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
One of the topics we learned about at Cyberlearning 2017 was the brain. Cyberlearning researchers are not typically neuroscientists. Many cyberlearning researchers are learning scientists, but there is a gap between neuroscience and the learning sciences. As we planned Cyberlearning 2017, we decided to try and address this gap so we invited Mary Helen Immordino Yang, a social-affective neuroscientist to give one of the keynotes. In this post, I’m going to introduce one of the topics she talked about and give you the link to her talk.
In much of the work we do in helping people learn, we’re trying to make sure they are engaged in a task and paying full attention to it. However, as with most things, there’s another side to consider. Neuroscientists have discovered that the brain has a “default mode” that takes over and is active when the mind is wandering. This default mode network (DMN), that takes over when a person looks like they are engaging in off-task behavior, may be important for social emotional well-being, and it may serve to help “recharge” the brain for better focus in attending to tasks.
I’m grossly oversimplifying, but as we learn more about the DMN, we may need to consider the importance of downtime in the design of learning environments so that brains can work really well. Our brains are never idle and some of what they do when we look off-task might involve using our imagination to help us plan or think about what we are learning and better relate it to ourselves. Mary Helen Immordino Yang calls what is happening when the DMN is active “constructive internal reflection.”
While we know that it’s important to pay attention during tasks, without time in default mode, it may not be possible to focus as well as we should; it may not be possible to really internalize and personalize learning without this network. “Off-task” time may be key to deep learning. Of course, there is much work to be done to understand the balance needed between time for activities requiring focus and attention and time for the DMN.
Below is the Cyberlearning 2017 Keynote by Mary Helen Immordino Yang.
Here are some additional readings if you’re interested:
Why we shouldn't worry about our wandering minds
Rest is not idleness an article by Mary Helen Immordino Yang
Why your brain needs more downtime
I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions as you look at this research. I’ll be looking more at neuroscience, emotion, and learning in future blog posts. Please let me know if there are things you’d like to think about or questions you have.
By Sarah Hampton
On the personality spectrum, I tend to be what people colloquially refer to as “Type A.” In my experience, the majority of teachers tend toward this personality predisposition. It can be very beneficial in teaching, but it can also be detrimental if we allow our own tendencies and preferences to become the measuring stick for student performance instead of objective criteria. Type A personalities may dominate the teaching profession, but our students are all over the spectrum, and just because they may do things differently, their strategies are not necessarily inferior.
Reminding myself to differentiate between subjective preference and objective quality has helped me value multiple student strategies in everything from keeping up with homework assignments to designing science experiments. We are individuals. One size almost never fits all. When we give students permission to get out of the box of a one-size-fits-all mentality, they can each confidently bring a different perspective to the table. Sometimes, everyone’s method is equally valuable; sometimes, one emerges as more effective or efficient. Learning to collaborate, defend ideas, and evaluate the reasoning of self and others is extremely valuable in the classroom and beyond, and we can intentionally develop these skills by restructuring our classrooms away from a culture in which the instructor hands the “correct” strategy down to the students toward a culture in which students are actively engaged in strategy design and evaluation.
Kara Suzuka, Tim Boerst, and Aileen Kennison from the University of Michigan understand this, and they have designed excellent research-based professional development for elementary school math teachers to promote this line of reasoning. I recently discovered their work when browsing the 2017 Stem For All Video Showcase sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The team highlights key differences between being able to do elementary level math and being able to teach math at the elementary level. One of these important differences is recognizing and encouraging multiple student strategies. Their work supports what I have observed while tutoring and teaching math over 15 years.
When I first started tutoring, I would basically teach students to replicate the process that I used to answer the question. In other words, I tried to put the students in my box. However, I noticed that, even when the students could use my procedure to arrive at a correct answer, they really didn’t understand what they were doing or why they were doing it. In other words, it wasn’t building number sense. Even more unfortunately, I was also inadvertently communicating to the students that there is only one correct way to do math, and that way must be affirmed by me, the instructor. When students repeatedly learn math that way, it is hard to convince them of the truth--there are multiple, valid algorithms for solving problems that students themselves should be able to create, verbalize, defend, and assess for efficiency. Now, I seek to recognize the value in each student method, allow them to present their thinking, and let them prove whether or not it will work every time. In other words, I give them permission to get out of the box. This better style of instruction satisfies every single one of the Mathematics Teaching Practices recommended by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics:
I love knowing there are people like Kara, Tim, and Aileen who are working to shift the paradigm of mathematics instruction away from replicating processes to supporting individual student strategies. We can't teach students every process for every problem type they will ever encounter. But we can teach students to think, create, and evaluate their own processes. Kudos to the team at the University of Michigan for recognizing the need to teach outside of the box and for offering a promising solution. I look forward to reading the final results of their research.