Student Survival Skills

For quite a long we’ve been hearing that Common Core State Standards are based on academic skills as well as 21st century skills. As educators, we know what academic skills are and why they are needed. Also, as educators, we are somewhat removed from the “real world” making our concept of 21st century skills skewed. It’s important to stay abreast of college and career readiness needs.

The Framework for 21st Century Learning does an excellent job of defining these skills for us. I found that the description for collaboration helpful as it clarifies that having students discuss their ideas, thinking, and answers on an assignment is not collaboration. Students working toward a common goal or solution is collaboration. Another skill that becomes much clearer in definition creativity. Too many teachers give credit to the use of color, drawing, clippings, or technology as creative. An example of this, which is pervasive in school, is the assigning of dioramas. This type of creativity turns academics into “Crayola Curriculum,” where evidence of authentic learning is greatly lacking.

Below are infographics I created as a summary of the ideas presented in the framework.

CommunicationCollaboration-2  CriticalThinking-2  Creativity-2

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Thinking About Thinglink

Recently, it was suggested that I check out thinglink.com as a way to step up the concept of infographic use in the classroom. Since infographics were a huge success in my classes I’ve been contemplating the opportunities that I can create by building my own in order to instruct my students. Many times we have students who are absent, called out of class, or take vacations during time of traditional instruction. What if we tie more information to our infographics by embedding pertinent files, videos, links, writing prompts, or quizzes? Many districts/schools provide web space for teachers to post information regarding their classes. It would be relatively easy to add the materials to an infographic using thinglink.com and then posting it to the class webpage. Students would then be able to access the information they missed when class is not attended, not to mention the opportunities to replay and revisit videos and concepts that may be troublesome for students who do not process as quickly as others.

Attached is an infographic I put together previously. It only took about 20 minutes to play with the Thinglink program and embed the videos for each character trait.

Anatomy of a Student    anatomysourced(1)

Investigating With Infographics

My classes are working on a unit entitled Scientific Responsibility, which is centered on the idea of informed consent as it relates to the story Flowers for Algernon. The second part of the unit introduced the concept of robots and their appropriate usage. These two areas have sparked much interest in the sciences and discussions on where we draw the line as a society in regards to our technology. Under the guidance of Dr. Connie Kamm, we as curriculum writers end each of our units of study with a culminating experience. For this unit we expected that students would do a mini research project in their groups (3-5) on a current scientific/technological practice and the ethics of that practice. For the ultimate impact, we wanted students to present their research to a panel of “lawmakers” in order to persuade the panel to support their proposed change.

Students are expected to:

  1. Include a statement of the problem, identifying what is the issue or concern that they want to address.
  2. Describe why the problem should be a public concern.
  3. Describe why the issue is relevant to address. Why do we need to change an existing policy or why should we care?
  4. Describe the opposing views/counterclaims regarding the issue. Why would people be against their new policy?

However, time has gotten away from us. Not only are we behind schedule on completing the unit; we have been delayed in organizing local business owners, college students, and retirees to participate in the panels. As a group, we were struggling with how to substitute the panel for an experience of equal impact. Along came the infographic to save our hides. We are now adjusting the presentation to be condensed into an infographic and sending copies of the infographics to various panelists to review and critique.

I am excited to see the results and the kids are excited to get feedback from professionals.

Teachers, Tech, and Tomorrow

Common Core State Standards pushes educators to integrate technology in our curriculum. In Beyond Technology, How to Spark Kids’ Passions, Barseghian reminds us that the push is to INTEGRATE, not replace the teacher’s role in educating our children. With companies jockeying for contracts with school districts, legislation telling us to use technology more, and educating digital natives, it is difficult for teachers to navigate through fun gadgets versus good teaching.

1.     Listen to students’ dreams and desires in order to help them navigate to their goals.

2.     Respect students’ input on what they are learning. They may not grasp what they need to learn, but they do know how they learn best and this knowledge can assist us in our quest together.

3.     Over-expect from students because they are native to the digital world. They understand the technology and should be permitted a range of modes to present what they learn. Poster boards and PowerPoint presentations are old technologies, which limit student ability. Let them select from a range of platforms to keep their interest in their learning.

4.     Do what you know is right. Technology is no replacement for the teacher-student relationship and policies are no excuse for surface-level teaching of the curriculum.

Maybe we should consider creating a Hippocratic oath for teachers to first teach with no harm. WE came into the profession with a goal that came from the heart. It is important set everything else aside and remember that goal in order to do the best for our children.

It’s Time to Teach Tech!

Much is being said about teaching students 21st century skills. We are already fourteen years late on this endeavor. We need to catch up in order to make students more globally aware and more marketable adults. However, technology should enhance and further education of skills, not replace them for the sake of novelty. In “Why We Need To Embrace Technology In The Classroom Right Now,” Tahnk lists several benefits when technology is integrated effectively into curriculum.

1. Teachers have more access to instructional materials and information than ever before. Achieve the Core, Odell Education, and Scholastic resources expand the teacher’s repertoire exponentially.

2. Technology allows for differentiation in student skill level. There are many sites, such as IXL and Study Island, that allow teachers to assess student skill level and assign work intended to increase student ability at the pace of the student.

3. The novelty technology brings to the classroom reaches students in a manner that excites students. Students feel as though they are learning something real, in the secondary level. The elementary level enjoys the gamification of the learning process. Both levels benefit from the platform provided by technology, rather than limiting the learning experience to the worksheet wasteland the rest of us experienced.

4. The largest benefit is the learning of skills that follow students to their future. When I introduce a new technology to my students I do not instruct them on how to use the platform. Instead, I give them the outcomes I expect and let them grapple with the program, which enhances their problem-solving skills.

Students need to see that there are uses for technology other than Candy Crush Saga and social media. Meet the 21st century, students, otherwise known as Your Future.

Spellin’ Speling and Spelling

How to teach spelling effectively has always been a focal point for teachers for generations. Gagen lists several guidelines to effectively teaching spelling to students. List should never be an arbitrary collection of words that are pulled together and tested at the end of the week. This promotes short-term learning of the words instead of the preferred long-term learning. Also, lists should never be thematic. Rather, lists should be more authentic, based on patterns, and based on common spelling rules. The most effective spelling lesson is build on increasing phonemic awareness. Decades of teaching materials have included worksheets for the teaching of spelling. Gagen warns against games and the use of misspelled words as distractors since they can actually distract students from learning the proper spelling of words. The best way for students to learn how to spell is through writing; either writing the word repeatedly or frequent writing assignments. Just as an athlete improves in his/her sport through practice, so do students in their spelling.

Grappling With Grammar

For years, I have taught under the belief that students learn grammar and spelling best when they read and write often. They need to see it done correctly and then practice it themselves. Michelle Navarre Cleary reinforces this idea for me in this article. I jokingly tell people that I used to be a natural speller. . . until I started grading essays. Because of the frequent errors I encounter, I have students writing multiple times per week, but I only grade these in-class writings for content, not format. This allows students to find success and comfort in the act of writing. With time, they improve their skills in this process. Cleary references three studies, done decades apart, with the same results: the drill and kill formula to grammar DOES NOT WORK! When we do this, we are crippling students’ writing ability, which prevents them from realizing some of their goals. This is counter to our obligation as educators, to educate our kids in order to further their success.

Cultivating Citizenship

Thank you, Vicki Davis, for posting this article on Edutopia. We have student leadership classes and civic literacy classes that require community service as part of their curriculum. We also have a voluntary program that is schoolwide. The seven approaches in this article provide great advice on getting more students into the giving frame of mind. So far this year, I’ve been impressed with how kind our students are while on campus. I’d like to see that kindness out in the community more. Tip #3 suggests that students use social media as a resource to promote their cause. This is yet another way to promote digital responsibility. The more opportunities students have for positive online interaction, the more they remain in the habit of being responsible while online. Reaching people en masse also breeds energy and excitement for the students to continue on their venture of goodwill.

Social Entrepreneurship: 7 Ways to Empower Student Changemakers

Tips for Teaching the Tech-less

In MindShift’s article 10 Essential Tips For Meeting Tech Needs of Low-Income Schools, Katrina Schwartz, one tip stands out in bold for me. Involving the families in low-income schools is just as, if not, more important than educating the students on new technologies. Many parents in these neighborhoods have limited English and limited abilities in technology themselves. Typically, we educate the students and send them home to households without technology and/or understanding of the technology. When we educate the family, we increase the chances for the student to succeed. In today’s world, having an understanding of basic technology skills is the only way for many students to climb out of poverty. We owe to these students are them with the tools necessary for success.

To Bot or Not to Bot, Why Ask the Question?

I just began a unit on Scientific Responsibility where students are exploring the idea of limiting our technology, which is a foreign concept to these digital natives. As an introduction, I showed the students this video that describes robots that make life easier in the home and in the military. One question that is raised is how human-like is too human? Sherry Turkle, from MIT, asks, “Why are we doing this?” She brings to the forefront that once we attach human-ness to our technology we risk seeing it as real, which isolates us from our real connections.

I’ve also attached the transcript of the video and another article I’m using for this unit.“Will Small Step for Robots Lead to Giant Leap for Robotkind?”