Tech Salad

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Back to Blogging – Media Literacy

Halfway through last year, I decided to move my blogging over to Schoology. To be honest, I hate blogging in Schoology and only decided to give it a go to be on the same platform as our teachers. So, I’m back on WordPress after a weekend that gave me a jolt.

This past Saturday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the Library of Congress celebrated the 16th National Book Festival. If you have never attended this event, you are missing out. I have only attended three of these events, and I’ve really enjoyed all of them. This last one, though, was special. I drove to DC in the hopes of seeing just a couple of the long list of great writers scheduled to be there. Among them, the one I wanted to see the most was Ken Burns. Not only did I see him, but I actually got to talk to him! I asked Ken Burns a question and he was excited to answer.


My question was, “If we are updating curriculum standards to include coding and computer science at all levels, shouldn’t we also include media literacy to make people aware of how images, video, and sound can be used to manipulate them?”

Ken Burns, of course, is a master of multimedia. He has a knack for combining images and sounds to communicate in ways text can only approximate. And while I love text, and books, and writing, I really find it most fascinating to sit in front of a screen and be moved by history.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every subject could be taught by experts that engaged their audience like the readers and interviewees in Ken Burns’s films do? Why can’t textbook publishers be more like Ken Burns and his team?

Instead of asking these things, I think the better approach is to teach our own students to create small scale documentaries to share with their peers and with the community at large so we can all be teachers and learners. You can’t create a compelling film about ANYTHING unless you know what you are talking about. Asking students to make and present a documentary is not watering down a research paper assignment. It is making it much more rigorous. It is asking students to add relevant, compelling images and sounds to to their message. It is teaching to make the kind of media they consume. And in making it, they learn to “read” it.

Yes, we read media. We decode the camera angle, the lighting, the cropping, the movement, the level of the audio, the tempo and tone of the music. And while it is all great fun when we are at the movies being entertained, it is also a great tragedy when we can’t discern what digitally altered images and sounds can make us think is true.

This year I’m working harder than ever to steer teachers in the direction of multimedia projects. We have invested so much time and money into equipping all our students with devices that are, in effect, portable movie and recording studios. We even have a bit of Ken Burns in our iMovie app. We can’t let this go unused. We have to ensure our kids can read, not just text, but everything that comes their way on a screen.

On Rubrics

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything to my blog. I’ve been tweeting and communicating with teachers in other ways. Today, however, I ended up discussing rubrics with several teachers and administrators throughout the day. It seems deciding what should be included in a rubric is not always easy to determine. How specific or vague should the criteria be?  What should we assess, exactly?

Here is a quote I found in one of my readings tonight.

If rubrics are sending the message that a formulaic response on an uninteresting task is what performance assessment is all about, then we are subverting our mission as teachers.

If you are grading a pile of assignments and they all look the same, it is time to rethink your instructional design.

Read the rest of Grant Wiggins’s post here and let’s meet to work on assessing what is most important.

Equal Learning Opportunities

As our 1:1 program has expanded upward from the elementary grades, our district has been proactive in creating an environment where digital tools and digital mindsets will  be commonplace when the expansion reaches the higher grades. To fill in the the gaps where we don’t yet have devices for every student, we have instituted a BYOT program at GHS. It sounds scary to jump into something new and foreign, but there are excellent reasons to stretch ourselves to go beyond what is comfortable and has worked in the past.

This image comes from a excellent blog post I read yesterday. Having heard my own two children have this conversation at home, I thought I’d share both the image and the post. Using technology in education and moving away from lectures is less and less a choice and more and more an obligation.

We have plenty of our own technology in Goochland. We also have opportunities to develop student-centered activities through our G21 framework. I know I’ve been away with iPad deployment over the past few weeks, but I’m available to work with anyone interested in trying something new.

Learning About Learning

I know I have not blogged in a while. We have been exceedingly busy deploying iPads to all our 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th grade students. Tomorrow we get to visit our one cohort of 3rd graders at Goochland Elementary. It is exciting to be entering our third year of 1:1 learning.

I’ve also been very busy outside of school. I’ve formally become a student again, and the past ten days have been mind-stretching and time-consuming. Tonight I was going through my required readings and I came across a paragraph that made me stop reading and come over to this blog and write a post about it.

If you try to read a video game manual before you have ever played a game, you can, at best, associate definitions and paraphrases with the words in the text. The manual is boring and close to useless, when it is not simply inexplicable. If, however, you play the game for hours—you do not have to play at all well—then when you pick up the manual again everything will be clear.
This comes from James Paul Gee’s Digital Media and Learning: A Prospective Retrospective (link), and while the quote refers to a video game manual, it could very well be about a textbook in any of our classrooms. As Gee himself explains in the next few paragraphs, learning from reading the textbook without proper contextual references leads to passing the test but not much else. There is no Deeper Learning in learning for the test. Last year and over the summer, we, as a school division, spent a lot of time thinking about and designing learning experiences that are student-centered. An important part of our plans was the inclusion of a kick-off event, a vivid, memorable introductory event that would give context and purpose to whatever was to follow. I’ve often heard of teachers asking students to read a textbook chapter for homework in advance of any hands-on activity or in-class discussion. What do students really get out of this assignment? What if I asked any adult to read this intense text on the importance of Chalcid wasps in biocontrol efforts as homework for next Monday? Take a look. I read it because I have many Chalcid wasps in my macro photography collection. I know you have no interest. Still, give it a glance and try to imagine how students might feel when confronted with textbook full of stuff they have never heard about. Now think about what I could have done ahead of time to make this text a bit more more understandable and relevant despite the content being so foreign to you.
  • Show a video of a chalcid wasp laying eggs.
  • Show pictures of the typical hosts for chalcid wasps and ask students to tell me about them. Let you look up information to use in the discussion.
  • Talk about the problems of introducing toxic chemicals into a garden and let you think of alternatives. Guide you through searches for alternatives.
In the end, the text would simply fill in the gaps and become a study guide. We all want our students to love our content area as much as we do. We want them to look at a new textbook and hug it to their chest with glee at the thought of reading about the Constitution, single cell organisms, or the expansion of Islam. It would be great if they did, but they probably don’t. It is up to us to bring the content to life, to make it relevant and relatable. Your best chance to do this is with a well thought out kick-off event for any topic.        

Accessing Your Archived Courses

Teachers are getting an early start and populating their Schoology courses with activities and resources for students. I’ve been getting questions about accessing last year’s classes. Here is a video showing where archived courses can be found. If you need help moving resources to and from the Resources folders, I wrote a post about it in the spring. Follow this link to access it.

Understanding Our Students

This morning I learned some very interesting facts about cochlear implants, about what they do and what they don’t do, from a segment on NPR’s Morning Edition. We have students with cochlear implants in our schools, and I doubt too many people, adults and kids alike, know enough about them.

How many of us have seen those popular feel-good videos about babies hearing their mothers’ voices for the first time? Well, it turns out ALL voices sound pretty much alike through a cochlear implant. Music sounds as a series of beeps and buzzes, but no melody actually comes through and lyrics are hard to understand.

There are lots of smart people, engineers and physicians, working together to make these devices better at transmitting sounds accurately to the brain. Until then, understanding exactly what our students hear can make a huge difference in how we try to connect with them.

Saving Materials For Next Year

Of course all your hard work will help you next year!

If you have uploaded content to Schoology that you plan on using again next year, all you have to do is save it to your Resources folders. If you are not sure how to do this, watch these videos. The first one shows you how to move items from your groups or classes to your Resources folders. The second one shows you how to create folders to keep your resources organized.

Even if you do not save stuff to Resources, you will have it available. All content will be archived and you will have full access to it. However, if you have it in Resources, it will be much more easily accessible.

As always, let me know if you need any help.

Math IRL

“Why do we need to know this?”

There it is. Every teacher’s favorite question right after “Will this be on the test?”

It is always fun to find real-life applications of concepts for which I probably asked the same question. Here is a great example from Wired. How do you determine the field of view of a camera? Pull out your camera and give it a try. It would be a really fun activity for a classroom full of kids, all of them with a different model of phone. This single-block project could involve angle measurements and data analysis comparing the different phones. You could go even further and see if wider angles relate to higher pixel counts or phone price. This would be really fun, I think.

While this is much more advanced, it reminds me of one of my favorite projects of the past eight years as an Instructional Technology Coach in Goochland. Back in 2009 and 2010, Ms. Berry and her students created digital 3D structures and submitted them to Google Earth. Even today, when you visit Goochland in Google Earth, what you see is what the students created. They used very simple tools (student-made clinometers and ropes with knots) to measure buildings accurately. This gave kids a very good understanding of why we learn about angles, triangles, and congruency. With the accurate measurements they gathered, they reproduced the structures using Google SketchUp and Photoshop.


The Civility and Civics Of Wikipedia

I love Wikipedia. I argue with anyone who says it is bad, and I’ve even created a document to help teachers use Wikipedia effectively with their students.

There is something special about this giant collective work and the community that has helped create it. I often think about the authors and editors and how they arrived at the decision to give up their time to share their knowledge.

This morning @Braddo tweeted a link to a post on Big Think about Wikipedia and its community. Here is a quote from the transcript.

… I think it would be wonderful to make as part of the curriculum from, say, sixth grade onward part of your task and what you’ll be graded on is to edit and make the case for your edits to an article on a service like Wikipedia and then we’ll have new ranks of people being supervised by teachers who are working on the articles and on the product and that maybe even will apprentice to the norms by which you have an argument over what is true and what isn’t. And maybe some of them will choose to continue on as Wikipedians even after the assignment is over.

 I have proposed authoring or editing Wikipedia articles as school projects many times. I’m guessing this is not such an innovative concept now that Wikipedia is 14 years old. What I like about this proposal is the last bit.

So to me if I think of an advanced civics class, it’s great to learn that there are three branches of government and X vote overrides a veto, but having the civics of a collective hallucination like Wikipedia also be part of the curriculum I think would be valuable.

We would be teaching Civics for citizens of an online world. 

So go take a look, and scroll past the write-up to the comments, where one reader offers advice for teachers willing to take on the challenge.

Earth Day Extended Celebration

Last Friday and today, Ms. Kass and I took the students in her Science classes outside to do a little exploration of our environment. In a scavenger hunt type activity, we made a list of concepts the kids have studied during the year and went outside to look for examples. We looked for stages of life cycles, evidence of the water cycle, erosion, pollution, and documented the organisms in our ecosystem. Over the next few days, students will share the images they made with their iPad cameras in a Schoology class discussion. We will discuss what we found, and if we have a chance, we will make a plan to clean up the substantial amount of trash we found in the woods.

Here are a few of the pictures I made of during our outings of little things the students found.

Soldier beetle

Lichen and moss



Sawfly larvae



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