Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Guest Blogger as Part of the I Heart EdTech Blog Swap

Today's blog post comes from Selena Woodward (her blog) and is part of the I Heart EdTech Blog Swap.

Selena wrote in response to my post titled "My Dream Classroom".  This was a very cool experience and I was happy I participated.  Without further ado, here is Selena's blog post.  Her blogging, writing, and lesson planning skills are second to none.  Thanks again Selena!

Pupil Centred Learning with an IWB

Pupil Centred Learning with an IWB. A Dream or Reality?

My blog Swap partner has written a post about his dream classroom in which a small group of pupils is each gathered around an IWB investigating a problem and using their independent and group work skills to get information from a variety of sources.  This is his dream classroom.  I love the idea of pupils working on groups to achieve a goal together.  I advocate the idea that the IWB should be pupil centred and applaud his imagination for considering how pupils might be empowered by the technology.
I have used my IWB in a similar way in an English classroom.  My flipchart was written in Activ Studio and involves many of the same learning skills and aims that Jason has talked about in his dream classroom.  My students are exploring together, using different sources and media rich texts to come to conclusions.  These conclusions are guided by me, their teacher, but it is entirely up to them how they draw these conclusions together.
Unlike, Jason’s dream classroom my actual room has only one IWB. It’s at the front of the room, in what is typically known as the teacher’s domain; a domain that I have gradually learnt to share over the last 7 years. It’s now a place where teachers and pupils learn and share ideas. 

Inspired by Jason’s dream classroom, by his ideas of collaboration at the IWB and of pupils lead and pupil focused use of this technology I thought I would take the opportunity to briefly share with you how I planned and taught this lesson.  You can download my lesson plan and the flipchart if you wish.
You’ll see that there is one flipchart and that it takes 3 lessons complete.  You may also notice vague phrases in my plans where I am not sure what is going to happen.  Why? Because the pupils are deciding. This is something that I am sure Jason would agree with.  Teachers need to allow the pupils to take control sometimes.  In fact here I am in complete control. I have designed the flipchart in such a way that it contains everything the pupils need to reach a level of understanding that will match their target grade. I have pre-prepared links to website, video clips, images to explore, close exercises and worksheets to assess, maps and virtual tours.  All in one flipchart in which the wording of objectives and hyperlinks lead pupils on a journey of discovery which feels like their own and is their own.  It’s a journey they can take which has boundaries which guide them back to their learning outcomes and objectives.
The British educations system helps me with this.  Its curriculum is so driven by assessment and outcome that is very easy for my pupils to understand what it is they have to achieve and how they will know they have achieved it. In fact, to help differentiate the resource I have placed the grade descriptors on the objectives slide for pupils to look at. One click on the grade will tell them what they have to do to achieve that
All objectives are clear, are the focus which drive the lesson and are differentiated
mark; they can then click again to hide the information.  Pupils know which grade they are aiming for and now they know what they have to know to  meet that requirement.  It’s up them how they go about gaining the information.  One pupil at the front would act as navigator; the whole class decides where to go first.  

 This page contains 7 hidden resources for pupils explore
If the first objective is to “Understand what segregation means and learn a little about how it feels.”Then it would fall naturally that pupils will click on the words Apartheid to find out more.  It may be that a teacher needs to start be checking understanding of the terms in the navigational panel but pupils will soon realise where they need to go.  When they get there they are greeted by the option to watch a video (by clicking on an image), visit a website (by clicking on a title), look closely at an image (with the zoom tool), and pulling out facts from behind images.  The teacher, would only interject to give pupils a supportive worksheet which asks for the specific information required to achieve the first objective, it’s up to the pupils to discover which source of information they should visit.  They very quickly start clicking titles to see if anything happens, start clicking the magnifying glass to enable them to explore, together, images in more detail.  They begin to engage as they work out where the information is hidden and then raise questions from one text which are answered in another. This is whole class collaboration, controlled by the students, created by the teacher on an IWB.
Once they have completed that objective they might like to find out more about the place in which the poet lived.  This will help them to “develop an awareness of the history of district 6 and the culture that Tatamakhula Afrika shows us in his poem.” Again the objectives and the
Using "magic ink" pupils are looking through a map of the district 6 as it was to a Google earth image of what it is like now.  What's changed?
hyper link are similar, guiding pupils along. This time when they chose to access the page they are greeted with a map.  The teacher would need to explain what they are looking at and then use questions to point out that things have changed.  They will then have more questions about what there before the bulldozers arrived.  These answers are all in the flipchart in a virtual tour of district six hidden under “take a 
walk”.  Pupils lead themselves around the district completing questions given to them which will allow them to note the changes to the place where this poet lived.  Again, they are in control, they are collaborating and they are focused on a learning objective.  The teacher should be able to sit back and act only as support for complicated questions.  At this point it would also be useful to have one of Justin’s notebook laptops connected to the net for extra fact finding missions.
The Taktamkhula slide contains information about the poet himself with hidden questions in shortened
 Six different resources to explore are hidden on this page.
 text boxes.  The rest of the flipchart is made up of assessment tasks that the teacher can guide students to at the appropriate time in the lesson.  For example, once pupils have learnt about Afrika’s own personal history they might like to complete the interactive card sort.  This uses Activboard’s containers and so will tell the pupils when they have the answer right or wrong.  When the computer tells them they have made an incorrect choice a learning conversation will start, fact finding missions will begin and objectives will be completed.
All of this is made possible through the creation of a flipchart which guides students to sources of information which are relevant. Of course, they then need to apply this information to the poem.  That’s where homework, small group work and presentation come in.  Pupils then use the skills they already have in literary analysis and begin to explore how all of this information and all of the poet’s emotions are represented in the poem. Of course there are games and activities built into the flipchart to support this.
When a teacher is fully trained to use an IWB they can start to use their own professional skill to create resources which allow pupils to take full control of a whole lesson. To feel in charge and empowered as they learn.  Despite the fact the teacher has full control over what they are learning and how they are learning it – using their own professional judgement and training – the IWB allows the pupils to work together as a whole class and in small groups to solve a problem; the problem, in this case, being to answer their objectives at their target grade. 
I would welcome any comments you would like to make about how this lesson went.  I can see so many opportunities for lessons like this in all subjects across the curriculum; lessons where teachers are not simply imparting information but are empowering students to find it themselves. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Dream Classroom

I think very frequently about what the ideal classroom would be like.  What would the teacher be doing?  What would the students be doing?  What type of technology would be there?  What exactly would students be preparing for?

1.  What would the teacher be doing?
     The teacher's role would need to vary from day to day, but the primary purpose of the teacher would be acting as a co-investigator with groups of students.  They are an expert in their content area, but by no means the only expert that students should need to receive information from.  So the teacher would work alongside of students as they gather knowledge.  Students would essentially be crafting their own knowledge and learning experience, where the role of the teacher would be to investigate with them, but also provide guidance and additional suggestions to enhance that experience.  There is another cool function of the teacher as a tech trainer that I would absolutely love.  With all of the new Web 2.0 tools that I discover, I'd be providing mini-lessons on the how and why to use particular tools.  This makes me not only the Stat teacher but a technology teacher too.

2.  What would the students be doing?
     Students would be seated in small groups around their own interactive white board, meant to be used by the groups, not the instructor.  They'd ideally be multi-user boards where more than one person can use it at once.  After completing some initial activities to gather core concepts, they would communicate with experts all over the world including professionals, other teachers, and other students studying the same topic.  The purpose of this communication is to expand on a basic concept, and share their knowledge with the world.  This would be very specific to what the group wanted, not what the teacher required.  When they are ready and they feel comfortable, they would share with the rest of the class where their journey has taken them.  They'd share uses and application of a basic skill in an open forum where other groups are doing the same thing.  Think of each group visiting each other for small presentations.  The types of presentations would be designing games, business opportunities, develop software, marketing campaigns, etc all around the skill that they are learning.

3.  Technology
     The interactive white-board would be the driving force of the classroom, used for student research, presentation, and collaboration.  Each student would have their own laptop for individual research.  Each group would gather and share online resources primarily with each other, and centrally with the rest of the class.

So how will any of this get graded?  I suppose the only way that makes sense is to rate the level to which each student has learned a particular skill.  However, in my ideal classroom, there would be no grades.  What's more valuable, an A on Project I in Unit 2.3 in Chapter 2, or an in-depth customized learning experience?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Coolest Thing About Social Networking

The 50 Best Blogs for Math Majors

I was reading this link, and thought it was incredibly interesting, and I could probably get a lot of use out of reading some of these blogs.  The other thought that I had was, "Who else would like this?"

The coolest part about social networking is that I can give it to whoever I think might enjoy it and find some use out of it.  This new thought process of "Who else?" is definitely a high-level learning experience, being forced to think about what specific network would benefit from it.  It's definitely not appropriate to broadcast it to all available networks, is it?  Would it be better for me to share it with a more specialized network?  Example: I'm not going to share great news about the Buckeyes with the educators I associate with around the world (but I could).

So if this is a high-level learning experience for me, it can be a high-level learning experience for students right?  How great would the classroom be that had students create a network for themselves, and every new piece of information they find on the web, they are tasked with the decision "Who else will you share this with and why?" Isn't this how students work outside of school on social networking sites like Facebook?  "Who else needs to know that I'm going to the prom with Larry, and why?"  Or are students broadcasters that need to move to a higher-level of thinking regarding how they share information?

Sites to build networks - click these at school and see how many of them are blocked.  Why would they be blocked at school if they provide a higher-level thinking exercise each time they are accessed?  If the reason is misuse, can we ask teachers to educate on appropriate use?


Wednesday, April 21, 2010


A list of what I do throughout the day that is related to my profession. 

Teaching Related
1.  Develop lessons for future classes that contain: relevance to what students are experiencing in their daily lives, use of technology, non-use of paper, interactivity(with course content/each other/me), use of a higher level of thinking, activity that is not note-taking
2.  Teach the lesson that was developed for the day: not by standing in front and lecturing(see #1), interact with students individually/in pairs/as a whole, provide guidance when necessary, ask students to demonstrate what they are learning at that moment, mini-lectures(5-10 minutes max.)
3.  Manage all paperwork related to students: field trips, assignment requests, absences, attendance
4.  Updates of class website: slideshows of class lessons, electronic documents for students not in class, links to subject matter, outstanding assignments due, etc ( and

Professional Development
1.  Communication with professionals around the world: discussions via twitter and blog commentary, read blogs of other educators
2.  Look at links provided by other educators around the world: what is useful for my course, what is useful for other teachers, what streamlines the educational process
3.  Provide links to others (around the world and at my school): sharing is a 2-way street
4.  Organize all new information received throughout the day into a relevant way for quick access
5.  Write blog posts (at home, since blogging is websensed at school): provide my perspective on education to students and other professionals so that they may agree/disagree
6.  Look at links obtained during the day that are websensed at school: all education related, most of the social networking related, thus the websense
7.  Brainstorm ideas with other techies about cool Web 2.0 tools and ways to use them in English, Math, Social Studies, Science, other curricular areas

1.  Grade management: grade some tests/quizzes, enter student grades, manage student/parent questions about grades, etc

Am I missing anything?  How different is your day from mine?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Why I'm Going Paperless Beginning April 22

It has nothing to do with a green initiative.  Okay, just a little bit.  But that's not the only factor.  Paper within the school system is the antithesis of a progressive, technology-enhanced education that we should be providing/receiving.  So, why go paperless?

1.  Innovation by Force - the task is to develop a good lesson, not the one that's easiest to deliver.  If we hand out a paper and say "fill in the blanks the way I tell you to", that's easy.  If I'm not allowed to use paper, I need to find an alternative.  Here's where technology comes in to save the day. 

2.  Interactivity - When's the last time you had a conversation with a piece of paper?  There are 2 ways to interact with a piece of paper - write on it or physically alter its form.  When you're doing that, you're not interacting with what you're learning at all.

3.  Non-Use/Misuse - I hear countless individuals complaining about getting too many papers in their mailbox.  I see folks taking notes at meetings.  I attend meetings where someone gives a paper, then reads to me what it says.  How frequently do you go back and look at notes you took during a meeting?  How often do you think your students do it?  It's a better use of time to pay attention to a presentation/activity while actively reflecting on it and thinking about it. 

4.  Stagnation - A student is absent for 5 days.  The student returns to school and says "What did I miss?".  The teacher hands him all of the papers that were handed out during the week of instruction that the student missed.  If the student was not present during instruction, how will having the papers serve any purpose?  I have observed over the time that I've been teaching that a student feels as if they've done enough to make up the work if they just get the "papers" that were handed out. 

5.  Useless - Paper is just not helpful/efficient.  Teachers generate worksheets such as "Sec 6-2 WS#1 Practice 1".  What does this tell a student about what they're learning?  How much time did you spend making sure the Name and Date blanks lined up?  How much more time was spent getting the Comic Sans font to just the right size to fit on one page?  How long did you agonize over the columns and margins?  What does any of that have to do with the content that you're teaching?  Does a student care that question 1 is not in perfect alignment with question 2? 

I have the feeling that I'm going to annoy a number of folks, when I ask for an electronic version of something when I'm handed a paper.  When I'm asked to turn in a form, I'm going to demand an electronic version.  "I'm really not comfortable using paper for this, is there an alternate way to do this?" 

Yes, these sites exist and are probably quite popular:
This is not innovative:
Billed as "Education for the Future":
The URL is self-explanatory: 
All for different skills, yet they look exactly the same: Google Image Results for "math worksheets"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How Do I Do This Problem?

Problem-solving.  Solve the problem.  How often do you hear a math teacher say that?  Whoever decided that the exercises we do in a Math class should be called "problems" has seriously injured math instruction.  Are they problems?  Is my life any different as a result of a x^2 - 3x + 2 = 0 not being solved for x?  Problem solving is not, "Here's a math problem, solve it!"  Problem solving involves real and relevant scenarios, not just x's and y's (the m and n when the teacher wants to change it up).

So, give me a real "problem" in a mathematics class.  Give me something that's relevant to me.  Answer the question of "When am I going to use this?"  For may instructors, the only answers to that question are: "In College", "When you go into engineering", "In Business".  Relevance is the key to getting kids to "learn" math instead of "doing" math.  This is the reason that I enjoy Statistics, as I can get my students to represent relevant situations with my course content.  I hear from many of my colleagues that, "Statistics is an easy course to do fun labs and activities in".  I don't disagree with this assertion, but there is a whole universe of evidence that exists to show how easy it is to "do fun stuff".  

So how do we make it relevant?  The best examples I've used with my Calculus class involve gravity and motion.  Drop a ball.  No wait, have your kids drop/throw a ball.  Have a student walk/run/stand still.  Roll a Matchbox car across the floor.  Drop a ball into a bucket of water.  Capture all of these on video and have your students take measurements and data.  You'll have instant "fun stuff" for an entire unit on quadratics.  Our Algebra II textbook has 1 section of 6 devoted to "Applications of Quadratic Functions" and not one of them mentions motion.  My thoughts are that motion should be your entire unit.  

Is it really relevant?  If students are interested in it, I think it is.  If students are invested in their own data collection, it's a step towards relevance.  They are solving their own problems, not the ones that come out of the can and onto the worksheet to be "done".

When I look at a standardized test, I see the relevance completely removed from mathematics.  Most of these test questions are "Solve/Simplify".  They try to crowbar relevance by making a student "Explain your work", but it only perpetuates the "Do the problem, get an answer" that is not relevant at all.  "Then I subtracted x from both sides"  Why?  Why would you do such a thing?  Are you illustrating an understanding of Algebra, or simply following procedures?  

If you want kids to do a procedure, have them go on YouTube, watch a bunch of how-to videos, and learn the procedure on their own.  An entire class period devoted to learning a procedure is a waste of time.  If you want them to learn mathematics, they need to interact with it in a relevant context.  

By the way, I have been blogging lately by writing my posts in Google Docs and then copying and pasting at home, where my blog is not websensed.  

Monday, April 5, 2010

Teachers Get a Bad Reputation

What is it that makes the general public hold the opinion that "all teachers are bad"?

We hear from EVERYBODY(and Newsweek runs stories) that the reason our students perform so poorly on standardized tests compared with other countries is because teachers are doing a bad job.  Sidenote: The word "accountability" is used too much nowadays as a fancy word for "blame".  Finding who to blame does nothing to solve a problem.  "The search for blame is always successful and never productive." 

Walk into my classroom and witness kids working together, solving a problem that's unique, managing their work in an appropriate manner, and most importantly interacting with each other.  Walk into my classroom, and you will not see kids preparing for a standardized exam.  Okay, it's AP Stat, they're preparing for the AP Exam, but the overall focus is on learning.  Most importantly, the focus is on the students in the room, not the teacher.  You sure won't see me in front of the room showing "how to do this problem" for 40 minutes.  Well, if that's what I'm doing, then I must not be working very hard.  I would invite anyone to come into my classroom and leave saying "That teacher is doing a very poor job". 

Throughout the country, our classrooms are transforming into students being productive 21st Century learners, and building a skill set that will serve them in any aspect of life or their career.  They are building an ingenuity skill set, not a standardized test skill set.  My only wish is that there be an "ingenuity" index to measure our students versus the rest of the world, but it should be no surprise that there is no standardized test that measures ingenuity.  I think I'd be doing a "bad job" if all I did was push students to meet standards that will be meaningless when it's time to take on college, life, and a career.