If Something Bores You, Dig Deeper

I caught a bit of inspiration at the tail end of the following TEDEd video, “The Wacky History of Cell Theory.”

The video conclude with the following quote:

If something bores you, dig deeper. It’s probably got a really weird story behind it somewhere.

Of course, as professionals who have chosen to teach our favorite subject(s), little about these subjects bore us. However, that doesn’t often apply to our students. Many topics bore them. While the message in the video could apply to students taking some initiative to dig deeper for those “weird” stories behind “boring” content, the responsibility also lies with teachers to find and share these stories.

Storytelling is vastly overlooked in a standards-driven educational environment. However, just because standards and curriculum direct what we should teach it doesn’t mean that we can’t find new and interesting ways to deliver said content. Imagine how much more engaged students would be if there were stories like the one above for every content strand and state standard.

Maybe some of our work or even casual reading choices this summer could be re-purposed for digging up these stories. Let’s find ways to tell the stories behind the topics that bore our students most. Better yet, let’s have our students dig up these stories and tell each other.

The key is to remember that all the content we cover in school has an interesting story or collection of stories behind it. This is what connects this content to the real world. Knowing that an idea learned in school has a story involving real people with common obstacles makes that content even more authentic in its origins. Plus, a really engaging story can be something to which students can connect.

How have you used storytelling to further your students’ understanding of a topic? Which topics lend themselves best to storytelling? In what ways could you imagine storytelling helping your students understand various concepts?

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

Constructivism on YouTube

Constructivism is a key component of the eMINTS model. Basically, the belief is that students learn better when they build their own knowledge from observation and inquiry. However, the challenge is providing adequate experiences that allow for this knowledge construction.

One solution for providing these experiences is YouTube. On a daily basis, users are uploading phenomena that need to be seen in order to understand.

For example, watch the video below…

What do you see?

The video shows a 747 sitting idle on the runway. However, strong winds literally lift the giant plane off the ground. The wind flowing over the wings are enough to slightly lift the plane without any assistance from the plane’s engines.

This is the point where students consider the reasons why this might happen. Ideas about the air flow over the wings would eventually arise. At some point, students would consider the shape of the wings as being a contributing factor. Further discussion may even make connections between the wind and how air moves over the wings when the engines are running.

Student observations (along with some supplemental information about the shape of the wings) would lead to Bernoulli’s Principle. This principle explains how a wing’s shape contributes to lift. Air flows more quickly over the top of the wing thanks to its downward curve. Quicker moving air means lower air pressure. If the pressure on top is less than the pressure below, the plane moves upward. The only difference in the video and a plane actually taking off is that the air is moving due to wind instead jet engines moving the plane through the air.

A video like the one above can demonstrate a complex idea like Bernoulli’s and give students something to which they can connect. This is not the only example found on YouTube. There are countless natural phenomena all over YouTube. It just takes a little searching.

How have you used YouTube to expand your students’ experiences? How have you used YouTube to help students construct knowledge? What other kinds of phenomena could you find on YouTube for this sort of activity?

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.

Supplementing Your Classroom Website

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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.

eThemes: A Reminder and Time Saver

Look what showed up in my inbox yesterday…

As you have noticed over the past weeks I have been sharing the ins and outs of stop-motion video. During my search for resources I checked eThemes and noticed they didn’t have anything available. Since I am a former eMINTS teacher I can request new eThemes. In just minutes I filled out the form including the types of resources I was looking for, grade levels, standards, and specific details further describing what I needed. I also shared a few links that I had already found to help them understand what I was specifically looking for. In less than 2 weeks they returned my eTheme and I was ready to roll.

For those of you not familiar with eThemes it is a “source for content-rich, kid-safe online resources that will help enhance your teaching and save you time. eThemes provides free, fast access to over 2,500 collections of websites, on topics ranging from Aerodynamics to Zebras and everything in between!”

eThemes saves teachers’ time looking for resources by doing the searching for you. Anyone can use the existing themes and any eMINTS teacher can request a new theme be searched giving them more time to focus on teaching.

Check out eThemes now and make a request to start planning your next classroom project.

Brooke Higgins and Julie Szaj are instructional specialists with the eMINTS National Center.

Stop Motion Animation Made Easy – Part 3

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Welcome back to the third, and final, installment on stop-motion animation. When planning a stop motion animation project with students teachers need to be aware of the tools necessary, the steps for creating a project like this, some tips for success, and  additional resources to ensure students learn, have fun, and create quality products.
Basic materials/tools are all that is needed to get started:

  • Stop-Motion software (JellyCam or StoMo are just a couple available)
  • Digital camera (stand alone, iPad camera, phone camera, web cam)
  • Tripod or sturdy base for camera/computer/iPad
  • Lighting
  • MovieMaker or iMovie *adding audio and splicing with other media like video (optional)

How To:

  1. Plan the movie using a storyboard (visuals and audio/script)
  2. Design set, characters, and props
  3. Determine Frames Per Second (# of images needed to make a second = # of images needed to make the full length feature) Frames Per Second for video are normally 30 but programs can let you adjust that) – let your students do the calculations when planning their projects.
  4. Capture images using stop motion software (with onion screen option)
  5. Export as movie
  6. View movie
  7. *optional – Import Movie into MovieMaker or iMovie and add audio and/or other media, export as Movie, view

Tips for Success:

  • Plan carefully – Make a storyboard before you animate.
  • Keep it simple – Don’t try ambitious models or backgrounds
  • Small movements – A little goes a long way; use the onion-skinning option to see where the last frame was placed.
  • Assign roles – Modellers, clickers, spotters, movers; each student can be responsible for a task.

Resources:

Leave a comment…..We’d love your thoughts and ideas about stop motion animation as authentic products in the classroom. Share links to your student’s stop-motion projects. Tell us about all of your experiences using stop motion animation including implementation ideas, tips, additional resources, etc.

Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialists for the eMINTS National Center and Allison Byford is the Instructional Technology Coordinator with the Springdale Public Schools in Arkansas and is an eMINTS PD4ETS graduate.

Stop Motion Animation Made Easy – Part 2

Recently, Allison Byford shared the basic tools and steps for helping students to create stop motion animation movies in her post Stop Motion Animation Made Easy – Part 1 . Today we’ll take that a step further and share more examples, tools needed, step-by-step how to instructions, and some tips for a successful implementation.

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Many of you have seen the OK GO video for their song “Here it Goes”,  but have you seen the LEGO “Here it Goes”. It’s an example of how a student with a creative mind and a camera recreated the video. If you are an eMINTS teacher you have surely seen some of the great Common Craft videos covering topics such as “GoogleDocs in Plain English” or  “Electing a US President in Plain English”. While common craft videos aren’t purely stop motion they include some content recorded in stop motion animation as well as video.

When thinking about how stop motion animation could be connected to curriculum teachers can use stop motion video to present new concepts, record what happens during an extended Science experiment, or to present learned content.

Stop motion animation can be used in creative writing lessons to tell story with or without words or retell stories.

Students can present their understandings of math concepts by creating videos that may be used to teach newly learned skills to others.

Students can represent historical concepts, create documentaries, or reenact historical events to show their understanding of the impact of history.

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Not only can curriculum content be covered but students can also focus in on using 21st Century Skills when creating stop motion animation projects. These kinds of projects can require students to Think and Work Creatively with Others, Communicate Clearly, Collaborate with Others, Adapt to Change, Be Flexible, Manage Goals, Time, and Projects, Produce Results, Create Media Products, and Apply Technology Effectively.

Tune in tomorrow to learn the steps for creating successful projects like these.

Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialists for the eMINTS National Center and Allison Byford is the Instructional Technology Coordinator with the Springdale Public Schools in Arkansas and is an eMINTS PD4ETS graduate.

Lecture as Scaffold for Inquiry

Lecture Rozhen

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We ran across this blog post yesterday, Teach Paperless: How to Lecture in a PBL Classroom, and connected it right away to our Inquiry training sessions. One of the topics we discuss in this module has to do with when to use Inquiry and when it is maybe not the best teaching approach to use.

The aforementioned blog post compliments that conversation so well and gives another example of how teacher-directed instruction (specifically lecture) might fit into Project-based/Inquiry-based learning. It seems PBL/IBL methods have been pigeon-holed as being only student-centered, devoid of any teacher-centered practices such as lecturing. However, as pointed out in the Teach Paperless post, problem- and inquiry-based learning can incorporate all kinds of teaching techniques.

In the PBL model described in the post, the teachers involved offered voluntary workshops as a way to inject lecture into their student projects. As struggles arose, the teachers offered these voluntary workshops to students in order to help them revise mistakes in their bibliographical work. The big idea here is to offer lectures that support the PBL/IBL process for students who are interested in the topic as opposed to forcing the lecture on a classroom full of disinterested students.

How might a “lecture workshop” fit into the IBL unit you are planning? How might one involve students in facilitating these lecture workshops in your classroom? What are some other ways to make room for lectures in an IBL unit? How does this approach make a lecture relevant to students and their learning over traditional lectures?

Brooke Higgins and Zac Early are instructional specialists for the eMINTS National Center.