TIES Day 2, Many Days Later

Over a week later, here are the highlights of TIES#13, Day 2:

Session 1

Great session on “The STEM of Social Studies” by Elk River teacher Ron Hustvedt. Ron teaches 6th grade social studies in a STEM school, and I was overjoyed to watch him compare the work of historians to the scientific method! Ron said, “Inquiry is the scientific method” and showed how doing the work of a historian mimics the work of a scientist. It is an important perspective to share in this world that values tested subjects over the humanities.

My session

I presented a poster along with Craig Roble on our favorite topic, digital primary sources. Here’s our poster description:

A win-win situation: museum curators + creative educators = great digital content for your classroom. Learn how collaborating with local history organizations can benefit you and your students.

This is my second poster session, and I think I’ll stick with that format for awhile. It is tons of fun to talk with people, rather than talk at them. We had 15 people or so stop by, and had some really good conversations.

One teacher asked if MNHS will translate primary source documents into other languages. This is not something we can do, for a variety of reasons. (It’s expensive, way too many documents, and then the document is no longer actually a primary source!) We suggested she use visual primary sources with her students learning English. There are many powerful activities you could do with students using photographs or objects that don’t rely on strong English reading skills. For many native English speakers younger than high school, reading primary source written documents is a challenge. Use visuals! This seemed to be a new idea to many of the teachers who were talking with us. Hopefully they’ll try it! We definitely see teachers focusing on written primary sources.


Pinterest Board with links to Digital Primary Source resources

We know teachers want new sources and places to find digital primary sources. Craig and I started a Pinterest board linking to various resources. It’s not a perfect solution, but we really liked the visual nature of Pinterest vs. a Google doc with a list of links.


Parent Session

George Couros presented a session, “Involving Parents in the Process of Learning.” See next post for a more detailed discussion of this powerful and motivating talk.

Writing with New Tools

A recent study by Pew Research (summary article by MindShift) finds teachers of higher level students feel that the opportunities offered by using technology in writing improves students writing. Students (and adults) need to learn how to write in formal as well as informal voices. Teaching writing with technology tools allows for sharing, an authentic audience, teaching of voice, as well as copyright.

HT to Jennifer Carey for this study. I’ll be referencing this in a letter I’m about to send to the superintendant of my local school. This type of writing is not only not happening in the school my daughter attends, but it is actively discouraged.

Redefine Cheating: MOOCs

Recent article in the Chronicle for Higher Education,“MOOC Teachers How to Cheat in Online Courses, with Eye to Prevention” brings up the need to redefine cheating and why we need to redefine education. The article talks about an online course (a MOOC) being taught by a Wisconsin professor all about how to “redesign learning environments.”

Let’s hope that’s what he focuses on.

The very last paragraph of the article defines cheating as “It’s meeting at Starbucks and taking a quiz together, or texting a friend….”

Seriously? Isn’t this really collaboration? We need to redefine assessment. Is the quiz about getting a right answer or about thinking through a problem? If it’s a basic multiple choice test, then getting the “right” answers from a friend may be cheating, but working through the problems with another person shouldn’t be.

Our assessments are what is wrong — not the collaboration. Students are by nature social creatures. The world works on teamwork and cooperation. Let’s reward that. Let’s nurture that -not criminalize it by calling it “cheating.” If our assessments rely on basic factual recall or some other simple form of grading to make things easier on the grader, than perhaps THAT is the problem. Not the fact that students collaborate.

I’m taking a MOOC right now. It’s not for credit, so it has a different tone and importance, I grant you that. However, I want to learn the content. I don’t care about my grade on the weekly quizzes. In this set up, you get 3 chances at a quiz. The best score is recorded. Each time to you take it, you have an opportunity to see the explanation for the answers. It doesn’t take much to figure out how to get a perfect score. The first time I took one, I felt horrible for using the answers (given to me) to get a perfect score. Then I thought again. This was about ME learning the content. Not about a grade, not about credit, so I feel no guilt. The questions are straight from the lecture or reading. There is little thought needed to answer them, no critical thinking. Just basic factual recall.

If, however, any online course was designed to give a grade or credit based on this type of quiz, that would be ridiculous. That type of assessment is ridiculous and shouldn’t be used. It is up to the educators to use assessments that are more creative, rely less on the straight factual recall, and demonstrate the ability to think, analyze, problem solve, cooperate, create, translate, etc. Look at the higher thinking skills on Bloom’s taxonomy.

Don’t criticize the students for cheating when you’re basically telling them to.

Jobs and Why we NEED Tech in Schools

Very interesting article in Quartz by Christopher Mim today, “How the Internet is Making us Poor” about how jobs are changing due to technology changing. While this is nothing new (such as the examples about agriculture and manufacturing jobs), the pace at which this is happening with technology is significantly faster.

What’s changing? Society is basically dividing into two groups,  “People who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do.” Mim goes on to explain why this is decimating the middle class, etc. In fact, he points out, many of the jobs where people are told what to do are disappearing as well (he uses Amazon as an example.)

My point with this is then why schools must start using technology – and not just using tech. They must start teaching differently so these kids are prepared to be those who tell computers what to do. This isn’t learned by taking standardized tests, either.

I had a great conversation with a decision-maker at my local district today. I am thrilled to report that the district has taken great strides to incorporate tech, and for the right reasons. High on the list was a way to equalize the playing field. This district has changed quite a bit in the last few years, and there are many refugees and families on free/reduced lunch. Kids who do not have access to tech at home deserve to learn it in school.

All kids deserve to be learning this way in school, or we’ll have more and more of those people who are told what to do by computers.

No More Bubbles!

Image from Beyond the Bubble

I have previously expressed my dismay with the amount of multiple choice tests I see at my daughter’s high school — the “Scantron” tests. Even then name says something…..  Tron? Seriously?

I’d post some of the questions from her tests, but the tests aren’t allowed out of the classroom! When I have seen them, the vast, vast  majority of the questions are, as described below, random fact recall. When I’ve asked teachers why they need to ask these questions, it’s because the “kids need to know this by memory to access higher level classes.” Wow – I’m doing professional history, and I couldn’t answer some of the definitions/rote memory questions on those tests, yet I am successful. I could, however, find those answers in seconds because I know where/how to look, how to analyze sources and how to think creatively.

It was with great pleasure that I found  Beyond the Bubble today. This is an alternative history assessment concept, based on Library of Congress primary sources. I have to dig a little deeper, but at first glance, I love the concept. Assessment based on direct primary source analysis, not rote random fact recall.

Check out their amusing little video:


Bring Your Own Learning Technology – or Pencil

Bring Your Own Learning Technology

I saw that phrase in an article from the Columbus, Ohio paper about schools using cell phones in class. It’s a great way to set an atmosphere in a school about cell phone use.

I’m sure not seeing this in my kids’ schools yet. One district is moving in that direction – they have a draft of a BYOT policy, and plans to move that way. However, in talking to my daughters 5 teachers this trimester, it is very obvious that the mindshift that has to happen has not.

There are signs posted in each classroom about no cell phones. Teachers talk about how they confiscate phones that are out. When asked, teachers only talk about the distraction factor. (hmmm – maybe their class is boring?)

I also asked if they post class materials and schedules online. Wow. One teacher said he didn’t know how to, he’d never been trained. (Failure on the school’s part.) Another teacher told me – brace yourself – that it was important for students to learn to WRITE DOWN the assignments to get ready for college.

That shocked me to say the least. So, I got online and messaged a couple of friends who are professors. Yes, real professors at real community colleges, small liberal arts schools, and major universities. Guess what. ALL OF THEM use online course management tools. Every one of them posts class information, resources, schedules and more online. It is expected. Students manage to manage their learning – even with the horrible crutch of having the material online. I guess this high school teaching students to write things down – as opposed to teaching them to manage their learning online – is really getting them ready for college (uh, sarcasm mine.)  



Visual Delivery of Information should be the new 5 Paragraph Essay

In a recent post, I lamented my pathetic design skills. It is sad, and I truly wish I had a better sense of design, an ability to turn information into a visualization. I see many places where this would be an incredibly useful skill, both  in my job and in my volunteer work. Even in low-key meetings, using visuals can be far more powerful than a bunch of words  or a long talk. Yet, my presentation skills are amateurish at best. It’s rather embarrassing.

Our society has shifted tremendously to using visuals, and students need to know how to interpret them and create them. It’s going to be at least as important, if not more important, that writing the ubiquitous 5-paragraph essay.

Of course, content is king – it always will be – but presentation is becoming more and more essential. There are many other ways besides the written word to communicate ideas. Video, photography, art, infographics.

The tools are there, we just need to let the kids use them.  I have powerful photo and video editing software on my iPhone. Tools like iBooks Author, Keynote, Prezi and more are there to make polished looking presentations. Here’s a great post by Larry Ferrlazo about resources for creating infographics. Teach kids about the basic principals of design. Hire more art teachers to help. Let kids practice, experiment, fail, and succeed.

Make sure you show design-inept kids, like me, how to be successful. I was incredibly good at those 5-paragraph essays. I could whip them up in a heartbeat, probably never getting less than an A-.  In a world based on visual delivery of information, I’d have been a C student at best. Huh. Guess intelligence sometimes depends more on perspective than reality.