NWP Makes Gets a Plug

Dale Doughtery, of Make Magazine, wrote a nice piece about the National Writing Project’s Make session that took place at the NWP Annual Meeting. I was one of the presenters, doing a bit on stopmotion animation. The session represented an ongoing relationship between NWP and Make Magazine around informational, expository writing.

As Dale writes:

When I began talking with folks from the National Writing Project last year, we hit on the idea that getting teachers to see themselves as makers was a great way to encourage making in schools. Thus, the goal of this workshop was to provide a gentle introduction to making for about 50 teachers. There were about eight stations with a variety of projects. Without too much in the way of preliminaries, the teachers sat down and started making. They talked to each other while working (or playing, as I might prefer to call it) and they helped each other. The projects were not simple but they were fun. The teachers were making drawbots and brushbots, flickering mood lights, stop-frame animation, bottlecap jewelry, and bracelets that functioned as snap-circuits.

Read the rest of Dale’s article entitled “Teachers as Makers: Educators Discovery How Hands-on Learning Can Help Writing” over at O’Reilly Radar.

Peace (in the make),

PS — this is what the teachers at my Make table made in our hour of play.

TTT: Using Current Events to Shape Learning

A month or so ago, I was one of a handful of guests (including Suzie Boss) on Teachers Teaching Teachers, where we discussed how to tap into current events and unfolding news for learning in the classroom. While our main focus was the Voices on the Gulf site (which is up for an Edublog award for best use of a social network in education — vote for us!), the conversation was pretty wide-ranging.

Listen to the podcast

Here’s the blurb:

When the Deepwater Horizon oil well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year, teachers across the country recognized an opportunity to bring real-world applications of math and science into their classrooms. Similarly, the rescue of 33 Chilean miners has triggered student discussions about everything from heroism to human biology.

In the wake of such dramatic events, some teachers are eager to do more than host current-events-style conversations. They want to use the news as a launching pad for in-depth student learning. But making that happen requires teachers and students to dive into topics for which there are no texts or guidebooks. What’s more, maintaining student interest can be challenging once the headlines start to fade and media attention shifts to tomorrow’s hot topic.

How do you plan for academically rigorous projects that are “ripped from the headlines”? Here are a few suggestions, along with some timely resources.

Thanks again to Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim for hosting the TTT show each week at EdTechTalk.

Peace (in the sharing),

How We Might Use Our iPod Touches

Itouch 8

Finally, it appears, our classroom set of iPod Touches may be ready for action. We received a small bit of grant money for the set of Touches, but then, we had to wait for a sync/charging station, and now, as far as I can tell, the devices are just about ready to roll.

In some ways, we had bad timing in the purchase of the Touches, because if we had waited a month, we could have gotten the upgraded versions with cameras and (I think) microphones embedded right into the units. Instead, we have the older versions. I would have loved the video, audio and image element.

Still, our push is to use the Touch devices in Science (the heart of the grant) but I am sure I am going to steal them from time to time for work in my Language Arts class. I am perusing the ideas here with Tom Barrett’s Ways to use the iPod Touch, which is a great resource.

I like the ideas of:

  • Collaborative flashcards
  • Collaborative stories
  • Google surveys
  • Type Drawing for visual stories (new one to me)
  • Martian App allows you to create an alien (and then your partner has to draw a replica based on descriptive language)
  • Story Kit for writing and publishing a book
  • Using iPadio for interviews and sharing at our blog (hmmm — I will need a little iPod microphone, though)

Peace (in the touch),

We asked, Bitstrips listened

We have been using the Bitstrips for Schools comic site this year, periodically, and last school year, when I joined the developers of the site on Teachers Teaching Teachers, we discussed some ideas that I (and others) thought would be helpful to teachers and students: the ability to embed the comics in a blog and the ability to directly download the comics as an image file.

I am sure I am not the only one to ask for these things, but Bitstrips listened to us and there is now the ability to do both of these kinds of sharing.

So, a big thank you to Bitstrips for listening to us users. I appreciate it.

Here, I want to give it a try with a student comic:

Peace (in the comics),

Here, as I finish up Progress Reports/Report Cards

standards report card ela
It’s the day we hand out our trimester Standards-based Progress Reports and I am doing some last-minute tinkering on a few of my students. We made our shift last year to this style of reporting (based on standards and expectations of students by the end of the grade they are) and I have to admit, I am still trying to get the hang of it. (see the sample ELA section above)

One one hand, the sublevels are more detailed, so the specific skills are theoretically easily to identify. I can more easily identify a student who might be strong in reading but weak in writing, as opposed to a grade average (say, a B-minus) that was balanced out by those two areas. It also is designed to show a progressive set of learning over the course of the year.

On the other hand, though, it’s not always clear what piece or work, or pieces of work, resemble a “meeting” of the standard, since we haven’t really gone through as a regional school district and brought out exemplars to say, This is what a Meeting the Standard looks like for this category. That seems to be a real missing piece of this process. We’ve had grade level meetings and all that, and we’ve had good discussions, but never something that concrete. (Am I saying that we need a district-wide writing assessment for my grade? Maybe.)

We’re left to a judgment call, once again, although this time, it is more defined, and we do have student work that we collect to fall back on as “evidence” of their progress in the standards.

Very few parents like this system, at least from feedback that we get (although the ones who like it may not be vocal since they like it) and the students still get confused about what a P and an M mean, particularly when I emphasize that they should not equate an A with a M, and a B with an P, and so on.

But I don’t see us moving away from standards-based reporting and in fact, with the Common Core on the near horizon, it will probably be going through some major revisions and revamping.

Peace (in the reporting),

The Common Core Before Us

The theme of the Massachusetts Curriculum Summit this week (where I co-presented on the topic of New Literacies) was all about the Common Core Standards and how our state is going to make the move forward (now that we got our Race to the Top bucks). The 300 or so superintendents and curriculum coordinators (with another few hundred on tap for the second day) listened intently as state officials explained the path that we are going to take to adapt to the Common Core Standards, and how that will be reflected in our standardized tests (or some variation of our standardized tests).

Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester told the crowd that the Common Core movement in Massachusetts reflects a second round of education reform for our state (the first happened in the early 1990s) and reflects a need on the national level for common benchmarks of learning for all students.

“The unevenness of what we expect of students varies tremendously, from state to state,” Chester noted. “We’re focused on creating rigorous standards” so that a student in one state deemed “proficient” is on the same level as another proficient student in another state.

First of all, there are no changes in the curriculum standards for this year in Massachusetts, meaning our spring 2010 tests will not reflect Common Core standards. But Dr. Julia Phelps, of our Department of Elementary and Secondary Education department, told folks not to sit around. “You should get started (with curriculum updates) now,” Phelps states.

In early 2011, the state will be releasing what is calling “crosswalks” that will connect the Common Core standards to our existing Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. The state will also sponsor a series of regional workshops around these curricular crosswalks for teachers and school district administrators to begin the shift. The state will also be developing exemplar lessons and units around the Common Core as models for the shift.

The standardized testing in spring 2012 will reflect these shifts — testing the standards that are at the intersection of our current standards and the Common Core. And by 2013-2014, our state will be completely shifted to Common Core standards and Common Core assessments, according to Phelps.

Knowing the pace of change, that year is going to come up quick on us, and I am hopeful the crosswalk concept will be beneficial for us at our schools as we look at our own curriculum. I know that our new standards-based reporting system will have to be adapted and I imagine that we will need to some serious lateral looks at when topics and skill are being taught and learned, and where the shifts need to take place.

So far, I am not a harsh critic of the Common Core. I like that literacy and content-area literacy is a heavy focus, although I am going to lament the loss of a lot of creative writing, since expository informational writing and reading is at the heart of the Common Core standards. And I do like that media literacy and new technologies are embedded in various elements of the Common Core language (a point I brought up in my presentation). That may provide more support for teachers struggling to find ways to use technology in a way that meets state standards (which right now barely reflect any sort of technology).

One of the guest speakers at the Curriculum Summit made a good point. He noted that as curriculum development takes place in our schools, we want to avoid placing sole importance on single curriculum areas. While the Common Core is centered around math and Language Arts, the other content areas are woven in with the literacy strands.

“We need to be careful that we don’t pit people against each other, that we don’t put English at the top, followed by math, and then on down the line. We’re all in this together,” said Dana Brown, a high school principal.


Peace (in the changes ahead),

Our New Literacies Presentations

Yesterday, I was part of a small team which gave a presentation about technology and New Literacies at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Curriculum Summit, which drew about 350 school administrators yesterday (and another day is taking place today). I ran a little voice recorder during our presentations, at the request of a reader here, and I wanted to share those podcasts with you.

First up is Don Leu, who is  a professor at UConn with a long and well-deserved reputation for his work around New Literacies. Don and his team helped lead the Massachusetts New Literacies Teacher Leader Institute this past summer and are now planning to work in another state next summer, handing off the reins here to us teacher-leaders to plan for 2011.

Listen to the presentation (16 minutes)

I shared this presentation the other day, but I’ll add it in again with the podcast.

Listen to the presentation (13 minutes)

A third presentation by a teacher-leader, Polly, who works with other classroom teachers in an educational collaborative is not yet online, but she focused on special education teachers using technology to engage reluctant learners.

Peace (in the podcasts),

Reaching out to Rural Teachers

nwp rural websiteThere are still ideas left over from the National Writing Project Annual Meeting that I keep meaning to get back to. This is one of those. I was a co-presenter at a workshop around finding ways to use technology to reach out to teachers and students (and mostly, in this context, NWP teachers) who are geographically apart from others. Given how isolating that experience can be, we wanted to explore the options for teachers to connect with others (again, mostly in context of NWP).

Here is the website that we built (NWP: Across Geographic Boundaries) and shared for the session. But I wanted to share out two things.
challenges share
First, we had a good discussion at the end of the of the session, where participants shared out some ideas that were on their Action Plan. We created a podcast as a way to archive and share the thinking going.

Listen to the podcast

And a colleague from Oregon talked about how their NWP site is using Second Life as a virtual meeting space, all in context of deeper integration of technology across their writing project site. Peggy also shared this video, which is certainly worth watching:

Peace (in the sharing),

Book Review: Curriculum 21

My wife is a curriculum coordinator (and media specialists) of a vocational high school, so sometimes her journals and books end up on my radar screen. Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, caught my eye the other day. The slant in this book is certainly a bit different than I am used to – how to change curriculum to reflect 21st century skills, told primarily from the administrative viewpoint. Of the various contributors here, only one or two seem to have had any real classroom teaching experience. Most of the writers are administrators or keynote speakers at education conferences. Which is not to say the pieces are not valuable. I’d read anything by Tim Tyson and Alan November, and the themes of global connections, sustainable design and digital portfolios are very important.

I admit that I read this book through a certain lens: I am being asked to co-present a session on New Literacies this week before a conference of Massachusetts superintendent, curriculum directors and other administrators. My task is to talk about my classroom. I am so used to having my audience being teachers that I have found this book helpful to step back and look at the larger picture of systemic change and how that might happen. I went back in to my presentation, adding some ideas on how administrators can support classroom teachers.

Jacobs’ message here is that integration of technologies into existing curriculum is not quite the right approach. It can’t be an add-on. Or even a one-to-one replacement. Instead, we would be better off looking at the larger picture of curriculum, and our expected outcomes of learning, and then work to transform classroom practice to meet those learning outcomes. She suggests starting small, one unit of instruction at a time, but she urges us to move 21st Century skills to the front burner of our curriculum design or risk a generation of disengaged learners whose world will look nothing like the classroom.

There is a very valuable handout in the book called “A 21st Century Pledge: A Curricular commitment from Each Teacher” that encourages teachers to be reflective and forward-thinking designers of lesson plans. The pledge notes that the commitment is not using an LCD projector, or having students write on a computer as opposed to a typewriter, or using an interactive whiteboard. Instead, it is a pledge to thoughtfully use technology to enhance content that can be evidenced in student projects and performances. And while the subtitle of the pledge suggests this is for teachers, she has a long section on what administrators must commit to doing, too, including providing support for classroom teachers, tolerate some levels of frustration, and celebrate the victories.

Chapters in the book include examining how the structure of the typical school day and the design of our buildings and classrooms might inhibit students; considering trends in technology that are impacting learning in the lives of young people; understanding the growing importance of media literacy skills; using curriculum mapping to make sustainable change; and mulling over the shift of the classroom from teacher-centered instruction to student-centered learning.

The book ends with some thoughts on the “mindshifts” that will need to happen if we are to transform schools with 21st Century thinking. Again, it is not the tools.

  • We need to move from knowing the right answers to knowing how to behave when the answers are not readily apparent;

  • We need to shift from transmitting meaning to students to finding ways for student to construct meaning;

  • We need to move away from just external evaluations (by the teacher, of student work) to more self-assessment, which breeds improvement.

Peace (in curriculum design),

Thank You: Edublog Award Nomination

Thank you to those of you who nominated my blog for the 2010 Edublog Awards. I am honored and humbled to be in the same list as those other bloggers. Wow.

General information about all the categories is here and the section for individual blogs is here. Even if you don’t vote for me, these blogs should be part of your RSS feeds. In particular, I love the Most Influential Blog Post category — some great reading there.

Thanks, again, if you are a reader here. I see you every day I write.

Peace (in the blogging world),