Monday, August 15, 2011

Big Ideas

One of the things I struggled with when I was in the EDIM program was writing 'big ideas'. This might have been because I tried to use many assignments to grapple with how to apply a lot of what I was learning to the teaching of high school math. Math people haven't given much attention to the need for big ideas that could draw people into their content.

In math, big ideas are defined this way (R. Charles, Journal of Mathematics Education Leadership, Vol. 7 No.3) :
" a statement of an idea that is central to the learning
of mathematics, one that links numerous mathematical
understandings into a coherent whole."
and here's an example:
"Any number, measure, numerical expression, algebraic
expression, or equation can be represented in an infinite
number of ways that have the same value."
Now that idea can be a beautiful thing to a mathematician and it's clearly an underlying understanding or concept that we aim for students to develop over time, but having that knowledge hasn't helped me see it's value or importance or usefulness outside the walled garden of math.
[Image Credit: CC Attribution. Kent Barret, 1 Apr. 2005.]

One of the higher ed bloggers I follow is working on how to make the big ideas of physics and computational computing more accessible to his students.

vpython cvpm explanation from occam98 on Vimeo.

Now I have only a rudimentary understanding of physics and first heard about computational computing a couple of weeks ago when I watched Stephen Wolfram demonstrate Wolfram Alpha, but John Burk has made me wish I could take his class. He's managed to connect the dots from common ground topics of space and weather (who hasn't gazed at the moon or complained about bad weather!) to his content by showing his students some 'why's.

Lately I've been doing quite a bit of reading about how the folk in higher ed are struggling with the why's, how's, and what's of improving their teaching skills. Similar to the way that many K-12 educators have been reluctant to adopt new technologies, some higher ed folk are finding it challenging to change their way of thinking about learning and teaching. I think perhaps in both cases the reluctance may stem from not seeing the why's -- or perhaps it's because that for many educators, figuring out our why's is something that takes place in the formative years of our careers. Maybe it's like developing a personal fashion sense or a look when you're young and after that you always dress the same way unless/until something forces you to see yourself in others' eyes and you don't like what looks back at you.

[Image Credit: It Can't All be Dior blog, 20 Apr. 2011]

I think 'getting to why' is perhaps one of the biggest big ideas of our profession. Perhaps under all the reasons people give for not wanting to engage in this kind of educational overhaul (too much work for too little return, just a fad, no time, too much important content to cover, won't help on the test, doesn't work in my subject) lies these two simple facts:
  • those of us who have made the paradigm shift have not done the work of making the why's explicit in as enticing and elegant a way as John Burke has done with his one simple idea and his one big idea.
  • my why's (I'm an adult; I liked math; I didn't struggle in school) are not everyone else's (especially my students').
So ... we haven't revealed the connections in a compelling way to those who find them the most difficult to see, and we have become frustrated and tended to blame them for not 'getting it'.

Hmmmm ........ sound familiar?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Debriefing EdmodoCon11

There's a little folder that sits on my desktop called 'Webinars'. In it I stash the notes I take as I watch & listen. Between the speakers and the chat there's so much to absorb that I try to get down as much as I can -- screen shots of great slides, links, copies of pithy comments, and ideas I want to be able to review later.

Most of my webinar files are between 10 and 125kb in size. 300kb was large until yesterday, but, thanks to an early morning tweet from Jennifer Brinson (Jen is a Wilkes EDIM alum), I spent from 10:30am until 6:30pm at EdmodoCon. This was an online conference put together to showcase innovative mashups of high quality teaching/learning, ed tech, and Edmodo. 18 speakers from the US, Canada, Brazil, and Australia talked to nearly 500 attendees sitting at their computers all over the world. EdmodoCon's file in my webinar folder is 21,457kb. That's over 100x bigger for only 8x longer (by time) than ever before. No wonder I was so exhausted by the end of the day!

The sessions were archived. To access them together with all associated materials and links, either register with Edmodo (or reactivate an old account) and use the group code (1bbsgy) to join the EdmodoCon 2011 group or keep checking back to their blog.

I really want to use this post to award Betsey Whalen a huge badge and a billion points (and hope she gets a huge promotion -- sorry -- inside joke for those who saw the Gamification session) for keeping her energy so strong and infectious all day.

Wonder Woman Stamp

[Image credit: CC Share/Attribution, 11 July 2007, ann-dabney/355168866]

She set the upbeat tone, kept everything pretty close to on schedule, and pushed through the few moments of tech glitches without letting the momentum of the event dissipate. For me the most important take-away from the entire Edmodo marathon came from Betsy after Carol Anne McGuire's session about her world-rocking projects. Carol Anne started her presentation by talking about how she became inspired to transform her own teaching. Here's an example of the most recent result:

When Betsy reflected after Carol Anne was done about how this wonderful explosion of remarkable work had come out of an inspirational moment at a pro-d session, she summed up in one moment for me the value of being in contact with interesting people who are passionate about what they do and act on their passion. How many educators see the potential of their work as giving our students moments like that?

Final note: I've also bee thinking today, not about any single conference session, but about how Edmodo has evolved over the years from the the educational microblogging tool it first was into a resplendent content delivery, communication, and learning platform.

[Image Credit: CC Attribution, 14 Dec. 2009, jesusbranch/4184450383/]

By incorporating the features the users have requested, its developers have grown this tool from the grass roots up. One speaker who just started using Edmodo last year mentioned that he'd sent in about 12 suggestions and that most (if not all) have appeared in the newest version. Edmodo was designed not based on someone else's idea of what teachers, students, and admins need and want but by listening and responding to real needs and real wants voiced by real users in the real world, and its users wax rhapsodic about how it's literally changed their educational lives.

There was one EdmodoCon presenter who said his 'aha' moment about thinking about what teaching and learning could become came when he saw the parallels between gaming and schooling. Hmmmm ..... I'm seeing similar parallels -- but between Edmodo's responsive growth model and learner-centered education. Could this be a metaphor or a template for creating learning experiences that leave people wanting more?

Inspiring words for all teachers

#46 - Back To School
[CC Attribution: JohnONolan, 17 July 2010, from johnonolan/4816798476]

Print this. Tape it somewhere in your class where it won't get buried. Make it your computer's wallpaper. Add it to the notices on the photocopy machine wall (if your school hasn't gone paperless). Put a copy in your car and reread it in the morning before you step out in the school parking lot. Pass it on to a colleague who's getting a little lost.

An Open Letter to Teachers

Friday, August 5, 2011

Educational mindshifts & a new tool: Highlighter

I'm reading a blog called Mindshift these days. It's about grasping the opportunity to shape how learning will occur in the 21st century. After all, we're already over 1/10th of the way in. It's time to accept that technology + tough economic times + pressures on educators at all levels to better meet students' needs have combined to make a 'perfect storm' in our field.

Having survived breast cancer, it's always on my mind that I might have a recurrence. Should that ever happen, there's one thing I know for sure: my very survival will depend on doctors who make the best uses of the newest technology and techniques available to them. Yet somehow when it comes to ensuring that this generation of children receives the best quality education, a vision of orderly rows of obedient learners absorbing all the information they can like sponges and giving it back skillfully on tests is what springs to many minds. Surely educating minds is as important as curing people when they become ill!!!

Educators now have crucial choices to make for the kids in their care -- do we continue to sit like big rocks rooted to the bottom of a river resisting the flow of the water until a flood finally pushes us along ...

(image credit: Glenn Scofield Williams, May2008, from Flickr CC)

or do we learn now how to read the current the best we can and take advantage of the flow to create a truly exciting ride?

(Image credit: Steve Collis, Oct 2009, in Flickr CC)

We can take a 'wait and see attitude' or become active participants in determining what education looks like 10, 20, or even 50 years from now.

Today's issue of Mindshift-- Turning Static Text into Interactive Discussions -- provides links to two interesting online learning courses: BioFundamentals by University of Colorado biology professor Michael Klymkowsky and Chemistry, Life, the Universe, and Everything by Melanie Cooper at Clemson University. They are using a new free tool called Highlighter to provide students with a way to interact on the course site and also collect feedback to guide further teaching/learning.

(I've installed Highlighter on this blog. Try it, and send me some feedback. If you see a toolbar at the top, clicking the arrows at the right will make it recede.)

Highlighter from Highlighter on Vimeo.

There is lots that could be done to make these examples even more student-friendly, but these educators are clearly trying to come up with workable solutions to the problem of how to improve the teaching/learning of science at the post-secondary level while at the same time coping with severe constraints such as funding cutbacks, huge classes (200-1500 in some places!!!), and the durability of old paradigms:
The recent emphasis on the science education system is based in large part on the perceived need to broaden the appeal of science and deepen appreciation for the scientific approach’s value when thinking about a wide range of phenomena. While the current system is demonstrably adequate for those who succeed in it, it actively discourages the majority of students. All too often, the function of a science or math course is perceived by students (and, sadly, by some faculty) as a sorting mechanism rather than an opportunity to learn (and teach). This is a perception that can lead to the loss of important contributions and talent as well as misunderstanding of and hostility toward science within the broader community.

While higher ed teachers have lots of technology and content expertise, they're in the process of learning how to be better teachers.

This way of thinking about the teaching/learning interaction may seem pretty fundamental to us K-12 folk, but the solutions the higher ed folk are coming up with: 'demand' lectures; collecting data on the fly so you start a class knowing what needs to be reviewed/retaught; just-in-time-teaching; paying more attention to the flow-through from pre-class, to in-class, and then post-class learning so it all contributes to student's shouldering more of the responsibility for creating the quality of their learning -- these are processes we need to look at more closely.

Blended learning is new at the K-12 level, but it's going to put a lot of pressure on how we do our work. In my former district, the e-learning division is growing at an unprecedented rate, and you can be sure that if the educational decision makers see it saving money and working reasonably well in the largest school district in my province, they will be pushing other regions to make more use of remote learning. More and more classroom teachers will soon feel the competion from this cheaper delivery model, and we'd better have something very special going on in our learning environments to set our work apart and keep our services essential.

At its heart, science works as a highly interactive community. At the same time, it is possible for a single person to challenge and change accepted scientific understanding. That is not to say that it is easy to change the way scientists think; after all, most challenges to well established theories are wrong, and it is generally a waste of time to think about them seriously. That means that a new way of looking at a phenomena must be clearly superior, both in terms of accuracy and explanatory power, to the ideas that it wishes to displace. It must explain more than the old ideas, and it must resolve problems that an old idea was unable to adequately explain. It is this tension between consensus, conflict and resolution that drives scientific understanding forward, so that, in the end, more and more phenomena become explicable. Through its fundamental ability to accept change, science has come to provide the practical knowledge needed to manipulate and understand the material world.

If you replace the words 'science' and 'scientist' with 'education' and 'educators', this statement could become an interesting template for educational change.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Popplet Mind Maps

I was getting to ready to work on another post about a great presentation on blended learning that I watched yesterday. I want to compare what was 'old school' (for us K-12ers -- this was for "higher" ed.) to what is really different, but that's a story for another day. Anyway, as usual, I started looking through Google and stopped at Go2Web20 (tag:mindmap).

(click any pic)

I love this search engine. The tagging system is superb, and the blog makes for an interesting reading. The general categories are quite broad to help you see how companies are thinking outside traditional uses of familiar processes. But it's so easy to get sucked into wonderful distractions, that you might not get your work done in a timely fashion. I spent quite a lot of time with Creaza and Trail Me.)

The tool I want to write about today is Popplet which is a collaborative online tool with an iPad app ('lite' vs is free, full-featured is kind of pricey at $4.99).

Other bloggers describe this as a pumped up version of Wallwisher (see Larry Felazzo's blog) because it's a kid-friendly way to collect, bookmark, and organise information, ideas, websites, and media. You can connect Popplets, embed them, and export or print them. Users have to register, but if you have a class gmail account, you can give the students access without their having to put their own information online. I keep the email account name and password the same to make it easy to remember. This is also a great way to control their content.) It will look great on a SmartBoard and there's a little bookmarklet tool for your toolbar so as you come across content that will work with a presentation, you can update the appropriate popplet.

This tool is one I'll be adding to the list people can play with at my workshops.


BTW -- I also came across Mark Warner's collaborative presentation for uses of WallWisher. I'm sure the ideas can be used with Popplet as well. Enjoy!

Hey! I just figured out how to reduce this presentation to fit in the small display space provided in this blog. Simply cutting the width (to 400 for this blog) and height (proportionally either by estimate or using a ratio -- great math lesson!!!!) in the HTML code, cut off a big chunk of the Google Doc, but reducing with the 'amp' (whatever that is) to .75 as well did the trick. Hmmmm ... there's a lot to be said for trial and error learning when you have the time to play and an environment where there's immediate feeback!