Wednesday, March 22, 2017

4 Pieces Of The Connected Educator Puzzle

Steven Anderson and Shaelynn Farnsworth lay out what Connected Educators do and how it’s a always a work in progress.

Educators today can no longer just walk into the classroom, shut their door and teach. In every facet of our practice there are other educators doing amazing things that we can all learn from. Through the creation of our Personal Learning Network we find smart folks we can learn, share and grow with. The whole purpose of creating a PLN and becoming a Connected Educator is learning to network but also networking to learn. We are all smarter when we connect to each other.

The 4 Pieces Of The Connected Educator Puzzle

Connect-The first step in becoming a Connected Educator is to, well connect! There are so many great educators doing great things and they are sharing them on a near constant basis. In order to take advantage of all that learning we have to go to where they are. Traditionally, Twitter has been the entry point for many looking to grow their PLN. And rightly so. Twitter is easy to use, tweets are short in length, and by utilizing hashtags, has something for everyone. No matter your content area, grade you teach or topic you are interested in there are educators on Twitter to connect with and learn from.

Twitter works for many but may not work for all. Being a connected educator doesn’t mean limiting yourself to one place or another. We have to seek out diverse voices in multiple places.

  • The Classroom 2.0 Community is one place to start. It is one of the oldest social networks for educators. 
  • Another place would be the various Google Communities that are full of educators sharing and growing. 
  • Edweb has many communities on a variety of topics like leadership, technology, literacy and more. 
  • Facebook, too, is full of educator groups and pages to connect with others. 

It really doesn’t matter what place you go to to find smart folks to connect with. The point is to go to those places and find the voices that matter to you and your learning.

Consume- Once you are connected, then you can begin to see the large volume of resources, ideas, blog posts and more that are shared and exchanged nearly every hour of every day. There is power is lurking and consuming the stuff others are sharing. If we are lurking we are learning. And it’s a powerful second step to becoming a connected educator.

The places to consume wonderful educational content are vast and endless.

  • Twitter again is where many start. Hashtags contain so many wonderful links and ideas you can spend hours there. #Edchat, #edtech, #makered, and #pbl are just a very small part of the much larger educational hashtag community. But remember, we need diversity in places to learn. 
  • Blogs can be a simple and easy way to consume. And the Teach100 list has many to choose from. 
  • Also, all the communities we looked at above have resources and great content shared all the time. 
  • Need to learn on the go? The list of educational podcasts is growing day by day. 

Just like it doesn’t really matter where you go to connect, there is no singular best place to consume for learning. Both of us mix it up daily. Steven will read tweets and then listen to a podcast. Shaelynn will check out what’s happening in Google Communities and then read some blogs. Every day is different for us both. Learning and sharing happens everywhere and we have to go to where it is, everyday.

Converse- Consuming information is just part of the overall evolution of a Connected Educator. The next piece of the Connected Educator puzzle is to join the conversations. In Steven’s book The Relevant Educator he explains that Connected Educators discuss, debate and exchange ideas. There are many ideas in education that deserve more conversation, further inquiry and collegial debate. And it’s in those conversations, especially with those that have different views from our own, where we can push our thinking and extend our learning.

All of the places we’ve looked at to connect and consume have places for conversations. On many blogs the comments section provide a place to push back or extend the thinking. All of the communities have ongoing conversations that you can join or start your own to get others talking. Twitter chats are a quick and easy way to jump into conversations on all sorts of topics. Many of the hashtags that are great for consuming content also have synchronous chats that take place at scheduled times. There are non-traditional places too like Voxer where you can connect, consume and converse.

Contribute- The last piece of the puzzle for becoming a Connected Educator is contributing. All of us is an expert in something. Even if we don’t think we have anything to add we will find something in our learning that others can benefit from. Sharing is how we all learn from each other, finetune our craft and invite others into our classroom. Start a blog. Send some tweets. Start your own hashtag chat. Visit an Edcamp. Record your own podcast. Whatever you do, share your learning and your brilliance with the world.

Being a connected educator isn’t a specific recipe you can follow. You don’t master one step and move to the next. Both of us will tell you that, while we’ve been Connected Educator for many years we both still consider ourselves a work in progress. You never really “arrive” as a Connected Educator. It’s an ongoing process that you change and perfect over time.

Connect With Us!

Steven W. Anderson
Twitter: @web20classroom

Shaelynn Farnsworth
Website and Blog:
Twitter: @shfarnsworth

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Doing More With The Classroom Makerspace

When I was 6 or 7 years old I was at home on a boring rainy weekend. Being an inquisitive kid and generally looking for mischief I found some tools in a closet and decided something in my house needed taking a apart. I'd always wondered how a toaster actually made toast so it became the subject of my experiment. I spent a while taking it a part looking at all the pieces and, of course not knowing how any of it worked. When my mother found what I had done, not only did we not have toast for a while but I had to work extra hard to earn the money to buy a new one.

Making and tinkering have been around a long as there have been people asking questions about how the world works. Galileo. Newton. Edison. Those names that we associate with fundamentally changing human history were in some way makers and tinkerers. They looked for problems in their world and how they could solve them. Some created new mindsets of thinking while others invented new devices that impact us still to this day.

The idea of students looking away from ridged content focus all throughout the school day and giving them back some time to explore and make is gaining a foothold in many classrooms. Educators are turning towards ideas like the Maker Movement and tinkering to foster creativity and innovation in their classrooms and to get their kids thinking and doing more.

I've had the chance to visit several makerspaces in schools all over. It seems more and more schools are creating these spaces to give kids a creative outlet. In it's simplest form Makerspaces are places where kids can explore and, well, make stuff. The idea is that we provide the tools, resources and time to see what can be created. Many maker spaces are simple with just random supplies donated by parents. While other spaces are decked out with 3D Printers, electronics, the works. And there are spaces in between. The point isn't really what is in the space. The point is what comes out of it and giving kids the freedom to explore making stuff that could turn out to be pretty innovative.

Just like technology and how it is used in the classroom, makerspaces need to be less about the stuff that's in them and more about the questions that are asked and the problems that are solved. Sometimes when I am at a conference or read an article on the topic it seems there is more emphasis on the stuff rather than what to do with the stuff. And that sort of flies in the face of the idea of making and tinkering. Sometimes in that exploration purpose is found and questions we weren't even asking are answered.

The point is don't just have a makerspace and buy lots of expensive equipment and have kids make cellphone cases and door stops. Guide them and their exploration. What problems in their world do they see? How can making help? What are they curious about? How can one thing they take apart here, effect how something else works here? Makerspaces should be filled with more questions, problems and failures than answers, solutions and successes.

6 Resources For Makerspaces

If you need a great primer of Makerspaces there are several great books out there. My go-to is my friend Nick Provenzano's Your Starter Guide To Makerspaces. Nick's approach to helping create Makerspaces in any classroom is truly innovative. He is a high school English teacher and has successfully used makerspaces in his classroom for a number of years now. It goes to show that this type of learning doesn't have to be confined to the media center or a club outside of school. It can happen anywhere!

Maker Education Resources-This page from Edutopia has just about everything you will need to get started with creating and utilizing Maker Spaces in your classroom or school. Be sure to check out the post on the Maker Tools and how Problem-Based Learning can be enhanced through a Maker Lens.

Maker Faire Education-Maker Faires have been around for a very long time. On the site they have a whole section dedicated to making in schools. They also have other resources like kits you can buy and leads on Maker Faires in your area.

A Librarian's Guide To Makerspaces-Media Centers and Libraries are popular places for creating maker spaces and for good reason. This post is full of great content, whether you are a librarian or not.

Sample Hardware- Makerbot makes an awesome 3D printer at a super reasonable cost for schools. Little Bits are easy to use circuit boards that snap together that allow you to control all sorts of objects. And I am a huge fan of Sphero, programmable robots that are pretty awesome and easy to use.

Coding and Coding Resources-Some of my favorite makerspaces are those where what kids make is output on a screen rather than something physical they make. Coding should be a part of any maker space and bringing coding in is actually very easy. Here are tons of coding resources including sites to get started and ideas for creating your own coding makerspace.

Download the post image here:

Saturday, March 11, 2017

3 Ways To Combat Recipe Learning

When I was a middle school science teacher I regularly assigned projects. At the time I thought that the projects would be a great way for me to understand what my students understood about particular concepts and topics. I had them make visual representations of atoms of the periodic table, reports outlining the effects of global warming on our community, and several others. We would regularly complete labs in class and then I would have them report their findings to present, just as scientists do.

The way I learned how to assign these projects what was from my teacher preparation program. Through trial and error I learned how to give these projects and grade them effectively for understanding. Rubrics were all the rage so I thought that by giving all the same project and using the rubric I was differentiating for my students because they got to decide where they fit on the rubric. What I didn’t know at the time was I was expecting all the same level of work.

I hadn’t designed an effective summative assessment.

I had assigned a recipe.

I enjoy to cook and spend a lot of time doing it when I’m not traveling. Recipes help me complete complex tasks that, I hope, in the end help my dishes look as great as the pictures on the recipe card. If you’ve ever watched a competition cooking show they give the contestants recipes to follow and then judge them how well they match up against their expectations.

Isn’t that what I was doing in my classroom?

Sure. I was giving them a project, telling them all my expectations for what to produce, and of course every kid needed to produce the same thing because that made it easier for me to grade. And, I thought it would easily show me what they had learned. In the end I got 30 of the same element, 30 of the same reports and 30 of the same presentations. What I thought was good for my students actually wasn’t. I had given them a recipe and they had followed but were they really able to tell me what they’d learned? Was I letting them be creative in the process, thereby giving them a reason to invest in their learning?

Certainly not.

We’ve all been guilty of the recipe approach. Either as an unwilling participant or a willing assigner of these types of assignments and projects. The push back I get is, yeah but kids want recipes. They want to be told the expectations. They want to have the guidelines. That may be only slightly true. If I were to sit down with a group of students and give them 2 options, one to produce a highly scripted, outlined project, or one where the expectations are set out but they get to decide what they want to produce, I’d be willing to bet they’d pick the freedom to create whatever they want every time. All they know in school is the scripted approach. So they’ve come to rely on it. We have to help break free of that mantra and allow creativity and innovation into the work students do.

3 Ways To Combat Recipes Learning

Choice In Content, Process and/or Product- Allowing students to discover their own paths to content and process and products helps invest them in their learning. While content may be set by standards or expected outcomes, students can get creative in how they learn that content, the methods by which they connect that content to already known knowledge and especially in how they demonstrate their understanding.

Choice can also come from the types of technologies student use. There are all sorts of ways from students using tablets to create videos and audio podcasts, to building or replicating historical events in Minecraft, to using drawing and spreadsheet tools to create infographics. Any of these can be choices that students make to discover content in a new way, tools that they use to make a better understanding of their learning or how they can produce a result to demonstrate their learning.

There are all sorts of ways for students to show off their creativity by fostering choice with content, process and product.

Move To Problem Based Learning- You are a member of a team tasked with investigating the impact of the removal of a local park in favor of building a new high school football stadium. The high school has never had a stadium and really wants one. But the neighborhood uses the park daily and it would be a great loss to the community. There is also a stream that runs through the park that would be impacted. The task is to present a recommendation to the Mayor as to what should be done.

To move past the boring recipe type projects and expected outcomes, look to Problem Based Learning. PBL gives real-world problems for students to solve. The example above is one from a school in my district that was an actual problem faced by the students and the surrounding community. For the entire school year the school worked on the problem in all the classes, tied to curriculum and standards. At the end of the year many student teams presented their findings to the Mayor. The solutions they came up with were vast, but none the same. Each team was able to show off their creativity and innovative ideas to solve the problem.

As we know many problems have multiple solutions. So the scripted approach to what students will produce won’t really work here. Students, utilizing choice, can investigate, research, hypothesize, test and report on how they would solve the problem. The Buck Institute for Education is the go-to for anything PBL. Check out their resource section for example problems, assessment ideas and project guides.

Embrace Formative Assessment- Formative assessments are short and quick assessments that are given at the moment of learning. They can be a simple temperature check, having students explain their learning in their own words, or something more detailed, such as having them answer a few math problems or complete a task related to learning. The key is they are done at the moment of learning. They don’t wait for all the learning to be complete and then are given. Summative assessments, like the test at the end of the chapter or the recipe final project given at the end of the year, do serve their purpose if used effectively but formative assessments can help drive teaching and learning.

If the end goal of the recipe project is to see what students have learned and for them to demonstrate that learning, why wait until the end of the learning? By asking pointed and simple questions throughout the learning process teachers and students have a greater understanding of both how effective the teaching is and how the learning is progressing. Then there is little need for that scripted, recipe project and more time can be taken for deeper understanding and differentiation. Formative assessments come in all forms. Check out this post I wrote recently about them and how they can be used and different ways technology can help.

Download The Post Image: