Live Recording of the “So We’ve Been Thinking…” Podcast at the EdTechTeacher Innovation Summit Boston

Last week was the annual EdTechTeacher Innovation summit in Boston.  I presented on Augmented and Virtual Reality, Digital Citizenship & Creation Tools, as well as giving an Ignite Presentation.

As if that were not enough, Greg Kulowiec and I recorded a live episode of the “So We’ve Been Thinking…” Podcast where we discussed our purpose, process and history.  Presenting live was something we discussed before we recorded our first episode, so the session was a proud accomplishment on many levels.

As we set off on planning episodes for part two of Season 1, it was fun to look back and reflect on what we have learned.

Thanks to Greg Kulowiec for sharing the video of the session after my video was lost.

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Constructing Narratives in The History Classroom

This article was originally published in “Digital Learning” Magazine.  It was co-wrtitten by my friend and colleague Tom Driscoll. 

As history teachers, we strive for a few key outcomes. We want our students to learn the history of world civilizations and appreciate their culture and heritage. We seek to help students develop critical thinking skills, locate and evaluate sources, construct arguments and form new connections and ideas. Once developed, we strive to have students communicate their understanding and viewpoints.

While the goals of the history classroom have remained, for the most part, consistent over time, what has changed dramatically in recent years is our ability to access an abundance of resources and tools that can make the process of learning and the expression of that learning come alive for the students in our classrooms.

In this article, we will highlight ways that teachers can leverage technology to advance these goals. From online discussion forums to virtual tours around the world, there are countless ways that we can amplify history teaching with technology.

Here is a link to the full article.

DL01_p36-47_Constructing Narratives in the History Classroom

Here is a link to the Digital Learning Magazine https://www.teachingtimes.com/publications/digitallearning.htm

 

What is the Future of Civic Education in America

We live in interesting times, during a period of change in many of the patterns of daily life. There are many engines driving that change; technology, social media, globalization just to name a few. Regardless of which reason we credit for the changes that most affect our lives or whether we see them as positive or negative, society is at times slowly, and other times rapidly, adapting to the change. *

One micro example of how we have had to adjust to change has to do with the norms and mores of mobile devices. One benefit of technology in schools is that it has forced the conversation about what societal norms for these devices should be. Much like movie theaters were forced to socialize viewers about when it was inappropriate to use their devices, schools, and teachers had to play a role defining community values for students. Especially when faced with ever increasing numbers of students with their own devices, as well as Chromebooks, iPads, and computers once 1:1 technology programs became more common.

Screenshot 2018-10-29 14.49.03

This may seem obvious to some, but other changes crept up on us. While some may say that they saw it coming, recent elections have shown us the darker effects of social media on our democratic processes and institutions. Whether you choose to call it a crisis or not, once again schools will need to respond to the societal need to socialize students to live in a world where information flows quickly, but depending on how your social media network is constructed, can pool in silos and filter bubbles or a contain purposefully false of misleading information.

Current political trends and what some have termed the current “culture wars” highlight the need for a renewed conversation about American Civic Education. In a world where so much of our lives can be personalized, individualized and unique, what does that mean for the political ideals * that we all hold in common? Perhaps we need to reflect on the sometimes stormy relationship that the US has had with individuality and unity, while as a nation we rose to prominence in the world.

Stepping back to look at education, we should also consider the growing trends of personalized learning and differentiation that seek to make the learning experience more suited to a variety of learners. I believe with all my heart that this is a good thing. These ideas are in line with our societal belief in the worth and value of the individual. Yet at the same time individualized learning and Personalized Learning programs certainly raise the question of how we will create shared community values in these personalized programs. This does not mean that we should forego personalization, but rather that we understand and thoughtfully address the challenges that these models might present to constructing common values.

But this highlights some other societal needs. What are the values that bind us together that we should all hold in common? How can we continue to grow together, as individuals, and as Americans in coming years, in light of the changes, both known and unknown that we will face?

Ultimately it comes down to this: What are the skills that children will need to be educated and prepared to participate responsibly in the democratic process, and how can we construct Civic Education to effectively meet this need?

My partner, Tom Driscoll and I, plan to examine the current state of “Civic Education” across the country as part of an ongoing effort, “The Modern Civics Project. ” We hope to see where we are and where we might be headed, in order to find innovative answers to the challenges facing Civic Education programs today.

The So We’ve Been Thinking Podcast

I have been working on a project reviewing past writing and in doing so realized that I have not yet written here about the “So We’ve Been Thinking…” Podcast.

For the last two months Greg Kulowiec and I have been building a podcast. The ultimate aim of this passion project is to explore discussions around education, educational technology, modern literacy, innovation and work. We want to talk to everyone, teachers, students, leaders, experts, authors, agitators, and researchers.

Beyond that though, we also want to take a look at what it is like to find work and do business in the world today to determine if schools are preparing students for the world of work that they are about to enter. So I have been reaching out to former students to hear their stories and experiences in the working world. I’ve been focusing on those who have jobs in technology or education related fields, to explore the intersection of education, technology and careers in the real world.

Working on the podcast with Greg has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career in education. We have set out to learn and we want to share the story of that learning in a public way much like we did in the early days of #sschat (Social Studies Chat) on twitter.

I would be honored if you would give it a listen. The response to the work so far has been overwhelming. I was excited when our listens climbed into the hundreds and that feeling only deepens now that we have crossed over into many thousands.

I’m loving the work and the feeling that I am learning and bettering myself and I’d like  to share that with you.

Here is a link to So We’ve Been Thinking Project page where you can access “So We’ve Been Thinking through all of the major podcast services. https://www.sowevebeenthinking.com/podcast/

The Smart Phone Generation is About to Graduate

Have you ever wondered if the work you do in the classroom has truly prepared your students for the world? I do. A lot. Especially as the pace of change in our world becomes faster and faster. Sometimes keeping up with that change can be hard, but it is important so that education is preparing students as we send them out into the world.

Students who graduate at the end of this school year (2018-2019) began school some time around 2006. The first iPhone came out that year. The iPad released in 2010 followed quickly by the Chromebook in 2011. The popularity of 1:1 programs began changing the relationships that students had with information and the way they were connected to the world outside of school.

Most of these kids have always had some level of internet access, and a good portion of them have had access to a web connected device as part of their learning. At school, a new, abundant economy of information emerged in schools, as in the rest of the world. Think of the changes that that have taken place in that time in our world and hopefully in our schools.

This year’s graduating class learned through the entire transition, and will set out into a world we could barely have imagined when they were born in 2000. Their reality is having their own devices in their pockets and within their reach at all hours of the day. . They have navigated social media as part of their daily lives and have had nearly every fact at their disposal, always.

Pause for just a moment and think about just the ways that communicating with a friend is different today. As a child I never had to request to be added as a friend and was never judged based upon the number of followers that I had. I never had to worry about maintaining all of my Snapchat streaks or who I feel comfortable adding to my Instagram spam account versus, my regular Instagram account.

Keeping all of this in mind, today France has banned devices from the majority of their schools. I’m sure that there are some who see this as a step in the right direction, but for me I just gasped, and felt sad.

The most powerful tool that a child has ever entered a classroom with… was just banned…by an entire country. How can you say that you are preparing a student for the world when you make schools places that do not resemble that world? How can that not have serious consequences. I suspect that in a year or two the French will publish data that their test scores have risen as a result. Even if that happens, this will be no less of a tragedy. This is bigger than scores.

France, you can’t roll back time and make it 2006 again. (Honestly we were way down this path even before then.) Banning phones will not protect the French institution of education, it will only serve to further erode its relevance. Banning phones will not uphold values that you feel are threatened by technology, only teaching those values in the context of technology will.

We should be preparing students for reality rather than hiding from it even when that presents difficult challenges. If these tools have become the dominant form of communication in our lives, using them effectively is going to be important in the jobs that they will one day be competing for.

For teachers, the lesson here is to reflect on if we are addressing the issues, trends and needs of our students in our classes through meaningful lessons, meaningful work and by addressing important values. Or are we trying hold back the future, like France.

Share Your Story

You have a story inside you that you need to tell. More importantly, you have a story inside of you that is meaningful and will help people. It’s true for you and it is true for your students & co-workers as well. I’m begging you to be brave and share it.

As a teacher I realized that depositing a story inside the brain of a student is nowhere near as powerful as allowing students to tell their own. It may take a while to give them the confidence, and it may take a while for them to feel that people will listen to the story that they share, but once they do, it transforms the classroom. Once they have a story to share, they need way to get it out to the world, to construct a process to connect them to their audience.

How students choose to connect varies a lot. Some make movies. Some want to write children’s books. In recent years I saw a rise in the number of students who wanted to create songs to tell their stories. It all depends on their intended audience and how they can best be reached.

For the past decade or so, the way I share my story, and hear other people’s stories is through blogs. (And twitter and Instagram, but that’s a different post.)

If you look closely you can tell how long a person has been blogging by what platform they are using. Each blogging platform has had its day. New platforms come, new platforms go and they each have their day.

7 or eight years ago Blogger was a very popular choice. That’s where my first attempts attempts at professional writing began. At the same time, I regularly used “Posterous Spaces” for class projects. I learned a valuable lesson when Posterous Spaces and their innovative posting and sharing abilities, died a horrible death. I lost quite a bit of my best work as a teacher, including the EPIC “Assessing Holocaust Responsibility” project that started my collaboration with Greg Kulowiec.

Ultimately I moved on to WordPress, a site that I felt was more powerful in sharing and connecting my writing to the world. It is still the main landing pad for my writing. But that said, new products arise and my eyes wander. Lately I am infatuated with Medium for the simplicity of the service and the wide range of writing that is published there. For a moment, just a moment, I considered packing up and moving my blog to Medium.

Fortunately, I found a great tool that allows me to use both of these services, maintaining the tools, followers and connections that I built in WordPress with all of the things that I love about simple, qualities of Medium.

When my students began blogging in class, someone would inevitably lose their work when writing directly into the website. As a rule, I told my classes to do their writing into a Google Doc. It allowed them to proofread and prevented students from prematurely clicking publish before they had a product they were proud of. I still follow that advice. (Especially since when I hit publish, my writing is automatically shared to Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin.)

Using the WordPress.com for Google Docs add on in Google Docs, I can quickly upload my finished writing from a Doc to WordPress where it is saved as a draft. Then after looking it over, simply hit publish to share it with the world. It transfers formatting flawlessly and works well with embedded images.

Once an article is posted to WordPress, (or any other blogging portal), I use the simple Medium Import Tool to bring the work over to my Medium account.

This is another efficient tool, that in addition to bringing in links and photos, also credits the site where your work was originally published.

I am writing in a comfortable space that is efficient and protects my work, then publishing to a hub location that is prepared to share the finished product to an audience across social media and leveraging tools that streamline and simplify that process.

So how are you telling your story? Where can I go to hear it? What tools are you using to share it? Your story is too important to keep to yourself. Share your story.

Sometimes I Fail

We do new things exactly because they force us to grow. That is what this post is about. The details of my process aren’t really what matters. What does matter is that I tried something new and was horrible at it, but as a result I learned a lot. If I have to wait until I am an expert to start creating, I will never create anything.

So if you don’t want to read through my struggle, stop here, but go out and try new things. Make your mistakes and get better in the process. Say yes to challenges where you might fail. Say yes to adventures when they present themselves.

There is a list of my lessons learned at the bottom that you might want to take a look at.

As part of a current project, I am building a podcast (more on that later). The plan involves conducting interviews with former students to discuss how prepared they were for the work that they currently do and the challenges that they face. It’s something that I have been thinking about for a long time. Bursting with energy for the project, I dove into creating the first episode.

I created the script, bought a quality microphone and arranged my first interview with a former student who is doing some really innovative work. The conversation was thought provoking and inspirational. I was eager to share it with the world so I rushed home and got to work.

That’s when reality hit me. I don’t know very much about podcasting just yet.

For example, my excellent microphone has a variety of settings. I chose the correct one, but positioned us incorrectly in relation to the microphone. This left the sound of my voice very clear, but hers as a distant whisper. Instead I captured the echoing sound of passing vehicles and people on the street nearby. Technology manuals today often do a good job of simplifying for the reader. That doesn’t mean that things are simple. Lesson learned. Understand your equipment.

Once I realized that I had a problem I set out to fix it. I dove into a platform that I know well and used it to try to clean up the mess. Using GarageBand, I cut the interview into separate tracks so that I could raise the volume of her voice.

However, doing so also raised the volume of the ambient noise, resulting in a hideous buzz! Which required me to learn about the mixing board. I was able to reduce the buzz and make the track audible, but now my voice was clear and her’s sounded like it was on a radio in the 1920’s.

After a few hours of that, with audio that was still not podcast quality. I went to Google to find a fix. I discovered a tool called AUDACITY that while it has its faults has a suite of sound editing tools that are amazing. One of them allows you to eliminate background noise in a sound clip. I set to work. I had to start over from the original recording though, and had to re-cut the audio to adjust the volume…again.

At this point it was 3 am.  I had to acknowledge that the I would never save the interview. It just wouldn’t work. Heartbroken, I realized that I would have to redo it if I ever wanted to publish it in the podcast. The message in the interview was lost to poor sound quality and I couldn’t fix it no matter how hard I tried.

But looking back, I’m not sure how I ever would have learned so much about audio and sound editing if I had not made the simple error. The sound quality serve as a creative limit that forced me to learn and grow.

I’ll include the final audio here for those of you who made it through to the end of this story, and for me so that one day I can look back on it and compare it to future work that goes better.

Podcast Attempt Number 1

So as a note to my future self, here is what I learned:

  1. Dive in. Stop worrying. Even though it may not work out, the work, the process and the learning are all worth it. Swallow your pride.
  2. Your inner perfectionist is often your greatest enemy when it comes to creativity and productivity. For me, I realize that I need to accept the imperfections in what I create. Otherwise I leave things unfinished and forgotten.
  3. Know your tools. Really know them. This is where things started going south. I bought a good microphone, it is a technical tool and I need to have a technical understanding of it.
  4. Tools that are easy, often contain technical limits that are the result of that simplicity. GarageBand is great because it can be learned quickly, but as I became more technically knowledgeable, it reached a wall created by that same simplicity.
  5. Audacity is a go to audio tool. I’m glad I found it.

 

Get Out of Your Own Way

Looking back on 25 years of classroom teaching, I can say that the greatest changes that I made to my classroom practice began in 2006, when I had a principal that pulled me aside and told me that I should really push the limits and rethink my classroom. What she actually told me was, “Some teachers I feel need me to guide them to change. I think I can help you best by getting out of your way.”  I had a green light, blank check, clearance from the tower.

But in retrospect, at this point where I had the institutional barriers to change removed, I built my own.

I was teaching full inclusion Special Ed US history in a room where ⅓ of the students had IEP, ED, BD plans. I had confidently volunteered to teach the class, saying that I knew exactly what I would do. Which was a combination of wishful thinking and bravado. My cooperating SPED teacher (who was amazing) and I were eager to try new things and started of the year by rethinking homework, due dates and tests. We implemented test retakes and test corrections. I read books, talked to my principal regularly and had a clear vision of what I wanted to do.

But in every instance, I created obstacles and limits on these changes that prevented my classroom from moving forward.

I limited who could do test corrections and how often any one person could do them. (If these processes are learning, why would I limit their chances to continue to learn?)

I was flexible on turning in work, but I limited how often I was flexible and I still imposed harsh penalties for timeliness. (If I identify a hard working student, capable of learning but who needs more time to do so, why would I make time a key continuing factor in their grades?)

I changed classroom activities to be more student centered, but I still maintained dominion over what those activities were. In the back of my head, my current mantra “Choose the destination, not the path” was forming but I was still creating narrow, singular paths to the learning objective. (So long as they arrive at the objective, how concerned am I really about the path that gets them there?)

In hindsight I think there were many reasons for holding back. I was certainly concerned about other teachers. It was my first year at a brand new school.

I was very aware of how parents saw what I was doing, and concerned about helping them to understand and see value in what I was doing. I felt an uneasiness each time we used cell phones in class, secretly set up a wifi network, or threw away the textbook.

Now I see that these were excuses that I made, because there we little to no actual instances where any of these fears were made real.

If I could go back in time and give myself one piece of advice knowing what I know today, it would be “Get out of your own way.” I knew what I wanted, I was on the right path, yet I kept building roadblocks. Often, (but certainly not always) institutional roadblocks were perceived, but disappeared as my resolve to change grew stronger. What really held me back was me and my perception of how big of a leap I could take.

What are the changes that you believe you need to make? How are you limiting your own ability to achieve them? What personal roadblocks could you remove today?

Get out of your own way.

Building Your Classroom Campfire

Choosing the tools that you use in a classroom is an important part of building the environment you hope to create. Just as teachers arrange desks and invest time in bulletin boards to create physical spaces, tech tools contribute to the digital space of a classroom.

My first principal once told me that you can learn a lot about a teacher just by looking at their classroom. I took that to heart and always tried to build a space that served my mission. I remember looking back on the wonder that was my 5th grade teacher. I can’t remember everything that I learned that year, but I loved walking into that room.

I think we can learn a lot about a teacher from the digital spaces that they create.

So I have been thinking…are we as careful about the way we are constructing our digital classroom? Do we vet the choices that we are making about digital learning spaces as heavily as we do those of our physical spaces, not just in terms of what they accomplish in terms of tasks but also in terms of them as a space that students inhabit? Are we concerned if they are warm and welcoming places as much as we are when students walk into our physical classes on day one?

Some time ago I started thinking of the classroom as a campfire. The campfire is a place where after a long day, people come together, get to know each other, celebrate and share experiences. Campfires draw people in and value sharing. Then, invariably they lead people to stare into the fire and reflect. I won’t belabor the analogy here, but there is a lot about seeing the classroom as a campfire that works. (Though I am temp

ted to point out that I have never been to a campfire gathering built on a lecture format.)

Another facet of the “Classroom Campfire” is “What kind of fire do you need to accomplish your task.” Smores, cookout or bonfire, large group or small, you need to plan a fire that serves your mission. Choose wisely and build the right campfire. Tools are no different.

Classroom tools are not neutral, they complete a task but they also have a feel and make statements about what is important. Some LMS tools are sterile and cold while completing a task

well and making it easier for teachers to organize and distribute work. Some web tools are fun, but limit a classes ability to share reflect and return to the work later on. Some tools are powerful but are hard to get familiar (high cost of admission but the show is great.) None of these things are necessarily a problem, if you are constructing a digital classroom space thoughtfully keeping in mind the sum total effect that these tools have on the kids.

Are your students operating in a digital classroom space that is as carefully constructed as the physical space that you create for them? Are you proud of the digital space that you have created?

5 Tools to Help Evaluate Sources in a World of Fake News

 

5 Tools to Help Evaluate Sources in a World of Fake News

This post was originally published on  Daily Genius you can check it out by following the link above.

Whether you call it “fake news”, “misinformation” or the more innocuous “spin,” and whether you see this as an entirely new problem or the continuation of an already existing problem (think “War of the Worlds,” “Yellow Journalism” and “Dewey Defeats Truman”), one thing is clear: there is a powerful and pressing need to prepare our youth to make sense of the constant flow of media information that they consume everyday.

As teachers, we need to be aware of how students are consuming their information.  Recent studies have shown that 69% of Americans get their news from Facebook, while other research suggests that social media such as Snapchat and Twitter are how millennials are staying up to date with current events.  Yet a study from Stanford University suggests that a majority of young Americans cannot accurately identify what content on a web page is news and what is advertising or paid content.

Have we as teachers moved to adjust how we instruct our students to evaluate information as the sources for that information have changed? This isn’t always easy, especially since the trends in social media are fluid and changing.   While there is no one silver bullet website that can resolve this issue, many helpful resources exist. Here are a few to help you get started in constructing your curriculum.

5 Tools to Help Evaluate Sources in a World of Fake News

The Stanford History Group: The Stanford History Group is well known to history teachers. Recently, they published an executive summary entitled EVALUATING INFORMATION: THE CORNERSTONE OF CIVIC ONLINE REASONING.  It provides a summary of the research they conducted in 2015-16 and includes samples activities geared towards middle and high school students designed to teach students to evaluate articles, comment sections, News on Social media, and website reliability.  It is a must read for teachers at any level.  The sample activities will have you thinking.

Allsides:  Allsides allows readers to evaluate the bias of news articles collected from across online news sites. The site also features the ability for readers rate news sources and individual articles as LEFT or RIGHT leaning. Students can explore the overall ratings of sites or choose articles specifically from one perspective or another.  The site is great for making comparisons of topics from several sites.

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Politifact:  Politifact is the Pulitzer prize winning fact checking website created by the Tampa Bay Times.  It uses a “Truth-O-Meter” to rate the accuracy of politicians and parties.  During last year’s election, Politifact live tweeted during debates, quickly evaluating statements and statistics.  It was a helpful tool for class discussions. The site allows you to search for topics or individual politicians.  For each rating, the site offers an explanation of how they arrived at their conclusion.

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Factcheck.org is a project from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.  In addition to evaluating the truthfulness of political statements, Factcheck has a viral spiral feature that addresses internet rumors, a SciCheck page that evaluates scientific claims, and an “Ask Us” feature that allows questions to be submitted for fact checking.

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Google Custom Search: If you can’t find the tools that work best for you, you can make your own.  Google Custom search allows you to select and curate websites that will be searched by your students.  Classes can create a standard for what sites they will use for a lesson or for research assignments and then add them to their custom search if it is determined that they meet the standard. This allows the class to be active and engaged in building a collection of trusted sources.   Individual students can construct a search engine for their projects, allowing them to go back and search sources again as their research evolves.   Teachers can save a variety of different searches which can be shared with students or embedded in websites.

It should be noted that Snopes.com is missing from the list above. The site has been evaluating online news, stories, and urban legends since the 1990’s. I omitted it not because it lacks any value but because while it is useful, it is so compelling that when I take students there they can sometimes get lost down the rabbit hole.

However you are preparing your students, one thing is clear — it is critical that we, as educators, consider how our students are accessing the news and information and how we can help them actively process all that is pushed to them through social media throughout the day.