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Since I’m known to experiment compulsively with Web 2.0 and ed-tech tools, I’ve been asked to present a workshop for the campus PD week on blended learning. This is an interesting tension for me for a few reasons.
Return on Investment Often Too Low
On one hand, I try to give a fair shake to any promising tool or technique. On the other hand, most of the software, Web 2.0, or gadgets I’ve tried didn’t make it into my ongoing practice. Reasons include
- Time spent teaching the tool exceeded time gained for learning
- The tool helped students become better consumers, not better makers or troubleshooters
- The tool caused students to become more engaged in watching, instead of more engaged in doing
- The tool increased students’ interaction with the gadget, but decreased their interaction with each other and physics all around them
Bigger Gains from Assessment, Critical Thinking, and Quality Feedback
Although screencasting, “flipped classroom” experiments, and peer instruction have been helpful to me, they have not caused the massive gains in effectiveness that I got from skills-based grading, self and peer assessment, incorporating critical thinking throughout my curriculum, or shifting to inquiry-based modelling. But, I wasn’t asked to present on those topics; I was asked to help people think about blended learning. Planning for the workshop has been an interesting exercise in clarifying my thinking.
Blended Learning Is…
People seem to mean different things when they say “blended learning.” Some possible meanings:
Face-to-face meetings, in a group where everyone’s doing the same thing, during school hours, in classrooms, blended with
- Learning at your own pace
- Learning in another location
- Learning at other times
- Learning that does not have to be done in a specific order
- Using a computer to learn (maybe online, maybe not)
- Using an internet-based technology to learn
- Learning that is customized for the student’s level
- Learning whose pace, location, time, or order is controlled by the student
It’s hard to have a short conversation about this, because there are several independent variables. Here are the ones I can name:
- increasing the level of computerization
- automating the process of providing students with work at their demonstrated level of achievement
- increasing the data collected about student skills (naturally, computerized assessments offer different data than teacher observation…)
- increasing the level of student control, but only in some areas (format and speed, not content)
Are We Doomed to Talk Past Each Other?
The thing I’m finding hardest to articulate is the need to disaggregate these variables. Some advocates seem to assume that computers are the best (or only) way of adapting to student achievement, collecting data, or empowering students. The conversation also runs afoul of the assumption that more computerization is good, because young people like computers.
Here’s my attempt at an outline for a conversation that can at least put these questions on the table. I will provide a list of resources for participants to take away — so far, I’m thinking of including some resources on visual design (probably from dy/dan, as well as The Non-Designer’s Design Book and maybe Presentation Zen), as well as some of the posts linked above. I’ll probably include at least one piece debunking the assumptions about “digital natives”. Other suggestions? If you were just starting to think about blended learning, what would you want to know more about?
The workshop is on Thursday — all feedback welcome.
Before the Workshop
- Watch this video about blended learning
- Read this blog post assessing the effectiveness of blended learning
- Use a feedback sheet to write a summary and keep track of questions that arise, and bring a copy with you to the workshop
- Use a GoogleDoc to vote on techniques you would like to know more about
- Brainstorm in groups: What blended learning techniques have you used, if any? What questions do you have so far?
- Gather questions on front board
What is Blended Learning?
- Explain common definitions
- Ask group for other definitions
- Explain common reasons for trying it
- Ask group for other reasons why someone might try it
- Each participant identifies advantages/goals they are most interested in working toward, and enters them into a worksheet
- Discuss in small groups and modify/add to list if desired.
Examples of Blended Learning Techniques
Each presenter discusses the techniques they have used.
Participants take a moment at the end of each technique to evaluate whether it would contribute to their identified goals
How Can We Assess the Effectiveness of Blended Learning?
- Show Veritasium’s video on effectiveness of science videos
- Student confidence
- Student enjoyment
- Student performance
Each presenter discusses the results they noticed
- Invite participants to think of something in their teaching that they would like to improve, and consider if any of the tools we’ve discussed can help.
- Participants explain their plans in small groups, and keep track of questions that come up.
- Questions added to the class list
Return to any questions that haven’t been answered.
- Each presenter passes on any recommendations they have for teachers starting to explore blended learning. Mine:
- Learn about visual design
- Practice learning new software — it’s a skill and you can get better
- Learn to program — it helps you look at computer programs with a more critical eye
- Check out the resources included with the day’s worksheet
- Stick around and experiment with these tools if you would like
This just in from dy/dan: Jo Boaler (Stanford prof, author of What’s Math Got to Do With It and inspiration for Dan Meyer’s “pseudocontext” series) is offering a free online course for “teachers and other helpers of math learners.” The course is called “How To Learn Math.”
“The course is a short intervention designed to change students’ relationships with math. I have taught this intervention successfully in the past (in classrooms); it caused students to re-engage successfully with math, taking a new approach to the subject and their learning. In the 2013-2014 school year the course will be offered to learners of math but in July of 2013 I will release a version of the course designed for teachers and other helpers of math learners, such as parents…” [emphasis is original]
I’ve been disheartened this year to realize how limited my toolset is for convincing students to broaden their thinking about the meaning of math. Every year, I tangle with students’ ingrained humiliation in the face of their mistakes and sense of worthlessness with respect to mathematical reasoning. I model, give carefully crafted feedback, and try to create low-stakes ways for them to practice analyzing mistakes, understanding why math in physics gives us only “evidence in support of a model” — not “the right answer”, and noticing the necessity for switching representations. This is not working nearly as well as it needs to for students to make the progress they need and that I believe they are capable of.
I hope this course will give me some new ideas to think about and try, so I’ve signed up. I’m especially interested in the ways Boaler is linking these ideas to Carol Dweck’s ideas about “mindset,” and proposing concrete ideas for helping students develop a growth mindset.
Anyone else interested?
On Exploring RC Circuits and trying to figure out why the capacitor charges faster than it discharges
Student 1: “Is the charge time always the same as the discharge time?”
Me: “According to this model, it is, if the resistance and capacitance haven’t changed.”
Student 2: “I’ve got data where the charge time was short and the discharge time was long.”
Me: “Why would a reasonable teacher say something that contradicts your data?”
Student 3, excitedly: “What circuit was it? Was there anything else in the circuit?”
Student 1: “I can’t remember what it was called — it had a resistor, a capacitor, and a diode.”
Student 2: “That’s it then! The diode — it’s changing its resistance!”
Student 1: “Yes — it goes from acting like a short to acting like an open. Thanks for bringing that up [Classmate's Name] — I just answered a HUGE question from that lab!”
Student services counsellor who sat in for a day
“You’re challenging my whole idea about science.”
While exploring why capacitors act like more and more resistance as they charge
“Maybe the negative side of the cap is filling up with electrons, which means less capacitance. According to the ‘tau model’, charge time = 5 * R * C. So if the charge time never changes, and the capacitance is going down, then the resistance must be going up.”
[I'm excited about this because, although it shows a misunderstanding of the definition of capacitance, the student is tying together a lot of new ideas. They are also using proportional reasoning and making sense of the story behind a formula. I need a better way to help students feel proud of things like this...]
Student critique of a Wikipedia page
“There’s some great begging the question, right there!”
Student analyzing the mistake in their thinking about a resistor-diode circuit
“I didn’t think of current not flowing at all during the negative alternation of the source. This would mean that the direction of current through the resistor does not technically change. I thought that if current was flowing through the resistor, it would change direction even if there is a very small amount of current flowing. I did do a good job about thinking of the electrons already in the wires.”
One student’s feedback on another student’s paper
“I understand fully what you are trying to explain!”
On figuring out why a diode works
“If you make the connection to a wire, it’s like how copper atoms…”
“If it wasn’t doped, wouldn’t current flow in both directions?”
Students discussing a shake-to-charge flashlight they are designing
“In our rechargeable flashlight, if you put the switch in parallel with the diode, when it’s closed it will just short it out…”
Student who gave a recruiting presentation at a high school
“The day was a great step up for me that I never ever thought possible. To be able to go back to the high school where I am pretty sure most had given up hope on me and see and hear them tell me how proud they are of me for where I am today is a feeling I will never forget.”
Here’s what the first-year students have to say about the two circuits courses they take with me, now that we’re nearing the end.
They’re more confident in their time management, their organization, and their control over their learning. I’m doing a better job of anticipating their thinking, and when I fail, a better job of not being visibly dismayed! They’ve made major improvements in their ability to articulate their ideas, especially their disagreements, clearly and respectfully.
Letting myself make mistakes is how I learn the most. Being able to reassess is allowing me to do this.
It seems there is more material to cover compared to semester 1 — not sure if something could be moved to level out the material.
Fast-paced but able to keep up
Material is interesting — never boring or stale.
Students are contributing more in conversation — I see a noticeable improvement
Real-life situations — big improvement!
Hard to soak all the information in
Quit job or at least ask for time off
We are helping each other out more now than before. It helps when others are stuck and have classmates to give a hand.
You do a great job being supportive
Teaching is great. Having [conversations] at the end of labs really helps dig up the “funny,” also makes it easier to grasp important details that might get missed otherwise.
Things sometimes seem overwhelming but always manageable.
More people are showing up on time, prepared.
I think you have improved a lot with the understanding and being patient.
Horseplay in the lab is distracting — students should manage their time better instead of complaining about workload
Being able to book a meeting makes skills easy to get signed off, get to have 1:1 time with teach and ask questions, figure out problems.
On network analysis
“At first I didn’t understand why we had to learn these complicated methods when we could just do it the simple way you showed us last semester. But when you get to these complicated circuits, it makes it so much easier. I do math every night now, even if I don’t have any for homework, because you have to exercise all the time or you lose it.”
On graphical waveform addition
“I got off to a bad start with this, I had the wrong answers for everything, and I really didn’t know how to do it. I won’t lie. But now after taking all these measurements, I’m starting to understand. And I did really bad on that first quiz — I didn’t even know what DC offset was. But I made up some practice problems that are a little bit different from the quiz, and I can do them now.”
On AC voltage, sinusoidal signals, and what the time domain really means
“I just realized that the word ‘electronics’ has the word ‘electron’ in it. ” (x2) (After a conversation about how a sinusoidal signal represents a voltage or current that changes over time)
“Is this why we need DC voltage for electronics — so it doesn’t turn off all the time?”
“In an AC circuit, how to the electrons get their energy back after they’ve lost it?” (I love the insight in this question — the synthesis of ideas, the demand for a coherent cause)
While presenting some routine lab measurements
“How does an electron know how much voltage to drop in each component?” (7 months later, students are suddenly gobsmacked by the totally weird implications of Kirchoff’s Voltage Law)
During a one-on-one discussion of the group’s interpersonal dynamics
“I find no one in this program is looking for someone to give them the answers. We might text all night long about homework but it’s never ‘Can you send me X,’ it’s always ‘How can I figure out X?’ “
While whiteboarding some AC circuit data
“I don’t like saying that KVL applies to instantaneous voltages, because it applies everywhere.”
“But if you say instantaneous, it applies in a general sense. Have you ever seen an AC circuit where the component voltages didn’t add up to the supply?”
Another whiteboarding session
“Make sure you’re talking about electrons, otherwise it’s not a cause!”
“And that’s supported by the model, because…”
While designing an experiment
“Do you have a 1uF capacitor?” “No, I guess we can use 100uF and scale it…” (Students making big gains in proportional reasoning)
After discussing how a capacitor’s voltage approaches an asymptote
“I never noticed before how much math relates to life — like the idea that sometimes the closer you get to something, the harder it is to get there. I guess it’s not surprising — because math comes from life. Math is everything.”
This year I’ve really struggled to get conversation going in class. I needed some new ways to kick-start the questioning, counter-example-ing, restating, and exploring implications that fuel inquiry-based science. I suspected students were silent because they were afraid that their peers and/or I would find out what they didn’t know. I needed a more anonymous way for them to ask questions and offer up ideas.
About that time, I read Mark Guzdial’s post about Peer Instruction in Computer Science. While exploring the resources he recommends, I found this compelling and very short PI teacher cheat sheet. I was already curious because Andy Rundquist and Joss Ives were blogging about interesting ways to use PI, even with small groups. I hadn’t looked into it because, until this year, I’ve never been so unsuccessful in fostering discussion.
The cheat-sheet’s clarity and my desperation to increase in-class participation made me think about it differently. I realized I could adapt some of the techniques, and it worked — I’ve had a several-hundred-percent increase in students asking questions, proposing ideas, and taking part in scientific discourse among themselves. Caveat: what I’m doing does not follow the research model proposed by PI’s proponents. It just steals some of their most-easily adopted ideas.
What is Peer Instruction (PI)?
If you’re not familiar with it, the basic idea is that students get the “lecture” before class (via readings, screencasts, etc), then spend class time voting on questions, discussing in small groups, and voting again as their understanding changes. Wikipedia has a reasonably clear and concise entry on PI, explaining the relationship between Peer Instruction, the “flipped classroom”, and Just-In-Time Teaching.
Why It’s Not Exactly PI
- I don’t have clickers, and don’t have any desire for them. If needed, I use home-made voting cards instead. Andy explains how effective that can be.
- I prefer to use open-ended problems, sometimes even problems the students can’t solve with their current knowledge, rather than multiple-choice questions. That’s partly because I don’t have time to craft good-quality MC items, partly because I want to make full use of the freedom I have to follow students’ noses about what questions and potential answers are worth investigating.
- Update (Feb 19): I almost forgot to mention, my classroom is not flipped. In other words, I don’t rely on before-class readings, screencasts, etc.
What About It is PI-Like?
- I start with a question for students to tackle individually. Instead of multiple-choice, it could be a circuit to analyze, or I might ask them to propose a possible cause for a phenomenon we’ve observed.
- I give a limited amount of time for this (maybe 2-3 minutes), and will cut it even shorter if 80% of students finish before the maximum time.
- I monitor the answers students come up with individually. Sometimes I ask for a vote using the flashcards. Other times I just circulate and look at their papers.
- I don’t discuss the answers at that point. I give them a consistent prompt: “In a moment, not right now but in a moment, you’re going to discuss in groups of 4. Come to agreement on whatever you can, and formulate questions about whatever you can’t agree on. You have X minutes. Go.”
- I circulate and listen to conversations, so I can prepare for the kinds of group discussion, direct instruction, or extension questions that might be helpful.
- When we’re 30 seconds from the end, or when the conversation starts to die down, I announce “30 more seconds to agree or come up with questions.”
- Then, I ask each group to report back. Usually I collect all the questions first, so that Group B doesn’t feel silenced if their question is answered by Group A’s consensus. Occasionally I ask for a flashcard vote at this point; more often, collect answers from each group verbally. I write them on the board — roughly fulfilling the function of “showing the graph” of the clicker results.
- If the answers are consistent across the group and nothing needs to be clarified, I might move on to an extension question. If something does need clarification, I might do some direct instruction. Either way, I encourage students to engage with the whole group at this point.
Then we’re ready to move on — maybe with another round, maybe with an extension question (the cheat-sheet gives some good multi-purpose prompts, like “What question would make Alternate Answer correct?”). I’m also a fan of “why would a reasonable person give Alternate Answer?”
Why I Like It
It doesn’t require a ton of preparation. I usually plan the questions I’ll use (sometimes based on their pre-class reading which, in my world, actually in-class reading…). But, anytime during class that I feel like throwing a question out to the group, I can do this off the cuff if I need to.
During the group discussion phase (Step 4), questions and ideas start flowing and scientific discourse flourishes. Right in this moment, they’re dying to know what their neighbour got, and enjoy trying to convince each other. I don’t think I buy the idea that these techniques help because students learn better from each other — frankly, they’re at least as likely to pseudoteach each other as I am. I suspect that the benefit comes not so much from what they hear from others but from what they formulate for themselves. I wish students felt comfortable calling that stuff out in a whole group discussion (with 17 of us in the room, it can be done), but they don’t. So. I go with what works.
No one outside the small group has to know who asked which questions. The complete anonymity of clickers isn’t preserved, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem so far.
Notes For Improvement
There are some prompts on the cheat sheet that I could be using a lot more often — especially replacing “What questions do you have” or “What did you agree on” with “What did you group talk about,” or “If your group changed its mind, what did you discuss?”
There’s also a helpful “Things Not To Do (that seemed like a good idea at the time)” page that includes my favourite blooper — continuing to talk about the problem after I’ve posed the question.
If I was to add something to the “What Not To Do” list, it would be “Shifting/pacing while asking the question and immediately afterwards.” I really need to practice holding still while giving students a task, and then continuing to hold still until they start the task. My pacing distracts them and slows down how quickly they shift attention to their task; and if I start wandering the room immediately, it creates the impression that they don’t have to start working until I get near enough to see their paper.
Overheard while the students discussed the difference between I vs. V characteristics of light bulbs and diodes.
Facilitating the process:
What else do we know?
Are we going to analyze predictions and measurements? Or just measurements?
So forward voltage is one category, reverse is another?
So, what have we concluded so far?
Do we have to write down our data?
I’m going to keep writing down the data.
So basically what you had was…
Were you maybe reading it like…
So what should we put here?
But it wouldn’t be through the LED. The voltmeter was shorting out the LED.
So they’re about the same, what’s the reason for that?
Holding our thinking to the model:
So this is actually supporting our idea…
One thing I noticed was that as voltage increased, current increased
I thought it always had all the voltage right there.
The current is supposed to go up, according to predictions.
Was VR1 always 0?
So forward voltage is one category, reverse is another?
Do you have the same figures for positive and negative voltage? [Reply] Well, let’s compare.
So they’re about the same, what’s the reason for that?
I think there’s something wrong there.
So we can’t compare these to each other.
What I did was use Ohm’s Law, that you have to do that for each point individually.
I think the resistance will decrease because…
Diodes are crazy!
It probably works like a switch.
Dan Goldner inspired me to start keeping track of these moments of hope and change.
Jan 18, from struggling student:
“I’ve never thought about things so intently before. You’re changing the way we think. It’s really different from what I’m used to. You really have to understand why you think what you do. I talk to everyone about it — I’ve been talking to my parents about it.”
Jan 18, from philosophical student;
“Someone at work the other day said ‘I can’t believe I did something so stupid!’ and I said, ‘Don’t disrespect your past self.’ “
Jan 24, From usually-overwhelmed right-answer-seeking student:
“I was all excited, I thought ‘I’m going to be the first person to break Ohm’s Law!’ And then I checked, and Ohm’s Law works fine, but wouldn’t that be awesome?”
Jan 25, from struggling student:
“It’s so different from high school! In high school it seemed like you always had to know something, you could never say ‘I don’t know.’ “ME: “Oh. Was it bad if you didn’t know something?”
Stoic, Silent Student joins in: “Yeah! That was not OK.”
ME: “I never take that into account enough. The way I see it, of course we want to talk about what you don’t know. What would be the point of talking about the things you already know?”
SS: “I think it’s getting better. People are getting more comfortable just throwing things out there.”
“Practice makes better!” (Me and student, simultaneously)
Jan 30 (click through for photo):
Previously, in data analysis sessions since September:
Students were having trouble drawing any conclusions, noticing any patterns, or thinking about cause at all when they broke into groups to analyze data the class had generated. It was never enough time, had always been too long since the measurements were taken, and they had too little background knowledge. They floundered and fussed, getting increasingly annoyed and disoriented, while I tried to make them think by sheer force of will, running around steering them away from insignificant details (like, “all the voltages are even numbers”).
Lesson #1: Procedural Fluency
This semester started off the same. I asked them to characterise the I vs. V response of a lightbulb and of an LED, to look for similarities and differences. As I wrote previously, most of them were up to their gills just trying to wrestle their measurement equipment into submission. They finally complete their measurements, but without any awareness of what was going on, what that graph mean, etc.
At my wits’ end, I had them do it again with two other models of diode. To me, this felt almost punitive — like handing someone an identical worksheet and telling them to start over. To try to make it a bit more palatable, I seized on their frustration about how “Mylène’s labs are so LONG” and told them we weren’t going to cover anything new — we were just going to do some speed practice, so I could show them some techniques for increasing speed without sacrificing accuracy.
I helped them strategize about how to set up a table for measurements (they were writing their measurements out in paragraphs… yikes). I also got much more directive than usual, and informed them that everyone was required to used two meters simultaneously (many were using a single meter to switch back and forth between measuring voltage and current… with attendant need to unhook the circuit TWICE for every data point!!). There was big buy-in for this, as they immediately saw that they were going to get an entire data set in a single class. I saved a few minutes at the end of class for students to share their own time-saving ideas with their classmates.
What I didn’t realize was that they had internalized so little information about diodes that blue LEDs seemed like a whole different project than red LEDs. I was worried they would mutiny about being forced to redo something they’d already finished, but I was wrong. They welcomed, with relief, the opportunity to do something that was recognizable, with a format and a set of instructions that they had already worked the kinks out of. Moral of the story: it’s the background knowledge, stupid. (I can hear Jason Buell‘s voice in my head all the time now).
Lesson #2: Distributed Practice
I also realized that asking this group to sit down with some data and analyze the patterns in an hour is not going to happen. I figured it mostly about having enough time (and not feeling pressured) so I started requiring them to keep track of “what did you notice? what did you wonder?” while they were measuring. After they were done measuring, I also required them to write some notes to themselves: explanations of anything in the lab that supported the model, and questions about anything that wasn’t supported by the model or that seemed weird (“When you find some funny, measure the amount of funny.” [Bob Pease of National Semiconductor, probably apocryphal]).
That meant they could take their time, tease out their thoughts, and write down whatever they noticed. When it was time to sit down in data analysis session, they had already spent some time thinking about what was significant in their measurements. They had also documented it.
Lesson #3: Expect them to represent their own data
In the past, I’ve made a full record of the class’s data and given a copy to every students. My intention was that they would come through the evidence in a small group — maybe splitting up the topics (“you look at all the red LEDs — do they all turn on at 1.7? I’ll check the blue ones”) — and everyone would be able to engage with the conversation, no matter whose data we were discussing. My other intention was that they would take better notes if they knew other students would read them. It worked last year … but this year I got extremely tidy notes, written out painstakingly slowly so the writing was legible… with measurements buried in paragraphs.
Last week, I asked everyone to get into small groups with people who were not their lab partner. They were not required to analyze the whole class’s data — only the data of the people in the small group, who would be expected to explain it to the others.
The students loved it because they were analyzing 4 data sets, not 9. So they were happy. I was happy too, because, from out of nowhere, the room exploded in a fury of scientific discourse. “Oh? I got a different number. How did you measure it?” “Does everybody have…?” “Will it always be…?” “Why wouldn’t it…?” “That’s what we’d expect from the model, because…“
I was floored. Since I didn’t have to run around putting out fires, I found my brain magically tuned in to their conversations — I filled an entire 8.5×11 sheet full of skillful argumentation and evidence-based reasoning that I overheard. Honestly, I didn’t hear a single teleological, unscientific, or stubbornly antagonistic comment. Most days I can’t do this at all — I’m too overwhelmed to hear anything but a buzzing cacophony, and they’re too tense to keep talking when I get close.They didn’t even stop talking when I wandered near their desks — they were all getting their foot in the door, making sure their data made the final cut.
It slowed down a bit when I reminded them that they had to have at least one possible physical cause for anything they proposed (i.e. “the materials and design of the diode cause it to not conduct backwards” is not a cause). But they picked it back up, with awesome ideas like
- Maybe the diode acts like a capacitor — it stores up a certain amount of energy
- Maybe the diode only takes whatever energy it needs to light up, and then it doesn’t take any more
- Maybe the lightbulb’s resistance went up because it’s a very narrow filament, but it has low resistance. So when all the current rushes in, there’s no room for more electrons, and that restricts current.
- Maybe a diode has a break inside, and it takes a certain amount of voltage to push the electrons through the gap. It’s like shooting electrons out of a cannon — they need a certain force to make it over a ravine.
- How come electrons in a silicon crystal “bond” and make a pair? I thought they orbit around the nucleus because electrons repel each other.
- If a leaving electron creates a positive ion, wouldn’t that attract the same electron that left?
These are not canonical, of course. But they’re causes! And questions! And they have electrons!! I was so excited. The students were having fun too — I can tell because when they’re having fun, they like to make fun of me (repeating my stock phrases, pretending to draw from a deck of cards to cold call someone in the audience, etc etc.)
Moral of the story
1. During measurement, you must write down what you noticed, what you wondered/didn’t know.
2. After measurement, you must write down which parts of this the model can explain (students call this “comparing the data to the model.”) This causes students to actually pull out the model and read it. Awesome.
3. Anything that can’t be explained by the model? Articulate a question about it.
4. If that’s still not working well, and I’m still getting into a battle of wills with students who say that the model doesn’t explain anything about diodes, do the same lab again. Call it speed practice.
Then, when we share data and propose new ideas to the model, they’ve already spent some time thinking about what’s weird (no reverse current in a diode), what’s predicted surprisingly well by the model (forward current in a diode) and what’s predicted surprisingly badly (current in a lightbulb). When we sit down to analyze the data, they’re generating those ideas for the second or third time, not the first.
5. Stop making copies of everyone’s data — it allows one strong and/or bossy student to do all the analyzing. Require that the whiteboards include an example from every person’s data.
6. Watch while they jump in to contribute their own data, compare results and ideas about “why,” facilitate each others’ participation, summarize each others’ contributions, challenge, discuss, and pick apart their data according to the model.
7. Realize that since I’m less overwhelmed with needing to force them to contribute constructively, I too have much more cognitive capacity left over for listening to the extremely interesting conversations.
I read a blog post recently about the use of smartphones in the classroom, and it was thought-provoking enough to make me want to flesh out some ideas. I submitted them as a comment two weeks ago, but they didn’t appear on the blog. My inquiry about whether the comment was rejected or simply lost in the ether also went unacknowledged, so I thought I’d post it here.
Smartphones Work Well In My Classroom For…
I really appreciate when students take photos of the board, so they can pay attention and join the conversation instead of copying what I’m writing. A document-scanning app (e.g. CamScanner) can correct parallax and improve contrast, making it look like you own a scanner the size of the whiteboard.
If students are working on team-sized interactive whiteboards, it can also be a great way to capture what they’ve come up with as a group, instead of having to re-copy it into their notebook.
Tablets are extra-useful for this since the larger screen makes it easier to read and annotate the photos — especially useful are EzPDF and Freenote, although obviously cross-platform support can be an issue.
I also like having students take videos of themselves solving problems or demonstrating experiments — a big help when I don’t have time to see each person or group “live.” Plus, hearing their voices as they describe their thinking gives me a better feel for what they’ve understood vs. what they’ve memorized.
The interesting thing is that many of my students, contrary to the received wisdom about digital natives, are surprisingly reticent about this. It takes a significant amount of direct instruction for students to try these approaches, even when it seems to me that it would be a huge time-saver. If I give an online and a conventional option for an assignment, the students overwhelmingly choose the conventional route (using a paper notebook instead of a blog so that their essay research is searchable… or submitting written assignments instead of screencasts… or typing instead of using speech to text for dictating papers, for example — even Windows 7 has native support that is reasonably good).
My students, for various reasons, don’t have much time for adjusting or troubleshooting their devices (figuring out where the camera stores its pictures so that the pics can be attached to an email, for example) and often do not understand that folders are hierarchical.
But I Can Drive Without Understanding Engines, Right?
The good news is, teachers who fear that their students far outpace them in skill probably have less to fear than they think. The bad news is, I suspect that we (including the students) tend to overestimate the degree to which using technology (as opposed to understanding it, or directing it) is inherently useful.
It’s a bit like knowing how to drive a car but not understanding that pressing on the accelerator is what uses up gas and increases the braking distance. You can make the car go fast, but you probably can’t figure out whether going fast is a good idea at the moment. Maybe you follow the speed limit diligently without being able to judge whether it’s prudent under the conditions; maybe you don’t follow the speed limit because you don’t know of any reason for its importance. Besides being dangerous, both approaches are unthinking — abdicating responsibility to either the rule-makers or other drivers.
Making Vs. Using
One approach that seems to be having a lot of success is systematically teaching students to become makers and fixers of classroom technology instead of users/consumers. I’m also excited about making programming accessible to kids. Besides improving conceptual understanding and critical thinking, this approach can help us broach the idea that it’s not good enough to be a “native” of a society in which someone else holds the reins of power. My question to them is not whether they are “digital natives” but whether they are “digital serfs.” In other words, time to start paying attention to who are the programmers, and who are the programmed.