Connect Text Remix Event

December 18, 2012

This week, English students remixed their research papers into new formats. Some chose Xtranormal, some chose Voice Threads, and some chose Pictochart as their tools for reimagining their original text.

Here’s a Voice Thread that tells the story.

NAEP Questions Tool

December 12, 2012

Looking for assessment questions. NAEP’s Questions Tool has a ton, and they look like they should line up beautifully with North Carolina’s Common Exams (a.k.a. MSLs).

Check out the NAEP website.

Or watch this video tutorial.

The Common Core, in a Small Meaningful Way

December 8, 2012

This is Not a Homework Check
“Going over homework” in Jennifer Mabe’s class is far more than a right/wrong self-check. Mabe asks her students, as any teacher might, to announce their answers to questions from the previous night. She follows, not with correction or confirmation, and not with her own demonstration of the correct process for arriving at the best answer, but with an opportunity for other students to challenge the first response with their own. The most important part happens when Mabe asks students to justify why an incorrect answer is incorrect, and why a correct one is correct. Mabe’s students are able to identify where negatives were neglected, order of operations not followed, and concepts misconstrued.

Small as this homework check detail might seem, its value is substantial for two reasons. First, it promotes two of the eight mathematical practices:
3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
6. Attend to precision.
While teaching them algebra, Mabe is also teaching cross curricular habits of mind (reasoning, precision) that will serve them well as life-long learners. She’s teaching them to think math, and teaching them to think.

Beyond training her students to think math, Mabe requires her students to talk math. To explain why an answer is incorrect, they must, to some extent, use the language of mathematics. Math talk in the mouth of the teacher is fine; it’s like listening to a native speaker. In the mouths of learners, however, talking math develops ownership and mathematical fluency, the same way speaking Spanish helps develop fluency in that language.

Sharks Aren’t Like Dolphins
Clinton Todd wants his students to develop biology fluency as they learn to classify animals. In a recent bell ringer, students decided which animal (turtle, wolf, or shark) the dolphin most resembles, biologically speaking. After a few minutes of independent processing, the first student to respond answered, “shark.” When Todd prodded the student to justify his response, the student offered a detailed comparison of the physical similarities between dolphins and sharks. Todd then opened discussion. What other answers did anyone choose? Why not the shark? Why did you choose the wolf? (The correct answer is the wolf, which, like the dolphin, is a mammal, the biggest hint being the dolphins blow hole and lungs, as opposed to gills. Only one student selected the turtle.)

Todd’s line of questioning, and his response to correct and incorrect responses made this bell ringer effective. The nature of his response remained even and inquisitive, whether the answer was correct or incorrect. What he valued, it appeared, were the reasoning and the thought process the student used to draw a conclusion.

Todd’s activity worked much the way Mabe’s did. His students engaged in science talk, using the language of biology themselves, instead of merely hearing it from the teacher, and they engaged in the thought processes of a biologist, observing, classifying species, and, just as Mabe’s students did, verbally justifying their responses with reasoned explanations.

Common to the Core
These strategies are not new, not by any stretch of the imagination, and they aren’t spectacular. The thing is, they don’t have to be. Nothing about Common Core has to be spectacular, flashy, or funky. What CC does have to do is place the challenge of critical thinking and of developing content-specific literacy on the student. It’s simple enough to see how all this fits into your own discipline, but here are a few questions that might guide you:

  • Are your students solving a problem, instead of mimicking, copying or regurgitating?
  • Have you asked/required/expected/taught your students to justify their solutions/answers?
  • Do you value the students’ reasoning process?
  • How many times during the course of a period does every student use the language of the course?

I would like to make another point about the Common Core standards. They are common. They are the expectations of all students. All students, that is, must be expected to demonstrate these thinking skills in the various courses they take. The two classes described above were not AP or honors courses. Todd’s was a typical standard biology class. Mabe’s was a year-long (euphemistically read, not mathematically inclined) Math I class. Mabe and Todd expected these thinking skills from all students, and by this point in the school year, they can see the results.

Computers or iPads?

December 3, 2012

Our school has gone from 0 to 60, and fast. Ok, it’s actually 0 to 11: from 0 mobile labs to 10 mobile computer labs (8 of them dedicated to a single classroom) + 1 iPad cart. The challenge now is to figure out what to do with them. As this is our school’s first foray into student iPads, I thought I would share some thoughts on when to choose iPads and when to choose computers.

Ye Goode Olde Computre
Let’s start with the familiar: computers. Computers are still our best bet for so many purposes. They are great for conducting research and for producing documents, which should account for the majority of the work we do on computers. They remain an excellent choice for accessing online learning tools like Study Island, Edmodo, Elements, and for using specialty programs, like the Photoshop. Computers also give students access to web-based programs like SAS, Xtranormal, and Voice Threads. The short of it, for now anyway, is that computers remain your best, and most versatile, bet for tech.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The iPad
So why are we even talking about iPads? They aren’t great for producing documents, though I admit that I am typing this blog on my iPad. And they don’t support Flash, which means you can’t run web apps like SAS Curriculum Pathways, on them.

So what makes the iPad awesome for the classroom? Apps: apps for learning (Khan Academy, Nova Elements, Economist World Figures), and apps for assessment (Educreations, ShowMe, Penultimate). Apps are specialized, generally self-contained programs that allow the user to focus, typically, on a single, specific task. An app like World Figures, which provides an abundance of international statistical data, puts students directly in touch with the information they need.

The iPad also allows student mobility, which means students can collaborate easily, teachers can organize jigsaw activities, or groups can use the device’s photo and video capabilities to record their work. Computers, not so much. The other benefit of the iPad, and it is easy to understate this feature, is that it forces cloud thinking. You can’t just drop files on a flash drive, and you can’t just open My Documents. Instead, students must get use to cloud-based (think Google Docs and Dropbox) storage and transmission, which will be the standard for file management before they finish college.

A Guide to Help You Decide

Use the iPad if… Use the computer if… Use either if…
you want students to move around and engage each other off screen students can be stationary and interaction is solely digital you don’t care how they interactact
you have a specific iPad app that you want students to use in class. you have a specific program not available on the iPads that you want students to use. the program/app you want students to use has both web and iPad versions (Voice Threads)
you want students to create videos or annotated recordings (Educreations) or images (Penultimate) you want students to create documents (Word, Google) or presentations (Prezi, PowerPoint) 
you want students to gather information/ideas from specific sources best accessed through an app (Oyez Today, Nova Elements) you want students to both conduct research and produce substantial written text about their findings you want students to research information widely available on the web
you want to engage students with interactive apps like Sketch Explorer or Tap Quiz Maps you want to use Flash-based programs like SAS Curriculum Pathways, which are not available for the iPad you want students to share in a common, digital space (Edmodo, Twitter)

 The fact is, these two options are growing closer and closer to each other in terms of their possibilities and usefulness. The question is not necessarily which device to use, but how to use the device at your disposal to accomplish your desired goal. Chances are your colleagues, your media coordinators or your IC can help you find a solution to whatever tech challenges you might have.


Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Post them to Comments (see link above) or e-mail