iBooks as Public Products

[pullquote]one exciting way to do authentic work with young writers is to publish books[/pullquote]Authenticity is central to excellent project-based learning. In a recent post I explained that to create a meaningful and effective PBL experience, teachers should envision a product that meets a real need, or one that is used for or by real people outside of school. By doing work that students understand has a purpose bigger than “just for class” – authentic work – they are more engaged and the learning outcomes are more profound.

Now that self-publication and distribution is easier than ever before, one exciting way to do authentic work with young writers is to publish books. In my U.S. History class, I recently gave my students a PBL challenge to research and publish stories about the Cold War as iBooks on the Apple Store (following the lead of my good friend and colleague, Peter Pappas and his students’ iBooks). In their reflections after the project, students expressed that they had never felt so engaged by a school project, and that they were able to understand twentieth-century American history in new, personally meaningful ways.

True, the writing of high school students about the Cold War is unlikely to break new scholarly ground or skyrocket to the top of best-sellers lists. But their work is original and valuable, and is a fresh perspective by a new generation on historical events that have helped shape their world.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 2.01.22 PMTheir “Cold War Stories” iBooks – in Volumes I and II (available separately) – are the products of a 6-week project-based learning unit. Students were given wide latitude to conduct their own study of the period, and the chapters in the books show the variety of topic choices. What is common to each chapter is that the writing is original, and that the work is by students. Readers should of course not hold the work to the standard that they might for a book by a professional historian, rather, understand that these are books by students developing as writers and historians. Feedback so far indicates that readers are impressed by the quality of the work, and by the complexity of the students’ thinking.

iBooks are created using iBooks Author, an Apple application, and are viewable only on iPads and Mac computers. However, there are many publishing options in other formats, for teachers and students who work in non-Apple environments.

I invite you to read the books! And don’t hesitate to send me comments or to ask questions, using the discussion tool below this post.

Get “Cold War Stories” Volumes 1 and 2 on the Apple Store: itunes.apple.com

Get PDF versions of “Cold War Stories”: Volume 1, Volume 2

 

Doing Authentic Work in PBL with iBooks

Much of the work that students do for school is just that – work only suited to school. A case in point is the traditional research paper. Where else in life will students have to follow a prescribed formula for presenting research that nobody besides a teacher or professor actually reads? Academic research papers aren’t bad, per se, they’re just rarely “authentic” for K-12 students.

[pullquote]A sure-fire way to create a meaningful project is to envision a product that meets a real need, or one that is for real people outside of school.[/pullquote]

Authentic work is work students do that is real to them. This is work that has personal meaning for the students, because it has relevance in their lives, or because it is for people outside of school. Sure, it can be argued that because school matters to students, any class work has some relevance, but my experience and a convincing body of research shows that truly authentic work produces remarkable learning outcomes. When students take on authentic tasks, they are more engaged, develop enduring understanding, and produce better work.

A sure-fire way to create a meaningful and effective project-based learning experience is to envision a product that meets a real need, or one that is used for or by real people outside of school. In my U.S. History class last spring, my students and I agreed that by researching and sharing stories about the era during which their parents and grandparents came of age, the students would do original historical work and create a niche for themselves in published Cold War histories. During the six-week project, students thought and acted like real historians, and created a two volume iBook set.

Cold War iBook Screenshot

View our Cold War Stories, Vol. 1 & 2 in iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/mike-gwaltney/id950865027

In their reflections after the project, students expressed that they had never felt so engaged by a school project, and that they were able to understand twentieth-century American history in new, personally meaningful ways.

In future posts, I will share more about how I structured this project, and about how we used iBooks Author to create digital books now available for sale on the iTunes iBook Store. In the meantime, you can learn more about creating iBooks and publishing on my colleague Peter Pappas’s blog Copy/Paste.

Thinking and Acting Like a Historian with PBL

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 2.01.22 PMThere are many good reasons to teach history to high school students, and not the least of those is to teach disciplinary thinking. Professor Jeffrey D. Nokes expressed the correct sentiment in 2012 in his article for Education Week:

“Like their peers who provide opportunities for students to mimic professionals, history teachers need to design instruction that immerses students in historian-like reading, thinking, and writing. Just as students in a shop class use the materials, tools, strategies, and vocabulary of real-life woodworkers, students in a history class need exposure to the materials, tools, strategies, and vocabulary of historians. Such exposure is especially needed at a time when the Internet makes available to all readers a wide range of sources of varying credibility. Students must be equipped to analyze and evaluate such information. After all, this is how historians spend their time.”

Once you’ve made the decision to set aside purely academic endeavors, like content coverage and timed exams, students begin to understand history and how to think and act like historians. And their engagement and creativity come through in their work.

Here’s one way that I have used Project-based Learning in my U.S. History class to help students understand the 20th century and how to think and act like a historian. I presented the students with a challenging “Driving Question”, that suggested to them that they would need to become published authors about the Cold War. Their work blew me away, and you can see it on the iTunes Store (link at the end of this post).

Link to the students’ iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/mike-gwaltney/id950865027

Photos Across the Curriculum

ITSC ’11 Mid-Day Three

My last day at ITSC 2011 began with a high-energy session by Dean Shareski (@shareski) and Alec Couros (@courosa). “Photos Across the Curriculum” challenged participants to consider how valuable images are in 21st century education. Dean’s assertion: “Visual Literacy today is as essential as reading and writing.”

To prove his thesis, Dean showed some great examples of how powerful pictures are in telling stories, and sent us all around the web to see and create images ourselves. Of course, issues of copyright (vs. “copyleft”) developed and Dean explained how to work with licensing, CC, etc. Here are some suggested resources:

An essential question I left the session with: “What stories can my students tell with media, in my curriculum, that will help create meaningful and enduring learning?” Or, said differently, how can I get my students using media to meet my learning objectives?

Fortuitously, a PLN colleague tweeted at me during the session. Anna Deese (@mrsadeese) asked her students to explore environmental science using images to make a single piece of art. From looking at the result, I can imagine starting her students’ assignment with the question: “What does ever-increasing population mean for the environment?” Take a look at the resulting image and try to argue these students didn’t get the point:

Though I wasn’t feeling super creative this morning, I took a shot at answering Dean’s question in the spirit of one of my favorite quotes: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, usually attributed to Lao Tzu. My image creation is below.

What stories will your students tell?

ITSC ’11 Mid-Day 1

First up for me at ITSC was “Digital Storytelling” with presenters Ginny Hoke and Rhiannon Kerr, two great teachers from Lane County here in Oregon.

Ginny and Rhiannon made clear from the start that digital storytelling is “not about technology, it’s about learning”. Specifically, they have found D.S. is great for building skills in:

  • communication (especially for writing and speaking),
  • vocabulary,
  • problem-solving,
  • teamwork, and

D.S. also helps students understand each other and their mutual struggles with school – its a learning and assessment tool with reflection built in! And yes, it’s also creative and fun.

It’s important to note that there’s much more to digital storytelling than giving kids the cameras and time to shoot and edit video. As with most things, the power is in the process – from brainstorming ideas in small groups, to storyboarding and scripting, to researching and working with sources, students are engaged in a challenging activity with equally rewarding results. After walking us through the steps, Ginny treated us to a sample D.S. project, her class’s “Through Our Eyes” video on Lebanon H.S. Alumni who died in the Vietnam War. Powerful stuff.

Because ITSC is a “hands-on” conference, Ginny and Rhiannon didn’t let us get away without proving we’d learned a thing or two. After introducing us to JayCut, an online (browser-based) video editing tool, they put us in groups and gave us 30 minutes to tell some stories about technology in education. Enjoy these samples, and keep in mind, we only had 30 minutes!

http://jaycut.com/sites/all/themes/jaycut/swf/player.swf

Kick-Start the Creativity with Animoto

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”   ~Albert Einstein

Recently I wrote about how a good History education should offer students the opportunity to find their “voice”. I want students to be empowered to make their own conclusions about what they study. I want them to be able to reflect on course material and explain what they’ve learned in ways that make sense to them. In my experience, when students are given the chance to show the world what they know in ways they choose, engagement and learning skyrocket.

In addition to letting students design their own work products, one of my goals this year for my Modern World History students has been to push them to be more creative. Most of my students have spent their whole academic lives in very traditional “high-achievement” classes where there is a great deal of content coverage via lectures followed by high-stakes exams. They are all too well prepared to take what they’re told, organize and memorize, and give it back on tests. Of course, they’ve also had some excellent Fine Arts courses where they have been able to express themselves with fewer constraints. But their core academic courses and the Arts are rarely brought together, and the students have come to see them as wholly separate endeavors, and as the saying goes, ne’er the two should mix. I disagree. I want to show students that creativity, as Einstein said, is at least as important than knowledge.

Recently I gave my students 90 minutes to explore a new online video creation tool called Animoto.  Animoto automatically produces beautifully orchestrated, completely unique video pieces from photos, video clips and music. As the website says, it is “Fast, free and shockingly easy.” Without any preparation, I told them they’d have an hour and a half (a double class period) to use Animoto to create a piece of art that expresses their opinion about the consequences of the Industrial Revolution. Here’s one of the videos they created:

http://static.animoto.com/swf/w.swf?w=swf/vp1&e=1294337403&f=hvH0AB4jqZ6DDTXMbH1P3g&d=34&m=b&r=w&i=m&options=

For this video, Sarah and Rachel chose the images and the music, and were able to use Animoto to mix all of it together many different ways until they found a version they liked. The assignment also required that they write a short blurb introducing the piece as if it were showing in a museum. In this way they were able to both reflect on what they had created and on what they had learned about the social consequences of the Industrial Revolution. Though not the only assessment I’ll use for this unit, I’m convinced that these girls can answer the Essential Question that is focusing our study.

I have created a page on my public Google Site with other videos from our class, which you can see here. My students and I would love if you would comment on their videos.

Animoto may be a great tool for you to use with your students to kick-start some creativity. Animoto offers an Education account for teachers that allows for the creation of class accounts with multiple users, and includes a few premium features you may find useful.  I encourage you to try it! I think you’ll find that setting your students free to find their voice will both engage them and help them learn.

Click on the image for more information about Animoto for Education:

Animoto for Education - Bringing your classroom to live

Math is dead. Long live Mathematics!

Recently I watched a TED talk which got me thinking about Mathematics in a way I hadn’t before. To cut straight to the video, scroll down.

Let me be clear at the start of this post: I’ve had a difficult relationship with the academic subject area called “Math”. I did well in it until high school, when math work became a fairly complicated process of memorizing and calculating. I wasn’t very good at committing formulas to memory or at seeing how they had application to anything real.

So I became a Math Dropout as an upperclassman in high school, surrendering to the complexity of Trigonometry and Pre-Calculus. I instead doubled up on History, Social Science, and English classes and joined that group we call “Humanities kids”, or the ones who aren’t “good at math.”

From what I can tell, my experience in math class isn’t unique. I hear many students say that math is hard – they get long lists of problems to solve using complex computation, none of which they see as relevant to their lives, and by the time they’re in 10th grade many start self-identifying as “dumb” when it comes to math.

That so many students leave high school thinking they aren’t smart enough to understand math is really a shame. “Mathematics” comes from the Greek máthēma which means learning, study, and science. It is a way of deducing truth – an absolutely essential human ability. Yet when a smart 17-year old kid says to me “I can’t do math”, I never think he’s really telling me “I can’t learn”, or “I can’t think scientifically”, or “I don’t know how to seek truth.” Rather, I think he’s saying he isn’t good at calculating answers from book problems. The capitulation to the false dichotomy of smart/dumb in math is in fact a misunderstanding of what math actually is. But it is a misunderstanding that I hear math teachers and policy-makers reinforce all the time. How has education so tragically misunderstood math?

Conrad Wolfram explains in his TED talk that math education has become nothing more than a multi-year practice of hand and paper computation. He suggests that what we need is a return to the understanding of what math actually is: a way of thinking quantitatively to solve problems:

Mathematical thinking is an important way of problem-solving in the real world. Math education should take both common and extraordinary problems humans encounter today, and teach how these can be seen quantitatively: “Should I buy a house?” “What is the most sustainable way to power our city?” The 21st century may require more quantitative thinking than any before it and yet we rarely present math in real-world terms in education – most high school math classes spend an inordinate amount of time (or all the time) in computing answers to book problems, and never get to the bigger picture of using math in a real world context. Math has been reduced to simple computation, divorced from its larger purpose and removed from real-world context. Is it any surprise that many smart people conclude math isn’t for them?

Wolfram suggests that by using computers to do Step 3 above, we can free up math education to be more effective and authentic to its purpose. Computers are an incredible tool for solving numeric problems, so why not use them? Why shouldn’t a Calculus class be about learning how to use it in the real world of Engineering, where engineers use computers all day long?  If Engineering is about using math to solve real-world problems (i.e. “How can we better build levees in New Orleans?”), why don’t we create math classes where students use computers to do the time-consuming computational steps thereby freeing up their time to focus on identifying, quantifying, applying, and verifying?  Wouldn’t math be a more engaging and wholly valuable experience if it mimicked the real-world? I agree with Wolfram that we must revise our thinking of what math education should be. Much less time should be spent teaching computation and much more time should be outside the room, finding real math problems and testing solutions for them. We must transform math class so that it becomes a place where the focus is on learning to identify those real-world problems which might have quantitative solutions, and to suggesting and verifying solutions for them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying computation is not important, rather I am saying that computation is an essential process for which a powerful tool has been created, and should be used. There are basic abilities and concepts of computation which must be mastered, of course. But when math education recognizes that computers can do the more complex and difficult computation and therefore help the larger quest for solutions to meaningful problems, I think math class will be transformed into a more authentic version of itself – a discipline that is engaging to students and preparatory for real life. It will become a discipline that doesn’t leave so many smart people tragically mislabeled as “dumb” or under the delusion that math doesn’t matter.

Enjoy Wolfram’s talk. I welcome your comments.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf