Graphic-A-Day#8 – Printers

Give a teacher a printer and make a friend for life. Todays poster is for all those teachers who love a printed worksheet. Some just love to print out ‘content’. Last year I did a study with year 12 students in the lead up to the HSC. Most said they were getting well over 100 sheets of paper a week. Most also said that they didn’t read it. The sheets they read were the ones that had ‘work’ on them, and even so, the majority said that it was easier to use the internet to get the answer than it was the paper.

Some teachers love the printer so much that they will come into school during the holidays just to get print outs ready.

To these people, that is what computers are for: Preparing CONTENT or TESTING for content retention.

If you want a rebellion, pull the toner drum out for a day. Teachers will chase the IT department with pitch-forks and torches. If they cannot use the printer – then a computer is like a car without wheels.

The reality is that it takes less effort to save a document and share it via the internet, than it does to print it and get a class set photocopied. Trying to explain the benefits to them – and the students is not something that goes down well. The notion of being parted from their printer it too unthinkable.

It is maybe ironic however, that the paper-pushers also claim Google and Wikipedia use as one of the ‘yeah but’ arguements against using computers in the classroom. The most common other one being lack of time (well printing and photocopying is very time consuming). These teachers do that themselves with technology. When going beyond the class text book, they can be seen preparing ‘content’ sheets. Its almost a cottage industry in some schools. The above poster really tries to sum that activity up – as a satire on process driven learning.

Create the document, and share it with not just your class, but other teachers is more efficient and consistent. Posting that online where kids can get it, is more effective. It saves time and paper. How many paper pushing teachers hear from students ‘I didn’t get the worksheet or I don’t have it here’. This 20C activity is easily improved.

Put that content or worksheet in an online space where students can discuss it, creates conversational learning. Developing a GoogleDoc with collegues, and then sharing that with students is even better. Working on a GoogleDoc with students is engaging and promotes one to one learning.

“Yeah but” … I don’t have that much access to computer classrooms, so I need to print!

Well, yes and no. It’s all about rethinking how you use the time you have. As a teacher, it is possible to take the time you will be in and ICT classroom, and create an activity which promotes improved classroom practice and professional development. In short, it’s not so much about access as it is about building your own capacity to begin changing how you use technology with students.

If you are designing lessons, that are essentially question driven – based on students seeking similar information that you yourself ‘found’, then that is BORING. It is also low level activity, and is not building capacity in the students.

If your printed worksheet contains instructions such as ‘go to http://www.somewebsite.com and answer the following questions … then that is fairly basic and boring. If you say go to Google and do it, then the kids will be struggle – as you are not teaching the most critical skill – how to select and justify quality information.

A better way would be to ‘tag’ several sources in delicious – and ask why one is more applicable or more authoritative than the other. They will still learn the ‘content’ but the need for learning is to compare and justify it, not just use or identify it. Delicious is the ‘worksheet’. All you had to do was create one ‘tag’ for the students, which is less work that stripping out content and re-packing it for paper delivery.

If you can’t give up paper – then this activity can be done with paper. Students can use the tags and the content in the ICT lesson, make paper notes and then do some offline activity. That is a better use of the time you have – and you are teaching critical literacy.

So thats the rant for today – make the most of the time you have in ICT, and don’t simply make it an electronic search of the classic text book chaper task. Kids can find millions of pages about anything you ask them to look for … there is TOO much information now. A decade ago there was less. It was easier to find it and much more obvious if Site A is better than Site B. That is no longer the case. Think before you print! Finding ‘the’ answer is not as important as choosing the ‘most relevant’ in a context.

Animal Farm 2.0 – Reading and Sharing

A funny thing’s happened at the farm. Firstly, strange messages started appearing on the walls in the barn. A few days later, students were given the shocking news that they had to not only read, but talk about Orwell’s Animal Farm. The farmer did come in and ‘yeah but’ a few things, but the animals didn’t bark or moo back.

Students remind me constantly that what they have learned this year in a web2.0 classroom, are skills and methods of learning – that boost learning. One example. Students chose one of several study themes while reading the book this week. So for instance, one theme is Napoleon, looking at power. They share a GoogleDoc with Napoleon, and answer the questions. Each day, the questions move onto 2 new chapters.

This was Lucy’s idea not mine – for the character in the book to be having the conversation with the student – about the content of the book – and as a formative tool. So the learning goes back and forth in a very conversational style.

The benefit, and perhaps the significant shift that technology brings – is that the conversation is instant and between teacher and student. It is not marking at all, it is a conversation and the teacher is able to push or pull the student to explore any ideas they have. The teacher is NOT asking all the questions, but posing questions that generate discussion. The learning comes from that discussion – no getting a question right a,b, or c.

GoogleDocs allows that to happen. It also gives the teachers an opportunity to share and work with students outside of the classroom setting, where peer pressure and ‘its not cool to read a book’ might otherwise stop boys asking questions. But in the classroom is not silly-boyish behavior, over what many 9th grade boys would cite as ‘boring’ .. why are we reading this old book about stupid animals.

Why is not a question that immediately comes to mind for them now. As they know that the answer will not be simple enough to be given to them.

I think that is what schools need to see happen. Students learning that there is often no single answer and that even if there was, then they know how to challenge it – not simply accept it as truth because the teacher is the one with both the questions and answers. Technology enables but does not determine this learning.

Perhaps from a social media perspective – the most significant ‘observation’ I’ve had is that students no only shared their document with the teacher (who remains anonymous throughout the week), but with several of their friends. There is discussion about the book at school. Not teacher led but student lead. GoogleDocs is being used in a way that negates asking ‘class questions’ at all, so even though they are sharing, each only has ‘their answers’ which are related to others, but in no way singularly satisfies the teachers question.

This promotes more sharing, and more discussion. It leads to clarification, and the teachers are now being asked to have a book-group in lunch times. Some read, some listen, some GoogleDoc.

As they know there is more creative work to do next week, they also know that in someway, just as the pictures appeared in the barn, that reading and talking about Animal Farm must in someway link to what comes next.

Right at the center of this project is not a book, or a GoogleDoc – it is a natural conversation between tutor and learner – in which the teacher does not have to have or offer all the answers, but also pose questions – based on what the student is saying. It is a wonderful dialogue. Part digital, part face to face. Almost fireside at times.

Each teacher has the opportunity to explore the text with each student. GoogleDocs affords massive accountability to the student and teacher. It’s a living document, showing the relationship between teacher and learner. The students automatically ‘shared’ those conversations with other students. Not to copy, but to compare. Very little activity is given over to list, identify questions. The entry point is compare and it rises from there.

I think that finally, I’ve found a significant lens to say that I know what makes collaborative projects work in the classroom. There is a balance between mystery, interest, accountability and propaganda. As I end my time here, it do hope that I can continue to look at media literacy based learning with Lucy. But then these days, we never really leave do we.

Animal Farm 2.0 – How to

Just spent a fantastic day off and on with Lucy Gresser, who is part of our PLP leading teacher project team. Lucy is one of the most creative, democratic and inspiring teachers in the schools Project Based Learning. She has an absolute passion for English which resonates with her students. I constantly think as a parent – what kind of teacher do I want my kids to know – and Lucy is exactly that.

So we’ve modeled a two week descriptive writing project today and going to try and share how this collaborative project works, and maybe give people some idea of what I consider 21C practice.

Why? Well at the end of very interesting week in which I was asked to ‘describe what it is I do’ in my role as LTST. It’s hard to explain something like this to people who really don’t have a context for it, suffice to say, this is not what LTST does as far as I know. Confused? Yeah, me too.

This is what I do because I hope teachers will do with my own kids in the future.

Overview

Once again, we’ve opted for ‘classless’ grouping of students. I am a massive believer in the ‘collaborative discourse’ community approach to learning.

This means we have 6 teachers working with 160 students – online, but in class, 2 teachers work with about 55 students in two hour blocks – in one room. In this way we blend learning between virtual and face to face.

Components

The project runs over 2 weeks.

Technology

  • it is a digital storytelling set up.
  • It uses reflective writing as formative assessment
  • final product and presentation as a summative assessment.

The first stage is the entry document and project launch – and that is very important. The initial introduction of the project needs to create plenty of questions in the minds of students. As we move through the project, the teacher’s role is to scaffold the learning – to navigate students though ‘way points’ – from the syllabus. How they get to those is largely the students choice.

Preparing the project

To get to the launch – there is preparation. That I did using Second Life. Quite by chance as it happens. One goal of the project is to prevent students ‘creating graphics’ – but to focus on reading and writing. We know that we also need to general visual scaffold and stimulus material in reaching our end product and I’ve been thinking about that. How to make it interesting, but not schooly.

I was talking with Jo Kay, Al Upton and Leigh Blackall at the tail end of a small event – and Leigh got talking about the changes in graphic themes and styles that is maturing in lots of Second Life builds now. Lots of this is soft, organic and a kind of steam punk/manga feel. Korean and Japanese designers are often ellustive to talk to, but they are creating some amazing visual effects and spaces with that are edgy and at the same time highly detailed.

Once such space Jo took us to was JAPAN : Tempura Island. As anyone who knows me, I am an Art Director by trade – so I love to look at the technics of builds. Tempura Island is outstanding.

As we looked about, I took ‘photos’. These images show lots of interaction between characters, elements of nature, man made items etc.,

I was using SL to create a portfolio of images that the students will use as part of their final work – where they will produce descriptive writing.

There are 3 reasons for this. 1. The students respond to this type of ‘gamer’ visual representation. 2. It is very easy to do and 3. It provides the students with a ‘core’ visual stimulus to work around – in what will be a single day of final work.

Observations

Collaborative Web2.0 projects have greater impact if they are broken down into fast and furious hands on activities – followed by more sedate reflection. There has to be a degree of pressure and urgency in the task to push the students in the task – but well resourced so that the distance between a thoughts and a ‘win’ is not too far and reinforced through reflection via Google Docs. The book itself is a class text – but we also provide a Google Books link to the online text, but we want students to go home and READ.

Process

Week 1 uses Moodle and Google Docs.
Week 2 uses Google Docs, Blurb and the images from Second Life, via a Flickr account.

The reason for this lies in the formative assessment tools developed to support this format of learning.

Formation of Groups

  1. We created 6 ‘themes’ for the final product. For example, ‘Equality’.
  2. Each theme is presented to students as a 50 word ‘outline’.
  3. This gives an ‘idea’ of what the end product might entail – but by no means exhaustive – it is named and described to create curiosity.
  4. 160 students are broken down into 7 groups. 6 groups are ‘mainstream’ and 1 group is hand picked based on differentiated needs or students that are identified as needing ‘special help from past performance’.
  5. Moodle is used to form the groups. Here’s how we do that – We open the themes for online enrolment. First in bessed dressed is the way we do it. Kids opt into 1 chosen theme on that basis. They do not know who the ‘teacher’ is who is mentoring the group online. This stops kids trying to get with their mates or hooking into the ‘best worker’ groups – as they fill up fast – and kids soon learn that if they want their pick, then they’d better get on, else that group gets filled out.
  6. Group names. We used ‘Snowball’, etc, to name the study groups – rather than a classname. This again is there to build curiosity and links to the text.
  7. Google Docs – We created 7 Gmail Acccounts for each group. Students invite their mentor – using the given gmail address – to share their individual documents for the project. This makes it simple – and private for teachers.

So at the end of formation, kids have chosen a group, set up a Google Doc and shared it with a teacher – via a special email address. Each teacher will have about 26 shared documents to work with.

Its important to note that the kids in their Google Group – may not actually be in their class. This means that the kids they teach face to face may or may not include those they teach online. This ensure’s teacher buy in and also is a stragic way of norming Google Docs in professional development.

The strategy behind this : The kids are selecting the topic, and have no bias to the teacher and visa versa. The teachers we involved in the process of choosing the ‘theme’ from Animal Farm that they want to teach. This is a strong bargain.

Week 1

Reading is not a normal 9th grade activity. Reading a whole book in a short space of time is even less so. In week one, the students read the 100 pages or so of Animal Farm – which is made of 10 chapters. Our expectation in the classroom is simply reading. 2 chapters a day in class/home. At the end of the lesson the teacher asks one question – relating to the text. This formative assessment is based on comprehension and communication, and equates to 30% of the end mark. The teacher has the ability to vary the question – depending on how they feel the previous responses were made.

I think that it is critical – in 21C learning, that we leverage the teaching experience and skills of staff – and not dictate inflexible lesson planning.

Students respond to each question (2 per day) using Google Docs – together with the a reflective addition – “things I wonder about right now”.

During the first week, the students are learning that sustained, personal reading is valuable. The teachers can allow quiet reading – or model reading with all or some of the students in break out groups.

We are not seeking to explore Animal Farm in a historical context – that is another project. We are also aiming to use scaffold thier comprehension though rising taxonomy as the week progresses.

Week 2 – Descriptive Writing

The first lesson is 2 hours. In the first hour, we show them one image from the Tempura set. In the hour they are asked to write a descriptive text. A saga. So they need to research that. More specifically, they have to write a 50 word saga. This is a soft exposure to descriptive writing – and an introduction of the final assessment criteria. This is 10% weighted and sumbmitted via Moodle. Most kids will nail this – and its really important to start ‘new’ projects with ‘easy wins’.

In the second hour, the kids are given a ‘writing brief’, and watch a short video. This is just an Animoto – using the 6 themes and images from Tempura. This is called the entry document. This informs them of what they will do to create their final product – but at this point the have little idea how to reach the goal.

The end product is a book using Blurb – and the images supplied from Tempura.

  • Each book is a collection of short stories.
  • There are 6 chapers. The chapters are based on the themes and the Google Doc Groups.
  • Each chapter has three short stories (one per student).
  • The story is constructed around the images – and the themes that they chose at the outset – taken from those in Animal Farm – so there is immediate meta-cognition for the students to scaffold from.

This is where collaboration returns. In the first week, they worked in a Google Doc Group as individuals, now they need to work together, so each book is produced by taking 3 students from each theme.

During the week, the teacher models the descriptive writing process. For example a teacher may ask students to write an alternative last chapter for Animal Farm or perhaps the first chapter of a sequel. Again this is open to the teacher to decide.

The end product

Using Blurb, the students produce a short story of 800-1000 words – on a single day. For example, they may create a story called ‘Julies crisis’ – their contribution to the chapter. In effect it means that we have a ratio of 1 teacher to 15 students during the writing day. They will have to use Google Docs to submit an outline by a deadline – which will be graded, then the majority of the day given over to writing.

The final product is the assembly of the book itself – largely a cut and paste task from Google Docs.

Students then submit their final work as a .pdf file into Moodle to time and date stamp it.

Evaluation and Real World relevance

I like everything to have a real world aspect in learning. We’ll invite an external ‘friend’ to read the books and to select a ‘winner’. Each student will then get a copy of the book using Blurb as a hard copy. Each book is then evaluated and feedback given to students.

This gives them incentive – the chance to have a quality portfolio pieceĀ  – A professionally produced book, with cool illustrations containing 8000 words on average.

In addition to this, we will offer each of the books for purchase online. Students are invited to consider how to market their work, and as a default position, they will be offered for sale to parents and community using PayPal or Blurbs ecommerce engine via the schools website or their personal blogs.

Summary

I think that giving students not only the opportunity to write a book at the age of 14/15 – but also to sell that book to everyone and anyone is poweful. The proceeds of sale go to the authors. We often talk about each of us having a printing press – but in this case I think its important to show them that not only can they complete this task – but you can put a value on the work.

Designing a project is FUN. Its fairly manic – and we constantly are looking to encourage some activities – and negate others. For example, there is no value to a student in attempting to Google any element of the project and there is not opportunity to move away from reading and writing. There is no ‘graphic design’ and so no need to worry about ‘design’ or allow students to ‘bling up’ their work – that is not the focus.

To me being a 21C Educator is not about delivering ‘content’ but developing learners to achieve authentic goals using technology. This kind of project, and working with teachers like Lucy to unpack ‘how they learn’ not ‘what they learn’ is the difference between so many teachers, but anyway – this is what I do (or did).

If you want to know more, talk about it, comment on it – then I’m more than happy to do so!

Secret Life of Google Jockeys

One of the great advantages of not having a Nazi filter is that you get to watch the students doing what they do. This is a clip that I hope will illustrate to teachers who are still asking questions that kids can ‘Google’ in an ICT classroom – think about the knowledge transfer that actually happens. Heres what this kid did in 15 minutes (speeded up) – how much of his own typing did he add – what are the places he went to? – but hey, he got the job done huh.

ICT needs to be used in ways in which this activity is no longer a viable method of learning!

One of the things I am aiming to do right now is to try and think of ways in which projects can run so that we are more able to notice this kind of behaviour. I think that many students have done this for so long – often by default rather than design – that to them – it is a normal activity.

Designing better methods for ICT use – must include the ability for it to ‘unearth’ these habits of mind. We need to expose (to the students and staff) that students may well demonstrate ‘mastery’ skills in using applications – but the gap between skimming information – and applied knowledge is alarming.