19 August 2012

Engaging Content for the History Flip

My VoiceThread on the French Revolution

For the past several years I have been experimenting with different aspects of the flip model in my social studies classes. I think the key element of the model is to get students activated in the classroom (and throughout instruction) and to move away (as much as possible) from content delivery (something that new resources and technology can do just as well, or better.) I would much rather have my students learn an combination of content and skills through discussions, document analysis, historical investigations, projects and the like. This is really nothing new, John Dewey explored constructivist methods of education more than a century ago. Since that time, social constructivist theories and connectivist theories have expanded Dewey's ideas for the 21st century environment. As a result, the flip model brings together 21st century instruction techniques such as screencasting, social networking, and bring-your-own-technology and combines with with techniques such as project, problem, inquiry and passion-based learning.

Crash Course World History -  The French Revolution

As a result of the flip instruction model, a lot can be done in the history and social studies classroom. I began this process myself by moving to a more inquiry and project-based model in my world history classes and supplementing the content material by moving my traditional lectures to Voicethread for students to view on their own time. This worked pretty well, but I still had issues with students relying on lecture-based content delivery and my issues with overburdening students with homework.

History Teachers - "Revolution in France."

So, I continue to experiment and rethink how I will implement my instruction to best help all of my students. I know that my focus will further be on how authentic history learning can be employed both inside and outside of the classroom. I am particularly interested in reducing the amount of content consumed at home while at the same time making it more interesting. For my world history courses, this means utilizing one of my new favorite resources - Crash Course World History. The (what will soon be a series of 40) videos created by the team here do a great job covering the basics of most of what I want my students to know. I would also supplement this with the musical talents of the History Teachers - History for Music Lovers, a great set of topic specific videos based on recent pop hits.  It all comes back to the idea of teachers being great curators.  As a result, I am thinking of reducing my VoiceThread screencasts to general overview of topics at the beginning of a unit, to topics not covered by the resources mentioned above, and for review purposes at the end of the unit. By bringing the other videos into VoiceThread or embedding them in Edmodo, I can still give my students a way to interact and ask questions of me. Plus, I know the creators of the videos listed above monitor their YouTube channels and answer student questions, adding another great interactive resource.

I think there are a lot of possibilites for increasing student engagement both with online content and what is done in the classroom. For more insights on this, read Tom Driscoll's post here.

01 August 2012

Connecting Globally with Students and Teachers

With Connected Educator Month beginning today, I thought this would be a good time to do some reflection on my global educational experiences this summer. When I graduated high school some 16 years ago, I never expected that some day I would represent my school as a teacher-ambassador in China and take students to five different countries in Europe as I was able to do this summer. When I joined the faculty of Mt. St. Joseph High School seven years ago, I was very excited to be teaching social studies at my alma mater and I knew I wanted global education to become central to my teaching. In the years since I have made many efforts to expand global education at St. Joe through innovative classroom instruction, organizing student trips to Europe and Japan, and becoming involved in the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA) program which sent me to China this summer.

My first overseas adventure this summer involved myself and 48 other (30 of which were students) from my school visiting the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France and Germany in a tour that took us to the "Battlefields of Europe" as well as many of its most beautiful towns and cities. It was an amazing two weeks of historical ad cultural exploration that our students will never forget. I began leading student tours in 2008 and I feel it is a critical part of expanding student's exposure to the world around them. Not all teachers and students can do this, but the more who do we will all benefit for this. Also, the connections and contacts made on such tours allow me to bring people from around their world into my regular classroom through writings, discussions and video chats.

I was fortunate enough to be selected with a group of 20 other teachers from across the United States to participate in the NCTA residential study program at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China for two weeks in July. During the program we studies Chinese history, language, culture, economic development, and current issues. We also were lucky enough to visit schools, businesses, farms and factories where we could see the Chinese system at work. Through these experiences, which included observing young Chinese students learning English and viewing in awe as over 100 high-rise buildings being constructed at once, I realized that, despite many problems to overcome, China is preparing for the 21st century and we need to be doing the same.

I will be sharing my experience this summer with my students when I return to MSJ in the fall. I hope that we can expand this with more extensive and meaningful experiences such as Chinese language instruction and student exchanges with schools in China. I have already made plans for a student tour to China in the summer of 2014. The future of the world will be greatly influenced by the rise of China and I hope that we can be ready for it. By becoming connected global educators and students I think we can prepare for the new world evolving around us.

10 June 2012

A Year-End Reflection: Rationale for Technology in the Education

I was recently asked by an administrator to write a piece on technology use in my classroom to be shared with others.  As one can see from this blog, if I was to write something comprehensive, it would be many pages long.  But he asked me to keep it to a page or two.  Below is what I composed; the best way I could briefly explain and give some detail on the rationale and some examples of the use of technology in my classroom.

Some see technology as a nice addition to education and as something that is not critical to students’ learning. My experience as a teacher over the past dozen years has taught me the opposite. In a time where connective and informative technologies are disrupting every major area of study and industry, an effective use of technology in all disciplines is critical. In fact, one might think that the discipline I teach, social studies, would be one of those least impacted by technology. And if one is wedded to the old idea of the history classroom with big, dusty textbooks, chalkboards, desks facing forward in a row, and a teacher lecturing for the better part of an hour, you might be right. But the social studies classroom of the 21st century doesn’t (and shouldn’t) look like this. There has been a quiet revolution going on in education, and in social studies in particular, attempting to make classrooms more inquiry-driven, critical thinking infused, and generally operating in ways that have students learn and do work in the ways that professionals really do them. If you were to go into the office of a historian or social scientist (geographer, economist, political scientist, archaeologist, etc.) or to a meeting of such professionals, you wouldn’t see much reading from textbooks, writing on chalkboards, or lecturing to each other. What you would see would see would be researchers using documents and data from internet databases, out doing various types of study and research in the field, working collaboratively with other researchers in the same discipline or other disciplines with various connections, and presenting their findings in print or digital form to their colleagues for peer review. This is the humanities and social sciences in the 21st century (and most other professional disciplines would look similar as well). If we want our students to be prepared for such environments (that they will encounter in their careers, but also increasingly in college) we must create such environments in our classrooms. The infusion of modern technologies gives us the best opportunities to do this and in the following paragraphs I will give you several examples of how this works.

Textbooks are notoriously bad. They are poorly written, contain boring material, give limited perspectives, and are outdated the minute they are printed. As a result, I don’t use textbooks in my classes. Despite this, my students read in my history classes daily. They read materials that are far better, more engaging and “real-world” than anything they can get in the textbook. They are reading primary documents, letters, journals, newspaper articles, and other accounts from various periods in history. In doing this, they are engaging in the real work that historians do in conducting research and developing an interpretation of historical events based on documentary evidence from the time, people and places we are studying. In this, they are engaging in a far more interactive and thinking activity then they would get from reading a sanitized textbook. The students access almost all of these documents via the web on websites like the National Archives and Library of Congress sites and through library databases. The volumes of documents available are thousands of times greater than could be put in any book.

Having access to the documents are not enough. Students have to be able to curate the appropriate resources for the topics they are investigating. Years ago, researchers would have piles of documents and monographs in their work-space. Today, this can all be organized and taken with you digitally using software such as Evernote, Diigo and Easybib. These services allow my students to create files online that can be indexed and shared for effective research and collaboration. For document storage and collaboration, students use cloud-based services such as Google Drive and Dropbox to store, date, and collaboratively compose drafts of their final research product. All of this can be checked and monitored by the teacher without the use of paper or turning materials in. All updates by the various collaborators can be followed and checked by the teacher. Various educational social platforms like Edmodo allow students and teachers to discuss class topics and research anytime and anywhere; expanding the opportunities for learning beyond the traditional classroom. In addition, it always helps to learn from the experts. It is difficult to get a professor or someone who experienced a historical event into the classroom, but with video-chat services such as Skype, those experts can be brought into the classroom. This past year I did this on two occasions, one with a woman who lived in East Germany and experienced the fall of the Berlin Wall and one with a school alumnus and former classmate of mine who now lives close to the Fukushima Nuclear Plant in Japan and spoke about his experiences there.

Once the research and curation have been completed, students need to present and/or publish their work as professionals do. While the paper and the oral presentation are still very important, new forms of media are becoming important in various professions for publishing and presenting research and I use this as much as possible in my classes. Throughout the school year, I have my students create webpages with Weebly, make podcasts using Soundcloud, blogs using Blogger, videos using iMovie, online posters using Glogster, and multimedia presentations using Voicethread (just to name a few). This gives them various opportunities to write, compose, publish and present in different mediums. Then using the included tools in such platforms, or through the sharing and comment features in Edmodo, students are able to comment and critique one another’s work and receive feedback from me. The students then collect the products they create in an electronic portfolio that they update throughout the year, and can use to reflect up their growth over that time, and present their work to a wider audience.  Critical to getting my students work to a wider audience has been the National History Day program.  It promotes original student research that is presented at various levels for critique, reflection, improvement and competition.  I encourage all teachers in all disciplines to participate in similar programs to give you students those "real-world" experiences.

To develop students into learners who are creative, collaborative, communicative critical thinkers, technology needs to be part of the picture. Today’s brand of educational technology with devices like the iPad, in its increasingly mobile and connected features, allows for personalized, project, and problem-based learning environments that have not previously been possible. Technology in education is not an addition to education; it is integral to education in the 21st century.

30 May 2012

Google Drive, CloudOn, and Edmodo - A Winning Combination for the iPad in Education

For some time now, I have been an advocate for the use of Google Apps as well as the iPad.  Unfortunately, they don't always work together well.  Google Apps has some great features for content creation and collaboration and the iPad is an amazing device for learning, but the issue of being able to create content (in this case, documents, presentations and spreadsheets), collaborate on the creation of the content, and submit it to a teacher has continued to be an issue since the iPad was introduced.

Fortunately, this is no longer an issue thanks to some new features recently added to Edmodo and the CloudOn App.  For those new to these services, Edmodo is an educational social-networking service that allows teacher and students to work collaboratively online, including submitting assignments.  CloudOn is a cloud-based version of Microsoft Office which allows you to create and edit documents, presentations and spreadsheets on the iPad.  Recently, Edmodo added Google Drive/Docs integration into its service.  So, as long as you are logged in to you Google Account on your computer or tablet, you can access your files from Edmodo and submit them to others (either to a teacher as a grade, or if you are a teacher, as an assignment itself).  Just in the past few weeks, CloudOn has also added Google Drive integration (in addition to Dropbox and Box cloud services) to its service, so now iPad users have an effective way to create and edit documents, presentations, and spreadsheets on the iPad.

Using these three services in combination gives one the ability to create a document, edit it, and submit it to a teacher or group of students without ever using a full-fledged computer.  All you need it a Google account and Edmodo account (both free) and the Edmodo and CloudOn Apps (also both free).  This has the great feature of having all of your files being stored in the cloud.  The pending Google Drive App for iPad should also give additional functionality.

So, try it out and let me know what you think.

23 May 2012

The Power of a Personal Story

As a social studies teacher, I have always tried to bring personal stories and perspectives to my students from people around the world and across historical periods.  Usually, those have taken the form of documentary evidence in letters, journals, diaries, and records of various historically significant people.  With the development of video in the 20th century, those written accounts can be supplemented by people speaking about the history that they have experienced on film.  In the 21st century we now have the added capacity to speak to people around the world in real-time through the various video chat services that are available, most notably Skype.

I have taken this opportunity twice recently to have my students speak to people who have experienced historical or current events.  The first instance had a friend of mine, Melanie Arnold, whom I met on a trip to Prague two years ago, speak about her experiences growing up in East Germany during the 1980s, her family leaving the country, the experiences surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and life in Germany and Europe since then.  She spoke for 40 minutes with my AP European History students and it was an conversation that gave them a new perspective on how life in Europe has changed over the past 30 years.

This week my students in my World History course were studying the impact of nuclear technologies on the world in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.  One of the topics we looked at were the benefits and dangers of nuclear power.  To give them a good perspective on the potential dangers, I had my students speak with a friend of mine, Christopher Godish, who I went to high school with who now teacher in Japan.  He lives about 50 miles from the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Powerplant and in the zone affected by the earthquake of March 2011.  He spoke about his experiences the day of and after the earthquake and the continuing concerns around the nuclear plant.  This gave the students a solid first-hand account of recent events that are still having a significant impact on our world.

Tools like Skype open the world to our students and all teachers should be thinking about ways to incorporate this into their classrooms.  There are many examples beyond Social Studies how this could be used (English classes can speak with a author, Science classes can speak with scientists, etc.) and I am looking forward to repeating these experiences next year and hopefully expand them to include other speakers such as historians, economists, archaeologists and others.

This post is also posted at Teachercast

Posted using Blogsy for iPad

24 April 2012

The New iPad and the New 1:1 - Personalized Learning

I've written about the iPad before, but the more I use it in the classroom and the more feedback I get from students and teachers the more I am convienced it is the right device for personalized learning in a 1:1 setting. ​The iPad, moving beyond the traditional capabilities of a computer or laptop, is the natural choice for a 1:1 program. As Greg Kuloweic has so clearly stated, the iPad is mobile recording device (audio & video), editing device (audio, video, images & text), publishing platform (blogs, websites, video, audio and screencasts to YouTube), digital notebook and digital research platform. Because of the recent introduction of the device, in-depth data and research is limited, but recent studies have shown an increase in student performance when using the device.

 iPads offer many distinct advantages over laptops or other tablets available, making it the best mobile learning device available. Some commentators have even seen it as a total replacement to their other computing devices. Here is the most comprehesive list I have been able to develop (based on my own experience and the experiences I have read from others) on the features that give the iPad a clear advantage over all other platforms.

 • With iPads and cloud-based computing systems, students can work from anywhere at school with greater portability and connectivity. Schools also don’t have to pay for computing power that they no longer need. USB and optical drives become irrelevant and unnecessary with cloud-based storage such as iCloud, Dropbox, and Evernote.

 • Schools have found creative ways to use iPads to save money, especially when moving toward a paperless environment. From homework and tests to digital textbooks, the iPad offers numerous ways to eliminate paper, saving dollars and the environment. Wireless printing can also be accomplished from the iPad via Airprint, but will become less necessary with paperless assignment submission.

 • It occupies a new space in technology, one which is still undefined to some extent, yet which is likely to be significant over time. The space is between the mobile space occupied by phones and iPods, and the portable space which is where laptops and netbooks live. The new position in between these established areas is one in which the iPad largely does what the other devices offer yet also offers so much more.

 • The iPad will help to personalize learning - it is widely recognized the 1 to 30 one-way knowledge-transfer model is fast becoming redundant as project/problem/inquiry-based learning is becoming more prevalent in modern schools. The iPad is perfect for this type of personalized learning. As teachers begin to create new ways of tackling this issue, the iPad could play a useful role in this transformation. The form factor, battery life and apps mean that the iPad can be an ‘anywhere anytime’ learning device. This makes it ideal for projects and learning which take place out of the classroom, in the schools grounds, on a day visit or residential stay.

 • The iPad could be the beginning of the end of the dominance of old, slow school-based networks in education. How much time is wasted not being able to ‘log in’? How often is the network ‘down’? The iPad could hold all the apps a learner needs for a day/week/month/term’s work on the device itself or on off-campus cloud storage.

 • The iPad's instant-on & all-day battery features really make it a ideal devce for regular use in education. It’s possible to get on the net and find the information you require using an iPad before a laptop has finished running through its boot-up sequence. Using a device all through the school day without having to charge it up saves a huge amount of time for teachers and learners.

 • The apps which run the iPad (and other iOS devices) signal the way forward when it comes to saving work learners produce and create with the auto-save feature. Saving files takes place automatically ‘behind the scenes’ constantly in the background, which means learners (and teachers) know their work is always safe. No more excuses like ‘I forgot to save my homework’ etc. anymore!

 • Apple’s App Store has more educational titles than any other location, many of them free. This is advantage over many competitors’ apps stores and also allows for high quality, virus-free apps that are guaranteed to work on the devices. The new iTunesU platform also allows for easy and free online course content creation and sharing.

 • Wireless connectivity via Airplay allows the iPad screen to be wirelessly streamed to a projector or television via the $99 Apple TV device (this can also be done via PC using various apps). This is much less expensive than a Digital Whiteboard and allows the teacher to move around the class while interacting with the screen and allows both student and teacher devices to connect to the projector as needed.

 • The iPad, unlike a Nook or Kindle Fire, has the ability to download and read books from all various bookstores and publishers through iBooks, the Nook App, the Kindle App, and various others. The new iBooks Author tool also gives teachers and students the ability to create their own books.

When all the potential functionality of the iPad is added up, it becomes clear that the iPad is the ultimate personalized-learning device. It can be a science lab, literacy tool, research station, history archive, language lab, art canvas, music studio, video editing suite, math computation center and library.

 - Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

01 April 2012

Creating the 21st Century Classroom

Technology does not make a classroom learning experience. The interaction of the learner to the skills and content central to the class, supported by a great teacher is central to a successful learning experience. But, as any engaged teacher knows, the current learning environment is changing rapidly due to the massive changes happening in our world. Technology is a central part of this change, driving innovation in science, business, communications and politics.

I've been fortunate enough to be in a position at the school at which I teach to be a leader in new techniques using technology, as someone who is has a voice in decisions relating to these issues, and as an educator who has been given the tools to experiment with new learning methods.

So, in this post, I just want to give a brief overview of the tools that I am currently using. In later posts I will talk about the impact and usage of each in a high school social studies classroom in 2012.

I have a dozen student desktops in my classroom. These "middle of the road" machines are great for internet access, typing, creating webpages, recording video and audio (via webcams)

I also have a set of a dozen iPads and a dozen netbooks which make flexible the learning process in the classroom. In using the iPads over the past several months, I have become convinced that they are powerful learning and creation tools capable of interactions not possible on desktops and laptops.

And while I think getting technology in the hands of students is by far the most important goal in using these tools, having strong teacher tools for demonstrating and modeling are critical. I am lucky to have a desktop PC attached to a projector and interactive whiteboard. I also have an Apple TV connected to my projector to mirror the iPad (mine and the ones the students use) on the screen. I also have a scanner and printer (for those limited times when paper still is used). I also have a webcam set up on my interactive whiteboard to have guest speakers in class via Skype (see the pic below of a session I just had with a friend from Germany.)

I know that I am luckier that most educators in what I have available in my classroom, but steps can be taken by all schools, teachers, and students to incorporate technology into 21st century learning by using what is available and taking advantage of items like smartphones to break the old paradigms.

What tools do you think are critical to a 21st century learning environment?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

03 March 2012

Beyond the 3R's

Last week the librarian at my school and I lead a professional development session on new literacies in the 21st century.  My school has been focusing on the theme of literacy for the past year and we wanted to make sure that we have a broad definition of what literacy means today.  We discussed how it is no longer enough for our students to have the basic skills or reading and writing in an age of digital media, on-demand audio and video, and social networking.  In addition to discussing the philosophical and pedagogical aspects, we gave some practical ideas about using applications such as Evernote, VoiceThread, Dropbox, and Edmodo to foster 21st centuries literacies.

All in all, the session went well and gave our teachers many new things to think about.  Below is a short introductory video I created for the beginning of the session using Explain Everything on my iPad.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad 2

07 January 2012

The Three P's

Last year I wrote a post on the Six C’s of 21st century learning, an idea that I was going to apply to my classes in designing lessons, units, and my overall curricula. I find putting a framework over the learning process and involving students in shaping and understanding that process to work very well to increase student engagement and proficiency. I have continued to experiment with considerable success and moving forward I have identified another set of themes that I would like to use in addition (and imposed on top of) the Six C’s.

I am terming this set the 3 P’s – Personalization, Project-Based Learning, and Portfolio Assessment. Personalization is key to reaching every student in the 21st century classroom. Personalization takes the ideas of individualization and differentiation to the next level with new techniques and new technologies. A recent article in THE Journal addresses the primary themes of personalization and is worth a close reading. It is only through the true personalization of learning that we can hope to reach every student, tap into their natural abilities and life experiences, and challenge them to grow beyond what they are and reach their fullest potential.

Project-based learning is the strongest methodology to achieve the personalization for each learner and impart the 21st century skills that students need. Let me clarify that I mean "project-based" in the broadest sense of the term. In my own classes, I employ a variety of techniques that could be classified as project, problem, inquiry, or challenge-based. Each builds upon constructivist and connectivist ideas that I've discussed before on this blog. Each makes the student the center of learning and requires of them the types of skills needed for dynamic and changing world.

I include portfolio assessment as one of the 3 P's since it is becoming the essential tool for authentic and innovative assessment. Portfolios allow students to see their work develop over time, to reflect on what they have done, to see how they can improve their work, and to connect their work across classes and content areas. Portfolios when digital years ago and are now going mobile with various formats available for smartphones, tablets and laptops.

I'm making a concerted effort in all of my classes to increasing incorporate aspects of the 3 P's. I've increased my use of project-based learning over the past several years until it makes up the basis of the pedagogy I use in my classes, this year I have begun experimenting with students developing their own digital portfolios for deeper assessment and self-reflection, and I continue to strive to tap into my students passions, interests, experiences and needs to personalize their learning opportunities.

Please let me know your thoughts about the 3 P's. Comments welcomed.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad 2

03 January 2012

Going to the Extremes

I've recently been reevaluating and examing the way I teach content in my class as well as across the curriculum in my department and at my school. I've come to the conclusion that in many classes (including my own), teachers are guilty of presenting muddled and uninsteresting content due to the problem of breadth versus depth. Teachers have long faced the problem of the amount of content that they have to teach along with how in depth they can go into that content. This problem is especially true in Social Studies classes where the problem of how much history to teach (or how much of the timeline to cover) and how do you then go into more in the deeper and stimulating events, people, and stories that make history interesting. To try to deal with this, most teachers try for some kind of "middle path" combining beadth and depth. Unfortunately, in trying to do this, most teachers don't do a very good job over covering the overall material OR getting deeper into the content.

As an alternative, I suggest that instead of going for the middle and thus teaching in a muddled way, we "go the extremes" and do both well. In planning the content to be learned throughout the course of the school year, teachers should look for ways to break down their lessons, projects, activiities, and units to breadth activities and depth activities and do each well and separately (as opposed to muddled together and poorly as most of us do now). In a history class, this would involve a unit that would have a lesson or series of lessons that would give the broad overview of the major themes of a time period, followed by various activities such as primary source analysis, discussion groups, and historical investigation projects that would get in-depth with the material in select ways determined by either the teacher or student choice to support the broader themes. I've have been experimenting with this in my classes this year and I will discuss more details of it's successes and failure in future posts.

I have also come to the conclusion that this type of thinking can inform us with other issues as well. In paticular, I am brought back to my current thoughts on technology integration into the classroom. For years, middle-of-the-road desktop computers in classrooms and labs were the norms for schools. They were better than nothing, but they suffered from the same type of "middle path" problem as in content that the computers offered often more than was needed for student computering on a daily basis, but often didn't offer what was needed for more high-end functions like video editiing and graphic design. A rethink of device type and deployment is needed, one that ideally "goes to the extremes." For everyday student and teacher use, I am convinced that devices like the iPad far better than middle-of-the-road desktop computers in their personalization, battery life, portability, especially if they are deployed in a 1:1 program. iPads also continue to prove that along with being great media content consumption devices, they are also becoming powerful content creation devices for everyday document, presentation, video, and audio production. This frees up both funding and space for schools to invest in a small number of high end desktops or laptops on a cart for doing advanced video editing, graphic work or programing. This is "moving to the extremes" of educational technology could have considerable advantages, particularly when paired with the same strategy in pedagogy discussed above.

In pedagogy and technology, despite the instinct to think otherwise, going to the extremes could prove very powerful.  Please let me know your thoughts.