By Sarah Hampton
From STEM programs to one-to-one device campaigns, we hear a lot about the importance of technology in the classroom. Like most initiatives, this is for good reason! We live in the digital age, and producing students who can responsibly and productively use the numerous technologies at their disposal is a crucial 21st century skill. Also like most initiatives, our tendency might be to view technology use as a bothersome requirement handed down by well-meaning administrators. When we approach anything with this attitude (read: the oft-dreaded professional development), we miss out on the spirit of the requirement. In this case, that means implementing technology in ways that genuinely improve student learning or enhance classroom organization and workflow. In this series of posts, I will share my favorite tech tools for streamlining my middle school classroom and promoting student learning. Let’s start with Google Drive, one of my favorite student-centered learning tools.
Technology is useful when it allows you to do something you can’t do with a whiteboard and markers, or when it allows you to do something better or faster. Google Drive frequently allows me to do both. You probably already know that Google Docs is a powerful collaborative writing tool. Multiple studies have found that web-based collaborative activities, done well, can promote learning outcomes, teamwork, social skills, and basic computing skills among students (Zhou, Simpson, & Domizi, 2012, pg. 359-360). In addition, I love how easy it is to give comments in Google Docs and how easy it is for students to work together. If you haven’t incorporated it yet, then make a class writing project a priority. Here is one example. If you are already a Google Docs pro, then check into using Slides or Forms. Our school frequently uses Forms for quick polls and surveys. Google Sheets is also a must have, particularly for math and science teachers. I would like to demonstrate how powerful this app can be by sharing how it helped me create one of my best lessons this year for middle school algebra (my class included mixed ages of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Algebra 1 students).
After watching the Olympics this summer, I started to wonder why some countries seemed to do better than others. I posed that question to my students and we brainstormed two main categories that we thought might correlate with a country’s Olympic performance: population (greater probability that gifted athletes live there) and per capita income (more opportunities for athletes to practice and/or have access to high quality facilities and equipment.) I had each student pick three to five countries, research their populations, per capita incomes, and total medal counts in the past four summer Olympics, and add their information to the class spreadsheet. Then, in groups, they created a scatterplot for their assigned factor and analyzed the data using linear regressions to see which factors more highly correlated with Olympic performance. If you want more specifics or want to see the results, then check out our class spreadsheet. You can also find instructions for a similar project at Mathalicious.
This project was organically cross-curricular and addressed multiple algebra standards by necessity. It incorporated geography, because the students placed push pins in their countries on a giant world map, and economics, because they wondered why some countries’ per capita incomes were very high or very low. It gave meaning to population density when the students saw the size of a country on the map and then noted its population on the bar graph. (Iraq and Canada have similar populations? But Canada is soooo much bigger!) It increased number sense when they created bar graphs, scatterplots, and histograms and realized that some of the values were literally off the charts--like the per capita income of Monaco (which presented the perfect opportunity for me to introduce vocabulary like “outlier.”) Astonished, students were naturally curious enough to research why. This led to lessons on digital literacy as we discussed how to appropriately locate, evaluate, and use information from the internet, a skill that is frequently overestimated in today’s students according to a study commissioned by the British Library and JISC (University College London, 2008).
The students really got into this project and even asked to do an extension! They hypothesized that countries with lower average temperatures would perform better in the winter Olympics, so, of course, we analyzed that, too. This matches perfectly with the International Society for Technology and Education’s claim that, “When students take responsibility for their own learning, they become explorers capable of leveraging their curiosity to solve real-world problems” (ISTE, 2017).
As it turns out, we weren’t the only people to look at what factors affect Olympic performance. After the project, my students found two websites that helped explain things further. The first was written by an economics doctoral student and the second by a senior editor at The Atlantic. (Bian 2005, O'Brien 2012) The other sites concluded that the same factors we studied were major contributors, and their charts and methods remarkably resembled our own, albeit with some more advanced statistics in the case of the doctoral student’s article. My students’ excited comments indicated that they felt validated in their reasoning and felt that they were doing “real math.”
This project hit the sweet spot: students were engaged in deep and relevant learning, and Google Sheets significantly contributed to its effectiveness.
How have you used Google Drive to create more student-centered environments? What outcomes did you see when you used them? Did anything (good or bad) surprise you? I would love to learn from your experiences by reading your comments!
Students proudly displayed their results in the hallway outside our classroom.
Citations and Further Reading
Bian, X. (2005). Predicting Olympic Medal Counts: the Effects of Economic Development on Olympic Performance. The Park Place Economist, 13(1), 37-44. Available at: https://www.iwu.edu/economics/PPE13/bian.pdf
International Society for Technology and Education. (2017). Essential Conditions: Student-Centered Learning. Available at: http://www.iste.org/standards/tools-resources/essential-conditions/student-centered-learning
Mathalicious. (2017). Hitting the Slopes. Available at: http://www.mathalicious.com/lessons/hitting-the-slopes
National Writing Project. (2017). Directions for Teachers Participating in Letters to the Next President: Writing Our Future. Available at: http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/doc/nwpsites/writing_our_future/directions.csp
O’Brien, M. (2012). Medal-Count Economics: What Factors Explain the Olympics' Biggest Winners? The Atlantic. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/08/medal-count-economics-what-factors-explain-the-olympics-biggest-winners/260951/
University College London. (2008). Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future. Available at: https://www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20140614113419/http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/reppres/gg_final_keynote_11012008.pdf
Zhou, W., Simpson, E., & Domizi, D.P. (2012). Google Docs in an Out-of-Class Collaborative Writing Activity. Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 24(3), 359-375. Available at: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1000688.pdf
By Sarah Hampton
Sarah Hampton teaches middle school math and science at Sullins Academy in Southwest Virginia. She has ten years of teaching experience in various disciplines and settings.
Over the last sixty years, thousands of articles have looked at whether or not constructivism works. I wanted to understand the research, but it was overwhelming. However, thanks to advances in technology and fancy statistics, researchers can analyze aggregate data on the subject. After reading multiple articles and three meta-analyses (an analysis that aggregates data and allows you to look across many studies) specifically regarding science education and constructivism, two things became apparent. First, it is extremely difficult to show an impact of instructional strategies on student learning outcomes! Out of 1500 studies in one analysis, only six of the studies met the criteria that allow causal inferences to be made (Furtak, Seidel, Iverson, & Briggs, 2009, p. 27). Second, despite that difficulty, the evidence favors constructivism. The conclusions from all three meta-analyses demonstrated statistically significant positive effects of constructivist practices on student learning. So, if we know constructivism is good for our students, then why do we not see more of it in action? To hit a little closer to home, if I know these are good practices, then why am I not doing more of them? I think there are some legitimate obstacles. Here are my top three:
Obstacle 1: The time it takes to find or create relevant, quality tasks
The number of daily teaching requirements and professional demands apart from planning are enough to fill our workday! Planning inquiry instruction is extremely time-consuming because you have to sort through all of the activities that aren’t that great or don’t apply to your subject or grade level. Half the time I end up creating my own from scratch, which is also a time drain. In contrast, planning for direct instruction is a snap. Decide what you want to cover and write down the topic in your lesson plans. Done. As a result, to save time, we often revert to direct instruction (otherwise we cut into our family time to plan).
Proposed Solution A: Find a resource that produces quality learner-centered, constructivist materials and start there. For math, I use http://www.mathalicious.com/ and https://illuminations.nctm.org/. Both allow you to filter by topic and grade level, which saves additional time. For science, I like http://www.middleschoolchemistry.com/.
Proposed Solution B: Try to view the time spent on finding quality materials as a necessary startup cost. If you like them, then you can recycle them year to year. In addition, Berland, Baker, and Blikstein argued that constructivism can actually save time when fully implemented by enhancing “classroom dynamics that may streamline class preparation (e.g., peer teaching or peer feedback)” (Berland, Baker, & Blikstein, 2014).
Obstacle 2: The instructional time it requires to implement meaningful tasks
I don’t know about you, but I start my year feeling behind! There just doesn’t seem to be enough time for my students to deeply comprehend the required algebra or physical science concepts as dictated by state and national standards within the given time frame. When we allow the pressure of the standards and test to dictate our instructional practices, we begin to look for the fastest possible way to disseminate information, and direct instruction is efficient--we just tell them what it is we want them to know. However, efficient is only efficient if it is also genuinely effective.
Proposed Solution: Try to see beyond the standards and the test. D.F. Halpern expressed concern about our preoccupation with these and said, “We only care about student performance in school because we believe that it predicts what students will remember and do when they are somewhere else at some other time. Yet we often teach and test as though the underlying rationale for education were to improve student performance in school. As a consequence, we rarely assess student learning in the context or at the time for which we are teaching” (Halpern & Hakel, 2003, p. 38).
I am not a teacher because I want my students to pass a test. I am a teacher because I want my students to excel in life. Constructivist practices require students to think critically and creatively, innovatively problem solve, collaborate, and communicate--therefore preparing students for the test and beyond. As Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, and Chinn (2007) argued, “This evidence suggests that these approaches can foster deep and meaningful learning as well as significant gains in student achievement on standardized tests” (p. 99). I suspect the greatest benefits of constructivism are immeasurable and consequently undocumented and marginalized. I would love to know the impact on long-term retention, higher order thinking, lifelong learning, and employer satisfaction.
Obstacle 3: The difficulty of meshing inquiry and explicit instruction
I want my students to do the work of the learning, so it doesn’t seem like inquiry if I’m leading the discussion. But sometimes whole group instruction makes the most sense for the instructional goal.
Proposed Solution: Adjust your understanding: constructivism does not preclude explicit instruction. You are probably engaged in more constructivism during whole group instruction than you think. Simple strategies like accountable talk and purposeful questioning lead to minds-on learning even when students aren’t engaged in hands-on learning (Goldman, 2014). Constructivism is often equated with minimally guided instruction, but they are not synonymous. In fact, “most proponents of IL (inquiry learning, a type of constructivism) are in favor of structured guidance in an environment that affords choice, hands-on and minds-on experiences, and rich student collaborations” (Hmelo-Silver et al., 2007, p. 104, emphasis added).
The goal of constructivism is for our students to actively construct meaning for new information rather than passively accepting our word for it. Since we can create opportunities for our students to do this in multiple ways, we should focus on the culture of constructivism rather than the day to day teaching methods we use to maintain that culture.
In conclusion, constructivism isn’t easy, but it is necessary to help students learn. It’s worth finding a way to overcome the obstacles. If you are interested in reading more about why, then please see below for a complete list of the works I cited and consulted. Don’t forget to leave your own comments - I would love to hear your obstacles and solutions, too!
Citations and Further Reading
Alfieri, L., Brooks, P. J., Aldrich, N. & Tenenbaum H. R. (2011). Does discovery-based instruction enhance learning? Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(1), 1-18.
Available at: http://www.cideronline.org/podcasts/pdf/1.pdf
Berland, M., Baker, R. S., & Blikstein, P. (2014). Educational data mining and learning analytics:
Applications to constructionist research. Technology, Knowledge and Learning, 19(1-2),
Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/41c0/0af6ce63b919530ea691d058e8725d33d901.pdf
Furtak, E. M., Seidel, T., Iverson, H., & Briggs, D. (2009). Recent experimental studies of
inquiry-based teaching: a meta-analysis and review, European Association for
Research on Learning and Instruction, Amsterdam, Netherlands, August 25-29, 2009.
Available at: http://spot.colorado.edu/~furtake/Furtak_et_al_EARLI2009_Meta-Analysis.pdf
Goldman, P. (2014, January 22). #2. What is Accountable Talk®? Institute for Learning
Available at: http://ifl.pitt.edu/index.php/educator_resources/accountable_talk/podcasts/2
Halpern, D. F. & Hakel, M. D. (2003). Applying the science of learning to the university and
beyond: teaching for long-term retention and transfer. Change, July/August 2003,
Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Duncan, R. G. & Chinn, C. A. (2007). Scaffolding and achievement in
problem-based and inquiry learning: a response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark
(2006). Educational Psychologist, 42(2), 99-107.
Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction
does not work: an analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based,
experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75-86.
Available at: http://cogtech.usc.edu/publications/kirschner_Sweller_Clark.pdf
Lang, Albert. (2010). Executives Say the 21st Century Requires More Skilled Workers.
Minner, D. D., Levy, A. J., & Century, J. (2010). Inquiry-based science instruction - what is it
and does it matter? Results from a research synthesis years 1984 to 2002. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(4), 474-496.
Schroeder, C. M., Scott, T. P., Tolson, H., Huang, T., & Lee, Y. (2007). A meta-analysis of
national research: Effects of teaching strategies on student achievement in science
in the United States. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(10), 1436-1460.
Available at: http://cudc.uqam.ca/publication/ref/12context.pdf
Shah, I. & Rahat, T. (2014). Effect of activity based teaching method in science. International
Journal of Humanities and Management Sciences, 2(1), 39-41. Retrieved from
Stohr-Hunt, P. M. (1996). An analysis of frequency of hands-on experience and science
achievement. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 33(1), 101-109.
Available at: https://vista.gmu.edu/assets/docs/vista/JournalOfResearch.pdf
Windschitl, M. (1999). The challenges of sustaining a constructivist classroom culture. Phi
Delta Kappan, 80(10), 751-756.
Available at: http://www-tc.pbs.org/teacherline/courses/inst335/docs/inst335_windschitl.pdf?cc=tlredir
By Judi Fusco
Active Learning Day is Today, October 25! What are you doing for it? What will active learning look like in your classroom? In active learning, students work on meaningful problems and activities to help them construct their learning. This includes inquiry activities, discussion and argumentation, making, solving problems, design, and questions.
Last month, we had the pleasure of helping organize the Active Learning in STEM Education Symposium, sponsored by NSF as part of the activities honoring the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching awardees. The keynote speaker, Bill Penuel, focused on “talk” -- particularly “accountable talk” -- as an important activity to support Active Learning.
If you want to know more about accountable talk, take a look at the Talk Science Primer by TERC. There are many great tips for teachers of all subjects in there. For Math Classrooms, here’s a link discussing Creating Math Talk Communities. For general information about it see ASCD's Procedures for Classroom Talk.
In the Active Learning in STEM Education Symposium, one of the presenters, Joe Krajcik, discussed Interactions, a curriculum aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) to make science an active endeavor in a classroom. (Visit the Interactions project page and click on the curriculum tab to learn more.) Language and talk are essential in NGSS. You may want to check out the videos on the NSTA site where you can see what NGSS looks like in action. You can also see what NGSS looks like in a 4th grade Science Classroom; this video was shown in the Active Learning Day in STEM symposium by Okhee Lee as she discussed NGSS for all Students including English Learners.
Other presentations at the symposium included Jennifer Knudsen on Bridging Professional Development and the idea of using Improv in a Math class, Eric Hamilton on collaborating with a cyber-ensemble of tools, Tamara Moore on using mathematical modeling to engage learners in meaningful problem solving skills, David Webb on AgentCubes as active learning, and Nichole Pinkard on Digital Youth Divas and making eCards to learn about circuitry. (See links to the presentations of all the speakers on the site. )
Active Learning Day is officially today, but there’s no reason why you can’t do more in your classroom at any time. Leave a comment and tell us about what active learning looks like in your classroom!