Crossing the Finish Line

At the beginning of this class we were asked to set some goals we’d like to accomplish throughout the course. Mine were:

  1. Gain a better sense of how to build an online or blended course and how to use it to effectively with students.
  2. I want to continue to build my professional learning network through this course and Twitter.
  3. My final goal is to finish my master’s!

I believe I have met these goals but my learning is not done. With the amount information and resources I have been introduced to by my professors, Alec and Katia, and all my classmates, I have enough learning to keep me busy for a second master’s degree! I’m hoping now that I have finished my master’s, I will have more time to explore many of the online tools and apps that were mentioned or used by my classmates in this course.

So, with so much learning, how did I sum it all up? Well, Megan and I teamed up again to sell you on EC&I 834!

It is now I start doing my happy dance because I’m done my Master’s of Education. Oh, there were so many times I thought this day would never come! It has been a ton of work but I have gained so much through the process. Thanks to all my professors and classmates that have taught me so much along the way.

Online Prototype….Done!

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Our course prototype assignment is drawing to a close. Although I have learned an incredible amount from this project, I am relieved. It means we are almost done and that means I am, oh, so close to finishing my Master’s of Education! Before I get ahead of myself and burst into song and dance about the joy I feel over this, I better get this final blog post done and sum it all up.

This assignment really epitomizes what project based learning is. Our class was introduced to this project on night one, and much of what we have discussed throughout and the skills we have learned have been applied to this project in one way or another.

My group, Benita Struik, Megan Weisbrod, and myself decided to shoot for the moon with our class prototype on Social Justice. We split the topic into three sections and each of chose a section to tackle. Below is an excerpt from our class profile (it is long so I’ll give you the highlights but feel free to read the document in its entirety).

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This unit is designed to engage and empower students through the exploration of social justice and social justice issues.

Module 1- An Introduction to Social Justice

Students will develop an understanding of what social justice is, and they will be able to provide a definition. As a class, students will look at a social justice movement and examine different components. Students will be given choice of a cause/issue to research. Students will then be asked to justify whether it is a social justice cause/movement through a blog post. Students will be given the opportunity to respond to each other’s posts.

Module 2- Global Issues

Students will develop an understanding of globalization and its role in social justice. Students will be able to define and answer 10 basic questions about globalization. They will know what global social justice is, find examples and present an issue to the class. Students will also understand the role of photographs that depict social justice issues.

Module 3- Get Involved!

In this module, we build upon topics covered in Module 1 and 2 and expand these ideas to local social justice issues. Students will be asked to think of things they would like to see changed within their community. Students will then research and explore local organizations that support their interests. Students will create a display to represent a local organization that supports their cause at a Kids for a Cause Fair. Community members and organizations will be invited to attend and students will get an opportunity to share their knowledge. Students will reflect on their involvement and make a personal commitment for the future in a blog post.

This unit is designed to scaffold learning for students who may be unfamiliar with social justice and promote engagement through student led learning using choice and embedding technology. Each module is designed with a suggested instructional teaching guide including: multi-day lessons, recommendations for time, suggested differentiation, and formative and summative assessment.

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As I mentioned, we’ve have been working on this project since January! We introduced the prototype in our second post of the year in Blending Social Justice. It was rough outline of our plans. The next week we chose our LMS – Google Classroom. This post outlines the many reasons why we chose this learning management system over others. The week after, we tried out a creation tool we’d never used before. I made a video with SMART Recorder and although I never used this in my prototype, I will use it in my classroom. Also, viewing some of my classmate’s prototypes gave me a better idea of how I could use it effectively for a blended learning experience. In blog post 5 we reflected on Bates’ book Teaching in A Digital Age and the impact that different types of digital sources (text, video, audio, etc.) can have on our teaching and learning. In Creating Community, I discussed the importance of building community in an online space and how it is an essential step to making our students feel welcome, safe, and ready and willing to learn. In our next blog post we looked at using discussion boards in open or closed spaces and how that might affect learning. Finally, in my post Coming to a Close, I took a look at the process of putting it all together and the final stages of the prototype project.

After we finished the prototype, some of our classmates had the chance to review it and give us feedback. The following is our response to that feedback and the changes we would make moving forward.

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Overall, our feedback from our colleagues was very positive in nearly all areas of our prototype. They praised our prototype for ease of use, variety of tools and activities, and the seamless flow from one module to the next. In addition, they appreciated the small details we added like our introductory video, inclusion of instructional guides, and having access to artefacts and documents in more than one location in Google Classroom. Our colleagues also acknowledged our course profile was comprehensive and well thought out. As with anything, there is always room for improvement. Below are our responses to the suggestions that we will take into consideration when we use this material with our students.

  • One of our colleagues had some trouble with some of our links and access to a Kahoot.
    • Our respondent thought the trouble with the Kahoot may be related to the Kahoot session needing to be started.
    • For our other links, we will go back and ensure that all of our links are accessible and in working condition and make adjustments accordingly.
  • One respondent noticed that some of our documents were in differing formats and would have liked to have seen it consistent throughout.
    • Moving forward, this is something we would definitely change. Ideally, with Google Classroom it would work seamlessly with our Google Drive so all our documents uploaded would be in the format of Google Docs so we would be able to make copies for each student with ease.
  • One suggestion was to add a brief introduction to the unit before the video so students would know what they were watching for (keywords, definitions, aims).
    • We liked this suggestion and felt it worth considering for future revisions.
    • For middle years, we would like to see students connecting keywords with the “word work” that is already going on in class. This may mean using “word work” notebooks or word walls in the classroom.  

Thank you to all our reviewers and the positive feedback. It makes all our hard work worth it!

Coming to a Close

Our online prototype assignment is coming to close, and I have to say that I’m excited for it to be over. When we were first introduced to this assignment I honestly thought it wouldn’t be that much work or take that much time. I mean, I plan multiple lessons every day. How hard can it be to transfer that to an online platform and throw in a video? As it turns out, it is not that easy. I was, oh, so wrong.

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Like Logan, I have felt so many emotions while working through this assignment. Anxiety, defeat, and stress (I’m pretty sure technology hates me!) are some of the more negative feelings, but I also felt challenged, engaged, and proud of our final product. Right now I mostly (like Carla), feel exhausted!

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I have a new appreciation for people who make instructional guides. Thinking through every little detail of a lesson and then translating that to a guide that everyone and anyone can understand and easily follow takes work. It is much different than the lesson plans I make for myself. I really thought about all types of different learners and if my activities would be engaging and relevant for varying levels of students. Do my activities flow nicely? Did I provide all the links I should have? If a teacher isn’t familiar with this concept can they still make use of this guide? Can they follow how I picture this lesson going in my head? These are the questions I was asking myself. I feel like I looked it over a hundred times and adding or changed something each time. I found it a bit difficult to make this guide having never taught this lesson. I’m sure if I actually get a chance to teach it, I would make more changes!

The making of the video was a whole other story. It took me no less than 14 hours to make! If I were to do it again, I’m sure it would go a lot quicker. Figuring out new programs takes time, especially when you’re technology deficient like I seem to be. Like Lindy, this is one of the reasons I have been reluctant to assign digital assessments in the past. I don’t have the skill set and lack the time to figure out all these amazing programs. However, I’m changing my thinking. When it comes to digital tools, you don’t need to have it all figured out ahead of time. Our students are smart and being digital natives they can figure out tools faster than I can and we can all learn together. It’s important that as well as teaching my subject area, I am teaching or facilitating digital creation opportunities for my students.

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I think the easiest part of the assignment was using the LMS. There was still a bit of a learning, and setting it up to have someone view, is again different than if you were actively using it with students. I would really like to try using Google Classroom (the LMS platform we chose for our prototype) for one of my classes. When I look at the mess of papers in my student’s binders and duo tangs, I feel this would be a great organization system for them, and me! 

In closing, although I’m glad this assignment is wrapping up, I did learn an immense amount. Mission accomplished Alec and Katia, mission accomplished!

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Open or Closed? The Discussion Board Debate

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I have never had to take an online class like Stephanie, where all students are asked to respond to the same question and then expected to comment on a specified number of other posts. I can understand how she felt that it provided little room for original and thought provoking discussion. One of my friend’s is taking a class like this right now and she feels similarly. She also finds it frustrating that her work and mark is somewhat dependent on others and what and when they are posting. She also feels that there is a specific answer the professor wants and that she needs to regurgitate that information in order to do well. In questions that involve one right answer, there is very little room for discussion.

The open spaces I have been apart of have involved blogging and using twitter. In the class I took my classmates and I were given blog prompts every week or were expected to write about articles we had read that week. There was no length stipulations and it was very open if you’re learning lead you on a different path. I find it fascinating that we are all given the same prompts or read the same articles and yet everyone’s responses are so different. I can learn so much from my peers thoughts and experiences, way more than I have time for! Amy mirrors this and writes that reading our peers thoughts and responses can broaden our understanding of a topic and allow us to consider concepts from different perspectives. This increases the breadth and depth of everyone’s learning.

Twitter is also an open space that can provide endless professional development opportunities and allows you to grow your personal learning network. Again, I find I never have enough time to read all the interesting articles and try out the intriguing ideas that I see on twitter.

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In “Building Authenticity Through Student Blogs”, Joshua Howard explains that blogging will improve students writing. If they are writing for an authentic audience, not just their teacher, they will care more and be more motivated to produce quality writing. Howard also writes that when a student has an authentic purpose and feedback, it not only makes students want to write, it makes them want to write well.”

While I agree with Howard’s points, I think that there is still a place for a closed forums or an LMS system within a classroom. These provide a great scaffolding tool for students and allow teachers to moderate posts and comments. This could lead to a positive experience for students and allow them to gain knowledge and practice in developing a digital footprint that will serve them well in the future.

I love Amy’s idea of creating a community outside the classroom while still having a somewhat private forum by inviting parents or combining classes of the same age or level. The classes don’t even need to be at the same school.

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While I’m not against using open forum in the classroom, I don’t think that closed discussion must lead to closed responses and comments where no thinking or learning happens. Students don’t all need to answer the same closed question. In class we discussed lots of ways that many different subject areas and age levels could use a forum. Teachers could provide multiple open-ended questions and students only have to choose one. Students could be writers one week and commenters the next. Discussion boards could be used to jigsaw learning or review. Students could use a discussion board to role play and examine an issue from a different perspective. Students can debate an issue or use the forum for current events. There are many possibilities. I think that all of these ideas will work in a both a closed and open forum.

What do you think? Is closed or open better?

In what ways do you use discussion boards or forums in your classroom?

Creating Community

The readings this week discussed the importance of building community in online environments. As teachers, we all know that building community and relationships with our students is of the utmost importance. Students need to feel safe sharing with you (the teacher) but also with their peers. Having a safe, welcoming classroom ensures that learning can and will take place there. It is no big surprise then, that an online space should replicate that feel. So….how do we do this?

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Schwier writes “for a community to emerge, a learning environment must allow learners to engage each other intentionally and collectively in the transaction or transformation of knowledge” (2002, p.1). Students need to be able engage with ideas, negotiate meanings, and learn in a collective manner. Communication is extremely important in virtual learning communities and results in interaction, engagement, and learning.

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Our online prototype will be a blended learning environment. This will be beneficial in that we will already have creating that community feel within our classroom. We just need that to continue for the online learning portions.

For our prototype, Benita, Megan (my prototype partners) and I will be using a number of different online tools to support online learning. I haven’t completely solidified what will make up my module, but so far here’s what I plan on using.

  1. Google Classroom – Google Classroom is the learning management system we have chosen for our prototype. Posts can be made to the main page of the classroom. Students can reply to a teacher post or respond to each other’s posts around a topic or question.  Discussion boards can also be set up within classroom. Students always have the option to email the teacher if they feel they need some clarification or help.
  2.  Google Docs – Google Docs allows for easy group project collaboration and sharing. Comments, constructive criticism, and feedback can also be added after a document is shared. Google Docs also works seamlessly within Google Classroom and that makes life easier for everyone!
  3. Blogging – Megan recommends Kidblog for use with middle years students and that’s who our target audience is. This blogging site is engaging and allows teachers to have more control over the privacy of students and their posts. Students can comment on each other’s posts as well.
  4. Menitmeter – I plan to use mentimeter to make wordles, much like we have in class. This also provides a collaborative sharing opportunity.
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For assessments I plan to use rubrics (for blog post and commenting) and have a graphic organizer for students to organize their ideas, especially if blogging is new to them.

Including some different platforms will allow student to interact in different ways and hopefully through the use of Google Classroom they will feel supported. This article discusses how an online or blended learning environment can better support students who are traditionally reluctant to speak up in class or engage in face-to-face environments. Blended or online learning opportunities can provide some students with a sense of anonymity and security and allows them a voice to engage and participate. Through our use of blended learning I hope that all students can find their voice and get the most out of their learning.

Trying out Thinglink

This week for class we were able to blog about anything! Like Megan, I chose to explore a new app that might be useful in my classroom. I had heard about Thinglink and wanted to try it out.

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What is Thinglink, you might ask? It is an interactive media platform that allows you or students to use multimedia content and links to share their knowledge. and tell their story by tagging images or videos with hotspots that include additional information. Students are able to add information or link to other websites, pictures, maps, videos, audio clips, or polls using tags on an image they uploaded themselves or got from the web. They can also link to their own google doc or presentation.

Signing up was easy and there is a free version. It doesn’t have all the options of the upgraded but I think it has enough to be useful in the classroom.

I found a great example that includes many of the features Thinglink has to offer. This interactive infographic by Local 10 News Miami reports on the death of baseball player José Fernández

“Readers can smoothly unlock various tags that include the pictures of the mass card, radio clips from the procession, Google map location of the funeral, and a plethora of articles and images honoring the life of José.”

Completed projects can be shared via social media, a link, or embedded into blogs or websites.

I thought this app would be a great way for student to show their learning. This website shows many ways to use Thinglink. Check out the site to get more information on any of the ideas I’ve listed below, or see some more!

Use Thinglink to:

  • Communicate with parents
  • Student portfolios
  • Interactive bulletin board
  • Add sound effects or oral explanations to images
  • Interactive book talk or photo collage
  • Multimedia definitions
  • Interactive report

Apparently you can even sign up for a teacher account where you can add students –> Thinglink Classroom. I didn’t explore this option but here is a presentation that explains the process. There is also a tutorial on this within the app along with some other tutorials.

You are also able to Explore other Thinglinks for ideas or to use in your classroom. I thought this one would be a great project for biology.

As great as this all sounds, when I tried to create my own Thinglink, I didn’t have much luck. I was able to upload my background image, but beyond that, nothing much would work. Somehow I was able to add one tag and that’s it. I was really disappointed. I emailed for help so I’ll see if they get back to me.

I was excited for the possibilities I saw in this app and how I could use this in my classroom. Hopefully I can figure out what I’m doing wrong.

I’d love to hear how you are using Thinglink in your classroom and if you had any problems you were able to overcome.

Text, Audio, or Video…How Do You Learn Best?

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This week my post is a response reflection to A.W. Bates’ Teaching In A Digital Age. In chapter 7 Bates discusses different types of digital sources and their impact on teaching and learning. Of all the digital sources, I believe that I, like my classmate Ashley, learn best by text. However, this could be because text has primarily been the only option for my learning. We were shown a video once in a blue moon in school, but most of my learning occurred through reading. I did well in school so I guess this worked for me. Some of the unique presentational characteristics of text are:

  • text is very good at handling abstraction and generalisation;
  • text enables the linear sequencing of information in a structured way;
  • text has a linear structure which works well in the development of a sequential argument or discussion;
  • still graphics such as graphs or diagrams enable knowledge to be presented differently from written language, either providing concrete examples of abstractions or offering a different way of representing the same knowledge.
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Text also meets all the criteria as a medium for academic learning. I can attest to that; while taking a master’s degree you read a lot of books, journals, and articles. A LOT! There is good reason for using text as it is “particularly useful for developing the higher learning outcomes required at an academic level, such as analysis, critical thinking, and evaluation” (Bates, 2015, 7.2.1.2).

Bates also makes the point that although text is great, it comes with limitations. It requires a high level of literacy skills for it to be used effectively in teaching and learning. This is where I run into problems at the school I teach at. Many of my students have huge gaps, especially in their reading levels. I agree with Bates when he says,

“Print has been a dominant teaching technology, arguably at least as influential as the spoken word of the teacher. Even today, textbooks, mainly in printed format, but increasingly also in digital format, still play a major role in formal education, training and distance education” (Bates, 2015, 7.2.1).

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So how can I reach the students that text doesn’t work for, in teaching them and in them being able to show their learning at high school level? I certainly try many different approaches, but I’d love to hear your ideas as well.

 

Bates refers to audio as the unappreciated medium. I would say I have to agree in that I don’t really appreciate it and don’t think it is that great, for me anyway. What a teacher adds by talking/teaching in a class is highly valuable, but Bates is mainly referring to recorded audio. I don’t have a lot of experience with just recorded audio and perhaps that is why it isn’t high on my digital source list for learning. I don’t listen to podcasts or audiobooks. I will admit, I haven’t really given them a chance, but I think my problem is that I zone out. Unless I am following allow with text, my mind begins to wander. I believe this is useful in the classroom as it can help develop literacy skills or support those students with lower literacy levels.

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Video is a digital source I believe can add a lot to a lesson and allow students to deepen their understanding of a topic or concept. Sometimes when you are able to see something you’ve been reading about or watch a technique in action, it just makes so much more sense. I think that keeping videos on the shorter is side is better or interest can be lost. Videos can be frustrating or some if you’re trying to pick out certain pieces of information or rewatching looking for one particular part. Text can be easier to skim over and find what you’re looking for in these instances.

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I think I need to incorporate more videos into my lessons. I get frustrated when it can take such a long time to search for one great video and then sometimes I end up not finding anything. I wonder if it was worth it or the best use of my time. I agree with Bates when he says that “students often reject videos that require them to do analysis or interpretation; they often prefer direct instruction that focuses primarily on comprehension.” This is not an excuse to not use video, we must teach students to use video differently.

Bates argues that video isn’t being used enough in education and when it is, it isn’t “exploiting the unique characteristics of video” (Bates, 2015, 7.4.4). I would love an example of how video should be used to in order for students to capitalize on its full effect.

My primary teaching area is high school math. How I was taught, and thus how I’ve been teaching for the most part, has had students communicate their learning in text (mostly via mathematical symbols). However, this class, other master’s classes, and some of my fellow colleagues have inspired me to look for other ways my students could show their learning. From what I have thought about so far, text would still be involved, but it would stray from the traditional test/worksheet assessments. Bates makes the case that we should be giving more attention to developing multimedia literacy skills in this digital age. He’s right, and that is also part of my inspiration for finding these alternate assessments. I would love to hear about ways you assess your students learning that vary from the traditional. Leave a comment below!