Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dingwall, Nova Scotia & Educational Vodcasting

I am sitting at the door of a cabin in the Markland Coastal Resort looking out over Aspy Bay which is near the northern tip of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.

Dingwall 2


We've put in here so I can get my course work up to date before Friday. Below the cliff outside my door, the surf pounds in on the beach. Here the beach is sandy, but go a little north or south and it turns rocky. If I look to the right (south) I see the sandy spit and the cliffs over by Neil Harbour.

If I look right (north) I'll see the point of land we're going to for more whale watching in a couple of hours.

Cape Breton,Nova Scotia,Markland Coastal Resort,Dingwall

2 days ago we spotted our first ever whale(?s) from a gravel road atop a cliff on the way into a town called Meat Cove. I've lived on the west coast for over 20 years and had never seen a whale before. It was so exciting to catch sight of a water spout as the whale came up for air and then watch the arch of its back and tail as it dove under the surface. The weather is clouding over now and there may be thunder and lightning and torrents of rain later in the afternoon, but that should wait until after we get back into the harbour at Bay St. Lawrence. The tour operators have even invited Thelma, the wonder dog, along on their boat. She always travels with her own life jacket, just in case.

This trip is turning into a journey of contradictions. Some days we hunt for fossils (the oldest we'll see are over 500, 000, 000 years); on others we search for whales; and in about a week we'll be looking for another an idyllic spot with wifi service so I can get the next assignments done. What's amazing to me is that I'm perched on a bluff in the middle of 'Nowhere', Canada doing my homework which will be submitted to my university in Pennsylvania and marked by an instructor who lives in California. In Dingwall the water supply is doubtful (Thelma would not drink, and the locals say that gypsum from an old mine is leaching into the groundwater) and there's no fresh lettuce to be found in the town, but they have high speed wifi internet and cell phone service!

I wasn't asked to attend Google Academy.Oh well, it's their loss! I've registered instead for a 3 day workshop on making pod/vodcasts.

I wandered across the website of these 2 Woodland Park, Colorado, teachers some time ago and then managed to see them when I was at the CUE conference in San Jose last fall. If I were going back to classroom teaching, this is the paradigm I'd move towards. It uses technology to uniquely change what is going on in math and science classes. These guys deliver the general instructional part of their lessons via vodcast and then use class time for Q & A, guided practice, and tests. They also work on a mastery model, so students cannot move from one unit to the next until they have achieved a grade that indicates they truly understand the material.

What's unique here is that instead of telling the students what they need to know in school and then sending them home to struggle with the questions on their own, Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, let the kids watch and take notes on the instructional material on their own and then work through the assignments in class. Students do what they can most easily handle on their own (i.e. watch a lesson and take notes) on their own. Class time is reserved for for what gives kids the most trouble -- working with the skills and concepts. This is such a simple idea it's almost scary. How powerful would the learning be in all our high school classes if we orchestrated the learning process by giving help and guidance to individuals and small groups during class time instead just dispensing information like so many talking heads?

The fact that kids are also held to a higher level of accountability -- i.e. they do not receive credit for incomplete understanding and inconsistently applied skills -- adds to the effectiveness of this model. Going through the motions of learning -- getting something on paper that shows an assignment has been tried, doing questions but never correcting them, listening but never formulating or verbalizing answers in class -- this just isn't good enough under a mastery model. The kids now have the chance to get the help they need, but they're also required to produce high quality work. It's a win-win.

Finally there are teachers who've figured out how to make the time to really give students the instruction they need and then how to hold those students accountable for their learning. And I'm going to hear all their secrets next month from Aug. 4-6. The workshop is called 21st Century Learning that Works. I'm so glad the Google Academy people turned me down!

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