Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Simple and Effective Ways To Improve Your Teaching: A Book Review of Rushton Hurley's "Making Your Teaching Something Special: 50 Simple Ways to Become a Better Teacher"

(purchase from EdTechTeam Press or Amazon)

*After reading, if you’re inspired to share, please offer an idea (or more!) to this padlet.

Rushton Hurley has given us a witty, thought-provoking, and inspiring book for all educators. Teachers, administrators, and I would also suggest parents, would all benefit from reading this incredibly entertaining, and remarkably insightful book.

If you’ve been looking for a no-nonsense book with practical ideas to improve your teaching practice, then Making Your teaching Something Special is a must read. In fact, if you’re in the field of education, this book is a must-read. For the new educator, it will inspire you to think more deliberately and plan the habits you want to develop your craft around. For the veteran teacher, the ideas, suggestions, and real-life anecdotes will reinforce the great things you are already doing, as well as remind you of the essential practices you’ve for some reason “let slide”. Additionally, you will leave each chapter energized, and with a determination to add something new to your teaching habits.

Making Your teaching Something Special is divided into five 'Areas', each with short chapters, which makes the book a nice pick up, put down, ponder, and plan - a bonus that you don’t often see in books for educators. At the end of each 'Area' there is a series of questions for educators to discuss and explore, be it for a staff meeting, a study group, or an administrative team meeting.

In this post, we’ll look at the five 'Areas' that Hurley outlines, while keeping in mind my comments here only scratch the surface of what is in the book. When you finish reading (or now), have a look at Hurley’s non-profit nextvista.org and get your students involved in creating high-quality learning resources that can be used by others.

In Area 1 Hurley discusses rapport with students. I imagine any educator would agree that building positive (yet professional) relationships with students is critical to student success. How do we quickly learn names and deal with feeling embarrassed about forgetting? Are we really aware of how we address our students when talking in one-on-one or with an entire class? Hurley discusses strategies to build that positive relationship with individual students, but in a way that allows that trust to echo throughout your classes. (ultimately building a positive reputation for yourself) How do we deal with student discipline, work with parents, and build communities within our classrooms? The chapters in this segment also offer advice to the teacher for how to deal with our own misgivings and the inevitable situations that arise in an environment in which we work with a lot of people - and varied personalities - each day. 

Area 2 explores the world of assessment, and overall deals with the question ‘Are our assessments effective?’. Are we really pushing our students to be fascinating? Are we giving them pathways that foster intrinsic motivation and genuine curiosity? Something in this section that struck me is an area I’ve been pursuing in my own teaching - are we guiding students to understanding how to ask a good question? An important point in this ‘Area’ suggests that we offer more opportunities to evaluate the work of others, an exercise that helps students consider what a quality and creative piece of work really looks like.

In sum, beyond the great ideas, Rushton Hurley is clear about one thing: education is a ‘people business’ and the person has to be at the center. Not all strategies may work for your context, but they can be modified as such. And yes, there is work involved, but with rewards that will benefit everyone involved. Hurley also discusses his past strategies of using pre-tests. (which are easier with digital tools such as Google Forms, Quizlet, and other survey-generating software) Ultimately, for myself, the reflection on assessments we give is an critical takeaway. Are we really thinking about the purpose of an assessment before we give it? It sounds obvious, but busy teachers often try to keep their heads above water and I would argue that meaningful assessment is one area that can suffer early on. 

Although I don’t buy into the antiquated ‘sage on the stage’ approach to teaching, Area 3 addresses a critical skill every teacher should develop: delivery. How much do we vary our review and introduction of a new topic to a class? Are our methods varied and engaging? Hurley provides several great approaches to beginning a class in such a way that students are curious, thinking, and engaged for the beginning - setting the tone for the rest of the lesson. His advice is actually quite simple. Be unpredictable. Rushton Hurley, remember, is a veteran teacher, and as such addresses other considerations like getting the attention of students, setting them up for interest rather than boredom, and using language that implies all learning in the course is valuable. Yet another area where I feel teachers can fail is modeling academic honesty. As a teacher of History and Individuals and Societies I feel an inherent responsibility to show my sources. How can I expect my students to do if I don’t? Again, obvious, but it took time for me to develop this important habit. (Chrome extensions and online citation tools don’t allow for excuses anymore: see these tutorials) Another great takeaway from this section is a reminder to ask engaging questions, and provide strategies that allow for all students to answer questions in a comfortable manner. (without having to stand out) Hurley reminds us that it’s a good thing to have students come up with ideas that we didn’t - and celebrate them! We don’t have to be complete masters of our subjects. (even when we strive to be) Finally, know when to stop helping. 

A few of my own resources (feel free to copy and/or share):
Area 4, Collegiality and Professionalism, is aimed at how we can engage our teaching communities more effectively, locally, nationally and globally. Hurley gives us many strategies to step out of our four classroom walls and seek learning opportunities. Although a teacher of 20 years, having started at a new school last August I found I was faced with some of the challenges discussed in the book. I needed help navigating how the school functions, not to mention some good conversation in my subject area. Had some of the suggestions in Making Your Teaching Something Special been in place, it may have been that much easier. Regardless of your situation, he suggests, it’s on us to seek those professional discussions. (and perhaps create them through organizing an Edcamp or CoffeeEDU) (I’ll add attending a Google Educator Group event - or starting your own GEG) These kinds of events are usually half to one day, or in the case of CoffeeEDU, just an hour. You decide. These kinds of events are invaluable to expand your PLN. (professional learning network)

Taking advantage of the internet age is seeking out ideas online - using or adapting the zillions of great ideas already out there. (don’t forget to cite your source!) There is a tremendous economy of sharing online, and if you don’t tap into it you’re making a mistake. Stretch your thinking to use the resources beyond teaching content, but also to develop skills. Hurley also suggests using student-created material to drive some of your professional conversations. What did you like, dislike, or would change if you were to give the same assessment? A lot of learning can come from such a discussion. (check out Hurley’s select list of select list of nextvista.org videos for this purpose) This section also emphasizes the need to question old processes. In one anecdote he discusses how a student could benefit from using the same assignment in two classes, but develop different skills. A very important chapter here is dealing with mediocrity - getting professional selves out of the doldrums and continuing to learn and improve, and maintain an awareness of the attitudes, words, and body language we put out there for the whole world to see. 

Logistics is the fifth and final Area. Rushton Hurley can’t stress enough (and neither can I) how important it is to know all of the people that make your school move. The first faces most of us see after an interview are the staff in the main office; without them doing their jobs we can’t do ours. It’s that simple. We’re all working together. Hurley’s comments go far beyond this in the book, noting the connection these people make between faculty, students and parents. He notes gaining an understanding of the community resources available that may help with certain unforeseen circumstances that can arise. Also in this final area, Hurley discusses preparation for working with parents. It will always pay off to keep records of information on students and communication, and he gives examples and strategies that will help teachers develop positive and productive relationships with parents.

Finally, access Rushton Hurley’s website, and more specifically the 5-Day Teacher Challenge, to find practical strategies to improve your teaching!

Other topics of discussion you will find in the book:
  • Offering (meaningful) extra credit 
  • Ready to go activities
  • Tying service to learning activities
  • Maintaining a good balance of comfort/discomfort in your journey to be your best
  • Trying new things that other teachers do without comparing yourself
  • Dealing with disagreement, debate (and sometimes arguments)
  • Developing professional habits when you may not agree with school protocols
  • The benefits of clearly identifying your classroom needs
  • Working with organizations outside of the school that you can benefit from (or assist!)
  • Finding inspiration!

Happy teaching! (and don't forget the Padlet!)

Making Your Teaching Something Special: 50 Simple Ways to Become a Better Teacher (2017)
by Rushton Hurley

EdTechTeam Press, Amazon or search via ISBN:
ISBN-10: 194516736X
ISBN-13: 978-1945167362

Monday, January 1, 2018

How can we truly innovate in our schools? An Overview of the Popular Book 'The Innovator’s Mindset' by George Couros

by George Couros (purchase from Amazon, sign up for Couros’ “The Principal of Change” newsletter, and learn from him on Twitter - @gcouros) *The thoughts in this post merely scratch the surface of the contents of the book.

Innovation has been a buzzword in education for quite some time now, but as Dr. George Couros sees it we often don’t have a clear definition of what “innovation” means prior to declaring that we are ‘innovative’. He rightly emphasizes that using technology is not innovation and, argues that we need to question what we do and why, and in this context, we’re talking about what we’re doing in our schools and with education in general. (without limiting the discussion to technology) Couros draws our attention to the visual (on the right) you may have seen before, which is credited to Bill Ferriter (@plugusin), stressing the point.

George Couros gives us a great example of how education can stifle innovation. For those who haven't heard the story, the demise of Blockbuster Video (or the old VHS / DVD rental shops) still teaches us heaps. Blockbuster missed its chance to innovate and paid the price. The Onion had a ‘mocumentary’ online as far back as 2008, a telling example of the importance of innovation in any field or industry. (see the hilarious video here)

Fixed vs growth Mindsets. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Couros discusses the difference between fixed and growth mindsets, and the need for educators and curriculums to accommodate student failure to foster success. However, he stretches this thinking further, challenging us to move beyond the simple idea that “failure is good”, and explains the need to help learners develop an unwillingness to give up. (in his words, resilience, and grit) *Following Dr. Couros' lead, I'm including several excellent Sylvia Duckworth sketches found in the book and elsewhere. 
The Iceberg Illusion is a great visual showing us
what kind of commitment success requires
Couros cites Dr. Carol Dweck’s own innovative discussions on growth mindsets. You can learn more from this short YouTube video by John Spencer that shares Dweck’s ideas on fixed vs growth mindsets. (I quite liked this one from Better Than Yesterday as well)

The growth mindset discussion left me questioning what I was doing about my own professional growth: Would I want to be a learner in my own class? Truthfully, not always. How can I challenge myself to be a more innovative teacher? How can I adapt the tools to build better learning? Couros again has a great visual produced by Sylvia Duckworth. (@sylviaduckworth) See the visual below and a deeper explanation of each of the following characteristics here

  • Empathetic
  • Problem Finders
  • Risk-Takers
  • Networked
  • Observant
  • Creators
  • Resilient
  • Reflective

A key section of the book addresses a critical factor in adaptive, innovative schools: leadership. The emphasis is on relationships leading to innovation. In this, he shares a scenario in which a good idea is killed off due to a fear of the implications for the entire organization. Another area in which Couros points out relationships are crucial for innovative schools is that amoung teachers, with reference to the sharing economy. He compares “the classroom teacher” vs “the school teacher”. A school culture in which people share resources and ideas will inevitably lead to better learning, more interaction, and most likely a greater pool of well-developed ideas. (and that a non-sharing teacher may be a great teacher in the classroom, but doesn’t amount to much help beyond their four classroom walls) For school leaders he suggests:

  • Spending time with smaller groups of people and asking what they want to learn (students, teachers, staff)
  • Shadow students
  • Manage things, lead people (which Couros quotes from Steven Covey)

Couros outlines the characteristics of the innovative leader as:

  • Visionary
  • Empathetic
  • Models Learning
  • Open Risk Taker
  • Networked 
  • Observant
  • Team Builder
  • Always Focused on Relationships

See his ideas in more detail here and another Duckworth sketch below.
Are you this kind of leader? Keep in mind, leadership isn't simply school administration
We are all leaders in some capacity.
Creating a culture of innovation will require some debate, discussion, and inevitable disagreement. Speaking of cultures, and referencing Devorah Heitner (author of ‘Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World’ - see her website Raising Digital Natives for great advice and her highly engaging book) Dr. Couros notes how a culture of compliance in schools limits us in our ability to help students learn to be curious, self-directed, and engaged. Conversely, we can empower our students by allowing them to do things, which will lead to greater engagement. Achieving this kind of environment or school culture has to be a shared vision throughout the process. Leaders should be focusing on the strengths of their constituents to build confidence (by fitting jobs around skill sets), and then work on the weaknesses. This makes complete sense. When leaders ignore their people, their people will be disengaged. (I have personal experience with this, which led me to leave a school and take my skills elsewhere to a place in which I could contribute as well as develop my teaching craft) An incredibly important point is the need to demonstrate a genuine concern for your staff. What are their interests? Their goals? Their hopes for their professional future? A leader likely does not know what their people want and what they are thinking, so they should be asking. Couros notes that, ultimately, leaders must model and mentor. So what should a leader (and a teacher) be looking for in classrooms?

  • Voice
  • Choice
  • Time for Reflection
  • Opportunities for Innovation
  • Critical Thinkers
  • Problem Solvers/Finders
  • Self-Assessment
  • Connected Learning

See Dr. Couros’ more detailed explanation here and yet another excellent Duckworth visual.

Asking and answering the question "Is this obvious in my classroom?" for each area
intimidated me, but I have clear ideas for improvement.
The technology piece comes back into play later in the book, with a philosophy that reminds me of a Google for Education t-shirt I once received which reads “Less tech-ing, more teaching”. I love the statement. (not to mention laughing out loud when I read “Are your school devices really just $1000 pencils?” in the book) It directly suggests that technology are tools, but we need a plan for it. This is what George Couros is saying about technology. He goes deeper to point out that the technology tools available to us today can transform and personalize learning. Schools do need to carefully plan how technology is used, as well as what technology is used. This plan should include finding, developing and celebrating in-house to district level talent to help develop the skill sets of the wider teaching community. Couros goes into greater detail, but essentially, we have to ask ourselves what is best for students and how is learning improved with the technology being employed.

More is Less. In this section, we are given a bit of a crash course in building a culture of innovation. Many teachers will no doubt appreciate his argument that we need more depth and breadth of what we do, rather than check too many curriculum boxes. Don’t read into that statement too deeply - Dr. Couros does not undervalue the importance of curriculum. Rather, he is stating that fewer and well-focused initiatives will more likely lead to effective change. (and fewer initiatives will be less likely to burn out your faculty and keep the team on the same game plan) More time and freedom to explore will lead to new and better ideas. He breaks the levels of ability into three stages:

  • Literate = can use the tool or device
  • Adaptive = technology can be used to replace “low tech”
  • Transformative = you can do something you haven’t done before

In the process, he suggests that leaders allow faculty to seek out and explore tools that may be useful for learning. Moreover, he comes back to an earlier point and reminds us that innovation isn’t limited to technology; we should also be thinking about structures and direction in learning.

The final parts of the book is an appeal to educators to join the sharing economy. Innovation comes from ideas being shared, reused, and revised. (but give credit where it’s due, as George Couros does consistently throughout The Innovator’s Mindset)

Embracing an Open Culture means that we as educators can't isolate ourselves from a connected world. It’s already here and has been for a while. It can be overwhelming, but hiding from it will limit the effectiveness of the 21st-century educator. Couros points to Chris Anderson on TED. He gave a popular TED Talk, "How web video powers global innovation”, that is well worth a look.  A sharing economy will allow us to self-teach and innovate. George Couros offers these insights to sharing:

  • The bigger the group, the more potential for innovation
  • There is visibility to see what other people are doing
  • There is a desire to change, grow, and improve

Some final (and insightful) thoughts from Dr. George Couros:

Dr. Couros leaves us with another great visual (below), this one developed by himself, called The Networked Teacher. You can see it on his website which comes with a detailed explanation of how it can be interpreted.

*You can subscribe to Dr. George Couros’ blog "The Principal of Change” at https://georgecouros.ca/. Learn from him on Twitter (@gcouros).

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Extending Student Voice with Flipgrid

*See classroom samples and a YouTube playlist of tutorials halfway through this post.

If you haven’t heard of Flipgrid yet, you’ll soon find it being spoken of in teaching circles. This discussion platform is relatively new but its value in the classroom is quickly being realized by teachers and students around the globe. It is indeed a powerful tool to enhance student voice.

Essentially, a teacher creates a “grid” which acts as a kind of classroom, or digital discussion board. Within the grid the teacher posts topics. In each topic, you can add a description and if desired a photo or video explanation of what to discuss. Additionally, a document can be linked as well (perhaps with resources or a more detailed explanation), and there are other topic resources and attachments such as image, gifs and video links. Students view the topic and respond with their own video. Additionally, students can respond to each other’s responses. (this feature can be controlled by the teacher) What do I love overall about Flipgrid?

  • Students use Flipgrid for free and do not need accounts. 
  • The interface is intuitive and user-friendly.
  • Student (and teacher) voice is clearly enhanced in a way that all students can speak and respond to each other.
  • Differentiation is supported through self-paced recording; students can record-pause-record-pause, taking their time (or completely delete a recording and begin again); conversely, students can create an edited video and upload or link to YouTube; students who don’t want their face in a video can point the camera away.
  • Teacher-controlled privacy settings (owners of a grid and topic can choose who sees what and moderate posts).
  • There is a Topic Discovery Library with thousands of grids with many ideas.
  • Your own grids and the individual or group responses can be shared via social media, as well as embedded in a variety of learning management systems.
  • It’s fun! 

How have I used Flipgrid thus far? For a Grade 8 unit of inquiry on epidemics and the spread of disease a colleague of mine and I recorded a zombie attack on the school, challenging the kids to create a video that demonstrates they’ll be prepared for a disease outbreak. (so why not make it a zombie virus!) Here is the topic https://flipgrid.com/3f8e3d, and here is the lesson document: https://goo.gl/TiRNK2.

In a Grade 9 class we had a more serious unit of inquiry on civil wars. https://flipgrid.com/5815d4 Students had to research the Syrian civil war, giving causes, consequences, peace initiatives, and demonstrate their opinions and deeper thinking by assigning blame to individuals or organizations, and ultimately a strategy for the international community to follow that will end the conflict. Have a look at the assignment here and feel free to copy! https://goo.gl/qxrnVL

Finally, for a fun school event day of learning activities I used Flipgrid for a One-Act Film Challenge. https://flipgrid.com/231b40 Students had one hour to conceive, script, and film a video in one hour. We uploaded to Flipgrid. (at the time of writing there is only one video, but a few more will follow and I intend to develop this topic) Have a look at the activity in greater detail here and give it a go! https://goo.gl/iosQDV

How will I use Flipgrid in the future? I’m certain this list will evolve and no doubt there are people out there using the tool in these ways.

  • Classroom connections in the “Global Grid Connections” tab (such a “Who am I?” or “What event was this?” in history)
  • A brief description of a current event
  • Beginning of year introductions
  • Student-made tutorials
  • Review (what can you remember in your head)
  • Reflections
  • Debating / Four corners discussions
  • Getting teacher feedback for presentations via Flip
  • Lesson idea sharing 
  • Lesson exit tickets
  • Oral testing
  • For a new Google Educator Group, we’ll direct our members to offer a video introduction
  • Career days - parents who don’t have time to come in can record on the grid
  • Question asking (for a unit or for review)
  • TED Ed Club Grid

Teachers have the choice of the free Flipgrid One or the paid Flipgrid Classroom. Needless to say, you have much more flexibility and more features with the paid version. Like many platforms, there are programs and badges to help motivate teachers to use the tool. How about for students?

As for my own use of Flipgrid, I’m just scratching the surface of the potential.


Want to learn more? Download the 22-page PDF guide https://goo.gl/dxVNbX or have a look through the Flipgrid Help Center at  https://help.flipgrid.com/hc/en-us .

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Strategies for Collaborative Practices & Learning: Working with Text

I had a sense that collaboration can fall into a simple task of doing group work, and confident that I was innovating in terms of collaboration, but had a huge mind shift over the last few weeks while doing professional development with School Reform Initiative. This post focuses on two strategies for working with text: 'Text Rendering' and 'Three Levels of Text'. More strategies will be posted, as I apply them to my own practice. 

The SRI is an invaluable resource for educators and educational leadership teams (and I would argue organisational leaders). The structure and complexity of collaboration is much deeper than I have been practicing, and I came away with some great ideas. Usually I post after doing research, but this is all SRI and a couple of weekends of excellent professional develop. I was so impressed that in the first week and second week I was employing the strategies to my daily practice, with student approval (strategies are “protocols” in SRI language).

Thank you to Margaret MacLean and Tamara Studniski, and St. Maur International School, Nagoya International School, and the East Asia Regional Council of Schools for providing the opportunity. 

Strategy: Text Rendering (looking at text as a group, from individual perspectives) The purpose of text rendering is to clarify and expand our thinking about a piece of text, while working together to construct meaning from that text. The idea is to look at text in a different way, and identify how we may look at text in comparison to others. Participants independently do the following as they read: 

*underline a sentence or two that you feel has significant meaning or resonates with you

*underline a specific word

*underline a specific phrase

*consider writing a concept taken from the text (this is my own addition)

Students then share the sentences and briefly discuss why each was chosen. Identify similarities and differences, and reasons for choices. Next, share and write the phrases and words. Discuss the nature of the text and what you get from it. Are there any new questions that arise? Is there new learning? We must make efforts to cultivate our inner teacher. 

Application: One I have tried is with Grade 12 History students studying the varying groups who opposed the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. They focused on political parties and church organizations. Due to use in an advanced academic History class I chose to add “writing a concept” to get them thinking more deeply. I also followed up with a mentimeter activity that generated opinions on the overall topic. (which included previous lesson content and concepts)

Another possibility is to have students write these on post-it notes, and then have students group the post-its from each category. (sentence, word, phrase, concept) This would be interesting to see how the class might cluster (or not cluster) their thinking. Have a look at SRI's "Affinity Mapping" protocol. 

Strategy: Three Levels of Text (making deeper meaning)
This protocol helps students to grasp a deeper understanding of a piece of text. Students respond to 3 levels of the text: the literal (level 1), the interpretive (level 2), and the implications as they relate to the reader (level 3). Groups will need a timekeeper / facilitator to keep the group on track. 

I recommend that the piece of text be read and annotated ahead of time (such as for homework - a flipped learning model). Students should select a number of passages or ideas that can be discussed as a group. How many passages to identify will depend on the size of the group. Each student will share out their passage, so students sharing later will possibly have their first choice taken. 

The process is as follows:

One person expresses their ideas using up to 3 minutes (the teacher can determine the number of minutes - this will depend on the age of the students and length of the text). Work from one level to the next, and then move on. 

*Level 1: The student reads aloud the passage she/he has selected. 

*Level 2: The student says what they think about the passage (interpretation, connection to past experiences, emotions that were evoked, connections to other learning or knowledge)

*Level 3: Expresses the implications for their course of study or body of research.

The group responds (for a total of up to 2 minutes or a teacher-determined amount of time) to what has been said. 

Repeat the process, and as always, bring the class together to debrief and discuss the piece of writing to address thoughts, ideas, and comprehension. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Starting at a new school or do you have new teachers? ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ offers lessons in dealing with change.

*See a version of this for teens at the end of this post.

I started teaching at a new school last week and was inspired by an orientation activity in which we looked at the school’s teaching standards in discussion groups. I’ll explain the activity below, but first, the hook. We had a look at Who Moved My Cheese, authored by Dr. Spencer Johnson in 1998. (we actually viewed the first four minutes of the short movie made, and following a discussion with regard to the allegory, we watched this video that brings it all together with a contemporary example using Amazon. I encourage you to think about this as an activity in which you have new and old faculty think of themselves as individuals evolving and learning - what we ask our students to do. Which character are you most like - the two mice, "Sniff" and "Scurry" (who represent the "animal instinct" to adapt to the situation), or the two little people, "Hem" and "Haw." (who are a metaphor for being indecisive)

The Activity
*Feel free to download these activity description and worksheets to meet your school's needs. They can be modified, and used for a paper-based or digital activity. As noted, these are from an inspiring moment at school, original documents, but not my original ideas. You can find other examples in an online search.

The point in this activity was to connect our reservations or resistance to change, have an introduction to the school’s “Teaching and Learning Strands”, and consider where we fall as individuals on a continuum for each strand. There are five strands at the school, broken down into descriptors that we considered in small groups, and with regard to our experience in each strand, placed ourselves on a continuum: Developing - Competent - Proficient - Can Help Others. (there are various models, but I like the four choices that force you to not take the easy middle road) Following this we considered what our “cheese” - what our things we should focus on changing over the course of our transition to a new school, and in general as professionals. It’s a reflection on what we need to do to adapt, because change in inevitable. So how will be deal with that? Be aware that there are criticisms of this allegory, but it’s your choice to agree with the activity as a reflective practice or not.

Want to extend the activity? How about working something with this animated review of Stephen Covey’s  “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. To what degree do your current habits reflect Covey’s “7 habits”.

Want to use it in the classroom? Here are activities baed on “Who Moved My Cheese? for Teens”.

Resource 1: An extended activity by Learn NC.
Resource 2: A shorter activity from Penguin.

Ann Gerber. "Who Moved My Cheese? for Teens." Learnnc.org. Web. 14 Aug. 2017.

"Who Moved My Cheese by Dr Spencer Johnson ► Animated Book Summary." YouTube.
21 Jan. 2016. Web. 14 Aug. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsSNMzgsE7U>

"Who Moved My Cheese." Penguin.com. 18 Apr. 2014. Web. 14 Aug. 2017.

"Who Moved My Cheese." YouTube. 10 Sept. 2011. Web. 14 Aug. 2017. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

All teachers can teach code! A book review of “Code In Every Class” by author-educators Kevin Brookhouser and Ria Megnin

*Click here for a list of resources to start a coding program, or to simply learn at home, inspired by the book with my additions. Copy, modify and share. Pick up the book for even more resources!

3D-Code+in+Every+Class+(1).jpgHave you been at school and in the middle of one of those “coding” conversations, and felt like you were listening to another language? Well, you were. But it’s a language you can learn pretty quickly, and one that children and teenagers will need for our future economy. The overall tenets of Code in Every Class, a book that encourages us to move away from the “programming geek” mentality to one that empowers us, addresses and critically missing piece in schools - coding. This book will raise your confidence with code. Moreover, the authors make many convincing arguments, such as:

  • We can all learn to code (small children to adults)
  • Coding teaches problem solving, critical and higher order thinking, and creativity - skills for their future
  • Coding encourages children to find problems and work towards solving them
  • Teaching coding promotes social justice and empowers the disadvantaged
  • Coding doesn’t have to cost

Coding ignites curiosity and allows children to create, which is highly empowering. It helps then break down a problem step by step. Teaching coding is about teaching thinking. (see p.19 for a list of skills, and perhaps jump to Chapter 19 for several lesson plan ideas)

Age-Old Excuses Debunked
Screen time may be an issue brought up. The authors echo researcher-author Dr. Devorah Heitner, who points out in her book, Screenwise, that screen time is a management issue rather than a problem. I like the term Brookhouser and Megnin use, “de-distracting”. We have to create a de-distracting classroom environment, not limit the use of educational technology. (they also make an important point that many families cannot afford devices that distract)

Technology doesn’t change too fast; children will adapt. They have to learn flexibility.

Technology isn’t too expensive. Yes, you will need an internet connection, but many coding programs are completely free and come with curriculums, tutorials, and teacher guides. See the resource document I’ve created.

Learning to code can assist in developing other areas such as computational thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

The Challenges of Building Diversity. The authors discuss some of the careers in which the skills from coding are necessary. (indeed, this is really most jobs) They address what they call “the dark side of coding”, the belief that programming is the domain of nerdy white middle-to-upper class white and Asian males. The real problem lies with the lack of coding opportunities at a young age, for all students. Chapter 3 explores how this have evolved and how it has impacted disadvantaged groups, including girls. (check out “Girls Who Code”, a non-profit committed to addressing the low representing of females in computer programming) An encouraging shift is underway, and thankfully is coming from the tech industry itself. (check out a Google office - I’ve been to a few, in Japan, Australia and Singapore, and they are diverse places) Regardless, there is a long way to go until we have computer programming role-models for all children. The good thing is that we can begin that with a coding movement in our schools. (see the excellent work on 501c non-profit, Code.org, the organizers of Hour of Code, and perhaps “take the pledge”) Code in Every Class offers classroom solutions to bring more diversity to the tech world on p.51.

Getting a Coding Program in Your School, or Just a Simple Lesson. As with anything new, have a plan. Do some research and, as Brookhouser and Megnin suggest, start slowly and perhaps consider learning along with your students. You’ll model curiosity, build relationships and trust through showing your vulnerability, and empower your students to try, fail, try, succeed, repeat. You don’t need a computer to teach coding (see p.58), and for ideas check out Chapter 9 with a range of K-12 lesson plans to get you started. Some include gamification that will surely be popular. You don’t have to create a full-blown program. Start with a single lesson.

Chapter 7 is a crash course in coding language, why code matters, incorporating code into your lessons, and resources to further your learning. (you’ll even get a clear explanation of binary and the computer language “family tree”) When you have understood the underlying principles of coding, build your expertise. Seek out coding communities. There is a nice analogy to the English language which brings it all home.

If you think you’re ready for a program, jump to Chapter 8 and take the advice on how to launch a coding program. In a nutshell:

  • Create a plan and a timeline
  • Set up the environment
  • Start small and build from there; reflection, revision, repeat (be sure to include play!)
  • Seek support, share
  • Raise the level
  • Celebrate and share the projects (you could take Dive Into Inquiry author Trevor Mackenzie’s approach and have a coding fair that demonstrates learning, and share projects on YouTube as well)

The Fear factor. In building a program or even just trying some ideas, you will likely encounter resistance. Although this is natural, resistance comes from fear of the unknown or fear of failure. The book discusses strategies to getting over the “I’m bad at Math” mentality. (see the fun Google Search activity on p.65) Ultimately, we need to foster persistence, creativity, and effort.

Buy-In from the Community. Another challenge we often face is resistance from school leaders. Concerns about scheduling and meeting curriculum objectives are real and important concerns of teachers and school leaders, but they don’t have to shackle us to the “done and done”. Effective coding lessons, programs and clubs can meet curriculum standards. The free programs available online negate the argument that “it isn’t in the budget”. (again, see this resource document) Granted, the authors acknowledge that online connectivity and some devices are necessary. They suggest another strategy - guerrilla tactics that don’t get you in trouble. Do something with students to show their learning through code, and share it with the community. (administrators, colleagues, alumni, parents) Build on any successes. Get the local community involved to demonstrate how coding skills applies to business, science, etc.

Remember, anyone can code!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Inquiry Based Learning - A Follow-up to Dive Into Inquiry

*Feel free to copy and modify any documents in this post. A special thanks to Trevor MacKenzie, author of Dive Into Inquiry. See his website and follow him on Twitter.

Demonstration of Learning Display
Click here for a 30s video of the display
I’ve done inquiry projects in the past, but never as focused. For the last quarter of this past school year I chose to have my Grade 8 Social Studies classes work on a carefully planned inquiry project, rather than the usual essay that had been done in past years. (students have had plenty of experience writing in Social Studies and in other subject areas) More importantly, I felt it was time for them to have more freedom to choose a topic of interest, within the school’s curriculum. Feel free to skip down to the examples of student work. Another focus of emphasis was the authentic audience, producing work that was intended for an audience outside of parents and their teacher. (and hopefully generating more passionate and higher quality work) I was inspired by Trevor MacKenzie’s Dive Into Inquiry and the clearly laid out approach. I modified it to suit our timeline and needs. As the kids weren’t completely free to choose their topic, as it had to be Japanese history, this was a guided inquiry project. Students are required to use printed copies of this document to take handwritten notes, to help them learn to write key ideas in their own words. (aside from direct quotes) These qualify as part of their investigation grade, along with a bibliography.

The Approach
After I had a general plan in mind I began with a conversation, which sprouted wonderful support from our MS-HS librarian / media centre head. We decided to review the research process: how we explore and determine a topic, employing keywords and related terminology in our search, where to seek initial information to determine whether we have enough resources, where we would focus our research, and developing a strong research question. Through this I developed this Guided Inquiry Task Planning Document. After explaining the assignment to students, emphasizing that it was a 3-month commitment, we meandered down to the library and I let our librarian / media specialist take the reigns for the period. Students knew she was there to support them throughout the process. I usually give students an assessment description sheet, but felt that the planning document and rubric were sufficient. (see how I use Google Classroom to manage paperless assessments and rubrics)

See the Inquiry Project Rubric. (based on MYP style markbands) To differentiate, which was a suggestion from one of our learning support teachers, I created a checklist to help some students (and parents) focus on the key requirements of the task. See the Inquiry Project Rubric (Checklist Version). Needless to say, these students also had other modifications such as extra time to work, and more frequent check-ins form me.

Idea Generation for Demonstrations of Learning
An important step was to generate ideas for what MacKenzie refers to as “demonstrations of learning”. I love that term and now use it. I initially wrote some of my own ideas for the final presentation, but looked at a number of websites and created a document for review. We did go over the document, with me highlighting some of the more engaging ideas. The freedom to choose how they would present their learning culminated in ideas I NEVER would have considered myself. A case in point is this Paper Scroll Story on Saigo Takamori, the real “last samurai”. The student even created a prototype with an Oreo box! (see the image below)

Artist Katsuhika Hokusai Timeline
See the Inquiry Project Ideas document.

Unfortunately, due to a sudden trip overseas the students and I couldn’t plan and prepare, together, an “Inquiry Exhibition” at the school. However, I did have a morning before leaving and put together a display in the Middle School area. I wanted the students to see that their work would be presented to a wider audience. The school community was encouraged to stop by and learn a little Japanese history, and parents were given a document with links to each and every assignment. See a video of the display.

Here are some of the projects.

A museum brochure on Murasaki Shikibu, Japan’s first woman novelist, who may have written created the world’s first novel (pdf)

A museum brochure on Masako Hojo, woman samurai (pdf)

So what did they learn?
Paper Scroll Story Prototype
Beyond research and synthesis, you can see that many of the students have learned about the esthetics of a presentation - text and font colours and styles, colour contrasts, rule of thirds, narrative skills, and audio/video. Morevover, many of them employed storytelling concepts. There is always room for improvement, but for a group of 13-14 years olds they are doing very well, and learning a wide range of skills! (research, analysis, synthesis, oral and visual communication, and decision making to name a few)

What would I do differently?

Saigo Takamori and Masako Hojo Museum Brochures
I think I would more emphatically encourage students to choose topics that are not directly studied in the class. (or perhaps even require it) Many of the topic choices were based on course content, albeit with much deeper research. In the least, students had choice and were most likely interested in the topics. Additionally, I would encourage students to think more about what would be interesting to an audience. There were several screencasts of Google Slides, Keynote, or PowerPoint. This isn’t so innovative. One could argue that using an online comic app to create a presentation is also lacking creativity, but it is much more engaging than a slideshow.