INDT 501 Week 11: Virtual Worlds

Virtual Worlds: Second Life

This week in INDT 501, I explored the possibility of using virtual worlds in the classroom, specifically the most widely used virtual environment known as Second Life. Initially, I was super hesitant of educational uses in an environment like Second Life, given what I already knew about it being a place to exploit others, usually sexually, just as AIM chats were often abused in the 1990’s. As I continued to read and learn about Second Life (SL), the issue of exploitation in virtual environments was addressed by a number of factors:

  • There are two separate “grids” in SL, one for those 18 years and up and one for teens. The adult grid contains a considerable amount of explicit content– whether it be violent or sexual; whereas, the SL for teens is highly regulated and excludes adults, unless approved via background check and/or adults entering and approved as educators. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission assessed the risks of virtual worlds and delineated the amount of explicit content found in various virtual environments. As predicted, the amount of explicit content for virtual worlds specifically created and regulated for adolescents contained considerably less explicit, adult content compared to the adult worlds. FTC. (2009) “Virtual worlds and kids: Mapping the risks.”
  • The learning gained from virtual environments outweighs the minimal risks.

– Virtual environments provide  opportunities that might otherwise be unavailable to schools/students. For instance, students can virtually travel abroad quickly and essentially at no financial cost. What makes traveling              abroad in virtual environments different from visiting historical, tourist sites in Google Earth is the capability to interact with one’s peers and other young people while there. Bringing me to my next point…

– Learning is social. Virtual worlds provide students with an enormous community of young people with which to interact with and learn.

– Even when language acts as a barrier, most students can still manage to communicate using technology. Even students from different origins can come together over the same virtual environment, using the same code and computer skills. Take, for instance, Changchun American International School, where “about half [of the students] are Chinese and the rest are from the US, Germany, Australia, Korea, Mexico, and other countries” (Korolov, 2011).  Despite different levels of fluency, all students communicate in English and build code together in OpenSim, a SL environment designed for these students.

-Given that students in today’s classrooms are digital natives, the learning curve in virtual worlds is typically small for adolescents. In fact, learning how to use virtual environments is usually more difficult for the teacher than the student– adding more support for more extensive professional development in technologies!

-John K. Waters (2009) elaborates on the benefits of using SL in the classroom in his article “A ‘Second Life’ for Educators.” This article helped me see SL as a more viable classroom tool.

On the other hand, the downsides are…

Like other new technologies, I think there are some problems regarding access and financial burden. While most people have access to internet, they may not have the latest and greatest computers or bandwidth capabilities. While students do not have to download the entire world of SL onto their (or school) computers– they simply need to download the viewer that takes up relatively little space on hard drives, the actually creation of virtual learning spaces involves using large amounts of bandwidth and actually using real money to buy or rent virtual real estate. Moreover, to use virtual worlds at optimal speed and efficiency, the most recent, updated computer systems are recommended. Given that most schools contain only one or two mildly updated computer labs and a couple computers, usually outdated, in each classroom, successfully utilizing virtual worlds, or other technologies for that matter, can be downright frustrating — if not completely impossible.

At the end of the day…

I see myself attempting to use virtual worlds, given the technological capacity to do so in my classroom, even if only for a few days/one or two projects. I want to give my students the opportunity to try out new technologies, like SL. If I find it to be successful and fun for my students, I might consider incorporating virtual environments more often. Like most things in teaching, it will be a matter or trial and error/experimenting.

Moreover, I think virtual worlds are highly conducive to blended learning, which is an approach I would like to try when I get into the classroom. An article I read recently by Josh Woodward (2012) clarified blended learning in a way that I find relevant to INDT 501 and using virtual worlds:

“Blended learning is not about replacing teachers with machines. Rather, it’s about leveraging technology to provide students and teachers with immediate feedback, holding each individual student accountable for his or her academic success, and personalizing coursework to best meet students exactly where they are.”

I think Woodward is spot on in his definition of blended learning. I also think using virtual worlds in the classroom may help teachers successful utilize the blended learning approach. Virtual worlds have great potential for personalizing learning and for students showcasing both their individual achievements and community successes.

On that note, I conclude this week’s INDT 501 wrap-up. While this may be my last INDT 501 weekly blog reflection, I will try to maintain some degree of habitually updating this blog and posting my latest educational thoughts. See you next time!

References:

Federal Trade Commission. (2009). “Virtual world & kids: Mapping the risks.” Retrieved from http://www.ftc.gov/os/2009/12/oecd-vwrpt.pdf

Korolov, M. (2011 February 15). “China school programs in 3D” in Hypergrid Business. Retrieved from http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2011/02/china-school-goes-3d/

Water, J.K. (2009 January 1). “A ‘second life’ for educators” in THE Journal. Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/Articles/2009/01/01/A-Second-Life-For-Educators.aspx?Page=1

Woodward, J. (2013 March 27). “How blended learning saved my teaching career” in Education Week Teacher. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2013/03/26/fp_woodward_blended.html?tkn=ZYOF7lXU8bJIQt5t5yA%2F%2FMXuiJBaV49uDcPO&cmp=SOC-EDIT-FB

 

 

 

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INDT 501 Week 10: Mini Projects II

The “Instructional Tech Toolbox” is brimming.  Now What?

This week in INDT 501, I am working on creating a Google Trek using Google Maps and an interactive timeline on Capzles. In addition to completing these mini-projects, I have turned most of my attention to envisioning how I will use these tools in the classroom. INDT 501 has and is continuing to introduce me to a myriad of awesome, exciting tools and I keep asking myself, “Now what? How do I use this in my classroom? How can my students use it? What are the possibilities? How does it benefit and support the learning process?”

Keeping the engagement of the learner and types of nifty tools in mind, I began with a backwards design approach and reexamined the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) for Social Studies to answer the questions above. As I flipped through the World History SOLs, I imagined SOL-technology tool pairings, if you will. Obviously, I found that some content lent itself better to Google Treks and some to world cloud tools, etc. etc. Overall, I reaffirmed that the possibilities truly are endless for incorporating technology in the classroom. I could not be more thankful and excited to learn about all of these technologies before I begin teaching. Filling my “instructional toolbox” with all of the INDT 501 goodies will undoubtedly make lesson planning during my first year teaching much easier but, more importantly much more fun for my students. Thanks, Dr. Coffman! :)

Now returning to this week’s reflection topic, below is the “skinny” on my mini-projects.

On Google Maps, you can create your own personalized map, dotting it with numerous, interactive points that can be color-coded and include text, photos, videos, instructions, and basically anything else you can imagine! As a teacher, you can create an interactive map for your students to explore. Dr. Alice Christie illustrates this idea well in here Google Trek on “Inventions of the Industrial Revolution.”

While there are a multitude of ways to use this in your classroom, I see Google Treks being used in my classroom as:

-Current Events Warm Up/”Today in (location on map)…” : Every week, two students could work together to present a current event on Friday, using Google Maps. The pair would act much like  CNN political analysts showing the class where a current event is taking place. This activity would be fairly informal  but hopefully, informative and thought provoking. After briefly describing their current event and stating their thoughts on it, the pair would then turn discussion over to the class for further clarification and analysis. This would be a great time to connect what we are learning in the course to current events, whether it be content or method specific.

Blank Paper Map Activity Replacements: Instead of constantly having students fill out and color blank maps on trade routes, empire boundaries, capitals, and battle locations, students can do so on Google Maps and go beyond the limitations of paper maps. With Google Maps, students can create highly interactive maps and there is no worry that students will lose them in a messy backpack when taking the maps home to finish them!

Power Point Presentation Replacements/Visual Aid for Lectures: Not only will students be more engaged during those times when lecture is necessary, the background of the presentation– the map!– is likely to be more memorable than a blank Power Point background. Ideally, using the map will make students more geographically aware of historical events.

Basis for a  WebQuest (Coffman, 2013)/Scavenger Hunt/Virtual Amazing Race: Students can travel from place to place on a map, marking each stop they make with a flag and their responses to teacher generated questions. At each stop, they will be able to see their peers’ contribution to the questions and also pose questions of their own. Google Treks might also work well in a “telecollaborative project” (Coffman, 2013) involving another class from a different school, state, or even country.

In doing the last activity, I see myself trying out a “mock virtual classroom,” (Heitin, 2013) in which students sit in silence, only communicating through the Google Map. Maybe students would also have a class Google Doc or Padlet open to virtually raise their hands/ask questions/communicate. I think doing activities like this occasionally will build students’ digital literacy, improve their communication skills, teach them how to effectively work and learn online, and of course convey content material in a new, exciting way. I must admit, I am getting pumped just thinking about executing a classroom period like this– cannot wait to get in the classroom!

 

  • Capzles

Capzles is a tool that allows you to create visually appealing, online timelines. Once again, I see myself using this tool in place of PowerPoint when lecturing about events that revolve around chronology, like the development of wars and evolution of legislation. It could also function well as a review for chronological events. Primarily, I see myself incorporating Capzles into student projects. Like they say, those who do the work, do the learning. In this case, those who make the Capzles, remember the material!

-Capzle Lesson Idea: Perhaps, students could use Capzles to teach the class sections of the course. For instance, students could take charge of teaching the class different perspectives of World War II. Groups of three to four students could make a Capzle of the events that shaped World War II, with each group covering events from the perspective of one country in World War II. Then, groups would present their Capzles to the class. Each group would have a slightly and sometimes glaringly different Capzle because how Americans perceived WWII will vary widely form how Japan or Germany viewed WWII. Not only would students learn the major events of WWII, they would see the enormity of it and begin to understand different perspectives. This activity would align nicely with the National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, especially on NCSS Theme 2- Time, Continuity, and Change, in that it “develop[s] a deeper understanding and appreciation for differences in perspectives on historical events.”

Well, that’s all for this week, folks! Be sure to check my Professional Web Portfolio later this week for a look at my Google Trek and Capzle projects.

References

Christie, A. (2011, September 9.) Inventions of the industrial revolution. [Google Trek/Google Maps]. Retrieved from https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=209499852096364375431.0004ac83b1af678848736&msa=0.

Coffman, T. (2013). Using inquiry in the classroom: Developing creative thinkers and information literate students (2nd ed.). Plymouth, UK: Rowman & Littlefield Education. See Webquests, p. 59-81 and Telecollaborative Activities,  p. 103-28.

Heitin, L. (2013, March 16). Going blended in the classroom. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/teaching_now/2013/03/going_blended_in_the_classroom.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter .

National Council for the Social Studies. (2010). National curriculum standards for the social studies. Retrieved from http://www.socialstudies.org/standards/strands.

Virginia Department of Education. (2012). Standards of learning & testing: History and social science. Retrieved from http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/sol/standards_docs/history_socialscience/index.shtml.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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INDT 501 Week 9: Mini Projects I

This week in INDT 501, I explored two new creative tools:

  • Tagxedo– A tool that allows you to create word clouds, much like Wordle. You simply insert a text and decide on the shape you want the text to take.

The most exciting and functional part of Tagxedo for social studies teachers is that it makes the most frequently used words in the text the largest. By highlighting the most common words, students can easily see the main idea and themes in a text. For this reason, tagxedo has enormous potential! It provides students with a lot of information in a concise manner, making it a great tool for warm up activities. For instance, I made Tagxedo images of two primary source documents from ancient history, The Code of Hammurabi and The Book of Exodus, to illustrate the similarities and differences in ancient law codes. To see what’s important in these two texts, students simply examine the Tagxedo images and then discuss why each law code emphasizes certain people, places, and/or things.

exodus tagxedo thumbnail

Hammurabi Tagxedo thumbnail

The Code of Hammurabi Tagxedo

 

We can then ask students how the emphasized, most commonly used words reflect Babylonian and Hebrew society. We can get students thinking about what each civilization valued without having them spend an hour of class time or homework time reading the entirety of each primary source text. While they may end up reading the entirety of the primary sources later in the lesson or in their research, generating word clouds of the text saves a lot of time up-front and allows us to see the bigger picture sooner, perhaps in turn generating even more student interest and curiosity from the get-go.

More importantly, these word clouds demonstrate an approach to problem-solving. In political science, we frequently answer questions by looking at data in this way– by examining speeches and legislation to see what is most important and valued, according to word count. Of course, political scientists then combine the data with historical context and analysis but, the starting point is raw data. Word clouds, although a rougher, less precise sketch of the data, make the data visually appealing and more mentally digestible, if you will. Take for instance,The New York Times‘ word clouds of all presidential inauguration speeches. It illustrates, in an exceptionally appealing way, one method of examining the presidency over time. From these word clouds, we can make numerous analyses and conclusions. All in all, word clouds are a great engine for modeling research methods and for sparking student interest and thought.

Seeking even more visual, animated appeal, I explored another creative tool this week:

  •  Voki – a tool that allows you to customize avatars with voice, visuals, animation, and backgrounds.

While Voki can be used in the classroom in a variety of ways, I used it to enhance my professional web portfolio and get feedback on it. Below is a screenshot of how I used Voki on my website.

voki snapshot

Using Voki on my professional web portfolio. See it in action here: https://sites.google.com/site/erinsexplorationofedtech/Home

I must admit, creating a Voki was quite fun and I will continue to think about how I can incorporate it into my classroom. Surely, students would enjoy creating their own, too! It might be handy for shy students creating presentations, who want to minimize their speaking time but still get their points across to the class.

 

 

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INDT 501 Week 5: Expanding My Personal Learning Network

This week in Instructional Technologies 501, I explored a variety of social networking sites, in addition to some handy applications I already use, like Google Reader. To keep things concise and because of amount of programs I would like to briefly cover, this week’s reflection will be more of an annotated list of greatest hits than a narrative.

  • First up this week is a nifty video maker that produces sounds & sights that are captivating and professional looking: Animoto. As for incorporating this tool in the classroom, I am currently working on a video that will introduce what life was like in Post World War II America. Hopefully, seeing pictures of the 19040 World’s Fair and the Futurama exhibit, accompanied by retro music will spark a curiosity about that period in history and have students excited to move forward through the unit. While I am using Animoto as an introduction to the material, it could also be used for review or to illustrate a small but important, detailed part of history, such as a particular battle. It could also be used to make an illustrative biographical sketch of a historical figure.
  • Next, I refined my LinkedIn profile and began to connect with classmates. LinkedIn provides an excellent opportunity to network and search for jobs.
  • In continuing to expand my personal learning network, I explored and subscribed to new blogs of the educational and political variety on my Google Reader. Of all of the tools on the internet, this is probably one of my favorites, almost edging out Facebook! Google Reader allows you to put all of your favorite blogs in one place, in a format of a feed that is quite similar to Facebook’s newsfeed. I love having everything in one place and also being able to see variety. I will go from reading an educational  article from the Britannica Blog to reading about how to cook affordable meals from Budget Bytes— both of which I highly recommend!
  • Then, there is always Facebook. Unfortunately, when we hear the words “Facebook” and “teacher” together, it is typically related to scandal, such as a teacher getting fired for posting controversial pictures on Facebook. However, it obviously has potential for educational purposes. It is still a good place to follow educational people and organizations. For instance, I see and learn things from The Brilliant Blog by Annie Murphy Paul everyday because it is posted alongside my friends’ updates. Her Facebook, Twitter, and blog are all integrated but I see her articles most through Facebook because I use it the most. Facebook is incredibly accessible and easy to use.
  • Of course the other most widely used social networking site is Twitter. Once again, Twitter is unfortunately frequently abused and used to post super personal updates and/or bash unpopular things or people; however, it, too, can also be used to learn about the newest research and current events really quickly. Because posts are short, you can scroll through hundreds of posts and learn about a myriad of topics in a matter of minutes!  Talk about efficient! Some of my favorite educational twitter feeds are:
    •  Association for Psychological Science (APS): I like this one because I can read short blips from the newest research studies in psychology, which often relate to education, and only read the long study if I find it particularly relevant or profound.
    • Daniel Willingham: I follow him for the same reasons as the APS but, his posts more narrowly pertain to educational, cognitive psychology– like how we learn and what happens in the brain when we learn.
    • Today’s Document by the US National Archives: As a social studies teacher, finding high quality primary sources can be tough but it is incredibly important. Following a feed like this helps make primary sources more accessible and easier to digest. Instead of hurriedly scrambling for one for a lesson plan tomorrow, I can make note of and bookmark potential sources for future lessons.
    • American History Museum: Almost more interesting than documents are artifacts. While this feed is informative, they always manage to make history fun and captivating. Even the non-history buff will enjoy this Twitter feed!

    All in all, there is no shortage of educational websites, blogs, and social networking sites. The list is literally endless, which is one of the many reasons it is critical that we learn to assess and pick the best, most reliable sources of information. More importantly, we have to do this for ourselves but also, to model such information literacy to our students and expose them to high quality sources of news and knowledge. At the end of the day, I am developing my own personal learning network but also setting a standard for what that looks like to my students, so that they may develop their own.

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INDT Week 4 Reflection: Creativity & Exploring Scratch

This week I was excited to delve into more uncharted territory, from a blog/news search engine organized by categories called Technorati to Scratch, a program that allows anyone to create interesting animations, games, and interactive video clips. While I have done lots of exploring this week, I would like to focus on my experimentation with Scratch. When I learned that it enabled teachers, or anyone for that matter, to use fairly basic code to create video games, I became determined to figure it out and play around with it. I watched the tutorial video, downloaded the program, and simply started clicking buttons to see what happened, without any particular aim or clear idea of what the final product might look like. As I saw certain images or sounds, I began to toy with different directions and ways that this could be used in the classroom.

While I think designing a game would be perfect for today’s Xbox/Playstation generation, I knew that designing a game was not only above my head at the moment but, I also lack a vision for what a high quality game should look like, since I do not actually play them much at all. At the very least, however, there are many games to choose from on Scratch that other users have made that can be modified to suit one’s needs. All of the talk and searching into games reminded me of an article I read last fall in Phi Delta Kappan that spoke to the engagement of video games and also how video games can be used as a source of immediate data for teachers. Unfortunately, we are not able to access the most recent editions of the magazine through UMW’s database but below is an abstract for the article. I highly recommend this particular article and others in the PDK publication. They do an exceptional job at explaining current education issues and providing thorough, thought provoking pieces.

Abstract for “More than child’s play: Games have potential learning and assessment tools” by V. Phillips and Z. Popovic

“There is increasing evidence that games provide good learning environments, particularly in their ability to drive tenacity and intrinsic motivation, two key characteristics needed for student success. Advancing technology now enables games to also serve as assessments with real-time data that gives teachers the ability to have immediate information about students’ knowledge so they can provide differentiated instruction. In this article, Vicki Phillips, director of education, College Ready, in the United States Program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Zoran Popovic, director of the Center for Game Science at the University of Washington, outline the advantages of gaming technologies and the current barriers to broader adoption in schools.”

Anyhow, returning to my exploration of Scratch, I ultimately decided that I wanted to make a project introduction with it, which made me think that doing so would essentially allow me to not be present. In other words, I could introduce the project using Scratch for homework on a class website, use it as a part of a substitute lesson plan, or even use it in the classroom while I take attendance. Scratch also allows me to make project directions more interesting and perhaps, motivates students more than usual by using catchy visuals and tunes. What I did with the program is quite basic but I am certain that you could make it even more engaging by incorporating current pop music or entertaining movements/dances.

Shown below is a screenshot of my Scratch creation, complete with “sprites,” aka sections or block of Scratch codes/commands/actions.

scratch screenshot

More exciting is the actual Scratch video/program I designed. In this clip, I take a couple of minutes to simply introduce a class assignment that involves creating a cartoon of World War I. Feel free to check it out.

After making the video, I also realized that another way to use scratch. As a teacher you could make a video introducing a project involving Scratch. For instance, students could have the option of using Scratch or poster board for the World War I cartoon assignment. My only qualm with technology like this is that, like all things, there is a sizable learning curve when first using a program like Scratch. Therefore, if I encouraged students to use it, I  might give them extra time and/or incorporate into more than one assignment to make learning it worth it. Also, students could learn to use it beyond the foundational, basic function and ultimately, in the most creative way if they used it for multiple projects.

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INDT Week 3 Reflection: The Importance of Copyright

http://minatofreak.deviantart.com/art/Lady-GaGa-Cat-192644650

Really?? UGH!

Upon first seeing that this week’s assignment was to learn more about copyright, I must admit that my reaction was a little bit like that of the cat above reacting to such an uncomfortable, hideous outfit. I understand its purpose but I also understand that noting it takes a little extra time and care, which is all the more reason to make it a habit for myself and my future students. Once you get in the habit of searching for legally reusable images, it’s like putting on your seatbelt– you almost forget that you are doing it/did it.

Not all images are created equal.

Speaking of reusable images, we are reminded this week that not all images on Google search are in fact reusable. In the age of Tumblr, Facebook, and Pinterest, it is easy to disregard the original source when re-posting images. Let’s be real here– most people, namely average “joes” redistributing content, do not care. At the same time, that does a disservice to the creators of awesome content. Potentially, such negligence to attribution could act as a deterrent to sharing content online and lead to a decline in accessibility.

To be fair to the creators of the world, we must attribute a source to work, even images, that we re-post, just like you would on paper and in writing. One of the easiest ways to do is by using Google’s Advanced Search and selecting one of five options.

Google's Advanced Search pic

What Google’s Advanced Search looks like.

The five options you will see under usage rights aligns fairly closely with the variations of Creative Commons licenses.

  • “Not filtered by license”- The search results you will get from Google if you do not use an advanced search. What most people are probably familiar with, despite not realizing it.
  • “Free to use or share”- What you should be using if you intend to re-post or share. This is the least restrictive form of copyright and depending on the specific Creative Commons license, results from this search can be manipulated. Some images from these results will simply be free to use because they are a part of public domain.
  • “Free to use or share, even commercially”- Search results will include those with online copyright that is acceptable to use for personal use or for larger audiences.
  • “Free to use, share, or modify”- If you intend to change an image to suit your needs, use this search.
  • “Free to use, share, or modify, even commercially”-The least restrictive form of search, certainly useful and still protective of content authors.

To find the cat image at the top of this post, I used Google’s advanced search on “free to use or share.” To be sure that image was protected, I found the original source and verified its Creative Commons license, which read in the right bottom corner along with the CC logo, “Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.” In plain English, that means I could not distribute the image under a commercial name, such as use it in a Wal-Mart advertisement/commercial. Additionally, I cannot modify it because it does not allow derivatives. Because the cat image is from DeviantArt, the artist is clearly identified, as is everything about the image, right down to the type of camera used for the photo.

Modeling Attribution Skills for Students

In today’s classroom full of digital natives, or students that have grown up immersed in technology, it is especially important to teach them how to successfully search for academic sources and also how to cite the ones that appear to be non-academic, like blog images. They already know how to search for things on Google but chances are, they have developed poor habits. Expect them to seek the quickest, easy way out– students are practical humans looking for short cuts. Show them them how easy it is to use Google Advanced Search. Illustrate how much it improves the quality of their work. Show students your own blog with properly cited sources or another scholarly blog. Have them compare it with blog that does not properly attribute sources. Practice what you preach and use image citations in your lectures, Power Points, etc. Make citing sources, even images, a part of the students’ routine. Incorporate rigid citation requirements in your project rubrics.

Learning how to effectively use search engines and cite online sources should be a large part of teachers’ efforts to incorporate media literacy in their content areas. Many teachers already do things like cite sources on their lecture slideshows, which means incorporating media literacy is simply a matter of emphasis. Explicitly pointing out citations and showing students how to cite and where to get the information to put in their citations is critical, especially in a world that is saturated with technology.

Speaking of citations…

Creative Commons License. In Wikipedia. Retrieved on February 3, 2013 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_Commons_license.

Derivative Work. In Wikipedia. Retrieved on February 3, 2013 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derivative_work.

Minatofreak. 2011, January 8. Lady GaGa Cat. [photo] Retrieved from http://minatofreak.deviantart.com/art/Lady-GaGa-Cat-192644650.

Public Domain. In Wikipedia. Retrieved on February 3, 2013 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_domain.

 

 

 

 

 

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INDT Week 2 Reflection: Examining 21st Century Skills & Core Knowledge

This week we are discussing 21st century skills and core knowledge, something that the education community seems to perceive as being at odds with each other, as illustrated in this USA Today article, “What to learn: ‘Core knowledge’ or ’21st century skills’?

Just so we are all on the same page, 21st century skills include:

  • The 4c’s: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity
  • Information, media, and technology skills/literacy
  • Life & career skills

You can learn more about 21st century skills here.

Core knowledge includes a “coherent, cumulative, content-specific” curriculum. Essentially, it builds the foundations or what most people think of as textbook knowledge for each particular discipline– history, science, math, art, music, etc, in a way that can be build upon, grade by grade. You can learn more about core knowledge here.

In my opinion…

I do not believe 21st century skills and core knowledge are mutually exclusive or at odds with each other. Both are incredibly important to producing well rounded citizens and future workers. In fact, I think there are many instances in which teachers can promote the growth of 21st century skills AND content knowledge simultaneously. Of course, there will always be moments in the classroom that require some degree of direct instruction, especially in history courses. The fact of the matter is that you cannot make strong analyses if you do not remember, understand, and comprehend that basic facts on the ground– the sequence of the events, the people involved, the geography of the situation, etc.

To start an exploration of a particular topic, one of the first steps is always to define what you are discussing. For instance, every good research paper begins with a literature review. Even this little blog post began with a brief review of the subject at hand. In this way, I align my education philosophy with University of Virginia cognitive psychologist, Dan Willingham, and the Core Knowledge Foundation, who remind us that “the richer the knowledge base, the more smoothly and effectively cognitive processes — the very ones that teachers target — operate.” While core knowledge is not flashy and although it does not sound as cool or as exciting as 21st century skills, it is absolutely necessary. As teachers, we are responsible for ensuring that students have foundational knowledge. Our success is mostly based on this knowledge, as conveyed through standardized test scores. That is not as to say we cannot teach foundational knowledge in a fun, engaging manner. I think we can do that. I think we can harness student creativity, initiation, and collaboration while discovering core knowledge. While it may take a little more instructional time, incorporating media literacy into a history lesson in the computer lab is feasible and encouraged.

Even when examining students’ reading comprehension, we see that background knowledge and mastery of content matters. Here’s an abridged version of what I mean from one of my favorite education writers, Annie Murphy Paul, “Reading Requires Knowing.” Here’s the longer version/original article. Also, here’s a thorough look at how “knowledge speeds and strengthens reading comprehension, learning and thinking” (Willingham 2006).

At the end of day, we want students to understand how the world works. At the end of the year, we want students to understand how to make the world work better. We cannot expect students to answer the big questions and change the world without first providing them with a foundation and framework on how to do that. In providing our students with the essential skills to impact their environments, we can build strong foundations of knowledge and practical, 21st century skills.

References

Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2011). Framework for 21st century skills. Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/overview/skills-framework/.

Paul, A.M. (2012, June 23). Reading requires knowing. Retrieved from http://anniemurphypaul.com/2012/06/reading-requires-knowing/.

Pondiscio, R. (2012, June 14). Nobody loves standards (and that’s O.K.). Retrieved from http://www.edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-daily/common-core-watch/2012/nobody-loves-standards-and-thats-ok.html#body.

The Core Knowledge Foundation (2013). Why knowledge matters. Retrieved from http://coreknowledge.org/about-the-curriculum.

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INDT Week 1 Reflection: Examining the Technology Integration Matrix

To start this course, we are learning about the Technology Integration Matrix (TIM), which is a tool that provides teachers with a framework to categorize the use of technology in their classrooms. TIM is based two variables, the level of technology integration in the classroom and characteristics of the learning environment.  Basically, TIM describes five levels of technology use: entry, adoption, adaptation, infusion, and transformation. It also delineates five attributes of the learning environment: active, collaborative, constructive, authentic, and goal directed. You can read more about the specifics of TIM here.

Before I address the two questions for the weekly reflection, I would like to briefly consider the real benefits and goals of technology integration in the classroom. The purpose of TIM is to illustrate and classify how meaningful technology integration is student learning. I think we can all agree that technology has the capacity to enhance learning but does it significantly alter the content of what we are learning or how we are learning? My hunch is that it changes the “how” more than the “what.” Either way, is using technology in the classroom significantly more efficient and effective?

While a multitude of empirical studies most likely exist to answer this question, I think looking at some of TIM’s examples of technology integration lesson plans can aide in answering this question, while also generating new ones and addressing the first reflection prompt of describing one compelling TIM lesson plan and one eyebrow raising one.

For the “eyebrow raising” incorporation of technology, I turn to a social studies lesson plan that utilizes a concept mapping technology, called Inspiration. I used Inspiration a few times during middle school and I can attest that it is a neat little program that makes aesthetically pleasing diagrams and thought webs; however, I can also say that such concept maps could easily be hand drawn. While diagrams may not look as polished handwritten, I think they work equally as well Inspiration diagrams. I cannot say I ever learned more or been particularly more engaged while creating a web or diagram on the computer. With good reason, this lesson falls under the “adoption” category of TIM, described as “the teacher direct[ing] students in the conventional and procedural use of technology tools.”

I think the more compelling case for technology integration is illustrated by a social studies lesson on animal habitats, using GPS and digital cameras. Not only does this lesson plan demonstrate a more practical, real world usage of technology, the lessons lays out clear tasks and provokes higher order thinking, such as interpreting data and presenting new questions. I believe this lesson actually enhances and alters the learning process. By being able take pictures, collaborate, and use GPS, the students are participating in a learning environment that would have otherwise been impossible and non-existent without the technology (the definition of TIM’s transformation level). This lesson combines the highest levels of thinking and technology usage, which suggests that to use technology in the most meaningful way, the teacher must go “whole hog” with it.

To answer the aforementioned question of whether or not technology significantly improves the learning process, the Technology Integration Matrix and lesson plans built around it imply that it depends on how the technology is implemented.

Returning to the second prompt for INDT’s Week 1 Reflection, one example of technology I have repeatedly seen used first hand in the classroom is the interactive white boards. Where the usage of it falls in TIM depends largely on how the teacher utilizes interactive white boards for instruction. Sadly, I would say most teachers simply adopt the technology to use in place of traditional tools. For instance, they use it to display classroom notes and lecture. Furthermore, interactive white boards are often used in a way that is not even listed in the Technology Integration Matrix and that defeat the purpose of interactive white boards—by this I mean teachers use to promote a passive learning environment. In effort to not be a total “Debbie downer” about interactive white boards, I can say that I have seen some appropriate, engaging, constructive uses of interactive white boards.

One of my eighth grade practicum teachers used the interactive white board to create a fun environment for learning about art history. She would allow the students to analyze artwork by “magnifying” elements of paintings with a sheet of paper placed in front of the projector. Students would then discuss and analyze what the magnified element contributed to their understanding of the piece and the implications of including such elements in the painting. I think this example of technology integration falls somewhere between active adoption and active infusion on TIM.

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