Thursday, July 25, 2013

21st Century Learning Chapter 4

Digital Literacy Skills or How to use a Hammer

Much of chapter four plays to an understanding I have about technology growth in general. When a child grows up with technology novel to their elders, they know how to use it in the manner of basic functions.  This does not change the fact that they still have the minds and impulse control of children and adolescence.  Teachers and educators must stay far more tech literate if they dream of being effective as educators in the 21st century.  It is far too easy for adults to fall into the trap of either novelty without purpose or fear without understanding the potential of new software and hardware.  

I liken this relationship with the history of that behemoth of a technological advancement called the hammer. As far as we have evidence for, the first stones used to drive or pulverize other material date back to 2,600,00 BCE.  This epic shift in reality came with either a stroke of ingenuity or a very painful bump on the head from a falling stone.  Needless to say, the first folks to utilize this tool found it useful for many tasks which would have taken much longer without this technology.  Then they complained that their grandchildren didn’t respect the technology and used it in ways it was not meant for.  You see, their grandchildren grew up watching their parents use the hammer and easily took to it at a young age.  Then at some point they threw it at a sibling or broke Grandma’s favorite bear skull.  As the millennia went by, grandchildren grew up and made the technology better.  They tied sticks to it and marveled at the physics they had discovered, only to be disgusted in the sad reality that their grandchildren cared not about the advancement and only about smashing items around the hut with such a simple and fun toy.  At some point, a parent or grandparent realized that if they gave the child a task meant for the hammer before explaining what it was, the child became a student and the student learned.  This did not make the student any less apt to break items with the hammer, but when the focused task was available, the student learned.  Mind, this was not the adult stating that the hammer was the destruction of society nor the savior of humanity, but a tool that made human time more efficient and allowed for time to be spent on other tasks.  

This is technology.  What we carry in our pockets is the digital age equivalent to the stone age hammer.  Our grandchildren will use it faster and with more ease as well as for many of the wrong tasks.  We must make the decision on wether to hand it to them without our own understandings of its potential, fear it and scare our children away from a useful tool, or know more about it than them and work to share that knowledge through meaningful activities that will also bring in community, family, and self worth.  Just as this chapter encourages us to build our students’ skills in ITC, Media, and information literacy, we must build our own and have the forward thinking to see where tomorrow’s technology will take us and how we can best introduce and teach our students how they can be used to build instead of destroy. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Learning to the 21st Power: Taking student learning to the level needed for success in the 21st century world market.

I know I promised QR Codes for Geography, but this was the purpose of the blog and you will get your free ideas next time.  

Learning to the 21st Power: Taking student learning to the level needed for success in the 21st century world market. 

The Players: The Nebula team at Goldenview Middle School have teamed up to plan an experimental project aimed to bring students and team members into a 21st century model of thinking and learning.  Other players agreed to be involved or are currently in discussion to enter include Conoco Philips Alaska, Google Plus Education division, Consumer Energy Alliance, and the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.  The first two groups have entered into the project with excitement and this summary acts as an introduction for others to join.  Other individuals have tentatively agreed to work with students both in person and via Skype.  This group includes App designers, physics professors, and local drill and geological teams. 

The Project: At the beginning of the school year, the Nebula gifted students will be split into groups of six.  Depending on the number of gifted sections, this will create five to ten groups of students.  By the end of the first week students will be introduced to ten different problem statements related to energy supply and demand on both a local and global level.  Each statement will have implications or challenges affecting either the mode or efficiency or production, the use and need for efficiency in the consumption of the energy, and each will also include the social implications of the challenges on the social dynamics of either developed or developing communities around the globe.  The Goldenview principal has donated space for the team to create a meeting room for research, collaboration, and engagement with field professionals wether in person or via internet communications.  

The Room: Teams will have scheduled access to the planning room during one forty-five minute period per week.  Depending on the schedule, this will take place during either their Language Arts class or their Science class.  As both teachers have designed the bulk of their curriculums to support this project, students will benefit from the collaboration time.  The room will also be available for sign up before and after school as well as lunch to accommodate professionals working with groups. 

The Rough Time Line (adjustments will appear as planning continues): 
First Quarter: Students have the first quarter to engage with a mountain of introductory information from PBS Media, Conoco Philips, British Petroleum, as well as information from the Switch Energy Project.  By the end of the first quarter, groups must chose with problem statement they wish to engage. 

Second Quarter: Students will use this time to conduct independent research via print, film, audio, web material, and live professionals. Students will also engage in full class discussions, presentations, and labs based on broader energy concepts.  The team job is to collaborate their research and focus the full class work on the narrow problem chosen by the team.  This research is based on the knowledge that they will form a hypothesis of a possible solution to the challenges presented in the problem question at the end of the quarter. 

Third Quarter: Students use this quarter to develop their proposed solution to the problem.  This solution can be original or build upon attempts currently taking place in the energy world with the intent of improving the outcomes.  The solution can address the problem in its entirety or areas of the challenge in order to help build toward a greater solution with the sum of many working parts.  Teams will not only be responsible for creating a proposal pitch for their solution, but they must create a testable model either through mathematics, digital modeling, or physical experiments to test and collect data on the effectiveness of their solution.  Students must have the model complete and tested before the end of the third quarter to simulate hard deadlines in a fast-paced world market.  

Fourth Quarter: Students must build and publish a website based on their project, research, and tested hypothesis for the purpose of communicating the information to a broad and diverse public.  Students will need original print, video, audio, games (for exposing younger audiences to the ideas), and mobile applications related to their proposed solutions.  Whether the solution proposed by the team is successful or not determines the final summary of the project.  If the solution succeeds, students will use this published presentation to explain why and formally request participation in moving the project to a larger scale.  If the solution fails to meet the requirements set by the team, they will explain what steps would push the project in the proper direction and formally request participation in moving forward with new ideas.  

What we Need from You (Not Money): We need time.  I started this project based on my vision that education needs to be more than students learning facts and skills for the sake of learning facts and skills.  This no longer applies to the motivators our students respond to.  They crave purpose and have no qualms asking what that purpose is.  Throughout my career, I have always used large ideas and projects as vehicles for teaching the standards rather than the standards themselves as the vehicles.  Lately I have heard the private sector state loudly that they want to be involved in education and I have seen many great business partnerships fall into ruts of schools asking for money and service for hanging up company logos.  My fellow media teacher and I already have media and local businesses work directly with our media classes to create advertising and creative film work.  Please see samples of our student work here. We also work together on what has been known as the Passion Project and over the last two years, we have developed it from an amazing project on paper to an even more eventful project through 21st century tools and ideas.  For examples of student work, please follow the links on this page.  This project seemed like the next logical step in integrating real world problem solving, innovation, collaboration, and creation into our forward thinking team.  If you or someone you know would be interested in participating, please email your contact information to or comment on this post. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Who the hell is Edmund Wilson? QR Codes in the Library

In the library: (Who the hell is Edmund Wilson?)

The above is the reaction I would expect from a student reading Wilson’s jacket review of William Faulkner’s life-altering novel, Absalom, Absalom.  Wilson says of Faulkner, “Faulkner...belongs to the full-dressed post-Flaubert group of Conrad, Joyce, and Proust”.  I was first handed this book by a great friend and mentor by the name of Brady Harrison whose book, Agent of Empire, is available now.  (If each of you order a copy, he will notice and wonder what shift has taken place in the universe.  I have one, and he hasn’t signed it yet.)  Even as a young literature student wandering the stacks, if Brady had not suggested the title to me as a friend, Wilson’s words on the back of the book wouldn’t have swayed me into reading what is now and will forever be one of my favorite insights into the human condition.  How then, could I possibly expect it to catch the attention of a teenager who doesn’t know the name of their school principal let alone Edmund Wilson?  I was lucky enough to know one of the two best librarians in the state of Alaska who helped develop this next project and it has worked best for us as another great link between LA and the library, but I sense would be a great bridge with other core subjects as well.

-Students in my Language Arts classes are required to read a book of choice on their own time every three weeks.  The only restriction on the books is that they must be at the student’s reading level or above.  Each book requires a short written review which assesses both a specific reading standard and writing standard.  Each teacher has a collection of these prompts already or has some available, so I will not go into detail on each of them.  One of my favorites is an exercise in conflict identification and discussion as well as word economics through focused word choice.  I was introduced to this prompt by a colleague and I love it.  After reading their choice book, students write a review identifying the main conflict, identify the conflict type, and analyzing its importance in shaping the rest of the plot line while judging if it was entertaining and effective.  The catch is that the review must be exactly twenty-five words and grammatically correct.  Needless to say, revision and editing also play a major role in this review.  

-Once the written review is in final form, students use either a camera, a phone camera, or a computer with camera capabilities to record themselves speaking the review to the camera.  Most reviews last less than thirty seconds.  We have done this for a couple of years and learned some tricks to make them better.  We have a green screen set up for this year’s reviews with the added challenge of students identifying a picture or scene to lay in behind themselves on their review.  This will add the experience of higher technical skills with video editing in a relatively small dose as well as linking the book with a representative image.  Once the videos are made, the instructor will need to make a vital decision in which they will choose to trust students or use a massive amount of personal time. 

-I run a school youtube page which works great for communicating what our students can accomplish to the outside world.  Each student signs a media waiver at our school for these purposes which is extremely important if you get into the media and digital world.  The problem for us was that youtube is blocked by our district’s firewall and switching to youtube for education is a challenge to argue technically with our top education technology administrators.  We had to find a system which, like youtube, sent a temporary clip player to the device opening movie URLs through QR Codes.  If that didn’t make sense, feel free to ask what I meant by the previous sentence.  We tried TeacherTube, but found it clunky at best.  It took long amounts of time to upload films and then there was a longer-than-projected wait time for clips to be available for viewing.  While scouring the online possibilities, we also toyed with the idea of creating our own in-house server with the needed capabilities.  I then stumbled upon SchoolTube. It does what youtube does for our needs and is not blocked by our firewall.  No matter which video site you use, make sure to designate the security setting as “unlisted”.  This will limit access to the video to those people opening the link and will not allow the film to be accessed through a search.  The QR Code, of course, is just a vehicle for the link.  As the instructor, I choose to load each of the videos from the students.  I could open a station for students to load the videos, but for short videos, it takes less time for me to load them as I receive them.  I keep a running link/code spreadsheet on googledocs which is an alpha list with columns for assignment links and QR Codes.  I put the link to the loaded videos into the appropriate column from my station once the film is uploaded and students can make their codes for the links at their leisure before the due date and place them in the appropriate column for that assignment code.  The system runs quite smoothly and makes it easy for quick checks to see who is behind on turn-in.  

-Once the codes are all turned in, we print off the name and code columns, turn it in to our librarian, and she attaches them to the backs of each copy of those titles.  Now, when a student walks into her library, they can scan the codes on the backs of books for a friend or acquaintance of the same age and interests for their take on books.  These reviews are far more powerful on getting students to read than obscure names of what they view as old people from far away.

Next Post: In the Geography Class or Beam us Down Scotty