Category Archives: 4ALL

Networks in Teaching & Learning

The “Networked” in Networked Teaching & Learning was a purposeful choice. Not only does it represent the “N” in eMINTS (enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies), but the idea of networked teaching and learning is a contemporary one that has many applications outside of education.

Most educators see the networked teacher as one who uses modern technology and Web 2.0 skills. However, to truly be networked, one has to think beyond a Twitter account or a classroom web page. The networked era of education is more than just the tools we use.

Networked Teacher Diagram - Update

Networks or networking are new ways to look at the organization of knowledge. Topics or don’t simply connect or lead to just one other topic or set of topics. Ideas, things, and phenomena connect to multiple topics, creating a complex system more closely resembling a web than a tree.

For those of you steeped in theory as you take graduate courses, the idea of networks is a familiar one. No longer are things or ideas divided into dichotomous keys. Now we look at our world through a networked lens. Let’s have Manuel Lima explain…

How does this apply to schooling? On a very basic level, we have to look at our traditional structure of dividing disciplines into separate classes. A networked approach would result in interdisciplinary lessons that would incorporate multiple perspectives on one problem or issue instead of continuing to work on individual islands within traditional constraints. The same can be said for exploring the networks between grade levels, genres, schools, sectors, etc.

Recognizing networks allows us to see the real-world applications of what we do in school and to make those connections available for our students to discover. When students discover those networked connections, they begin to see the real world value in what they learn at school. In other words, authentic learning happens in the network.

How do you use a networked approach to better relate content to your students? How does networking knowledge alter your perspective on teaching and learning? How does technology make networked teaching and learning possible?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

President Obama’s Commencement Speech in Joplin

Here in Missouri, it’s been a long year since that devastating tornado that touched down in Joplin. Last night, Joplin’s high school graduating class was treated to a commencement speech by Barack Obama. Regardless of your political leanings, it’s a big deal for a president to speak at your graduation – high school or college.

Best of all, the president’s message was positive, upbeat. See for yourself…

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

Forgotten Algebra

The above xkcd comic expresses a common sentiment. Adults sometimes look back at things they learned (and forgot) in school that they have never had to use since graduation. There’s almost a pride that goes along with forgetting everything one learned in school. I don’t know whether this is tied into anti-elitism or a sense of self-sufficiency, but we are proud that we forget how to do math (among other things) as adults.

Is it true that the knowledge taught in school has never been utilized since moving into the work force? Maybe. However, the difference might lie in how we use these skills or knowledge in school and how we may use them in the “real world.”

A comic like the one above should remind us just how important it is to make the work and learning students do in our classrooms as authentic as possible. We have to find ways in which to relate curricula so that students either won’t want to forget what is learned in class. Making content authentic does not guarantee better retention, but it will at least make the learning more meaningful and even more memorable than algebra was for the women in the xkcd comic.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

Four Tools to Make Infographics

I love infographics. There is no better way to visually describe or illustrate our world than a proper infographic. These graphics are engaging, aesthetically pleasing, and informational at the same time.

I regularly read the blog Information Aesthetics, an essential resource for all kinds of data representations. In recent days, IA has uncovered three great tools for creating one’s own infographics. Check each one out and choose the one that would best fit your students’ needs.

Visual.ly has actually been around for months which is decades in internet years. Visual.ly once focused on creating a community around sharing inforgraphics and other visual representations of data but now offers a rather easy-to-use tool where users can insert their own social media data into several highly-customizable inforgraphics. Despite the customization of the appearance, Visual.ly appears to be limited to infographics using social media data. That’s crucial in the 21st century but it’s still a bit limited. [IA post]

Easel.ly is a start-up that is offering a beta service for average users to create their own infographics virtually from scratch. The online editor allows users to drag and drop vector images they have created onto a canvas created by designers so as to insure an aesthetically pleasing infographic. However, as easy as it is to make your graphic look like an infographic, it doesn’t work with actual data to make your inforgraphic come to life. [IA post]

Like Easel.ly, Infogr.am offers some simple templates which users can manipulate to fit their needs. However, Infogr.am differs in that users may enter their data to create visualizations based on the numbers and not just designer aesthetics. Again, this is an online tool with a simple interface to navigate. [IA post]

Venngage is an infographic tool from visualize.me, the resume infographic generator. This tool differs from previous tools in that the images display as HTML elements, affecting the Google hits and online traffic. Like Infogr.am, Venngage feeds data into the resulting graphics but allows more flexibility in design elements. [IA post]

Each tool offers varying degrees of freedom and support in design elements and data entry.    It all depends on the kind of project one might have students use these tools for and the amount of technological experience among students and teachers. All of these tools make it easier to create engaging infographics, providing another alternative to the PowerPoint presentation or poster project.

How have you used infographics with your students? How would you use these tools both to present information and to offer students as a publication tool? Which of these tools would fit your needs best?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

How well do your students communicate?

A recent survey found that communication skills are both the most sought after skills in new hires as well as the hardest to find. Of course, for some, this points to the importance of the liberal arts education over fields like business and finance. Still, for K-12 educators, the lesson learned here is that we have to find ways to facilitate better communication skills in our students, no matter the discipline.

Effective communicators get jobs. Period. The same skills also allow students to thrive in their lives after high school, particularly in higher education and not just in the workforce. Remember all those papers and presentations you had to complete while in college? A lot can be said for developing effective communication skills in regards to future success.

Now the trick is to identify when or where these skills can be developed. If one teaches reading and writing, communication skills are a natural fit, but other disciplines can be challenging to communicate. Consider the following times when communication can be developed:

  • Use cooperative learning strategies to engage all students in classroom discussion. Such strategies as Think-Pair-Share, Three-Step Interview, or Numbered Heads Together all work well for encouraging discussion. [Link]
  • Journals and blogs that collect student thinking before, during, and after projects not only help them put their ideas into writing, but peer and teacher comments along with revisiting said writing can promote crafting one’s ideas into coherent ideas.
  • Many teachers point to the importance of vocabulary in every subject area. However, we miss an opportunity to use a constructivist approach in teaching word meanings. Why not allow students to identify and define phenomena for themselves? Then teachers can simply give them the formal terminology to pair with their created meanings.
  • Reflection in the form of exit tickets allows students to not only compartmentalize all the new knowledge they’ve encountered, but it also allows the teacher to conduct some formative assessment.
  • Peer feedback can be a powerful communication practice. Students can often speak more eloquently about a peer’s work than they can their own. The resulting discussion can help both those providing feedback as well as those receiving it with developing how they talk about learning. Some helpful strategies can be found here.
  • Provide question stems to spur classroom discussion. Sometimes, students don’t ask good questions of each other because they just don’t know how to begin or what they do know is very limited. Why not provide them with some question stems to get them started? Start with this helpful list of stems organized in Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Still, even with these practices in place, it is important to remember that students need to be taught how to communicate. The above ideas only provide opportunities for practice and development. They only work if students know the best ways to communicate, avoiding bad habits along the way. A few ways in which we can teach students to better communicate follow:

  • Model not only how you would communicate your ideas but include your thinking. Sharing our metacognition with students helps to show them how and why we think the way we do.
  • Practice communicating their thoughts and ideas with them. Maybe start with rewording or inserting vocabulary into their explanations. Then move on to having them restate or even repeat ideas in a clearer format.
  • Tons of feedback should be given. Feedback is as simple as praising a student for expressing an idea clearly to suggesting how their message might be interpreted by others. When there isn’t time to respond to every idea communicated by your students, be sure to build in lots of peer feedback opportunities.
  • Practice. Practice. Practice. Have students explain everything either verbally or in written form. If this means they do half as many math problems, that’s okay. The benefits of reflecting and explaining their thinking at every step of the way helps make their work time more effective and focused on learning instead of memorizing.

If there’s one thing I can say for teachers, it’s that they are master communicators. They find all sorts of ways to deliver content to their students to help them understand and grow. The challenge now is to pass those gifts on to our students so that they can succeed when we’re not there to help them.

How important is communication in your classroom? What other ways can you help students develop communication skills? Which software features and online apps best help develop communication skills in students?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

One Year Ago: May 17-20, 2011

Since this blog has been around for just over 18 months, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to look back now and again at the many great resources and ideas we’ve shared. After you read the following posts, feel free to search through our archives for resources that might help you as you plan for the end of this year or prepare for the fall.

Tuesday, May 17: Create Quick and Easy Visual Organizers
Brooke introduced us to the exciting graphic organizer tool called Popplet. Popplet’s strength lied in its iPad app, but the online version offers plenty of uses despite its beta status. Brooke summarizes:

Popplet is a Web 2.0 tool for creating graphic/visual organizers with a simple, easy to use platform. Popplet allows users to explore ideas, create galleries, record thoughts, collect inspiration, collaborate together, and present it all to the world.

Wednesday, May 18: Five Helpful Links
I posted five links to resources and tools that would be helpful for teachers and students.  The first link led readers to Lifehacker‘s “Emailable Tech Support” feature where users could email these articles to those needing basic tech support. Also included in my post are links to YouTube’s political debate channel; the file-sharing, online application Fyle; Google Public Data Explorer; and an Edutopia article on differentiation through technology.

Thursday, May 19: Helping Students Learn Through Reflection
In this post, Brooke shares a few suggestions for helping student learn through reflection. Included with the strategies, Brooke has also cited several useful web apps such as Corkboard.meWallWisher.com, and Glogster.com.

Friday, May 20: Shared Experiences
A Twitter user’s shared image of the space shuttle from her plane made her an instant sensation. This example brought home the power of social media to share similar experiences with many people at one time.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

You’re One of Today’s Lucky 10,000

I saw this xkcd comic today and it got me thinking. Consider that 10,000 adults hear something for the first time every day in the US. Imagine what those numbers would be like for students in grades K-12. It certainly puts what we do for our students into perspective.

I don’t mean to say that teachers tease students for not knowing what we think is basic knowledge. Far from it. What often happens is that we expect a lot of our students even when they demonstrate that they just don’t know. Maybe they’ve heard it before, but have they heard it in a way that they can remember? What do we do when students don’t meet these expectations?

Sometimes, we have to actually teach our students. Student-centered doesn’t mean that the teacher is no longer involved in the learning. Facilitating learning doesn’t mean that there is never a need for direct instruction. When students don’t know, we have to teach them.

This issue often arises when students are unable to complete basic research, collaboration, or production strategies. In these cases, it’s important that we teach students how we expect them to act and what processes we expect them employ.

When student knowledge of concepts is missing to complete a task, we have to find ways to teach this information as well. Have we facilitated a lesson that allows them to discover the content? Have we ever directly stated what it is that we want them to know? Have we made the necessary resources available for students to gain the knowledge they seek? No matter how rudimentary some content may be, sometimes students just need to be presented the material, even if it is for a second or third time.

The bottom line is that we are in this business to teach. The major objective for teaching is that students learn all they can in the short time we have them. I realize this is simplistic, but sometimes this idea gets lost when students are constantly being measured and asked to perform constantly with little time left for actual learning.

How does the comic address a teacher’s persona as a “lifelong learner”? How can the idea that there will be students hearing something for the first time every day affect your approach to teaching? What’s something you’ve learned for the first time as an adult?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

Supplementing Your Classroom Website

Image Source

Creating and maintaining a classroom website or portal can time-consuming and taxing on a school’s servers. Even when using a free, online host like Weebly or Google, integrating a website with one’s curriculum and classroom community can be difficult. Of course, one can always turn to the myriad of online tools to help supplement a classroom website.

One typical use for a classroom website that can be tedious is the constant updating of resources. In the past, we would have to edit our pages to include new and updated resources with hyperlinks, possibly adding descriptions or even additional pages. Instead of creating and updating resource pages, use social bookmarking tools like Delicious and Diigo.  Both tools offer “bookmarklets” that work in almost any browser. This button allows easy bookmarking. By carefully including descriptions and thoughtful tags, users can easily create pages of resources under a variety of topics.

One issue with maintaining a website is keeping it up-to-date in regards to classroom news and announcements. With most web sites, we have to actually edit the pages only to have to redo it periodically so that it appears updated. Additionally, passing along information this way leaves no opportunity for interaction and discussion. A blog, however, is easy to update while archiving past posts, plus it allows for parents, teachers, and students to respond and continue the discussion. Weebly features its own blogging tool, but tools such as WordPress, Blogger, and Tumblr can fill your blogging needs well.

Some school districts have in-house learning portals or shared folders that allow teachers and students to pass files back and forth. However, this is not available everywhere or districts have limited server space. Two online tools can make sharing files easy. Google Docs isn’t just a tool for collaboration and creation. Google’s ample server space makes storing and sharing documents a breeze. The other great site for file sharing is DropBox which provides users a downloadable app for easy file transfer without navigating to and logging into a remote site.

Some teachers would like to create a working space for students to display their work online. Uploading and adding student content to one’s site can be quite the endeavor. Setting up a wiki at a site like Wikispaces can allow students to upload, publish, and share on their own. The commenting feature makes it easy for additional interaction.

Back when we in eMINTS would help teachers create calendars from scratch using web-authoring software, one of the greatest challenges was creating calendars. These calendars either required multiple pages on a site or would require regular updates. By using a calendar through Google or Yahoo, users can keep a public calendar that updates every time they enter events. Users have the option of linking their audience directly to calendars or embedding calendars in their home sites.

A website is limited in that it is absent the personal interaction we have with students on a daily basis in class. However, social networking can fill that void. Facebook’s group feature makes it easy for classes to interact in as public or private a forum as necessary without teachers worrying about friending their students. Twitter is a bit more open to the rest of the web, but through the use of groups, hashtags, and tools like Tweetdeck, discussion is easy to manage. However, if either of these tools are inaccessible at your school, there is always the school-friendly option at Edmodo.

Whatever your website needs may be, there are creative ways to use online tools to help you make the most out of your site’s effectiveness. Hacking an online tool to make it suit your educational needs is often an efficient way to make a website more than just…well, a website.

How have you used online applications to enhance your classroom website? What is something you want to do with your site that you just can’t figure out using online applications? How might you envision using web apps to enhance a classroom website?

[Previously]

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

How to Use TED Ed

A very exciting development happened late last month when the popular conference series TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) entered the education arena with TED Ed. TED announced the establishment of the educational site featuring the best minds providing talks in lecture form while accompanied with engaging animation. Included with the lectures are quizzes and other teacher tools geared toward customization.

As pointed out at Teach Paperless, the site’s concept of a lesson is disappointingly narrow, even traditional. Blogger Shelly Blake-Plock suggests that learning happens when students do rather than just consume and that TED’s model is all about consuming their video content. He concludes, “If I took the name TED out of this scenario, I would suggest that many educators would say that this format is exactly the type of traditional assessment that project-based, inquiry-driven, personalized learning is at odds with.”

How should we use TED Ed in a progressive classroom?

One model is one that TED promotes. Like the Khan Academy, the flipped schooling method is gaining momentum. Basically, teachers provide these lectures and tutorials for students to digest on their own and complete assessments so that a more active and engaged kind of learning can happen in the classroom. Teachers can guide student learning in class while someone else (TED presenters and animators) dispense the knowledge outside the classroom, in-place of homework.

The only trouble with the flipped classroom is when we rely too heavily on the resources and assessments in evaluating student learning. The video lectures also take over and become the only measuring stick of learning as opposed to the growth and experimentation that happens in class.

Where I see TED Ed video lectures and their ilk supporting learning is as a resource. The difference between these lectures and more traditional resources is that someone has compartmentalized and presented the content in a way that is engaging to visual and auditory learners. It’s a new way to deliver information. It also doesn’t help that the videos are entertaining.

The assessment pieces accompanying TED Ed videos (as well as Khan Academy, MITx, etc.) also have a legitimate application when not teachers do not disproportionately depend upon them. As a formative assessment tool, these online quizzes allow for instant feedback to be given to students as well as providing a way for teachers to check in on student progress in order to know when best to intervene. Again, it’s a valuable tool that should be used appropriately and not consume instructional focus.

TED Ed should be seen as a supplemental resource to the many great things we do to promote learning and growth in our students. It should not replace inquiry, project-based learning, and other student-centered forms of instruction.

Another place these TED Ed videos can support learning is in an area all TED videos have thrived over the last several years: inspiration. Imagine showing a video of an engaging presenter clearly providing authentic uses for knowledge with animation that gives their words life. Why can’t students then create their own TED Ed videos to demonstrate their learning? Why can’t they teach each other using this method?

The key is not to depend on TED Ed to teach for you. The videos TED is releasing are beautiful, insightful, and inspiring. This is where their value lies and should be tapped for bringing so much life to otherwise boring and/or confounding content.

Other sites that function similarly to TED Ed and similar resources:

How have you used TED videos in your classroom? What are some of your favorite TED Ed videos? Have you submitted your own lesson for TED yet?

Zac Early is a blogger and instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Ten Troubleshooting Solutions

XKCD Flowchart
XKCD Flowchart

1. Screenshots – Taking a screenshot won’t solve your problems, but it will make it much easier for your IT support to help you. Taking a screenshot of error messages or out-of-the-ordinary computer behavior can demonstrate what the problem is better than you will be able to explain.

2. Flowcharts – Like the flowchart above, there are basic flowcharts all over the web that can help you get to the bottom of almost any problem. One nice collection of flowcharts can be found here.

3. Help! – Actually using the help option offered on nearly every software application is a quick way to find the answers for which you are looking. The trick is to choose the right terminology. If at first your search turns up nothing, try simplifying your search or using synonyms.

4. Online Communities – There are online communities and discussion boards for nearly everything, especially hardware and software. Most of these discussion boards have either a search option or index of topics. Even if a search doesn’t reveal the exact answer for which you are looking, posting your own comments and queries should drum up some helpful responses.

5. Social Media – Turning to social media outlets like Facebook, Google+, or Twitter can greatly increase your knowledge base. Someone else in your network has likely had a similar issue and probably knows a solution or at least can point you in the right direction for finding your own.

6. Turn it off. – When a computer is not responding or freezes up, just turn it off. While this is not a good habit to get into every time something goes awry, it is often the only solution. Typically, if your computer isn’t already too far gone, a quick restart will correct the issue.

7. Share your troubleshooting strategies with your PLN. – Since your colleagues do similar work to you, they have probably also faced similar issues. With some luck, they may have even solved the same problem and can share what they did to fix it.

8. Ask your students. – Students can hold a wealth of knowledge when it comes to troubleshooting technological problems. They are more likely to explore and play with technology, discovering problems and solutions along the way. Empower them now and again to help you with your troubleshooting needs.

9. Read Lifehacker. – Lifehacker is a blog that looks at ways in which we can work around daily obstacles or hack our way through life. A large chunk of this content focuses on clearing obstacles with software and hardware. Making this blog part of your daily read will inspire all kinds of troubleshooting triumphs.

10. Google it! – Sometimes, we have no idea where to start with a troubleshooting process. In these cases, doing a quick internet search can provide a plethora of options. More than likely, the most popular solutions will be on the first page and that will be enough to help you solve your technological problems.

What troubleshooting strategies to you employ? Which of the strategies above have worked the best for you? What are some troubleshooting strategies that you would add to this list?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.