Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Habits of the Mind and Heart

This week I read an article titled, "Habits of Mind," that it sent me on a chase to track down the original list from Costa and Kallick. Here is the link. Interesting stuff.

But as I'm reading this list I started noticing the similarities with the list and with the virtues we use in our classrooms here, and thought about taking a stab at adapting the list for a school using the Virtues Project material and keeping things consistent for those involved.

1. Practicing Perseverance

Don't give up easily. Analyze a problem, develop a system, structure, or strategy to attack a problem.

2. Live Intentionally with Idealism

Think before you act. Intentionally form a vision of a product, plan of action, goal or a destination before they begin.

3. Listening with Understanding

Listening is the beginning of understanding..... To empathize with, and to understand their point of view.

4. Think with Flexibility

Flexible people are the ones with the most control. They have the capacity to change their mind as they receive additional data.

5. Commitment to Thinking About our Thinking (Metacognition)

Metacognition is our ability to know what we know and what we don't know. Plan a strategy before embarking on a course of action.

6. Striving For Excellence

The desire for craftsmanship, mastery, flawlessness and economy of energy to produce exceptional results.

7. Questioning and Posing Problems with Assertiveness

Effective problem solvers know how to ask questions to fill in the gaps between what they know and what they don't know.

8. Applying Past Knowledge with Wisdom

Intelligent human beings learn from experience.

9. Thinking and Communicating with Truthfulness

Support your statements with explanations, comparisons, quantification, and evidence.

10. Gathering Data with Tact and Integrity

Intelligent people know that all information gets into the brain through the sensory pathways: gustatory, olfactory, tactile, kinesthetic, auditory, visual, most linguistic, cultural.

11. Imagining Solutions with Creativity

Creative human beings try to conceive problem solutions differently, examining alternative possibilities from many angles.

12. Responding with Wonderment and Awe

Creative thinkers who have a passion for what they do. "I CAN" attitude, but also an "I ENJOY" feeling.

13. Taking Risks with Responsibility

The urge to go beyond established limits. Risk takers seem compelled to place themselves in situations where they do not know what the outcome will be,

14. Engaging in Gentle Humor

People who engage in the mystery of humor have the ability to perceive situations from an original and often interesting vantage point.

15. Work in Unity and Cooperation

Cooperative humans realize that all of us together are more powerful, intellectually and/or physically, than any one individual

16 Learning with Purposefulness and Enthusiasm

Intelligent people are in a continuous learning mode.. People with this Habit of Mind are always striving for improvement, always growing, always learning, always modifying and improving themselves.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Effective Management of Project-Based Learning

I have seen more projects fail than I care to recall. We often make the assumption that equates teaching with management. They are not synonymous. A teacher may know how to teach, but not facilitate. Also, a facilitator may not be able to teach effectively either, but can encourage a group to do wonders.

But saying this doesn`t let anyone of the hook just yet. A teacher can still learn to be a good facilitator that manages projects effectively. He or she may not be a great facilitator like those we see in some classrooms, who are naturally gifted, but we can all become good effective facilitators of project-based learning in the classrooms with a little effort and a good attitude (something, I might add, we expects from the students).

Here are seven areas that need to be considered when developing a project for the classroom. To make it practical, let`s use the Water Quality Project designed for grade ten science. I`ve included the wikispace address for referencing.

1) Orient - I`ve seen teachers sometimes randomly throw out an assignment to students and let them flounder around trying to figure things out without any preparation or guidance about a topic. That is incredibly frustrating for students. I`ve taken courses during my graduate and post-graduate studies that were designed the same way. Students were overwhelmned and frustrated, and some eventually gave up. It is so important to orient students about the topic. So with regard to the Water Quality study, students need to have discussions about water. What is so important about water? What do they know about water? Mindmap this with Bubbl.us with a data projector so students can watch it grow. Make sure that students have a good grasp about the water issues. On the wikispace site, there a few videos that explain the concern about water to orient students about the subject.

2) Group - The second step is grouping students that you know can work together, but more importantly understand what is involved in the group work. Sit down with each group individually as they brainstorming their ideas around the driving question, which in this project case is, "What is the value of water?" As a group take them through the wikispace site and decide who is going to do what. Observe them as they organize their group and encourage them to take control of the project. As a group, they may want to create their own Ning or wiki site to collaborate their project, and even use Edmodo to communicate with each other about expectations.

3) Organize - I've already mentioned the importance of organizing, but I cannot overemphasize this point. It is so critical that there is orgranization behind what the teacher does and what the students do. At the wikispace site, everything is layed out for the students and the teachers. Each has their own section. Have the students organize their research and information. Use Diigo to keep track of website resources and for referencing later.

A big part of organizing for the teacher is ensuring that the students have a good grasp of the driving question. Has this been spelled out clearly for students to be able to know where their strating point is for their project. So make sure students really understand the project ideas that are outlined in the wikispace. When they do their interviews, make sure they keep the information organized and recorded. If they digitally record the interviews, everything needs to be filed properly. Make sure students understand the importance of the process.

4) Clarify - This is important for students to come back to the driving question and refocus. Sometimes we need to allow students an opportunity to ask those important questions that will clarify the issues they are looking at. Use the extra videos and get students to share their findings and ideas. Make sure that students are checking out the various sites that have been bookmarked for them. These are only starting points; they may find other sites.

5) Monitor and regulate - There's the expression, "A teacher's work is never done." Well, this is so important when having students working on projects. The teacher really needs to monitor students to ensure they are on task and ask questions. In addition, the teacher needs to work with the students about the timelines for when work will be completed. The Google calendar has been inserted in the wikispace for the teacher to use and put in their deadlines. Edmodo works really well to set out assignment timelines.

6) Manage - The teacher needs to stay on top of what the students are doing. With this project, some students are going to be collecting interviews, others are going to be out on the lake or river using the GPS and collecting water samples, others are going to be doing video projects. All of these require an incredible amount of assitance from other teachers and administration and coordination. You can't just wing this. So this will require a great deal of management, but it can be done, by meeting with all the players involved and assigning everyone their reponsibilities.

7) Evaluate - In end, we expect teachers to use the rubric we have included on the wikispace, but they may want to create their own on rubistar. I would also encourage group evaluations. The important piece here is what did the students learn doing this project. Do they undertstand better the value of water? Did this spur them into action and want to do something within their community about water quality?

Overall, I think this project can be a lot of fun for everyone involved, especailly when it is managed effectively. Have fun with it!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Students meeting the NETS-S

When I opened up this file this week: NETS for Students 2007, I immediately sent it to all three of my IT guys at Credenda and said, we need to put together a strategic plan to ensure that the 28 schools we provide IT services to have all these areas addressed. What a great standard not only for ensuring that the schools computer labs are adequately setup to meet these standards, but we need to make sure when we are using technology, that we meet standards that ensure learning is taking place and not just a lot of busy work.

In Saskatchewan, we use CELS's as standards for every lesson that is taught, and so there is similarities between NETS & CEL's.

The following standards can easily be met with the use of Web 2.0 tools.

1. Creativity and Innovation:

Without a doubt, I would use Animoto and Moonk as two great Web 2.0 applications for students expressing creativity and innovation. Both give students the ability to create video with ease. Animoto has one drawback that unless it is a education account, the video length is limited to one minute. But with an education account, which you can request, students can upload pictures and choose music to create amazing presentations that are fun and very professional looking.

Moonk is similar, but also adds features for slideshows and jukebox presentations that can be embedded into your blog or a social network, like MySpace. My interest in this application is how it can be used to enhance a blog. Now normally, I like to embed a video or two or some images into my blogs, it just adds some extra flare and creativity. Students need to do this as well to express themselves creatively for NETS-S.

2. Communication and Collaboration:

I've really enjoyed working with Diigo as a Web 2.0 application for collaboration. Even the logo reveals the intention of collaboration and communicating between individuals and groups in the sharing of bookmarks. Now there are other tools out there that are similar, but I really like some added features that Diigo has, such as the ability to highlight information on a given web page that a teacher wants students to notice, or to add sticky notes and write brief descriptions for students to focus in on when viewing the page. Great tool for sharing bookmarks on a particular theme with students. This is a must for collaboration for students.

3. Research and Information Fluency:

I already mentioned Wikispace in my previous blog, but a close second and maybe a better tool for sharing research information and increasing information fluency is Ning. We use Wikispace for the student and teachers project site, but we use Ning for the researchers to collaborate their data findings, and pull in the results from the wikispace project that the students post. Ning is a great web 2.0 application to facilitate this for our research project. I can see students using it as well. It has great added features to promote learning and be more than a social network. But more importantly, it's a great site for housing data and information that students can process, evaluate, write reports about the research for others in their group to view and collaborate.

4. Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making:

Another really cool site that facilitates learning and promotes the thinking is the Oracle site called ThinkQuest:Think.com. It was a toss up between this and Global Schoolnet. Both are good, and both promote the idea of using 21st Century tools to create projects for teachers and students around the world to share ideas with or work on together. These projects are not just so students can learn more about a topic, but so that they can critically think about the issues, develop solutions, and then put together action plans to make a difference. Now both of these web applications do the same, but ThinkQuest provides a nice site to house the project and use the tools that Oracle is developing for the business world.

5. Digital Citizenship:

My favorite site for promoting citizenship, which by extension, builds digital citizenship, is GoodTube. Now I realize the idea behind digital citizenship is having students communicate respectfully with one another in the digital world. We want students to be safe and behave legally online. We don't want them sharing personal information with complete strangers. But rather than focus on the negatives, I want to promote a web application called GoodTube that makes it their mission to share and post video stories that promote caring, respect, and causes that good people are working to promote. It's a great resource for teachers to use with their students to create a greater sense of helping others out and making the world a better place to live. Students can create their own digital stories and feature them here as well.

6. Technology Operations and Concepts:

The purpose of this strategy is to ensure that students are applying the various applications to learning and are transferring this learning into something practical. There is no one web 2.0 application that stands out to do this, in fact, this is where the teachers need to really focused on what the outcome is for the lesson. There are great tools out there like Bubbl.us that are great for mindmapping, or Freemind, as well. These are great tools for brainstorming the concepts with students, but I still believe that if a teacher isn't being challenged themselves to think and consider new ideas, none of these web 2.0 applications will make any difference in learning. So I need to promote my favorite site for learning, Ted.com. Absolutely a must for every teacher to spend 30 minutes a week and feed there mind with something challenging or encouraging from this website. I love the ideas that are shared at this site. I find myself fed and energized after listening to a variety of people share their ideas. Afterwards, I find myself thinking about how I can communicate the lesson I've learned to students and friends. If I want my students to be a lifelong learner, then I must be as well.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ideas for Implementing Web 2.0

Well, this week I'm going to feature three different Web 2.0 tools that can be very useful in a classroom situation. My brain is a little fried from going through numerous tools before settling on these three. I found a pdf on Scribd.com that actually listed 3000 Web 2.0 tools from www.go2web20.net. Amazing resource! So narrowing the list to three was a challenge.

But when I looked at the first category, Communication Platforms, I really liked this simple little tool that has so much potential for classrooms with limited resources called Edmodo.

The first thing I notice is how easy this tool is to use and navigate. The interface is very clean and appealing. But what is it? Edmodo calls itself a communications platform designed for educators. It's a web tool that enables teachers to communicate with students about assignments, expectations, discussion threads, and more. But what I really liked about it was the potential to use it with elementary students. I could easily see Edmodo being used with younger students with little or no explanation. It's so simple to use.

The other feature is that student privacy is totally protected and restricted. The teacher moderates all messages and discussions, so nothing gets posted that shouldn't be posted.

If I was in a traditional classroom setting, I would use Edmodo in setting up projects for my students and have this a central repository for assignments and other files. I could use this medium to communicate with the students about ideas to help them in their assignments, and also communicate deadlines. Great little tool. Check it out at www.edmodo.com.

The next tool from the Collaboration Platform that amazed me was Wikispace. Here's a video that shows you how to set up a Wiki as a teacher for your classroom.

That video is a quick overview of setting up a wiki. I remember hearing people talk about wiki's for a few years now, but really didn't pay attention. I must admit also, that the first time I looked at a wikispace, I thought it looked amateurish. In contrast, Ning and it's graphical layout had grabbed my eye with all of it's shiny presentation. But while working on our Water Quality Project on Wikispace, I was wowed! What a robust and versatile tool for bringing everything together in one place to collaborate with people around the globe. Fantastic!

Wikispace is a collection of web pages where teachers can create projects for students to share their project ideas, assignments, or findings (if they are doing research). No personal information is shared on the site, but a teacher may want to send a letter home with students just to let them know what they are doing, and invite the parents to visit the site periodically and see the work that is being done. It's a great way to engage the parents in what the their child is learning.

What really heightened my interest in Wikispace is the ability to embed so many additional tools that allow the teacher to localize the places they have to go to research topics, or access tools to use to complete their projects. I'm so impressed with the versatility of this tool. I'm now working with two other colleagues on our Wiki, and loving it. Here's the project site: Water Quality Project. I think you may get the idea after checking out our wiki.

The final tool from the Publishing Platforms that I recommend is EduBlog. There are a lot of great publishing tools like TeacherTube, Moonk, Animoto, and Voicethread, but since blogging is a such a universal tool that I would love every classroom using, I was intrigued by the a blogging tool for educational purposes.

This is a cool little video called, Why Let our Students Blog. Check it out.

Blogging to learn! A novel idea. I've used Blogger here for a couple of years; my daughter prefers Wordpress, but Edublog focuses on providing a publishing tool to teachers to use in a school setting. The interface is very easy to use. In fact, I like Edublogs ability to add video, images, and files easily. The themes available are great; far more than available with Blogger. When I looked at it from a students perspective, I found myself being able to maneuver the site with little difficulty. The help button provided numerous swf videos showing how to use the site and covering all the basic functions. This was very helpful.

Regarding parental consent, the teacher can invite all the students to join their group and thus limit access from the outside. But I still would like to have parents give consent and be made aware of what the students are doing on the site. Blogging is a great way for students to publish their work and have other students read what they said and comment on it. It gives students the ability to embed other media resources into their work.

The drawback to Edublog is the cost to open up additional features that I would think need to be available to everyone. However, there are enough features with Edublog to make it worth it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Challenges to Global PBL

I read two different articles this week about PBL; one with tremendous suggestions about embarking upon a global PBL project and some ideas that might minimize some of the cultural barriers and risks of offending people from another culture, and the other which presented two contrasting perspectives about PBL. Both present some of the challenges when implementing PBL. Here are the links: “A Teacher’s Guide to International Collaboration on the Internet: Tips for Online Collaboration” on ED.gov and “Point/Counterpoint: Is Project-based Learning Practical?” in Leading and Learning with Technology, August 2007. But before, I elaborate about some of the challenges facing global PBL, I want to show the video from TeacherTube, called What to expect in class?. What a great accounting of a teacher's experience using PBL in the classroom and the students extremely positive feedback! So before we look at the challenges, let's see the successes first.

I'm not sure of your reaction, but I was fascinated by the successes of this ordinary teacher touching the lives of students with an approach that some teachers find too difficult to try, because it's too complicated to manage the students. No one is suggesting PBL is a one stop shop that fits all learning styles. Nor are the experts suggesting that this type of learning is only aptly suited for exceptional, or gifted students either. However, the evidence clearly shows that most students, when engaged in the learning process with hands-on practical activities, the results are noticeably higher than traditional teaching strategies with the teacher standing in the front of the classroom lecturing to rows of students.

Kevin Scott states that PBL "takes more time, energy, and resources for too little payoff." He further adds that students need basic comprehension of basic skills in order to be successful in PBL. PBL, in general, is more time consuming to plan and organize, but the payoff is truly worth the effort. But the key challenge is planning. To achieve the positive results, a teacher must be very organized. It is not a matter of slapping a project together on the fly and hoping for good results. Sometimes it is this effort required that turns some teacher off from attempting to try PBL. Sad really! I agree with Kevin Scott's second point that students do need basic comprehension of basic skills, and too often teachers try too much at once in PBL and the students become overwhelmed because too much is thrown at them. The challenge is to take students through the process of implementing tools and resources gradually throughout the project, or "scaffolding" as Nancy Carswell loves to remind me. This week, I saw first hand in a presentation by Thomas Cooper, how he implements PBL with the use of Wikispaces, Google Earth, Gliffy, and StoryBoarding to teach his Expedition Lit Trips: Outdoor Culture and Technology. He outlined how he successfully takes students through the steps of understanding and using the tools while reading and journaling the books they are reading. Amazing story!

A teacher can minimize the challenges of PBL simply by planning, and methodically taking students through the process so they understand how to use the resources available to successfully complete the project. Now add the wonderful dynamic of engaging your students with students from around the world on global projects. Global projects are a wonderful tool to encourage students to learn about other cultures, customs, language, geography, and religious beliefs. All these elements pose challenges to students, especially at the risk of offending the guest classroom from the other side of the globe. This is where teachers need to do their research beforehand and inform their students about the cultural differences or whatever else is different. It is really important for students to respect those differences as well, and not judge another culture for doing things that may conflict with their own way of thinking or believing. This is great opportunity to learn the value of tolerance and diversity.

On the technological front, it is also important to note that many of these other countries have limited access to technological resources. Many of the methods of delivery we take for granted cannot be used because they simply do not have the bandwidth or quality of service from an Internet Service Provider. So tools for communicating effectively need to be considered as well. There are resources such as ePals, or Taking it Globally that are very good for connecting classrooms. In addition, LearnCentral is great site for providing access to ElluminateLive for global projects so that classrooms can collaborate and share ideas via the webinar tool.

All in all, global PBL is a chance to turn a challenge into an opportunity. It just may require a little effort and creativity to make it work. But I believe the effort is worth it in the end.