Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Chrome Apps and Extensions to Help ESL Learners

Last month in Stockholm, I attended the Google summit in Stockholm and it blew my mind. Although I'm still in beta shock and am coming to terms of how I will reinvent my practice with what I learned, there were some immediate take aways with apps and extensions to the chrome browser. Although these are for general use, I can't help but think of how useful these would be to my students that are learning English as a second language. All of these are either shown by an icon on your task-bar or cataloged under your chrome app launcher.

annoucifyAnnouncify-App that allows any website to be read to the viewer. I installed this on my task bar and have had some articles read to me, much like how I listen to NPR when I have a prep period at work. I think the real advantage of this is that students can read an article and have it read to them which is nice to check that their annunciation is correct.

s and s
 Select and Speak-This app works very much like announcify but instead of having the entire article read, the viewer can merely select sentences or paragraphs with which they are having difficulty. This too has real applications for students that may like to have a word read to them and in a specific context, or may only want to have short passages read out loud.

tra Google Translate-This is great for any students that may want an entire webpage read to them in their native language. Although learning English may be the goal, having students read an article in English first, then translate it to their native tongue for comparison may be a nice reflection.

index Too Long, Didn't Read It-I'm not advocating apathy here, but give this a chance. What TLDR does is it takes any web article and summarizes it for the reader. The reader can select different summary lengths such as short, medium or long. This has real uses for mixed ability classrooms and group discussions.

Google Dictionary-This is a must have for any student, not just ESL learners. After installing this plug in, simply select the word that you want to have defined and with the click of a button, students are told whether it is a noun, adjective and have tons of reference to help them understand.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Take a Trip with Google Tour Builder

Of the 200 new tools I learned last week at Google teacher academy, I'm currently on number 3. I was really impressed by the new experiments that are happening with maps and how revolutionary they are in teaching and learning. Google Tour builder combines places with media in a way that is extremely easy and fun.

Why Use This Product?
What Google tour builder does is take media, Google earth and allows the maker to tell a story combining the two. Sequencing events, it starts by taking a place mark on earth and allowing the user to upload a picture, video to a place and insert text to tell a story. I made a tour on my wife and my scuba diving histories and had so much fun in the process.

The "Tour Builder" dashboard
Why Use Maps?
I think that we'll see a renaissance with using maps in education in the next few years. I thought that maps are generally reserved for social studies teachers, but after playing around with them, they have renewed my interest in these tools because they can combine and synthesize eclectic data and humanize it through narratives. In short, we are producing so much media in the way of videos, pictures but we don't have a way to link them all together in a way that it tells a story and gives it a historical perspective. My tour not only helped me remember my history of diving with my wife Lisa, but shown us how far we traveled and how much I've improved as an underwater photographer; although I still have a ways to go!

9 Applications Education

  1. Chronicling the journeys of famous people in history.
  2. Telling the story of where immigrants came from and where they settled. 
  3. Digital story telling of where students came from and their journeys.
  4. Explaining the five themes of geography and how that relates to place. 
  5. The timelines of natural disasters and areas that were affected.
  6. Where a revolution starts and finishes.
  7. Class stories of families and their ancestors.
  8. World languages classes: how phrases translate around the world.
  9. Tracking a virus from place to place.

I need one more for an even 10. Please leave your ideas below!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Visualize Information with LucidChart

Lucid chart is a nice tool for conceptually mind mapping information. If you're using Google Apps, you can search for it underneath the "create" bar. My students are starting to learn about human body systems after the holiday so I'm previewing a few more chrome apps for students to use in order to construct information and meaning. Graphic organizers are a coveted tool for teachers, but the best thing about lucid chart is that students can represent how information fits together in a way that they understand.

I created this one on the digestive system in about 6 minutes. Notes synch to Google drive, or can be published and embedded like below.
mind mapping software

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Test Flipped Content with TED Ed

I've been exploring new tools for the flipped classroom and my wife directed me to TED's you tube flipping tool. See an example here, although you may have to login to get an account.

Getting Started
After creating an account, the TED site will take you to the following page:

The first steps in created a mini-lesson around web content.
Creating Lessons
From the following, it asks the user to find a video, select it, and then create a mini-lesson around it with a few questions that can be open-ended or mutiple choice. After a few minutes, I was brought to this page:

Teachers can assign a video, and provide question prompts as indicated on the right.
What is nice is that students have steps that guide them through the process. When they come to class, they have some prior knowledge before starting in-class activities. Pretty cool!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

How Will Education Change Because of Technology?

The newest batch of PISA test scores is out. Alarmists are decrying that the sky is falling and the US is "losing it's competitive edge". Diana Ravitch paints a more optimistic picture saying that US test scores have been stagnant for decades and still the US has reigned as the global economic superpower for the last half century, surpasses the world in patent applications and, for the record, higher test scores don't correlate to higher economic output, democratic institutions or a better quality of life. So why chase these test scores as the ultimate indicator of success? When will reformers eventually accept that curricular changes cannot solve problems of poverty and income inequality or level the playing field with cultures that embrace "dragon parenting", cram schools and learning academies? How can US parents "compete" with such demographics when most US parents want their children simply to play and enjoy childhood?

Image Courtesy of CC

As interested parties grapple with this dilemma, I think technology is subtly rewriting the rules of "learning" behind the scenes in a way that making learning more accessible and equitable. I was very interested in the Horizon report's near and long term horizon of how technology will change our profession and we're seeing these start to happen.

Student Choice will Reduce Dropout Rates
Joshua Davis writes about how even the poorest of children can be incentivized to learn by choosing topics of interest to them. With tired curriculums that must be "slogged through" an element of student choice can be vital for retention. Some teachers pilot this with '20% Time' which means every fifth lesson providing time for students to learn about a topic of interest.

Free, Open Content will Make Textbooks Obsolete
Publishers can't be happy about this. But really, when you're charging upwards of 100$ a textbook to meet a mandated state curriculum, it's only a matter of time before teachers start accessing the treasure trove of readings and videos online. Also, textbooks are usually a pre-packaged, teacher proof curriculum, with tired questions at the end which are sanitized to prevent any real discussion of topics that matter. Are not readings from different sources and videos made from different people a kalideoscope of perspectives that remind us all of what it's like to be connected in this world?

Analytical Tools Will Create Personalized Curriculums
We've all used grade books, but whole programs like Khan Academy which combine content and asessement practices from beginning to mastery will help teachers tailor instruction to specific students instead of teaching to the middle. Such tools will help support learning outside of class and help devote more class time to inquiry based activities and learning with an end-goal in mind.

MOOC's Will Make Learning Accessible to All
Massive, open, online courses or (MOOCs) are only a few years old and the concept of offering college level courses to anyone with an internet connection has set off a chain reaction of universities moving their content for the world to not only see, but learn. The most notable are Coursera, edX, and Udacity. I think the most promising feature of these are that people don't need to be born into privilege to get a good education. The real hurdles to these are recognizing participation in MOOC's (and participation can waiver from many levels to dropping out) by a credential or certificate which holds the same stock as an actual university transcript.

The number of courses that are being offered are really the inspiration. After digging around on Coursera, I found a course on Next Generation Science standards, which our school is leaning towards adopting within two years. I signed up for it and the curriculum coordinator and many other science teachers at the school have done the same and will use this course as a PD discussion circle this spring. Here is a list of 75 classes for teachers and students.

Cheaper Hardware Will Force Teachers to Adapt
Technology prices are dropping, which means they will become more prominent. However, some teachers are resistance to change, being entrenched in decades of stagnation and passing fads in education. Is technology really another one or is it here to stay? California highlights the problems of not only procuring hardware, but teaching teachers (and whole districts) how to use it effectively. Just last fall, California embarrassingly recalled thousands of Ipads because students had allegedly "hacked" the devices so they could access all their social media sites. What the students actually did, was reinstall the machines original default settings, hence erasing all the fail safe locks on sites like Facebook. Hacking? I think not. 

Learning Communities Will Deliver PD Constantly
Before, we all had to attend our yearly conference to be reinvigorated with new teaching pedagogy, tech tools or content knowledge. Now, with a steady stream of teachers who are blogging, tweeting, and with the rise of educational conferences around the world, good teaching is increasingly becoming easy to access. Through chats, skype, and forums such as Edmodo, teachers can talk to others to share ideas, resources and learn about topics that their school is unable (or unwilling) to provide. Want to get more experience with PYP? Take a MOOC on it! Can't afford to go to the 21st century conference in Hong Kong in December? Follow #2lclhk on Twitter! On a personal level, this last one has made me grow so much as a teacher, especially over the last four years.  

Image Courtesy of CC
As the education debate rages and initiatives like "race to the top" and "no child left behind" continue to flat line, we must ask ourselves, are these the indicators that matter? In the meantime, we can provide interesting content and learning to our students, our children, and take advantage of the great resources that we as the world, are creating.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Khan Academy Steps Up Its Data Use

I've used Khan academy videos before but I was really inspired by the latest video I saw Sal Khan give at a TED talk with Bill Gates giving him some Q and A afterwards:

I decided to use start my own Khan academy account and play around after watching this and the news last fall that they made some major changes to their site. Apparently, they are also streamlining resources that will supplement common core standards by next summer of 14, so it's a good time to play around with this tool's potential. Some of the notable features:

Class progress shows mastery and areas of focus

1.) Class Lists for Updates and Progress in Real Time. I've used Pearson online for online learning lessons, but I would need to go through to see whether students have answered or not. Khan academy's interface gives teachers a easy one shot appraisal of skill development.

The red block indicates an area to work on

2.) Grids that track individual skills. The above is a snapshot on individual skills from individual students. Putting your cursor over each block tells how many times students attempted a task and identifies students for one-on-one help or enrichment.

Teachers can recommend practice in specific skill areas

3.) Recommendations. Based on skills, teachers can recommend certain videos or content areas that may help clarify misconceptions.

4.) Enrichment. The above student is exceptionally above grade level, but still struggles with some concepts. Based on her level of mastery, I can recommend activities for her.

With its very broad swath of math content, Khan academy is a nice supplement to in-class activities. It differentiates content for readiness and some schools are already using it full time. What the video leaves out is how the content helps students achieve those "higher order" skills, but I think the scaffolding works towards these nicely.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Gamification: Problem Based Learning Repackaged?

On the first day of our unit on electricity three weeks ago, Lori and I told the students the following prompt:

"You and your group members are on a mission to Mars. Your job is to build a remote controlled rover to perform a task like collect soil from the planet, deliver a payload to a colony of explorers, or do a search and rescue. Our learning of electricity and your understanding of it will be vital to learning how to accomplish this task."

Modelling circuits in Drawings

And so it began. Not only a project based, but a problem based approach to learning with the end goal in mind from day 1. My partner and I used this backwards design approach and developed a short unit on electricity with an engineering component and tech tools for designing (Google Drawings) and formative assessments after lessons (Google Forms for quizzes and Infuse Learning for post lesson evaluation) Lori Uemura, being the flipped classrooom guru of our school was kind enough to make and record presentations with video lectures for our students which we both used to "front load" learning before the students came into class. When they did, they didn't practice lighting up light bulbs on chintzy circuit boards, they made a circuit that was vital to their project and powered one of their electric motors.

Presenting circuits for peer review

I came in with a different angle. I gathered the materials and developed a project rubric and was in charge of assessments.Working together, Lori and I were able to cut the work load in half and make better quality presentations and better quality assessments. Our standards were pretty loose and didn't specify all of the electrical components that we needed to use, so we thought we should just focus on the basic parts that would be useful for this given task. As this was our first time teaching this unit, we would reflect afterward on changes for next year.

Soldering connections
Gamification Enters
Once students had the content and skills, they were able to synthesize what they learned and apply it to this creative endeavor. Our technology assessments allowed us to intervene and help groups that were struggling to stay on task and the authenticity of the problem made it more compelling to the students. I was inspired by Sal Khan's use of data and Paul Anderson's approach to playing and being creative for real learning. Although I supplied all of the electrical components, tape and balsa wood for the frame, students still needed to supply their own wheels. Students peppered me with questions such as "What should I use as wheels?" to which I inquired: "What material do you want your wheels to be made out of?" and "What's your ideal diameter considering the diameter of the motor?"

Putting on Wheels
Suddenly, math becomes relevant. Students start connecting the perimeter of the frame with an increase to wheelbase and the fact that a larger frame may not be the best. They dispute whether metal or plastic wheels would be better and wrestle with the best way to attach them to the metal axles. How is this all gamification might you ask? I believe it meets meets many of requirements that advocates of gamification argue are essential for real world learning. The first is persistence. Students learn by trial and error how a circuit works and trouble shoot their wiring and circuitry. There was also a progress report as indicated by rubrics which could have been "badges". Finally, each student has a unique skill set such as technical skills, leadership or steady hands. James Paul Gee and Jane McGonigal discuss how such tasks are springboards for adult learning communities where skill sets are developed, marketed and sold.

What We Learned
My teaching partner and I learned so much through this project, and as groups settle into the last stage of their project, I think of the following things and how we can improve upon them next year:

  1. It helps to have volunteers. We didn't anticipate the number of problems that groups would have and despite ample demonstrations (and perhaps deliberatly leaving some things vague) we were often barraged for help. Mr. Hunt and Mr. Minh were a big help every day along the way. 
  2. Persistance grows when the end is in sight. I noticed that some groups were close to desperation early on but once they got started and invested their time and effort into the project, re-motivating them was something we had to do less and less. 
  3. Struggle is essential to learning. So often did I get asked a question to which would ask the group a redirecting question to really get them thinking about the task. This frustrated many groups, hoping I would simply give them "the answer" or show them "how to do it". To quote Fredrick Douglass: "Without struggle, there is no progress". 
  4. Young adults don't approach a task the same as educated adults. When our students started, some groups did a better job of collectively sharing opinions and ideas. Some just had an alpha student that charged ahead with directions. It was important to coach the students through the group working process to ensure that all members were involved.