Podcast: Reflections on Teaching Strategies That Work

I had a great time recording a podcast with Mark Hofer and David Carpenter for their series Ed Tech Co-Op. Go to show 26: Peter Pappas (Dec 9, 2012) via Web | iTunes 

If the art teacher taught art, the way I taught history, his students would be sitting there watching him paint.

Mark led off by asking me to reflect back on my some of the driving themes in my career. I confessed that as a novice teacher, I mimicked my experience as a high school student and taught primarily via lecture mixed with an occasional “guess what the teacher is thinking” whole-group discussion.

But I recalled an “aha” moment after repeated visits to the art class in the classroom next door. I realized that if the art teacher taught art, the way I taught history, his students would be sitting there watching him paint. I remember that got me thinking …

Our podcast continued with a lively discussion about what works in the classroom. Below are a few of the prompts they tossed at me. No ed theory or brain research in my responses. Just my candid and unrehearsed thoughts ranging from “why teaching should be the opposite of magic” to “how schools are not teaching good digital hygiene.”

  • Can you talk a bit about how you shift responsibility for the learning to the students. 
  • How did you support a constructivist model is information-laden, high stakes courses like AP / IB?
  • Did you get much push-back from your students and how did you deal with it? How do you deal with parents and administrators?
  • What do you say when teachers tell you “I’ve got so much to cover, I don’t have time for more student-based approach?”
  • Tell us more about your post “Why Johnny Can’t Search?” and how librarians and instructional technologists can partner to improve student information skills.
  • How is the analytic process different in different subjects – say science vs history?

See these posts for more on subjects raised in the podcast:

Stay tuned to Ed Tech Co-Op – a collaborative effort between the College of William & Mary, Alexandria Country Day School, and other educators interested in technology integration in K-12 classrooms.

Image credit flickr/ visual.dichotomy

Animated Guide to 8 Essentials For Learning

This clever and fast-paced 6-minute animation provides insights into how teenagers learn. An “insider’s guide” to the teenage brain, it answers the question – “If you were a teenage speaker brought in to address a crowd of teachers on the subject of how you and your peers learn best . . . what would you say?”

Done in hand-drawn whiteboard / voiceover format it sets out eight essentials for learning, including my favorite – reflection. Share it with your students and see if they concur or use it as a discussion starter for your next faculty meeting.

  1. I feel okay.
  2. It matters.
  3. It’s active.
  4. It stretches me.
  5. I have a coach.
  6. I have to use it.
  7. I think back on it.
  8. I plan my next steps.

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.

Watch Problem Based Learning in Action: Apollo 13

This fall I’ve had the opportunity to lead many teachers on classroom walkthroughs in schools across the country. My approach is a “roving Socratic seminar” that uses brief glimpses of learning as a discussion starter for educators to reflect on their craft. For more on my walk through technique see my blog post  ”Teacher-Led Professional Development: Using Classroom Walk Throughs

apollo

One topic that always comes up on walkthroughs is something to the effect “… but don’t you have to teach the basics first,  before you can expect students to be able to think at higher levels?” There’s a persistent assumption that Bloom’s taxonomy is a one-way street. Analysis, evaluation and creation can only take place after a solid foundation of basics have been “installed” into the student’s knowledge base.

While our students have been conditioned to “learn the basics – then solve the problem,” that’s not how life always works. Most often we are confronted with problems that force us to go back and discover underlying foundational elements. Car won’t start… now what? 

Watch an infant getting into everything in the kitchen and you’ll realize that  kids are flexible learners, capable of moving fluidly between the basics and the problem. Every time our students play a new video game they confront a new environment with a unique set of interactions constrained by rules. Most often they have to discover how the game is played in a manner that mimics the scientific method – developing and testing hypothesis against their growing understanding of rules, functions, obstacles, rewards that underly the process of the game. Problem first, then basics.

When designing a lesson, teachers need remember that Bloom’s taxonomy is not a one-way street. It has multiple pathways and entry points – knowledge can be put into practice in a problem and a problem can be used to generate a body of knowledge. 

Need a good example of problem-based learning in action? Use this scene from “Apollo 13” as your walkthrough discussion starter. As you watch the clip think about the interaction of the problem and the basics.

  • Situation: An explosion forced the crew to shut down the command module and use the lunar module as a “lifeboat.” 
  • Problem: They needed to jury-rig a carbon dioxide filtering system for the lunar module.
  • Understanding the basics: What’s available aboard the space craft and how can it be used to modify the filtering system? 

 

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