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!

ITSC 2011

The latest Education Technology get-together is the big Instructional Technology Strategies Conference being put on by the Organization for Educational Technology & Curriculum (OETC). This conference in Portland, Oregon, Feb. 20-22 features a “who’s who” of ed tech leaders with keynotes by David Zach and Roger Schank, and workshops being led by Alec Couros, Scott Elias, Lucy Gray, Bud Hunt, Tim Lauer, Dean Shareski, Ira Socol, and Jeff Utecht, to name just several.

I’ll be joining my colleague Peter Pappas (@edteck) in LIVE tweeting and blogging the conference Sunday through Tuesday. Follow me on Twitter (@MikeGwaltney), and bookmark or follow the RSS feed for my blog to catch what I’m sharing.

Peter’s blog is Copy/Paste, where he has already posted some great information for following the conference, including this Wiffitti:

Peter and I will coordinate on the sessions we attend, and you can follow our Tweets and blog posts over the 3 days of the conference.

For a little background on the City of Roses hosting the conference, check out Peter’s great Portland Prezi Preview.

See you in PDX this weekend! Be sure to network with us: (thanks to Sacha Chua for this SlideShare!):

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:

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

Is this the best High School in America?

It’s not my question, it’s The Daily Riff’s.  And it’s probably not the correct question to ask – there are certainly many different ways of doing school that will work well. So, maybe a better question would be “What makes a great school?”

Let this video about High Tech High in San Diego be the conversation starter. Here’s the opening question: “What is it about High Tech’s approach to education that makes it a great school?”

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 what I’ve noticed in my many years as an educator: 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?”
  • “Can I afford to go into business for myself?”

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.

Years of inertia and lack of creative thinking has reduced Math 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 computation, 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—e.g., “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?

It seems clear to me that we must revise our thinking of what math education should be. Much much more time should be outside the classroom, 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 then to suggest and verify 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.

Wolfram’s TED talk:

Changing Education Paradigms

This video from Sir Ken Robinson has been kicking around the web for about three weeks. I’ve shared it on Twitter, and with some colleagues and students on campus in L.A., and just about everyone loves it. Why does this resonate so strongly with teachers, most of whom seem to be invested in the existing system? Perhaps it’s our inherent idealism – the hope that we can create the best possible learning for our students. Let’s hope we can convince administrators and policy-makers that it’s possible.

PBL, Real-World situations, and Reflection using ePortfolios

When I think about the best learning experiences I’ve ever had, I find that they share several important elements, including:

1. They were based on a problem that seemed important to my life outside of academia. That’s not to say these learning experiences didn’t have relevance to school, rather it’s to say that the problems could have existed in the “real world”. “How do I swim out from the beach past the waves and into the calmer open water?” is a physics problem that really mattered in my life, and was the problem that really made me understand Newton’s second law of force, mass, and acceleration.

2. They required real-world tools. I had to figure out how to do something using the best technology for the situation. “Design a process for real-time feedback to the Model U.N. Conference headquarters from 100+ small sessions” was a problem that led me to Google Docs – an important tool I now use daily.

3. They asked me to innovate, to think about a situation differently. When my high school government teacher Mr. Garcia asked me “What is the best way to draw single-member district lines for the House of Representatives?” I didn’t even know what gerrymandering was. I found I had to invent something called proportional representation, and though I later learned PR was already working in places in Europe, my interest was piqued and my creativity was fostered.

4. They were collaborative. I spent most of my youth in teams or groups, tackling all kinds of real-world challenges and learning from them. It’s funny when I look back on school and realize that the really valuable learning came from those situations during which I was working with others.

5. Reflection was explicitly required. “What did I just do?”, “Did it work?”, “How can this work better?”, “What should I do next?” are all questions that any problem-solver must ask to succeed. If I don’t reflect, how can I learn? Through reflection, I control my understanding and am able to transfer a lesson from one problem to the next.

Problem-Based Learning that focuses on Real-World situations is the gold-standard for instructional design. When done well, students must be creative, innovate, and reflective in their thinking. I know that my best teaching comes when I can design these authentic learning experiences for my students.

David Stinson’s approach to instructional design reflects these important principles. By using ePortfolios and allowing students to identify and solve real-world problems, he’s creating authentic learning – the kind that transfers not just from one class to the next, but transfers from school to life. The ePortfolio allows him and his students to see the process of learning and not just the products. Within that process are ways of thinking that are relevant to life outside of school, and fostering and habitualizing these ways of thinking should in fact be the purpose of schooling. Stinson’s class is one place where this is happening in a powerful way.

David Stinson’s approach to technology is altogether human: he learns alongside the children instead of instructing them the traditional way. At Sullivan upper school in Holywood, Co. Down, secondary-level technology students have fully embraced the brave new world of the e-portfolio.

Electronic files, images, multimedia, blog entries, hyperlinks and soundbytes are all “dropped” into documents and PowerPoint presentations in David’s technology class to explain an “entire” process of learning, not just the end product.

I really wanted a break from the hammering-a-nail philosophy to what technology could be,” he says. “Five years ago, I got involved in the whole area of e-learning and I’ve been running fast after myself ever since.”

By using video and audio diaries and much more besides, the kids can reflect on trials and tribulations they’ve encountered during the learning process,” says Stinson. “I will set a project that sounds simple enough: build a model of a stage, design a bird-cage, and so on, but how the students apply themselves to that process is where the real curve learning is.”

I am very open-minded when it comes to the students’ ideas,” he says. “Once I give them the basic learning tools, skills, confidence and approach, they can then innovate. Even if ideas are wacky and original, even if they fail, I respect their decision to go ahead. Students also need to fully write up these projects too, at a later stage, but you want the creative juices to flow without any impediments.

We didn’t have a big blue wall here in school, so the kids used a type of Blue Peter approach and brought in blue sleeping bags, pinned them to the wall and filmed themselves miming instruments. Music was added later and the entire thing superimposed on to their stage model for use at the press of a button. It was brilliantly impressive.”

The real benefit of using e-portfolios is that every student, regardless of ability, can adapt to the dynamic nature of recording their thoughts and emotions in video and audio, removing some of the anxiety involved in pen and paper communication. For students with special needs this can be especially constructive, as the unique nature of expression in e-portfolios takes away the need to endlessly compare to their classmates.

Sound files and video clips are used throughout the project. “I wanted to make an additional safety feature on my bird feeder,” explains the boy in an embedded sound-clip that accompanies the design drawing. “I wanted it to be safe from cats, but in no way to spook the birds. So I thought about having the birdfeeder sitting well away from the house, suspended from poles … I got my idea from an episode of You’ve Been Framed – seeing a cat climb up a brick wall.”

The corridors outside the technology room are chock full of children’s designs, drawings, roadmaps and “virtual models” used in technology portfolios. One virtual model is the sitting-room of a house where the window works as a wide-screen TV in its own right.

“These are the kind of forward-thinking ideas we need,” says Stinson. “This design makes a lot of sense: TVs in our sitting rooms are often very bulky and eat into the design space of the room, while in fact the biggest glass screen in the room is already ‘naturally’ there in the window, so why not base the design around that idea?”