How We Make Meaning

How does this baby learn about his world? For the most part, this child is constructing his own meanings and ideas about how things work. While some of the parental guidance has been edited out of the video, there’s still four hours of footage (condensed into two minutes) of a baby simply exploring his world and making sense of it all.

Why can’t this be the same approach we take with students? Students can explore, inquire, and investigate the world around them in order to create their own meaning just as this baby is doing in the video. Of course, there are key elements that make this exploration possible.

The baby has some limitations. There is a limitation of space where the baby is learning. He is generally contained in this one room, not permitted to roam throughout the house. Part of this limitation is due to his lack of mobility, but it’s a limitation nonetheless. Similar limitations can be set for student inquiries. Identifying essential, guiding, and content questions can help with focusing the inquiry. Also, hooking them with engaging examples of the phenomena to be studies will provide parameters.

Another thing the baby has that encourages his inquiry is the ample supply and variety of resources. No matter where the baby turns or what he decides to do, there are toys (or sometimes other household objects) with which he can experiment. Providing resources can be challenge for cash-strapped schools, but the internet more than makes up for these shortcomings in the form of limitless literature, multimedia, and simulations.

Finally, the baby’s inquiry goes so well because there is a skilled, caring adult providing an opportunity to actively explore his world. Much of the child’s interaction with adults has been edited out, but one can tell by the way toys have been laid out and the simple fact that his entire play session has been recorded that this baby has adults who are looking out for his well-being. The same can be said for students with teachers who care enough about their learning that they sacrifice their time and financial gain in order to help their students grow intellectually.

With these support systems in place, students, like the baby in the video, will succeed in their efforts to inquire about the inner-workings of their world. Of course, this inquiry can’t take place in an environment that is too restrictive or encourages passivity. Structure, access to resources, and caring and thoughtful facilitation are musts for inquiry to succeed.

What lessons about learning do you glean from the above video? How might these lessons inform your teaching? What can you do better in providing opportunities of inquiry for your students?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger with the eMINTS National Center. A special hat tip is given to eMINTS staff members Carla Chaffin and Carmen Marty for pointing out this video in connection with inquiry.

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.

Meeting Inquiry Halfway

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Inquiry is a quarter of the eMINTS Instructional Model and it causes a lot of stress among our teachers. It’s a scary thing to give up so much control and move from a model of closed inquiry where the teacher makes all the decisions and asks all the questions to a model that is completely student-led. However, no one is asking anyone to make that leap just yet. Just try meeting inquiry halfway.

First of all, it is nearly impossible to expect students be able to guide learning by developing their own questions independently. There must be some guidance in developing a meaningful inquiry. This is where teachers come in as guides or facilitators. Teaching students how to ask the right questions and providing them the proper scaffolding can help insure that their inquiries are successful.

To do this, consider your next lesson and where it lies on a continuum of inquiry. Is it a closed inquiry lesson? Are you asking all the questions for students to answer? Do you provide the entire process? Answering “yes” to these questions would suggest that you are facilitating a closed inquiry lesson.

The next step is to give up some of that control. Try to limit the questions you provide. Maybe an essential question and one or two guiding questions will help students get started. Spend class time developing other questions that will guide the investigation. When students get stuck, provide examples or questions stems to get them going. When they ask questions that might not achieve your expected outcomes, work with the students to evaluate and revise these questions.

The next step is to help students develop a process. How open or closed this part of an investigation is totally up to you, but it’s also important to figure out what you are willing to leave up to the students. Start by prioritizing what is most important for them to perform. Anything left should left up to student discretion. For example, how students present what they have learned is an easy place to start giving up control. Allow students to choose their final products or at least give them an array of options.

Other small areas where you can give up some control in the effort to make your inquiry lesson more open might include…

  • Give students the essential question and topic. Then, help to guide them in writing guiding and content questions.
  • After dividing students into groups, allow them to create member roles that will help them with their inquiry. You may have to support them by teaching ideas such as interdependence and simultaneous activity.
  • Give students a model of learning such as Bloom’s Taxonomy or Web’s Depth of Knowledge to develop their investigation.
  • With the problem to investigated laid out, help the students plan out a process to meet a set of learning outcomes you expect students to achieve.
  • If your inquiry project requires several processes or goals to be accomplished, allow the students to determine which order these tasks can be completed.
  • Maybe provide the steps that students must follow for an inquiry, but allow them to determine how each step will be completed.

There are many small things we can do in order to make inquiry part of our lessons and units of study without jumping into student-led inquiry headfirst. If you struggle seeing your students as able to complete an inquiry independently, but you want to make your lessons more open, meeting open inquiry halfway might be a suitable compromise.

How comfortable are you with inquiry? What ways have you incorporated inquiry in your lessons? How far are you willing to go toward fully open inquiry?

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

Caine’s Arcade

The following video made the rounds this week. It’s the inspiring story of young Caine who builds his own arcade out of cardboard and other spare parts as a way to pass the time. A filmmaker discovers Caine’s arcade and decides to organize a flash mob, filming the whole thing as they go.

What’s interesting is the amount of ingenuity this boy demonstrates in building his arcade. Creativity, problem-solving, persistence, attention to detail, among other skills were developed as Caine realized his vision.

Caine didn’t learn how to build his own arcade in school. He used tools he already had within him to think outside the box, so to speak. We can only hope that his teachers also see the potential in Caine by encouraging and supporting his creativity.

Let this video be an inspiration as you try to find ways to support your own students’ creativity. Maybe they won’t create an arcade, but they may build a model of a city, write a song, or take on some other creative endeavor that allows them to realize their potential and opens the possibility for their dreams to come true.

What message do you pull from this video? How have you allowed your students’ creativity to shine through? When have you had to make due with the materials around you in order to make something great?

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

Working in the Future

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One of the goals of K-12 education is to prepare our students to enter the workforce when their studies are done. However, in the 21st century, no one really knows what those jobs will look like. So, this preparation is a bit of a mystery.

It’s time we gear our instruction to match this uncertainty. The time to move from low-level content knowledge to complex processes and strategies that are applicable in many situations has arrived. No longer should we depend on 19th century teaching methods to prepare our students for the jobs of the 21st century.

There are standards and guiding principles out there to help us accomplish this feat. One list to pay close attention to are the ISTE/NETS standards for students. This list of standards provides a blueprint for the kinds of skills students will need to develop for “an increasingly global and digital world.” For what it’s worth, eMINTS is one of only five programs to receive certification of alignment with these standards.

Another guiding framework is that provided by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Like the NETS standards, this framework lists skills that should be developed for students to be successful in future endeavors. Additionally, instead of listing teaching standards separately, the framework attempts to combine the two components to guide facilitation.

Together, these guiding materials should help teachers shape their lessons to prepare students for a future that’s hard to predict. Instead of focusing on content, these frameworks provide the tools students need to be able to apply to all content areas and, more importantly, careers that may not even exist yet.

Besides utilizing frameworks that address 21st century skills to shape one’s instruction, we can facilitate other activities that prepare students for their future careers. Wired posted a piece last week that suggests how to apply for jobs that don’t exist yet. Try having students create resumes and write cover letters for these jobs with an eye toward future studies and accomplishments that will allow them to reach their goals.

Planning for students’ future careers with an eye on 21st century skills is the best way to prepare students for working in the future. Sometimes, we have to take a step back from state standards and tests to make sure that we are helping students succeed beyond their time in school. Since we don’t really know what that future holds, we have to facilitate learning that is applicable in a variety of ways. Concentrating on 21st century skills and getting past the current limitations of career opportunities available better equips students for their futures.

How are you preparing students for careers that haven’t been created yet? How do you incorporate 21st century skills in your lessons? What are the best ways to include career education in your content area?

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

Civil War Resources

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One of the challenges of teaching history is that certain topics and time periods are pushed to the end of the school year. One such time period occurs in curriculum which splits American history into two years (usually 7th and 9th grades). At the end of the first year, teachers have to scramble to cover the American Civil War, a time period that deserves quality instruction and resources. Today, we’ll share with you a few of those important online resources for teaching the American Civil War.

WebQuests: The following WebQuests are a great way to get students actively engaging the content with a twist on traditional research projects.

  • Civil War Museum – This webquest allows the students to research aspects revolving around the Civil War as well as how to effectively compile it into a museum structure.
  • The South will Rise Again – This WebQuest is a depiction of troop movements during the Battle of Gettysburg. Students are to recreate the Battle of Gettysburg and create alternative movements of the battalions to make the South win the war. Students must know who commanded what unit with how many soldiers they were in charge of. Students must take in to consideration the topigraphical and land formations in the battle grounds.
  • Letters from the Civil War – This WebQuest involves students taking roles as a Union or Confederate soldier during the Civil War. They are writing letters to each other telling about their wartime experiences.
  • A Nation Divided – It is the year 1861 and President Lincoln has assigned you a very important job. In hopes of showing future generations how life was different during the Civil War, he has asked that you document this tragic time in history. You will be asked to document the places and people you come into contact with by creating a scrapbook of your journey. It is your task to show how this great nation was once a divided nation. Now to begin your journey….

Civil War Lesson Resources:

Other Civil War Resource Links:

General Social Studies Resources

What resources have you turned to when teaching the Civil War? What’s your unique approach to teaching this topic? What are some other topics that land at the end of the year that we should cover?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center. H/T to eMINTS staff Ruth Henslee, Jen Foster, and Michelle Kendrick for helping to gather these resources.

Three Ways to Share PowerPoint Presentations Online

PowerPoint has grown to be one of the most popular presentation tools inside and outside of the classroom. However, newer versions don’t always convert well on older editions of the software. It can also be easy to forget a copy of one’s presentation. So, having an online copy of a presentation can be valuable. Three online tools make it easy to share PowerPoint presentations anywhere there’s an internet connection.

Google Docs has its own presentation feature, but it also allows users to host and share PowerPoint presentations online. It’s an easy uploading process where users may choose to do additional editing using Google’s interface. Google Docs then allow multiple parties to contribute to the same presentation. Plus, Google Presentations are embeddable on almost any website or blog. The only drawback is that presentations will lose their animations, sounds, and transitions.

Another alternate way to share a PowerPoint is to upload it to YouTube. Unlike with Google Docs, this requires a simple process. When saving a PowerPoint, select a picture format such as PNG or JPEG. Then, load those files onto video editing software such as MovieMaker or iMovie. The slides work as images one can arrange in a project’s timeline. Then, go through the process to export the presentation to YouTube.

The third process for sharing PowerPoint presentations online will transform your presentations completely. The online presentation tool Prezi is something entirely different, but now it allows users to upload PowerPoint files and change them into an engaging format that breaks the traditionally linear nature of presentation software. Once the file is uploaded, users are faced with several options for making their presentations come alive. Just watch…

No longer do we have to be limited by the traditional desktop presentation as monopolized by PowerPoint. The online tools mentioned above give users new options for presentation and sharing that were previously not possible with PowerPoint presentations.

What are some other ways you have found for sharing PowerPoint presentations? How will these tools inject your PowerPoint presentations with a dose of energy?

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

Collaborative Drawings with Google Docs

Nearly a year ago, Google Docs announced the launch of the stand-alone drawing tool. Instead of opening a normal Google Doc and inserting a drawing, Docs offers the option of opening a single drawing that contains all the sharing and collaborative capabilities of the typical Google Doc application.

To create a collaborative Google Drawing, simply click Create>Drawing. The interface for this drawing tool is nearly identical to that of the insert-able Docs interface. However, there are additional saving and sharing options. To share, users simply click on the appropriate button near the upper-right corner of the window. Options are available to share with others to view or edit. One may select collaborators from their email list or simply open the drawing up to those with the link or anyone.

Once a drawing is shared, users can alter and contribute their own ideas to the drawing. The chat feature that’s available for all Google Docs is also active here. So, collaborators can discuss changes and additions to their drawing. With text, shape, and insertion tools, users can create rich diagrams that go beyond simple drawings. These drawings can stand alone with a unique URL or be downloaded for use elsewhere.

Ideas that would make this collaborative tool useful include…

  • Students collaboratively create a timeline, including images with the dates on their graphic.
  • As a fun alternative, a chess or checkers board may be set up that players can easily manipulate play pieces. Almost any simple game board could be created using Google Drawings.
  • Seating charts or other organizational diagrams useful to classroom management can be created and shared.
  • For an interactive whiteboard that’s truly interactive, share a Google Drawing with students and allow them to contribute in real time, keeping them engaged throughout a class discussion.
  • Since these docs are embeddable, teachers could embed a drawing in a blog post or on their websites as a brainstorm activity or message board.
  • Save chart paper and dry-erase board space typically reserved for parking lots or other brainstorms by sharing a Google Drawing with students to edit.
  • If you have more ideas for Google Drawings, add them by editing here and see the results below:

 

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

The Power of Simple Ideas

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It is difficult to find ways to address higher level thinking while helping students understand difficult concepts. The complexity of some topics can be debilitating, so much so that teachers will cover them superficially or avoid these concepts altogether. However, this is not how our brightest minds see difficult content.

MythBusters‘ Adam Savage makes a living out of demystifying the great enigmas of our time. In the TED talk below, he attempts to demonstrate how we can understand complex scientific concepts by incorporating simplicity and a bit of creativity…

Consider how the inertia example might play out in class. Without even defining inertia, students could try to explain what they think happens to cause the ball react as it does. Can they recreate the same phenomena using different materials? This builds a basic foundation for later understanding a concept as complex as inertia. Then, one might introduce the terminology to match whatever definition the students discover. The simplification of such a scientific concept allows students to grasp it on their level.

Even by simplifying scientific knowledge, we don’t dumb it down. The three simplified and creative scientific discoveries Savage describes in his talk require some higher-order, abstract thinking. Simplifying science really just makes it more accessible for our students.

What scientific concepts have you been able to break down into their simplest forms in order to help students understand better? How can simplifying science not benefit student understanding? How can you use this TED talk to help your students better understand difficult scientific ideas?

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

It’s March. Bring on the Madness!

The NCAA tournament for men’s and women’s collegiate basketball is underway and the country is swept up in March Madness once again. For three weeks, basketball teams will battle it out on courts across the nation while fans follow the action fervently, keeping track of every result with their brackets.

Oh, those brackets…

Every fan, even those of the casual variety, know what the brackets represent. Not only are they useful for tracking the tournament, but they are often used in office pools where participants fill out the brackets with their predictions. This practice grips the nation every March (and part of April). Productivity comes to a near-standstill as workers sneak away to TV’s and computers showing games on Thursday and Friday afternoons. People obsess over which double-digit seed will make an improbable run or which top seed will cut down the nets.

The creation of brackets can be an exercise with educational purposes as well. There’s always the community building that can occur with students filling out tournament brackets for fun, but the bracket sheet can serve other purposes as well. Below is a list of possible ideas for brackets in your classrooms…

  • Have students create brackets of US Presidents (or any group of historical figures or even literary characters). Weighing accomplishments and failures would allow the students to evaluate the contributions of each President to the growth of the nation.
  • Create a bracket of all the elements. Students would match the elements, determine what could be created with each or just balance the benefits of each before sending one on to the next round.
  • There are plenty of opportunities to incorporate math into the brackets as is. Over the years, an incredible number of statistics have been generated from past tournaments as well as the obscene amount of statistics gathered just to determine this year’s field. Trends, odds, averages, differences, etc. can all be explored throughout the tournament.
  • Geographic comparisons can be made with all the communities represented by the universities in the field or they can be replaced with more exotic locales. Creating profiles of each location that include landscapes, economies, demographics, and other factors considered in geographic analysis could be part of the project.
  • Fill a bracket with plant life in order to breakdown and evaluate biological benefits to ecosystems. The same could be done for almost any living thing. Change the regions to ecosystems with a group of students responsible for putting together each pod.

The possibilities are endless for imagined tournament brackets. Plus, the excitement of the actual tournament can feed into student motivation for these more academic bracket activities. Imagine the excitement in front of a TV at the possibility of another 12-seed beating a 5-seed transferred to your classroom. This could be a lot of fun!

How have you used brackets in your classroom to spice up your curriculum? What other ideas do you have for using tournament brackets with your students? Besides evaluation, what other higher-order thinking skills could be developed through brackets in the classroom?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger with the eMINTS National Center. His picks for the Final Four are Kentucky, Michigan State, Syracuse, and Ohio State with his Buckeyes finishing on top.