Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Light in New Haven

I am very inspired by this story.
I am very interested in the kinds of deep and rich assessments these teachers will develop, as well as the types of technology tools the will employ.

Some Technology Tools for Richer Types of Assessments

I have been doing some work with fellow educators this summer on developing curricula that involves richer types of assessments. These have included:

This has been really fun.

In each of these work sessions, my colleagues and I have been discussing what types of artifacts to collect which would really represent that types of work we wanted to students to participate in.

So, I have developed a suite of tools to support this. Here goes:

1. Progress Reports
I had reorganized my 8th grade curriculum last year to have students worked through a set of self-directed learning experiences. This was a new experience for most, if not all, of my students, and I began to notice that they needed a way to keep me and themselves up to date on their progress. I developed these progress reports using Forms in Google Docs.

The nice thing about doing these types of reports is that there are regular checkpoints for the teacher and the students. The nice thing about doing these reports using Google Forms is that they are instantly shareable, in addition to be customizable for the student or situation/classroom. Ning then changed its pricing structure, and its use became impractical for us.

I then began experimenting with other education-focused social networks, such as My Big Campus and Edmodo. Both are interesting and have good features, but we have settled on Edmodo as being the most robust. Some teachers like it as a class bulletin board. Some teachers like it as a place for students to turn in assignments. And some teachers like the freedom of communication and collaboration that it fosters.

2. Reflective Journals
Most educators acknowledge that periodic reflection supports learning. There are many benefits of reflection, including:

  • Practicing critical thinking
  • Developing mindfulness
  • Inserting a pause into a longer process
  • Becoming self-aware of one's learning process

Once again relying on Google Docs, I have developed some templates for these teachers.
The basic idea is that the "journal" is a Google Doc, shared between teacher(s) and student. In this way, it becomes a ongoing (perhaps year-long) conversation between the participants.

3. Digital Portfolios
The work these teachers and I designed typically involved a project or other longer term student work.
I have been experimenting with various web based portfolio tools. The one I am focused on for now is Three Ring. Three Ring is a mobile app that allows the teachers to photograph student work and then upload it instantly to a teacher website, thus creating a digital portfolio. I look forward to seeing how this develops.

4. Social Network
For years, I have used blogs with my students as a way to promote writing in the content area (Science, in my case), as well as develop a classroom culture beyond the school day. While I have really liked what blogs have added to my students, I began to have a problem with the basic structure of blogs, which has an author (typically me) and a set of respondents (the students).

In previous years, I have experimented with Ning, as a social networking platform. My students loved the freedom and ease of sharing things of all kinds (both academic and personal) and I enjoyed the democratization of the classroom that I saw -- any member of the network could post and/or respond. This very much matched the type of classroom environment I valued.

My goal today is to share some plans. As things continue to unfold, I will share the results.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A new, cool Arduino resource

For the past two years, I have been playing with Arduino boards and kits and shields. In addition to my own personal needing to make and tinker, I have been convinced that they would be very powerful tools for my 7th and 8th grade Life Science students.

Last year, I did some work with my students with these devices, which extended the work I was already doing in Scratch into physical computing. As part of a unit on the human body systems and feedback mechanism in particular, some of my 8th graders built models using Arduino boards. The one in the picture models/demonstrates human thermoregulation using a bendable potentiometer and a three-color LED.  The best part is that the students worked this out pretty much on their own.

This great resource showed up in my email this morning. It is a brief manual for the Arduino which is very nicely done and very clearly written. It was prepared by Dr. Jan  Borchers of RWTH Aachen University in Germany. I am very much looking forward to using this with my students as the school year begins here in New York.

I am in the second year of constructing the classes I teach as sets of self-directed learning experiences. I look forward to seeing how the Arduino work adds to the project.

Back in Business

For the past two years, I have been on a hiatus from this blog. I had gotten frustrated by the overwhelming reality of anyone actually reading what I was writing (although reader response had been positive). Thanks to Jeff Branson at SparkFun, I am re-entering the blogosphere. Perhaps, this is as good a time as any. So, welcome and please join the conversation.