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 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 Mary Patterson
If we consider the constructionist and constructivist pedagogical ideas of Seymour Papert and Jean Piaget, how is all this technology helping students construct meaning? And more importantly, how can technology help us do it better?
Learning scientists are partnering with technology experts and teachers to answer these questions. Current trends in Cyberlearning include research on games and virtual worlds, data visualization tools, collaborative learning environments, intelligent tutors, augmented reality and immersive environments, embodied multimodal learning, learning analytics,
adaptive learning and more.
For instance, PIs: Karl Ola Ahlqvist, Andrew Heckler, Rajiv Ramnath of Ohio State University are exploring the idea of using online map games to generate critical thinking and impact learning about a far-away place in a tool they call, GeoGames.
The Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning provides a peek into the future with projects highlighted on their page http://circlcenter.org/projects/
What are YOU curious about? What learning questions do YOU need answered that would give you better insight into how students learn? What technology do you WISH existed right now?
Imagine turning your classroom into a planetary system or a town above an aquifer. Researchers, Thomas Moher, Tanya Berger-Wolf, Leilah Lyons, Joel Brown, Brian Reiser, from the University of Illinois at Chicago in a project titled,” Using Technologies to Engage Learners in the Scientific Practices of Investigating Rich Behavioral and Ecological Questions,” use dynamic phenomena that are imagined to be “embedded” in the physical space of the classroom, made accessible through stationary or mobile “portals” (tablet and laptop computers, large displays, etc.) and provide continuous location-specific visualization of the phenomenon. Students collectively observe, manipulate, and chronicle the embedded phenomenon, and construct models to reflect their understandings.
In Massachusetts and Virginia, researchers, Charles Xie of the Concord Consortium and Jennifer Chiu from the University of Virginia are helping students see science concepts in action in the real world, by developing mixed-reality technologies that augment hands-on laboratory activities with sensor-driven computer simulations in a project called, Mixed Reality Labs: Integrating Sensors and Simulations to Improve Learning.
As teachers, we are often the receivers of technology systems and learning theories. Wouldn’t it be great to have a hand in the design of these things based on what we experience each day? Let’s start this conversation!
Teachers, what do YOU need from technology and learning sciences?
PLEASE SEND IN YOUR COMMENTS!