Teaching is easy…Learning is Hard.
At Google Teacher Academy, I had the honor of presenting an inspiring idea about how I use technology in the classroom. I really wanted to talk about how I try to get my kids thinking about technology. And I wanted to show how I tried to help my students to really understand how all the free services the use work. How many times have I taught something by saying “you click this and then you click that” and then I’m surprised that the kids forget it two seconds later. This lesson was one way I hoped to avoid that. So here is my presentation with a little summary of my speaking notes.
— Wendy Gorton (@WendyGorton) May 7, 2013
I wanted my students to think about how GoogleNews works, instead of using the service without being critical consumers.
With my Grade 8 students I used the Visible Thinking Routine: See, Think, Wonder
Normally, Visible Thinking Routines are done on paper and post-it notes. I love that my classroom is covered with visual evidence of my students thinking. It’s messy and crazy and fun.
But for looking at GoogleNews, we used Padlet/Wallwisher. If you use the Chrome extension, you get to save all your walls. Which is messy and fun in its own way.
I started by having my students look at a zoomed in image and notice everything they could. (Did you notice I was using Chrome? Or I have two google accounts? My kids did)
Here are my Grade 8 See, Think, Wonder Walls. Click on the wall to see the big wall. What I love most about the routine in this context is that by taking the time really look at GoogleNews they could see how it was organized and then they had room to jump into inquiry about how it worked.
I think there are dozens of uses for this routine (and the many other Visible Thinking Routine) and digital literacy and digital citizenship.
You could use it to teach Google Advanced Search….
Or have kids think about Facebook privacy settings?
Or how about having kids think about how to use Creative Commons? Or why it’s fair to use Creative Commons?
This is simple way to teach something that is complex and I hope others are able to use it. And huge thanks to everyone for your support for my presentation. It’s a little intimidating talking to such great group of educators and I appreciated all of your good vibes!
Other related links:
- Summative Assessment on Global Issues and Perspectives - For MYP Humanities Teachers, this assessment address Criteria C where students are asked to evaluate sources. Evaluating sources is so much of of what it means to be digitally literate and it felt like a very natural fit.
- See, Think, Wonder Walls from my class
- Visible Thinking Routines Booklet
- Artful Thinking Routines Booklet
It was from my Australian friends that I learned the phrase “Tall Poppy Syndrome“.* So it’s somewhat appropriate that I try to write about my time at Google Teacher Academy in Sydney with a measure of humility and gratitude and quickly followed with how I’m supposed to change the world.
Sitting in the room.
Never underestimate the power of teachers meeting face to face, sharing quality time together to develop their thinking and networks #gtasyd
— tombarrett (@tombarrett) May 8, 2013
In a conference room in Google HQ Australia, I look around a room and saw strangers, twitter acquaintances, and friends. There were fifty-two educators from 13 countries, directly influencing 32,727 students, 40,311 teachers, and therefore indirectly influencing 410,885 students. These were amazing teachers who want to do amazing things for their students. In other words a powerful bunch of educators.
Nominally it was a tech conference (here’s a really great write up from another Google Certified Teacher about the Google Teach Academy from Gretel for the nitty-gritty). It was Google-y. We saw demo-slams. We learned techs and tips. But it was really about meeting people, re-connecting with people, and finding a community of innovative, positive, supportive educators. There were a lot of people who had the right to act like a tall poppy, but everyone just rolled up their sleeves and got to work. I can’t tell you how great it was to sit in the room with teachers who didn’t need to be convinced technology would benefit our students’ learning.** The energy in the room was crackling and buzzing. People were excited to play around with new technologies and brainstorm ways to use it in the classroom. I can’t tell you how privileged and lucky I was to sit in that room.
Things I’m geeking about.
In reading about the conference, many describe the Google Teacher Academy as a “fire hose” conference…in other words lots and lots of talking about tools and things Google can can do. For me, high-pressure spewing of information doesn’t sound the most enjoyable way to spend the day. And while the days were crazy, the emphasis of on pedagogy from all the Lead Learners was noted and truly appreciated. The days were spent talking about teaching and learning, which is always the forefront of my thinking. A few days later, here are things I am still geeking out about***.
- I am already trying to figure out how I can get Google Hangouts turned on at my school. My kids are already informally using Skype and GChat to do homework and I think I can use this innately social nature of my kids to help them learn, locally and globally. And I honestly think Google Hangout, Google Hangouts on Air, working on GoogleDocs in a Hangout and Hangouts on YouTube are going to be transformative to student learning.
- Using Google technologies and critique protocols – I learned about this from Chris Harte and I’m always geeked to find out ways to help my kids learn from each other.
- Geek Gurl Diaries! Created by a Google Certified Teacher Carrie Ann Philbin, I am very, very intrigued by this. Getting girls into the tech world is important and complicated. I hope I can beg, borrow, and steal things from Carrie Ann to help my girls enter that world.
- Design Thinking. I had the good fortune to talk to Tom Barrett about Design Thinking, an inquiry method using real-world strategies for solving real world/ungoogleable problems****. I have a feeling I’m going to be embarrassed very soon about how little I knew about the pedagogy behind Design Thinking. I also have a feeling I’ll be bugging Tom about it as I figure out ways to integrate it into my classroom.
— Amy McCauley (@AmyMMcCauley) May 7, 2013
Part of being a Google Certified Teacher is creating an action project that will bring about change and then get it done. People have done intimidatingly incredible action plans. The change can be local or global, but we were encouraged to dream big. To-The-Moon-Big. It’s a little scary really, because I really feel that if I come up with something good, Google (and all the Google Certified Teachers out there) will help me. That’s no-excuse territory.
Share early. Fail fast. #gtasyd
— Rebekah Madrid (@ndbekah) May 6, 2013
So what I’m thinking is a global conference, similar to Google Teacher Academy, for students. It would be run by students for students, supported by Google and Google Certified Teachers. It would help them develop the skills and networks needed for Moonshot Thinking to become a reality for them. This is a nutshell of an idea. There is more for me to think about and for me to figure out. This will evolve and I plan on failing fast, getting feedback, and to keep on moving. But I know that my passions lie in helping kids become empowered learners and active world citizens. And if Google can help me just a little bit, then I plan on exploiting my tall poppy status to make that happen.
—*Of course, as an American I don’t believe in cutting down the tall poppy. In the States, we’re all tall poppies. It’s what makes us awesome. And at times, annoying. **It’s not to say I don’t have these communities elsewhere (Coetail, Twitter, people at school). But it’s always incredible to find another group of people who will help you get better. ***Here are the notes Katie Christie and I took during the conference which shows a small amount of all the amazing things we learned. And there are dozens of things I still need to explore (scripting!). I had to take out a few sections that fall under the Non-Disclosure Agreement. Mentioning the Non-Disclosure Agreement does suggest that I’m a tall poppy. I’m okay with that, because it’s kind of cool. ****This is simplistic. Also, a sign of how being in the same room allows for some serendipitous conversation. And seriously – check out the No Tosh site.
See, Think, Wonder
Back in February, I signed up to take the Making Thinking Visible course offered through Harvard Project Zero. I had seen the teachers in the elementary school at YIS go through the class and heard how they felt it improved teaching and learning in their classroom. I thought that Making Thinking Visible would be a set of teaching routines that would help ensure that I no longer got the blank stares I was used to seeing when I ask “Everyone understand?” I also thought that the team of teachers was made up of people I wanted to learn with. (the amazing Kim, Simon, and Frank make up the indomitable Team Kangaesaseru* ) And really, I wondered how the routines would change my teaching and my students learning.
10X2: Describe 10 things you have observed. Then do it again. (I’m going to cheat and only do it once)
1. My students are incredible thinkers. By using the routines, every single students gets to show what they understand and what questions they have. And the routines are non-evaluative and low-stakes, so my kids are really open to showing their thinking.
2. The routines get easier for both me and my students each time we do them. I’m constantly referring to the booklet**, but as a class we’re figuring them out.
3. It really, really helps that other people are doing the course. The students are practicing the routines across many classes. Hopefully we are starting to build a culture of understanding across the school. Also, seeing how eight teachers are using the routines is inspiring.
4. Being a student is hard work. As part of the course, my team is constantly trying to figure out what expectations our teacher has, how are we going to get it done on time, and how to balance it with all the other things going on in our lives. It’s tough and it’s good to remember that.
5. My class is zippier. The routines are quick. I can do multiple routines in a class depending on what concept I want my students to focus on. With these routines, my students are constantly moving, changing directions, and thinking about different aspects of the concepts we are studying in class. Time goes fast.
6. My classroom looks crazy. Their learning is visible everywhere. On butcher paper. On post-it notes. There are papers on top of papers on all walls. Other students, other teachers, and parents can see what is going on in my class and we’re talking about it.
7. Paper is good. A lot of the learning is becoming visible using paper and pen. It’s a quick way to see what they are learning. If I really need it, I’m taking a picture so we can use it again.
8.GoogleDocs/Surveys/Wallwisher/Tech is good. Graphic Organizers with the Thinking Routines are fantastic. Wallwishers where students post their understanding is the perfect way to show their thinking. I’ve sent out a Google Survey asking students to submit Headlines. When pedagogy changes, technology can follow.
9. I want to use the new iPad mini to capture learning. School has given me a new iPad mini to pilot*** and I’m trying to figure out how to use it to show student learning. Yesterday, I used YouTube Capture to record students practicing a Thinking Routine, uploaded to YouTube and linked in my blog in less than five minutes.
I think there are lots of similar quick, easy, and effective ways to capture my students thinking visibly. And I want to find out what they are.
10. The Thinking Routines is about the process of student learning, not the perfect final projects. This is a very, very good thing.
I used to think….Now I think
I used to think, Visible Thinking would be quick little tricks that would make my teaching a little more varied and that it would be interesting to learn about. Now I think that though none of the ideas are revolutionary, they are helping me understand what I can do to help every single one of my students, in every grade level. Now I think, I am on my way to being a better teacher.
*The course is online and I may have been a little crazy to sign up. I’ve learned a lot, but I feel there is a lot to say about distance learning after this experience. The best part has been working with my team, Team Kangaesaseru. Kangaesaseru means “to think” in Japanese.
**This fantastic booklet (from which I stole the visuals used in this post) was made by Frank and it’s my go-to for this course.
***Way more on this later.
Every single professional success or accolade has started with me wanting to learn something new. Every single time I have said “Let’s try it and see what happens” I have been showered with the opportunities.
I applied for the Google Teacher Academy on a bit of a whim. I had just learned about YouTube video editor and I wanted to play with it. I am really, really pathetic with movie editing and I wanted to see if I could figure it out. Knowing that one of the requirements for the Google Teacher Academy was a 1 minute video, I made a video on the topic of “Innovation”, just days before the deadline. I never really felt I would be accepted and I was thrilled with the possibilities of YouTube editor for my classes. But, because I wanted to learn something new, I have now been invited to Google Teacher Academy summit in Sydney with 52 other incredible educators. I’m a more than a little thrilled about this opportunity. And I hope I am exposed to dozens of new ideas to try and explore, because who knows where that will take me next.
Here’s my video (not too bad for a first try).
My kids are failing and struggling and I’ve never been more proud of them. We are in the midst of a project and I don’t know if they are going to get done what I thought they were going to get done by the deadline. But I’m pretty sure they have never been more engaged in their learning. After this experience, I wish my kids could fail a little more often
Anyone who knows the history of Japan (including the triple disaster of March 11th) knows that the ability to power this massive industrial nation has always been a struggle. At YIS we have started to think about how to go “off-the-grid”, even in a small way. Teachers from all three divisions of the school and from a multitude of different departments have been brainstorming ways we can conserve and create energy for our school.* It was obvious from the start that we needed the kids. And so with Grade 10 Individuals and Societies, it was clear we could introduce the topic in out Sustainability unit.
My co-teacher, Ben McKewon, and I decided this would be an entirely inquiry based assessment. We gave them was the inquiry statement: “In order to create a more sustainable YIS community, we must be innovators.” They were told they would need to work as an entire class to come up with something to present to the Board of Directors and other bigwigs. And armed with an authentic audience and a statement of inquiry, they were set loose.
Questions, questions, and more questions.
The first step was to list questions. I asked them to write 20 questions they had about statement of inquiry. And then I asked them to write 10 more. Some questions included:
- What are innovators?
- Who is the YIS Community?
- Do we have to make something?
- Can we create a sustainable community?
- Will is cost a lot of money?
- Should we create a sustainable community?
- How are we already sustainable?
- How much energy do we already use?
- What is sustainable?
- What are we going to have to do?
“What are we going to have to do?” was just long list of questions that I did not have an answer to.
Students Take Control
My students did three things that set the tone for how they would run the project.
1) Every day they set the room up in a circle. They debrief each day at the start of class and one student has been designated note-taker. They also debrief at the end of the period and assign homework**. I try to stay silent. When I do talk it’s usually to say “I don’t know” or “What do you think?”. Occasionally I repeated the statement of inquiry: “In order to create a more sustainable YIS community, we must be innovators.
2) They set up a Trello Board.
I had never seen this project management tool before my students introduced it. It’s worked incredibly well for this type of project. If I assigned it, I don’t know if they would have bought into it the way they have.
3) They love to do pitches. They have pitched ideas about solar panels, energy-generating bicycles, algae farming, and dozens of other things. Every single pitch has created more and more questions.
Wandering down the wrong path.
Ben’s class quickly decided to research the feasibility of installing solar panels on the school roof***. My group was far from decisive. After much, much discussion they decided to try to install Enefarm (a household fuel cells unit).
They quickly broke into the following groups:
- Science behind Enafarm.****
- Architecture of the school/feasibility.
- Case Studies of Fuel Cells in Japan and/or schools
- Cost and government subsidies for fuel cells
- Communications Group
- Aesthetics/Everything else
The kids started to work. They learned, when trying to get the blue prints of the school, you must be very nice to the school secretaries because they hold the real power. They found the month-to-month usage of energy at YIS from the physics teacher and how fuel cells worked from the chemistry teacher. They practiced their Japanese trying to find a school in Yokohama that uses this technology. The learned who could be a leader as different students stepped up and took on new responsibilities. And they kept asking more questions.
To get some answers they called the company selling Enefarm units in Tokyo and the answers they got were not the ones the wanted. Disaster.
They realized it would take our school 186 years to recoup the cost of the fuel cell unit. And the Enefarm would only last 10 years. And it would require an outside energy source (gas) to start the process and it didn’t meet the requirement of sustainability. And what power it does generate would probably power about 10 computers. We had failed. And they now have 10 days to come up with something.
In the real-world, when we have a deadline, we have to produce something. So in about 10 days my students will have to come up with a proposal that they could present to important school officials that addresses our statement of inquiry**** . I’m not sure what they will present. I am liking that in the last class they talked about what they can “create” and “make” instead of what they can buy. I’ll report back what they actually do. But despite (or because of) this major problem they are facing, I am loving watching them learn. Their feedback to me (which they are documenting on Gdocs) has been nothing but positive. Different students (and not the obvious ones) are taking on leadership roles. Every student seems engaged and knowledgeable about the topic. No one asks me what they are being graded on. It’s fun, and it’s intense, and it’s stressful. And they are learning.
On the day after they realized Enefarms would not be a good option for the school, I was wondering how I would redirect their energy and make sure they didn’t get discouraged. Before the bell rang, one of my students walked to the front of the classroom and said he was going to address the class.
This is what he said:
To be honest, after talking to Mr. Duffield [their physics teacher], Enefarm isn’t going to work. All the time that we spent, looking this stuff up, it wasn’t a waste of time. We found a lot of stuff out….Riding on train yesterday, looking at the posters, I realized that…sustainability can be closer….Remember our statement was: In order to be a more sustainable YIS community, we must be innovators. In order to be a more sustainable YIS community we must be innovators. (link for video)
At the end of his speech, the rest of the class (me included) did this:
And then we got back to work. We have a lot to do.
* A lot of people smarter than me have been leading this initiative. The science department in particular has been doing a lot of research that was incredibly helpful to this project.
** They seriously volunteer to do homework. I actually got in trouble because I didn’t upload my profile picture to trello when I was supposed to.
***This would be a very different post if written from Ben’s point of view. His group has invited people from solar companies to see the feasibility of our roof as a place for solar panels and they are creating a documentary. Our classes were given the option to work together, but they got a little competitive.
**** I had never heard of Enefarm before this project and I’m still not 100% sure how it works. But I’m pretty sure you could walk into my classroom and find out the answer.
*****They will present, but probably later in the spring. The unit is ending in 10 days and they do need an end-date.
Grade 7 seems like the wrong grade to pilot using Minecraft as a learning tool. This is an age where real-world interactions are difficult enough and empathy is sometimes lacking due to the fact that their bodies are rushed with hormones. Sometimes they can’t control their actions. Setting them loose in a virtual world seems silly when you think about it too much. But at YIS, we are risk-takers and the school gave each 7th grade kid a Minecraft account to use in Humanities class. Kids go on after school in the evening to build, create, and hang out. It has been an crazy process and perhaps one of my most unexpected learning experiences as a teacher. While I’ll do a more expanded blog post later, I wanted to write down some of my initial observations about this process before we went off on holidays.
- Alex Guenther, my teaching partner, is the real brains behind this. His blog post on how we implemented Minecraft is a must-read for anyone considering using Minecraft in the classroom. It explains our goals and reasons for using Minecraft in our Humanities classes. Or watch Alex’s video. It’s a pretty great explanation of what we’re trying to do.
- The kids love being experts. I’m a total newbie when it comes to Minecraft, not entirely sure what it was or how to use it. The first time I logged in, I had no idea how to move or how to talk, let alone how to build anything. The kids sat down and showed me what to do. When I showed up in Minecraft world for the first time, a kid literally had to find me and I followed her around the virtual world they built. They loved being smarter than me. They loved showing off. They gently hazed me (virtual snowball fights and hidden trapdoors) as you should welcome all rookies. And for the kids who were also newbies, we made a deal to learn together.
- I am amazed at my administration and I work with incredible teachers. The admin at YIS are risk-takers and I can’t tell you how great that is. I love that my principal and vice principal not only vaguely support us, but ask how things are going and are just as invested in our kids learning as Alex and I are. And other teachers are always asking what is going on in our Humanities class. They are equally intrigued with the possibilities of Minecraft and they’re learning with us. A major thanks has to go to the other 7th grade tutors, Frank Curkovic and Alex Thomas, who have worked with the 7th graders as they have struggled to build a community in a virtual space. Next step is for administrators and teachers to come visit us in Minecraft world.
- Kids are the same in Minecraft world as they are in the real world. But sometimes they surprise you. Their personalities shine through in virtual world. Trouble makers are trouble makers. The sweet kids are the ones who helped me out the most. The kids who is kind of ditzy in class is also ditzy in virtual world. They make me laugh when I visit, the same way they make me laugh in class. And, sometimes I don’t want to go into Minecraft world, because I need a break from 7th graders and I know if I go in there it’s literally like stepping back into my physical classroom. But also, kids have a chance to shine in there. They challenge themselves and take pride in their work. They are so creative, that every time I see what they’ve built (be it a Nyan Cat or the Roman Coliseum) I am amazed.
They are working harder in Minecraft than they do on their real-world assignments. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s proof that 7th graders can and will work hard if they are invested in their learning.
- The content they are learning is much less important than the real-life skills they are practicing. My kids have built an awesome Hagia Sophia and an incredible Globe Theater. The structures are amazing. There is definitly some humanities stuff going on in there and they are working with each other to accomplish this goal. But what is really amazing is how Minecraft has allowed us to practice living and working in community with others. We have been plagued by griefers (Minecraft-speak for vandals or irritants). They have destroyed some beautiful structures and at times it’s been difficult for the 60 kids of 7th grade to get along. It’s been disappointing and stressful. Nonetheless, Alex and I believed that the Minecraft world should be one for the students and to the best of our ability we tried to let them work it out on their own.
In response to the griefing, the students called a “family meeting.” Lead my one of my students who struggles at times, the entire 7th frade gathered voluntarily during recess to discuss what type of community they wanted. They brainstormed on their own what they wanted to talk about. They thought about how it could be a postive meeting, as opposed to a griefer witch-hunt. During the meeting, a student spoke in front of his peers and directed a conversation, with skills that a veteran teacher would envy. Amazingly, during a recess, sixty 7th graders gathered in a room and listened to each other.
It was one of my proudest moments as a teacher, watching them think, talk, and negotiate the rules of the community they wanted. They wanted people to be kind. They wanted people to be thoughtful. They wanted people to respect each other. They wanted it to be fun. If they can negotiate how to do that in a virtual space, I really hope that they can be kind, thoughtful, funny students in real space. Which, at the end of the day, is really the most important thing 7th graders can learn. And for that reason, grade 7 may be the perfect grade to launch Minecraft.
My goal of my COETAIL final project was simple: Have my Grade 11 Theory of Knowledge kids do something is now second nature to my middle school students. The rest of this post is a long discussion of how I tried to achieve that goal.
The Project: Create a TOK Presentation
Every TOK student must complete a presentation at the end of Grade 11 that is 20% of their TOK grade, which is part of their IB Diploma. During first semester of TOK, students do a practice essay. All presentations must meet certain requirements (click here for way more information about these):
- It must deal with a real life situation.
- It must address a knowledge issue.
And all presentations are assessed on four criteria:
Criterion A – Identification of a Knowledge Issue Did the presentation identify a relevant knowledge issue involved, implicit or embedded in a real-life situation?
Criterion B – Treatment of Knowledge Issues Did the presentation show a good understanding of knowledge issues, in the context of the real-life situation?
Criterion C – Knower’s Perspective Did the presentation, particularly in the use of arguments and examples, show an individual approach and demonstrate the significance of the topic?
Criterion D – Connections Did the presentation give a balanced account of how the topic could be approached from different perspectives? Did the presentation show how the positions taken on the knowledge issues would have implications in related areas?
I have taught TOK for seven years and I have sat through dozens and dozens of these projects*. I wanted to kick it up a notch.
What makes this presentation different?
1) Something that is not in the official TOK presentation guidelines is anything about PRESENTATION. No points for bibliography or using Creative Commons. No mention of making the presentation attractive or effective. I have heard so many incredible ideas being discussed in TOK presentation that have just been killed by bullet-points. So for this presentation, I would require Presentation Zen style using Creative Commons images.
2) Criterion D is about connections. In traditional TOK presentations, students are supposed to make reference to different subject classes. I wanted to push it even more. So I required for Connections, student make connections between school, local and global resources. But I didn’t want to make the connections for them. These kids have thier own connections. They are international school students, Third Culture Kids, and multinational/multilingual individuals. So for this presentation, I would require students to make their own global collaborations using Skype, Facebook, or other Web2.0 tools.**
I had to sell these ideas to the kids. Sometimes for grade 11 students, if it’s not on the official criteria, they won’t want to do it. So I had to figure out ways to make them realize that there was value in what I was asking them to do. And I had to do it fast, because we only meet once a week.
1) I showed them tons of resources:
2) I showed them my own presentation that I was creating for Learning2.0. I wasn’t asking them to do anything different than what I do. That helps build trust.
3) We talked about what freaked them out about using Presentation Zen. They were scared that I wouldn’t understand the message and that they would forget. Nothing that adults aren’t scared of.
Step 1: Have students brainstorm what connections they have.
School: Teachers, classmates, elementary school, middle school, The International Center for Japanese Culture (ICJC), etc.
Local: neighbors, off-campus sports teams, parents, grandparents, etc.
These maps are analytics from Facebook via Wolfram Alpha. These kids have global collections. There is no reason for me to find them for my students. They can do it themselves.
I think this is the part of the assignment that starts to lend itself to a tranformative lesson. When I started teaching TOK, there was no thought that they would make global collaborations. Now it’s ridiculous that we don’t have this happen with every TOK presentation. If we want them to think of other perspectives and arguments, then they must make global connections.
I think it helped with expressing things in your own way because we weren’t reading off the board. I will definitely try and apply this concept to our class presentations. Visually, I think our images were good, although could of been a bit more interesting. I think the images themselves help the audience concentrate on what your actually saying, compared to just reading off the board.
The Presentation Zen also required you to think about the choice of images carefully. The way you wanted things to be portrayed and also relate to your knowledge issue had to be taken into account.
By having a simple slide, the audience listens to the speaker more, whereas they won’t if there are much more information on the slide given.
Presentation Zen uses a minimalistic view of the presentation. It may be harder for the presenter, yet once you get used to it, it becomes a breeze. Also, from the audience’s perspective, the eye ache of being throw crammed words in one slide is mercifully avoided.
I made connections with my family member, my aunt, who can also be my global connection as well, because she is a Cambodian who has lived all her life in Cambodia. I contacted her via email, which was not difficult. Making connections was not too hard, because I had relatives with multiple cultural experiences in different country (and my partner Dessy interviewed Ms. Cox, her English teacher, who has lived in Tanzania and Japan). There could have been more methods, however, to ask others about their perspectives. I am now intrigued in setting up a forum on the web to see opinions from people around the world that I do not personally know.
I sent a survey about political issues throughout our school, Yokohama International school which is the represented group of Third Culture Kids and asked friends I know who lived only in the U.S. This was in some ways hard, especially getting in touch with those in the U.S since even if I do know them. I had to have the courage to ask them to answer a survey after not talking to them for a while.
We only had one global connection, who was my Aunt who lives in Australia. Perhaps a way we could have widened our connections would be to interview someone living in an LEDC and and MEDC.
I found that finding these connections were a lot of fun and by being physically involved in learning about each culture from such nearby sources, it was beyond belief. It surprised me to realize that we have so many people, who we can use as resources, to further expand our points.
- Their presentations looked incredible***. It was so much better as an audience to not have to read bullet points. In reading their reflections, I think they got what the purpose of Presentation Zen is. And if they are brave enough to do a presentation in another class using only visuals, I will have succeeded.
- I wish I spent more time introducing Creative Commons to the students. I don’t know if they understand what it is. Creative Commons would actually be an interesting presentation topic for TOK.
- They made global and local connections and did a good job of it. I wish they would have made more. I underestimated how intimidating it is for a grade 11 to make these connections. I love the one student who wants to start a forum.
- I think in the future I will bring in more TOK students around the world to collaborate. Every student who is working towards to IB Diploma takes TOK. I would love for students to work on a presentation with people around the world. I think that is the next step. And maybe I will help lead that next step.
* I don’t plan on talking about this part of the presentation in this blog post. Another time I will talk about the topics of my kids presentations and the process of teaching the content and concepts of TOK.
** For those that care, NETS standard: Communication and Collaboration: Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.
***I would add the presentations here, but this post is already absurdly long. I plan on using their exact same images in my COETAIL presentation and when I share that, I’ll include the links.
I’m in the middle of writing reports and I’m stressed* . I’m writing paragraphs about each student and I’m trying to convey to parents (and anyone else who reads it) what the kid has learned this semester. I’m trying to convince people that I know their student. I’m trying to explain and/or justify their mark**. Accomplishments are noted and goals are suggested. But I wish they didn’t have to be so formal and that I could be a little more honest and upfront in them. I wish I could write directly to the student and let the parent read the conversation and join in when they feel the need to. So based on no individual student***, here is what I wish I could write in reports.
To the The All-Rounder
To be honest, you intimidate me. Your work is always excellent and somehow it’s clear to me that you are honestly interested in the topic. Your voice is clear in your writing and when I see your work I always learn something new. I enjoy having conversations with you because they are informed discussions and it’s clear with the questions you are asking that you are thinking. I hear the same thing from all your other teachers. And you manage this class, and your dozen other responsibilities with a smile. So, I’m going to up my expectations for you. I’m going to push you more than I push other students. It might not seem fair and I’m okay with that. I hope you’re okay with that too. But you MUST tell me if you start losing sleep or honestly think you can’t handle it. I don’t want to break you. One of your challenges is going to be to know when enough is enough and when to settle for “good-enough”. So I hope I’m challenging you in ways that make you a better thinker and communicator.
To The Grade Hound
If the school would let me, I wouldn’t put a grade down. You consistently score in the highest levels, but there seems to be no joy in it. I hate handing back your work, because when I do I know you don’t look over the comments I write, but only at the grade. I also know there is a good chance you’ll try to argue about your grade, even if you haven’t read my comments. No matter how hard an assignment is or how easy, you always scrape by with the top mark. You have figured out how to play the game of school and I can’t really punish you for that. If I can give you one tip, if you find a way to be genuinely interested in the topics we’re discussing or the skills we’re learning, this 7 will feel more rewarding. Let’s have a chat about how we can make this class more meaningful for you. Because I want you to love learning and I want to help you with that. And if nothing else, I hope you find that joy in an another one of your classes.
To The On-the-Border-Student
You have no idea how much I want to give you the 7. I see everyday how hard you are working and I see how much you want it. And you seem to really enjoy what we’re talking about in class and when we talk you show a real understanding of the big topics and concepts we are discussing. But I can’t “give” you that 7 because you haven’t quite earned it. You are missing something on each assignment which keeps it from being that 7. I really think what you need to get better at is reflecting on your work. There is real skill and difficulty about looking at your own work with a dispassionate eye and giving yourself honest feedback. If you can do that and combine it with your hard work and your interest in the topic, I hope you can earn that 7. Because I don’t ”give” 7s. So when you EARN it, it will feel incredible. But even if you don’t earn it, know that I still think you’re incredible. Your perseverance, hard work ,and curiosity should define you, not your grade.
To The Kid in the Back
Academically you’re doing solid work. Your work is completed and all-in-all you show what you know. Your analytical, research, and all the other important skills are very well demonstrated. I have no complaints about your behavior and I appreciate your cheery nature. But while I have this chance, I would like to apologize for those moments when it takes me a nanosecond to remember your name even though you’ve been in my class three months. I would also like to apologize for the fact that you can go an entire day without me calling on you. And I’m sorry for every time I let you float, without truly challenging you. Speak up and don’t let me get away with it anymore. You don’t have to be an extrovert, but you do need to develop your voice. Also, I’m going to call on you a lot more. Be prepared.
To the Student Who is Moving On Up
I know this year has been a struggle for you. Everyday I see you tackle a new challenge. I’m amazed at your bravery each time you raise your hand, learn a new word, ask a question and try something new. It has been a joy to watch you grow. There are still gaps in your work and it’s not always clear to me that you understand what we are learning in class. So, we’ll keep working at the skills we’ve been practicing and make sure I teach you some good strategies to find websites that are good for you. Don’t get frustrated…this grade doesn’t really reflect all the amazing things you are learning in school this year.
To the Student Who is Talented But Lazy
I’m guessing your parents are sick of hearing that you are not performing up to your potential. You’re smart, so you already know what I’m going to say. You could do better if you just try. I feel disrespected when you turn in work late or incomplete. I think you are wasting a great education, because you at a school where people care about you and know what you are capable of. But you know that already. But I’m not giving up on you. Believe it or not, I don’t love nagging students, but I’ll nag you. I’ll keep asking you what I can do to help you. And just when you think I’m giving up on you, know that I’m just taking a break (nagging is kind of exhausting) and I’ll be back to checking up on you the next day. And I’m not celebrating when you finally turn in a piece of work. That’s your job. I’ll celebrate when I can finally stop nagging you. So let’s do this.
To the Class Clown.
Thanks for making me laugh. Everyday, you find a way to make our class a joyful place to be. I am pleased that your jokes are no longer about a classmate (which was a little mean), but instead about the funny things about being a teenager. Academically you struggle. To be honest, I think you just need to get through school. You have something special that will make you a success once you get past tests and projects. But you do need to keep working on skills. You have charm, intelligence and good humor and if you combine that with effort and skills there is no stopping you.
In a perfect world, I would write up reports like the ones above to give to my students, even if they are not on their formal report cards. Maybe I will make a new year’s resolution. I know that people put these types of comments on student blogs. But honestly, I don’t know if I will be able to do it. I really try not to complain about time (or lack thereof), but I don’t know how to do it all. I want the requirements of report writing to change so I don’t have to double my work and I can have a formal time and place to give my kid’s feedback. So I will keep having these conversations with my students and hopefully the purpose of reports will change. Because I think we owe them more than just grades.
*The fact that I’m writing this post is also proof that when I’m stressed, I procrastinate
**Marks/grades at my school are on a 1-7 scale. A mark 7 is more-or-less the same as an “A”.
***Honestly these are based on composites of students I have taught over the past 12 years. Any resemblance to a real-person is not intentional. And in real reports, I would reference work and projects and real things. These are very, very general.
In less than a month, I’ll be presenting my final COETAIL project. Eventually I’ll have something in the mail from SUNY Buffalo saying I have earned a Certificate of Educational Technology and Informational Literacy. So as this is my penultimate COETAIL post, I thought I’d share a little of the lot I learned this past 15 months.
- I’m a better teacher because of COETAIL.
- The more you know, the more you want to do. I’m a classic overachiever and with every new idea I learned in COETAIL, I wanted to try it in my class. This wasn’t always feasible and it didn’t always make sense. But my classes are better because I was willing to experiment. And there is still so much that I need to improve or try.
- On Twitter don’t just follow people who teach what you do. Don’t just read blogs of people who are the same as you. My teaching philosophy has shifted because I have read Clair Weston’s and Zoe Page’s blogs and sat in COETAIL with them. These incredible early years teachers, and dozens of other elementary teachers, have helped me understand what true inquiry looks like, both from the perspective of teachers and students. Thanks to COETAIL, I’ve widened my network and I’m a better person because of it.
- When, one day in the future, I decide to move on from my wonderful school, I will be hired because of what I have written on this blog. My CV will be secondary. And the person who hires me will know me and how I teach because they have read this blog. That will be a wonderful way to start a new job.
- I am a better teacher because I reflect about my learning. And I love that when I made a wordcloud of my entire blog, students were at the center of my reflections.
- Speaking of the wordcloud, the fact that ”learning”, “teaching”, “think” and “people” was discussed more than “technology” shows you what COETAIL is really about.
- I love showing my students my blog, because they know that I am practicing what I preach.
- I am worse than my students when it comes to procrastination. I apologize to the internet for flurry of posts you get when COETAIL is ending and I still have four posts to write. I really hope I can keep it up when there is no deadline hanging over my head.
- I appreciated having other YIS teachers in COETAIL with me. It was great having colleagues to talk about the big ideas and collaborate with. I also liked having teachers from other schools in the Tokyo area, because it meant I wasn’t working in a vacuum When you throw in the worldwide COETAIL community, it is an amazing community to learn with.
- I loved having the space and time to talk about pedagogy. I don’t know if I ever said the word pedagogy as much as I have since I started thinking about technology in the classroom. Being able to debate and talk and share ideas with other educators in an incredible opportunity. And everyone in the room was amazing. For the most techy to the least techy, everyone in COETAIL at YIS cared about kids. So thanks to Kim, and the instructors and everyone who read my blog. And major thanks to every participant. I learned something from everyone in there.
- If I was stopped on the street, I could actually tell you what COETAIL stands for. I’m quite proud of that.
- I’m not quite sure where I’m going to find better PD than COETAIL.
- Did I mention I’m a better teacher? What more can you ask for?
Over the last 20 to 30 years, textbook publishers have become averse to bold historical narratives for fear of being labeled as too liberal, too conservative, too patriotic, or too sexist….Instead they have become encyclopedias of historical names, places, and timelines….and they are doing away with is what most interesting about history: perspective, interpretations, historiography, bias, debate and controversy.
From History Lessons: How History Books around the World Portray US History by Dana Lindaman and Kyle Ward.
There is a movement today to read and re-evaluate the school textbooks of the Asian countries which Japan held as colonies or occupied during the war….School textbooks in those countries described the pain in detail, along with perceptions of Japan. Internationalization must begun with speaking the truth about the role each country played in the war.
Display at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
As my grade 10 student study imperialism, their final assessment was to write a textbook from the point of view of an imperialist nation and the nation they colonized. It’s a fun assignment and students have the opportunities to explore the idea of “perspective, interpretations, historiography, bias, debate and controversy”. The irony of students creating a textbook is not lost on me. In the three years I have taught at YIS, I haven’t had used a textbook. We practice Google search techniques, I put links on my blog, and check books out from the library. So as my kids create textbook pages, we have discussed the pros and cons of textbooks. And we pulled out textbooks so they could see how they were formatted and they type of language they used to describe the days of hope and glory or the days of conquest, depending on your perspective.
A funny thing happened on the way to the final due date. My students started to ask if they could create e-books. Or apps. Or books that were interactive, where vocab word would link to the dictionary or there could be videos. This was not my intention, but it’s what they started to do. I shared David Wees’s post Forget the future: Here’s the textbook I want now and they ran with it. They want searchable books and ones that are customizable and include multimedia. Honestly this is how they expect books to act.
There are days when a textbook would be easier and at times they may be the best teaching tool. The advantage of books versus the vastness of the internet is information that is easy to find and appropriate. And textbooks can tell us what countries, schools, or teachers think is important for our students to learn*.But our students don’t expect information to be static. And neither should we.
*I know this is incredibly loaded statement. Maybe something to dive into at a later date.
The pictures are drafts of the layout for the textbooks/apps/ebooks. About half the students are doing traditional books and the ones doing Apps/ebooks receive no extra credit. You should have seen how psyched the boys working on an App were when they found a program that was perfect.