By Karen Snedeker
Presently, I teach math and technology at San Lorenzo Valley Middle School. We are a small district in the big redwoods North of Santa Cruz, California. I have a diverse background including teaching Social Science, Language Arts, computer technology and math to students ranging from 6th grade through high school, including many years in alternative and continuation high school in Orange County. This summer, I am working as a Teacher in Residence at SRI International with the CIRCL team through an Ignited Summer Fellowship.
I let myself get lost in all the topics within the Digital Promise Blog. Wow, what a find! The articles featured on the main page grid fascinating. They have a wonderful search drop down menu that I started searching for my own interests -- then with other coworkers and students in mind -- time just slipped away like a summer sunset. Honestly, I rarely come across a website that has something for everyone in the profession of education: researchers, administrators, librarians, teachers, even students. Each article leads off with an eye-catching photo, recent date, title, and a brief description. Just one click opens graphs, photos, or videos embedded throughout the text which illustrates key points. Most articles interview students and educators at various schools who share their experience on the specific topic. There are no pop-up advertisements to distract or interrupt the reader; rather the sidebar suggests related links and articles to keep the learning journey progressing as long as the reader's time allows.
As a technology teacher, I am constantly on the lookout for contemporary topics for my students to research and then post their opinions in our class; I promise that Digital Promise blog is an inspiring site to spark anyone’s interest because most blogs include student testimonies. At the end of each article, readers are invited to leave a comment or email address to receive future updates. You can click “search this site” at the top and “start typing” your topic. Or alternatively, you can browse the categories and see topics specific to a specific audience. For example, I might have my students look at the blogs that are categorized for the "Student Audience" to research a specific subject such as math or science. Students can browse suggested articles relevant to them including “What Causes Mind Blanks During Exams?” a weakness that often prevents quality students from being successful in traditional education.
360 Filmmakers Challenge using VR might spark an interest with teen intrigued by creating with advanced media. Another topic that combines leadership development and the ever growing need to address technical issues on a school campus is how “Students take the lead with technology in their school.” After reading this article, fellow CIRCLEducator blog contributor Sarah Hampton commented, “Authentic school need + students learning valuable skills = win-win” As an educator, I may direct students on a specific topic, yet my joy will be to see what each individual discovers on his/her own time within the safe and inspiring environment that the Digital Promise Blog resides. The next step may be to motivate students to develop their own blog through research and writing about interesting topics in a similar style discussed by Digital Promise (as in 360 Filmmakers Challenge Stories: “Breaking Barriers”).
Our district is considering transforming some of our library space into a Makerspace. I searched Digital Promise “Categories” and found 20 articles on "Maker Learning" and 9 under “Makerspaces” that focus on research that will be of interest to my school librarian. I read several articles including How a Middle School Library Promotes Maker Learning for All Students that features a video interviewing both students and adults from Greer, South Carolina. I adore this quote from the article, "I also noted the shift from students as consumers to students creating information and ideas. I think it’s fascinating how libraries are iterating from merely being repositories of information to incubators of creativity and making." The video enhances the article as well as inspires the reader to want to integrate a Makerspace within their own school. A Primer on Maker Learning: Agency and “A Primer on Maker Learning and How You Can Get Involved” both include Maker language, school examples, and valuable links, including how to sign up for the Nationwide “MakerPromise.org” for schools that ready to make the commitment and discover valuable resources and information. Since MakerSpace is a recent trend across our nation, the Digital Promise Blog post can help districts, administrators, librarians, teachers, students, and those involved with the physical and cognitive shift necessary to integrate effective MakerSpace into the core of their school.
I also searched in the domains of mathematics and science and found some nice things, but I will save those for later. After pre-reading this article, Rebecca Doty, teacher at San Lorenzo Valley Middle School noted, “It definitely got me looking at Digital Promise. It does seem like a great resource that I could also get lost in for hours...or days.”
I look forward to spending more time within Digital Promise and will definitely share this online resource with others in my school district as well as have my students discover some exciting topics to spark their own sense of learning. Leave me a comment and let me know if you spend some time with the Digital Promise site and what you find that you like!
By Judi Fusco
Today, for something completely different, I include snippets from conversations with Katie Hong, an administrator in a large school district in a school-wide Title 1 middle school. Katie is also a doctoral student pursuing her Ed.D. in the Pepperdine EDLT program.
One of the first things Katie told me was how Keith Sawyer got it right when he said, “Many teachers spend their entire careers mastering the skills required to manage an instructionist classroom, and they understandably have trouble envisioning a different kind of school” (Sawyer, 2014 p. 3). Teachers are told to implement Common Core Standards with student-driven learning, emphasizing collaboration, but they have not been equipped to implement or facilitate constructivist methods in their classroom. Another issue compounding the problem is administrators. Administrators often evaluate teachers based on the instructionist view. As they evaluate, they convey to the teacher how they want to see traditional classroom practices. When Katie was a young teacher, she did student-driven, collaborative lessons; she had one on Mesopotamia where the students were working together exploring the role of irrigation and how it impacted the growth of civilization. Her principal walked in to evaluate her and was a little miffed because the class wasn’t quiet. He told her he’d come back when she was “teaching,” as he couldn’t do an evaluation on her with her students so off-task.
Administrators have huge power over teachers, and teachers often continue to focus on the traditional classroom practices because they want to please their administrator, receive an effective evaluation, and be viewed as an effective teacher by their colleagues. Administrators aren’t completely to blame. as there aren’t good evaluation instruments or tools to help them evaluate constructivist methods or classes doing cooperative learning. Also, many administrators lack sufficient knowledge about student-driven methods and collaboration.
As Katie and I have continued talking, she has made many observations that have stayed with me. She spoke about how an ideal teacher evaluation should involve much more time than it’s given. Often there’s only time for one classroom visit with a pre- and post- meeting, but it would be better to have visits on a continuous basis throughout the year. She told me that she, as an administrator, would like to observe teachers facilitating student-driven lessons, but teachers often don’t use student-driven lessons on days she’s evaluating them unless she specifically asks them to in their pre-meeting. She also wishes she could have tools to help her understand what is happening more quickly when she walks into a classroom where students are collaborating. When there are a lot of groups, it can be hard to understand and evaluate what is occurring. And the forms she has to use for evaluation often involve a lot of answering of questions that may not capture the most important details. For her own research, she’s interested in thinking about how to help administrators evaluate a constructivist classroom effectively. She said, “I want to see the interaction with the students and teacher and how the teacher facilitates--that would be my ideal observation. I learn so much more when I talk to the students. I want to see if they can synthesize material and apply it. I know the teacher knows the material. I don’t need to see them lecture. I want to observe what the students have learned and understand.”
Thanks for the important perspective, Katie. We’ll have more of your thoughts on student-driven learning in another post, soon. Administrators and teachers, what are your thoughts about teacher evaluations and student-driven learning? What do you need to be successful? If you teach teachers, do you talk with them about the topics covered in this blog post? Cyberlearning researchers, can we help Katie with some new tools for evaluation of student-driven collaboration?
Sawyer, R.K. (2014) Introduction: The new science of learning. In: Sawyer R. K. (ed.) Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences. Second edition. Cambridge University Press, New York: 1-18.