Category Archives: Principles of Learning

Evidence of Chocolates & Cherries

Evidence of Chocolate & Cherries

Life is interesting. Isn’t it always that way?

This year, and I must say the last few really, have been an extraordinary mix of devilish challenges and gleefully, exuberant joys. I’ve shared some of both with you over time on my feed in my “Evidence of…” posts.

Today’s will be a mixed bag, a bittersweet story, a chocolate covered cherry kind of thing if you will. For those of you who know me well, this serves an apt description for a story with an up and down side and for those of who are in the dark, I guess a quick side story is needed:

So here goes… I hate cherries! They hate me. It’s really that simple. Am I allergic? Who’s to say. I’ve never been tested. Few have believed I have an aversion to these red nasty berries over my 55 years of life, not even my own family for goodness sake. But how many times must one be tortured by cherries being hidden in tarts or other confectionery delights only to have them returned violently, “Witches of Eastwick” style, to prove that there’s a real issue? Really!!!

Suffice it to say the story ahead is pointedly poignant, at least to me. A real chocolate covered cherry story.

Many of you may know that I have been troubled with a degenerative and decidedly painful, but not deadly, condition that has slowly been sapping my strength and abilities to sustain a decent quality of work/life balance. And this has played havoc with two sides of my being:

On the one side is the calling that chose me back in sixth grade – that of educating.

I have know since as far back as I can remember that the art of educating learners is what I wanted to do. Why? It was partly due to my educational experiences, which if I must be honest, has been abysmal in many ways. I could recount details of having my left hand whipped simply because I used it to hold a pencil; or how I perfectly tied my shoelaces and cut circles left-handed and had to relearn both in a humiliating fashion; or how when my nose was crushed bloody by a kid on a swing in grade one, I was pulled in front of the entire school body by the Principal and ridiculed; or how I was told in grade five good spellers were born and not made; or how I had to go to summer school for two summers because teachers thought I was stupid. The list of assaults went on and I won’t bore you with more… but sadly there were more!

I knew they were wrong. I knew I was better than they were saying and I managed to prove that decades later when I graduated at nearly the top of my class and became a teacher.

Point being, I didn’t want ANY other learners to experience those set backs, those traumas, those teachers that thought they knew what they were doing and clearly did not, at least from my perspective.

The educator side of me , did not want to stop helping learners. I had more to give. More learners to support.

On the other side, was the family man. He had his own passions outside of work to follow. On this side too resided an incredible wife, fabulously interesting children beginning to branch out into the world and create lives of their own, and grandchildren. Ah, the grandchildren. These marvels can breathe life blood into dead bodies with no trouble at all. And they did with regularity. This side was equally important, probably even more so.

But as time wore on and as I became less able, there was not enough of me to go around. I began to fail… on both sides.

It started with cutting my work load and going halftime every other day. 3 years of that, then in the last year, I began coming home at the end of my working days and going straight to bed at 4:30 only to wake in pain at about 10 pm and not sleeping the remainder of the night. Misery of the most devilish sort.

My recovery days weren’t much better. Mostly sleeping. Definitely pain filled. Not much quality of life anywhere. And my mobility was tanking as well.

I wanted to work! I wanted quality of life and it seemed I couldn’t have both. And so I had a most difficult decision to make between my two passions: my calling and my family life. Seem a no brainer to you? It’s not I can assure you. Clearly, family comes out on top. Clearly. But letting go of a calling is beastly. You try it sometime. It’s like pulling teeth from your best friend or a baby perhaps. That’s the “cherry” in my story!!!

But then came the chocolate. And the chocolate was the best kind you can imagine and from two unexpected sources.

Firstly, was my farewell from work. To bastardize a phrase, I have alway said that I would “go gentle into that good night”. No fuss and no muss. I find farewell speeches nearly intolerable (platitudes, platitudes, platitudes). And I hate being the centre of attention. It’s the introvert in me (yes, you heard me correctly! Introvert! Ask my spouse). But after some heart-to-heart talks with my wife on the subject of closure, we decided to have a come-and-go farewell gig at our place on my 55th birthday entitled, “It’s My Birthday and I’ll Leave If I Want To”. You’ll hopefully recognize the reference to the Leslie Gore hit of the late 60s. At any rate, the idea was to invite people who had made a difference in my career, supported me in some significant way, in order to thank them personally. It was suppose to be a no gift affair and we’d cater the thing so we didn’t have to work too hard either.

The day turned out perfectly: it was sunny, rather warm, slight breeze and no bugs to speak of. We hosted upwards of 50 guests, some of whom ignored the no gifts clause. But the gifts/cards were incredibly thoughtful:

One teacher whom I mentored had her class make cards. These cards were hilarious because I had nicknames for a lot of the students and these students used those nicknames on the cards. One in particular was a constant talker that I playfully dubbed “Sir Chats A Lot”. His whole card took that theme and that’s how he signed it. Another added a bar code to the card because, don’t all cards have those? One student in the class who was rather special (she had ADHD inattentive type) and we connected rather well, made me an incredibly complex 3D card – An artistic masterpiece truly. These tokens of respect and caring are treasures. They all referred to me as Keith and I loved each and every one!

Another amazing friend in a school that I worked heavily with, polled all the teachers in that school and had them express in quotes how I had supported them over the years. She then assembled these into a picture frame keepsake. The quotes ranged from “helped me with seeing things more creatively, more clearly, more positively both professionally and personally” to “helped me see the joy in teaching”. From “helped me see how a truly passionate educator works within a system that doesn’t always support what needs to be supported” to “his work with staff was filled with enthusiasm and provided accessible and valuable information for educators of all experience levels!” What a keepsake and so unexpected that I was completely taken off guard.

There were others as well… cards with like-minded, and exquisitely expressed sentiments, bottles of bubbly, scotch, wine, bird watching paraphernalia, all things that told me that I was appreciated, known and going to be missed. Something I was not altogether convinced of…. Perhaps some of you will understand this point of view. Perhaps not.

I believe it’s completely impossible to assess one’s self-worth or impact accurately. Regardless, I am lousy at it. I am constantly reassessing what went wrong, how I could have done better, what I should have done differently. I beat myself up liberally after most classes, meetings, gatherings, presentations, workshops and inservices. I over think and reflect WAY too much I am told. I figure better this than not at all (as some people seem comfortable doing in the field in which I work). Be that as it may, the sentiments I received were well appreciated and, of course, overwhelming to say the least.

The second bit of chocolate came from likely my last visit to a classroom that I will have, at least in the short term and as a professional teacher. Just a wee bit of background before moving on with this tale:

My favourite level to teach was primary. In fact, the happiest teaching in my entire career was when I looped from grade 1 to grade 2 and back again. It was amazingly satisfying mostly because the second year tends to launch like an educational rocket to the stars! These grades are loaded with unstoppable wonderment and eye-popping amazement. Students are completely honest in their uncontrollable reactions, emotions often confusing you with their grandmother or mom or hugging your leg just because, or shouting in awe, “THAT WORD IS HOUSE!” for the whole world to hear. They’re simply the most precious people you’ll ever meet!

And so it was on the last Wednesday of the this school year, the last Wednesday of my career for all intents and purposes, I arrived to clean out my office. One needs to understand this process, for a classroom teacher, would be a daunting one, potentially taking hours and literally multiple dozens of boxes culled form local liquor stores – possibly frequented and collected over the year, but more likely collected in the panicked frenzy that occurs at this time of year when teachers get their marching orders (I’ve often thought it might be highly amusing for some clever News outlet to post cameras outside such stores to catch these frenzied fetchings as they unfold in the wild – but I’ve digressed again! ). But for me, the process would literally take minutes. I took my professional books to the staffroom, organized them into groups by topic, created a fancy label that essentially read in big bold letters “FREE” (If you know teachers this word also causes a frenzy. Teachers simply cannot resist free stuff of any kind! You could put out free petrified buffalo droppings and they’d disappear! No shit!), erased my hard drive, called to have my technology equipment picked up, put my personal stuff in one small box and took that to the car. All done! It was 9:05 AM. So now what? I had the rest of the day to fill.

I decided I would find a classroom and park myself in it and see if I could be helpful. Why not? I started looking around. Rockwood school, where I am housed, is a lovely K-6 school and coincidentally where I happened to start my Support Career in the Winnipeg School Division working as the South District Educational Learning Support Teacher (you try fitting that on a businesses card in anything bigger than 9 pt text!!!). It’s a lovely, familiar place. But on this day, late in the June, the entire elementary wing, that would be all grade 3-6, were at Fun Mountain! How dare they! I sauntered, as best I could with my ailing legs, over to the primary wing where I found a split grade 2-3 classroom available.

You have to imagine how this looked to the teacher for a moment. She’s working with her students planning their day. She has given each student a time table with half blocks spanning the entire day. Some blocks are already filled: the first block is filled with educational planning time, recesses are labeled as is lunch hour and the last half hour of the day is labelled clean up. The students are charged with filling each empty block with a different “educational” activity, something that they have done over the course of the year, in order to fill their day. Each student will have a different plan and each student can have free choice about how their day will progress. Rather a brilliant activity for a last days of school I thought. At any rate, this is what they were were up to, when a short, sad, grey haired, aged looking fellow dressed in casual summer wear, that the students didn’t know pressed his nose up against the window of the door to their room. Can you guess what happened next?

Distracted “mayhem” in a primary classroom can take many forms: complete off-task behaviours like squealing giggles, young ones running willy-nilly hither and yon, kids screaming AND flying about the room as if possessed (it happens usually after Halloween and you have to see it to believe it. It’s like watching San Andreas, the penultimate disaster movie staring Dwayne Johnson, in fast forward), but in this particular case, the class slowly raised their heads as they became aware of the strange visitor encroaching on the outer realm of their space. They lowered their pencils on their planners, then began flipping their gaze in a rather confused fashion towards the glass and back to their teacher as if to say, “who’s that creepy dude with sad basset eyes, grey bearded frowny mouth and saggy ol’ cheeks pressed earnestly against our door?” Giggles ensued, work ceased, and the teacher realizing that something was amiss, came to investigate!

After securing permission to enter (such a lovely teacher) and accessing the inner workings of the class, students again settled back into the task of planning their days, and I was put to work!

Almost immediately I was swiftly approached by a small, peppy, young lad who brought me back to his table to help him out, where incidentally two other fellows were perched engrossed. He was quite chatty and didn’t seem to need much in the way of assistance (a quick check in with the teacher confirmed my hunch he was fatherless), but there was still plenty of scaffolded support needed at the table.

Over the next few minutes, I noticed two things: first, lovely melodic music was playing. This is something the teacher frequently does in the class. Not an uncommon practice and it provides for an interesting environment at times. Secondly, was that more boys were gathering to this particular table for help.

This is when something magical happened. Something I will likely never forget! It stuck off cords deep inside me and tied up my career in the classroom in a way so appropriate, so perfectly, it seemed a divine gift I suppose, or at least one made just to remind me why I got into this business 33 years ago and why it’s the most important business to be in today. So what was it that happened?…

Lost Boy by Ruth B. began to play and the boys at my table began to sing.

I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this ballad or not, but I find it to be an incredibly beautiful and melodic account of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys of Never-Never Land! Add to that the image of a table of boys focussed on various educational tasks, I’m assisting some of them, singing the exact tune, the exact words right along with Ruth B. in spring warbler-like voices, clear, crystal, shiny and new!

I was stunned into my seat, blown there by the sheer magnitude of the innocent voices of these singing students. And I started crying; that and reliving significant moments of my career, much like rewinding a life before the long sleep I would imagine. It was… overwhelming and much too incredible to describe in more accurate details – it was all muddled and vibrant emotions.

About halfway through the piece, my fatherless little buddy noticed that I had tears running down my face and announces to the class, “He’s crying! Yay!”

Yay? Why “yay” I wonder briefly? But the song continues and I had no time for further rumination on the organic nature of the occurrence of this song in the playlist. Soon the rest of the class joined in the song, and I keep remembering highlights in fast emotional flashes; happiness mostly, but some sadness thrown in too.

Finally the the last part of the song is playing…

“Neverland is home to lost boys like me
And lost boys like me are free
Neverland is home to lost boys like me
And lost boys like me are free”

… and my fatherless buddy had the last words that were rather prophetic, although I am sure he wouldn’t have thought them so. When the song ended, he simply said, “it’s over.” And so it was.

I can think of no finer way of competing 33 years in the classroom than this. I thanked the students, thanked the teacher, bid them farewell and left classroom life behind, chocolate in hand.

Different Approaches To Using Student Blogs And Digital Portfolios

More and more educators are discovering the importance of having their students build some form of digital presence. Blogging is an excellent way for students to create their own online space, but what do you call this?

  • Simply a student blog?
  • Digital portfolio?
  • ePortfolio?
  • Learning showcase?
  • Blogfolio?

When I first started teaching in 2004, each of my grade one/two students had a scrapbook where they would paste their work samples each term. The goals of this process were: documentation, reflection, assessment and sharing with parents.

Often the same goals apply to the online equivalent of this scrapbook. But if we aren’t doing things any differently than 10-15 years ago, why are we bothering with student blogs? Why aren’t we still cutting and pasting in a scrapbook?

When blogs are used as more than substitution, they offer many advantages.

  • Research tells us that student work is of a higher quality when it involves an authentic audience.
  • The opportunity for feedback and discussion through an online presence is greater.
  • There are many skills to do with writing online, using technology, understanding digital citizenship etc. that are not only useful for students to know, but required in most curriculum standards.
  • Influencing your own digital footprints from a young age can be a powerful experience.

This post explores a range of approaches to student blogs and digital portfolios. We have included classroom examples, and encourage you to share your approach to student blogging in the comment section.

When To Set Up Student Blogs?

When I first started blogging in 2008, I didn’t really know what sort of blogging framework would work for me, but along the way I came up with a model that suited the age of the students, our combined experience, our objectives and our equipment.

This digram shows the progression some classes make from class blog to student blogs

The model I adopted was as follows:

  1. I established a class blog and wrote the posts, while teaching the students to write quality comments.
  2. As students became more familiar with blogging, some students start publishing guest posts on the class blog and learned posting skills.
  3. When I was teaching grade two, had limited computers and was new to student blogging, I didn’t think it was practical for all students to have have blogs. Instead, certain students who had demonstrated enthusiasm, parent support and blogging skills, earned their own blog. This added a new layer to the skill set of commenting and posting: maintaining a blog.
  4. When I was teaching grade four, had a one to one netbook program and had experience managing student blogs, I set up blogs for all students, as digital portfolios.

Throughout all four stages, quality commenting and parent participation is taught and encouraged.

Many teachers begin their blogging journey with a class blog and perhaps progress from there. However, you can jump in at any point of this framework.

You might only be comfortable with having a class blog initially. There is certainly nothing wrong with this approach, although keep in mind that aiming to have more student involvement at some point in the future can be advantageous.

At the other end of the spectrum, you might have the confidence, experience and equipment to set up student blogs from day one. Go for it!

Whatever your approach, a class blog always complements a student blogging program. It provides a home base where you can post assignments, showcase student work, publish recounts, communicate to parents, establish community/global connections and more.

How To Set Up Student Blogs

We have many resources in our Edublogs Help Guides that will walk you through the process of setting up student blogs. Sue Waters’ five step guide to setting up student blogs is a good starting place.

One really useful feature on Edublogs, that takes the hassle out of the logistics of student blogs, is called My Class. This is a tool that allows you to:

  • Easily create your student blogs after you’ve set up your class blog
  • Control the privacy of the blogs and control moderation settings
  • Read and/or moderate student posts and/or comments right from your own dashboard (no need to open up 25 tabs in your browser to keep track of what your students are up to)
  • Install a widget to the sidebar of your class blog and student blogs which links to all the student blogs in your class. This means students and readers can easily visit all the blogs, without searching, bookmarking, or adding links individually.

Digital Portfolio Expectations and Frameworks

Many educators refer to their student blogs as digital portfolios.

Academics and thought leaders often debate the meaning of the term digital portfolio. What does this mean? What does it look like?

Perhaps an useful alternative term is ‘blogfolio’ which Silvia Tolisana describes as the glue that can hold it all together in learning. 

Blogfolios are the glue that can hold all curricular content, goals and objectives as well as support school initiatives, observations, assessment and accountability requirements or personal passions, interest and projects together.

Diagram breaking down the concept of blogfolios

For the purpose of this post, we are less concerned with semantics and more concerned with exploring the different frameworks that teachers adopt. Hopefully considering how other teachers approach student blogs will give you some ideas on what would work for you and your students.

I have observed differences in how student blogs work in a variety of areas. There appears to be a spectrum in at least six key areas:

duration privacy content reflection quality control - 6 aspects of student bloggingLet’s break these down and consider where you might sit on each spectrum.

1. Duration

Some student blogs are only active for a year. The student might move up to a non-blogging class and their individual blog remains stagnant. This can be frustrating for teachers who invest time in establishing an effective system for their student blogs. It can also be disappointing for students.

Other institutions think ahead with a whole-school approach. At The Geelong College, which operates their own Edublogs CampusPress platform, there are long term plans.

Director of Teaching and Learning, Adrian Camm, explains the philosophy:

…each student from Year 4 to Year 10 at our College will have a digital portfolio that follows them throughout their time at the College and has a unique identifier accessible on the web.
The ability to export their content easily when finishing Year 12 to be used in the tertiary admission process or in future work endeavors has also been a key point…

Consider: If you’re investing time in establishing student blogs, how can you showcase this to the wider school community and motivate them to establish a school wide plan?

2. Privacy

Should blogs be public or private? This is always a contentious issue.

Ronnie Burt raised some excellent arguments about the advantages of public blogs a few years back, including the power of an authentic audience, ease of access, and the potential for collaboration. Ronnie noted,

If you hide student work behind passwords, then you might as well have them print everything out and hand it in the old-fashioned way. You are losing out on connections, extended dialogues, and the motivating factor of working for an authentic purpose.

In the comment section, there were some well considered opposing views.

J. McNulty argued the consequence of permanence,

Try to imagine that every stammering oral presentation, every 5th grade writing sample and every stick finger drawing you ever made in a classroom was permanently posted online, forever. As a teacher how would you feel if your class of iPad toting students were surfing through your complete “virtual portfolio” while you were trying to assign them an essay?  … Blogging is great but this new information era needs educators who fully appreciate the long term consequences of posting everything publicly.

There is a middle ground. At The Geelong College, students are encouraged to decide for themselves whether their blogs will be public or password protected.

Another option is to create a public blog but password protect certain posts or pages.

Consider: What are the pros and cons of having student blogs as public? Some schools seem to default to the private option if in doubt. Does this mean you’re giving up all the powerful advantages of posting publicly?

3. Content

What will form the content of your student blogs? What will they actually publish?

At one end of the spectrum is total freedom where teachers are less concerned about what the students are writing about, and more concerned about the students simply blogging and finding a voice.

At the other end of the spectrum, some teachers see the blogs as a space that must be in line with the curriculum and demonstrate what is happening in the classroom.

Certainly not always, but sometimes the age of the students influences this issue.

Julie Moore in Tasmania, Australia, teaches grade 2/3. The students begin by contributing to the class blog before some students establish their own blogs. Julie says,

Mostly – the children have a free spin on what they would like to write a post about. It gives them an outlet for writing about their passions/interests, and it then gives me an “in” for feedback and improvements to their writing.

She also finds this approach opens up a very wide range of possibilities to meet certain individual’s requirements.

For example:

Julie understands that the students do require some explicit teaching around blogging. She finds The Student Blogging Challenge a great way to achieve this. In addition, she runs a lunchtime club and a weekly timetabled blogging session.

Heather Alexander in Florida teaches year 9-12 ceramics. Her students use their blogs purely to document and reflect on their own art work, and respond to the curriculum. Teaching the same class multiple times, Heather has come up with a logistal framework to organize the student blogs,

What I have done is name all the students’ blogs with their class period prefacing the name so they appear in order on the page.

Heather encourages students to comment on classmates’ blogs and set up an effective system after finding students were taking too long to find a post to comment on.

I have students work in “peer blog mentor” groups. They self-select a group of 3 -5 peers and then I match their group with a group in another class. I moderate the comments so I can check for accuracy and completion before they are published.

This idea touches on the additional issue of feedback. Who will provide feedback to your student bloggers? Will you set up a peer system like Heather? Or will you personally visit blogs? What are your goals for feedback? Simple encouragement and conversation? Or scaffolding to reach learning goals? All questions to consider.

Can your blogging framework involve set tasks and freedom?

Somewhere in the middle of the freedom/structure debate, is the approach adopted by Adam Geiman, an educator from Pennsylvania. He used the first 30% of the school year to provide structure around tasks for his fourth grade students.

The students were given guidance, yet also had some freedom of choice in how they’d present set tasks. Some would do a Google Doc, while others would present their task as a comic, infographic etc.

For the remaining 70% of the school year, students were given more freedom and many came up with their own ideas on what they wanted to publish. For example, Jackson announced the new school trout, while Brooklyn talked about her new glasses. 

Consider: What are the needs of your students? Are you trying to engage them in the blogging process and help them find a voice? Or are you wanting the blogs to be a vehicle to demonstrate curriculum outcomes? Are these two things mutually exclusive?

4. Reflection

Some form of reflection is often a key feature of digital portfolios or blogfolios.

Educator Jabiz Raisdana, has documented some compelling thoughts on student blogging. He advocates for freedom, stating that:

If you want your students to blog effectively, give them the freedom to experiment and write about what interests them.

Stay away from portfolios and forced reflections on their learning, at least until they get the hang of it.

Wait until they find a voice, find an audience… before you push your agenda of meta-cognition and reflective learning.

Perhaps on the other end of the spectrum is the argument from Matt Renwick in his blog post ‘Think You’re Doing Digital Portfolios? Think again’.

Of course, all of the posted artifacts of student learning are accompanied with reflection, self-assessment, and goal setting for the future.
Otherwise, it’s only sharing content. Nice, but not necessary for students’ education.

Many teachers use a mixed approach

Teacher, Lee Pregnell, from Moonee Ponds, Australia, described how they include some set tasks in their grade 5/6 blogging program. One of these tasks is a weekly 100 Word Challenge response (see student Carah’s example) and a report on a Behind the News article (see student Mariana’s report on dreaming).

While the Behind the News task has some element of reflection, there are other set tasks that involve more meta-cognition. One of these is based around term goals. Check out the example by Alexis to see the format of this reflective entry.

What about our youngest students? How can they reflect?

Using tools like voice recordings can offer students with emerging literacy skills the chance to reflect. Kathy Cassidy is well known for providing all of her six year old students a blog. The students regularly used tools like Book Creator to document their thoughts and learning. Here is Gus reflecting on his writing. 

Another idea is to collate social media posts in a Storify like kindergarten teachers Aviva Dunsiger and Paula Crockett. Short student interviews and reflections offer a rich insight into learning. These innovative teachers have created a special section of their blog called ‘The Daily Shoot’. This is something Aviva has done with students from K-6. It is worth checking out.

Following in her students’ footsteps, Aviva even uses a blog of her own to reflect. What a mighty combination!

Consider: Most teachers agree that some sort of student reflection on learning is powerful. How can you incorporate this into your student blogs without making the process a chore or turn students off the enjoyment of blogging?

5. Quality

Would you like your students to document their learning journeys or their best work? Will your student blogs be process portfolios, showcase portfolios or hybrid portfolios?

This is a tough decision, but also one that can evolve as you go along. It also links back to the public/private debate. Do your students want every evidence of learning as part of their digital footprint?

Again, there is certainly middle ground. George Couros reflects on his dilemma about what end of this spectrum he would sit on: ‘growth’ or ‘best work’.

Since there are benefits in both options, it was tough to decide on one, so we ultimately went with the decision to go with both. The “blog” portion of my digital space allows me to share things that I am learning (like this article I am writing) while also aggregating my best stuff into solitary “pages”.

Consider: Is George’s approach something that could be worth exploring in your own blogging program?

6. Control

Many of these five areas are underpinned by the question of control. Who is in control? The teacher or the students?

Can there be a gradual release of control as the students become older and more experienced?

Perhaps there are some aspects of their blog that even the youngest students can have some control over?

For example:

  • Their title
  • Theme
  • Choice of tool or post format
  • Where they leave comments

Most teachers would agree that it’s important to consider how students can be in charge of their own learning. Digital portfolios and blogging offers a lot of potential for student-centered learning.

The My Class tool also allows you to hand over responsibility as you choose. You can begin by moderating all student posts and comments, and then turn off these settings as appropriate.

Conclusion

Are your student blogs igniting a passion for learning or are they just another chore to be completed?

How can you set up digital portfolios or blogfolios that allow for rich learning, creativity, excitement, deep reflection, collaboration and authenticity?

These are some key questions to ask yourself but in the end, sometimes you just need to throw in the canoe and start paddling.

Figure it out as you go. There is a big blogging community and support behind you.

Don’t let fear or indecision around student blogs freeze you into inaction. Worrying too much about whether you’re ‘doing it right’ can lead to not doing it at all.  At any level, student blogs provide benefits. Embrace them.

We would love to hear your ideas. Please comment and share your thoughts on student blogs. 

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Today’s news: Real or fake? [Infographic]

Today Students have a blizzard of information at the ready: on devices in their pockets, at school, in their homes, by their bedsides on their wrists… It’s almost a constant information “on” world.

Information and content floods to their eyes and ears in never-ending streams, torrents, downloads, feeds, & casts. How do they determine what is real an what is not. What matters and what doesn’t? Here’s a cheat sheet to help out.


At a time when misinformation and fake news spread like wildfire online, the critical need for media literacy education has never been more pronounced. The evidence is in the data:

  • 80% of middle schoolers mistake sponsored content for real news.
  • 3 in 4 students can’t distinguish between real and fake news on Facebook.
  • Fewer than 1 in 3 students are skeptical of biased news sources.

Students who meet the ISTE Standards for Students are able to critically select, evaluate and synthesize digital resources. That means understanding the difference between real and fake news.

There are several factors students should consider when evaluating the validity of news and resources online. Use the infographic below to help your students understand how to tell them apart.

Click on the infographic to open a printable PDF.

Media-Literacy_Real-News-Infographic_11_2017

Learn more about teaching K-12 students how to evaluate and interpret media messages in the book Media Literacy in the K-12 Classroom by Frank Baker.

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The end of the cloud is coming

Viktor Charypar is a Tech Lead at UK-based digital consultancy Red Badger.

We’re facing the end of the cloud. It’s a bold statement, I know, and maybe it even sounds a little mad. But bear with me.

The conventional wisdom about running server applications, be it web apps or mobile app backends, is that the future is in the cloud. Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are adding layers of tools to their cloud offerings to make running server software more and more easy and convenient, so it would seem that hosting your code in AWS, GCP, or Azure is the best you can do — it’s convenient, cheap, easy to fully automate, you can scale elastically … I could keep going. So why am I predicting the end of it all?

A few reasons:

It can’t meet long-term scaling requirements. Building a scalable, reliable, highly available web application, even in the cloud, is pretty difficult. And if you do it right and make your app a huge success, the scale will cost you both money and effort. Even if your business is really successful, you eventually hit the limits of what the cloud, the web itself can do: The compute speed and storage capacity of computers are growing faster than the bandwidth of the networks. Ignoring the net neutrality debate, this may not be a problem for most (apart from Netflix and Amazon) at the moment, but it will be soon. The volumes of data we’re pushing through the network are growing massively as we move from HD, to 4k to 8k, and soon there will be VR datasets to move around.

This is a problem mostly because of the way we’ve organized the web. There are many clients that want to get content and use programs and only a relatively few servers that have those programs and content. When someone posts a funny picture of a cat on Slack, even though I’m sitting next to 20 other people who want to look at that same picture, we all have to download it from the server where it’s hosted, and the server needs to send it 20 times.

As servers move to the cloud, i.e. onto Amazon’s or Google’s computers in Amazon’s or Google’s data centers, the networks close to these places need to have incredible throughput to handle all of this data. There also have to be huge numbers of hard drives that store the data for everyone and CPUs that push it through the network to every single person that wants it. This gets worse with the rise of streaming services.

All of that activity requires a lot of energy and cooling and makes the whole system fairly inefficient, expensive, and bad for the environment.

It’s centralized and vulnerable. The other issue with centrally storing our data and programs is availability and permanence. What if Amazon’s data center gets flooded, hit by an asteroid, or destroyed by a tornado? Or, less drastically, what if it loses power for a while? The data stored on its machines now can’t be accessed temporarily or even gets lost permanently.

We’re generally mitigating this problem by storing data in multiple locations, but that only means more data centers. That may greatly reduce the risk of accidental loss, but how about the data that you really, really care about? Your wedding videos, pictures of your kids growing up, or the important public information sources, like Wikipedia. All of that is now stored in the cloud — on Facebook, in Google Drive, iCloud, or Dropbox and others. What happens to the data when any of these services go out of business or lose funding? And even if they don’t, it is pretty restricting that to access your data, you have to go to their service, and to share it with friends, they have to go through that service too.

It demands trust but offers no guarantees. The only way for your friends to trust that the data they get is the data you sent is by trusting the middleman and their honesty. This is okay in most cases, but websites and networks we use are operated by legal entities registered in nation states, and the governments of these nations have the power to force them to do a lot of things. While most of the time, this is a good thing and is used to help solve crime or remove illegal content from the web, there are also many cases where this power has been abused.

Just a few weeks ago, the Spanish government did everything in its power to stop an independence referendum in the Catalonia region, including blocking information websites telling people where to vote. Blocking inconvenient websites or secretly modifying content on its way to users has long been a standard practice in places like China. While free speech is probably not a high-priority issue for most Westerners, it would be nice to keep the internet as free and open as it was intended to be and have a built-in way of verifying that content you are reading is the content the authors published.

It makes us — and our data — sitting ducks. The really scary side of the highly centralized internet is the accumulation of personal data. Large companies that provide services we all need to use in one way or another are sitting on monumental caches of people’s data — data that gives them enough information about you to predict what you’re going to buy, who you’re going to vote for, when you are likely to buy a house, even how many children you’re likely to have. Information that is more than enough to get a credit card, a loan, or even buy a house in your name.

You may be ok with that. After all, they were trustworthy enough for you to give them your information in the first place, but it’s not them you need to worry about. It’s everyone else. Earlier this year, credit reporting agency Equifax lost data on 140 million of its customers in one of the biggest data breaches in history. That data is now public. We can dismiss this as a once in a decade event that could have been prevented if we’d been more careful, but it is becoming increasingly clear that data breaches like this are very hard to prevent entirely and too dangerous to tolerate. The only way to really prevent them is to not gather the data on that scale in the first place.

So, what will replace the cloud?

An internet powered largely by client-server protocols (like HTTP) and security based on trust in a central authority (like TLS), is flawed and causes problems that are fundamentally either really hard or impossible to solve. It’s time to look for something better — a model where nobody else is storing your personal data, large media files are spread across the entire network, and the whole system is entirely peer-to-peer and serverless (and I don’t mean “serverless” in the cloud-hosted sense here, I mean literally no servers).

I’ve been reading extensively about emerging technologies in this space and have become pretty convinced that peer-to-peer is where we’re inevitably going. Peer-to-peer web technologies are aiming to replace the building blocks of the web we know with protocols and strategies that solve most of the problems I’ve outlined above. Their goal is a completely distributed, permanent, redundant data storage, where each participating client in the network is storing copies of some of the data available in it.

Above: Source: Wikimedia Commons (http://ift.tt/2xzBAaf)

If you’ve heard about BitTorrent, the following should all sound familiar. In BitTorrent, users of the network share large data files split into smaller blocks (each with a unique ID) without the need for any central authority. In order to download a file, all you need is a “magic” number — a hash — a fingerprint of the content. The BitTorrent client will then find peers that have pieces of the file and download them, until you have all the pieces.

The interesting part is how the peers are found. BitTorrent uses a protocol called Kademlia for this. In Kademlia, each peer on the network has a unique ID number, which is of the same length as the unique block IDs. It stores a block with a particular ID on a node whose ID is “closest” to the ID of the block. For random IDs of both blocks and network peers, the distribution of storage should be pretty uniform across the network. There is a benefit, however, to not choosing the block ID randomly and instead using a cryptographic hash — a unique fingerprint of the content of the block itself. The blocks are content-addressable. This also makes it easy to verify the content of the block (by re-calculating and comparing the fingerprint) and provides the guarantee that given a block ID, it is impossible to download any other data than the original.

The other interesting property of using a content hash for addressing is that by embedding the ID of one block in the content of another, you link the two together in a way that can’t be tampered with. If the content of the linked block is changed, its ID would change and the link would be broken. If the embedded link is changed, the ID of the containing block would change as well.

This mechanism of embedding the ID of one block in the content of another makes it possible to create chains of such blocks (like the blockchain powering Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies) or even more complicated structures, generally known as Directed Acyclic Graphs, or DAGs for short. (This kind of link is called a Merkle link after the inventor Ralph Merkle. So if you hear someone talking about Merkel DAGs, you know roughly what they are.) One common example of a Merkle DAG is git repositories. Git stores the commit history and all directories and files as blocks in a giant Merkle DAG.

And that leads us to another interesting property of distributed storage based on content-addressing: It’s immutable. The content cannot change in place. Instead, new revisions are stored next to existing ones. Blocks that have not changed between revisions get reused, because they have, by definition, the same ID. This also means identical files cannot be duplicated in such a storage system, translating into efficient storage. So on this new web, every unique cat picture will only exist once (although in multiple redundant copies across the swarm).

Protocols like Kademlia together with Merkle chains and Merkle DAGs give us the tools to model file hierarchies and revision timelines and share them in a large scale peer-to-peer network. There are already protocols that use these technologies to build a distributed storage that fits our needs. One that looks very promising is IPFS.

The problem with names and shared things

Ok, so with the above techniques, we can solve quite a few of the problems I outlined at the beginning: We get distributed, highly redundant storage on devices connected to the web that can keep track of the history of files and keep all the versions around for as long as they are needed. This (almost) solves the availability, capacity, permanence, and content verification problem. It also addresses bandwidth problems — peers send data to each other, so there are no major hotspots/bottlenecks.

We will also need a scalable compute resource, but this shouldn’t be too difficult: Everyone’s laptops and phones are now orders of magnitude more powerful than what most apps need (including fairly complex machine learning computations), and compute is generally pretty horizontally scalable. So as long as we can make every device do the work necessary for its user, there shouldn’t be a major problem.

So now that cat image I want to see on Slack can come from one of my coworkers sitting next to me instead of from the Slack servers (and without crossing any oceans in the process). In order to post a cat picture, though, I need to update a channel in place (i.e., the channel will no longer be what it was before my message, it will have changed). This fairly innocuous sounding thing turns out to be the hard part. (Feel free to skip to the next section if this bit gets too technical.)

The hard part: Updating in place

The concept of an entity that changes over time is really just a human idea to give the world some order and stability in our minds. We can also think about such an entity as just an identity — a name — that takes on a series of different values (which are static, immutable) as time progresses (Rich Hickey explains this really well in his talks Are we there yet? and The value of values). This is a much more natural way of modelling information in a computer, with more natural consequences. If I tell you something, I can no longer change what I told you, or make you unlearn it. Facts, e.g. who the President of the United States is, don’t change over time; they just get superseded by other facts referred to by the same name, the same identity. In the git example, a ref (branch or tag) can point to (hold an ID and thus a value of) a different commit at different times, and making a commit replaces the value it currently holds. The Slack channel would also represent an identity whose values over time are growing lists of messages.

The real trouble is, we’re not alone in the channel. Multiple people try to post messages and change the channel, sometimes simultaneously, and someone needs to decide what the result should be.

In centralized systems, such as pretty much all current web apps, there is a single central entity deciding this “update race” and serializing the events. Whichever event reaches it first wins. In a distributed system, however, everyone is an equal, so there needs to be a mechanism that ensures the network reaches a consensus about the “history of the world.”

Consensus is the most difficult problem to solve for a truly distributed web supporting the whole range of applications we are using to today. It doesn’t only affect concurrent updates, but also any other updates that need to happen “in-place” — updates where the “one source of truth” is changing over time. This issue is particularly difficult for databases, but it also affects other key services, like the DNS. Registering a human name for a particular block ID or series of IDs in a decentralized way means everyone involved needs to agree about a name existing and having a particular meaning, otherwise two different users could see two different files under the same name. Content-based addressing solves this for machines (remember a name can only ever point to one particular piece of matching content), but not humans.

A few major strategies exist for dealing with distributed consensus. One of them involves selecting a relatively small “quorum” of managers with a mechanism for electing a “leader” who decides the truth (if you’re interested, look at the Paxos and Raft protocols). All changes then go through the manager. This is essentially a centralized system that can tolerate a loss of the central deciding entity or an interruption (a “partition”) in the network.

Another approach is a proof-of-work based system like Bitcoin blockchain, where consensus is ensured by making peers solve a puzzle in order to write an update (i.e. add a valid block to a Merkle chain). The puzzle is hard to solve but easy to check, and some additional rules exist to resolve a conflict if it still happens. Several other distributed blockchains use a proof-of-stake based consensus while reducing the energy demands required to solve a puzzle. If you’re interested, you can read about proof of stake in this whitepaper by BitFury.

Yet another approach for specific problems revolves around CRDTs — conflict-free replicated data types, which, for specific cases, don’t suffer from the consensus problem at all. The simplest example is an incrementing counter. If all the updates are just “add one,” as long as we can make sure each update is applied just once, the order doesn’t matter and the result will be the same.

There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer to this problem just yet and there may never be only one, but a whole lot of clever people are working on it, and there are already a lot of interesting solutions out there to pick from. You just need to select the particular trade-off you can afford. The trade-off generally lies in the scale of a swarm you’re aiming for and picking a property of the consensus you’re willing to let go of at least a little — availability or consistency (or, technically, network partitioning, but that seems difficult to avoid in a highly distributed system like the ones we’re talking about). Most applications seem to be able to favor availability over immediate consistency — as long as the state ends up being consistent in reasonable time.

Privacy in the web of public files

One obvious problem that needs addressing is privacy. How do we store content in the distributed swarm of peers without making everything public? If it’s enough to hide things, content addressed storage is a good choice, since in order to find something, you need to know the hash of its content (somewhat like private Gists on Github). So essentially we have three levels of privacy: public, hidden, and private. The answer to the third one, it seems, is in cryptography — strongly encrypting the stored content and sharing the key “out of band” (e.g. physically on paper, by touching two NFC devices, by scanning a QR code, etc.).

Relying on cryptography may sound risky at first (after all, hackers find vulnerabilities all the time), but it’s actually not that much worse than what we do today. In fact, it’s most likely better in practice. Companies and governments generally store sensitive data in ways that aren’t shareable with the public (including the individuals the data is about). Instead, it’s accessible only to an undisclosed number of people employed by the organizations holding the data and is protected, at best, by cryptography based methods anyway. More often than not, if you can gain access to the systems storing this data, you can have all of it.

But if we move instead to storing private data in a way that’s essentially public, we are forced to protect it (with strong encryption) so that it is no good to anyone who gains access to it. This idea is roughly the same as the one behind making security-related software open source so that anyone can look at it and find problems. Knowing how the security works shouldn’t help you break it.

An interesting property of this kind of access control is that once you’ve granted someone access to some data, they will have it forever for that particular revision of the data. You can always change the encryption key for future revisions, of course. This is also no worse than what we have today, even though it may not be obvious: Given access to some data, anyone can always make a private copy of it.

The interesting challenge in this area is coming up with a good system of establishing and verifying identities and sharing private data among a group of people that needs to change over time, e.g. a group of collaborators on a private git repository. It can definitely be done with some combination of private-key cryptography and rotating keys, but making the user experience smooth is likely going to be a challenge.

From the cloud to a … fog

Hard problems to solve notwithstanding, our migration away from the cloud will be quite an exciting future. First, on the technical front, we should get a fair number of improvements out of a peer-to-peer web. Content-addressable storage provides cryptographic verification of content itself without a trusted authority, hosted content is permanent (for as long as any humans are interested in it), and we should see fairly significant speed improvements, even at the edges in the developing world (or even on another planet!), far away from data centers.

At some point even data centers may become a thing of the past. Consumer devices are getting so powerful and ubiquitous that computing power and storage (a computing “substrate”) is almost literally lying in the streets.

For businesses running web applications, this change should translate to significant cost savings and far fewer headaches building reliable digital products. Businesses will also be able to focus less on downtime risk mitigation and more on adding customer value, benefitting everyone. We are still going to be a need for cloud hosted servers, but they will only be one of many similar peers. We could also see heterogeneous applications, where not all the peers are the same — where there are consumer-facing peers and back office peers as part of the same application “swarm” and the difference in access is only in access level based on cryptography.

The other large benefit for both organizations and customers is in the treatment of customer data. When there’s no longer any need to centrally store huge amounts of customer information, there’s less risk of losing such data in bulk. Leaders in the software engineering community (like Joe Armstrong, creator of Erlang, whose talk from Strange Loop 2014 is worth a watch) have long argued that the design of the internet where customers send data to programs owned by businesses is backwards and that we should instead send programs to customers to execute on their privately held data that is never directly shared. Such a model seems much safer and doesn’t in any way prevent businesses from collecting useful customer metrics they need.

And nothing prevents a hybrid approach with some services being opaque and holding on to private data.

This type of application architecture seems a much more natural way to do large scale computing and software services — an Internet closer to the original idea of open information exchange, where anyone can easily publish content for everyone else and control over what can be published and accessed is exercised by consensus of the network’s users, not by private entities owning servers.

This, to me, is hugely exciting. And it’s why I’d like to get a small team together and, within a few weeks, build a small, simple proof of concept mobile application, using some of the technologies mentioned above, to show what can be done with the peer-to-peer web. The only current idea I have that is small enough to build relatively quickly and interesting enough to demonstrate the properties of such approach is a peer-to-peer, truly serverless Twitter clone, which isn’t particularly exciting.

If you’ve got a better idea (which isn’t too hard!), or if you have anything else related to peer-to-peer distributed web to talk about, please tweet at me; I’d love to hear about it!

Viktor Charypar is a Tech Lead at UK-based digital consultancy Red Badger.

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How to Create Graphic Organizers for Seesaw – Igniting Learners into Leaders

This is an interesting article that describes in some detail how Seesaw Activities can be a holding area for useful graphic organizers for learning & learners.

These ideas have been developed by Melissa Burnell who is in her 13th year of trying to brighten the futures of her amazing learners! She’s taught in the USA for five years before moving to Dubai, then China, and now she calls South Korea home. She approaches learning with inquiry and a growth mindset.

What is impressive is the ease with which these organizers are created and deployed to her students. These organizers could also be co-created based on criteria or intents developed in class. Or they could have differentiated easily enough within the Seesaw environment simply selecting a subset of students to deploy the activity too.

 

 

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Disclaimer: If you want to read about the WHY behind designing custom graphic organizers in my class, keep reading.  I like to talk, so if you want to go straight to the instructions, scroll down!

This is the first year that I have had the opportunity to guide my learners through Project Time, sometimes know as Genius Hour or Passion Project.  If you are not familiar with this, Project Time is one period a week in which learners have the freedom to learn about something that speaks to them, or interests them, and probably wouldn’t appear in the usual units taught in the classroom.  Maybe a students wants to know more about composing music, or harp seals, or making slime.  As long as learners have a purpose in mind and are working towards their goals, it’s doable!  Pretty cool if you ask me.

I was eager to jump on the Project Time bandwagon at the start of the year and was happy to have some help getting started with organization thanks to Kath Murdoch’s The Power of Inquiry (a must read for any inquiry teacher!).  She includes several great tools in her book to get learners on the right track to be purposeful in their personal inquiries.

As Project Time got underway in my classroom, I found myself running to the photocopier more than I wanted.  Two students wanted to change their project topics–go copy.  Another student can’t find her daily planning sheet–go copy.  And each week daily planning sheets needed to be handed out again.  Plus, with learners working at their own pace, new project proposal sheets needed to be made at different times.  I knew there had to be a better way to avoid this headache.

My first attempt at going digital was to ask my class to hop onto Seesaw and add a quick post at the end of each Project Time period to let me know what they accomplished and what their next steps were.  Not bad, but this only cut down my paperwork a little bit.  I needed to do something more.

When I became a Seesaw Ambassador this year, I remembered coming across a slideshow containing different graphic organizers that could be used for Seesaw.  Aha!  I could create my own and go completely digital!

I used Kath Murdoch’s graphic organizers from her book and recreated them with small changes to the spaces for student input.  Here are the final products:

Project Time- Seesaw OrganizersProject Time- Seesaw Organizers (1)

I wanted to make sure it worked the way I hoped it would, so using Seesaw’s file upload option and the abilities to add text and draw, I was able to do this:

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BINGO!  Now I have a solution to paper waste and wasted time!  The beauty is that you can custom make ANY kind of graphic organizer you want for you learners.

Here’s how:

1.)  Use Google Slides, PowerPoint, or Keynote to make your custom graphic organizer template.  For mine, I used Google Slides and added lines, shapes, images, and text boxes to create the desired look.  I started with a blank layout, changed the background color, and built up from there.

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2.)  Once your graphic organizer is made, save it as a JPEG image.

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3.)  Now open Seesaw.  In Seesaw, choose the green add button to add a new item and choose the option to Share Activity.

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4.)  Choose Create New to create a custom activity for your class/group of students/individuals.

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5.)  Fill in the information for the new activity.  Choose “Add template for students to edit.”

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6.)  Choose the option to Add File.  This is where you will upload your custom graphic organizer.  Choose your file from your device.

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7.)  After you have selected the file, click the green check button.

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8.)  On the next screen, you can either choose the green check button, or if you want to add further information, choose one of the options at the bottom of the screen.

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9.)  Next, either choose to Preview the activity or Save as Draft.

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10.)  Finally, choose the green Share button at the bottom of the screen.

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11.)  When your learners open the activity in Seesaw, they will have the option to add text anywhere on the graphic organizer and draw/write their responses.  It’s that easy!

If you want to use a common graphic organizer, you can search online for an image of one, save to your device, and use the same steps as above without the hassle of designing your own.  If you have a resource book with graphic organizers, you can take a photo of the desired organizer, upload to your device, and again follow the steps above.

I hope this helps you as much as it helped me!

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SpeakPipe Now Works on iPads

This Could Be An Interesting Adaptation

SpeakPipe is a neat tool that I have been recommending for years. It is a tool that you can add to your blog to collect voice messages from blog visitors. The messages are automatically recorded and transcribed for you to listen to and or read. Unfortunately, until now it didn’t work if your blog visitors were using iPads. That recently changed when SpeakPipe pushed an update for Safari.

SpeakPipe now works in Safari on iPads and iPhones that are using iOS 11.

Applications for Education

When it is installed on a classroom blog SpeakPipe provides a good way for parents to leave voicemail messages. Having your messages in SpeakPipe lets you dictate a response that can then be emailed back to the person who left the message for you.

SpeakPipe offers another tool called SpeakPipe Voice Recorder. SpeakPipe’s Voice Recorder is a free tool for quickly creating an MP3 voice recording in your web browser on a laptop, Chromebook, Android device, or iOS device. To create a recording with the SpeakPipe Voice Recorder simply go to the website, click “start recording,” and start talking. You can record for up to five minutes on the SpeakPipe Voice Recorder. When you have finished your recording you will be given an embed code that you can use to place it in your blog or website. You will also be given a link to share your recording. Click the link to share your recording and that will take you to a page to download your recording as an MP3 file.

SpeakPipe’s Voice Recorder does not require you to register in order to create and download your audio recordings. The lack of a registration requirement makes it a good choice for students who don’t have email addresses or for anyone else who simply doesn’t want to have to keep track of yet another username and password.

Students could use SpeakPipe’s Voice Recorder to record short audio interviews or to record short audio blog entries.

Teachers could use SpeakPipe’s Voice Recorder to record instructions for students to listen to in lieu of having a substitute teacher read instructions to their students.

This post originally appeared on Free Technology for Teachers
if you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission
.

 

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Is AR Good 4 Teaching & Learning? Or should we get real?

Augmented Reality is nothing new for youth. It has been a part of student’s social experience in apps like Snapchat and it made a big splash when Pokemon Go made its debut. But when it comes to learning, does it have a place?

While seeing an object, insect, or animal up close in an augmented reality is certainly preferably to reading about it in your science text, is it really the best way to help students learn?

Is learning via AR it better than that?

Well, yeah. Probably. It will engage kids with the wow factor for a bit, but then what?

And what about the source? Who wants us to buy into this? A textbook provider? A publisher? A testing company? A hardware or software provider?

What’s in it for them?

And, what about all the other ways to learn? Is it better than that? Is it cost effective?

AR: The Verdict? It depends.

When compared to textbooks, most would agree that AR improves upon the learning experience. It can also help make a textbook a bit more interactive and give it some life.

But what about other options? A powerful novel? A game? A MagniScope? A PBS documentary? A YouTube expert?

To help think about this, I turned to my friends at Modern Learners for some insights.
When thinking about AR, VR, mixed reality, and etc, Gary Stager, asks, are we “investing in reality first” before we invest in such technologies?

That’s a good question. Especially for kids who live in big cities like where I work. In New York City we have cultural neighbourhoods, experiences, some of the finest museums, zoos, gardens, and experts right in the backyard of our schools. Are we taking students there? Or if we aren’t in such communities, are we using resources like Facebook Live, Periscope, and Skype to connect and interact with real people and places in other parts of the world?

When I served as a library media specialist in an inner city school in Harlem, we had immersive experiences in places like Chinatown, Little Italy, and Spanish Harlem. We visited places like El Museo Del Bario and the Tenement Museum. We had scavenger hunts around the neighbourhoods and the museums were happy to freely open their doors to our inner city youth visiting on weekdays.

Of course there are times when a real experience can not occur in place of a virtual experience. For example, a trip to Mars or the Titanic are out of reach. Engaging in or witnessing a dangerous activity for a newbie such as driving a car, plane, train, are other examples.

But even with such extremes, there may be a movie, field trip, game, or museum experience that might provide a better learning experience.

In his Modern Learners podcast Will Richardson puts it this way. If for some reason we really can’t invest in realities, then yes, these “halfway measures for poor kids” make sense, but only if it really is not possible to bring students more authentic opportunities.

But let’s make sure those real experiences are not available before jumping into augmented ones.

Consider this…

When trying to determine what is best for students, here are some questions you can ask:

  • How would a student use this outside of school?

  • Does it help a young person create agency over learning?

  • Does this have a real-life use?

  • Is this better than…

  • Reading about it?

  • Watching it?

  • Doing it?

When you consider those questions, you will be better positioned to determine and explain if augmented reality should become a reality for the students where you teach.

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10 Reasons Kids Should Learn to Code

Learning about Computational Thinking, often referred to as coding (which is really the “written” part of process), is a new literacy that is overlooked for myriad reasons: “It’s too hard”, “I don’t understand it so, it will be impossible to teach”, “It doesn’t fit into any curricular area”, “There is no math in it at all”, “It’s just not appropriate for little ones”. I’ve pretty much heard the gamut of reasons why this process, not dissimilar to Design Thinking or Inquiry processes taking placing in Making/Tinkering and STEAM environments, is not viable in classrooms today. The reality is that computation thinking is a YAIEP or Yet Another Inquiry Entry Point. This should be a comforting thing for most. Inquiry and more recently Design Thinking are processes have been used extensively in the STEAM and Maker Movements that has swept educational institutions. These programs feature pedagogy that empower students to take more responsibility for their learning pathway; directing their learning through questions and personal perspectives; try to find and solve unique problems that have meaning and importance them; collaborating together to makes sense of data collected; communicating with authentic audiences and experts to share and obtain information; demonstrate their understandings in unique ways. This is Computational Thinking at it’s best as well. But there are added benefits as well and the article highlights these beautifully….  (Keith Strachan)


Word Splash of Coding Words

10 Reasons Kids Should Learn to Code

When it comes to preparing your children for the future, there are few better ways to do so than to help them learn to code! Coding helps kids develop academic skills, build qualities like perseverance and organization, and gain valuable 21st century skills that can even translate into a career. From the Tynker blog, here are the top 10 reasons kids should learn to code:

Coding Improves Academic Performance

  1. Math: Coding helps kids visualize abstract concepts, lets them apply math to real-world situations, and makes math fun and creative!
  2. Writing: Kids who code understand the value of concision and planning, which results in better writing skills. Many kids even use Tynker as a medium for storytelling!
  3. Creativity: Kids learn through experimentation and strengthen their brains when they code, allowing them to embrace their creativity.
  4. Confidence: Parents enthusiastically report that they’ve noticed their kids’ confidence building as they learn to problem-solve through coding!

Coding Builds Soft Skills

  1. Focus and Organization: As they write more complicated code, kids naturally develop better focus and organization.
  2. Resilience: With coding comes debugging – and there’s no better way to build perseverance and resilience than working through challenges!
  3. Communication: Coding teaches logical communication, strengthening both verbal and written skills. Think about it: learning code means learning a new language!

Coding Paves a Path to the Future

  1. Empowerment: Kids are empowered to make a difference when they code – we’ve seen Tynkerers use the platform to spread messages of tolerance and kindness!
  2. Life Skills: Coding is a basic literacy in the digital age, and it’s important for kids to understand – and be able to innovate with – the technology around them.
  3. Career Preparation: There’s a high demand for workers in the tech industry; mastering coding at a young age allows kids to excel in any field they choose!

Tynker makes it fun and easy for kids to learn how to code! Kids use Tynker’s visual blocks to begin learning programming basics, then graduate to written programming languages like Python, Javascript, and Swift. Our guided courses, puzzles, and more ensure that every child will find something that ignites their passion for learning. Explore our plans and get your child started coding today!

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Supporting Students Efforts in Determining Real from Fake News

Our students use the web every day—shouldn’t we expect them to do better at interpreting what they read there? Perhaps, but not necessarily. Often, stereotypes about kids and technology can get in the way of what’s at stake in today’s complex media landscape. Sure, our students probably joined Snapchat faster than we could say “Face Swap,” but that doesn’t mean they’re any better at interpreting what they see in the news and online.

As teachers, we’ve probably seen students use questionable sources in our classrooms, and a recent study from the Stanford History Education Group confirms that students today are generally pretty bad at evaluating the news and other information they see online. Now more than ever, our students need our help. And a big part of this is learning how to fact-check what they see on the web.

In a lot of ways, the web is a fountain of misinformation. But it also can be our students’ best tool in the fight against falsehood. An important first step is giving students trusted resources they can use to verify or debunk the information they find. Even one fact-checking activity could be an important first step toward empowering students to start seeing the web from a fact-checker’s point of view.

Here’s a list of fact-checking resources you and your students can use in becoming better web detectives.

FactCheck.org

A project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, the nonpartisan, nonprofit FactCheck.org says that it “aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.” Its entries cover TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. Science teachers take note: The site includes a feature called SciCheck, which focuses on false and misleading scientific claims used for political influence. Beyond individual entries, there also are articles and videos on popular and current topics in the news, among a bevy of other resources.

PolitiFact

From the independent Tampa Bay Times, PolitiFact tracks who’s telling the truth—and who isn’t—in American politics. Updated daily, the site fact-checks statements made by elected officials, candidates, and pundits. Entries are rated on a scale that ranges from “True” to “Pants on Fire” and include links to relevant sources to support each rating. The site’s content is written for adult readers, and students may need teachers’ help with context and direction.

Snopes

The popular online resource Snopes is a one-stop shop to fact-check internet rumors. Entries include everything from so-called urban legends to politics and news stories. Teachers should note that there’s a lot here on a variety of topics—and some material is potentially iffy for younger kids. It’s a great resource for older students—if you can keep them from getting distracted.

OpenSecrets.org

OpenSecrets.org is a nonpartisan organization that tracks the influence of money in U.S. politics. On the site, users can find informative tutorials on topics such as the basics of campaign finance—not to mention regularly updated data reports and analyses on where money has been spent in the American political system. While potentially useful for fact-finding, the site is clearly intended for more advanced adult readers and is best left for older students and sophisticated readers.

Internet Archive Wayback Machine

This one isn’t a site that performs fact-checking. Instead, the Internet Archive Wayback Machine is a tool you can use yourself to fact-check things you find online. Like an internet time machine, the site lets you see how a website looked, and what it said, at different points in the past. Want to see Google’s home page from 1998? Yep, it’s here. Want to see The New York Times’ home page on just about any day since 1996? You can. While they won’t find everything here, there’s still a lot for students to discover. Just beware: The site can be a bit of a rabbit hole—give students some structure before they dive in, because it’s easy to get lost or distracted.

Want to take your students’ knowledge of fact-checking a step further? Engage them in discussions around why these sites and organizations are seen as trusted (and why others might not be trusted as much). Together, look into how each site is funded, who manages it, and how it describes its own fact-checking process.

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Jigsaw variant – Pulsing

Pulsing is a jigsaw variant that allows students to benefits from the “hive” mind, but also insists on individual accountability in terms of project and task completion.

I use pulsing a lot for research…. I have attached an example I used with a grade 7 class doing an inquiry on creating a fully functional island with government, a people, culture, population  centre, etc… .

My belief is that structures such as this address the following learning structure considerations…

  1. Student Voice
  2. Accountability
  3. Broadening Perspectives
…and are vitally important in an educational landscape. See below.