Tag Archives: Zac

Doing What’s Never Been Done Before

Sometimes, we have to apply our knowledge and skills to something that has never been done before. Consider NASA’s Curiosity mission to Mars. The final descent to Mars is affectionately referred to as “Seven Minutes of Terror.” The video below demonstrates this point.

For NASA scientists, they were presented the problem of the unknown. In order to land Curiosity safely, they had to depend on their knowledge and training as applied in a theoretical context.

Think about the kind of tasks we ask our students to complete when applying knowledge. Do we ask them to attempt the unknown? Do we ever challenge them with tasks that are unsafe or untried? Or do we simply ask them to repeat back the content we’ve presented to them in lectures, readings, and research projects?

Rarely do we have problems in our real lives that resemble the problems we solved in school. So, why not design authentic tasks that challenge students to apply the content to new scenarios beyond their limited scope?

I am not suggesting the impossible. To engage students and really push their learning, sometimes we have to ask them to do something they have never tried, maybe even something no one has ever tried.

So, while you reflect on last year’s students and prep for next year’s group, consider the impossible and the never-been-done. Dream of ways in which your students can stretch their learning to new and unimaginable contexts. The results might be as exciting as   “Seven Minutes of Terror” or at least feature the kind of engagement and authentic learning we strive for in our students.

[H/T Boingboing]

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

eMINTS Hangout Recap #1

A few eMINTS instructional specialists were able to test out Google’s new “Hangout” feature in Google+ yesterday. The primary intent was to share some facilitation ideas and resources while exploring the possibilities Hangouts offer. Eventually, we would like to invite anyone connected to eMINTS to join us, but yesterday was just a trial run.

What we found is that Google Hangout is an ideal platform for conversation and collaboration. The interface made it easy for our small group of three to speak “face-to-face”, chat, and contribute to a shared Google Document. We also could have recorded the meeting using the broadcast feature but opted not to this time around.

In the future, there is a plan to focus each Google Hangout on a particular topic. Additionally, expect a recording of the meeting to be posted here just in case you can’t make it. Also be on the lookout for the shared document sure to hold many useful ideas and resources. This week’s document will be displayed below.

Next week’s Hangout will focus on how eMINTS facilitators will apply lessons learned from the Center for Adaptive Schools to our professional development program. There will also be time for participants in the Hangout to share online tools they have recently discovered. A video and Hangouts notes will be shared here on either Thursday or Friday.

Would  you be interested in joining our Google Hangouts in the future? Add me to your circles on G+ and I’ll add you to the “eMINTS” circle. The tentative plan is to meet every Wednesday at noon, but we are open to suggestions. If there is enough interest beyond the nine-person limit Google offers, we’ll expand to multiple Hangouts.

Again, let me know that you’re interested and we’ll Hangout!


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

Participating in the eMINTS Conversation

Maybe the biggest benefit of the Web is the fact that conversations are happening everywhere about almost any topic. The eMINTS community is no different. We have many opportunities for conversation within our many web-based outlets.

This blog is one of those outlets. Commenting or submitting your own blog posts makes Networked Teaching & Learning a perfect location for finding new ideas and resources as well as interacting with others in the eMINTS community. Even if you don’t submit a post or comment, NT&L offers teachers a variety of teaching ideas, online resources, and updates from the eMINTS National Center.

Like many of you, eMINTS has a presence on Facebook. Facebook has made it easier and easier to connect personally and professionally with various networks of people. eMINTS meets you there with a Facebook Page and Group. Both spaces keep you updated as well as allow you to connect to other educators in the eMINTS network.

For those who prefer the professional connections of LinkedIn, eMINTS has you covered there as well. Join the eMINTS Group at LinkedIn as a way to make connections with like-minded educators in a completely professional network.

Two other places to follow eMINTS-related discussions are on Twitter and Tumblr. My Twitter account mostly shares links from this blog, but I will occasionally engage conversations under #edtech and #edchat hashtags. If you’re a Tumblr user, be sure to follow the posts at the eMINTS Tumblr, primarily set up to share resources.

Finally, I will beginning to host Google Hangouts in an attempt to find new and exciting web applications for classroom use. If you are interested in participating in these Hangouts,  add me to your G+ circle and message me about inclusion in the Hangout. Even if the Hangout fills up (there’s a limit of nine participants), it’s an opportunity to chat with other eMINTS educators, possibly setting up your own Hangouts.

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

Transforming Technology Use in the Classroom

Courtesy of Fotopedia

Grappling’s Learning and Technology Spectrum is an important point of reference for eMINTS. We use the spectrum to help teachers determine how they are using technology with their students, providing depth and context to the “Powered by Technology” component of our instructional model.

While Grappling’s Spectrum does not necessarily provide a hierarchy of technology use, we do encourage teachers to push their technology use toward the “Transforming Uses” so as to make said technology use more purposeful. This can be hard to do, but breaking down a simple lesson for its key components can help us see that metamorphosis from literacy to adapting to transforming levels.

For example, let’s say a teacher is assigning a book report to be completed in PowerPoint form. To prepare the students to use the software, the teacher uses direct instruction to help the class build a generic PowerPoint presentation. Once the students know how to use PowerPoint, they can then apply it to their book report. This use of direct instruction hits the “Literacy Uses” level of the spectrum and the use of that software to complete a somewhat traditional book report falls under “Adapting Uses.” Teaching students how to use software is an important step in insuring their success.

To advance this use of the software to the next level, a slight shift can happen incorporating a constructivist approach. The teacher could simply assign the book report to be completed with PowerPoint, allowing students to learn the program through their creation of the final product instead of teaching the skills separately. There is nothing new about a book report except that students are using a new(ish) technology to complete an old task. Still, it’s important for students to apply traditional tasks in non-traditional modes.

How do we make this a transformative project? The teacher could ask students to crowd- source their presentation through social networks. Interaction through blogging, discussion boards, or Twitter might provide discussion and insight into their book report. Students could use these discussions in piecing together their book reports or even share their presentation online using Google Docs or Office Live. The online, real-world interactions transform the traditional book report into a conversation that reaches beyond the student’s insular interpretations.

The PowerPoint book report was simply moved from literacy to adaptive to transforming uses with slight shifts in approach. Instead of teaching software skills separately from the academic task, the two were combined to adapt a traditional activity. Then, that traditional activity was revised again to include online, interactive components, increasing the complexity of the original project.

Other examples of shifting the technology levels of typical lessons may include…

Literacy Uses Adapting Uses Transforming Uses
How to use Skype or G+Hangouts to communicate Use Skype/G+Hangout to demonstrate and share results from an experiment Use Skype/G+ Hangout to collaborate the planning and implementation of an experiment, responding and revising each other’s process
How to use Google Sketchup Use Google Sketchup to design a structure using common geometric shapes Use Google Sketchup to design a structure using common geometric shapes; share drawings on a blog, inviting submissions for revisions and improvements from architects
How to use an online timeline generator Use an online timeline generator to retell the major events of the Civil War Collaborate on a timeline with a school from the opposite side of the Mason-Dixon line to create site-specific timelines that show both sides of the Civil War

Of course, this is a limited list of activities to adjust for the various levels of Grappling’s model. Simply, direct instruction on how to use technology fits the literacy uses level. Learning that same skill by applying it to a typical activity meets the adapting uses level. Finding ways to make that same activity interactive with audiences beyond the classroom can convert this activity to one that applies to the transforming uses level of the spectrum.

Not every use of technology has to be revised to meet the transforming uses level of Grappling’s spectrum. In fact, there are reasons for using technology at all levels. However, as shown above, it is easy to adjust an activity to transform how students use technology to support their learning.

How do you use technology in all levels of Grappling’s spectrum? How have you revised an activity to meet the transforming use level? What kinds of activities best lend themselves to the transforming uses level?

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