14 December 2010

Doing the "Interactive Flip" with VoiceThread.

As mentioned earlier in this blog, I have been experimenting with incorporating Project-Based Learning into my teaching.  In particular, I have had my students using Web 2.0 tools such a Glogster, VoiceThread, Google Apps, and Jaycut.  The problem I kept having was a matter of time.  Being a history teacher, and seeing the importance of building a narrative, I wasn't ready to completely do away with basic lectures and discussions while moving to more projects in the classroom, even though I want my students to discover more of their learning for themselves.  So, what was often happening is I would spend a couple of days lecturing on a topic and, in-between, giving students time to work on their projects.  Usually, this wasn't enough, so they would have to finish their projects at home.  Often they would have questions, encounter technical difficulties, and they would end up emailing me at 11:30 with these issues.  This was frustrating for them and me.

Then, about 6 weeks ago, I came across several articles talking about Reverse Intruction.  In this technique, developed by chemistry teacher Karl Fisch, a teacher records their lectures for the students to watch at home.  This gives them their "basic" level of understanding.  Then in-class, students have more time to do the more complicated, deeper work of the class.  I found this to be a wonderful idea that could be applied to almost any area of study.  The only problem I saw with this was the limited amount of interactivity that students had with just watching the video of a lecture.  My solution, was the use of a resource I had been using with my students: VoiceThread.  VoiceThread, for those of you who aren't familiar with it, is an online service that allows you to take presentations, video, pictures, and documents, and place them online and comment on them interactively.  I find this to be a more interactive version of Reverse Instruction (an interactive "Folmer Flip" as opposed to the ground-breeaking "Fisch Flip" of innovator Karl Fisch).  So, I now take the presentations that I had been using for lectures in class and place them on VoiceThread.  I then make comments using my webcam to turn it into a 15-20 minutes lecture that students can watch and have some simple questions to answer at the end (I use Edline for this, but you could also do it with something like Google Forms)  The nice thing about the VoiceThread is that students can make their own comments on the presentation, ask questions, draw on the slides, even interact with their classmates.  I can go back and check on these and add new information for clarification (I also place the presentations on Google Docs for students to review and print out later).  This then leaves class time to do more work on projects, analyze documents, or have deeper discussions that would have been taken up with the lecture.  In this way, my students and I are interacting on a deeper level with more differentiated and personalized learning.  Also, using VoiceThread for this is very easy since it is entirely web-based.  All the teacher needs is a mic or webcam (or you could type you comments, like many students do, but this is less engaging).

This is still an very early experiment, but the students have been giving me very positive feedback thus far and all indications show they are learning more.  Below are some examples of VoiceThreads I've done with this method.  Please share any information or feedback in your comments!

16 August 2010

You've Heard of the 3R's, How About The 6C's?

I've been thinking and reading a lot this summer about different learning theories and how they affect pedagogy.  My three favorites are constructivism, communal constructivism, and connectivism.  Aspects of each of these three theories really inform my teaching and should be the basis for any attempt of innovative teaching in the 21st century context.  So, what does that mean for pedagogy and how do we apply it?  Certainly, we have all heard of the 3R's (reading, writing and arithmetic).  While these should form the basis of any good educational skillset, we know that they are not enough in the context of the needs of 21st century learners and what the theories mentioned above propose.  Therefore, I have developed my own framework that I hope to employ this school year in the development of my lessons, my teaching, and assessment of my students.

I call this the "6C's" or the "C-6 Framework."  The 6C's are "Choice, Construction, Connection, Collaboration, Creation, and Consideration."  Here is what each of these mean:
  1. Choice - Learners will have the opportunity to choose what, how, and when to learn.
  2. Construction - Learners will conduct research and inquiry to construct their own understanding of the world around them.
  3. Connection - Learners will discover and build the connections between ideas, events, and people in different times and places.
  4. Collaboration - Learners will develop the skills to effectively collaborate with their facilitators and peers.
  5. Creation - Learners will strive to become producers of new knowledge using their skills and imagination to create new understanding.
  6. Consideration - Learners will reflect and consider what they have learned, how they learned it, and how they can improve their learning in the future.
I'm not proposing that any of this is particularly new or radical.  For we are only "standing on the shoulders of giants" when it comes to learning theory and its practice in the classroom.  But, I find this a useful framework to remind myself of where are focus should be.  I have developed it with the social studies classroom in mind, but a simple variation in some of the language of each explanation could work in any and all subject matter.  I plan on sharing this framework with my students and parents in setting the proper tone in what I hope to develop in my students this school year.

03 August 2010

Smartphones Make Smart Learners

Yes, it has been a while since I have posted to my blog.  End of the school year, a trip to Japan with my students, some graduate classes, and a few relaxing weeks later, I am ready to start putting some of my ideas out into the ether again.  I had originally intended this post to be about some of the things I've been working on for the upcoming school year (I will post on that later this week), but todays Edchat on Twitter got me thinking in a new direction.

The discussion focused on the use of smartphones in the classroom.  There were many views on how to best implement such programs, the benefits and drawbacks, and how curriculum would need to be adapted.  Some really great discussions developed during the hour over these issues and more and it was awesome to see educators thinking about, discussing, and debating their craft.  As a result, I also came across some great resources at http://cellularlearning.org/http://www.cellphonesinlearning.com/ and http://chrismayoh.blogspot.com/.

Now, I come to my personal situation.  Last year, I allowed a limited number of students to use their smartphones, iPhones, and iPod Touches (wifi-enabled) to do research work in our class.  For this, we usually go to the lab or use the class set of wifi-enabled netbooks.  But, the lab isn't always available and we only have about a dozen netbooks (getting a few more this year), so we needed more ways of connecting online.  This was generally pretty successful.  Getting the right to use their mobile devices in the classroom (something they are not usually allowed to do during school hours) gave students a sense of empowerment and responsibility.  As far as I could tell, no one abused the privilege by texting their friends or visiting inappropriate sites (things they likely do anyway when teachers aren't looking).  The students were treated as adults, and they became better learners as a result.

This year I am planning on challenging my school to rethink mobile device use in the classroom.  This needs to involve a reevaluation of our phone and mobile device policy.  Also, it needs to involve teachers who are willing to pilot the use of such devices in the classroom (I plan on expanding my use of it, but one voice can get drowned out pretty easily).  I will post more on this effort as it develops in the coming weeks.  These devices are here, and they are here to stay.  We should learn to make use of their enormous educational potential instead of treating them like a dangerous and unwelcome item.

08 March 2010

Students' Collaborative Videos

I realized today that it had been a while since I had posted.  The main reason for this is I have been working closely with my students finishing their collaborative projects.  With my class or seniors, they finished their presentations and posted them to VoiceThread with some great results (more on that in my next post.)  For my sophomores, they completed their collaborative video project on 19th century ideas.  They used Ning and Google Docs to research and plan a video.  They then created them and posted them to the Ning to share with the other students (who could comment and rate them).  You can see some of the best examples below.  I then had them complete an online assessment and evaulutation of the project using the Google Forms feature in Google Docs.  Here is the form here.  Hope you enjoy the vids!

Find more videos like this on Mr. Folmer's Honors WorldCiv 2.0

Find more videos like this on Mr. Folmer's Honors WorldCiv 2.0

Find more videos like this on Mr. Folmer's Honors WorldCiv 2.0

09 February 2010

Snow Days... Why Stop Learning?

Snow days are not what they used to be, and technology makes that possible.  Living here in the Mid-Atlantic, we have been out of school all week and are likely to be out the rest of the week due to the record-breaking snowfall we have had here.  Now, in the past, this would mean a week of learning wasted, but not anymore.  The web and related have technologies mean that learning can continue for students and teachers while stuck at home.

This week I have been able to put this into practice in several ways.  For my World Civilization 2.0 course and my Modern World History course, the students have been continuing to work on their projects at home using the class Nings and Google Docs.  If we had done these projects in a more traditional manner in class the learning would have stopped, but thanks to the online learning environment, the learning continues. 

With my AP European History students I have been using several different methods to keep the learning on-track.  With the AP Exam looming a few months away, the students cannot afford to take a week off from class.  So, I am having them complete their practice essays using Google Docs in a shared folder with me so I can comment on them and they can edit them before final submission (also through Google Docs).  They are continuing to participate in discussions on our class blog and they are using the class wiki and Google Docs to prepare presentations they will give to the class when they return to school.

But, even with all of the student centered technologies, it can be hard not to have some direct "face-time" with the students.  So, I will also be using WiZiQ with the AP students to conduct an online class.  WiZiQ allows teachers to conduct a class with audio, video, presentations, a virtual whiteboard, and chat functions.  It is much like Elluminate, but it is completely free.  Also, WiZiQ is currently offering premium memberships to educators.

All in all, one does not want to lose the magic of having snow days (certainly this teacher likes the time off), but the web offers opportunities to keep that learning going (even on a relaxed level) which is especially important when time is of the essence.

02 February 2010

Debriefing Educon

Wow, what a weekend!  EduCon 2.2 in Philadelphia this past weekend was a fascinating experience.  Over the three days of the conference I think I crammed more information into my brain than I have in years and I am still trying to come to grips with everything I have learned.  Overall, the conference went very well, and hats off to Chris Lehmann and the Science Leadership Academy for a great conference.  The teachers and students all did a great job.  To all of the presenters, I was very impressed and pleased with our conversations and wished I could have attended more (I am looking forward in the coming weeks at looking at the recordings and information from the different sessions to get as much as I can from most of them.)  I met a lot of great new people with whom I hope to continue the conversation going on through my PLN (Twitter, through this blog, the various Nings of which I am a member).  I will be talking about more about the details relating to what I learned and who and learned it from at EduCon in the coming weeks.
But, as with any good metal exercise, I am left with more questions from the conference than anything else.  What to do with all of this new insight?  How to make the best of this information?  What does this mean for my teaching and the possibilities of teaching at my school?

In some ways, what I believe is the biggest question left me a little worried.  How are we going to bring the change to schools that we need?  Yes, there is a large and growing group of progressive educators in America (the conference was a shining example of that) but, they are still a small percentage of the overall system which is not changing the way we would hope.  There is hope, but a lot to be concerned for, and that should call us all to action.

29 January 2010

EduCon 2.2 - So Much to Learn in So Little Time

This weekend I have the fortunate opportunity to attend the EduCon 2.2 Conference this weekend in Philadelphia, PA.  I will be traveling there with a colleague of mine and my school was nice enough to pay for most of the costs of the conference.  I see this as a sign that my school is willing to make the changes needed to move our school into the 21st century.  Also, I hope the conference, the networking and conversations held there will give me new ideas and insight into the changes we need to be making.

First, EduCon is not a "technology conference," (although technology is a big part of it) but rather it is a place for innovation in education.  As the axioms state:
  1. Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members
  2. Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen
  3. Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around
  4. Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate
  5. Learning can — and must — be networked
These principles give a clear way forward on talking about education in the 21st century and how we bring about change and reform.

For those of you who cannot attend, you can follow and participate in the conference through Twitter by following the hashtag #educon or through Elluminate which will be providing live streams of all 76 sessions or "conversations."

My biggest problem is deciding which conversations to attend.  So many look really good.  The great thing about them being streamed through Elluminate is that they can be accessed later.  At this point, here are my top sessions I hope attend or view later (but these could change once we arrive!).  If you follow the links you can get more information about the sessions and how to follow on Elluminate.
  • Tinkering Towards Technology Fluency - Tinkering is a time honored way to learn, invent, and innovate. Yet in schools, tinkering is viewed as wasted time, while instead we teach students to make, do, and invent using rigid procedures with tight timelines. How can we bring the creative benefits of tinkering back to the classroom?  
  • Teaching Big Ideas to 21st Century Learners through collaboration, innovation, and differentiation - Presented by a Program Consultant and Classroom Teacher from Ontario - Come see the power of a collaborative and engaging online learning environment that meets the needs of 21st Century learners in elementary and middle schools.  
  • Thinking Creatively: Inventing the Possible - If schools kill creativity, then what hope do we have of helping our students be prepared to devise creative and imaginative solutions to problems in their futures? Come examine frameworks for thinking and working creatively. Explore and experience creativity, innovation, and imagination in action. Reframe your problems into opportunities
  • 21st Century Classrooms or 21st Century Learning? - We've all been encouraged to build a 21st century classroom full of cool technology tools and gadgets, yet many have witnessed the underwhelming change these tools have brought to student learning. Why is that? We'll explore this dilemma as we work collaboratively to clarify a vision and a process for creating digital age learning environments.
  • Educational Commissioning and Project Based Learning - What if school wasn't just like real life, what if it just was real life? - Why we attend school, what we accomplish while we are here, how we spend our time; these are the issues I would like to investigate as we consider how to make 'school' more about meaningful and enriching life experiences, and less like hoop jumping and necessary evil.
  • Best Practices: Project-Based Learning in Forward-Thinking Schools - Explore project based learning using real examples of projects from two different non-traditional urban high schools. We'll discuss the characteristics of a good project and share strategies for designing projects to maximize student learning and engagement. 
  • The Democratization of the Classroom in the 21st Century - The intention of this workshop is to explore how the ideal of more democratic and progressive classrooms might look today in light of 1:1 computing, networked communication and other tools that might be available. 
  • Rethinking Portfolios - Portfolios can be used to document the process of learning, and to document what has been learned. In this conversation, we will look at how these two facets of learning can be mutually supportive. Moreover, we will look at portfolios as tools for student learning and teacher professional development.
Again, EduCon promises to be a really great experience.  You can follow me via my Twitter feed and I will blog about my experiences as soon as possible.

27 January 2010

Netbooks in the Classroom - Part 2

I blogged last week about the acquisition and use of a small set of class netbooks in my Social Studies classroom thus far this year.  The students really seem to enjoy using them in class and request them on a regular basis (they far enjoy using them and working with others in comparison to listening to me lecture, and I don't blame them).  But, as I said in my last post, I wanted to move beyond using the netbooks on a "one-off" basis for completing Google Docs organizers and answering questions on the class blog.  I want the students to go further with what they can do with easy access to the web and the abiltity to collaborate and create.

As a result, with two of the courses (a total of four sections) thatr I teach (I have three preps this year) I am moving to a more project based approach beginning with the second semester which started for us this week.  For my seniors who take my Modern World History 1945 to the Present course, I have begun a project with them where they will look at the problems and successes of development in six different regions of the world.  The student will use a class Ning to for their project linked to Google Docs to create a research page, outline, and presentation.  The presentation will then be uploaded to VoiceThread for the creators and rest of the student in the class to comment and question about the issues presented.  There will then be a final assessment at the end to analyze patterns of development around the world. 

My sophomores, who take World Civilization 1450 to 1950, will begin a similar project using a class Ning and Google Docs for their collaboration and research in groups.  But the topic and final product will be different.  They will research different political, economic and cultural ideas that were developed during the 19th century and how those ideas still affect us today.  They will use their research to make a documentary segment on their topic.  They will then work with all the other groups to make one extensive video on the topics presented.

In both cases, I believe this will be much more engaging and benefitial to the students instead of me lecturing to them over the next month on the same topics and issues.  I worked with our school's media specialist to get the students using the right kind of reseources, but a major focus of the projects is using the netbooks in the classroom for research, planning and writing, so we do not need to go to the media center or lab as often.  I will keep you, my readers, informed to the successes and pitfalls of my new approach.  Until next time, keep moving forward!

14 January 2010

Netbooks in the Classroom - Part 1

As part of the evolution of my teaching, I have been looking for ways for my students to become more connected with learning in the classroom using technology.  At the end of last school year I requested a small class set of netbooks for this school year.  I didn't necessarily want the computers on an 1 to 1 ratio since I wanted the students working cooperatively face to face as well as online.  The twelve were delivered to me at the end of the summer and I set up a mobile lab for use with my classes (I teach in several different rooms, and I also wanted them to be available to other teachers.) by placing the netbooks on a cart with several power-strips.

Initially, I struggled a little trying to find good uses for the hardware (mainly due to the hectic nature of the beginning of the school year, I didn't have a lot of time to sit down and think about how to use them.)  But, as the school year progressed, I began experimenting with them more and more.  The two easiest ways I found to plug them into my classrooms were to use them with my class blog and Google Docs.

With my class blog, instead of having to make all then assignments done there as homework (which I had done previously due to a lack of computer availability), students could use the netbooks to post to the blog.  I would give them some primary source documents and/or video to view and they could work (in pairs) to answer questions and respond to each other's posts.  This was a great way to then foster further discussion on the topics in class.

The second way I have been using them involved Google Docs.  Students would work in groups of three or four to complete an online graphic organizer on the topic we were investigating.  In each group there would be two netbooks, one would be used to post the group's research to the shared document, while the other was used to conduct research using my website, other links, and web searches.  The third person in the group would add information using a traditional source like our textbook or a printed primary source document.  In this way, the students were creating a collaborative document with all of their knowledge that they could then later print out at home.  A similar process could have taken several days of class (where this took only one) and not gotten as good results. (see a very rough video of one of my classes made with our recently acquired Flip camera below)

Despite this major success, much of what I was doing with my classes with the netbooks was limited to single day exercised with little follow up or expansion.  So as part of my push to create a more authentic, project-based, critical thinking learning environment in my classroom I have rethought my use of netbooks as well.  Beginning students in one of my classes began a major project using Ning, Google Docs, and VoiceThread.  They will be using the netbooks for a major part of this project.  More on that in Part 2 of this posting.

If anyone else would like to share ideas for using a small set of netbooks in the classroom I would love to hear your ideas.

08 January 2010

Where I've Been and Where We're Going.

Over the past several years I have made a conscious effort to bring more and more innovating teaching and learning to my students on a regular basis. Much of that has centered around the introduction and usage of digital and web 2.0 technologies into my classroom practices. In some ways this has been quite successful, but not in all cases.

When I first began teaching a decade ago, the availability of technology in the classroom was still relatively limited. At the same time, the technologies for students online were limited to mostly to research through static websites, databases and online encyclopedias. The opportunities to interact and create with technology were just beginning to emerge.

Like any forward-thinking teacher during that time, I had my ups and downs with my teaching style and the integration of technology into that. I (like many) gravitated to the digital projector as a new way to present multimedia presentations to my students. While this was a far better system than the chalkboard or overhead projector, very little was really changing in the learning in the classroom. The instruction was still centered on me, the "teacher-expert," with students taking notes and participating in a limited ways in discussion. I occasionally had the students conduct an project using online sources, but again they were limited to websites, databases and online encyclopedias. I also created my own website with my presentations online.

Then, about four years ago I began to investigate and use web 2.0 technologies in the classroom. Many of these were just emerging (especially for classroom use) and through the help of a colleague I began integrating them more and more into my instruction. I began by using a wiki as a place for students to work collaboratively on research and make group study guides. I expanded to class blogs were students could investigate and answer questions. My students and I then expanded to podcasts, online videos and online presentations of ways of doing collaborative projects. I believe my students benefited greatly from what they learned using these new tools, but in the end they were often just "add-ons." The main focus of the class continued to be my PowerPoint created lectures and tests based on those.

This past year I have started to question my system. What are the kids really learning? What are they retaining long-term? What is important for them to know and what is just "facts and figures?" Are they getting the essential skills they need to succeed in a very different world and a world that is changing rapidly?

I have come to the conclusion that the focus needs to change. It shouldn't been memorization and reguritation that most of what I have done over the past decade promotes. Instead, the students should be learning to be 1) independent and self-regulating learners, 2) people who can work effectively with others, 3) citizens who see the world, knowledge and ideas as interconnected (not broken into distinct subjects), 4) and individuals who can think for themselves. Now, I don't claim to have all the answers on how to do this, but not to try to understand how this happens and to make it happen would be a grave injustice to my students, my profession and the world at large.

So, I have begun the process of change. I have begun moving my teaching to a format that focuses on creating 21st century learners. This will not be an easy process and it won't happen overnight. There is much to learn, do and experiment. I cannot do this alone. Change requires teamwork in addition to vision and action. Stay tuned, more to come soon.

03 January 2010

The Age of Connectivity

As a student of history, I am always fascinated by the developments over the course of human events that have led us to our world today. Historians often use 'periodization' to delineate and explain these developments in different ways. So, we end up with the Renaissance, or the Age of Revolutions, or the Age of Progress, etc. Each period in history is unique and has its own spirit.

What will our age be known as?

Various names have been given to our time over the past few decades; the Nuclear Age, the Jet Age, the Space Age, the Information Age, etc. But, I think it has become pretty clear that the 20th century will be know as a time of global and ideological conflict. Beginning with the First World War through the end of the Cold War, most every event was marked either by conflict or ideological division in the world. But, from the period of the 1980s through to around the year 2000, this all started to change. As the Cold War ended, ideology was less of a driving force and for the first time in human history the barriers between most humans were being eliminated (politically, economically, and technologically). Many will point to the problems of the last decade (terrorism, war, economic collapse, climate change) as the defining narrative of our time. But, I think in the long view of history, these events will be far more minor than they seem to us today living through them. I believe that our time will be known as the Age of Connectivity (or what Isaac Mao calls 'sharism, a term I love, but I won't steal... yet. See his amazing article here.)

As the Gutenberg printing press spread the Renaissance, Reformation, and Scientific Revolutions of the 16th and 17th centuries, the development of digital technologies will shape the next several centuries to come. What those technologies do that none have ever been able to do before is to connect people and their ideas no matter the space or time.

This may seem to be a certain path to the future, but not necessarily so. The shape of the future is not certain. The existence of the technology itself does not guarantee its best usage. After Gutenberg, it took visionaries like Martin Luther who said that people should be able to read the Bible in their own printed language to took the first steps toward more independent thought. It would take later centuries and more visionaries to push the bounds of the printed word and education to the masses.

So, who will be our 'digital visionaries?' Who will see the potential of the new connective technologies to create citizens who think, create, and collaborate? Will it be teachers? Will it be you?

01 January 2010

New Thinking in Education for a New Decade

Hello 2010 and the second decade of the 21st century. Also, welcome to my blog. I hope that what you read here will be enlightening, entertaining and thought-provoking.

First, a little about myself. I am a high school Social Studies teacher at a fairly traditional Catholic boys school in Baltimore, Maryland, United States. I have become known, jokingly, to some of my students as "Folmerica," a moniker I now take on with pride. I have been teaching for the past decade (I began teaching in 2000) and I have evolved as a teacher in many ways over that time. My goal, like any good teacher, is to expand my students experiences and to get them to think for themselves. Over the past few years I have experimented more and more in ways of doing that, in particular using various "web 2.0" technologies like podcasts, blogs and wikis. I think this has given them a good experience, but all the while, something was still missing; my overall educational philosophy was starkly traditional and "20th century." That is not good enough for the times we now live in.

Hence, the main purpose of this blog. Here, I will attempt to chronicle the revolution I want to create in my teaching and teaching at my school. My purpose is to bring 21st century education to the forefront of my practices and my school at large. What does that mean? I am not completely sure. But I envision an educational environment where students are directing their own learning, connecting and collaborating with others, learning across disciplines and curricula, creating and inventing their own understanding and meaning, critically thinking, and hence becoming what I call "digital global citizens." Along with documenting this journey, I will also include information about educational technology, current world events, and best practices as they relate to this developing vision.

A new decade calls for new thinking in education. The past decade has given us the tools, theory, and practice to make this reality. Now the question is, will we make it happen?