Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Does Homework Raise Attainment?

In the past you have seen me talk about edchat. In short, it is a conversation that takes place on Twitter every Tuesday night. Participants vote on the topic and during the chat, add a the hashtag, #edchat to their tweets. (Wanna know more? Check out this great summary post by a great friend of mine, Shelly Terrell.)

Last night over 100 educators, (who tweeted over 1100 times and even made #edchat a top 5 trending topic in Twitter Search) joined the conversation. The topic: Homework. Another great friend of mine, Tom Whitby, arranged for Alfie Kohn, a nationally recognized expert in the area of homework to participate. In his book, The Homework Myth, he, "systematically examines the usual defenses of homework – that it promotes higher achievement, “reinforces” learning, teaches study skills and responsibility. None of these assumptions, he shows, actually passes the test of research, logic, or experience."

Homework is one of those issues that there rarely middle ground. On one side of the debate are those that say we have to have it to keep students accountable and make sure learning takes place outside of the classroom. On the other side are those that say our traditional system of homework should be replaced with meaningful assignments like reflecting in blog posts and contributing to wikis. Here is a summary of some of the thoughts from last night:

  • Homework is not beneficial if it is given solely for the sake of being given. It needs to have a purpose - a goal - and needs to fit into the larger scheme of learning. It needs to be something that all students can complete so not to turn people off who cannot, but it should be challenging enough that the upper-level students aren't bored with it. It should, therefore, be differentiated by students OR should/could be made non-mandatory.
  • If a student is able to demonstrate that he/she knows the content and is able to use the information suitably, there is no reason for that student to be required to do homework on said content.
  • My mind is racing after #edchat! I've never agreed with the philosophy of giving a lot of homework and never will. I think it takes away from the learning that happens in the classroom. You never really know the environment of your students while doing homework, which is another huge piece to this. I simply know that I see better results in my third graders when they are given little or no homework. If I do assign homework, it's something authentic to the students (reading a book they choose or writing in their writing notebook or researching a topic of interest and sharing it with me the next day or the next week).
  • Great chat tonight! Lots of great info. My summary: as with most things in ed, tools/medium are not the real issue as much as quality learning and thinking. EX, real problem with homework is not always the work, but our ideas of what homework is because of past associations. Assumption is made that homework=busywork. If that is true, yes, ditch hw. If homework is engaging and relevant and given in moderation, I say keep it in. Nice counter points on student/family rights and overworking kids, though! Lots of great viewpoints shared tonight!
  • Homework is a tool that reinforces what students learn in class. If students are not assigned some tasks to do at home, they do nothing and forget what they've practiced in class. It can be creative and interesting.
  • As a relatively new teacher (6 yrs) with little overlap with my parenting years, I always resented the thought that teachers felt they needed to manage my parent involvement with my child by assigning homework. I also believe my children are not readers for pleasure because reading was always work at home for them. And I have never believed anyone should have to come home and continue working.
  • As a teacher, I am investigating how I lessen the emphasis of homework in my classroom by suggesting rather requiring work outside of class that would be designed to further investigate or enrich what is going on in the classroom.
There were so many more comments. You can read them here.

Two things kept coming up over and over. The first was about reading. Many who participated commented that they believe teachers and schools kill the joy of reading by pushing texts upon them and have a required number of minutes or pages per night. I would have to agree. I can remember growing up, lugging home my 500 page literature book to read some story that had some meaning about life and answer all the questions at the end. For me it killed reading enjoyment. I regularly would skip those assignments and read what I wanted. I have no problem with kids reading at night. But why try to leash them to texts they have now relation too? If I see a student checking out a book about monster trucks, basketball, Harry Potter, Twilight, etc, I am happy that they are reading.

The other issue that came up was meaningful learning. Homework needs to be meaningful. Alfie challenged us to think about this. What is meaningful work? Is doing all the odd problems in the math book meaningful? Is writing a 3 page essay about the Battle of Bunker Hill meaningful? Do I think our ideas and system of homework in this country are outdated? Yes! Do I think we should abandon it all together. Well, that depends. Students should not have hours and hours of work to do each night. That turns students off of learning and takes value out of education. Meaningful homework for me would be just what I described above. Have students respond to a blog post about something they talked about in class. They can then comment to each other and the blog becomes an extension of the classroom. The point here is to think about meaningful learning. Does the homework you assign add value to your classroom?

We were so fortunate and lucky to have Alfie Kohn take part in our edchat. He provided an interesting prospective and posed questions that really make you think about where you stand when it comes to homework. He made a chapter from his book, The Homework Myth, available and I encourage you to read it.

When you have some time read the entire transcript of the chat and head back here and tell me your thoughts on homework. What is your idea of homework? Should we keep doing it the way we are doing it or is change in order? How do you add value to your homework?

Image courtesy Flickr Creative Commons. View the original here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back To School-The 23 Things Project

Over the past few days I have been writing about ways to get your year started off right. I gave some resources on introducing your school or district to social media. I also gave some advice to school leaders and administrators as we move education into a more digital age. Today I want to introduce a Professional Development opportunity that I have been working on over the summer.

Schools and districts are having to become more creative when it comes to professional development. With tightening budgets and staff reductions we all have to find to do more with less. Even though we are having to make cuts we still need to do what we can to introduce technology to our classrooms and students.

My goal is to infect every classroom, around the world with technology. But I can't be everywhere at once. (I have a hard time managing my day-to-day life!) Its hard for tech. trainers and regular folks to teach and learn about all the great tools available for classroom use.

To meet this need I have created an 8-10 week professional development series called The 23 Things Project. Originally developed by Helene Blowers, the goal of the project is to introduce teachers and other school leaders to a wide variety of Web 2.0 tools and their potential uses in the classroom.

Participants work each week, completing activities and reflecting in a blog that they create and maintain throughout the project. The idea here is that work is self-directed, with videos, web resources and personal experiences that help participants gain an understanding of how to use the tool and how it can be used in the classroom, with the ultimate goal of each tool being use with students. Topics include:

Social Bookmarking
Customized Search Engines
Photo Sharing

I am putting all this online for anyone to use any way they see fit. Maybe you are a teacher who wants to learn more about Web 2.0 tools or maybe you are a school leader/administrator that wants to bring these tools to your school or district. Or maybe you are a technology trainer who is looking for another way to get the message out. Who ever you are or whatever you do The 23 Things Project is there for you to use to change the way you teach.

So I encourage you to visit the project and see what it is all about. If you have any questions about how you can use The Project in your school or for yourself don't hesitate to contact me!

The 23 Things Project

Thanks to Elizabeth Farmer for creating the Logo.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Back To School-Leadership

Several months ago I participated in Leadership Day 2009. In that post I talked a little bit about leadership and support from school leaders. In the spirit of the First Days of School series I am reviving that post and adding some more ideas and resources for administrators and school leaders to help change the culture of technology in their schools. In my last post I discussed how to introduce social media into your school or district. In order to do this is it important to have strong leadership and the desire for change. But how, as a school leader do you do this, where do you begin?

There is so much pressure on school leadership in this day and age. School budgets are growing tighter and tighter. More, now than ever, schools and districts are facing the real possibility of laying off teachers and not having enough in funds to to even keep the doors open to some schools. The vast majority of districts across this country have had to make hard decisions regarding budgets; many of them deciding to make drastic, but necessary cuts in order to save jobs and still give students the best possible education.

There is pressure from state and federal mandates on testing. I see it all the time in the schools that I visit; administrators staring in to computer screens, pouring over spreadsheets, trying to figure out where their students are and where they need to be in terms of testing. Many spend late nights in their offices in April and May thinking of ways to give their students the edge they need to pass the test.

With all of these external pressures there is little time for school leadership to encourage teachers to take risks in their classroom and be creative in terms of technology. However, I believe there are 5 simple things that school leadership can do to help teachers as they transition their classrooms to Web 2.0 learning.

1) Why do we even need to be having this conversation? Why do we need to change? Watch Did You Know 3.0 to understand what will happen if we do nothing. (Also check out this post on the best TED Talks for School Leaders.)

2) What do good school leaders do? Watch this short presentation on Leadership Principals in Technology. Which do you exhibit? Which do you need to work on to support technology in your school or district?

3) Become familiar with the NETS for Administrators- At NECC (National Education Computing Conference) this year, the National Education Technology Standards (NETS) for Administrators were unveiled. (This was their first major revision since first being introduced in 2002.) According to the NETS website: "The NETS for Administrators enable us to define what administrators need to know and be able to do in order to discharge their responsibility as leaders in the effective use of technology in our schools." The NETS provide guidance to school leadership on everything from learning culture to professional practice to digital citizenship. Many of the Standards only require the encouragement, vision and assurance from the administration to ensure that technology is being used to re-shape learning in their buildings.

4) Grow your PLN- Just like teachers, administrators and school leadership need a Professional Learning Network (PLN). Your PLN is there for you to share ideas with, listen to your problems but most of all help you grow ideas you have. Your PLN consists of people who are just like you, that you can turn to when you need that point of view you can't get from anywhere else. One of the best and easiest ways to create a PLN is to join Twitter. There are 100's of school administrators there right now waiting to network. Check out the Principalspage on Twitter4Teachers to start. (Oh, and if you need more information on how to get the most out of Twitter or how it works, visit my Twitter Links on Delicious.)There are other groups too like Classroom 2.0 on Ning and groups on LinkedIn. The point here is that you are not alone. Learning does not take place in isolation. Reach out and learn and share with others.

5) Provide Time and Encouragement-This is the one that inevitably will be the hardest to do. School leaders have to provide teachers the time and opportunity to learn about new tools and techniques for their classroom. I have already documented all of the pressures on school leaders but in order for our students to be successful we have to understand that the face of education is changing. The way the students learn is changing. Most teachers are not going to be able to make the drastic changes needed overnight. They are going to need time to learn. It is vital that school leaders provide the time needed. More over, and I believe, more important, school leaders must provide an environment in their school for teachers to take risks and encourage teachers to make the change in their teaching. Teachers are not going to make a change or take a risk if there isn't support from their school leadership.

Reflection is an amazing thing. I have been very hard on teachers in the past. However, they can not go it alone. They must have school/district leadership that understands why we need to change the way we educate students. These five things should be just the beginning for school leaders. Administrators and school leaders need to be agents of change. It should not be the teachers who have to fight for change in their classroom. The should be able to walk hand-in-hand with their administrators to make strides in changing our classrooms from the 18th century to the 21st.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Back To School-Intro To Social Media

It seems like the Social Media Revolution has exploded over the last year. With services like Twitter, Ning, Facebook, You Tube, and others, our students are spending more and more time online, making connections. Schools are, all be it slowly, realizing that they can embrace these Social Media sites to create truly, dynamic and engaging classrooms. They also are finding that they can better reach out to their parents and community.

Is your school or district using any of these sites or services? Are you using them in your classroom with students? Where do you start? Here are a few resources that you can use to get a handle on Social Media and how you can leverage it to create Connected Classrooms, Schools, Districts, Students, Staffs and Communities:

Social Media In Plain English

Second you need to go through this excellent presentation on Social Media and how to use it in eLearning.

Recently some administrators got together on Twitter to talk about Social Media. They came up with a great reading list and more resources for other administrators and school leaders.
Social Media Reading List Wiki

Does your school or district have an Acceptable Use Policy for computer and Internet usage? Does it address student blogging, wiki use or cellphones? Check out this great resource for creating Social Media Friendly Policies.
Social Media Guidelines Wiki

And remember, with all the collaboration and sharing that occurs with Social Media tools and Web 2.0 tools we still need to remember copyright and fair use guidelines. Check out this great video on the use of Open Education materials.

What are some other resources you have used to introduce Social Media in your school or district? What is your opinion on Social Media in schools? Does it have a place? How much "connectedness" is too much? Are we even doing enough? What are your thoughts. Leave me some feedback below.

Image-Flickr Creative Commons. View the original here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What Makes A Great Objectve?

On Twitter this evening I participated in the weekly #edchat. (You might remember my reference from my previous post. If not, check this out.) This weeks topic: What Objectives Are Necessary For Effective Technology Integration?

What I love about these sessions is that while we have a topic that we talk about, the conversation ultimately expands in to something totally different. And that is precisely what happened tonight.

It started with a tweet:

Then there was a response:

And the conversation from that point changed to what makes great objectives. While there was still a focus on tech, the conversation revolved around what each of these education innovators thought. It was amazing! I created a Google Form to capture a summary of the conversation. Here are a sample of the responses:

-I work as a medical school clerkship director. Good objectives for me have to have to have must be clear, and focused with an implicitly measurable outcome. It should have flexibility for the learner to be able to attain it in their own unique fashion, and be able to apply their own unique educational needs in achieving the objective. (i.e. a future ear/nose/throat doctor will need to focus more on head and neck neuroanatomy than a future obstetrician).

-Great learning objectives must focus on content, not on individual tools that may or may not even be viable in a few years.

-Demonstrate understanding of concepts and be able to apply them to different and new situations. Be able to discern and communicate how concepts differ and / or are similar. Be able to communicate how concepts fit together in hierarchy - with bigger things and smaller things.

-I teach HS English and my most frequent objectives include thinking processes like "synthesizing" info (from multiple texts/genres - can include visual/audio materials) and making connections to external ideas/materials (students find own connections and bring in) to keep things relevant. Also analyzing/questioning as these are life skills and critical to actually understanding these materials.

-For us it has to be measurable. If it can't be evaluated and measured by the end of the lesson it is not a good objective. By the end of the lesson the student will be able to answer 4 out of 5 answers of a quiz correctly about such and such. By the end of a lesson the students will be able to identify 95%... By the end of the lesson the students will be able to compare and contrast in written form with 3 comparisons...

-I use the ABCD model: Audience, Behavior, Conditions, Degree. This format requires verbs such as generate, analyze, explain, estimate, produce, solve, indicate, design, the Behavior section & a percentage or range of accuracy in the Degree section.

-The demonstration of multiple tasks and skills on a student requested project where the incorrect use or omission of any(skill)assures limited success and a revisit by the choice of the students until they are successful. Verbs-Build, Fabricate, Calculate, Design, Redesign.

-I encourage teachers to include the skills (know and be able to do) elements rather than the specific content knowledge and point them toward the verbs that promote application, analysis, evaluation and creativity.

These are just a few of the amazing comments that were made. You can see the entire list here.

My summary- These educators get it! Objectives have to be clear. There as to be a specific goal in mind, not something general or abstract. The other thing that these posts and other comments made was that the tech is not the objective. The tech is the tool to reach the goal of the objective. For me, that was the most important realization that came out of the conversation.

If you didn't know, I was a Middle School Science teacher for 6 years before leaving the classroom. I have had my fair share of technology staff developments. The vast majority of these were about the tool. How to use X tool. All the in's and out's. Ok, for someone like me, who lives, eats, and breathes this stuff, that is awesome. I want to know EVERYTHING I can do with a tech tool. But for your average teacher, it was way too much information. I (and most edtech innovators I talk to) know that the true way to get tech in our classrooms and in the hands of our students is to show the tool, but more importantly, how is that too used to teach. If I am doing some PD on using an Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) I focus on basics, because for most of the teachers that are there the IWB is a completely different way of teaching than what they are used to. I want to give them just enough to use the basics of the board but spend the majority of the time on talking about and brainstorming easy ways to use it in their teaching. Now that is not to say there is not follow-up PD on more advanced features. The goal is to get the tech in the hands of the teachers and students and show them how it enhances learning.

Stepping away from my soapbox....

Back to objectives, many people also said that there should also be choices in the completion of the objective. During the course of the conversation one innovator posted a sample objective using a specific type of tool. Others added that there were other tools that were equally as good that could also show learning. This is a great point. We know about the Multiple Intelligences and we know that each students learns differently. So why not let them demonstrate their learning in different ways?

It was an amazing conversation! I wish I could post the entire conversation. At last check there were over 900 tweets in just about 3 hours. If you didn't join us this week remember, we are on every Tuesday at 7pm EST. Oh and you can read the archive, tweet by tweet here. You can also check out previous edchats by visiting my Delicious Page.

Back To School-Animoto

Some have already started, others are going back this week and some still have Summer left. Which ever group you fall into, its Back To School Time. Over the next few posts I want to give you some quick and easy ideas of some really cool tools and resources you can use for those first days back. (Really they can be used any time...but you get the idea!)

Earlier in the summer I collected a great list of Back To School Tips, Tools, Resources and Advice. (You can read my summary here.) One of the tools that came up several times was Animoto. In fact here is a tweet I just saw as I was writing this post:

You may have seen other teachers using the program or heard about it through a friend. You may be wondering how it works or how it could be used in your classroom.

First an example. Below is a video from a good friend of mine, Shelly (@ShellTerell) put together to explain what #edchat is on Twitter. (If you want to know more about #edchat, read this great post from another friend of mine Mary Beth (@mbteach)

I have put together a presentation and guide to help you get started with Animoto.

The Presentation

The Guide

The presentation and guide go hand-in-hand, so be sure to check them both out.

Remember the tweet from above? That was from another friend of mine, Jerry (@jswiatek). Over at his class wiki, he as some great instructions on that Welcome Back Project.

Recently I had the joy to work with educators on Animoto in Cabarrus County, NC at their Tech Camp. At the end of the session I asked them to brainstorm ideas on ways they could use the program with their kids. Here is a portion on the list they came up with:

  • Use it to review specific concepts or as a review game.
  • Use it as a way to show parents what their child has been doing in class like on a parent night or at an open house.
  • Use as a virtual school tour
  • Use as a contest with students to show school spirit or what the school is "all about."

So now you have everything you need to get started with Animoto. As you use it I would love to hear your ideas on how you use it with your kids. Share your success stories and videos you create. Also, share suggestions and tips that you have for other teachers. Head back here and leave me a comment.

Now, go forth and create!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Summer Series-First Days Must Haves Follow-Up

A few weeks ago I asked what were some things you had to have or used on the First Days of School or what advice you would give to a new teacher. The response was overwhelming! Teachers from all over the world gave their input. Here is my wrap-up of the results:

  • Several teachers said they create a quiz or an interest survey. Instead of pencil and paper create a form in Google Docs and have the students complete it that way. Or another suggestion was, on your class blog or wiki, post the survey or quiz there and have the students post their answers. While it is important for the teacher to know the learning styles or interests of the students it is important for the kids to know each others as well. Other teachers have the students create the rules for the class. Again, a great way for students to collaborate would be to use a Google Doc, Wiki or Blog.
  • From ascienceteacher: I send home an assignment for the parents to complete. I found it on the internet years ago. Its called, "A Million words or Less." Basically it asks parents to tell me about their child in a million words or less. Some parents write a sentence or two while others talk about their child in pages upon pages. I find that parents can be brutally honest and tell me things that help me teach their student more effectively or they tell me something about their child's past that has shaped them into the young adult they are today. The kids get a kick out of the fact that I assign their parents homework the first week of school and they don't have any homework to complete. This has been a great assignment to start the year off with.
  • From deenawarwick: I teach 4th Grade on on the first day of school, I always give my students a pop quiz. Every question on the quiz is about me: where I'm from, my likes, dislikes, etc. It is the funniest thing to watch the kids scramble for answers and then read the answers they chose. At the end of the quiz, I usually show a power point revealing the answers. In the past, I would have students volunteer answers themselves during the answer portion, but this year I think I am going to have students create their own power points to reveal their answers. This will give them an opportunity to become familiar with some of the technology we will be using this year along with getting to know each other.
  • From kellyhines: In the first few days of school, take a digital pic of each individual student in your class. They are invaluable to have if you need pics for a project or they are needed for yearbooks, etc. It's also great fun to get them out in the last days of school to see how much your students really have changed throughout the year.
  • From mldesilva: This year I have made a sticky notes board at I have a welcome sticky on the board explaining to students that I would like each of them to drag a sticky to the board and on it to introduce themselves and tell us something about themselves that they would like to share with the class. They can add pictures to their sticky, link a document, change the color, pattern, etc. The goal is to be to get them to use technology in a very easy way to start the year. It is the simplest program, yet it will get the job done. In the end, we will have this great board covered with information about my students. They are able to be creative, share something about themselves, and feel empowered that they created something on their first day.
  • From dylynn: Have students sign up for all accounts they will need throughout the semester. This will eliminate wasted time later on when you are ready to use these tools. Examples include: wiki, blogs, nings, moodle.
  • From dawnsayre: Begin your year by engaging students and parents through a classroom blog. Include highlights of learning by mentioning the great things that the kids are doing. Communication gives the parents a segue to discussions with their children about their learning. Public praise of students also goes a long way when there is a problem in the classroom that has to be addressed. Parents are more receptive if they know that the teacher sees the good in their child,too. If a blog is too time consuming, consider Twitter as a quick shout out to the parents.

There are so many more that you need to see. Below is a link to the entire list. Share this with your colleagues, staffs or friends. Try to find something here that you aren't doing and do it! When you do, come back here and tell me about it. I want to hear your success stories. I want to hear what works and what didn't. I want to hear if there was something you discovered that you are going to do from now on. Whatever it is, tell me about it!

First Days Survey Results

Image Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons