Saturday, June 27, 2009

Here I am at NECC!!!


I can't believe how much my life has changed in the past 20 months -- since the day I first gulped and offered to do a PowerPoint so my teaching partner and I could promote a new idea we had for a course on our school. I had paid so little attention to 'things technological' that she had to show me what PPT was and what kids did with it and how to make it work.

In my own overly confident way after a few months of running tools down and talking about them a lot, I started sending proposals all over the place thinking that I really had something remarkable to tell people about how to use Web 2.0 tools in their own classes. And unbelievably people have been listening.

My 'tools & teaching' partner, Debra, and I have grown hugely since our first presentation a year ago in Calgary. Back then, we were so heavily scripted that we even 'bolded' in red the cues for changing the slides as we 'delivered our speeches'. We had so much to say and were so afraid we'd forget something important. Now we've relaxed into just telling our story and inviting others to share our excitement. [Note to self: Everything I'm doing is infused with the idea of story-telling now -- even doing math questions. This will definitely be a topic for a future blog.]

We have a great suite of tools to share. Debra shows how to transform a lesson and I take a more project-based approach.We're moving towards creating a PPLLG ("passionate potluck learning group") with play dates once a month after school. Even though she couldn't make this trip and I'm doing a 2-person act on my own, I have loads of wonderful ideas to share.

If you'd like to hear my story, drop by the Small Changes; BIG RETURNS poster session from 10-12 on Tuesday morning. Add me to your planner; you'll find me in booth 33 all the way down the right of the room at the back on the main floor =just after you come in the doors. Bring your curiosity and a lesson idea and let's talk. That's what it's all about for me -- bouncing ideas off each other and seeing what wonderful kinds of work we can get our kids to produce. I'll help you pick a tool that you can manage to do a old job in a new way.

Also the Wilkes people will be on the exhibit floor, so you can chat with Karena et al about the program if you want more information.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Final Project for Assessment (520)

It's week 7 and I'm working on the final project for this course. The greatest challenge for me has been to learn how to write learning targets. It's a little like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: what is too few? what is too many? what is going to be juuusssst right?
Image Sources: The Value Locus Decision Matrix in Leonard Cohen Search (blog) March 20, 2008

The project I've chosen is a rewrite of part of my Earth Science 11 program. Earth Science should be the science with the broadest appeal to young people because it's full of drama and action and controversy. Unfortunately, high school Earth Science courses are sometimes about as vital as a collection of rocks gathering dust on a shelf. Except for a short reference to the greenhouse effect or global warming, because this is 'science', the people are left out. It's in the human/Earth interaction that the intrigue and the most interesting stories lie.

My search for a new way to present ESC 11 began when I heard a CBC radio broadcast of an interview with Alanna Mitchell in a series about Watersheds. (Unfortunately there is no embed code for this podcast so I'll substitute a video of her talking about her book entitled Sea Sick. This "is the first book to explain how the global ocean -- 99 percent of the planet's living space -- is undergoing vast chemical changes at the hand of man and why that matters. At risk is the very structure of life in the ocean and, therefore, on the planet as a whole."[Note: To hear the interview which was fascinating, click the link and then scroll down to March 4 -- Sea Sick: The Global Ocean Crisis.]

If I could turn ESC 11 into a tale of discovery, change, and looming crisis, I could make my students begin to sit up and take a look at the landscape in which they live. In the Pacific Northwest we are surrounded by the evidence of geologic transformation. My kids ski and board on mountains carved by the action of glaciers during the last ice age (below left). They party at the beach on the northern shore of Semiahmoo Bay overlooked by our nearest volcano, Mt. Baker (below right).

[Click on on picture for full view taken December 2008.
It was assembled using PhotoScape the free alternative to Photoshop.]

They take the ferry to Vancouver Island across Georgia Strait which is being pushed closer to the mainland every day by the subduction of our own Juan de Fuca Plate -- the remnant of the once vast Farallon Plate from which the chain of volcanoes from BC down into California was built.

They live every summer under water restrictions because the winter snow pack is generally not able to supply our watershed with enough water to meet the demands of our metropolitan area. Our province is a mosaic of ecosystems that reflect a topography created by successive slamming of micro-continents into the ancient continental margin. If you drive east from our coastal temperate rainforest over the Coast Range and into the BC interior and you'll pass through a once thriving forest being devastated by pine beetles and end up in a desert.

[This collage was created using Vuvox.]

Our Arctic Ocean is being claimed by other nations greedily eyeing its ocean floor resources now that global warming is destined to open the elusive Northwest Passage, and that is where my project for this course is going to start: with an exploration of the global oceans and a look at Canada's northern continental margin.

The challenge is to figure out how to embed the science in the stories, and to grow a generation of children who feel connected to their landscape and understand the reciprocal nature of their relationship with it. My goals for this course are to excite the students' passions and to help them understand that some knowledge of science can be helpful in understanding both natural events and the human issues that are so interconnected.
“When people know how scientists go about their work and reach scientific conclusions, and what the limitations of such conclusions are, they are more likely to react thoughtfully to scientific claims and less likely to reject them out of hand or accept them uncritically. The myths and stereotypes that young people have about science are not dispelled when science teaching focuses narrowly on the laws, concepts, and theories of science. Hence, the study of science as a way of knowing needs to be made explicit in the curriculum. Once people gain a good sense of how science operates - along with a basic inventory of key science concepts as a basis for learning more later - they can follow the science adventure story as it plays out during their lifetimes” (Benchmarks Online: The Nature of Science).
Oceans 11.2

I'm compiling a Diigo list of resources for this project. It will certainly grow over the next weeks as Oceans 11 take shape. The one that most fascinates me right now is called: One Planet Many People: Atlas of Our Changing Environment. If you can believe it, this thing can be downloaded! It's incredible.
"Increasing concern as to how human activities impact the Earth has led to documentation and quantification of environmental changes taking place on land, in the water, and in the air. Through a combination of ground photographs, current and historical satellite images, and narrative based on extensive scientific evidence, this publication illustrates how humans have altered their surroundings and continue to make observable and measurable changes to the global environment." ( from their home page)
Here for example is their page on global ocean 'dead zones' followed by a case study look at the Mississippi. (Again click the picture to view the full sized image.)
I also suggest that you take a look at the book Fragile Earth for inspiration. It's a powerful compilation of juxtaposed photos that tell the story of the transition of the Earth from cool and hospitable to hot, unpredictable, and even treacherous to life as we now know it. [Note: Please turn the sound down on my video. I forgot to disable the mike when I did the screen capture! You can view the image video on the website -- but the book is even better.]

"We don't want to believe what we know."
(Yann Arthus-Bertrand in Ted Talks)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Surviving the last 2 Weeks (#2): Reviewing with Flashcards

Image from Weblo.comCelebrities @

As promised last week, I am writing tonight about another review tool that I have just started using again with my students -- flashcards. My students don't have a lot of patience with making these by hand or reviewing in general, so I've spent most of this afternoon looking for programs they would find engaging enough to prompt them to review. These were the deciding factors for my 3 picks:
a) free
b) easy to enter and edit the information (The kids can do it.)
c) online -- nothing has to be downloaded (We are not allowed to download to school machines where I work.)
d) engaging -- some entertainment value
e) more than one way of questioning is possible (If a program did flashcards only I passed it by.)

Here are my top 3 choices:

Quizlet has 5 ways to present the information. I've used one of my student's lists as an example. There is also a 4 minute video tour.
  • In Familiarize the student is prompted to use the cards for practice.
  • Learn requires the student to type in an answer to the prompt.
  • Test mode -- turns the student's list into 4 kinds of questions: written, matching, multiple choice, and true/false. Below is a test created with my student's deck.

Test: Beau's Ecosystems

1 Written Questions

2 Matching Questions

  1. Biodegration
  2. Prey
  1. the decay process that makes the nutrients contained in waste and dead matter available to producers once again
  2. an organism that makes its own food, usually using energy from the sun in a process called photosynthesis; also called an autotroph
  3. d an animal consumed for food by a predator

3 Multiple Choice Questions

  1. a decomposer that feeds on the waste material in an ecosystem, including the bodies of other organisms that have died, plant debris, and animal wastes

5 True/False Question

  1. Phytoplankton → microscopic algae that obtain energy through photosynthesis; they are found at the surface of oceans, seas, freshwater bodies

Testscan be reconfigured so the students have to supply the definitions rather than the terms. They can be copied and pasted into a text document, so if you want to create your own deck for build tests item, Quizlet will work very well. You can select the features to ignore (case, punctuation, spaces, stuff in parentheses) when computer scoring.
  • There are 2 Games formats: -- Scatter (a drag-&-drop matching game) and Space Race (students must type in the answer before the prompt crosses the screen).
  • Discuss box -- In the chat room, anyone who is online can read and answer.
I've had several students using this program. Remind them to save frequently! Occasionally the work can be lost and the autosave may not work.


Brainflips bills itself as the home of "the world's smartest flashcards." This is a fun, highly interactive website that allows users to add images, voice, and video to their cards. There are 3 practice modes:

  • Introduction -- which shows term and explanation side by side,
  • Traditional -- which shows the question and followed by the answer, and
  • Response -- which asks the student to either type in an answer or answer a pre-loaded multiple choice question.
Students can track their successes and set a timer. The deck creator can enter alternate answers that will be accepted and can customize by checking options to ignore punctuation or capitalization errors. Hints can also be provided for the user. Here's the link to their tour and to a great list of 20 poetry terms you can explore without registering. (Click the picture to go directly to the poetry practice page.)


This seems to be intended to help students with the learning of Japanese and English. Larry Ferlazzo (Feb 22, 2009) was the source for this selection. As he says, there aren't a lot of ready-made lists in English yet, but your students can have the fun of submitting early entries. Here's a nice sample deck about types of birds.
Once students choose the "iKnow" mode and click the orange Start Button, they can:
  • Preview -- this mode shows thumbnails of all images and the correct responses.
  • Study -- click the next orange button and you begin studying. This brings up a larger image image with its term. The term is read to aloud (great feature!) and the user can click for Extra Info.
  • Summary -- after practising is complete, feedback is provided.
  • Study -- brings up each image and asks students if they know the image. When they say yes, a multiple choice item with immediate feedback is presented. This is timed. In the settings students can select 'strict' or 'lenient' mode for spelling and choose whether the quiz should be multiple choice only or with typing as well.
The only frustrating thing I found is that you can't advance forward or go back through these modes using the menu on the left of the iKnow panel.

Coming Soon: lots of interesting and usegfulGoogle resources. I'm thinking of applying to go this summer's Google Teacher Academy in Boulder.