Monday, August 30, 2010

Challenging the Challengers-- A Challenge Based Learning Meta-Challenge for Staff

On August 25, 2010, the entire MHS staff has embarked on a unique journey. I mean this literally. We are immersing ourselves in the Challenge Based Learning process. Our challenge is to devise project challenges for our students:

The Challenge: Collaborate departmentally to design a challenge based learning project which develops [Tony Wagner's Seven] "Survival Skills" for at least 15% of the students that your project team serves.

Katie Morrow put it, MHS has adopted a "meta-challenge." Here's how we launched this ambitious project:

1) The entire staff and Board read Tony Wagner's Global Achievement Gap over the summer.

2) On August 25, the staff broke into small groups for an hour and discussed the implications of the book (the Board held a separate discussion). The entire staff then shared the groups' reactions and joined in a conversation.

3) After lunch, I made a presentation on the CBL process. Then after a short break, I presented the staff meta-challenge and took questions.

4) Excitement, anxiety, delight, confusion, etc., reigned.

As I write about this only few days later, I can already say that it's been quite a trip. Here are a few reactions:

*The confusion and frustration are completely understandable. In my experience it's intrinsic to the process. Besides, the directions and notion of a meta-chalenge were rather complicated.

*I was unprepared with how "overwhelmed" many folks felt by the challenge. Naturally, they had the sense of being given a major assignment before they had even started school. I have the advantage of knowing that if true collaboration occurs, and they engage in a shared, worthy goal, individuals not feel burdened as they go through the process. However, collaborating to this extent will be a challenge to our school culture.

*Interestingly, throughout the morning no one really disputed Wagner's claim of an "achievement gap." In the afternoon no one really doubted that CBL might present a road map to Wagner's "seven survival skills." Instead, I heard reasonable concerns about Wagner's failure to provide realistic solutions to the "gap." The paradox of "planning" a student-directed curriculum piece was probably the toughest issue I dealt with in the afternoon.

* I contributed my fair share of confusion by misunderstanding staff. While I was generally happy with my presentations, I wish I could have a couple of do-overs from the Q & A.

* The morning's discussion of the book was pretty amazing. I agree with staff members who remarked that it was refreshing to really grapple with educational philosophy and the school's direction.

*Of course we are not issuing the staff challenge and then walking away. "Professional Cluster Groups" have been set up to facilitate the CBL process and provide professional development of tech skills which enrich the CBL process. Staff has been scheduled into five such groups. Each one meets with me every six school days in my classroom. They fall at different periods during the school day, but they essentially constitute a fifth class for me each semester. Pardon the pun, but I expect this to be the most "challenging" class I have ever taught. . . . .and I will be blogging the dickens out of it!

Click this link for my CBL presentation slides.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Good Times with Timelines

Usually I speak out strongly against using "tech for tech's", so consider me a hypocrite. Yesterday, I was guilty of using a piece of software simply because I was looking for a chance to use it and thought it was cool.

I gave a presentation (more on that Monday), that included instructions for when various steps of a process were due. Voila! A chance to use Timeline 3D!

At the 2010 ADE Summer Institute, I saw Robert Brock give a fabulous presentation which was based on various turning points in his life. As he narrated, a giant 3D timeline swept across the screen. Afterwards, many of us inquired about this animation and Robert graciously shared information along with a discounted price. So I bought a copy right away.

So why am I a hypocrite? Well, I knew that my small screen in an enormous room would not allow for any details, let alone the dates, to be visible in my presentation.

That was certainly not the software's fault. And I would like to add that its templates are gorgeous, data is easy to enter, and images may simply be dragged into the timeline. It then exports ever so easily into a Keynote slide show. I wish I taught history. I would have timelines screaming across the screen every other day.

One more cool thing. You can export it as an HD movie. So check it out:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Suggestions for Group Research [Video]

Group research can be a tricky bit of business. What kinds of steps may be taken to encourage accountability, communication, and quality? I recently produced a short video for the specific purpose of helping out teachers who are venturing into Challenge Based Learning. However, the suggestions apply to other types of group projects as well.

This movie was made with the following tools: Dragon Dictation (iPhone), Voila, Evernote, Flicker Creative Commons, Photo to Movie, and GarageBand.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Student Take-away from Challenge Based Learning

This is one of the videos that has been posted at iTunes U on the Nebraska State Board of Education channel. It was posted in order to be made available to educators attending the K-12 Summit in Dallas. This puts me to mind of three things:

* The students were genuinely impacted by the power of the project. They are describing "authentic" experiences where they learned a great deal about democracy, networking, and the power of technology.

*Speaking of networking, how about the fact that videos made by a high school class in Farmington Hills, Michigan, end up on Nebraska content site? I tweeted a blog about the project and an ADE read it, and followed up on it for the summit.

*My experience with Apple has been truly transformational. Apple introduced me to the pedagogy of CBL and also help connect me to some very bright educational innovators.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Twitter Intercepts

Some quotes from my Tweetdeck:

Gallup Student Poll

Based on a Gallup Student Poll, half of students are engaged; they are highly involved with and enthusiastic about school. The other half of students are either going through the motions at school (30%) or actively undermining the teaching and learning process (20%). Student engagement peaks during elementary school, decreases through middle school and 10th grade, and plateaus through the rest of high school -- seemingly after some of the most actively disengaged students drop out of school.

Via Rob Wall from ISTE10

It's not our resources/technology that engage (or not) but the questions we ask students to solve with it.

Pew Research Center: Teens, Cell Phones and Texting

  • Girls typically send and receive 80 texts a day; boys send and receive 30.
  • 86% of girls text message friends several times a day; 64% of boys do the same.
  • 59% of girls call friends on their cell phone every day; 42% of boys call friends daily on their cell phone daily.

Terry Moe and John Chubb via Dangerously Irrelevant

Precisely because technology promises to transform the core components of schooling, it is inevitably disruptive to the jobs, routines, and resources of the people whose livelihoods derive from the existing system

"Tweeties" Creative Commons creation by

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Making Learning Transparent

When we make our learning transparent, we become teachers--

George Siemens

For two years I have advocated for a culture shift at my school. I would like to see us more aggressively leverage our 1:1 computing model to build learning networks. I would also like to see a more open and collaborative environment.

Fortunately, change is in the wind. Administration has provided a copy of Tony Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap for every staff member in the school. It is assigned summer reading for all of us. When we return in two weeks, we are going to consider the prospect of a more student-centered curriculum.

Such a radical shift would call for much greater transparency than we have customarily experienced. In my own realm, I have unlocked all of my Moodle courses and licensed my materials under Creative Commons. I also have an open door policy for visitors . This school year I will advertise the policy more aggressively. However, I would like to see a more transparent environment throughout the school.

I am truly hopeful for learning culture change, but building architecture is a huge impediment. Except for our computer labs, the rooms themselves are pretty much bricked away from views. Teachers generally close the door and seal what goes on inside. I would love to have teachers feel more free to observe each other, but I'm afraid "classroom observations" are strongly associated with evaluations and judgments. Administrators (and other colleagues) should feel free to walk through classrooms unannounced in order to better understand what the learning experiences in the school. But for this to work, they would need to develop habits in transparency as well. At the very minimum input for new policites should be solicited and their rationale should be clearly explained. Better yet, wouldn't it be great if staff and students were welcome to "walk through" some policy discussions.

Are you up for a more tranpsparent learning culture?

"Hidden Agenda the Boys Are Back" by kind permission of Robert Britz (Krause)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Loving Evernote

This post is dedicated to Ann-- my friend & "gang of four" comrade.

Way back in January 2009 (was it that recently), I presented one of my first after school workshops for staff. It was called QUICK HITTERS: GOOGLE DOCS + GOOGLE NOTEBOOKS + MP3S . Some of my colleagues quickly took to Google Notebooks, an online application that allowed users to save and organize clips of information while conducting research online. I loved it because it worked across platforms. But soon after I touted it, Google orphaned the app. That left folks who had climbed on board (like Ann and me) gnashing our teeth.

Well, now we have an option that totally blows Notebooks away. As WSJ tech guru Walter Mossberg has noted,

What if you could collect, in one well-organized, searchable, private digital repository, all the notes you create, clips from Web pages and emails you want to recall, dictated audio memos, photos, key documents, and more? And what if that repository was constantly synchronized, so it was accessible through a Web browser and through apps on your various computers and smart phones?

Well, such a service exists. And it’s free. It’s called Evernote.

Evernote works splendidly across platforms and has great mobile apps. Type a text note. Clip a web page. Snap a photo. Grab a screenshot. Evernote will keep it all safe in the cloud. It has many other features, but I am already addicted to the basic functions.

The free version offers 40MB per month is plenty for my personal needs. A premium service is available if you start storing big files for your work.

Please try it soon, Ann, before the fleeting shelf life of new technology breaks your heart!

All resources for this blog were stored on Evernote, of course.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Giving the Supreme Court Some Face Time

From time to time I link some of my little instructional movies to this blog. I've edited several this summer, but all of them have been for my film class or Challenge Based Learning. This is ironic because American Government classes comprise nearly all of my teaching assignment this coming school year.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, plenty of media is already available for current events and political issues. And secondly, a video presentation would not enhance many of my subjects what a podcast or slide show can do. The videos demand more time and attention, so the pay off is simply not worthwhile.

But recently, I was updated some podcasts on the court system, and I decided that a piece on the current Supreme Court would benefit from visuals. While facial identification of Supreme Court members is not exactly a major goal of the curriculum, I decided that a montage of photos would help make my points about Court demographics. Let's see if you agree:

This movie was made using the following tools: GarageBand, Voila, Dropbox, and Photo to Movie

Monday, August 2, 2010

My Updated Course Sites

I recently updated my course web pages, which I design with iWeb. I drive considerable traffic to the site because I repeatedly tell parents that the assignment calendars reside there. I'm scheduled to teach three courses: six sections of American Government, one section of AP American Government & Politics (year course), and one measly section of Literature into Film. These are the changes:

Home Page
  • Cosmetic changes to the welcome message.
  • Major upgrade to my resume. I'm really pushing to do more professional development work whether it involves presentations, workshops, courses, employment. So I post this at the blog and on my sites hoping this helps me network a tad.
AP American Government & Politics Page
  • I place this class first to showcase it a bit. It's a senior elective and I hope the parents of my younger students take a peek.
  • I installed one of the CBL video reflections from last year. I think it communicates the pedagogy of the course.
  • I simplified my report on AP scores. I'm proud of how my students have done, but I also want to implicitly communicate that the projects, blogging and the like contribute to strong test results and are not some kind of side show.
American Government Page
  • This is probably the most important page. I think I made the right move to simplify it. I want to communicate that an organized, innovative teacher is in charge of the course. A cleaner design helps to do this.

  • I've advertised this semester's projects but decided not to use links. If I wish to communicate to parents about the projects I think I will do so by email. They are complicated. By the same token, as I've blogged previously, I plan to offer some assessment options for unit one., but I've left this tricky bit of business off the site.
Literature into Film Page
  • Setting up this page is a labor of love. I did this one the week after school was out even though I do not teach it until 2011. I wrote up a new syllabus and listed all the films with links to descriptions
  • I installed a marvelous film criticism movie that one of my M-Hub leaders made for this class, last year. It's so creative!

  • I lovingly described the film noir project that should be a lot of fun.
Check it out it out: Baker's course web pages
Screen capture of the Lit into Film page.

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