Keeping Kids off the Internet – What’s With the Draconian Filtering Policies?

A couple years ago, I made a commitment to take my classes virtually paperless. Aside from the occasional in-class exam, my students and I rely on our class website and various online tools to move documents back and forth, to have asynchronous discussions, and to create and view presentations. Of course, the catch is that we need the internet, but my school has campus-wide Wi-Fi and I teach in a big city where hotspots and 3G are ubiquitous.

So it’s easy for me to forget that I’m lucky. On my campus the web is available in virtually all of it’s unfiltered glory. On top of the essential tools like our LMS, Dropbox, and Google Docs, we also have access to Web 2.0 sites like Blogger, Ning, VoiceThread, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Sure, we’re concerned about our students finding offensive content, but we’re also committed to helping our students and teachers make wise online choices. If we’re preparing kids to be in the world, why not educate them about it?

So I’m reminded today that many teachers and students aren’t as lucky. I’m at a Model U.N. conference at a large suburban school in a well to-do area. The school has Wi-Fi, but the filter is so aggressive I can’t access sites my students and I use daily (I’m writing this post on my iPad on 3G).

Others have made the argument against filtering, so I won’t go into that in detail (see excellent arguments here and here), but I’d love to get your opinions. Is filtering necessary? If so, why filter so aggressively? Is there a way to filter effectively that both protects students and allows them to use the Web to its potential? Aren’t we doing students a disservice by blocking the full internet? As my PLN colleague @WackJacq told me this morning: “I’ve students who instead of experiencing epiphanies & wonders, learn about bureaucratic gridlock, & stubborn fear!  When/Where shall our students begin to learn how to use the internet as a learning tool?”

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

History Education in a World of Information Surplus

My PLN colleague Liz Becker (@Ellsbeth) kindly wrote yesterday on her excellent blog All Who Wonder are Not Lost: History is Dead, Long Live History about how my post about math education (“…Long Live Mathematics!“) could be applied to  history. I’m grateful for her post, and I think we’re reading each others’ minds. I’ve been meaning to write about history education in the 21st century for awhile, but am holding off. Not because I don’t know what to say, but because I have SO MUCH to say. To be clear, I am nearly at the point where I think ALL of history education needs to be rethought. In light of the realities of the 21st century, I think history education needs a complete overhaul. I’ll write about this in detail in a future post, but for now, how ’bout this for a grenade: all history classes should be interdisciplinary courses about current events, taught backwards. As I said, I’ll explain in a future post.

As a history teacher, of course it makes sense for me to say that I frequently think about what a good education in history should be. But it’s been on my mind much more than usual lately. I’ve been in a deep inquiry about what students should leave high school knowing, given that they’ll live in a world where historical facts are always at their fingertips.

Liz states the inquiry quite well in her blog post: “…how much we should shift the approach to teaching history if, through technology, students have much easier access to the facts than in the past?

As I’m sure Liz and most readers would agree, an excellent education in history should never have been construed as just memorizing facts. Yes, remembering names of historical figures and key events is important, but there’s much more to good history than that.

So what should a 21st century education in history be?

Let me start by explaining how my recent inquiry has been motivated by three things. First, I’ve noticed over the last couple years that I rarely pull a History Primary Source Reader off the shelf for my students. Instead, I find excellent sources online. I just can’t find a Reader that gives my students all the relevant primary sources the World Wide Web can. Second, my department is engaged in a curriculum review process this year that has taken us to some very fundamental questions, like: should we attempt to cover the whole history of all human time between 7th and 11th grade (when our required courses end)? should we be focused on “coverage” or on “meaning-making”? what should students know and be able to do upon graduation? is it more important they know a lot of historical facts or that they can think like historians?

And thirdly, a couple week ago I ran across this excellent TEDx talk by Diana Laufenberg. She is a Social Studies teacher at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA, where the curriculum is inquiry-driven, project-based, and focused on 21st-century learning. Though her talk is ostensibly about learning from mistakes, I think she’s making an important point about history education. She begins by stating the obvious, but what most history education standards don’t yet acknowledge – students don’t need to come to school to find historical information:

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

Laufenberg: “The main point is that if we continue to look at education as if it is about coming to school to get the information… we’re missing the mark.

Like computers can do the computing for mathematical problems, the internet is a better source for historical facts than textbooks or teachers alone. Primary sources abound on the net, and a well-trained history teacher can help students acquire the skills necessary to determine which sources are accurate and relevant, and how to make their own historical narratives out of the abundant facts.

Yes, remembering names of historical figures and key events is important, but not as essential as learning to think like a historian. Students should engage with the truly essential facts of history frequently in the process of making their own historical narratives. I can envision students dealing with tricky historical inquiries about the origins of the Tea Party movement, and coming to grips with facts about southern and rural libertarianism, for example. Certainly, students in a well-designed 21st century history course would retain important facts of history.

Much more valuable than facts is the ability to do historical inquiry – to formulate questions in response to problematic facts, research, then analyze and evaluate conclusions in light of the facts, and create one’s own historical interpretation. Or, to tweak the process slightly, to evaluate historical claims using information literacy skills.

Of course, teaching students to think like historians is not a revolutionary notion. Even those conservative voices advocating old-style “coverage” pedagogy claim that too is their goal. They lecture about a topic, then require students to read much of the same information from a textbook at home, before finally providing the key thought-provoking essay prompt: “Assess the validity of the claim that Jacksonian Democracy was about empowering ‘the people’.” Yes, to respond to the prompt is to think like a historian, for a moment.

But the problem of doing history this way in an age of information-surplus is that students spend much of their time as passive audience members, ingesting information, rather than grappling with it to find their own voices. Let’s be clear – it is inconceivable that students won’t have access to lecture information in the future: Wikipedia has every fact that I’ll cover in my AP U.S. History course this year, and if students want to hear an expert lecture they can always find one on iTunes University from Berkeley or MIT. So instead of coverage-style lecturing we need to use the very valuable classroom time to engage in deep inquiry about historical and current problems. Teachers should create powerful essential questions that require students to master information literacy skills they’ll need in a digital age, and to master historical inquiry. From these questions, students will behave as historians, researching, analyzing, evaluating, and creating DAILY. Isn’t that more valuable critical thinking than the odd essay question every few weeks between lectures?

Liz Becker and Laufenberg and correct. The 20th century history classroom has to change. In a world of information surplus, we must recognize that good history education must transform students into power information critics, able to evaluate claims and build their own truths from myriad facts.

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?”

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?”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/nov/02/teaching-awards-david-stinson

Collaboration in the Classroom with Google Apps

The tools now available to us make classroom collaboration a snap. If you haven’t considered using Google Docs, you should (how many times have I said that on this blog or Twitter?!).

Here’s another great example of a teacher using Google Apps for Education to empower her students:

Saylor is using Google Apps for Education to create a virtual domain for her students. They can use word processors, spread sheets and graphic tools to create projects which are done entirely online.
The kids can share with a teacher, the kids can share with another student, or they can share with a small group if they’re working together,” Brooks said.
Saylor says what might be the best part is the feedback. Students can go online, view another student’s project and offer comments right there on the web page.

“It’s good to get feedback from people our own age cause they think like we do,” Alex said.

Read more at www.9news.com

Social Media and Response Tools lead to Improvements in Learning

Sometimes those of us who are on the cutting-edge, innovating with new tools are thought to be a little too in love with technology, and not focused on student learning. Here’s a school in Hemet, California that is showing how Web 2.0 and an audience response system can lead to improvements in learning.

In an effort to fully embrace the technology that students use constantly away from school, Tahquitz has gone high-tech this year, employing multiple Facebook and Twitter accounts, Wiki pages and even texting the answers in class as a way to engage students into a new way of learning.
Sitting inside a U.S. history class last week, students were shown questions on a projection screen and were given four possible answers, each with a corresponding six-digit code they could text. Quickly, they tapped out the code for what they thought was the correct answer, and in real time a graph showed the percentage of those who guessed each answer, changing as more texts rolled in.
But beyond allowing students the novelty of texting in class — which keeps them engaged and involved — the new teaching method creates instant responses, enabling the teacher to completely understand how many students grasp the lessons.
At one point, responses were divided almost evenly among four potential responses, prompting teacher Hugo Gorosave to stop the high-tech lesson and have students open their books and read about the topic. In the past, students’ glazed-over looks and fear of answering incorrectly, thus not answering at all, would have caused the instructor to keep on going without realizing he needed to pay extra attention to a certain point.
“It’s not about the teacher saying what they taught today,” Roe said. “It’s about what the students learned today.

“Either we get on the leading edge of technology or we will be obsolete in five years.”

Read more at www.pe.com