Thursday, April 12, 2012

Looking Back On My GAME Plan Technology Skills

            In the past six weeks I have set goals to incorporate two items into my classroom and my teaching pedagogy. These two items are the promotion of digital citizenship and improving the design of digital-age learning experiences. With these goals in mind, I embraced many of the ideas put forth in the course. I did not intend for my two goals to be unrealistic, knowing I could adapt them if the effort was more fruitful than I had first planned.
            One of the key items that made a huge difference was the concept of Problem Based Learning (PBL), and how the students work through a major problem or project. I could incorporate the digital citizenship into many smaller lessons, but making the bigger project was the real challenge. Improving the digital learning experience would be improved by the PBL. The benefits of the PBL, specifically those regarding the students learning the content in more of a covert manner, was enticing. Having an authentic learning experience for my students was also something that I had desired to use within a project, and brainstorming some ideas from this class helped me to come up with a project. The students would disregard a real-life restriction in order to create new ideas and use of land within their own community. The students felt as if mathematics was now part of their real lives, using math in such a way to affect their own community.  Using the PBL of a major project, I could actually improve on both of my goals. I enjoyed seeing my students' interest increase based on authentic learning. While in previous attempts to do larger projects saw the students struggle, the students felt a connection to this project; therefore, they pushed through the difficulty. I believe this perseverance was due to the connection to the assignment.

            In order to continue my integration of technology into my classroom, I have adapted lessons to incorporate the responder system in accordance with my original projection of one per week. There has been some increase in the efficiency of my work, but there has not been some kind of magic method to dramatically decrease my time. I have attempted to get other teachers involved with the responder system; however, they have been resistant to the technology. This is surprising to me as their students show a much higher level of engagement. Perhaps they are apprehensive about the technology, their time, or their knowledge of the technology. I must still look for a partner who I can collaborate with on the responders into our Algebra curriculum.

A website and its content that has really gained some traction in my classroom and with my students is This free software mirrors Facebook and social media very closely. There are several key differences with VoiceThread compared to Facebook. VoiceThread is a private community; only my students are members, and they realize that they are being watched and cannot post any inappropriate content. Within these constraints, they collaborate, give opinions, and have a good deal of fun. Several of the parents have commented to me that VoiceThread was the first time they saw their webcams used for schoolwork. I invited the parents to be part of the community in order for them to observe the happenings. I offered to get webcams for the parents if they would reimburse me, and several took me up on the offer. The students have requested we do more work using VoiceThread. I will absolutely look to incorporate VoiceThread into the PBL in my classroom.

            The other area that I can actually continue to improve upon is that of the digital citizenship. The students need to learn the requirements early, and this is best done by setting expectations and modeling good examples. This process needs to start earlier within the school year; essentially as soon as possible. Good habits are easy to maintain once started, and bad habits are difficult to reverse. By modeling examples and including proper digital citizenship into the grading of assignments, this improvement will more of a continuous process rather than a single time event.

            The last item that was confirmed as an important part of any PBL assignment is a rubric. I have always believed in the power and usefulness of rubrics. The rubric allows the students to work to a defined, tangible goal, eliminating an ambiguity for the earned grade. The rubric also protects me as the teacher against claims of favoritism or bias as the rubric should clearly delineate the values and categories of the material to be graded. Coupling up project modeling, with a good example of a finished project and the rubric results being shown as well as a poor example can be a clear demonstration to the students of the type of work and the grade that will be earned.
            The past several weeks have brought several seemingly independent items together to form a basis for change in my classroom and my teaching pedagogy for the better. I feel more comfortable expanding out of the textbook material, and the students have responded in a positive manner. With those two results, I hope to continue along to reach and further enhance my goals.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Continuing Forward Towards My GAME Plan

This week was filled with strong advances in one part of my GAME plan, and no appreciable movement for the other portion. The area where there was no significant progress was the digital citizenship of my students. The original plan was to insert a project that would incorporate the opportunity to stress these principles. I sat down with my peer Language Arts teachers, explained my intentions, and solicited their advice and direction. One admitted that she does a poor job of enforcing the proper citations, and the other lamented about how difficult it can be. They also referred me to the director of their curriculum to get more information, and asked that I not mention their situations. I reached out to get this information, but have not gotten a response. I am looking into a lesson where we will include simple items to start the process, like photographs.

The other goal is to incorporate more digital-age learning experiences into my classroom, and this is progressing right along where I would imagined it would. I incorporated responders into an existing lesson; specifically, a lesson on time management when taking a standardized test. The software not only records the responses of the students, but also records the response time for each student. I reduced the number of questions from the original lesson, which allows for the students to reflect upon their timing. The students became quite aware of the timing, particularly exceeding an average time per question. This typically occurs when the student gets stuck on a question, and obsesses on finding the answer. This stall on a single question robs time from other questions, and the result is typically a series of questions at the end of the exam being unanswered while the student rushes through to fill in the circles. I purposely included a tough question, and modeled the act of skipping the question. I was pleasantly surprised at the high number of  students who almost immediately skipped to the next question, and they found it easy to complete the practice test. There were a few who stayed on the question too long, and it reflected in their responses on the final group of questions.

This adaptation of the lesson was not entirely difficult, so I feel that my original goal of one lesson per week through the end of the school year is realistic and achievable. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I intend to continue on this pace. I also posted this lesson to the three other teachers who utilize responders in their classrooms. It was met with mixed results; one wondered how I had the time to do it, one asking me to adapt a few more for them, but all were grateful. I hope the flow comes back to me. Thanks for the read.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Review my GAME plan for my Technology Skills

The two areas that I selected for my technology skills were the promotion of digital citizenship and improving the design of digital-age learning experiences. While these are realistic goals, I feel as if they are ongoing practices as opposed to a finite improvement. For these two areas of improvement, I have the resources either already in hand or relatively easy to obtain. Since the improvements are separate in their scope, I will break them out as such.

For digital citizenship, I will need to model the proper method of citing resources. In order to do this, the students will work on a new project, and will be required to properly cite all the sources used. Some resources that are already available are the use of our computer laboratory, and scheduling the project within the existing curriculum for the remainder of the year. Since there are quite a few days already accounted for in the year, this may seem more like using a shoehorn to pry this lesson in. By keeping the overt lesson relatively small, the covert lesson of the proper citations can take a larger role; therefore, it can be more meaningful and hopefully the value of the lesson will be grasped. There is some additional information that I will need, and it comes from my Language Arts team teachers. I need to use the same resource citing protocol that they use in order to remain consistent within the school. I will rely on the Language Arts teachers' expertise, and honestly speaking, I do not want to impose my mathematics world into an area that is primarily handled in Language Arts. If I follow their protocols, and rely on their expertise, it will appear as if I am simply enforcing a process that should be done anyway. I have already reached out to the two valued Language Arts teachers, and we will be meeting to ensure that I am on the same page as them. They expressed some forward gratitude that I was even thinking about incorporating something from their classrooms into my lessons. Now if I can just get them to learn a little Algebra!

The other area where I intend to improve is the design of digital-age learning experiences and assessments. I have a Smartboard in my classroom, and I believe I am proficient in its use. It is always treated as more than a glorified whiteboard. I already have many of the hardware resources that I require to improve, such as the Smartboard, the software from our textbook, a set of responders or clickers, and a set of graphing calculators. The resources that I need to find, or develop, are the lessons that use this technology along with their associated electronic files. These lessons should be based on the existing curriculum, with the incorporation of the technologies. I have started to use the clickers on a semi-regular basis; the drawback for moving to a more frequent use if the amount of time I have to adapt, prepare, or adapt and prepare the lessons from the existing lessons and files. This lack of time should be alleviated with the completion of my master's work, so it may not really be fully realized until this fall. However, I have reached out to many online resources, exploring the various files which incorporate the technology. I have found several good resources from the Internet, but I have yet to find a site that really stands out. Most sites I have found, including the ones sponsored by the Smartboard manufacturer, have more shallow lessons and files which do not incorporate the appropriate skill levels of the class with the proper technology. I find files with great technology integration, but are not really on the mark with the mathematics content. I also find good content, but then need to push in the technology. Which brings me back to the most valuable resource that I need, the time to do this incorporating. Between now and the end of the school year, my goal is to adapt one class lesson per week. When the new school year begins, I will increase to three lessons per week.

I do not want to make my goals unrealistic, especially with the integration of technology into my classroom lessons. This should be an ongoing process as opposed to a one-time event. The adage of running fast setting the pace, but slow and steady winning the race might be the best advice.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Strengthening My Technology Skills for the Benefit of My Students.

I looked to examine and self-reflect upon my teaching pedagogical skills compared to those put forth by the National Education Technology Standards for Students (NETS-S). I read through the five indicators of proficiency (, and ranked them in order from my best to my weakest. I have always felt that I can relatively proficient in technology, especially in the areas regarding computers, software, and their application into our lives. Of course, I would like to improve my skills, and starting with my weaker points would make total sense.

Of the five indicators, I felt I am weakest in two areas. The weakest would be the promotion of model digital citizenship and responsibility. I have not been as strict with resources, their citations, and giving credit to the publishers of information. To explain further, I feel as if I have always cited and credited my sources for my personal work, but I have not enforced the crediting of sources for the work of my students. Perhaps this was because my lessons were suited for the creation of material, such as spreadsheets or slide shows. However, this past year one of my projects was a slide show where the students outlined their purchases if they were to spend a fictional million dollars. Most of the students used the Internet as the source of their pictures, and I did not require a section where the students would cite the pages for their pictures. I have used a resources page previously, but not for the pictures, just for information. In order to achieve this goal, I will be introducing the requirement to cite all sources within a student's work, including items that I previously omitted like pictures. Instead of waiting for a project that we have already done, I will be creating a project that will concentrate on the citation process. This exclusive project will ensure that the students realize the importance of citing their sources, and will allow them to practice. That way, the correct resource citing will be ready to be used when the students come to their next project, regardless of their subject class. I will also be working with the other teachers in our team group to ensure that they know and align their rubrics to include the proper and complete resource citing process.

Another area where I have the potential for improvement is the design of digital-age learning experiences and assessments. I do incorporate the use of a Smartboard in my classroom, and I strive to make sure I utilize it as more than just a glorified whiteboard. With all the potential of the Smartboard, I need to be continuously improving and integrating knowledge, skills, and resources beyond my current pedagogy. This year I included a set of responders, or clickers, and the students' level of engagement was way higher. While it may appear that my class and my students is far ahead of most others within my school and district, I believe that there is a vast potential to keep moving forward to incorporate the latest technology and tools. The challenge will be to keep the mathematics in my class the primary subject, not technology. Monitoring this incorporation of technology will be a key element in my improvement. I am a mathematics teacher first, and I would be failing to teach my students the proper subject matter if we concentrated on the technology at the expense of learning algebra.  I will need to continually check my class progress compared to the curriculum map which paces the class over the course of the year. I will also need to monitor the student learning as we progress to ensure that the students are actually learning the material.

I have been the beneficiary of my continual desire to improve over the course of my career. I like to be an early adopter of technology, which has been painful at times. Instead of learning from others, I have been the volunteer to test something out, and this continues after my career switch to become a teacher. It is been mutually beneficial to my school and to me. They get a tester, and I get the opportunity to adapt new items to our community and culture. I look forward to the opportunity to improve my teaching practices and stay on the forefront of technology in my classroom.

It has been a while since I posted. Thanks for visiting!

Resources for this blog entry:

ISTE. (n.d.). NETS for teachers. Retrieved March 6, 2012, from ISTE Standards:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Reflection upon Combining Learning Techniques with Technologies

My Initial Learning Theory
            Instructional strategies are not a new concept to most teachers, and are definitely not new to me. The traditional strategies used are a part of teaching and teacher tools. Good teachers vary their instructional techniques in their classroom, intending to reach all their students by one or more of the various methods. Strategies such as non-linguistic representations, feedback, cooperative learning, similarities and differences, and many other techniques may be effective; however, the previous seven weeks has shown methods and tools to take these strategies to new heights by the incorporation of technology. The integration of this technology must be done correctly, or it simply becomes another repetitious, expensive worksheet, detracting from the learning process instead of enriching the students' experiences. The learning strategies and technology, when blended correctly, have a true synergistic relationship that can bring all students to a higher level of engagement, leading to better and stronger long term retention of practical knowledge.
            At the start of this class, I was pleased to discover some true science that validated much of the actual learning process from our brains. The vital part of our brain, called the synapse, acts as a connection between memories and experiences (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011a). My personal theories of how a brain works, specifically that these connections can be strengthened with repetition, seemed to validate some learning methods, like practice and repetition. The more a connection is used, the stronger it becomes. Another concept was the power of the initial knowledge connection. If this initial connection is weak, then building its strength may be a monumental task; conversely, it can also be so strong that it remains strong despite the passage of time. The challenge of creating the powerful initial connection is just as vital as building existing connections.  
            Technology can be used in numerous ways, and it was proposed that there are two categories of its use, that of an instructional tool, and that of a learning tool (Laureate Education, 2011b). This delineation  is illustrated well by using an interactive whiteboard as an example. The use of the interactive whiteboard as a fancy chalkboard is an example of the instructional tool. There is no added value, or educational benefit from this use. If the interactive whiteboard is used to bring experiences to the classroom that would never have been possible, such as a virtual field trip, then it becomes a learning tool. When technology is a learning tool, as opposed to an instructional tool, the real benefits and values are realized. Student engagement, questioning, and application are used, all of which increase the connections in the brain, allowing for the long term retention of the knowledge. Another example, from an earlier time, is the use of calculators. If a calculator is used in a manner to allow the students to concentrate learning on the higher level concepts instead of addition, then a higher value of the calculator is realized. For example, students may be in a high school class in business, and they may be looking for financial trends. Without a calculator to do the math, the students' time is spent concentrating on the arithmetic, and their higher level analyses may never take place. The calculator frees up their brains to higher levels.
Classroom Adjustments
            Another instructional practice that was discussed was cooperative learning. I always recognized the power of putting heads together in order to get solutions, but this does not always apply itself well to a middle school classroom. Middle school students can be a challenge, easily distracted to the social goings-on of the school rather than keeping within the lessons of the day. Although I have attempted to group students on numerous occasions, there are times when this simply does not work. During this course, cooperative learning was a highlight of a week's work. I was struck by the recommendations from the textbook for group work. A powerful tool I had not used was that or positive interdependence (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007, p.140). The group must have the attitude of sinking or swimming together, each contributing to the success or failure of the group. This is an area I immediately revisited in my classroom. Once some additional requirements were implemented, the students responded well. I had previously used random and varied selection techniques to group students, which are part of the recommendations from the text, I was not holding the students, as a group, responsible. This seemingly minor adjustment has made a major impact on the cooperative learning in my classroom. We do not work in groups every day, because the students will still be required to assess their knowledge individually on tests and standardized tests; however, the initial connections made in a group setting can be more appropriate, and therefore stronger, than those made by the individuals.

Implementation of Technology
            I hope to implement quite a few technology tools into my classroom this school year. I have gotten a set of responders, which work in conjunction with my Smartboard. Similar to the Smartboard, the challenge of the responders is to use them as a learning tool as opposed to just an instructional tool. The responders provide several forms of feedback to the students. There is a summary of the students' responses that can be shared at the end of the lesson, which can help give a student direction to their required studying. The responders provide almost instantaneous feedback to the students, which provides a greater impact than the feedback at the end of the lesson (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007, p.42). I have used this quite recently in my classroom, and the improved test scores from prior years was remarkable. The level of engagement was much higher, and the specific feedback worked on several levels. Overtly, the feedback showed each student their strengths and weaknesses so they each knew what to study for on the upcoming test. Covertly, each student went away with a feeling like their effort in the class that day meant something, and gave them a direction that would provide additional positive results. Instead of the instructor , speaking generally to all the students, requesting that they review for the test, now each student was shown how they could pinpoint the specific areas that would best help them. For a first attempt, it was very powerful. I hope to continue to refine and improve upon the use of the responders.
            Another technology tool I am planning to implement is VoiceThread. An area that is difficult for  middle school students is public speaking, specifically presenting a project in front of their classmates. Each year, my classes have a long term project where they use a spreadsheet to spend a pretend million dollars. In the past, I have required the students to present their project to the entire class using the Smartboard. This use of my Smartboard falls under the instructional category, adding no value other than to project larger images. Some students seem accepting to the public speaking portion, and others are terrified. For this year, I will be asking them to use VoiceThread for their presentation portion of the project. They will be required to present their purchases, one per slide, using either the audio or video portions of VoiceThread. Once their presentations are completed, an additional step will be to comment on presentations from their fellow students, only with a twist. The students from section one will only comment on section two's presentations, and vice versa. Since all the students are part of the AVID program at my school, this crossover between the sections will allow for an interaction between them that has not previously been possible. The comments will also be part of the project grade. The use of VoiceThread will allow the students to script and practice their presentation, perhaps in a setting to alleviate their nervousness and anxiety, leading to a higher level of presentation. I believe this is an appropriate level of expectation for middle school students. The collaboration between the students is expanded to all their fellow AVID students rather than just their classmates.

Improvements and Moving Forward
            Technology can be a wonderful tool in our classrooms, and can be much more powerful if used to elevate learning. It is important to differentiate when technology adds value compared to technology being used simply for the sake of its own use. For example, in my previous career in product marketing, I was responsible for presenting profitability to our upper management. This was traditionally done using numbers on an overhead projector. In a particularly bad year, we switched to using a computer-generated, color graphic that was produced by a spreadsheet program. The colors and the presentation of the numbers overshadowed the importance of the numbers, masking a bad financial year. Eventually, the negative results became the message. We need to prevent this type of use of technology in our classrooms. Technology should be used to elevate the learning, not simply to fascinate the students.
            I believe the most important statement made throughout this course was made by Michael Orey when he spoke of the importance of “students are actively engaged in learning” (Laureate, 2011b). Technology can be an asset to ensure that students are engaged, and should be used that way. I have immediately started incorporating images into all my Smartboard screens. When the images are used in conjunction with the linguistics, allow the students to use both types of representations, thus having a better way to retain and recall their knowledge (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007, p.86). I believe that I am utilizing a wider range of learning techniques, providing additional connection paths for my students' brains to connect and retain knowledge in the manner best suited for them rather than my way.
            I believe I have already begun two of my long terms goals, and that this class has been responsible for providing me the means and justification for both. The first is the use of cooperative learning, and the second is the implementation of the responders. As I previously stated, the cooperative learning is powerful, and I have gained additional knowledge about the proper  implementation of the groups. I would like to have the students work in groups on a daily basis. At the present time, they work in groups about two days per week, and there needs to be a rationale for grouping, such as a project or an activity. With middle school students, the challenge has been a classroom management issue. If the students did not have group roles, then they would relapse into socialization. With groups, specifically with role defined and individuals held accountable for group success, the socialization has decreased. I intend to use this grouping and the successful grouping strategies earlier on in the middle school cycle. I loop with seventh grade students up to eighth grade. Traditionally, the group work in seventh grade is difficult because of the maturity level. I intend to start with groups as early as possible, and I believe that the succeeding is more likely with the additional grouping techniques.
            The second long term goal of using responders on a more regular basis is one of practice and refinement. The responders raise the level of engagement and participation, and the students need to be continually aware of the benefits gained from participation rather than simply clicking in an answer (Duncan, 2009). In addition to raising the engagement level, the lessons and use of the clickers need to provide the student with a tangible, real result. If the lessons are not kept fresh, then after repeated use, the excitement level will drop. I will be building a knowledge base of responder files, gathered from various places in order to maintain the effectiveness of the responders. Websites, fellow teachers, previous courses, manufacturer's samples, and self-developed files will provide me with effective and continually engaging lessons that utilize responders.
            The past seven weeks has been a well-organized and implemented, yet most challenging time. The background of how our minds work provided a logic basis for emphasizing certain expansions of traditional techniques. Coupling traditional learning techniques with technology showed how learning and engagement can elevate the brain synapses, thus creating and strengthening learning connections. More has been added to my teaching pedagogy. I have seen not only how to implement technology, but how to avoid pitfalls after the implementation period. Throughout the course Michael Orey's message that students must be actively engaged in learning, has been a focal point for me. Regardless of the means, if students are not engaged in the lesson, they will not retain the knowledge. Technology can assist the teacher in getting the students engaged, but it alone cannot lift the students or keep them engaged. The teacher, using a variety of techniques and resources, has the best chance of elevating student engagement, which leads to the best opportunity for student learning.

Duncan, Douglas. (2009). Tips for successful clicker use. Retrieved from The University of Colorado website:

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011a). Program one: Understanding the brain [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011b). Program thirteen: Technology: Instructional tool vs. learning tool [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom
            instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Connectivism and Social Learning in Practice

Confusion Over Times and Rotations
Once of our assignments this week was to utilize an online collaboration tool called VoiceThread. We were free to choose any need, problem, or situation we are confronted with in our school or classroom. Our school changed its starting time to an hour earlier, and then implemented a rotating block schedule. These two changes far outweigh other issues, and cause me confusion and drive me to inconsistency in my classroom. If you have been in a rotating schedule, please take a look at my VoiceThread, and make comments, suggestions, or just add a sympathetic note. Every little bit helps!
The link to the VoiceThread is:

Connectivism and Social Learning in Practice
Cooperative learning has always been a powerful tool. In our school, we all have posters hanging up that speak of the WICR learning methods. W is for Writing, I is for Inquiry, R is for Reading, and C is for Collaboration. We know how powerful students helping students can be, whether it is learning in an academic classroom, or on the blacktop at recess. Although we all feel like we a good teachers, a peer perspective can be an important breakthrough teaching method.
Connectivism as a learning theory, explained and broken down by George Seimens, has three key roles. These roles are explaining how learning occurs, allowing creation of future models of learning, and helping to make sense of the present world (Laureate, 2011b). Together with Michael Orey’s definition of constructivism as social interaction while constructing (Laureate, 2011a), the practice of learning in a social environment can be powerful if done correctly. This is the challenge we face as educators in the implementation of a social classroom.
Orey also goes on to address the needs of the social classroom environment, breaking the material into three groups. The teacher needs to be sensitive and aware of what the child already knows, what they are able to learn at this moment, and what the student in unable to learn at this moment. Orey refers to these are the Zones of Proximal Development (ZPD). In order to achieve learning, he suggests that the highest layer can only be achieved by having a More Knowledgeable Other, or MKO, in the setting. This MKO can be the teacher, a peer, a parent, or even a resource like a computer. This MKO can assist the student to reach the higher levels.
In order for social classrooms to be effective, there are four recommendations from the text Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007). It is recommended to use a variety of criteria to group students, using informal, formal, and base groups, keeping the groups to a manageable size, and combining cooperative learning with other classroom structures. While the text makes these generalized recommendations, it does not go into specifics of the criteria; for instance, what is considered a manageable size of each group? Will two students be sufficient, or are more required in order to have an MKO within the group? While I can appreciate that the text implies the teacher, who knows the classroom best, should be the one responsible for the groupings, having a theoretical example would have been helpful. There are two old sayings, first that there is strength in numbers, and the second of too many cooks spoiling the soup. Finding strength, while not spoiling the soup, is the challenge.
An additional challenge is finding the correct mix to optimize the collaboration or social learning. The mix of students, their abilities, group sizes, and numerous other variables into appropriate groups is the most daunting challenge of this social constructivism. I personally believe that middle school students should be challenged to interact with each other, breaking the elementary school “boys and girls” groupings that occur if the students are allowed to choose their own groups. In my class I use “buddy sticks”, which are nothing more than tongue depressors with a color, a college name, a number, and a shape on each one. The students can either choose or are given a buddy stick, and then I choose how the pairings occur, either by color, by college, or by shape. This way the students are not able to discreetly swap sticks so they get the same color as their friend. The students, knowing that the selection is random, do not complain about their pairings. I can also double up the pairs into groups of four, which is the largest grouping I use.

Figure 1 - Buddy Sticks.  Notice that the pairings change so that the students cannot swap sticks to be with their friends. The choice for colors, colleges, numbers, or symbol pairs makes the possible combinations numerous compared to just colors.

Once the groupings are completed and the students have relocated into their groups, cooperative learning can occur. Some instructional strategies work well in groups, particularly those activities that cannot be done by individuals. These include jigsaw and pair share. What I have seen is the power of groups when applied to those activities that we traditionally think of as individual, like homework, know-want-learn, and taking notes. In these cases, the MKO can act like a mentor or a director, keeping the group focused by assisting and facilitating the activity. Not only is this powerful from a resources standpoint, because we are only one person with 24 hours in our day, but it can also be powerful from a teaching standpoint. The MKO may re-teach the material from a unique perspective, allowing the learner to grasp the knowledge in a slightly different form than what the teacher originally intended. When this occurs, the brave teacher (and I consider myself brave) will allow the MKO to show their new perspective to the entire class. Each time this has happened, and it happens often in my class, there are additional students who now understand the material. A teacher who may be insecure will not allow control to be relinquished; however, those who cede their control momentarily are rewarded with a true learning moment.
Integrating technology and social learning simultaneously is a synergistic relationship. The diversity of the students’ technology knowledge is a wide range.  When paired or grouped appropriately, the result of students assisting others becomes very powerful. The MKO student feels empowered, and the learning student does not feel belittled. Both take on a positive role, and both benefit from the grouping. The text also recommends that a project be implemented in order to best use technology in a social constructivist classroom. The projects include webquests, movies, creating websites, and reaching out beyond the classrooms. Within webquests, for example, the students bring on their wishes to see different locations, views, and what is important to them. When they share these ideas and directions, their views of the knowledge are expanded, and the connections are made by the students. Although the connections made may seem illogical to a teacher, the students, and their peers, may find the connections absolutely rational.
All the groupings are their activities are in alignment with the ideas behind connectivism. Siemens states that education is like a weather system; complex but not complicated. There are so many factors, so much material with abundant information that the amount of knowledge is not the issue, but how the new knowledge gets connected, i.e. networked, to existing knowledge. If connectivism facilitates the networking of new knowledge, then groups, which add a new vision, technique, perspective, or other method to establish the connection, are vital.

Todd Deschaine

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011a). Program eight: Social learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011b). Program nine: Connectivism as a learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Constructivism and Constructionism - How do we build knowledge?

Constructivism and constructionism both have their places in our classrooms, and recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of each theory can assist in helping our students learn and retain knowledge. Technology, when incorporated with either approach, can facilitate the learning to higher levels that would otherwise be unobtainable.
Each person relates to new knowledge by actively constructing their own meaning based on prior experiences. Dr. Michael Orey uses the example of a chair (Laureate, 2011); specifically, how each of us has had different experiences with a chair. Since our experiences are different, therefore, our detailed definitions of that chair will be varied. Recognizing these differences in our students' prior learning can be used to our advantage if we can learn, recognize, and adapt our classrooms to the prior knowledge. For example, since I teach mathematics, my students have learned to multiply. However, they are split, about in thirds, to the method in which they learned to multiply. Some have used the traditional column method, some have used partial products, and others have used the lattice method. Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses, but if they are examined closely, each is really just putting the numerical place order in a different location. The students cling to their own methods, so I put them in groupings to teach their method to the other students who have a different method. By doing a compare and contrast exercise, they quickly discover the similarities between all three. Some students actually are angry that the methods are so similar, because they believed their way to be the best.
With constructionism, the students best learn when they build an external artifact or something they can share with others (Laureate, 2011). An example of this creation and expansion is given in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007); specifically an exercise that gathers and compares the pH of various water sources. The students gather data, which is eased and facilitated by using a pH probe hooked to a computer. The data is then entered, sorted, and graphed using a spreadsheet. The graphs allow an easy comparison of rain water, stream water, distilled water, and tap water. The students created the charts, so they had a real investment in the presentation and comparison of the data. The spreadsheet allowed the students to create the graphs in a reasonable time, so the effort and knowledge was spent on the analysis of the graph as opposed to the creation of the graph. The students are then judged on their analysis as opposed to the drawing. This comparison is the higher level knowledge skill, so the time is better spent.
I am lucky enough to incorporate several constructionist projects during my school year. One such project where my students can build something they can share with others is to spend a virtual million dollars creating their home of their future. The students use a spreadsheet to build a table which adds, subtotals, taxes, and then totals the prices of the items the students buy in their home. There are eight categories, including  a house, transportation, electronics, food, clothing, and miscellaneous items. The students must spend as close to one million dollars without going over. The spreadsheet facilitates the learning by eliminating the tedious repetition of multiplying, subtotals, and adding to get a total. The students add in hyperlinks to websites to prove the prices of their items, and at the conclusion of their project, must present their new house and its items to the class. When I am introducing the project, the students are more affected by the presentation portion. When they realize their work is going to be shared, the quality of their work improves. This gives the student a sense of accomplishment and pride, while showing the current beliefs and understandings to those around them. The students also construct a collage of their purchased items, along with their total. These collages, along with a printed copy of their spreadsheet, get displayed.
The use of the spreadsheet helps to overcome many challenges, both from the student and from the teacher. By using a spreadsheet, the need to check for correct arithmetic is eliminated. As long as the cell formulas are set up correctly, the totals will sum correctly. The students can then concentrate on finding items that meet the categories. The first pass through the items rarely comes within several hundred-thousand dollars of the million, so the students need to change items, prices, quantities, or a combination of them. Instead of being a boring addition exercise, the students concentrate on correct hyperlinks, ranging the prices to more closely meet the million. Within a few iterations, many students can even get within one dollar. After a little teamwork and brainstorming, a few students find a way to add a sticker, which costs a penny, to get the exact amount. Using the Internet for locating items expands their choices far beyond any newspaper or catalog. Besides allowing the students to find an item with the prices they are looking for, their choices allow me as a teacher an insight to their world, their wishes, and dreams. It is a project that is fun, assimilating the learning into the project.
I would like to take full credit for this project, but I cannot. One of my fellow teachers and I swapped a lesson idea, so I totally stole this from her. Because I stole it, I am duty-bound to share the rubric and a sample spreadsheet with anyone who wants it, as long as they keep paying it forward. The project I shared with the other teacher also uses presentation and collaboration. The students must construct a scale model of a famous landmark, such as the Eiffel Tower or the Space Needle in Seattle. The students do a web-quest to find pictures and dimensions of their building, and then they use scale factors to size their models. We use the Smartboard to project the image of the real landmark onto the scale model to judge the accuracy of the model. The comparison of the models is usually pretty close. The calculator and Internet allow the students to concentrate on the construction of the models rather than computing the dimensions.
Todd Deschaine

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program seven: Constructionist and constructivist learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.