The Student as Historian: A Teaching American History Webinar

The life & age of woman. Stages of woman’s life from the cradle to the grave  [1848]

I think that this was a great learning experience. It really got me to think about my own practices in teaching.

I just wrapped up two webinars with teachers participating in a Teaching American History (TAH) Grant workshop hosted at Davis School District, Utah. We held separate one-hour sessions for elementary and secondary teacher focusing on Common Core strategies for using documents to let your students be the historian in your classroom.

For information on my webinar services click here.

I was in Portland Oregon – they were in Salt Lake City, but through the wonders of technology (I used WebEx videoconferencing along with a web-based LearningCatalytics response system) we were able to interact. I don’t think people learn much by telling them things, so I put participants “in their students’ shoes” to experience the power of document-based instruction and four key components to making it work:

  1. The right documents.
  2. Knowing how to look at them.
  3. Letting students discover their own patterns, then ask students to describe, compare and defend what they found.
  4. Basing the task on enduring questions, the kind that students might actually want to answer.

Download my slide deck for strategies, resources, lessons and links to great websites.

The Student As Historian – DBQ Strategies and Resources for Teaching History

View more on Slideshare from Peter Pappas

Here’s some of the participants’ comments:

  • This webinar was very informative, and motivates me to want to change the way I teach students. I need to allow them to make discoveries and to stimulate their interest, rather than just teach the facts. Thank you so much!!!!!!
  • Thank you! This makes learning fun and relevant for students. Could spend all summer working on this.
  • I really enjoyed your webinar. I was introduced to DBQs this last year and was amazed at how much my students bought into it and loved it. They talked about it for weeks. I’m excited to try some of the ideas you gave and am looking forward to using these ideas to create my own DBQs
  • I think that this was a great learning experience. It really got me to think about my own practices in teaching. The thing that I will remember from this Webinar is the idea that we should let the students come up with their own interpretations of documents and issues, rather than always providing them with an interpretation. Thank you!
  • Thank you for your time. Everything you presented was valuable to me as a teacher. I am excited to research your website to assist me improve my teaching.
  • I appreciate the ideas to add some new instructional methods to my classroom. …. I heard great ideas to plug in to start lessons as anticipatory sets, which gave me another way to use primary sources. Thanks!
  • I this was better than I thought it was going to be. It was informative and interactive. I liked the back and forth that we had. I felt this very helpful. Thank you!
  • This was great! I can’t wait to try some of these in my class! I think these ideas will really excite my students!
  • I liked the visuals. I liked that you gave us a picture we’d have a lot of schema on given that we’re in Utah and then one that we had very little information on. Thanks for your website. I’ve used it before.
  • I loved the idea about the pictures, and making them infer from what they see… it made me engage in the ? much more
  • This webinar kept me awake with interaction between you, us, and the computer. I enjoyed the images and pictures you shared.

A special hat tip to Jon Hyatt, Teaching American History Grant Director at Davis School District.

Image credit Kelloggs & Comstock–The life & age of woman [between 1848 and 1850]
Library of Congress

Learning Catalytics: BYOD Managed Student Centered Learning

I’ve long held that staff development should model what you want to see in the classroom, and for that reason I wouldn’t do a workshop without using a student response system. (SRS)

I’m not interested in using a SRS to pose objective questions or host a “game-show” style workshop. I see a SRS as a discussion catalyst and a tool to model instructional strategies. For example, I can ask a Likert scale question, post the audience results, and ask them “Does anyone see any patterns in the data?” I get responses and discussion that I never got in my pre-SRS “raise your hand and tell me what you think” days. Likewise, I can easily model a problem-based approach and give teachers first-hand experience in what that type of learning “feels” like to a student.

My favorite “clicker-based” SRS is TurningTechnologies‘ TurningPoint system. It’s been a central feature of my workshops for many years. But my quest to develop a more highly-interactive webinar PD model led me to investigate “bring your own device” (BYOD) web-based SRS systems. My goal was to offer webinars that rose well above the typical “listen to the presenter’s voice while you look at their PowerPoint” model.

Learning Catalytics kept us engaged more than simply sitting and consuming. You modeled everything you were suggesting we try.

Thus I found Learning Catalytics – a powerful BYOD-SRS system. After getting great reviews in my webinars, I thought I’d give Learning Catalytics a try with a live audience of about 100 secondary teachers at a recent workshop I gave at the Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School (MICDS) in St Louis. (I’m still using TurningPoint clickers. I bought along a set to use in a separate session with about 50 MICDS elementary teachers.)

I thought I share some observation from my experience with Learning Catalytics to encourage other educators to give it a try. Learning Catalytics is currently running a free 30-day trial for use with up to 100 students.

Learning Catalytics is a web-based system that allows the teacher to create a wide variety of open-ended responses beyond the usual multiple-choice, priority, and ranking. Creating new questions is easy and the system allows for copy / paste of text – it even lets you use that function to paste in multiple responses to a question in one action. There’s also a growing (and searchable) library of questions to draw from. Teachers deliver questions and manage the presentation via the web from their laptop (or tablet).

… appreciated the modeling of Learning Catalytics – great examples of how to use it across different disciplines. ..the idea of placing us in our students’ shoes – which felt very uncomfortable at times – was really useful in the end.

The system has an array of powerful response monitoring and reporting tools, and it’s a stand out at fostering peer discussion. Teachers can easily create a student seat map and use it to quickly see who “gets it.” Learning Catalytics can review student responses and direct them to discuss their answers with nearby peers who may have different views. It even send out a message telling them to talk with specific class members. “Cameron turn to your right and talk to Zoe about your answer.” Questions can be asked multiple times and students can teach their peers before the next re-polling. Collaborative learning is one of the driving principles behind Learning Catalytics.

Students can use any web-based device they already bring to class to answer questions – laptop, tablet, smartphone. You don’t even need to project Learning Catalytics on the presentation screen since all questions (including graphics and results) get pushed out to the student units. (Note: I’m already testing an iPad + Apple TV approach to integrate presentation and SRS in a wireless delivery model.) The system ran flawlessly on the MICDS wifi network. (The internet bandwidth we were pulling during the polling sessions was about 30MB for about 100 participants.)

Our workshop at MICDS explored teacher and student perceptions of “Rigor, Relevance, Reflection: Learning in the Digital Age.” Learning Catalytics’ great variety of question formats spawned some lively group discussion and teacher reflection on those themes.

As a defining exercise I posed the following: “The MICDS mission statement notes that ‘Our School cherishes academic rigor.’ Write 3 words (or phrases) that you associate with academic rigor. 

While Learning Catalytics can gather short or long responses as a list, I chose to have it create a “word cloud” out of participant replies – imagine the power of instant “Wordles.” (See resulting word map left)

Learning Catalytics provides a “composite sketch” question. Students can use their mouse or touch screen to indicate a point or draw a line on their device. The results are aggregated into a single response by overlaying all the individual responses. To emulate a “classroom walkthrough” I shared a sample lesson and asked teachers to plot their perceptions of its rigor and relevance on an X / Y axis. The resulting overlay graph of the variance in their responses (below) was a powerful discussion starter.

There’s other question formats that add interesting functionality, and teachers can incorporate graphics to create more engaging questions. For example: Students highlight words in a body of text – the frequency results become a “heat map.” Students indicate priority or sequence by promoting or demoting choices – the results show the relative strength of each choice. Students indicate a region on an image by touching or clicking on a point – the results aggregate on a “regional map.” I’m still exploring Learning Catalytics and I give a big hat tip to Brian Lukoff, it’s CEO and co-founder. He’s helped me translate my instructional goals into interesting questions and has been very open to my suggestions for new formats and control panel features.

To round out my post, here’s some MICDS teacher responses to a few of my evaluation prompts:

To what extent did the workshop model effective instructional techniques?

  • Finally a presenter who modeled what he preaches.
  • It was interactive, engaging, and collaborative.
  • Learning Catalytics kept us engaged more than simply sitting and consuming. You modeled everything you were suggesting we try.
  • Asking us to be in position of actual learners was a good reminder of what students feel and suggested ways to promote actual learning.
  • I thought it was interesting how you tried to manage speaking and teaching 100+ adults with minimizing the lecture format. I was impressed at your use of think/pair/share.
  • It provoked my reflection on my teaching, i.e. students take ownership evaluating and sharing.

What, if any, impact will this workshop have on your practice?

  • It reassured me that I’m on a good track in terms of relevance and innovation.
  • I will look to use more driving question, more peer sharing, and more student choice.
  • The workshop makes me seek ways to develop and practice student to student conversation.
  • I am going to immediately revamp how I plan to intro the genetics experiment and make it more open ended and student centered
  • Reinforced my call for increased relevance to student world and understanding the skills that students need to operate in the digital world.
  • I would like to give students more control over their work.
  • It has caused me to think about giving students more responsibility for their learning.

Any comments on the Learning Catalytics response system? 

  • Love the Catalytics…
  • I really liked it–very intuitive, very useful in creating class feedback and interaction.
  • I liked how the Wordle was embedded in the presentation. It was automatic and quick. I would like to be able to do that in my classes.
  • I like the Learning catalytics system as a way to engage everyone, with immediate access to the results. I like the open-ended questions.
  • I liked how the technology was used to get our feedback. There was collaboration, discussion and evaluation happening.
  • LOVED LC. In love. I wanna use it.
  • I particularly appreciated the modeling of Learning Catalytics – some great examples of how to use it across different disciplines. Also, I think that the idea of placing us in our students’ shoes – which felt very uncomfortable at times – was really useful in the end.
  • I liked seeing others responses. I always appreciate immediate feedback.
  • Love LC!!!!

Free Webinar on Higher Order Thinking – the Student Perspective

Update 2013: The free pilot has concluded – but click here for info on my $275 webinar.

One of this year’s resolutions was to begin offering webinars. (not that I don’t enjoy airports) I recently completed my first pilot (description below) and I’m looking for three school sites who would like to try a free pilot webinar and offer me some feedback. More details on my free webinar below.


Live Meeting – My “teacher” view with presentation, video, audience, Learning Catalytics

I piloted my first webinar with a group of instructors from Southwest Wisconsin Technical College. (Hat tip to SWTC’s Kristal Davenport) We used Microsoft Live Meeting as a platform. Participants at SWTC were gathered in one room. We maintained webcam contact with each other throughout the workshop. (I’m not a big fan of watching webinar presentations delivered by a disembodied voice.) I pre-loaded high-quality video in advance that ran smoothly during the webinar. The webinar went very well and I think we were able to create the level of interaction that I strive for in my on-site workshops.

For years I’ve used a TurningPoint audience response system (ARS) in my on-site keynotes and workshops. When an ARS is used in a Socratic manner it fosters great conversation and reflection. So a key component I wanted in a webinar was a “distance version” of an ARS. I was pleased to discover Learning Catalytics. While it was designed for on-site classroom use, it was just what I needed to enliven the webinar.

Learning Catalytics is a web-based response system that allows participants to answer from any web-enabled device – computer, tablet, smart phone. It was easy to input questions (it even provides for copy / paste of text) and using it during the webinar was a breeze. It allows the teacher to ask a wide variety of questions. Not only the usual questions such as multiple-choice, priority, and ranking. But also some unique questions for an ARS where students use their devices to – draw vectors indicating directions, indicate the points on an image, and even aggregate student text into Word clouds. Imagine your students generating real-time Wordles from their devices!


Learning Catalytics: Teacher view and iPhone view

Learning Catalytics was designed from the ground up to foster student discussion. It most notable feature is peer-learning tool (which unfortunately, I did not use – my pilot group was too small). In advance of class, the teacher inputs a seating chart of the the class. Students log into their seat locations. After posing a question, the teacher can use Learning Catalytic to automatically create student discussion groups that direct students to talk to specific peers based on their response to the question. “Peter turn to Nancy on your left and discuss the thinking behind your answer.” After the peer discussion, the teacher can repost the original question and graph the changing responses.

I like to continue piloting this model so I will offer a free live webinar to the first three schools (or sites) that follow through with my registration process.

I think professional development should model what we want to see in the classroom.  So I’d like to start with an 45-minute experiential webinar called: “Higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) - What’s that look like in the classroom?”
We’ll watch a few short video clips, do a few activities to model instruction at different levels of Blooms and then reflect on the experience. Our instructional goals for the webinar:

  • Develop a working definition of HOTS
  • Clarify how the tasks we assign students define their level of thinking
  • Leave with 3 ideas for fostering HOTS with your students

A few stipulations:

  • Participants: Minimum 15 / Maximum 30. Could be teachers or admin.
  • You’ll use with a single webcam at your end, so they will need to be located in the same room.
  • Webinar length – roughly 45 min. Plus about 10 minutes for webinar feedback.
  • Timing: Sometime between 8:30 AM and 5 PM (PST – Pacific Standard Time)
  • Feedback: Since this is a pilot. I will expect you to assist in evaluating the webinar, gathering feedback from your participants and helping me “document” the user experience.
  • Technical details: More to follow if you get a webinar. But for starters – ability to run a WebEx Meeting (web access), LCD / sound for display, webcam / microphone to record your end, participants with web-enabled devices, designated coordinator to manage your end.

If you are willing to meet these stipulations in an efficient manner, fill in the request below. Remember – this is just a request. I will select from requests that demonstrate you’ll be easy to work with.

After the pilots are completed and my webinar model is refined, I plan to offer a series of (paid) webinars. I think there’s a need for short, inexpensive, engaging webinar-based PD that can foster reflection and professional growth. Something you can use with admin, faculty, department or grade level to foster local capacity.

9 Questions for Reflective School Reform Leaders

Blueprint1 In response to the November 22: Day of National Blogging for Real Education Reform, I have posed nine questions for school leaders to consider. They’re organized around three themes and a concluding recommendation. (Note: each theme also resonates in the new Common Core standards).

Readers might also want to review my post “A Taxonomy of Reflection: Critical Thinking For Students, Teachers, and Principals

Theme 1. Learning must engage student in rigorous thinking at higher levels of Bloom – analyzing, evaluating and creating. School leaders should ask:

1. Does our school community recognize the difference between higher and lower order thinking?
2. Are students expected to just consume information, or are they asked to create something original that demonstrates their learning?
3. Is our school a creative problem-solving organization? 
Answers: We cut music and art for remedial math. (Wrong!!!)
 We recognize music and art are vehicles to teach math. (That’s better!)

Theme 2. Learning is relevant when the student understands how the information or skill has some application to their life, has an opportunity to figure out their own process rather than just learn “the facts,” and is given opportunities to reflect on their work and their progress as learners. School leaders should ask …

4. Do our students get high grades for simply memorizing the review sheet for the test?
5. Do our students “follow the recipe” or are they increasingly asked to take responsibility for their learning products, process and results?
6. Is the audience for student work simply the teacher, or are students asked to share their learning with peers, family, community?

Theme 3. The digital age has redefined literacy. To paraphrase David Warlick, literacy now means the ability to: find information, decode it, critically evaluate it, organize it into digital libraries, be able to share it with others and stay focused on a task. School leaders should ask …

7. If we’re no longer the “information gatekeepers,” are we teaching our students to critically evaluate information and use it responsibly?
8. Does our technology get used mainly by the educators, or are students regularly employing it to create understanding and share their learning?
9. Is our credit system based on seat time or can it be expanded beyond the school walls to any place / time virtual learning?

I find it ironic that while schools chase NCLB “proficiency,” life has become an open book test. We need to unleash the power of assessment that targets and inspires. One-shot, high stakes tests are just autopsies. Students need regular check-ups where teachers can gauge student progress and target instruction. Ultimately the program must be designed to foster student self-assessment that gives them responsibility for monitoring their own progress. Students should be supported in on-going self-reflection that addresses questions such as:

  • How can I use this knowledge and these skills to make a difference in my life?
  • How am I progressing as a learner?
  • How can I communicate what I’m learning with others?
  • How can I work with teachers and other students to improve my learning?

Schools will need to become places that create engaging and relevant learning experiences, provoke student reflection, and help students apply the learning to life. Authentic  accountability is reciprocal …  leadership is responsible to provide resources for success, educators are responsible for results. Simply sorting students along the “bell curve” won’t do.

Five Ways to Engage Students and Other Audiences – Tips for Teachers and Presenters

I’ve been invited by West Clermont Local Schools (Cincinnati OH) to do an opening day presentation for secondary teachers. This is not the first time we’ve collaborated. Earlier this year,  I assisted them in this project – “How to Use Web 2.0 to Create On-line Professional Development.” Looks like they have their PD act together!

The topic they assigned me for this week’s presentation is “How to engage students in the 21st century classroom.” This post outlines the message I’ll take to West Clermont. While the primary audience for this post is teachers in the classroom, I think there’s also a useful message for presenters who want to connect with their audience.

1. Remember that engagement is founded on choice: A task becomes engaging when you have an opportunity to make choices about content, process and product. For example here’s a diagram that shows how easy it is to transform a traditional writing assignment into a more engaging one.

See “First Day of School? Here’s How to Get Students Thinking” for a student-centered way to kick off the school year.

2. Alter the traditional information flow: All the one-way broadcast information sources are losing audience – TV, record industry, teachers who lecture. I’ll bring my TurningPoint audience response system to give them space in the information stream. We’ll also capture “backchannel” dialog with a Wiffiti screen. More on using Wiffiti in presentations. [Note: Discussion was so lively – I didn’t get a chance to use Wiffiti. A good problem!]

3. Thinking critically is more engaging than listening: Knowledge is only superficially transmitted by telling someone something. Students (and audiences) are engaged when you create learning environments that require them to apply their own analysis and evaluation to constructing meaning. Make it partial assembly required.

As a teacher, I was always turned off by trainers who weren’t using the strategies they were advocating. My workshops give the teachers a taste of how students will respond to the strategies in an authentic learning experience. As one teacher commented in her evaluation of my workshop, “Peter demonstrated his own method for rigor and relevance while teaching us, so we participated as our students would. The workshop was effective because he made us reflect on our classroom practice and our expectations of students. Then he supplied us with techniques and strategies to improve instruction.”

4. Relinquish responsibility for learning to the student (also this blog’s tagline): Students can develop their own iTunes genre scheme – what make you think they can’t analyze, evaluate and create? Many teachers feel they’re competing (unsuccessfully) with technology for student attention. I see things differently. Students aren’t engaged with technology because it lights up and beeps. They’re engaged with technology because it puts them in charge of information they access, store, analyze and share. It gives them something they rarely get in the classroom – choice. The lesson revision I outline in point 1 is about control (not technology) in the classroom.

5. Always keep in mind that the essence of teaching (or presenting) is creating learning experiences that provoke reflection: Students who are simply asked to follow instruction have nothing to reflect upon. (The same is true for audiences who have been asked to do little more than listen). Students who are offered the opportunity to explore their own approaches and share them with their peers are well on their way to life-long learning. I’ll bet “life-long learning” is in your school district mission statement – or is it vision statement? (I could never remember if I was on a mission or having visions). For more on reflection, see my series detailing my Taxonomy of Reflection.

PS. Here’s my “handout” for the West Clermont workshop. Download Engagement-presentation (3MB pdf). It’s a glimpse into my workshop – but I can’t “hand” you the message. Remember, it’s about the experience (and reflection) not simply the content.

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