Posts Tagged ‘education’

Just how important is inspiration, the educational value of play, and the time to tinker?

According to brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright of Dayton, Ohio, it began for them with a toy from France, a small helicopter brought home by their father, Bishop Milton Wright, a great believer in the educational value of toys. The creation of a French experimenter of the nineteenth century, Alphonse Pénaud, it was little more than a stick with twin propellers and twisted rubber bands, and probably cost 50 cents. “Look here, boys,” said the Bishop, something concealed in his hands. When he let go it flew to the ceiling. They called it the “bat.” 

Orville’s first teacher in grade school, Ida Palmer, would remember him at his desk tinkering with bits of wood. Asked what he was up to, he told her he was making a machine of a kind that he and his brother were going to fly someday.

        David McCullough, The Wright Brothers

Rather important, I think.


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A few reflections as I read through Suzie Boss’s book “Bringing Innovation to School” (reflections that I think are fairly in line with what she’s saying so far, but applied to my particular setting in school and in my science classroom):

First, in order to TEACH and coach the ability to innovate (which has future potential in the world, for kids to be ready and willing to MAKE something, or to make things better), we have to BE innovative ourselves as teachers. This idea of teaching the importance of innovation strongly resonates with our school’s mission, in that we’re charged with preparing students to go out and “make a positive contribution to the world.” This is not a light charge, nor one that will be easy for some who are used to delivering information, used to doing things the way they’ve always done them. That’s not to say that ALL are doing that.  How are we innovative? Many teachers are doing terrific things in their classrooms, asking students to come up with new ideas that have value (Ken Robinson’s definition of creativity), and to solve real world problems, and to demonstrate proficiency in various areas, by practicing and using skills in math, languages, writing, communication, and science. But, many teachers are comfortable simply delivering content. Sal Khan can deliver content, and his reach is MUCH wider than yours. Khan Academy provides an important role in the universe (because so many children on the planet have not previously had access to that kind of information), but if that’s the only thing that you’re doing as a teacher, you can be replaced by the Internet.

The only way to effectively teach what have been dubbed 21st Century Skills, we must innovate. We’ll also have to collaborate with colleagues. The only way to train students to do the things we want them to do, in the limited time that we have them, is going to be to come up with creative ways to check multiple skills of the list, preferably while checking off multiple disciplines as well.

What I like so far about the book is that she provides great examples of what’s going on in dynamic classrooms around the country, with teachers that are pushing the envelope in different disciplines, thinking big, and asking a lot of their students. She also presents how to APPLY these kinds of projects to your classroom, or to consider how you might do something similar. 

Now with a bit of a an airport layover, I’m going to take in another chunk…

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A quick post to say that the Learning & the Brain conference (Web-Connected Minds) last weekend in Arlington VA was terrific. A whole lot to think about. And in order for me to process all the information, I’m going to start working through my notes and get some stuff out here over the next week.

First, I was happy to meet some new colleagues in the field. Conversations and emails swapped during individual sessions, new connections made through the Twitter (search hashtag #LB32 for the stream of tweets from the conference), and a face-to-face “tweet up” on Saturday night made the experience all the richer. A tangible benefit of the workshops, keynotes, and conversations is that my stack of books-to-read has grown tremendously. I started an open Google Doc to get all the recommendations down in one place, and I got plenty of input from presenters and other teachers at the conference. Please take a look, add your own suggestions, or comment on the ones that are there (or write in the Comments section below). I haven’t read all of these books, but I’ll try to work through some of them this summer. I’m going to start with Play by Stuart Brown, and Brain Rules by John Medina. I’m also interested to read Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It after her fascinating talk on Sunday morning.

Thanks to @fitzwits, @plugusin, @reyjunco, @tobyfischer, @kjongtech, @henesss, @bradfountain, @mSchlemko, @raviniareading, @jennifercottle, @snbeach, @CathyNDavidson, @tkraz, @AVIDbrian, @lottascales, @rfmoll, and @learningandtheb for book recs, thought provoking tweets, talks, and great ideas.

Also, Maureen Devlin (@lookforsun) writes the blog Teach Children Well and she put out a tweet this morning, looking for teacher summer reading suggestions. Feel free to chime in there as well.

So, what’s on your reading list?

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Cross-posted at How to Use 65 blog.

Last Wednesday’s divisional discussion of PG&E goals was useful to me in a number of ways. I appreciated the chance to bounce ideas off of the small group of teachers that gathered to discuss assessment and classroom practice. It was encouraging to hear how other teachers deal with the same question, and also to hear some of their goals for improving their teaching practice over the course of the year. One of my professional goals this year is related to assessing my assessmentsAre the elements that I think are important for students to know about a particular curricular unit that I teach (like photosynthesis) reflected in the assessment that I give them at the end of the unit? What do I want them to take away from a process like photosynthesis? It’s a broad question, sure, but an important one to ask. I have tests from previous years on file, and they vary a bit in their format from year to year. Some contain more short answers; some are more open-ended. In other years I’ve assessed mastery of content through projects, oral reports, and student-made videos. But which one is the best? Do I just grab last year’s, or do I revise and rewrite, considering this year’s particular group of students? And am I committed to doing that each year?

One of the tests that I’m most proud of this year was quite different than ones I’d given in previous years. For a unit on cellular respiration, I asked the students to take a few days to write a study guide that would be useful to any other student taking a biology class that would be preparing for a test on cell respiration. We talked about what they should know: general principles of synthesis and decomposition reactions, various forms of energy “currency” in the cell, overall goals and outcomes of the process, etc. etc. It was fairly open-ended, and open-book. Put this guide together. Make it detailed and clear. Go. That was the test. I actually think that preparing that document would have put them in good shape for a more conventional test. So going through the extra step in this case wouldn’t have been terribly useful. They didn’t all get As, in case you were wondering. With access to class notes, text, and the internet, it’s still a difficult topic to explain, and they did that with varying degrees of success (and detail). It’s not something I do for every unit and every test, but I think it’s a really useful way to test their understanding of a topic from time to time.

Some questions for the group:

What do you want your students to demonstrate?

What constitutes a good assessment?

What constitutes a bad assessment?

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This could make you mad, cause you to shrug, or perhaps induce some other emotion somewhere in between. You might say, “well, sure, of course it does.” Hopefully it makes you think.

Dan Pink wrote a post yesterday on the correlation of parental income level and child SAT scores. His post triggered a wave of comments on his blog, of course, from many different viewpoints (from parents, educators, philosophers, admissions folks, etc.).

How to predict a student’s SAT score: Look at the parents’ tax return Dan Pink 2/21/12

Pink is not saying that income causes higher SAT scores, by the way. He points this out in his post, below the graph. But it begs the question (from an educational and policy perspective): What should be done about the situation? Why does the graph look the way it does? If it makes you mad, then what can we do for students that come from low income families, to make up for the inequality of resources that leads to the disparity in test scores? What can we do about the test itself? Many factors related to economics and education obviously have an effect on the student that’s walking in to take the SAT, and therefore have an effect on the resulting scores. When you compound the effect that income has on all other aspects of a students life (schools attended, education of the parents, academic support from tutors, etc.), it’s not surprising that the graph looks the way it does.

Pink also points out:

My hypothesis — again, a guess rather than an assertion — is that the households in the top tier often have two parents with graduate degrees. That is, they’re rich and they’re well-educated and that’s a hard combo to beat. If that turns out to be true, it suggests that one most influential, but not much remarked upon, social forces in America is assortative mating by education level.

Our jobs as teachers, in the broadest sense, is to take students from where they are, and to develop their skills, work with them to reach towards their academic and creative potential, to move them towards independence as learners, and in the process teach them some content that will be useful after they leave our classrooms. Does Pink’s post change this? Probably not. Perhaps it gets you to think about the students that you teach, and how you reach them, regardless of background and parental income level.

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Overview: In the coming year our school is changing the structure of its master schedule; we are moving to a schedule that will include different length periods spread across a seven-day rotation. Every cycle will contain one 65 minute period (20 minutes longer than what we have now). For my final project, I’m planning to rework the way I use my seventh grade class blog and my ninth grade class blog. I have also started a paper.li electronic newspaper called The Landing that I’m going to use to coordinate current event activities in all of my classes.

1. I started my seventh grade class blog last fall with the idea that it could be a place to share information with my students, beyond the daily details of homework and due dates, etc. (that they get regularly through the school website). To say that I used the blog sporadically would be generous (5 posts over the whole year, which sounds a bit pathetic, I know, especially after taking this class!). It would be totally fair to say that I didn’t use it as an interactive blog at all, except for the last post regarding final exam review, which started to approach an actual conversation/discussion. I’m happy about the potential of using it in new ways this year.

2. My goal for blogging with my ninth graders this year is to find more ways to facilitate online discussion/dialogue. My students will create their own blogs in the first few weeks of class, and my plan is for them to experiment with different web tools over the course of the year in order to share information, teach each other, and connect with other biology students (not unlike this class). (As far as tools go, Google Docs, screencasts, Flipbook, VoiceThread, and Slideshare come to mind, but I’m sure there will be others.) I did not require my students to comment on each others’ blogs last year because I was wary of trying to evaluate those comments, but I’m going to jump into that pool this year. Please let me know if you have a biology class that will also be blogging this year, and we’ll find a way to get our students to share.

3. Inspired by several teachers that have started to rework the discussion/coverage of current events in their classes (Marsha Ratzel, Will McDonough, and others), I set out to incorporate a number of Twitter and RSS blog feeds into a classroom daily paper, using paper.li. (See @brunsell’s article on the topic from Edutopia here.) The online newspaper that I’ve created is called The Landing (which refers the common space outside of our science labs, and I think it also suggests a nice place for meeting/sharing ideas). I began by starting a Twitter list so that I can manage the feeds/stories that students will be most interested in and will pertain to what we’re covering throughout the year. It’s a work in progress, as it’s only a few days old. I’ll continue to update this list as I find new sources, which will then get pulled into the daily feed. I have a general idea of how I’d like to use the feed, but since it’s brand new to me, I’m going to see how it goes and I’ll probably blog about it in the fall (which suddenly doesn’t feel so far away). *I should note that I’ve intentionally included sources/topics that apply to biology (9) and environmental science (7) so that I could use the same electronic paper for both of my classes. Some of the biology content won’t be relevent to my seventh graders, and vice-versa, and that’s okay with me.

Overall, I’m looking to provide some continuity throughout each 7 day cycle, tap into students’ creativity, and to take advantage of the extra time that we’ll have periodically (rather than doing the same thing we’ve been doing for an additional 20 minutes — as much as I like to talk, nobody wants to hear me talk for another 20…). By incorporating new web tools; giving students options in how they present material; and having them interact, collaborate, and share information online (using new tech in new ways); I think we will be able to teach more effectively and reach more students. I think what we’re really doing when we teach this way is just diversifying how we communicate with students, and how they communicate back to us (and to their peers). I’m confident that good things will happen.

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I’m pretty happy with the variety of discussion formats that we’ve used for this class: (“conversations” through the comment sections of our blogs; the teachingscience2.0 wiki, and D2L), and I’m happy that we finished out the course with the threaded conversations on D2L. They were a nice change of pace/format, and actually seemed like they were more of a conversation, if that makes any sense. Maybe because there was more back-and-forth than on blog comments, where I felt like I was chiming in every once in a while, but not actually writing to the author (even though I was).

I see three themes that came through loud and clear (and many of my classmates have commented on these already):

1. The increased confidence that comes from getting to know a few tools/skills, having had the chance to test drive them for a while. And even though this course was carried out “in public” (out there in the blogosphere for everyone to read my assignments!) it still felt pretty safe. We were collectively willing to admit that some tools were frustrating, or that we had problems loading, embedding, getting audio levels and image resolutions right. But I’m sure that each of us found websites, software, and new tech tools that we will definitely use (to good effect) in the coming year. We’ll also try some things that won’t work out as planned, and that’s okay too.

2. Students will have similar range of reactions to the new technology, and they’ll need some time to practice and get comfortable with new tools as well. I’m not entirely convinced that all kids take to technology as quickly as we (as teachers/adults) think they do. I’m skeptical of lumping all students in any category (especially one as broad as general as “digital natives“) just because they’ve been around computers since they were born. They’ve been around food since they’ve been born, and some are still picky eaters.

3. The chance to connect with new teachers and expand our personal learning networks has been invaluable, and will continue to be a useful resource. We come from all kinds of schools, we teach different age levels, and we teach various subjects (within the broad heading of science). But we are all interested in making science education better, and we have found new colleagues with whom to share information. I’m happy to have made some new connections, and I look forward to hearing about your classes through the coming year.

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