Make it Work Moment #30daysofblogging

I am not sure where the time went…but it flew by this week. My students have been crazy busy working towards finishing our unit before the end of the semester. Currently, my students are working on creating an Instagram post from the perspective of a historical figure who lived on a manor during the Middle Ages in Europe. But because our district firewall is like Fort Knox, I have to constantly find workarounds…

But because our district firewall is like Fort Knox, I have to constantly find workarounds…

To get students to practice analysis and writing skills, I created a Life on a Manor Big Idea assignment. This series of tasks has students analyzing documents, using the CER writing formula to put together evidence, and then creating an Instagram post from the historical figure’s perspective. Students used a variety of technology tools: Padlet, GoogleDocs, GoogleSlides, and Flipboard. I created an Instagram template in Google Slides for students to use. Then when they are finished with choosing the perfect picture, developing two hashtags about the thoughts and feelings of that historical figure, and writing their post, they will take a screenshot and upload it our class Flipboard magazine.

The Flipboard magazine will act as our collective “Instagram” feed about life on the manor for the lords, ladies, knights, peasants, and serfs. I’ll share the links to the magazines tomorrow after students have commented on their peers’ work.

The district firewall is not a means to give up on finding creative ways to engage students. I know my students are on Instagram…they know how this site works…so why not figure out a workaround that will give them the sense of using a tool they already know?

I can’t wait to see their final projects tomorrow…

 

Where Learning Matters

Like last summer, I was brought in as part of the technology team to plan, present, and facilitate professional development for teachers in my district.  Because of the size of our team, we were able to host a variety of technology PD for all teachers in our district K12.  However, we were not able to host as many repeat sessions this year because we simply did not have the man-power or space to do so.  In fact, I was told that the sessions quickly filled to capacity when Super Week sign-ups opened at the beginning of June.  This was a good sign.

Last week was the start of Super Week (#superweek2015) for our district.  I’m not sure how other districts run their PD, but in my 20 years we’ve always had PD before school starts.  Some years it’s a full week, last year it was a week and a half (dubbed Super-Duper Week, no hashtag).  But what I really enjoyed about this year’s Super Week was the addition of K6 teachers to the mix.  Prior, we only concentrated on secondary teachers (7-12 Instruction) which made sense since we were all from the secondary level.  But this year we added a few elementary teacher presenters and facilitators which brought new insight into how technology could effectively be integrated into the curriculum.

This year, I presented on a variety of topics:

  • Presentations that Inspire – Slides, Prezi, PowToon, HaikuDeck
  • Advanced Flipped Learning – EdPuzzle, Movenote, Educreations, Camtasia, Screencastomatic
  • SAMRai – UpLeveling the Learning
  • Let’s Get Appy – Web Apps for Everyone
But what I love most about presenting is the learning that occurs on my own end.  I enjoy lively dialogue with teachers about how best to use technology with their students.  It is exciting to see the passion reignited in teachers when they see the power that technology can bring in order to transform the learning process.  But it’s not just on their end.  I always pick up several cool ideas that I could bring back to my own classroom which will not only benefit my students but my department as well.  Learning is a two-way street and delivering PD is one avenue to the process.  

For the Love of Learning

I think that sometimes educators underestimate students’ desire to learn and better themselves.  And I’m including myself in that mix.  But I’m always trying new things in my classes to see which students will rise to the occasion.
The picture I included here is one that I also posted on our class Instagram account which was pushed out to Twitter.  I wanted to shout from the mountain tops that these students were writing JUST TO WRITE!
I’m not kidding.
I told all my students that they needed practice in how to write like a historian.  Meaning…they needed to learn to cite evidence to support their statements.  But more than that, they needed to be able to analyze primary and secondary sources in order to be able to effectively use them in their writing.
So I gave them three primary sources.  I told them that as a group (self-selected) that they had to choose which Big Idea they wanted to prove:  “The Tang dynasty used (ruthless/ingenious) methods to strengthen China’s government, expand its borders, and increase its economy.”  I pushed the assignment out through Google Classroom.  Then the students decided who was going to be the owner of the document and from there he/she shared the document with their peers.
The students then tackled the primary sources, annotating as necessary as they looked for evidence to prove their Big Idea.  Some students started with bullet points, but others delved right into writing a full paragraph.  It was a site to behold.
Now keep in mind, this was an optional assignment.  Students are typically not required to do Level 4 (analysis/synthesis) or Level 5 (evaluation) writing assignments.  Student choice for leveled learning opportunities is the crux of the history program at our school.  We use a revised version of Marzano’s learning scales so that it’s VERY clear what students need to demonstrate mastery of in order to earn a specific grade.  
Click HERE to go to a wiki resource that contains the learning scales for World History.
Students who want to earn an A or B in the history classes need to write and write well.  As I tell students on their first day of World History, “We don’t give a lot of extra credit in our class.  You will not pass this class with extra credit.  You will, however, pass this class with blood, sweat, and tears…not necessarily in that order.”  There’s always a bit of nervous laughter from students that follow.
The purpose of collaborative writing assignments is to give students practice in writing with their peers.  And not just writing individual sentences strung together, but actually writing together in which they are actually editing each other’s posts and leaving comments for each other.  This type of synchronous and asynchronous collaboration is exposing students to the 21st century classroom.  Not only are students learning how analyze primary and secondary sources, but they are utilizing the thinking skills of a historian as they find evidence to prove their thesis or in this case the Big Idea.  Students are not only practicing digital literacy skills but also History’s Habits of Mind.  And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Diggin’ Diigo

I was introduced to Diigo during the last year of my master’s program.  We were working around the notion of curating resources to share with our PLN.  We researched social bookmarking sites and chose the one which we felt most comfortable using.  I chose Diigo.

What I like about Diigo is that I can easily bookmark sites for later review.  It works much better than the reading list on Safari (sorry Apple, you know how much I love you)….but with Diigo I had access to all bookmarks, notations, etc. on all of my devices.

The best part?  I was able to add a bookmarklet to my iOS devices so that I could continue bookmarking to my heart’s content.  You know how that is…you go online looking for one particular thing and then two hours later you realize that you fell down a rabbit’s hole.  But I don’t consider the journey a loss…after all, that’s why I really like Diigo…I can bookmark sites, leave notations, and move on.

I’ve introduced Diigo to colleagues in my district.  I started with my department members, thinking that this would be an easy way to share websites.  But it never took off.  Well, it never took off for them.  I still bookmark sites, but whether they look at it or not I don’t know.

Then at my COE we decided to use Diigo as part of our roll-out of technology tools that supports Common Core.  We started a Diigo group and all teachers who came through our workshops enrolled in our Diigo group.  But after all of that work…it didn’t quite take off either.  Bummer.

But I wasn’t about to give up.  The daily updates I receive from Diigo gives me food for thought.  I like that other tech-minded educators are perusing and bookmarking sites.  Do I consider the Diigo community as part of my PLN?  Heck yeah!

So my next step was to introduce Diigo to colleagues in my district.  For the past couple of years, I have been asked to host a variety of technology PD.  Because of the push for Common Core, I made sure that my workshops featured technology tools that support reading, writing, and digital literacy skills.  Enter Diigo.

I pushed Diigo as a means to not only curate resources, but also as a tool where students could annotate sources.  In addition, I pushed Diigo as a way to build a PLN for teachers in my district.  And it kills me to say that even with a workshop focusing on curating and annotating resources that Diigo still didn’t take off.

Why?

I don’t know.

Whatever the case, I’m not about to give up on a tool that allows users to curate and collaborate on resources.  I’m.just.not.

Next step.

I created a Diigo group for my 7th graders last semester.  Actually I created the group a couple of years ago, but never got around to using it with my students (I suffer from the too many technology tools not enough time syndrome).

I bookmarked primary and secondary sources for them to use for our Japan Unit.  I told students that they could use those sources when working on their collaborative writing assignments in GoogleDocs.  I had about seven students sign up.  And though that doesn’t sound like a lot.  That was seven more students than before.  I told students that this is a tool that they can use beyond our class.  I told them that this type of tool is going to come in very handy as they move into high school and college when curating resources is very important.

Enter new semester of students.

I decided that this time I would post an invite to our Diigo group in Edmodo and invite students to join our group with the intent that this would help them when it came time to do the Level 4 (analysis) and Level 5 (synthesis/evaluation) writing pieces.  This year, my department (both World and US history teachers) have decided to work on collaborative writing assignments with our students.  We’ve been having them use primary and secondary sources long before the words Common Core were uttered.  However, now that we’re a GAFE district…the power of collaborative learning and writing has opened new doors for us.  Instead of having students write in isolation, we’re having our students write collaboratively.  It not only cuts down on the amount of essays that we have to grade, but it also mimics the type of writing that historians do today.  For who writes in isolation?  Well, I’m sure there are plenty who do so.  But all of the writing that I’ve done for publication has been done collaboratively.  We leave comments for each other, sometimes we’ll open a chat window in GDocs…but more importantly, we’re able to work when it’s most convenient for us.  Because of this experience, I decided that we needed to provide our students with this same type of experience and skill-set.

Where does Diigo fit in?  I’m hoping that I can get this semester’s set of students to use Diigo to not only bookmark relevant resources, but also to collaborate by leaving annotations for each other.  There will definitely be a learning curve for me because I’ve never done this before with my students, but this is something that has definitely been marinating in the back of my mind.  Wish us luck!