A First Impression of PBL (EDIM502 u01a1)

In reviewing the exemplars of PBL in week one of EDIM 502, I was struck with a sense of déjà vu after reading about and viewing the work of Frances Koontz and her class as they participated in the Journey North activities. Quite a few years ago (dare I say at least 15 to 20?) I was involved in the Jason Project with my fellow fifth through eighth grade teachers at my previous school. That was the closest we ever got to project based learning, though we did not use that term at the time. It was an amazing journey of learning, exploration, and discovery initiated by Dr. Robert Ballard and a team of scientists. Some lucky students across the country applied to be part of the Jason expedition as “argonauts” and got to experience it first hand, though none of our students ever participated in that way. It was interdisciplinary, required us to team teach, took extensive planning on our part as teachers where we had to decide which areas of the curriculum we would be responsible for, which of the learning activities we would be able to incorporate, and how we would bring this experience to life for the students. The culminating activity was a trip to Lehigh University which was one of the hosting sites that communicated live with the expedition and we never knew when we booked our day exactly what the scientists would be doing and what we would experience.   We were in awe of the “technology” used at Lehigh for the live interaction with the expedition, especially since technology was almost non-existent in our classrooms at the time.  

Was that true project based learning according to the definition used today? How did it compare to the three exemplars from week one of the PBL course?

I will confess up front that although I am probably the most daring member of my faculty and the most willing to jump in and try something new, I am still somewhat “jaded” by the fact that so many of the great ideas out there in education sound wonderful in theory but sometimes leave one extremely frustrated in the harsh light of reality. Having been around for so many swings of the pendulum, one of the first things I tend to do when I see video clips of awesome projects being done in a particular classroom is to count the number of students in the room and note the amount of open space they have available. When you work with classes that average around 35 students  and have very little open space this is a reality that cannot be ignored. After seeing in these three exemplar videos that the students shown numbered 20 or fewer, I immediately sense that there would have to be great adaptations made in my school for undertaking similar projects. I struggle very often to see the glass half full rather than half empty!

In each of these projects there was a driving question of sorts, though not the Big Question with global implications as presented in the Apple CBL model, at least not directly stated, although the Monarch project and the related activities on the site are global projects.  Perhaps the articles just didn’t particularly name that or for the younger students that is not part of the vocabulary. It seemed that each of the three derived the driving question from a different source. For Mrs. Huemer’s class in Newsome Park it seemed the students’ interests and curiosity drove the project focus. In Miss Reeder’s geometry class in Seattle it seemed that she set the focus and the goals she wanted her students to achieve and designed the architecture project around that, and in Frances Koontz’s class the questions were derived from the Journey North curriculum projects.

All three projects had the students working in groups and engaged in hands on activities. The geometry students obviously were more self-directed as far as group dynamics because of their age, but the collaborative experience is vital for all age groups and is a very important skill to develop.  Assessment needs to be considered in the planning of projects and assessment was really only mentioned in the geometry project. I imagine there had to be periodic assessments by the teacher along the way and not just at the end of the six weeks. I am concerned about 40% of the final project grade coming from the assessment of the architects, but again, there is probably much more to this than was presented. Having coached students through PJAS (Pennsylvania Jr. Academy of Science) projects and having experts in various sciences be their judges, that can certainly be a flawed process if not screened carefully, but obviously she had developed a relationship with the architects and shared her project goals with them.

Project based learning still needs to incorporate curriculum standards  and Frances Koontz did mention how she was able to work in her language arts standards in the project, and also the idea of multiculturalism.  Miss Reeder’s class apparently scored very high in testing so she obviously did a great deal of preparation and planning to develop a project that incorporated the necessary benchmarks in geometry throughout the course of the project.  She was concerned with skill transfer but in the projects with the younger students that point was not raised.

Although I guessed as much coming in to this course, PBL entails a great deal of planning behind the scenes on the part of the teacher in order to be able to develop activities that will engage students and provide authentic learning with global implications, and still meet state standards. Planning time is definitely at a premium for most teachers and as Mrs. Vreeland noted in the “barrel of worms” article, it does take a great deal of effort. All three exemplars brought in outside experts in the field to speak to the students and interact with them, helping them to see real life application for their learning.

 Although the concept of PBL appeals to me and I see the educational value, it also seems overwhelming and I understand how someone might look at it and say “How would I ever have time to do that?” I can see that without administrative support it may be difficult to undertake. Without a teacher who is willing to work off the clock, waaaaaay off the clock, it won’t happen. But if we want our students to be engaged and to develop a desire to be life-long learners, we have to take baby steps and be willing to give it a go.

I especially liked how Mrs. Vreeland said that “the students know that Mrs. V. doesn’t have all the answers, and they also know that it doesn’t bother her in the least.” We are all students, some of us are just much, much older than others. This student is looking forward to learning more about PBL.


 glass half empty  CC 2.0 license

 Robert Ballard CC 2.0 license

clock CC 2.0 license

Final Reflection: Respect, Ethics, and the Rainforest

The course in Digital Media has come to a close and the final project, a Google Earth tour, has been submitted, hopefully intact. For this project I chose the topic, Rainforests of the World, as that is a topic for third grade science and I have done rainforest activities with the third grade in the past. The Diocesan curriculum for science at that grade level includes:

B. Plants
1. Life cycles
2. Adaptations for survival
3. Populations
4. Communities

  • Producers
  • Grassland
  • Ocean
  • Rainforest

The most difficult part of this project for me was actually coming up with the subject matter. Not being a “regular” classroom teacher, I have my hands in everyone’s curriculum, but needed to search through Diocesan guidelines for topics that would lend themselves to this medium and become a learning activity from which students could truly benefit.

There is much in this topic of rainforests that lends itself to developing respectful and ethical minds. Very often when we think of rainforests we think of the vegetation, the animal life, but do we think of the human inhabitants of these regions as well? In this virtual field trip the students not only learn of rainforest layers and beautifully exotic flora and fauna, but they have a chance to glimpse totally different lifestyles and to compare them with their own. They have the opportunity to appreciate the similarities and differences among people of very different cultures and realize that children all over the world are basically the same.

There are two forms of assessment included. One is the ongoing writing activity of posting thoughts to a blog. My third graders have taken to blogging with great enthusiasm. Keyboarding skills are always an issue but keeping the requirement to four sentences allows them a chance to review what they learned without becoming extremely frustrated. (We do work on keyboarding in third grade.) The other is a Discovery Quiz Builder activity at the conclusion of the trip when we return home.

Although my regular classroom experience was always with upper grade students, I have come to learn about the reading struggles of students in the primary grades as their (former) Spanish teacher and now technology teacher.  In order for the struggling readers to get as much out of the experience as possible, I have embedded AudioPal recordings so they can listen to the text being read to them if they choose. One downside of this free tool is that the recordings can only be 60 seconds in length, so in some cases I feel that I may have been speaking too quickly. I had to sometimes have more that one player on a page for that reason. The only other audio included was sounds of the rainforest which was optional for listening. Other audio could have included sounds of various animals but of course there is always the possibility that too much of that can cause a distraction.

On the topic of images, I decided to use a customized placemark rather than an external image in an overlay. Since not every stop focused on animals, or plants, or people, there leaf1would have been no suitable image theme, so I created a leaf image to symbolize the overall theme. I regret that before I began Photoshopping the leaf I neglected to note the source, so there is no actual citation for the original leaf in the Google Earth file. I created 6 leaves with the numbers 1-6 for the stops on the tour, and removed the white background. Then they were uploaded as customized placemarks. The remaining images in the project can be found within the contents of each place mark either as a static image or a linked image. To expand this project further, and I hope to do this before we actually use it in the classroom, I would insert additional links to images of plants and animals. Time constraints caused me to use just a smattering of external links for images. I am planning to insert a few more images of the more unusual species.

I stayed with a basic format for each location, using HTML coding within each placemark’s properties. One way I could improve on the geographic understanding would be to insert an image within the placemark of a world map with that particular location shaded. I could create my own but that would entail adding my own images rather than hyperlinks, and there was the danger that the images would not stay packaged with the project. I may do this locally however.

There were a few moments of panic when Google Earth crashed in the midst of inserting links and media. Was it my computer, or was the application protesting media overload? I learned early on to SAVE frequently after losing some of my hard work after a crash.

By completing the activities during this virtual field trip I am hoping my students will develop a sense of respect for the other cultures and especially children of the world. We are not better, only different, and we are alike in so many ways. They can also develop an appreciation for the beauty and diversity in nature. In addition, even at a young age, they can begin to develop that ethical mind whereby they begin to look beyond their own needs, and begin to make choices that are right for the planet, and right for humanity in general.

At the conclusion of this course I have three projects that I can actually use with my students that will engage them in authentic 21st century learning. I have also grown so much in my personal learning, not only from the readings but also from the sharing of a group of very hard-working and dedicated professionals who it is obvious have the best interests of their students at heart. I hope that I have made some small contribution in return.

Added Friday, October 16 (6:45 p.m.): Upon reviewing the .kmz file that had been uploaded via Moodle, I caught an error. I inserted the same audio recording in two places and missed the Amazon recording entirely. The link to the project on this page has the corrected version. I found that if I tried to send a second Audio Pal recording to the same email address, it would only keep the first one. I used half a dozen different email addresses to get them all; however it could be that after retrieving one recording, deleting that email would allow the new one to come through. Thankfully I had not emptied my trash and was able to find the correct audio clip without having to record again. Another lesson learned…Don’t be quick to empty the trash!


Amazon Rainforest Treetops. Corbis. 2009.
Discovery Education. 14 October 2009

Children of the Amazon. 14 October 2009

Environmental science and conservation news

Mission, Model, and Mirror

As the Digital Media course draws to a close, it is time to reflect upon the Five Minds put forth by Howard Gardner and how these minds can influence our current and future teaching practices, and in reality, our current and future roles as global citizens.

What is my mission as an educator? I feel that cellist Yo-Yo Ma, in his response to Gardner’s question about what constitutes good work (Chapter 6, The Ethical Mind) really laid out a formula for the teaching profession. To paraphrase:

– to perform as excellently as possible
– to be able to work together with others and develop common understanding and trust
– to pass on knowledge, skill, understanding, and orientation to succeeding generations so that the joy of learning may endure

I have taken liberties with his statement about music and applied it to teaching, but I feel the idea of “good work” spans all professions. I will take that a step further and say that, as a Catholic school educator, it is inherent upon me to model Christ-like action to all I meet. From our school mission statement come these words:

Welcome to Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, educating Pre-School to Eighth Grade students in the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania.  We are proud of our school and glad to have you here. We strongly believe that close cooperation between the school and the home is essential in promoting the education of the children entrusted to our care.

At Our Lady we strive to maintain a caring and peaceful environment in which all students can feel comfortable. We believe that this atmosphere will facilitate learning and nurture respect among students, teachers, and parents.

In his remarks on the ordering of the Five Minds, Gardner states that  “From the beginning one must begin by creating a respectful atmosphere toward others. In the absence of civility, other educational goals prove infinitely harder to achieve.”

With such a noble, and at times daunting, mission for educators, to whom do we turn for our models? Who are the leaders in our quest to meet the needs of today’s students, the students who need 21st century skills developed and nurtured with 21st century tools by educators with a 21st century mindset?

We cannot operate in isolation, relying solely on our own knowledge and creativity to meet the needs of our students. And so we develop our Personal Learning Networks, our groups of fellow educators, leaders in the field, gurus as it were, from whom we learn about the latest and greatest. These individuals point us to the cutting (or bleeding) edge, are often the first to try the tools or offer new ways to use old tools, who are willing to give it a go and let us know how it went. As the network expands and we participate in sharing opportunities, we ourselves occasionally may be the ones who offer a new twist, a fresh outlook, a way around a stumbling block.

Being an old-timer, I am reminded of a shampoo commercial  that showed a girl talking about a shampoo, and she told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on and so on…  And just like viral video, the good ideas spread. The more groups you are part of, the more opportunities you have to get in on what is happening. How have I picked up on “the buzz”? What constitutes my PLN?

I must start with the DEN. The Discovery Educator Network was the door-opener for badge-100x100_4me. Back in January of 2006 I applied to be a STAR educator and had some correspondence with one Lance Rougeux, who decided that I should not withdraw my application just because I felt I might not be able to do all that was expected of me. I am very glad he took a chance on me. Attending my first PETE&C that February was like opening the door from Kansas to Oz. There was no turning back.

In addition to the fabulous learning opportunities afforded by the DEN, I have a blogroll listed here that is just a microcosm of the ed tech blogosphere. I must admit, however, that during the school year, and especially now taking a course, my opportunity to read my favorite bloggers’ thoughts has shrunk due to time constraints. I find it hard to choose just one to recommend. If I had to narrow the list I suppose I could choose two that have expanded my horizons more than any others. First is Steve Dembo’s Teach42 blog. Steve is known as a guru of Web2.0 tools, but he is passionate about empowering teachers and improving education. His post on Feet on the Ground or Head in the Clouds is a great example of what he is about and what he tries to do. An interesting conversation developed in the comment section as well. And I truly do agree with him that little tricks and tools may be just the thing to get a teacher energized, get the kids excited and engaged, and it may not solve the mysteries of the universe, but if it makes a difference in some classroom for some child, then why not give it a try?

And if I had the chance to get an autograph or choose someone with whom I would love to have conversation over dinner, it would be Vicki Davis, aka Cool Cat Teacher. I could write several paragraphs on what I have learned by reading her posts. She shares the successes and failures, the tips for beginners because she remembers being one herself. She never lowers her standards and expects the best from her students and gives her best in return. How she finds time to sleep I have no idea, but it is obvious from her posts that her family comes first. I loved her post about burning three different colored candles, each representing a different facet of her life, and if one was burned down farther than the others she knew things were not balanced in her life. Can’t find the actual post, but it was very thought-provoking.

So now when I look into the mirror (the dreaded mirror test?) I must ask myself if I am living up to my potential as an educator. Am I producing “good work” and encouraging others to do the same, both students and fellow teachers? Some days it is hard to motivate, and sometimes teachers are harder to motivate than students. And yet, aren’t we all students? Shouldn’t we all be life-long learners? That is the underlying theme of my Blackberry Alley blog. I began as a student, and went on to become a teacher, who has realized that she will always be a student, even as she continues to have students of her own. What I see in the mirror needs a little work (and I don’t mean just the wrinkles) but there is some promise.  As I continue to develop my “five minds” perhaps I can be a model for my students of respect, good work ethic, and a touch of creativity. With periodic innoculations from my PLN as well as my students, I may yet pass muster.

Man Plays Cello. Jupiterimages Corporation. 2006.
Discovery Education. 13 October 2009

Buyer, Elizabeth. mirror.jpg. May 2005. Pics4Learning. 13 Oct 2009 <>

Around the World in
(One Hundred)Eighty Days

What a wonderful opportunity we have as educators today to help our students develop a “respectful mind” with the many possibilities that exist for reaching out to students around the globe.

Currently my students, especially the older ones, are becoming excited about communicating with other students through blogging. Though the majority of the students participating in the Bloggers’ Challenge come from USA, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, there is still a sprinkling of other countries around the world. There are so many avenues to explore with this. We are working on being “respectful” commenters, and addressing the writer’s thoughts and goals, rather than noticing their misspellings or bad grammar (and of course aren’t WE the perfect ones…now that deserves an LOL if anything does.)

I have made connections with a third grade teacher in Saskatchewan, Canada. Her students, like mine, are new bloggers. We are planning to work together on some shared activities, though we are both feeling our way at first. I have communicated with her (Leah Dewhurst) via Skype and email and so far we are giving each other time White_tailed_deer_in_Saskatchewan__Canada___mediumto get the students adjusted to the blog site, but hope to try VoiceThread in the near future. There is so much my students can learn, not only about Canada, but about the native people to that area, the climate, even variations in the English language. We are all excited at what may unfold during the year. I only have one web cam, but I hope to make use of it during our interaction with the Canadian class, which is 2 hours behind us time wise.

Another project that would help in cultural understanding with our Canadian friends is creating a digital story about our school and our routines, our town and local attractions. That was an activity mentioned in the Julene Reed post, and one we could certainly take on. Sharing this with students in another country and having them share with us would be enriching, not only for the students, but for us as teachers as well. Students first instincts may be to laugh at something that looks totally different than what they are used to. But that reaction could lead to some interesting discussions, and the chance to appreciate that there may be no best way, just many different ways.

Ms. Dewhurst adds much more media to her posts than I do, so I will be trying to learn some new tools to use as well. This Thursday, October 8, I plan to take my third graders on a little “trip” to her posts from this school year, such as her post on Elders that visited their classroom or field trips they have taken. We will discuss things that we can share with our soon to be Canadian friends.  I am at a disadvantage in this situation since Ms. Dewhurst is their regular classroom teacher and I see my third graders for 45 minutes per week. Therefore, this is a project in which I need to enlist their homeroom teacher as a partner, so that they get the full benefits of this interaction. I cannot be a world unto myself in the computer lab, and I shouldn’t be. What I need to do is support their curriculum and so the scope of this project will widen as the third grade teacher comes (is dragged) on board.

A_menorah_in_Jerusalem__Israel___mediumAfter following the link to the Global Dreamers Webquest, I am anxious to discuss with the 6th grade teacher how we can get involved with this class from Israel. I need to spend some time reviewing the possibilities on that site, but with the sixth grade studying ancient civilizations in the Middle East and studying the Israelites in the Old Testament in their religion class, there is so much potential for increasing their awareness of this region of the world and the culture of young people who turn out to have much more in common with them than they may imagine.

One sixth grader wrote:

Hi, my name is Ronya K.

I like a lot  of  rock and rock punk bands like Linkin Park, Simple Plan, Paramore, Nickelback, System of a down, Blink 182 and fall out boy.  I like to see a lot  of movies and ride scary books. My mum is a single parent  and I see my dad to times in year and I miss him but it is the reality. I’ve got two big sisters one is a broadcaster at MTV, her name is Bitanya and the other one is an actor and model, her name is Nizhna.

I like skateboarding but my mum thinks that skateboarding is dangerous.Bye!

I am surprised to note how much personal information about the students exists on that site – first and last names, photos, even parents names and in the case of one girl I saw, her street as well as her town. We are much more guarded with our students’ privacy. That would be something I would love to discuss with the teacher running the project.

All in all I am excited about being more aware of the opportunities for global collaboration in which my students might engage. Perhaps these activities we are involved in will help to develop the “respectful mind” in these young people. As Gardner notes, “During early years of school, such issues [value of respect, cost of respect, cost of disrespect] are best approached through experiences in which members of different groups work together on common projects, and come to know one another first hand.” My hope is that the seeds of respect for cultural differences will take root (along with those seeds of creativity).

Side note: At the time I wrote this post I was basing it on the reading assignments listed in the introduction for this week’s module, namely the Julene Reed post and “The Respectful Mind”. It occurred to me afterward that the references to “ethical mind” meant that chapter was part of the reading although it was not listed. Hence, no references to that chapter exist in this post, though my discussion comments do reflect both chapters.

Image Citations

A menorah in Jerusalem, Israel.. IRC. 2005.
Discovery Education. 6 October 2009

White-tailed deer in Saskatchewan, Canada.. IRC. 2005.
Discovery Education. 6 October 2009

Planting Seeds of Creativity

In the discussion forum for this week’s class, based on Chapter 4 of Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future, I raised the issue of allowing for creativity within the core curriculum, even if art and music classes may be receiving less emphasis in the curriculum. In a sense, what I was referring to bears more resemblance to “self-expression” rather than “creating” in the sense that Gardner uses the term. Students in our classes may not be “ruffling the contours of a genre” by any stretch, but perhaps we need to allow them to feel that they might color out of the lines if they so choose without experiencing the repercussion of a lowered grade. We must of course, provide the baseline of literacy and a solid foundation in the disciplines, but within the disciplines, do our students feel that they have an avenue for creative expression?

When I was a junior high math teacher, I was occasionally faced with students, and one particular very intelligent young man comes to mind, who chose to solve the “word problems” by their own means, or perhaps entirely in their heads, rather than set down the formula and neatly balance both sides of the equation. Process and solution were both important I thought, and so I insisted that each student demonstrate, at least on occasion, that he knew how to set up the good old equation. Whether that was the true means by which the student arrived at the solution, I might not have known. There is something to be said for the organized approach, and in the middle years, perhaps insisting that the standard methods are at least learned, if not necessarily followed, will provide a foundation that will serve the student well as he or she continues in that discipline. There may be only one correct response to how many square feet of turf are needed to cover the football field, but how one arrives at that solution can vary. Gardner does state that “only through the honing of a discipline would genuinely creative options ultimately emerge.” The foundation, the basics, need to be in place, before one ventures off the beaten path.

One of the things I have come to realize in this course that I believe will serve me well in the next one, is to look ahead and see what the readings and requirements are over all, get the broader picture first perhaps. I spent much time in the forum developing my thoughts on creativity and how blogging in the classroom was such a great tool, and I do believe that. Well this week’s “in the classroom” leads to next week’s “outside the classroom” and perhaps that is where the blogging best fits. Did I see that was where we were headed before now? Oh no, I chattered merrily on. (We blog IN class…therefore I saw it as fitting but now I think it should have been left to the following week.) I also threw out a link to Sir Ken Robinson’s TED video on creativity without realizing it is one of the upcoming class resources. Lesson learned…look ahead.

Therefore the tool I am recommending as a vehicle for creativity IN the classroom is digital storytelling. The application I have used most often has been PhotoStory, although MovieMaker does have more features there is a steeper learning curve and having limited time I usually opt for PhotoStory. For the past several years students have been completing a digital story assignment and then at the end of the year I would burn it to CD and they would take home their finished product. (I do mean “end of the year”….some are literally walking out the door on the last day with the CD in hand. Then there is the dreaded “I will mail it to you over the summer…ouch!) I have now worked on some form of a storytelling assignment with grades 4 through 8, and last year, all of those grades.

This does not mean digital stories cannot be shared with a wider audience, but when the stories involve personal photos, we are very careful where they go. And I must confess that even when the eighth grade completed vodcasts on earth science topics two years ago, I was nervous about posting them on our website for fear I had missed some copyrighted images. One of the aspects of teaching students about digital storytelling I most enjoy is finding stories created by others and watching them together, some created by students, some by adults, and then discussing how the stories made us feel. One story on Bernajean Porter’s Digitales site that spoke to my heart was “My Mother’s Socks“. Perhaps it was the fact that I had four sisters. When I first saw the story my mother was alive. I have gone back recently and watched it again. I tried to explain to the students why that story spoke to me, but it wasn’t easy. But I encouraged them to watch other stories and see which ones spoke to their hearts. I personally feel that in order to tell a good story you need to have heard many good stories yourself, or in the words of one site – Listen Deeply, Tell Stories. Other sites with digital storytelling resources are Joe Brennan’s Discovery Blog and the Digital Storytelling portal. We use our class wiki to provide resources, step by step instructions, and rubrics. I have to admit though, that it is a difficult concept to teach. Perhaps because a good story has a creativity that one cannot teach, but instead just nurture the seeds of. All we can do is help our students find the stories that are inside them.

Cone on Horsetail plant. Paul Fuqua. 2003.
Discovery Education. 22 September 2009

Reflection – Digital Media and PowerPoint Project

In this assignment to create a media-infused PowerPoint presentation we were asked to blend our subject matter, whichever discipline that may fall into, with our knowledge of technology tools and the vast resources of the Discovery Education site, with the purpose of creating a learning module that would be of benefit to both student and teacher.

Although I teach across the disciplines, I have chosen technology literacy for the presentation, specifically the area of Internet Safety. This is an area that I touch on each year, but with a ready made lesson such as the one I have submitted, I feel that I can approach this very important topic in a much more organized way. I am planning to use this lesson over a few class periods beginning the last week of September.

Due to the necessity of uploading the file to another site, I have merely created an image where the video segment itself would be embedded, and just provided a hyperlink directly to the Discovery Streaming site. Normally in my teaching of the do’s and don’ts of PowerPoint (and I do not claim expert status by a long shot) I remind students that there should be no special effects, no little sound clips, unless they actually enhance the content being presented. In order to comply with the project requirements I have added a sound file, a single bell when moving to from the video slide to the review slide of a sub-topic. There is no way this has any bearing on the learning activity but there seemed to be no ready-made sound file that would serve a purpose here. One of the great features of many of the Discovery videos is the supplementary materials provided, as is the case with the video “Internet Safety: Pitfalls and Dangers”. There is a wealth of material from parent letters to pre- and post-viewing activities and discussions, to blackline checklists and outlines of the important concepts in the video.

I believe a presentation like this lends itself well to in-class discussion, but what I would hope to do is to then upload the activity and use it in Assignment Builder, after the whole class activity, perhaps creating the opportunity for students who missed all or part of the presentation to catch up, or to provide for the needs of the student who may benefit from a second and a third look at the topic. So many discussion areas and blogging topics can arise from this learning activity, as well as, I hope an increase in the level of technology literacy. I do plan to download the video segments to create a stand-alone teaching tool that can stand up despite network or streaming difficulties. Despite the pressures of meeting a deadline, I am grateful for the make-and-take opportunity and I know my students will benefit.

Synthesis Soup

In my role as “tech teacher” and “tech coordinator” at my school, I find myself faced with two broad challenges. First, I need to help my students develop technology literacy and use 21st century tools in appropriate, constructive, and creative ways; and second, I need to encourage and support the classroom teachers with integrating technology into their lesson plans in a way that will not only enhance their teaching methods but also provide opportunities for students to put into practice the tech literacy I am trying to develop. I have experienced some success with the first challenge, though I feel that there is far more to do than my 45-minutes a week with them will permit. In the second challenge, I feel I am somewhat of a failure. (There are also the unwritten challenges of unjamming printers and unblocking sites on the content filter and maintaining the website, etc., etc…but let’s not go THERE.)

Perhaps my expectations are too high but I fear that a number of my teachers see technology as a discipline that can work in isolation rather than one which can blend quite well into the curriculum to enhance the discipline(s) they teach. Though I have tried my best to refer to it as “tech class” as opposed to “computer class”, students are still told to line up for “computer” as I approach the door (and of course you can imagine how quickly they are all ushered out so the “prep time” may begin!). Well, if I am painfully honest, some of them see it as nothing more than another “special” along with art, or music, or Spanish. The ideal is for us to be working together and blending, dare I say, synthesizing, the elements of content matter and technology that will produce a desired outcome, or performance objective. There is time built into the schedule for us to meet, but often they are too busy and prefer to grade papers or work on some other task. I have done a number of interesting tech projects with my students that were based in a curriculum area, but the students fail to see it as a way to learn about the economy, or The Alamo, or the space program, as much as a “project for computer class”. It also is not given as much importance in their eyes because “it doesn’t affect my general average”. If I work with a teacher to develop a project, let’s say on an assigned South American country that calls for them to research and then share that information in a video format, I am still working with them on the project weeks and weeks after the class has moved from South America to Europe in the curriculum.

null There are a few minor success stories. One project completed with eighth grade last year allowed for developing skill in technology tools in the completion of a project based on the health curriculum. Mrs. C, our health and phys ed teacher, and I worked together and did extensive planning for this project. We did feel that we had accomplished our goals because we didn’t say, “Oh let’s not ever try this again!” On the contrary, we plan to do it again this year but fine-tune any weaknesses we encountered the first time. I will explain how we blended health subject matter and technology literacy in this project following Gardner’s four loosely ordered “components of synthesis” (the recipe for Synthesis Soup):

1. A Goal – The goal was to provide a vehicle for eighth grade students to learn as much as possible about Risky Adolescent Behaviors for the purpose of helping them to make sensible choices as they encounter situations in their teen years.

2. A Starting Point – Students were presented in health class with the idea that they would be facing many choices in the future and they needed to learn as much as possible about the effects and consequences of their choices, even in areas they had not yet experienced. Since there were so many areas to be covered, they would work in groups to research their assigned topic and create a presentation by which they could share their findings with classmates, and eventually a wider audience, in order to help others make informed choices about risky behavior.

3. Selection of Strategy, Method, and Approach –
Our strategy was using a team approach to be able to present as many topics as possible, and the following technology tools were brought into play:

wiki – The eighth grade class wikispace section on health was developed with an opening page explaining project goals, expectations, and due dates. A resource page was added with selected sites for each team to use for information in developing their project. I assisted in the setup and permissions on the wiki, and some of the coding. The health resources were gathered by Mrs. C. with tech resources added by myself. Each team then had its own page on the class wikispace that was setup for them as a table so that each expectation was clearly defined.

PowerPoint – The presentation was delivered in PowerPoint and techniques in developing a good PowerPoint presentation were explained in technology class. Expectations of quality were spelled out on a score sheet for the technology aspects of the project and links and tutorials were provided on the wikispace for reference.

Podcast – After the presentations were made in class, students then worked in their teams to turn their presentation into a dialogue that could be recorded as a podcast. In this way, the basic information was shared with a wider audience, while the in class presentation was visual and allowed for images that may have been copyrighted but cited in the presentation. This was a learning experience for me as well as the students, as it was my first time having students do podcasting. Previously I had only created them myself. The eighth grade podcasts are still available on our tech class blog on the right sidebar of the page.

4. Drafts and Feedback – Here I am not sure if I should analyze the feedback for student work or the feedback Mrs. C. and I gave each other as we discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the project. One thing we felt needed more emphasis next time was developing a more in-depth understanding of the project. Many times a team would have pulled a statement or a statistic from one of their sources, without fully understanding the context from which it was taken, or its significance in the overall picture of the risky behavior. I am not yet sure how we will deal with this issue this year. Students will not ask for help if they think they “get it”, but it may not be obvious until the final piece is presented that they didn’t really “get it”. So we must then step in and use the teachable moment. We also need to place more emphasis on oral presentation techniques. So I suppose our first year project was a “draft”, and hopefully this year’s students will benefit from our learning. We indeed learned along with them throughout the course of the project. Another area we hope to refine is being able to define for them our ideas of “excellent, adequate, and unacceptable” work on this project. We seemed to be more re-active than pro-active in this regard.

Will they be able to apply the best practices for presentation we tried to develop in other work they do in high school? We might never know if those skills carry over. More importantly though, have we given them the opportunity to develop their knowledge of risky adolescent behaviors so that in the future they do not become like some of the victims presented on their slides? Again, we may never know but, we can hope.

Note: Should anyone in the Wilkes Digital Media course wish to have guest access to our private eighth grade wikispace, that can be arranged. Feel free to contact me.

-Image created with Wordle and Microsoft Clip Art

Which Way to Oz?

When Gardner states his belief that “…today’s formal education still prepares students for the world of the past, rather than for possible worlds of the future” many educators will nod in agreement. And yet, what are we doing to change that looking backward mentality?

The resources available to educators today are astounding, perhaps we might also say, overwhelming. How can we find the best way to approach our planning and teaching? How can we best reach our students? His research on mulitiple intelligences tells us that there is no one correct or best way to reach each and every student. We need a diversified approach, taking into consideration the varieties of ways in which individuals learn. Gardner states that if a subject is worth studying, “it is worth studying deeply over a significant period of time using a variety of examples and modes of analysis”. And in so doing, “Any lesson is more likely to be understood if it has been approached through diverse entry points.” (from Points 2 and 3, How To Discipline a Mind in Chapter 2)

With this in mind I searched through Discovery Streaming for video content which would support my goal of helping students to better understand the concept of “Digital Citizenship.” I have chosen this content area because although I work with teachers across the curriculum and may help to develop projects in science or social studies, health or religion, I feel a personal responsiblitiy as the “tech teacher’ to promote digital citizenship.

The video content I chose is “Internet Safety: Pitfalls and Dangers“, slightly over 16 minutes in length but available in six segments. The video also provides a review segment, a video quiz, blackline masters, and a Teacher’s Guide, as well as a sample letter to parents on the topic, asking them to also be involved in the discussion with their child. An especially nice feature of this video is the fact that the date is 2008, so the message is very timely for today’s student.

How shall I use this video? Let me count the ways…

  1. Each topic can be presented first by asking about students’ prior knowledge or pre-conceived notions and then playing the individual segment to reinforce, clarify, or correct what surfaced in discussion. Each video segment can then serve as a jumping off point for a more in-depth look at the topic within the unit on digital citizenship.
  2. The video segments could be placed as links in Assignment Builder, where students could view/ or re-view) and respond by summarizing the key points, either with in the builder or in an individual blog post. The accompanying supplementary materials provide questions that can be used as a quiz in the builder also.
  3. The video segments could also be embedded on a private wiki (which I use with each of my classes) to allow for viewing both at home or school, with discussion questions and students responses taking place in the wiki discussion area.
  4. Individual segments of the video could be assigned to groups of students to role play an appropriate scenario that represents the do’s and don’ts being presented. In this way there are “performances of understanding: (Point 4 How to Discipline a Mind) allowing students to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the topic than merely memorizing the “right answer”.
  5. Unfortunately this is not an editable video. If it were we could do such things as take an image or frame and perhaps add talking bubbles or narrate over it. I believe it would be permissible, however, to turn down the sound and have a student summarize the content of a segment on social networking or online shopping for use within the classroom only. A student could create a slide show in which the segment was embedded, and I am assuming still voice over that way, as long as the slide show were presented in class only. And of course the review segment would summarize and reinforce all the content and discussion and could serve as a unit wrap-up.

Having listed all this, I am faced with the age-old dilemma that in providing a variety of entry points and allowing different ways for students to demonstrate “conceptual ablility”, a unit of this nature could stretch out for weeks and weeks with a class that meets only once per week. When we are faced with curriculum guidelines that basically call for content that is “a mile wide and an inch deep”, how do we reconcile that with Gardner’s call for core knowledge to be “intense and acquired in meaningful context”? This has been my stumbling block with projects I have suggested to teachers who are worried about all they have to “cover. Until some of that pressure is removed, many teachers are afraid to go too far in depth and then “fall behind” in the curriculum. And with the ever-present state testing, what are we to do?

Yellow Brick Road Second LifeIs there an Emerald City of education where all these concerns can be resolved? If Gardner had a visiting superintendent who wanted to see examples of such-and-such because that is where you should be in the social studies curriculum, but instead he as the teacher had done a very in-depth project that took several weeks, how would he respond to the question? Does this say to us that there needs to be a revolution in thinking “at the top”? We educators have brains, and heart, and (for the most part) we ARE striving to create life-long learners. We need to gather up our courage and creativity and keep trying to do what will allow our students to “come to enjoy the process of learning about the world” and see learning as a joy rather than a chore. Perhaps we can see Emerald City in the distance, but the yellow brick road sure has a lot of bumps along the way.