Wednesday, March 9, 2016

New Website

 I am currently building a new website called grammarcloud that is a combination of all that I have implemented in the classroom over the years.  My school has provided me with amazing professional development that ranges from project based learning, implementation of digital tools for enhancing grammar and writing, as well as the application of thinking routines after studying at Harvard's Project Zero. I recently received my master's in Instructional Design and Technology where I am applying design techniques blended with my expertise with grammar and writing to create instructional tutorials for a deeper cognitive learning experience.  I would like to offer support for those who are working towards creating a digital classroom blended with making thinking visible.  My website is a work in progress, but I hope to develop it over time and help those who are interested.

Monday, July 15, 2013

"Wilding the Tame" with Technology and 21st Century Teaching and Learning

I used to think that I was solely responsible for teaching my students. I ran a traditional classroom where the objectives were more skill-driven. I provided lecture-based teaching where I stood in front of the classroom, worksheets were distributed, text books were referenced, students worked independently at their desk, and more standardized testing was given.

But now I Know that I am responsible for guiding my students as they take ownership for their own thinking and learning, participate in collaborative group work, take part in project based learning where they problem solve real world situations, and receive ongoing feedback making shifts in their thinking and learning as needed. The integration of technology enhances learning and provides immediate access to information, differentiated and personalized instruction through adaptive learning programs and Screenflows, and enables global collaboration as new perspectives are gained.

I had the opportunity to participate in Project Zero which is an educational research group at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. Its mission is to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts. I had the privilege of hearing David Perkins who works along side of Howard Gardner give a wonderful presentation that followed the theme “The Tame and the Wild.” He talked about this being in all aspects of our lives. He used a manicured backyard as an example of what Tame is where you have your lawn chairs for comfort and you sit and enjoy a cookout with friends. And then he made reference to a ravine, deemed as wild, that is thick with vegetation and filled with water that is at the edge of the manicured yard. Even though it is considered wild, there is still order to it and contains wild life that thrives within it; there is a system in place. He then proceeded with the same concept for the classroom. It is doing what is comfortable and what is known but carrying it too far before anything is done with it. Some examples were thrown out such as underlining topic sentences, using the quadratic formula, diagramming sentences, and knowing the four causes of the industrial revolution. Then he talked about how to “Wild the Tame” by risk-taking, going from teacher to student-directed lessons, using more collaboration, thinking a certain way instead of about it…which he termed as having “about-itis.”

Creating and developing skills by doing is the product of understanding. So all of this supports and leads me to share about “Wilding the Tame” with project-Based Learning. I first became familiar with PBL when reading Tony Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap, the chapter about schools that work. He defined rigor as not how much content is covered but how deep the analysis of the content goes. Rigor is about the pursuit of inquiry, which results from hands-on learning and showing what you know.

Wagner’s 21st century skills: 
Critical thinking and problem solving
Collaboration across networks
Agility and adaptability (quickly move and adapt to situations)
Initiative and entrepreneurship
Effective oral and written communication
Assessing and analyzing information
Curiosity and imagination

Every bit of these 21st century skills can be accomplished through interdisciplinary projects such as Project Based Learning (PBL) that guide students in inquiry answering a central question (driving question), solving a problem, or meeting a challenge. PBL allows a shift from traditional teaching to an environment where the students become active participants in their learning.

First of all, with PBL it is important to know my role as a teacher:

Constructivist philosophy
  • I serve as the facilitator or guide on the side -
  • Create a positive learning culture- encourage the students to be risk takers and that it is ok to make mistakes 
  • Incorporate standards 
  • Develop, model, and nurture inquiry (manager of the inquiry process) 
  • To be flexible prepare for things to go in an unexpected direction 
  • Model the willingness to be a learner- there will be many times that I don’t know the answer but will model for them how to go about finding the answers. 
  • Assessor of learning- it is important to use formative assessment throughout 
The role of a student: 
  • Collaborators 
  • Self-managers 
  • Conductors of Research 
  • Decision-makers 
  • Problem-solvers 
  • Peer/self evaluators 
  • Innovators 

Assessments: It is important to begin with the end in mind thinking about the standards that I need to cover as well as thinking dispositions that need to be developed among the students; with that in mind I can come up with the understanding performance or essential questions. 

Good questions: The students have to know how to pose real open-ended questions, find resources and determine validity of information on websites, they have to interpret that information, and report their findings while using the inquiry process. 

Ways to assess throughout the PBL process: There are many nontraditional ways to provide formative assessment which is the most important for learning and developing understanding. This can be accomplished through the following: 
  • Rubrics Problem
  • solving guides 
  • Reflection journals 
  • Self-assessments 
  • Reflection essays 
  • Small/Whole Group discussions 
Technology can be used to enhance thinking and learning in several ways:
  • ePortfolios where students compile a collection of their digital writing where they self-reflect and apply metacognition. 
  • Screenflows for recording instruction for flip teaching, providing reinforcement, or small group situations for one-on-one instruction 
  • Digital tools such as Glogster, Prezi, and Google for presenting research findings or self-reflection 
  • VoiceThread for global sharing, collaborating, and providing feedback 
  • Learning Management Systems such as Edmodo, Haiku, or Google for organizing instruction, collaboration, and assessments 
  •  Google Documents, presentations, etc. for creating a paperless classroom and enabling collaboration and feedback to occur outside of the classroom. 

 Edutopia. (2010). Project-based learning: an overview. Retrieved on July 15, 2013 from LXpfCfuDqnY#at=545

Harvard University. (2010). Project zero. Graduate school of education.

Mills, S. (2006). Using the internet for active teaching and learning. Upper saddle river new jersey: Pearson education.

Perkins, D. (2009). Making learning whole. Published by Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA.

Wagner, T. (2010). The global achievement gap: why even our best schools don't teach the new survival skills our children need--and what we can do about it. Published by basic books. New York, new york. 

Wagner, T. (2012). Creating innovators: the making of young people who will change the world. A division of simon & schuster, inc. New york, new york.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

5th Grade Participates in Global Virtual Classroom

In September, the PDS 5th graders began a collaborative project through Global Virtual Classroom (GVC), a project of the Give Something Back International Foundation.  Its purpose is to enhance 21st century skills and allow for cross-cultural communication, collaboration, and technology skills.   We were partnered with Heng-Shan Elementary School in New Taipei City, Taiwan and Percy Julian Middle School in Oak Park, Illinois. Together we agreed to build a website on the topic of bullying since it is a current and relevant issue as well as a world epidemic.

Connecting with a diverse group of students from schools around the world was a very rewarding experience.  Twiducate, a private social network, was used for introductions where the students learned about each other’s language and cultural differences.  They also used a private wiki called Students Meet World where all of their collaborative work was shared for uploading to the website.  They saw purpose in what they were doing as they set out to answer their guiding question of “What are the impacts of bullying on our society and what can I do to prevent it?”  

After many months of brainstorming, researching, collaborating, and creating many different end products, the boys thought critically and creatively as they demonstrated how they could make a difference by bringing awareness to bullying through our GVC website.  Their work reveals deep thinking as the they used various thinking routines, created on-line surveys and quizzes of the information they learned, wrote original slogans, filmed role-playing, and reflected on their journey along the way.  They used technology such as glogs, iMovies, Google docs, Haiku (Learning Management System), Excel for graphing statistics, and much more.  One group even designed a pen with the words “Control, Escape, and Delete Cyber-Bullying” and collected money within their group to purchase the pens so they could raise money for the Boys and Girls Club of Memphis. They spoke to all fourth, fifth, and sixth graders about their experience and collected over one hundred dollars in donations so far.

In addition to the great work the boys contributed to the website, the US Attorney, Ed Stanton and Debra L. Ireland, Assistant United States Attorney agreed to come to PDS to speak on the topic of Internet safety and cyber bullying.  The boys learned about Internet safety tips and how to conduct proper and ethical behavior when using technology in addition to learning strategies for putting an end to cyber bullying.

The Global Virtual Classroom project was a competition that involved sixty-four schools and twenty-two countries from around the world, and over twenty-two websites were submitted covering an array of topics. The 5th grade PDS boys earned the Silver prize in the primary school category that included a plaque and a $1,500 cash prize.  They plan on adding their portion of the prize money to what has already been collected for the Boys and Girls Club of Memphis to help to further raise awareness to bullying.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Voting for My Blog

Thanks so much for all of the support on voting for my blog!  It came in second place and I couldn't be happier.  I felt like a winner when it was nominated:) 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Global Virtual Classroom

Bullying 101 Website
Back in August, I ran across an opportunity through Global Virtual Classroom to involve the 5th grade PDS boys in a collaborative project with other schools around the world. We were assigned to schools in Illinois and Taiwan, and together we agreed to build a website on the topic of bullying since it is a current and relevant issue as well as a worldwide epidemic.

After many months of brainstorming, research, collaboration, and creating many different end products for bringing awareness to bullying, the website is now in its final stages of editing.  The website reveals deep thinking as the boys created CSIs, reflections using thinking routines such as “I Used to think... but now I think,” glogs, iMovies, slogans, and much more.  One group even designed a pen with the words “Control, Escape, and Delete Cyber-Bullying,” collected money on their own and bought one hundred pens to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club of Memphis. They spoke to all fourth, fifth, and sixth graders about their experience and have raised over one hundred dollars so far.  

This contest involves over sixty schools and twenty-two countries from around the world, and there will probably be over twenty websites submitted covering an array of topics. I wanted to share the link to our website so that you can see the great work that will soon be published as the contest comes to an end next week.  

Bullying 101 Website

Picasa Pictures of Participants from around the world

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thinking Routines & Inquiry

I have been implementing many thinking routines throughout the year where the boys are routinely asked to think a specific way for certain results.  I have intentionally chosen thinking routines that would help to develop or enhance inquiry as well as lend itself to an English classroom.  The following are thinking routines, their explanations of how they have been implemented, and how they expand and deepen students' thinking:

Ladder of Feedback:
The students worked on varied sentence structure, word choice, specificity, and reflexive pronouns to answer a writing prompt. They read these aloud and then received feedback from their partner by clarifying with a question (what they didn't understand), valuing the work (what they found impressive, innovative, and strong), sharing concerns (problems/challenges), and suggestions on how they can handle the concerns.

This thinking routine allowed the students to practice asking questions when they needed clarification.  The following are some examples that I heard:


What I know, what I want to know, and what I have learned
The boys used this before research of a topic to distinguish between what they already know and what they don't. This helps to use questioning to get a clearer understanding as they sort through what they know to guide their research for what they don't know.

Question Starts: 

The kind of thinking that this routine encourages is developing good questions that lead to inquiry of a topic.  As stated on the website Visible Thinking at Harvard Project Zero, "The purpose of asking deep and interesting questions is to get at the complexity and depth of a topic. "  The site further states how Question Starts deepens the thinking of students and has them more curious and questioning about the what they are learning. It is ideal to use them to introduce new material but can also be used in the middle of a study of a topic to 'enliven students' curiosity.  Using the thinking routine at the end of a study of a topic is a way to revise questions using the knowledge gained to ask even more interesting questions. The following Question Starts are being used in my English classroom to have the boys to look at parts of speech in a different way and to gain a deeper understanding.

Before even asking the questions from the thinking routine Question Starts, my 5A boys were doing it on their own!!!  I was so excited to see how inquisitive they were about reflexive, demonstrative, and interrogative pronouns.  One boy asked if there was a pattern to distinguish between demonstrative pronouns (dp) and demonstrative adjectives (da) and they immediately noticed that dp's always come before linking verbs and da's always come before nouns.  When we were discussing the demonstrative pronouns this, that, these and those, a boy commented on a sample sentence of "That tastes good."  He replied, "We are expected to write with more specific information." I then clarified that it is usually a sentence that is in addition to other sentences written together to convey a certain message.  Another student then recalled the study of clauses and asked, "Suppose we add that sentence beginning with a demonstrative pronoun and have it to interrupt another one like, "The candy that tastes good is on the table." Does that change the function of the word that.  Before I could answer, another student replied that it sounded like a dependent clause and would the word that be a subordinating conjunction.  I couldn't believe the connections they were making to previous learning, especially since we weren't covering relative pronouns during this unit.

Another boy asked about his own sentence, "Is this piece of bread over-cooked?" and wondered if this was a pronoun or adjective.  His question was answered by another student who indicated that "piece" was a noun and therefore the pronoun this was functioning as an adjective.  Then I had a student to add, "What if the sentence said, 'This is over-cooked bread'?" Some students chimed in and said that it would change the function of the word this from an adjective to a pronoun because demonstrative pronouns stand alone.

5D decided to use What if questions when discussing indefinite pronouns.  They really started to inquire in ways that I had never experienced before.  We were looking at all singular and plural indefinite pronouns and one student asked, "What if we put an indefinite pronoun in front of a noun? Would it be like the demonstrative pronoun that would then function as an adjective?" It was then asked, "What if we put an indefinite pronoun in front of another indefinite pronoun like several others?"  I answered his question with a question, "Would they both function as a pronoun?" He then said, "One will remain a pronoun and one will function as an adjective."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Inquiry in the Classroom

So far, I have tried many different strategies for creating a higher level of inquiry among my students. Project based learning provided multiple opportunities for the students to routinely be engaged in the inquiry process.  I ran across some valuable information from Kathy G. Short from University of Arizona where she shares several years worth of research regarding "Inquiry as a stance on curriculum." She states, "Inquiry is not a particular teaching method, a refinement of project approaches or theme units but a stance that underlies our approach to living as learners, both within and outside of school." Inquiry occurs when the students can make connections to what they are learning and relate it to their own personal lives and experiences where they combine "uncertainty and invitation."  It was stated with uncertainty comes questions to explore and with invitation comes the courage to seek answers. It is the "why" and "what if" and can be a stance of being "off balance." Short explains, "A life of balance involves staying perfectly still in the same place- in that comfortable rut, and reaching out for answers occurs because there is a driving force that compels learners to move forward to pursue new insights and unities."  Project-based learning creates an opportunity for all students to take a guiding question that is written in such a way that gives them the "need-to-know" that they can explore and investigate as they construct their own understanding.

It made so much sense when Kathy Short shared how a teacher's approach is to create instruction based on how people should learn with the question of "How do I teach Inquiry?" In the beginning, this is the exact approach that I took when looking for ways to strengthen and develop inquiring minds.  During research I learned that I should take a different approach with the question, "How do I and others inquire?"  Inquiry is a natural process, and once it is explored as to how this occurs then we can approach the ways in which to involve the students in such a learning environment that foster this: planning lessons in which contain a conceptual framework (for relevance and to engage), questions are asked that lead to divergent thinking, you serve as a guide through the learning process, ask the "why" and "What is your evidence" questions, and formative assessment is ongoing.

Inquiry begins with the learners' own experiences and understandings and without any connection to what is being learned, the information is forgotten.  When I chose the topic of civil rights for project based learning, I knew that it needed to be part of the 5th grade curriculum that involved humanity.  This was a topic that they could all relate to and bring in some experience and prior knowledge.  But before beginning the project, we began with a discussion about fairness and what it meant to them.  In their own words, they wrote their ideas in their reflection journals and made an immediate connection to what it meant to be fair and how they had demonstrated this in their lives.  They also shared examples of times when they experienced situations that were unfair.  Kathy Short supported this approach by saying that sometimes we have to move beyond the topic for significant connections to be made by the learner.  She gave examples that involved students exploring experiences of moving place to place instead of jumping right in and covering immigration patterns around the world.  She further states how units of inquiry need to begin with a conceptual frame, not the topic, for the students to make a connection to their own lives.  Civil Rights would be the topic and the concept would involve freedom from unfair treatment.  The students' connection would involve their own personal freedoms and their own experience with fairness.  After exploring the topic of fairness,  I introduced the following guiding question: 

Guiding question:  What can I learn about past civil rights struggles to help solve the issues that still exist?

This actually began the inquiry process and had the students wondering about a current, relevant issue that they needed to explore for problem solving and could relate to from the stand point of fairness.  Because of my focus to incorporate the skills to improve the students' written and oral communication, it didn't affect the conceptual frame of inquiry regarding civil rights.  There was no focus of building knowledge (information in isolation) separate from the conceptual frame. This can easily happen with the teacher's need to cover instructional objectives and "get lost in information" within a project.   The focus always needs to remain on the "why" of the unit.  After much research and personal reflection, this is something that I definitely want to be more intentional about in the classroom. 

Using primary sources (authentic documents, images, videos, etc.)  allowed the students to analyze and provide their own interpretations for understanding different aspects of the civil rights movements as they formulated their own questions for further research.  These were recorded in their reflection journals where they learned about revising for specificity, clarity, and being open-ended for further research. The following are some of the original documents that the students analyzed:

original letters to President Truman to stop segregation of armed forces
original warrant for Rosa Park's arrest
Bus rules before/during the civil rights movement
Pictures of sit-ins, child labor, women marching for voting rights,
newspaper articles about children striking
original document for child labor laws

Videos (click here)  Primary Sources (click here)

After the students explored the civil rights involving child labor, disability, gender, and race, they decided on the specific area in which they wanted to focus their research. The students had to explore the past to problem solve for the future, but some went as far back to the beginning searching for the answer of WHY. For example, one collaborative group wanted to explore WHY there were slaves in the U.S. and began researching the history of slavery in America even though the videos presented to them were only from the civil rights movement.

KWL This is an important part of inquiry in project/problem based learning that I previously reflected on.  I am creating a link here for reference.

Investigation began when exploring different sources as they looked to answer their questions about their chosen topic.  They had to evaluate url's for reliability and websites for validity.  This involved being current and having an author with credentials.  Then they had to draw conclusions from the information that would answer their questions, and from their discoveries, they had to come up with a problem to solve that mattered to them, something worth investigating. In Kathy Short's research, she stated, "One of the most common understandings of inquiry is problem-solving with the vision of the students engaged in research on particular topics of interest related to the class focus." She further stated that teachers often plan projects around a focus deciding what the students will research, but these particular experiences of guided inquiry don't teach them how to find a problem to investigate.  When teachers pose problems for the students to solve, the students aren't asking questions about issues significant in their lives and as a result never fully experience inquiry.

Collaboration As stated in the research presented by Kathy Short, inquiry can come in different forms: personal inquiry (the student poses the problem), guided inquiry (the teacher poses the problem that the student solves), and collaborative inquiry (the student negotiates problem posing and solving within a group).  Collaborative inquiry involves "reaching beyond ourselves and our current understandings where we think together." Within a collaborative group, inquiry takes place in participation regardless of the level of proficiency that each member can contribute. 
Exploration of unknown words in context was required during the research process.   As the students encountered unfamiliar terms during research, they recorded them and included the definition.  They were supposed to do this each time they researched a new website to instill the habit of inquiry as they approached unknown words in context.

Forming a hypothesis about a possible solution to the problem was the next step which lead to further investigation to test the hypothesis or find answers and solutions to the question and/or problem. The investigation lead to the construction of new knowledge based on investigation findings. Reflections were made and more questions were formulated for further investigation. 

Reflections are written and expressed throughout project-based learning but is especially important at the end of an inquiry project. The students in my class wrote a reflection essay after gathering, analyzing, interpreting, and organizing their research. As stated from an article "Supporting Inquiry with Primary Sources" from the Library of Congress, "expression is essential for inquiry learning because when they demonstrate new understanding and share, they solidify their own learning." The following are some samples of 5th grade reflection essays on the research they did on solving the problem of civil rights issues that still exist:

After researching and problem solving their chosen topic,  the students organized their information as they used a technology presentation to share their findings.  During my observation, the students in the role as the audience were very active in questioning when the presenter's thoughts weren't fully developed or were missing important information in the presentation.  One group was questioned about the pros and cons not being the benefits and drawbacks, but instead were presented just as ideas of what they were going to do to achieve as an outcome.  Other questions were just asked out of curiosity where the students in the audience were seeking more information.  The students seemed so genuinely involved as they asked specific questions about the presentations.  I actually had to limit the questions to make time for other presentations that followed.   The following are some samples of the technology presentations on civil rights:


Changing Directions: How Can I Create A Higher Level of Inquiry Among My Students?

After doing a considerable amount of research on inquiry-based learning, I have decided that I need to revise my question about how to create a disposition of inquiry among my students to something that is more measurable.  Using thinking routines, project-based learning, and various other strategies has impacted my students, but I struggled with coming up with evidence other than the questions that the students formulated during their projects and the written reflections that the students recorded in their journals.  The work itself is evidence of inquiry, but can a disposition among 68 of my students actually be measured? 

After brainstorming, I decided to turn the focus on the ways in which I can create a higher level of inquiry in my classroom.  Whether or not my efforts are successful in developing a certain disposition, I know that with continuous routine, habits of the mind will develop and I will be able to measure the quality of students' questions, the extent of inquiry regarding the material that is covered, and reflections of thinking routines that stimulates curiosity.