Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Assessing to Strengthen Learning and to Support Teaching

While we have always had the ability to look at student work for evidence of learning, various Apps are giving us all the more reason to be learning to assess in an increasing number of formative ways. Not only can we use assessment to steer our instructional decisions, targeting instruction and/or differentiating subsequent math learning times based on evidence of student learning; we can set up routines so that the students can self-assess and support one another, simultaneously bolstering their metacognitive skills and math thinking, as well.

ScreenChomp, Explain Everything, Showbie, and Educreations are examples of some of the Apps my colleagues are using in math class to have students explain their math thinking. When a student records his or her explanation of how he or she solved a problem using one of these Apps (or on paper), that student reveals all sorts of evidence of their learning. The beauty of these Apps is that they include the student’s voice overlapping with what they have written and/ or drawn. From our experience, it seems the students are more likely to go over and revise their recordings and written work, which was more like “pulling teeth” when just paper, was involved. For many of them, each time they re-record, they clarify their thinking and hone their ability to articulate mathematical ideas.

Can we scaffold this process to ensure the students can become even more facile in communicating their math thinking? I think the answer to that is yes. We can give the students check lists and rubrics to guide their work.  Not only can we provide rubrics, so they know the components to focus on, we can set up partnerships wherein they can peer conference with one another and collaboratively strengthen their understanding and ability to communicate that understanding.

There are many sources for rubrics online and we can create our own.  The best thing about choosing and developing these assessment tools is that it forces us to think deeply about our teaching. The standards-based Exemplars rubric prompts us to look at the students’ work in five ways:  Problem-Solving and/or basic Understanding, Reasoning and Proof, Communication, Representation, and Connections.  To help students assess their understanding of a problem, as teachers we can ask them (or their peers can ask them): What do you know and what are you trying to find out? What strategies are you going to try and why? What tools do you need?  Could there be more than one solution? Could you solve this problem two different ways? To help students explain their reasoning and proof, we can ask them (or their peers can ask them): Does that make sense? Why is that true? Is that true for all cases? Could you prove it? Can you think of a counter example?  To help students communicate clearly, we often remind them to use their mathematical vocabulary and to describe their thinking with words, numbers (equations), and pictures, diagrams, models or graphs. We often have to prompt them to create a diagram, make a table, use a number line, put things in order, or act a problem out.  In order to encourage students to make connections, we need to give them time to be reflective. We can ask (and they can ask one another): Does this remind you of other problems we have solved?  How does it relate to ………..? Why does your answer seem reasonable? Do you see a pattern? Can you explain it?

In making check lists and rubrics to scaffold our students’ efforts to explain their mathematical thinking, we ourselves can think about how much time we spend developing mathematical thinking with effective questioning in our classrooms. When we are asking good questions, we are modeling thinking strategies. As we are making our thinking visible, we are highlighting the ways our students think and explain their thinking. We also can use models, diagrams, drawings, graphs, and equations to show how we are thinking and how we imagine our students are thinking. We need to listen carefully to honor our students’ thinking authentically.  Elementary school age students need daily exposure to representations of mathematical ideas before they can create these independently.

One of the best results of the iPad program in 4th grade at our school has been its inherent student-centeredness. The students now have the ability to communicate their mathematical thinking both orally and by drawing and writing as well as the ability to easily revise and refine their work.   They feel empowered when they use these Apps to explain their mathematical thinking.

Let it remind us again as teachers to continually reflect on our teaching when we look and listen to that student’s work for evidence of learning.  Teaching ≠ learning: in other words, just because we “taught it” does not mean the students “learned” it.  Assessments can reflect many nuances in student understanding and inspire many forms and variations of differentiated,  intentional  instruction.  

Friday, February 8, 2013

“You can put down the iPad…”

OR.... “The Right Tool for the Job.”

 Here are two great tools.  You can accomplish a variety of tasks with either tool.  However, for some jobs, neither the hammer nor the pliers is the right tool.  You can’t paint a wall with either one – that requires a different tool.

 The same idea holds true for any classroom tool, they may or may not be the right tool for every single learning goal we set forth in our classrooms.  You probably wouldn’t use blocks to teach spelling just as you likely wouldn’t use magnetic letters to teach geometry.  So why then would we pull out iPads and try to apply them to every activity in our classrooms?  The answer is:  we wouldn’t.  These are the scenarios to consider when using iPads:

  • Sometimes iPads will be the right tool for everyone

Think about the Substitution level of the SAMR model created by Ruben Putendura. 

Everyone in your class might be on iPads to do research, to write papers, etc.  This shouldn’t be the most common scenario however.  It brings to mind images of students lined up in desks, plugged into computers, consuming rather than creating or collaborating.

  • Sometimes iPads will be the right tool for some
 This is where differentiation stands out and really helps your students with varied learning styles.  Consider your students when designing projects and offer options for the finished product.  It’s really the learning that happens during the process that counts after all.  Allow students to make a movie, create a cartoon strip, record an original song, make a book, etc., to demonstrate understanding.  

  • Sometimes iPads will be the right tool for part of a project            
We love to combine paper/pencil, iPad, manipulatives to investigate an idea or deepen our thinking.  This might be a project that involves creating a book about a math concept.  Students might use a math app or watch a math video (think Flipped Classroom) to get some background content.  They might then use math manipulatives to practice/demonstrate understanding and to find complexity.  The next step could be to choose how they articulate their thinking centered around this project – some might choose an iPad path, others might choose paper/pencil.

  • Sometimes iPads might not be the right tool for anyone or any part of a project

In the end, as with any learning goal you have, it is really all about your classroom culture.  What makes sense for your teaching style?  For a given group of students? For the subject matter? For any particular project?  Consider the types of thinking/learning you wish to have your students do: consider different viewpoints, find complexity, deepen understanding, make connections, create, imagine, question, observe, or investigate.  Consider how the iPad can add a dimension to your students experiences that they would not get any other way. (redefinition, SAMR)  And then, give yourself permission to let your students find their own individuality and their own unique way of articulating their thinking/learning.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Learning is Creation

Our team has been focusing on using mantras to focus our thinking about iPads and how we are using them in the classroom as we talk about, write about, and share our experience with others.  What's mine right now?

"Learning is Creation" 

In a previous post I wrote about "creativity" being a goal of the fourth grade one-to-one program.  When I heard or saw some iteration of the above statement at the EdTech iPad Summit in Boston, I was taken aback because though I have always firmly believed in "creativity as an essential component of learning", this sounded different.   I enjoy semantic banter from time to time so I turned the phrase over a bit in my head.    It wasn't learning is creative or learning involves creativity.  It was "learning is creation"A big theme of the conference was how the expectations for students and workers and citizens are changing. With knowledge being something of a cheap commodity these days it's much less about what you know and more about what you can do with what you know.  The models of education that are about consumption of information are becoming less useful than situations where students are given opportunities to use what they know to do something innovative.

It reminds me of the contrasts made between passive and active learning. However, it is different because I can imagine situations where students look active and are being creative, but are not necessarily producing or experiencing anything novel, new, or innovative.  An engaging lesson can still place the student in the position of the consumer if they are "doing" the ideas and processes and products of someone else.  Until they are owning one of the three, they might not be creating anything, no matter how creative the result appears.   Throughout the conference and after, I really became fixated on what types of things I had been asking my students to do, why I wanted them to do them, and what they were gaining by doing them. 

Of course a parallel thought was how could the iPad positively impact what was being done in our classroom. I ruminated on what kinds of things were bring created in our classroom and my first thoughts were pretty literal. Art, of course. Writing. And then I talked to people about it and the list grew:  understanding, ideas, opinions, perspectives, processes, problems, solutions...the list goes on. 

definitely feel that iPads are revolutionizing our class's one to one program.  Moving from netbooks to iPads means that children are engaging with the available technology in much more meaningful ways and those ways really have to do with what the devices allow our children to create. Now I see creation happening when they are use Drawing Box to design maps that show their understanding of landforms and orientation:

Or Inspiration maps to create an organized flow for their research paper:

Or when designing a process to finish a project.  Using Educreations and Explain Everything we've been making screen casting videos in math to demonstrate and record procedures and solutions.  We decided not to show them how to use either program; one of our goals was for them to design a process that allowed them to meet the objectives: make a video that shows how to solve an area and perimeter problem for a chosen rectangular object.  Include a photo, text, and your voice. Good luck!

Here the process of making the video was just as important as the math concepts.   Along the way they demonstrated an ability to measure and multiply, but they also learned to work through frustrations and create solutions to apparent and surprising problems. Following our last screen casting project using Educreations a pair of students wanted to make another screencast. They heard we had a similar program called Screen Chomp.  They asked to make a screencast showing how to use it.   These two children came in at recess to work on their project for over a week.  All of a sudden they were in iMovie filming themselves using the program.  They added credits and music and then created a trailerWe started having "production and promotion" meetings to determine an audience and possible distribution channels.  They showed it to some classmates, who pointed out a few flaws, and decided to organize their feedback using a survey created in Google Forms.  Through their own initiative, they sure have learned and taught themselves a lot.  All that they needed was the space, time, and tools to bring their ideas to life.   They are now teaching themselves Keynote so that they can teach the class how to use it, and several other students have developed projects for iStopMotion videos, book trailers, and movies to promote our upcoming class play.

Learning is creation.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Changing Our Mindset About Overload

        I copied this photo from somewhere. I can’t keep up with my sources anymore. It seems one site leads to another, one blog to another, one tweet becomes exponentially connected. It can be overwhelming and discouraging. I have found that my “techie” friends aren’t always the best ones to turn to because they are always ahead of where I am and I still need to reconcile what I know with what I just discovered. For me learning has always required reflection time and I am not sure how to claim it when I always figure there is one more blog I should read before I ask another question.
        The deal, however, seems to be to forge ahead. The mindset is to not be afraid of writing a reflective blog that ends with more questions than it began with. The idea is to put your ideas out there and hope that someone will respond….because it is in that interaction that the learning and reflection continues. The reason why it all feels overwhelming is because it is! It’s huge! The connections we all have to each other and to one another’s experiences and thoughts are beyond our imagination. There are more ways to learn about anything and everything, anytime, anywhere and we have the ability to connect with colleagues wrestling with the same issues that we are whenever we want to.   
        So how do we set boundaries and not let the access our iPads, laptops, and Smartphones give us flood our brains? How do we choose our connections and sources and make time for independent reflection as well as collaborative reflection?  How wide do we cast our interests, how narrow do we keep our focus, what is the right amount of stimulation for fostering our learning and creativity? These questions about the world of technology we live in are not just for me as a student but for my students to ask as well.
        I don’t know the answers but more than ever before, I accept not knowing as the work in progress learning always has been. I can’t imagine there being a better time for life as a lifelong learner: Except, maybe a few years from now, when I have figured out how to drink from a fire hydrant, which is clearly a critical 21st century skill!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Identifying the Secret Sauce - PD at a personal level

In January, I asked nine teachers to speak about their personal journeys with iPads in the classroom to our faculty and administration one day, and to 24 visiting teachers two days later. To help them frame their thinking and to prevent duplication, I gave the challenge to reflect on their experiences and come up with a “mantra” that they find guides them and find an example from their teaching to explain it. We brainstormed a fun photo to go with the mantra, and made a trailer for our presentation:

By identifying our mantra, sharing our plans, and brainstorming the photo, we crystallized our thinking and assured that no one would be speaking on the same topic, at least not from the same perspective.  Each teacher was allowed up to three slides, and I talked to each one about their plans. That was all the practice we got! The loose organization coupled with the clarity of focus the mantras brought meant we were able to share a huge range of experience both succinctly and enthusiastically in a relatively short amount of time. Once the presentations were over, I sent around a message asking them to start framing their next mantra, the one that pushes them to the next level.

After the talk, the head of my department asked, “So, what’s the secret sauce? It can’t just be the conversations, or the presentations. If it’s really working, there must be something more.” His comment made me consider the whole structure of our iPad implementation, and realize that there are multiple factors contributing to this increasingly successful mixture. Here is a list that, while not a recipe, adds up to our current success and the enthusiasm for innovation and risk-taking at our school:
  • Share our journeys with each other: We need to hear from others like ourselves, to find someone who speaks to you where you are. This helps comfort level and supports you to continue your journey. Our teachers are learning to embrace their place in the journey, and support each other to not get stuck there.
  • Mantras -Read, discuss, attend workshops/conferences - identify where you are in the process of integrating tech and go with it. When you are comfortable with it, find your new challenge and take it to the next level
  • Reflect and evaluate through blog posts on our collaborative blog. Read each other’s thoughts and follow it up with conversation. I frequently nudge people to post, or to write about something and I am invariably amazed and impressed by what they write!
  • Support each other - create small groups of seekers that support, share and listen to each other. There might be different groupings at every school - grade level, or interest level, or subject level - or just compatibility
  • Hold bi-weekly or monthly sessions with the Tech Coordinator, or whoever is in charge of tech at the school, to share successes, failures, questions, and get encouragement
  • iPad Weekly report – Have the teachers keep track of their uses of the iPad in a weekly report. This is helpful long-term data to help evaluate the program, but it also makes teachers self-aware and reflective on a weekly basis. Teachers see each other’s reports and get a sense of what is going on around them, which helps them find resources and follow up with each other.