Friday, June 20, 2014

Getting My Sea Legs in the CLMOOC: Reflections during Make Cycle 1

Although my brother Joe (@onewheeljoe) has been involved with the CLMOOC and Connected Learning for some time, prior to this week I've only been an occasional lurker. Diving into the first make cycle for the 2014 edition of #clmooc, I found all this connectivism a bit disorienting.

With so many participants sharing interesting tools and rich ideas, it was hard to know where to focus my attention. I recalled a conversation I had with a friend of mine, Harvey Shaw (@harvshaw), about how social media tools can sometimes be overwhelming. It's hard to kick that feeling that we are missing something when we fail to monitor every interaction. This can drive some to abandon such tools before they really get started. 

Harvey came up with an interesting comparison when he was first experimenting with twitter for professional research. He said that he initially felt like he was standing on a riverbank and that the posts were precious items floating downstream. He was overwhelmed that he couldn't collect and process them all. Later, he began to think of himself as sitting on a boat in the middle of the ocean. He thought of the tweets/posts as all the waves and ripples in the water, constantly moving in all directions. This allowed him to stop thinking that he had to capture all of them. 

With my personal and professional use of facebook and twitter, I've worked not to see the content as correspondence I have to keep up with; instead, I'm beginning to think of these social media tools as resources I can mine for information whenever I deem it appropriate.  I wanted to apply this mindset to my work in the CLMOOC also.

So as I paddled around in the sea of contributions to the CLMOOC, I decided to revisit some overlapping theories of action I've developed in the past two years to guide my teaching and professional learning. I figured if I could be cognizant of the goals that brought me to the water's edge in the first place, I could begin to map my course.

These three ideas guide much of my work as a high school teacher and a tech integration coach:

1. If educators, who are isolated due to convention or geography, use collaborative social media to investigate, author, and share resources, then they will learn to appreciate the potential of technology tools to shape learning in other settings and employ these tools to support innovative learning of those they teach.

2. If educators engage learners in an authentic iterative process of problem identification, research, planning, and action NOW (rather than preparing them to act in a distant future), young people will develop agency, skills, and persistence to engage in the urgent work of social change.

3. If I create collaborative learning spaces for participants to:
(a) process powerful first hand learning experiences,
(b) problem-solve dilemmas and challenges of application, and
(c) share effective practices,
then participants will develop self-sustaining habits of reflection and interaction that transform their practices and the practices of those around them.

As I look at them, I see that the CLMOOC Google+ community presents me with many opportunities to understand numbers 1 and 3. For number 2, I'm developing an I-Don't-Know-How-To make that helps me get started planning a modest Open Online Conference (maybe I'll call it a mOOC) that I want to "host" with my students. (My brother pointed out that it might not be least in its first iteration.)
Allow me to further stretch (and perhaps mangle) Harvey's water/boating metaphor. I'm beginning to think of myself as a surfer who paddles into the CLMOOC to sit in the calm water just beyond the breaking waves. I don't live in the water and it's impossible to think that I can monitor all the waves in the ocean 24/7. I'm not going to catch every wave. But, when I have the time and the inclination to get in the water, I practice surveying the landscape to see what looks promising. Occasionally, I can see a wave coming that suits my ability and interest, dip my arms in the water, and see where it takes me. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How to move classroom teaching practices into a blended or online space

I created this video in conjunction with a course I took about blended and online teaching.

In my role as a teacher and technology integration coach, while experimenting with technology tools available in my new school's 1-to-1 laptop environment, I try to create some resources that can help my colleagues reflect on their use of technology.

A brief summary of recommendations for teachers looking to transition existing face-to-face practices to a flipped, blended, or completely online mode of instruction:

1. Use technology tools to accomplish everyday teaching tasks, i.e. communicating agenda, and distributing resources.
2. Create a digital trail of your planning and teaching process.
3. Require students to create and submit work digitally (allowing and encouraging them to use tools you may not know).
4. Use archived student work as a teaching tool.
5. Allow student choice about pace and products.
6. Select technology tools with an eye toward flexibility and efficiency.

The slides used to prepare the video can be accessed here, if you want to take a closer look at anything you see.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Social Media and Professional Learning Networks

I started off thinking this week's engagement would be a good way for me to dig deeper into the twitter universe. I wanted to use the lens of our  objectives to examine my past behaviors and experiences.

        While I have used twitter on occasion, most of my following was done in the initial rush when I created my account a few years back. I wanted to revisit my strategies to see whether they are really supportive of building and maintaining a more active and productive PLN.

        Somewhere toward the end of the week, I pivoted to incorporate Diigo into my thinking. The slides here and the video, below, articulate my thought processes as I try to connect twitter and Diigo to my next steps as a learner and a teacher. I believe these two roles are closely aligned, for my professional learning can help me to develop models for effective student research processes and products.

        Friday, March 21, 2014

        Blending Our Teaching and Learning

        Once again, I've chosen to create some slides to share and a screen recording where I present those slides.

        I feel like this assignment came at a really good point in the course for me. It's helping me to consolidate my thinking and to reflect on the different practices I've been putting into place.

        As I considered how to make recommendations to other teachers, I was glad to have the rich resources I've been building in weeks 1 to 6 of this TTC course. Creating my slides for this week's presentation, I was frequently jumping back to earlier products to make use of images, examples, or arguments I had developed previously.

        This video is something I would actually share with some of my colleagues who are looking to optimize their use of our school's technology tools and to modify their pedagogy for our 1:1 laptop environment.

        Sunday, March 2, 2014

        Differentiation and Learning Styles

        Using the survey results now consider your current blended/online course. What do you do to support different learning styles in a blended/online course?

        I administered the suggested edutopia survey to my students. The image below shows one student's results, which are framed by the 8 intelligences put forward by Howard Gardner. The full results for the entire class can be seen here.

        While most of my students' activities take place in the classroom, I am experimenting with many blended tools that allow them to access support materials at their own pace and to make individual decisions about how best to use their class time. 

        Generally, I try to provide students with models to guide assignments, written instructions, and screencast demos. Together, we compile a range of multi-media texts that support our shared inquiry.

        These survey results provide me with insight about my students, but I would not say that I plan differently for them based on my findings. When I discuss data like this with students, I frame it as one tool they can use to help them understand themselves and their individual learning processes. My goal is to build their metacognitive, self-regulatory, and self-advocacy skills. We talk about how a single survey is not definitive. The scores are not as important as how they interpret them and choose to use them. To help them make sense of surveys like these, I ask them to reflect in small groups: 
        • What did you think as you looked at your results? 
        • Were you surprised in any way? 
        • To what extent are your responses or preferences influenced by your surroundings or your prior experiences?

        I don't want them to shy away from certain activities. I do want them to be aware of how their current strengths and preferences might shape their perceptions and influence their learning. I hope they will make informed decisions about how to approach learning tasks. I ask them to monitor their engagement and make choices that will build their motivation. With many of their projects, their first job is to choose a topic which they are excited to read about. As much as possible, I give them options for how to demonstrate their analysis and present their conclusions for my evaluation.

        Describe and explain how with two of the below you support differentiated learning in your online/blended course?

        Activities and Tasks

        While I do not design different activities for different learning styles, I do try to provide students with multiple entry points into any learning experience. No matter what their styles, strengths, preferences, or intelligences... I want them to be able to make maximal use of their background knowledge and interests. I almost never ask questions or pose problems with a limited number of "correct" answers.

        For reasons I will explain in more depth in the screencast, below, I tend to talk about "individualizing" instruction in my classroom rather than "differentiating". I started my teaching career in special education. I am always wary that attempts to classify students into a limited number of categories will lead to differentiated expectations.  As a literacy teacher, my primary responsibility is to cultivate critical reading, writing, and discussion skills. 

        Class activities ask students to make their thinking transparent to an audience. It is not always easy for adolescents to organize and express their most complex thinking in writing, so we develop and "rehearse" our thinking in class discussions, in impromptu screencasts, and through critical examination of a range of multimedia texts. I want students' initial texts (whether a sentence, and outline, or a quick video) to be quick. These are rapid prototypes that allow for multiple subsequent iterations. If students invest too much time and effort in producing a first written draft, I find they are resistant to feedback and often don't want to revise their thinking in a substantial way.

        Assignments and Assessments

        Observers of my classroom or viewers of my blended assignments might notice that all students are guided through the same stages toward completion of the same assessment. However, those looking for differentiated methods are often happy with what they see. 

        When educators talk about differentiated learning, they are often referring to differentiated means of presentation (targeting students' various receptive skills). I will follow-up with individuals and offer a supplementary explanation and personalized support, but my initial presentation is meant to be more of a one-size-fits-all affair. Once students have a vision of the target, they are able to decide on a preferred learning path and to choose how best to communicate/demonstrate their learning. Although I present the same instructions to everyone, students create products that are highly personalized. In this way, it is the students' productive/expressive actions which are differentiated more than my presentation.

        Student choice is my most powerful teaching tool. If my students can capitalize on their interests and background knowledge while making choices about how to respond to academic challenges, they are more likely to be deeply engaged, to challenge their own thinking, and to sustain their effort in the creation of products that make them proud. An engaged learner is looking to make meaning and to integrate it with existing schema.

        Sunday, February 16, 2014

        Reflecting on the Culture of my Blended Course

        This link takes you directly to my narrated screencast of my Google presentation: "Toward a Blended Classroom Culture in Support of Ongoing Collaborative Critique".

        There are a number of youtube videos embedded in the presentation slides, which you can access here and scroll through at your leisure. I did not play all of the videos during my narrated screencast, above.

        If you are interested in the methods discussed in the presentation, I encourage you to watch the two screencasts I've created for my students.

        I'm always looking for collaborators who may be pursuing similar instructional goals. Feel free to get in touch if you want to chat or share resources.

        The narrated screencast:

        The Accidental Mission Statement

        A funny thing happened as I was demonstrating for my students how I would plan a persuasive essay.

        Throughout the year, I have occasionally talked to them about books or articles I read. Sometimes these relate to adolescent social behavior or teaching techniques that support critical literacy.

        Recently, my students have been reading up on a topic of their choosing and planning to develop a written argument which will form the backbone of an essay... and later a digital text of some kind.

        Having completed their initial background reading, they are beginning to articulate their vision for their essays. One of the first steps was to use this sentence frame to craft what I called a "Main Argument Sentence": Considering (topic), I believe (Who?) should/must (action) so/because /in order to (justification/intended outcome).

        I wrote this argument sentence and created a sample screencast to illustrate a subsequent step in the writing process, which is to use their written outline to verbally rehearse their full essay.

        Considering new technologies and their impact on the 21st century workplace, I believe educators must reexamine industrial-age pedagogy in order to prepare young people for active citizenship in the information age.

        As I asked them to watch the screencast below and we talked for a few minutes afterward, I realized some of them are quite eager to think about these changing times in education.  Taking the time to explain the rationale behind my lesson plans and teaching style may help them to see the method in the madness. Some might also be inclined to paddle in the same direction.