Monday, June 28, 2010

Responding to that first discussion in a new IM course

I have just started the Digital Story-telling course -- which means that all that stands between me and my degree after this one is over is Globalisation. I went back and looked at the first post of the first course I took here. What did I think I was getting into when I started? A program that would pack a lot of new tools into my teacher's tool chest. What has happened is way more than that. I have decided to include the text of this course's first discussion to show you what I mean.

It seems like teaching and school have always been a part of my life. I started in what was called 'nursery school' when I was 4 or 5 and, even though I retired from classroom teaching in March, I'm still in school here at Wilkes. Instead of giving you all the details of what I used to teach, I'm going to talk about a time in my life when I could not.

The year I had breast cancer (I am a 10 year survivor) was one of the most difficult of my life, but that wasn't just because of the treatments and the way I felt physically. What was most unsettling for me was being away from school. I don't have children of my own, and what I did that gave my life value and shape was teach. Who was I if I wasn't the tough-minded, but caring teacher in Room C014?

I really withdrew from the world during my illness, but when I needed a break from being a cancer patient, I'd stop in at my old school on the way home from a chemo treatment. I knew I had about 4 hours before the 'tsunami' of after effects would hit, so I'd find a spot in the library and wait for the news that I was there to go around. Students and colleagues would stop by to chat and look at my head which was not completely bald but closely resembled a thinly bristled hedgehog. In about 90 minutes I could soak up all the reassurance from them that I needed. I knew that the cancer was just an unexpected blip on the timeline of my life because my my real world -- my school and the people in it -- was waiting to welcome me back whenever I was ready.

About a year later I left that school and went to work in a small alternative program that operated 4 days a week. That place was not a happy one. The kids were an interesting and challenging lot, and when the old magic worked I knew I'd had a hand in helping people whose lives were in danger of completely unraveling find their way back from whatever dark place they'd gone. So the work with the kids was rewarding. Unfortunately the staff was completely dysfunctional, and I always felt like I had to prove myself to them. Still I have to thank them for making the decision to leave school easier. If it had been a better place to work, I probably wouldn't have finished this degree or retired early. I certainly would have found it much more difficult to let go.

And now here I am -- no longer at the head of my own class and very close completing this program as well. I still have some things I want to do and say in the profession, but to do that I'm having to become shamelessly self promoting -- which is totally foreign to me after so long in the formal school system. I've spent the past 7 weeks doing a course about Second Life. Had anyone predicted 30 months ago when I first discovered PowerPoint and began this journey into the field of ed tech that I'd be looking for ways to use web 2.0 tools to teach in a virtual environment, I'd have just walked away shaking my head, but there I was learning to teleport and deciding whether it was worth it to go to an in-world red light district to buy a Canadian flag for my display. Crazy!!!.

Being in this program has done more than added more tools to my repertoire and upgraded my professional knowledge about things like learning targets and rubrics. It has given me an opportunity to reinvent myself as an educator. How I'm going to use this knowledge, I'm not sure. My dream is to be teaching at the university level, and I'm trying to use my blogging and course assignments to figure out what I'll say there if and when I have that chance.

I hope this will give you a glimpse of who I am rather than what I do - or rather used to do.
The IM program came into my life at a time of professional turmoil, and it seems to have been one element in the perfect storm that has pushed me out of the teaching life I knew and did so well towards something very new and completely unexpected.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Off topic but interesting if you're traveling this summer

This little find comes under the heading: "Why don't more people know about this?" I am booked to present at ISTE in Denver next week, but I've been holding off on making the arrangements to go until I was sure I really had time to be ready. Seems silly, I know, given the amount of lead time you get between acceptance and event, but my thinking about tools use and education changes so much over 6 or 8 months because of all the research, reflection, and writing. The initial ideas can almost seem like someone else's thoughts in retrospect. So last night in typical last minute fashion I was looking for a place to stay in a town where every hotel room is booked.

Not wanting to settle for a 'no-tell motel' or a place far from the downtown center, I decided to change tactics and look for a B&B. After about 15 Google pages I found Airbnb.

There are loads of people all over Denver willing to rent me anything from space on their floor to an entire condo with hot top for prices ranging from $30 per night to $500. You enter the dates when you need accommodation and you get back all the listing of people who have space available for that time. They can post pictures so you're able to see what the space is like. I registered through my Facebook account. I has its own messaging system and maintains confidentiality until payment has been accepted at which time the 2 parties involved in the transaction get to see each others' email addresses and phone numbers. I used the PayPal option rather than give out my credit card information. The fee taken by Airbnb is a little high, but I was happy to pay it and still saved because I was ready to pay $100 or $200 a night for a hotel.

I will be staying with a teacher who has just gotten her SMART board certification. She lives 8 minutes from the convention centre (15 in bad traffic) and will give me a room with it's own door out to the back yard and internet service for $50 per night Canadian.

This is wonderful! It's been around since 2007. Loads of these people accept pets. How come I've never heard of this before? If you're traveling this summer and want to find interesting places to stay, this looks like a great place to start.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The end of 513 -- Inquiry Based Learning

I hate to be evaluated and I struggle with rubric writing. You might wonder why I decided to go back to school to upgrade my qualifications at this late stage in my life. Sometimes I wonder myself, but the learning I've gained as I've moved from 'doing courses' to using this as an opportunity to reinvent myself as an educator has been worth all the anxious hours. After 513 is done, I'll have only 2 courses left, and I'm even entertaining dreams of attempting a doctorate. I'd love to be called Dr. Sue -- not to be confused with Dr. Seuss!

In the IBL course, Matt Cwalina points out that "the use of rubrics in the classroom began gaining popularity towards the late 1990’s". Now, I trained to be a teacher in the early 1970's. What feels natural and normal to younger teachers who grew up in a rubric-driven education system has been a challenge for me all through the Instructional Medial program.

Andrade (n.d.) defines a rubric as "a scoring tool that lists the criteria for a piece of work, or [says] 'what counts' " and "also articulates gradations of quality for each criterion, from excellent to poor." She goes on to explain that a rubric should "as concisely as possible ... explain what makes a good piece of work good and a bad one bad." What has become evident to me after reading many assignments and discussions in my courses over the past year is that the way rubrics are written (yes -- even our Wilkes rubrics as explicit as they try to be) can make the difference between students and instructors guessing and knowing what constitutes excellence.

Terms such as: well/sufficiently developed, clear, adequate/inadequate, limited, superficial, subtle, voice, minimal, and evident awareness leave a lot of room for individual interpretation. It seems that even in courses at the Master's level, except when it comes to counting bibliography errors or discussion responses, personal interpretation of general descriptive words still sometimes guides both students' work and instructors' evaluations. Unlike students in a classroom, we online learners don't often have the benefit of being able to compare work, grades, and comments.

So how, then, does one approach the problem of writing a rubric that will give students clarity? When I used to mark assignments and tests (yes -- even math tests), I had to go page by page so that I'd do all examples of longer questions consistently. I was definitely a teacher who knew excellence when I saw it but I also would have been hard pressed to put that into words. Rereading the Bresciani presentation assigned in the last unit of this course gave me a clue. She says (slide 5) that rubrics are a way of 'norming' teacher expectations and of "informing students what you are looking for." These are easy words to write, but they can be very difficult objectives to meet. Some hard mental slogging may be required to work out what those general terms really do mean rather than just come up with other synonyms.

Slide 15 was the most helpful.
When I read those questions, I realized that I could apply my learning in the IBL course directly to the problem how to write a good rubric. In Week 5 we learned about writing writing 'reasoned explanations' . In an explanation, you make a claim and substantiate it with evidence. This is my project from Week 5.

Free website -

In a rubric, you set the set the target and then put into words what it will look like if a student is meeting this target. That's what makes this kind of writing so difficult. You can't just say what want; you have to say how you know it when you see it. Without the evidence, the explanation/rubric is just not complete. You have to reach deep inside and put feelings into words.

You have to make internal standards which are usually a complex blend and delicate balance of many factors explicit. You have to balance brevity with explication. You have to box yourself in by 'setting it in stone'. You have to put yourself in the shoes of struggling students -- those for whom general descriptors hold little meaning or perhaps a meaning which is different from your understanding -- and ask yourself what evidence they must produce to show you they 'get it'. If a student, parent, or colleague could still ask "How will I know?" (which echoes the "how do you know" question that underlies inquiry-based learning), your rubric may have all the boxes filled in, but it won't reveal to your students what it really takes to make you happy.

BTW -- Matt Cwalina who wrote the IBL course has been hired by Discovery and if you have an opportunity as a teacher who uses Discovery resources to get involved with any of his pro-d work, do so. This has been a great course and he's certainly an instructor who models what he believes in his teaching. Good luck at DE, Matt!



Andrade, H. (n.d.). Understanding rubrics. Retrieved June 23, 2010 from

Brecaiani, M. (n.d.). Creating, implementing, and using rubrics. Retrieved June 23, 2010 from

Thursday, June 17, 2010

All E's

I'm getting ready for ISTE this week and next and am also wrapping up two courses that have complemented each other in interesting ways: Inquiry Based Learning and the one on virtual worlds I've written about before. As has often happened while I've been in this program, because of the time between sending the conference proposal and doing the presentation has been filled with new learning experiences for me, my sense of what I'd like to do with the session has changed. Now I'm full of angst about how to turn a fundamentally show and tell presentation into an inquiry based activity -- one that will take the audience through the 5E's without their having to actually open a laptop or do any independent exploration.

What are the 5E's you ask? Entertain? Elucidate? Expound? Extol? Exhibit? No -- I always have to look them up: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. And I have to be sure as well that all my claims are backed up with the 6th E - evidence.

If I guage the audience correctly, with as little as an hour they should be able to embrace the concept of changing the delivery of math instruction with Web 2.0 tools and evolve set of beliefs which they can articulate clearly and with passion. What follows are some quotes I recorded and thoughts I had a few days ago while viewing the video below in "Sail Wozniak's" blog of May, 2010. Although at the time I was thinking about the teacher/student bond, I also feel this applies to teacher/teacher relationships as well.


"People don't buy what you do, but why you do it."

"The goal is not just to sell to people who need what you have.
The goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe

Do you know what you believe as a teacher?
Do you communicate your dream to others around you?
Do you tell your kids what you "have for them" or what you believe?

Simon Sinek in TED Talks: How great leaders inspire action

"The early majority will not try something until someone else has tried it first." We can be the early adopters in kids' lives by telling them what we believe so they can take our vision and make it their own. Then they won't be showing up for us or their parents or because society says they must, but for themselves!

"Martin Luther King gave the 'I have a dream speech', not the I have a plan speech."

So ... set aside 15 minutes of planning time every day to work out what you believe.Transform yourself from being "the leader" in your class into being a someone others want to follow.




BoyertownScienceInquiry. (2010). [Wiki]. Retrieved May 20, 2010, from

Sinek, Simon: How great leaders inspire action. (May, 2010) [Video]. Retrieved May 20, 2010, from Sails' Pedagogy at