Course Five Project

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More on Gaming

ASCD recently shared an article by Mind/Shift entitled, Tapping Into the Potential of Games and Uninhibited Play for Learning, that discusses the effective use of game based learning in the classroom. It mentions one way to shape your approach to model more closely the structure of video games in order to enhance learning is to have:

“…receive badges recognizing the successful completion of each assignment. Maybe future learning units are imagined like sequential game worlds–a certain number of badges are required to “open each portal.” The portal is the next lesson or the next learning module. When learning is structured this way, students intuitively understand the cumulative nature of learning [my emphasis]. They’re motivated to master a compounding sequence of skills.”

The article also goes on to discuss how taking a games based approach can help to harness the power of Fiero, which “is the rush of excitement that gamers experience when they overcome challenges [and]… [it] is a rush unlike any other rush, and the more challenging the obstacle we overcome, the more intense the fiero.” By tapping into this rush, educators can help students to feel empowered about taking control of their own education and encouraging them to try more and more challenges and take greater risks. Follow the Mind/Shift blog for more ideas on how to incorporate game based learning or gamification into your teaching.


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Games in the Classroom

I was just reading a blog post about a great classroom project where students had to create a colony on the moon and develop a civilization using the educational version of the popular video game, Minecraft. The version MinecraftEdu was created to be used by educators in the classroom; but, unfortunately, it is not free.

I was so interested in this particular post because as a humanities teacher, there are so many ways in which Minecraft or MinecraftEdu can be applied in the classroom to develop students understanding of concepts such as, economics, governance, culture etc. The article, Minecraft Blowing Up the Classroom, further explores how MinecraftEdu or even just Minecraft can be used. Many students already have experience with the game Minecraft and using such a tool in the classroom almost guarantees a certain level of engagement.

Marzano’s article, The Art and Science of Using Games to Enhance Student Achievement, reports that “studies showed that, on average, using academic games in the classroom is associated with a 20 percentile point gain in student achievement”. Marzano identifies a few essentials to using games in the classroom which are:

  1. Use inconsequential competition – essentially do not make the stakes for competing too high or you’ll risk turning students off.
  2. Target essential academic content – if the game does not reinforce or teach academic content, then you may be simply wasting class time.
  3. Debrief the game – do not just end the game and move on. Have students engage in a reflection about the process.
  4. Have students revise their notes – based on what they learned from the game, students should have the opportunity to revise their notes to reflect their new understanding.

Paul Anderson, who has been teaching 18 years in Montana, gave a recent TEDtalk where he describes how he transformed his AP biology class into a video game. His idea originally  spawned from his own experience playing video games and he realized three important understandings about learning that video games address:

  1. School should be fun – like video games
  2. Failure is ok – video games provide multiple opportunities to fail and try again so schools should provide the same opportunity to learn from your mistakes.
  3. Levels are important – as you progress in video games, the levels become more difficult. The learning process in school should also reflect this way to learn.
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Anderson’s lecture is truly engaging as you see the multiple ways that he was able to increase student learning and engagement by modeling his classroom around the concept of video games. But, he also offers 3 areas that he needs to improve upon:

  1. It is important to scaffold the activities as some students were not able to progress as easily as others.
  2. Independent learning often requires a lot of independent reading for the students, which some may find very difficult.
  3. The classroom still needs to provide multiple opportunities for social interaction as kids don’t come to school to learn in isolation.

Obviously there is a lot of time and effort involved into transforming your classroom into a video game; but, even being able to piggyback off of types of video games like Minecraft or incorporate some aspects of gaming into your classroom, would seem to be a major way that you could increase student engagement in the classroom.

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Walkman? Huh? What’s that?

It is truly amazing to see how fast things have changed with regards to technology. I can remember countless hours spent listening to my walkman, creating mix tapes, and trying to capture my favorite song on the radio by quickly pressing play & record. This quirky youtube video really highlighted just how antiquated such things are now compared to what we can do and how strange it seems to this new generation of kids who are so deeply enmeshed in our technology rich world. I got great laugh watching their reactions to a walkman. How strange it truly must seem to them!

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Tweet, Tweet, Tweet: Course 5 Project Ideas

I have been doing Current Events with my students for a number of years and I’ve always found that two of the biggest challenges with it have been ensuring that the students are reading for meaning when they select their articles and that they are engaging in thoughtful and analytical discussion about their news topics.

Recently, I had my middle school students tweet about the Sochi Olympics. The students had to try and summarize the article in their own words and tweet the article along with their summary. At the beginning of each class, the students held small group discussions where they shared their articles, and practiced summarizing, listening & asking questions.

At the end of the two week period, I had the students complete a brief reflection on their experience using Twitter for current events and what they would like to do for current events for the remainder of the year. Most of the students stated that they really enjoyed using Twitter for current events because it was easy to view what others were posting; it did not require substantial writing; and, they felt the discussion was much better in small groups than when the students used to present in front of the entire class and we would discuss it as a class. The students have been working all year using Costa’s level of questioning to help them develop deep questions for discussion, which has helped to create stronger small group discussion.

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However, some of my stronger students identified that there still seemed to be something missing from the current events and that it did not seem to offer enough challenge.

After a lengthy discussion with Tim about how to both make the experience of current events more authentic and also how to use technology in a way that would be transformative for the students, we came up with an idea. The students would continue to use Twitter for current events and share their articles in small group discussions. But, they would also be required to start leaving comments on the comment threads of articles and posting questions to the authors or other readers so that their thoughts and inquiries were no longer relegated just to class discussion; but, instead they would be contributing to real world discussion on topics that affect our community or world. This kind of authentic discussion and sharing would not be possible without the use of technology.


In addition to this new requirement, the students would be encouraged to start expanding their use of Twitter by following people, using favorite, retweeting, and using it as a search engine for areas of interest. After a month, the students would complete a reflective screencast where they  would discuss what were the news articles that really made an impact on them and which stories had an effect on how they viewed or thought about things. And, they would also comment on their experience of using Twitter and participating in the wider discussion by leaving comments and questions on the articles themselves.

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I think there will be two challenges for the students with this task. The first challenge is going to be for them to break out of their comfort zone and start commenting and questioning on the various articles that they viewed. A lot of students seemed extremely nervous when I presented this idea to them and couldn’t believe that they would be leaving their thoughts on “real websites”. The second challenge will also be my biggest challenge too, which is the technology aspect of creating a screencast. Neither the students or myself have done this so it will be a definite learning experience for us all. But, hopefully we will get some outside help with this.

I think that this is going to be an interesting experience for the students and I feel that if people respond to the comments and questions that they leave on the articles that it will have a major impact on them to know that other people are reading their ideas (who were not required to do so by me). It will give the students a genuine opportunity to participate in authentic discussion. The use of the screencast will provide the students and myself with the opportunity to acquire new technological skills; but, it will also be a chance to view the evidence of their commenting and see the articles that affected them the most. These screencasts will also be shared in small group settings.

I have a lot of hope that this will be a successful experience for the students.

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Why Haven’t I Tried Flipped Learning Yet?

After spending the past few hours reading , watching and listening to various educators share their experiences with flipped learning, I can honestly say that I love this concept! I realize that it is not an earth-shatteringly new idea. Many of my later years in university were spent in seminar classes where all of the reading was done outside of class time and instead of coming to class to listen to a lecture, we would be engaged in a 3-4 hour discussion/debate about the readings that we had done. The seminar approach follows Dr Jose Bowen’s idea about the Naked Classroom and that university should be about changing thinking.

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And to me, this line of argument is similar to what is being lauded about the flipped classroom approach. Why waste your valuable class time with lectures or explanations when we live in a world where people can Google content information in a matter of seconds? Let the students receive the lectures or read the articles at home and make class a place where that knowledge is practiced, tested, challenged, discussed, debated and so on.

There are numerous benefits to the flipped classroom outlined in the blog post, 10 Pros & Cons of a Flipped Classroom,  such as, it allows students to control the pace at which they learn which is especially beneficial for students with special needs or ELD students. It allows for greater student-centered learning and collaboration; lessons and content are more transparent and accessible to both students and parents and it can be more efficient.

An article in ASCD, Research Says/Evidence on Flipped Classrooms is Still Coming In, does note that there is no solid scientific evidence to support that flipped classrooms really do work; but, there is some nonscientific data that suggests the benefits:

In one survey of 453 teachers who flipped their classrooms, 67 percent reported increased test scores, with particular benefits for students in advanced placement classes and students with special needs; 80 percent reported improved student attitudes; and 99 percent said they would flip their classrooms again next year (Flipped Learning Network, 2012). Clintondale High School in Michigan saw the failure rate of its 9th grade math students drop from 44 to 13 percent after adopting flipped classrooms (Finkel, 2012).

In addition, the article mentioned other additional benefits such as, improved student-teacher interaction; opportunities for real-time feedback (which has been discussed in Daniel Goleman’s book,  Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, and described in the blog post, Debunking the Myth of the 10 000 Hours Ruleas a necessary element to achieve success); and more meaningful homework.

There seems to be a lot of reasons why you should try flipped classrooms as an educator and so I began to ask myself, Why haven’t I done it yet?. As I reflected on this question, I realized that part of it was ignorance. I hadn’t really thought about or heard about this concept in depth before. But, I think more importantly, I had associated this technique with older students who are more independent and self-motivated like university students as my experience with this type of learning was predominantly from that setting.

So, I began to look for evidence that flipped classrooms was more of an age-appropriate concept and should be relegated to higher grades. But, as I poked around the Web, I realized that was not the case. I came across numerous examples of flipped learning being applied to middle school classrooms and even elementary classrooms (albeit not nearly as many as high school or middle school). In fact, the blog contains many video examples of flipped learning being done in specific subjects areas across grade levels.

In certain respects, I know that I have applied the concept of flipped learning in my classroom without realizing that I have been doing it. For example, I try to be very intentional about why I am giving homework and ask myself before I assign it, how is this going to be applied the next day? What are we going to be doing with it? If I am only going to briefly review the homework answers with the kids and then move on, I do not assign the work because what is the point if it has no real added value to the learning? Instead, I try to assign readings that we can discuss the next day or a piece of writing that will be shared and edited the next day so that I can be present to help the students with problems that they may have encountered or help facilitate a deeper discussion about what was read or written. I have often used this approach for the sake of expediency. I do not always have the luxury in class to read a text in its entirety with the students and at times, whole-class reading can cause difficulties with student engagement as they tend to zone in and out. So at times, I prefer this to happen outside of class, and use the in-class time to build and deepen what was read.

But now, I am excited to take this further with the use of technology. It would be great to do screencasts of those ppts on plot structure instead of having to spend class time doing it and instead, using the class to practice analyzing plot structure. I often have been frustrated in my teaching when I realize that I have spent half a class explaining a concept and I do not have enough time to really test what they have understood through activities or discussion. I think it would be fantastic to be able to do a voice-over narration of a text that you want the students to read so that they can hear how it is supposed to sound and see it while it is being read. That would be an incredible way to further reach your ELD and special needs students and support them.

The obstacles I foresee with using the flipped classroom for myself is two-fold. 1. The technology side makes me anxious. I always have my husband turn things into videos instead of doing it myself. So creating screencasts and imovies and youtube channels is something that I really need to practice more with. I know it’s just about taking the plunge and doing it. And I think you could get away with a bit of cheating by using someone else’s videos to help supplement your own while you are still building your collection of online instructional videos. And that brings me to my second obstacle, which is finding the time. Flipped classrooms do initially take a lot of front loading by the teacher until you have substantially built your resources. And as teachers, it is always a challenge to find the time. Josh Corbat mentions in his blog post, 6 Steps to a Flipped Classroomthat you should get in the habit of making a video schedule that you stick with like every Sunday night. One piece of advice from Josh Sowash, was to use Google Docs for your presentations so that if you make changes to the slides, it ensures that most updated copy is available for students; thereby saving you time from having to redistribute it.  Other educators, have mentioned that the key is to not try to do it all at once. Start flipping once or twice a week. So there are ways to reduce the time that you need to invest; but, really it comes down to acknowledging that at first it will be difficult and time consuming and as you develop your skills, it will become easier and less overwhelming. I just need to be more intentional in my practice and make a conscious effort to to implement some flips! Because I am completely in love with this concept!


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Technology and I: A Growing Relationship

As I progress further in the Coetails course, I know that my understanding and awareness of the types of technology that exist and the way that it can be implemented in the classroom is growing. I am excited to try new things with the students and learn with them as we explore things like, blogging, twitter, infographics and so on.

In fact when I consider how far I’ve come in the past few years in terms of my understanding and use of technology, I am amazed. It was not that long ago when I was completely overwhelmed by having to create a blog and now that seems so passe. But as my knowledge and skills grow, I feel the validity of the old conundrum, “the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know”, ring true. There are still so many different applications and levels of expertise when it comes to understanding how to best use technology in the classroom, so many different types of technology itself, and so many ideas on how to integrate technology that it creates a daunting feeling at times.

It is during these moments where I feel overwhelmed that I try to reflect on how much progress I have made so far. I cannot possibly expect myself to implement and use technology as an expert overnight. It is a process that you have to commit to and experiment with in order to see growth. But, it also requires a certain amount of risk-taking as it can be slightly nerve wracking introducing a new technology into the classroom. You have to be prepared for things to  go wrong or maybe in a direction that you did not plan. But, there’s no reward without risk to use another cliched saying. So, when I reflect upon how I use and integrate technology in my classroom, I can say that I am growing; but, I am not where I want to be yet.

Jeff Utecht’s post, Evaluating Technology Use in the Classroom, poses several questions that teachers/administrators can use when assessing how the technology is being implemented:

  1. Is the technology being used “Just because it’s there”?
  2. Is the technology allowing the teacher/students to do Old things in Old ways?
  3. Is the technology allowing the teacher/students to do Old things in New ways?
  4. Is the technology creating new and different learning experiences for the students?

When I use these questions to evaluate my own use of technology, I can honestly say that I do not use technology just because it’s there. I have always tried to use technology in a way that enhances the learning; albeit, I might not have always been successful in this regard. With regards to the next question, I think at times that I do use technology to do old things in old ways such as, research on the web instead of the library or type a paper instead of write it by hand. But often these choices are made to do old things in old ways because the use of technology makes the task faster or more efficient. And when it doesn’t make the task faster or more efficient, I generally tend not to use it.

I often try to use technology in ways that allow students to do old things in new ways such as, visiting a historical time period through the use of an interactive map. Although I don’t often use technology in ways that create new and different learning experiences for kids. And this is not because I do not see the value of such opportunities as this obviously has students engaged in higher order thinking tasks when they are engaged in activities at that level. Rather, it is because those types of tasks are time consuming and cannot happen regularly in the classroom. And if I were to be completely honest, I think perhaps it has not happened enough in my classroom because of my own lack of experience with technology and as I work to change that, I hope to be implementing more of those transformative tasks or opportunities as illustrated by the SAMR model or TIM.

I feel that in order to use technology more effectively and seamlessly in the classroom, I need to not only grow my experience with different types of technology and my pedagogical expertise but to continue to be self-reflective in how I am using technology. By asking questions such as, how does the use of this technology really affect the learning taking place? I can improve further and make more informed decisions about how and when to use technology. ASCD has even generated a self-evaluation for teachers and their use of technology in the classroom based on Danielson’s Framework for Teaching.

In short, my relationship with technology in the classroom is more than a budding romance and perhaps more like a marriage in therapy sessions. I am committed to using technology more and more effectively and it is growing in a positive direction; but, it still needs work and time.

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NETS: Need Everyone to Teach Standards

Technology integration in schools is not only a trend that is rapidly growing; but, it is a necessity for schools if they want to stay current and create an educational environment that is both relevant to students and helps prepare them for the reality of the world today.

The Edutopia article, “Why Integrate Technology into the Curriculum?: The Reasons Are Many“, discusses the numerous benefits to utilizing technology in the classroom and that research shows that  effective integration can deepen the learning process in four main ways: “engagement, participation in groups, frequent interaction and feedback, and connection to real-world experts.”

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So, if the benefits of the use of technology in education is clear, supported by research, and being implemented across educational systems worldwide, it makes sense that a set of standards has been developed to help implement technology integration: NETS. But, I don’t believe that anyone person should be held responsible for the teaching of NETS.

Being able to effectively use technology, navigate our digital world, and develop an understanding of what it means to be a digital citizen is part and parcel of technology integration. And if it is a necessity of our world to have these skills and schools are supposed to be preparing students for the world, then isn’t it everyone’s responsibility to ensure that NETS is taught? By everyone, I am referring to everyone who is connected to making sure that our curriculum is current and relevant from school boards to heads of schools to principals to teachers and so on.

Most schools these days have curriculum that are defined by a clear set of standards that are chosen by the school because they best fit the needs of the school and in some cases they are adjusted to better reflect the school environment. Standards are often selected to help create more accountability and transparency surrounding what is being taught.

Seamless and effective technology integration though is not just having the students use a computer or take a tech class as an elective. It is much richer and more complex process than that. According to the Edutopia article, What Is Successful Technology Integration?,  it is:

…the use of technology resources — computers, mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, digital cameras, social media platforms and networks, software applications, the Internet, etc. — in daily classroom practices, and in the management of a school. Successful technology integration is achieved when the use of technology is:

  • Routine and transparent
  • Accessible and readily available for the task at hand
  • Supporting the curricular goals, and helping the students to effectively reach their goals

In fact, there are many innovative ways to incorporate technology that cuts across curricular boundaries such as, a school in Portland, Maine that is using project-based learning in combination with its 1:1 laptop program.

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Since technology use is not limited to just one subject area (and should not be if it is going to be effective), the adoption and implementation of technology standards like NETS is not only imperative; but, it is necessary for everyone to be teaching and using these standards so that regardless of the class the student is taking, the message about how to use and respect the use of technology is the same. The message needs to be clear and consistent in order for students to truly understand what it means to be a citizen of our digital world, which means NETS should be embraced by the school as a whole and not just the technology teachers.

Technology is pervasive and affects every aspect of our lives and therefore as educators, we need to address that and not just through the adoption and implementation of NETS. But also by creating a school environment in which the school policies, student learning principles, school values and curriculum reflect the ever-growing importance and use of technology and the issues and skills associated with it.

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Who Made the Biggest Impact? A Social Studies Assignment

When I was creating this activity for the students, I had two goals: I wanted them to develop their online research skills and essay writing skills but, I also wanted them to be able to present their information in a visually powerful way. In class, Tim had spoken about having students do presentations using only strong visuals images without text  and requiring the students to speak about their topic for a certain amount of time for each slide before moving to the next one. I really liked this idea as Middle school kids are notorious for jam packing their slides with text and simply reading off the screen. However, to make it a bit easier, I thought that the students could put just key words on their slides if they needed. As well, I wanted them to explore a different type of online presentation tool than they have used before, so I offered a list of options that they could try. I am looking forward to trying this activity next semester.


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Infographics in the Classroom

Infographics in the Classroom

I had clearly seen infographics before today; but, I had never thought of them as an educational tool. I simply thought infographics were something that advertisers used to sell their products. But after learning more about their application in the realm of education, I can see how they promote visual literacy, show understanding, use critical thinking skills and present information in a creative and effective format.

However, there is more to infographics than just simply synthesizing information and putting it into a picture format. Students have to not only understand the information that they want to present; but, they need to have at least a basic comprehension of design elements and visual literacy as well learn to acquire certain technological skills in order to develop their graphic.

Although building these skills within the students would certainly take some time, the practical value of them being able to use such skills is immense. Not only would students be able to transfer such skills to different courses; but, it would have a big impact on real world skills that they would be developing that would allow them to traverse our technological world more effectively and participate in it.

Creating Infographics with your Students

Another great resource is Kathy Schrock who is an educational technologist who has a wonderful website with not only incredible links on how to use infographics in the classroom; but, also on a plethora of other technologies such as, digital storytelling.

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