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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.        

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.


Protected: Casper Focus – 6th Grade Team

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At the end of January I had the good fortune to attend the MiTE conference in Galway, Ireland. I’ve been trying to figure out how to synthesize everything I saw and heard into a coherent blog post. It is hard because all the information I harvested is hard to sort. Some of it will help me when I’m working with students, some when I’m working with teachers, and some is stuff I’d love to share with instructional leaders in Goochland. But, despite much of it having very distinct audiences, it is all interconnected.

So, MiTE focused on teacher preparation. More specifically, in the use of mobile technologies in teacher preparation, the affordances, the possibilities, and difficulties in changing the mindset of pre- and in-service teachers. One of the topics that stood out for me was reflection. Student teachers and teachers taking additional graduate classes are asked to record video of themselves teaching. The teachers then watch the video and record their own comments as an additional audio track over the video. The observations and comments are based on what is in the video rather than on recollection of the events in the classroom. The video captures the teacher’s instruction along with student responses and behavior. It creates a record that can be referenced multiple times, and it can also be shared in mentoring relationships.

This past week I learned that the Language Arts department at GHS, on their own, decided to make and share videos of themselves teaching. Because I answered a few questions about video formats and sharing, I ended up hearing some of what the teachers thought of the exercise. It was very interesting to hear the teachers’ comments after watching themselves on the screen. Most importantly, it was impressive to hear how teachers set goals for themselves based on what they thought could be improved.

What if this could be incorporated into Goochland’s roadmap towards our goal to transforming instruction and fostering deeper learning?


A Student Perspective

If I go back to the classroom as a teacher, I know there are lots of things I would do differently today than eight years ago. Yes, technology has changed, and I have learned quite a bit about instructional design. However, even leaving all the theory behind, I would try to do things very differently after reading this essay in the Washington Post.

The author, Alexis Wiggins, is a veteran teacher who has transitioned to an instructional coaching role at her school. I imagine her role is much like mine, maybe with less emphasis on technology use. Trying to find out how to best serve her students, she shadowed students to become better attuned to their experiences. I wonder if I would have a similar experience if I shadowed students at GHS/GMS.

I could not believe how tired I was after the first day. I literally sat down the entire day…students move almost never. And never is exhausting.

How often do our students move during a block? I don’t mean shuffling feet and shifting in their chairs. I mean purposefully moving out of their seats. How often do students just tear up a piece of paper for the simple pleasure of walking out of their seats to the trash can?

We should think about ways to build in movement into our lessons. Remember Brain Rules? We must move to keep our brains working properly.

 In eight periods of high school classes, my host students rarely spoke…It was not just the sitting that was draining but that so much of the day was spent absorbing information but not often grappling with it.

Is our teaching student-centered? Are we relying mostly on lecturing? We must think of project-based approaches and in-class activities that let students discover information rather than handing out the information.

you start to feel sorry for the students who are told over and over again to pay attention because you understand part of what they are reacting to is sitting and listening all day…if the person teaching answered those questions by rolling their eyes at me, I would never want to ask another question again.

How empathic are we to our students’ needs and feelings? No matter what, we are the adults in the room. We set the tone for what happens, how it happens, and how students treat each other.

I think I’m going to ask permission to shadow a few students in the next few weeks. I wonder if any administrators want to join me in this.

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