmarks associated with each tag. I can determine which tags I want to show on this toolbar by changing my favorites. If I select Manage Favorite tags, I can select which tags are my favorites.


The sidebar button lists all my tags in a window on the left side of my browser window. This provides easy access to my bookmarks so I don’t have to leave the page I am on to access them.

Step 3: Understanding the Power

Delicious Bookmarks are powerful because they are a shared, networked, human-searched method of managing information.

PORTABILITY- Your bookmarks live on every machine or cell phone that has a browser. To access your bookmarks you simply append the main delicious url with your username. For example, my bookmarks can be accessed if I go to (ehelfant is my username.)

TAGS- Tags are the method delicious uses to group your bookmarks. When you find a site you want to bookmark, clikc the tag button located beside the URL window in your browser. A window will pop up asking you to provide tags and allowing you to add notes and to mark it as private if you are marking something you'd prefer not to share.

You bookmark a webpage and give it a tag. When you go to that tag, you will see the list of all the things you have tagged that way. Tags are better than folders. You can have one bookmark and tag it in several ways so it shows up in several places. If I append the delicious URL with my username and then the tag, I can access those bookmarks on any machine. For example, if I want to see everything I have tagged with the tag Math, I simply go to

SHARING- In the sections above, I gave you the urls to my bookmarks in general and specifically to the bookmarks I have tagged with the tag Math. This is really a useful and powerful feature since I can tag things and share them with anyone- my peers, my students, my network- by simply providing them with the URL. If I am doing a project with students, I can find resources and tag them and then pass the url to my students.

If I choose a unique enough tag, my students and I can access the bookmarks using the URL Notice the way the URL works. I can access any bookmark that has been tagged with the word Math by going to This url will produce a list of all the sites tagged with the word Math by all the users of Delicious.

There is another more specific way to share in delicious. If you find a site that is important for someone specific, you can tag that site just for them. If you find a site that you think I would like to see, you don’t have to email me and paste in the information. You can simple tag it with for:ehelfant (for:username) and it will show up in my Inbox. The inbox in delicious is not an email inbox. It is an inbox for links that others have sent to you. As a technology integrationist, this is a great feature for me. I frequently searched for sites for the different classes and would send an email to each of the teachers when I found things. Now I simply use the for:username and send the emails to my teachers. Because I can use multiple tags, I can tag a site for myself and then use the for: option to tag it for several teachers as well. It is much more efficient than emailing sites.

NETWORK-You can create a network on delicious by clicking on the network button and on the right hand side selecting add a user to Network. You’ll need to search for the user and then add them. When you add someone to your network, anything they tag will appear on your Network bookmark page sorted with the most recent bookmarks first. A good place to start is to form a network with people teaching the same thing that you teach so you see their bookmarks.

SUBSCRIPTIONS (the human search engine)- As mentioned above, I can append the main delicious url with the /tag/specific tag to access all the URLs tagged by all the delicious users with that specific tag. Try This makes delicious a human search engine of sorts. There are lots of delicious users out there tagging things and everyone has access to what we all find. Again, none of us is as smart as all of us. There is a more permanent way to follow a tag of particular interest using subscriptions.

Click on the subscription button to access your subscriptions or to add a subscription. On the right hand side of the subscription page, you can click add a subscription. You can enter any tag and subscribe to that tag from all users or you can select a single user and a tag and subscribe. When you go to the subscription page, you’ll see any new bookmark that is added with that tag.

RSS FUNCTIONALITY- This is probably a topic for another day but it should be noted that you can get an RSS feed for any tag or user in delicious. The simpliest way to take advantage of this it to click on the orange RSS symbol in the URL address field and add the feed to your igoogle page.

Key School Advantages:

With delicious, students can access their bookmarks regardless of the computer they are on and they can share them with their peers or their teachers.

Because we are in a one-to-one program, we will reimage student computers each summer and delicious means students don’t need to worry about bookmarks since they aren’t tied to the machine.

School’s need to teach collaboration,and sharing bookmarks is an easy way to start sharing and collaborating with information.


Delicious Bookmarks are a good place to begin to understand how a network can work to help you learn. Get an account, tag a few sites, add a friend or two to your network and play. The usefulness of this tool will soon become apparent.

Additional Resources

A Plethora from David Jakes

A Screencast by Liz Davis (Note:this uses the older interface)

A podcast from the OtterGroup


Next Up - What to do with RSS feeds? Using iGoogle!


Two Days of One-to-One

Today marked the second day of school with tablets and I might not know much, but I do know these two things:

    I am tired but happy.
    Things are going really well.

I think its a good sign that the faculty are excited and their only concern seems to be that the junior class is missing out.

Unlike many of my other verbose posts on this blog or on the DLE and now 21st Century Connections Blog, this post will be short. I thought it would be fun to see an overview of the last two days at MICDS.

Math teachers learned much from their summer work and came back energized and ready to take advantage of the tablets. They have started their scribe blogs, as one put it blogging a la Darren K. Students looked at their electronic texts and set up their OneNote Math Notebooks. Students were turned lose on Geometer’s Sketchpad and told to create their individual “Coat of Arms” using a pattern of matching the letters in your name to coordinates on a graph. This year, they can have Sketchpad for homework and can do explorations outside of school.

History teachers used DyKnow to deliver a powerpoint called Images and Power. Students need to find images that show opposing viewpoints for homework. Tomorrow they will use DyKnow to have kids share their images and mark key elements up for their classmates. Next week the assignment will continue and we will work in CreativeCommons and copyright. In 9th grade, students set up their accounts for their World History Ning Discussion Site and started using Quizlet. They also set up their OneNote notebooks and learned how to submit homework using our Interact system.

Science teachers used Chemthink on the smartboard to begin discovering some students misconceptions. Students took notes in OneNote and had a webassign assignment for homework.

In English Class, Dyknow was used to poll students on themes in the summer reading book and to promote discussion around a new Harkness table. They will begin blogging shortly.

The Art Teacher made a workbook in OneNote to go along with the online course he created a few years ago. Students opened the course workbook in OneNote and began working with it.

Foreign language teachers are using DyKnow to have student’s present artwork that corresponds to vacabulary terms. The images are drawn on OneNote pages or in ArtRagePerhaps cartoons in Comic Life will be the next assignment.

Grade 11 is not a tablet grade but the History classes have laptop carts to use every day so its an in class one-to-one situation. Today we covered Setting up their online journals on the course webpage. We then set up their google notebook for research purposes. The created their xtimeline account. We teach US History thematically not chronologically and students are required to create a timeline for each of 7 themes. Since students had done most of that last year in 10th grade, it went quickly and the teacher turned to me and said, “Let’s go ahead and set up igoogle pages with the course RSS feeds.” Kids created iGoogle pages, added a fun tab and a history tab and then subscribed to the RSS feeds for the course.

All cylinders were firing this week and it has been a terrific ride so far - very exciting and very fun! I’m proud of my teachers and of the kids! But for now, I think I need a little sleep!

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