I am proud to have been named to the eSchool News Top 14 Trailblazing Educators on Twitter. In reflecting on my years on Twitter, I can’t help but think of all the passionate educators that I have met along the way while sharing our learning. Years of rethinking education have shown me that while there is much to do, the schools of America are full of the best kind of people.
While I have not been good about posting to this blog in the last year, I have still stayed very busy traveling and presenting. Last week I delivered a keynote at the San Diego Innovation Summit titled “Behind the Science of Innovation: Bringing About Significant Positive Change.” Co presenting with Beth Holland, our goal was to look at the actual science and research behind innovative teaching. We look at what the research says and what the implications are for teachers in the age of information.
What is the life cycle of student work in your class? Does it look like this?
When was the last time that a student ran into your class eager to go through a pile of student work? It is my fervant belief that important work does not end up in piles. If we want to increase the importance and validity of student work we need to extend it’s life cycle and allow individual learning to be shared, with the class, the school and the community.
There are any number of ways that this can be done. Where bulletin boards used to showcase classwork temporarily, now it is possible for classes to document their entire learning process over the course of the year and for teachers to save work from one year to the next.
Imagine the power of such archives to show growth and share the incredible work being done in a school. Imagine the message that it sends to your students to value their work in this way. Whether through blogs, social media websites or just through an LMS, the is great power in offering what your classwork to the world.
So what are you doing to Extend the Life Cycle of the work done in your classroom?
p.s. Below is a video I made that explains a simple way to share all of an entire classes work with one simple link.
Today’s guest post comes from Shawn McCusker, a teacher who moved from a 1:1 laptop environment to a new school with fewer technology resources. An innovator in 1:1 classroom implementation and the creation of online learning communities, Shawn is a teacher and Social Studies Department Chair at Libertyville High School (IL).
In 2006, my principal called me into her office and asked about rumors that I had been using student phones in class. It was my first year at the school, so I hesitated before acknowledging that I had. Her next reaction surprised me: she gave me free reign to use them as much as possible so long as I shared the results. She felt that we could not hold back the coming tide of technology from our classrooms. As it was just a matter of time before the ban on mobile devices in schools would end, so began my journey with mobile technology in the classroom.
Last year, after teaching for two years in a 1:1 iPad classroom, I accepted a position at a school that had not yet made the move to 1:1. Though plans were in the works to do so, for one year, my students would not have devices. While much technology would still be readily accessible in the form of carts and labs, using it in class would be more incidental and not a daily occurrence.
After a year of planning lessons without the daily presence of student devices, here are the differences that I have faced and what I look forward to in the coming year.
1. Greater Student Control of Content
I quickly realized that once my students were in possession of devices, the lecture format that had comprised a good portion of my teaching would never be the same. When students CAN fact check what you say, they do. This was difficult until I realized that it was exactly what I wanted them to do; fact check a narrative. Rather than fearing the commentary, I constructed class around it. Soon, most of the content that we discussed came from student contributions rather than my notes or the textbook. In discussions, when an unknown arose, it became a class norm for students to fill the void.
With limited access to technology, classroom resources are frequently provided by the teacher and unknowns are often left for the teacher to resolve. While incorporating student contributed content can be a priority, the timeliness and volume can’t compare when students do not have devices. Even with the greatest level of care and professionalism, this represents a filter on class content. Next year, I will prioritize the creation of a classroom that is once again fueled by sources, ideas and concepts generated by the students.
2. Multiple Perspectives and More Than One Correct Answer
When all of the world’s knowledge is available, it can be hard to reach a single conclusion. Though initially a struggle, I ultimately came to believe that the debates to construct and defend such arguments made for outstanding learning. These lessons were far more dynamic, engaging and social than previous ones. The activities allowed students to understand the way that others constructed their ideas and regularly required them to articulate their positions.
3. Dynamic Projects
The nature of class work is different without technology. More often than not, completed work is collected and exists in piles of paper. It is then graded and returned.
In technology rich classrooms, the variety of tools allows students to select the medium which best conveys their idea. Because of the unique nature of the work, these class products generated energy and commentary. Students were more excited to share what they had made and more eager to consume the work of their classmates. In fact, my new policy is that I will not assign work that I am not interested in grading. This year, without these tools available in class, it has been a challenge.
One eye opening realization was the speed and volume of feedback in a 1:1 classroom. With devices, delivering feedback to students became more efficient and timely because once I posted a comment online my students were alerted and able to respond. There was no need to wait for class work to be physically handed back.
Much more powerful, however, was the volume of student feedback that was shared as my comments became just one of many. I found it helpful to construct my feedback by referring to the thoughtful comments that classmates had shared which established the class norms to define quality. This year, I have been hungry for those thoughts, and they have been harder to harvest. I regularly use Exit Slips and methods like “Fist or Five,” but I am eager to recreate the depth of commentary and to once again have the rich feedback that helps me generate more meaningful learning.
5. Student Centered Learning
The ability to add content, an environment that allowed for students to defend their interpretation of information, and dynamic student constructed projects moved students to the center of learning. It was not long before I felt comfortable asking students to help me construct learning objectives and design complete units. For example, my unit on World War II transformed into an NCAA style research tournament presided over by a jury of seniors. I would never have planned such an activity by myself, but it was highly effective and meaningful for the class.
Having technology available for a day or several days can help to move students to the center of learning, but giving them possession of those tools makes truly transformative student centered learning a reality. I am eager for the opportunity to once again harness these powerful tools for learning on a daily basis.
I was proud to be included in an article in this month’s Educational Leadership. Reading this made had me thinking about how to make my new curriculum better this year. A friend once told me that it takes 5 years to get your class back up to speed if you change schools. I have no intention of taking that long.
May 2015 | Volume 72 | Number 8
Teaching with Mobile Tech Pages 18-23
On my busiest and most stressful days I like to remind myself that my life is a compilation of my past choices. You don’t make choices in your life just once. You choose and then with each and every day that passes you choose again and again the things that matter, make you happy, and are worthy of your time. So I remind myself that I get to choose EVERY DAY. The alternative to this (for me) is seeing only the obligations and requirements before you. When I get in this mindset, I tend to get frustrated by all of the immediate WANTS that I can’t have because of all of the MUSTS on my to-do list.
Last year at about this time I decided it was time for a new challenge. I’d been offered several jobs over the previous year that while interesting, were not the right fit for me or my family, or weren’t the direction I wanted to go. So I sat down with my wife and we talked about what the right job would look like. I was really worried (afraid even) about how a move would unsettle the many pieces of my life that were in balance; being present for my wife & kids, teaching and the classroom, traveling and presenting at conferences, my consulting work, writing and publishing, all of the pieces of life that go together to give each day meaning.
Shortly thereafter I applied and was hired to be a Social Studies Department Chair. This year has been about adapting to that role, getting to know the people in my department, getting to know the school and community and working to reconstruct a strong classroom and course curriculum. Surprisingly the hardest part of this was rebuilding my classroom because I had so many ideas about what I wanted that new experience to be like for my students. You have to surrender the comfort of habit to build something new and ambitious.
The upside to the change has been the growth that comes with challenging yourself and the opportunity to help others grow as teachers. That is what I have loved about twitter from the very start (back in the wonderful early days of #sschat) and my favorite part about working with teachers across the country. There is no better feeling than hearing what passionate teachers or students want to accomplish and then helping them to get there. Despite the challenges, actually more BECAUSE of the challenges, I’m loving the job, and I’m glad I made the leap for all that I have learned. I have gained so much and I feel i’m in a place where I have much to offer.
While the actual jobs skills are important, the most important things that I learned were about what is and is not important to me. Crisis makes you prioritize and clarify. I have an idea of where I want to go now, and what I have to do to get there. My vision for the next few years is taking shape. That is exciting, and it is what led me to make the change in the first place.
One of the things that I put aside in order to find balance was writing, both articles and for this blog. In hindsight I think that was a mistake. The time I spend writing has always helped me to sharpen my thoughts and serves as an outlet, something that I now see would have been welcome this semester. Rather than taking my time, I think it would have been a welcome opportunity for expression.
So I’ll be adding a new interest to the topics on Go Where You Grow; Leadership. It’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about. Not leading so much as the type of leader I want to be, which I find is not so much the “authoritarian” as it is the “Grower in Chief.” I also intend to be better about posting what Amy Burvall (@AmyBurvall) calls a #Rawthought. I have always been a big fan of incomplete posts about unsolved problems that feed the thought process but I’ve not been good about posting my own.
That said, here is a thought to complete this post. Despite the risks and challenges of this year, and despite the time and difficulty involved, I feel I’m in a better place, with a better vision of my future and where I’m g(r)o(w)ing.
Tonight I participated in a Connected Educator’s month through Connectedlearning.tv. The other guests for the chat offered some great insight into how we as teachers can grow trough our connections, but more importantly the conversation moved to the topic of how being connected affects learning in our schools.
I strongly believe that unless we as educators can convert our philosophical discussions into tangible classroom change, we are doing lip service to change. Discussions like this one like this one that discuss “what the connected classroom looks like” are just the start. We have to have meaningful discussions about the validity of the tasks that we put before our students. We have to put the “why” first in what we do.
I hope you find this discussion helpful.
In the last year, the topic of writing has come to dominate my presentations. I’ve always wanted to be a better writing teacher and technology gave me new avenues to approach that topic. Rather than trying to create assignments where students write, I have been working to create an environment where writing is key to learning. In that way the task supports the class goal, rather than writing being a one stop waypoint in the bigger classroom journey. This presentation is one of my favorites. I’m sure that I will continue to speak on the topic. In the near future my interests have shifted to creativity and and the classroom.
This post originally appeared on Free Tech for Teachers. See the original post here.
While there are some very creative web tools out there, ThingLink is one of my favorites. It has earned this status by passing several of my key benchmark-tests for the classroom:
It is dependable and accessible.
Students need not fear that their work will be lost as it automatically saves.
It is relatively easy to learn and use.
Rarely does a lesson become more about “ThingLink” than the topic about which students are trying to express their knowledge.
For new users, ThingLink allows you to upload a picture and active links to a variety of media, essentially making an image touchable as illustrated below.
Thinglink is a powerful tool, and some new uses are making it even more compelling. Beyond creating pictures with links, images, and videos, a “next level” exists that turns ThingLink into a powerful organizer, aggregation tool, and curator.
1. Student Organizational Tool
Use ThingLink to organize class projects with multiple online components. Thinglink not only supports the student doing the organization, but also helps their classmates who can now see the creation PROCESS as well as the final product. Teachers can create customized images for the students to use as backgrounds that support the desired process and could even serve as a project check-list.
Image Credit: Shawn McCusker
2. Digital Portfolios
Students can post links to their course work from throughout the year to a single ThingLink to connect projects, videos, artwork, essays, outlines, posters. etc. (See the example below.)
The power of using Thinglink as a portfolio is the ease with which it can combine media from varied places and then the simplicity with which it can be then be embedded in a web page or blog. Thinkglink converts lists of web links into polished and visually appealing posts. Once a Thinglink is embedded in a page, any additional changes made to it will automatically update.
3. Showcasing Classroom Learning
Thinglink can make sharing a class’ work with the rest of the school and community easier. The physical class bulletin board or hallway project display has long served as a way to share the work of an entire class with the rest of the school, parents or the community. ThingLink can make student work easily available to others, allowing the learning to be extended and valued throughout the entire community. The simplicity can make sharing with classes outside of your school, with classes across the country, or even with classes from around world all possible with a single link. Parents can access the work, creating real transparency and openness to the school community. Classwork tells the story of our classrooms, and as Patrick Larkin (@patrickmlarkin) says, “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it for you.”
Image credit: Shawn McCusker
4. Assignment and Task Organizer
As the complexity of classroom tasks and assignments increases, it is important to present them in an easily understandable way. ThingLink can be used as a tool for teachers to deliver various components of an assignment to students – neatly placing all of them together in one place. Additionally, ThingLink images can be embedded into web pages, or shared via LMS systems such as Schoology, Edmodo, Moodle etc., allowing it to integrate seamlessly with other systems that the teacher already has in place. (This example was created by Joe Maher during a workshop this summer.)
Beyond its ability to function as a creative and organizational tool for learning, Thinglink is a powerful way to develop visual literacy in an age where visual communication is an important skill.
There are infinite ways to leverage the simple but effective powers of ThingLink for yourself and your students. If you have been using ThingLink in a unique and creative way, then I encourage you to add your example to the comments below.