How To Teach EdTech to Future Teachers

I’ve been asked to pilot a new edtech class this spring for undergraduate ed majors in University of Portland’s School of Education. I’m still in the brainstorm phase and I thought I’d like to share some of my initial thinking.

First off  – a few things that I don’t want to do:

  • Oversell edtech. Too often educators try to force the latest edtech tool into the classroom because they think it’s cooler. Faster. Shinier.
  • Focus on teaching apps. Oh how I hated being forced to sit in a computer lab and suffer though PowerPoint professional development as a teacher. When I need students to use a specific app, I typically create a YouTube channel of short screencast how-tos. Or students can use the University’s Lynda account for more.
  • Take sides in the platform / device religious wars. These students will end up teaching in different settings, each with it’s own unique edtech landscape. They’ll need to be able to use what ever they find in their placements.

Instead I’d like to first “teach” adaptability – the mindset that’s helped me navigate the ever-changing edtech environment since I began my career in the early ’70s – an era of filmstrip projectors, 16mm movies and ditto machines. I’ve always thought first about my instructional goals, then tried to leverage whatever resources I could find to reach them. That calls for flexibility and a willingness to figure things out on your own. I couldn’t wait around for some school-sponsored PD.

A second, equally important goal would be to teach critical evaluation of the intersection of good instruction and technologies. A good teacher is skeptical, always re-assessing what’s working and what’s not. That’s especially important in the dynamic edtech world.

I envision a problem-based approach where I layout a series instructional challenges (opportunities?) and invite student teams to come back with a plan for achieving the goal using as much or as little technology as they saw fit. They would be expected to find a way to share their work in or out of class (why not flip that as well?) We would then go though a group evaluation, reflecting on what worked and what didn’t. Was the juice worth the squeeze? Move on to the next instuctional challenge. Reflect, rinse, repeat.

Here’s how I thought I might open my first class:  “Good instructional often begins with a pre-assessment. This is an edtech class, so as a starting point we need to get sense of where everyone resides on edtech landscape.”

  • What would be useful to know?
  • How should we gather that info?
  • How do we store and share (represent) what we find out?
  • Would any digital technologies be useful in this task? If so, which ones?
  • How do we set that up so that your peers can be successful participants?

Brainstorm over: Any thoughts on this approach? Anyone else out there teaching an edtech course and care to share?

Image Credit: Civilian Conservation Corps, Third Corps Area, typing class with W.P.A. instructor ca. 1933
National Archives and Records Administration Identifier: 197144

The Pig War: Constructing Historic Narrative

the pig warMy Social Studies Methods class at the University of Portland recently published a free multi-touch iBook – Exploring History: Vol II. It features ten engaging questions and historic documents that empower students to be the historian in the classroom. For more info on our project and free download of multi-touch iBook version click here.

To better publicize student work, I’m featuring each chapter in it’s own blog post. More in series here.

Task: Using the documents provided, reconstruct a narrative of the Pig War. What were the causes, was there a turning point, and what was the final resolution?

The Pig War by Andy Saxton - Download as pdf (22.2MB) The Border Dispute of 1859 is known colloquially as the Pig War, so called because the only casualty of the conflict was a pig (owned by a British citizen) who was shot by a citizen of the United States when the pig wandered into his garden and began eating his vegetables. This incident would trigger a military response from the United Kingdom and then the United States in which British and American armed forces jointly occupied San Juan Island for over a decade, and nearly led to a shooting war between the two nations. Although belligerent forces almost drove the two countries into armed conflict, cooler heads prevailed.

Project reflection by Andy Saxon

I was impressed with the products students created when I ran the Pig War DBQ with my sophomore U.S. history and government class. I incorporated it into the last lesson of my work sample as a performance assessment because it touched on three of my learning targets: increased knowledge of the U.S.’s occupation of Pacific Northwest, improved historical reading skills, and a more-developed ability to work collaboratively. In teams of five, students tackled the documents and re-created narratives of the event, all within 90 minutes. Products that they created included straight narratives, a poem told from the pig’s perspective, and the political cartoon shown on this page.

Some narratives were more complete than others, but for the most part, each team was able to extract the important historical markers of the Pig War. The teams that were most successful were those in which one or two of the students took up an executive or administrative function. My goal was to have the students work as a group; 22 documents would be difficult for a single person to analyze in 90 minutes. Instead, the executor would outsource the documents to the rest of the team and have individual team members summarize those documents. Those summaries were eventually incorporated into a common template, which was fleshed-out into a unified narrative.

As an experiment, I tried to create an atmosphere in which the success or failure of a team to create a product would not affect their grades. Rather, the goal was to create the possible narrative purely for the sake of creating it, for the glory of being the best. This saw mixed success on a student-per-student basis, but overall the teams were able to work effectively to create quality products

As it was, students assessed as team “most knowledgeable others” (MKOs) were the most contributive to the assignment. Students with lower skill abilities were at first disruptive to team progress. As the exercise progressed, competitive pressure required each team to “step up their game,” and non-contributive members were essentially ostracized or forced to actually contribute to their teams. I observed less-proficient students alternatively find a role in their groups, or simply tune out of the exercise. In the future, I think I would be more explicit in my expectations for team members to actively contribute to the process of creating a product, in terms of quantifying individual contribution for the use of grading.

I was not sure how adept my students would be at accomplishing my goal, of their creating discrete narratives of the historical event that created the documents. Frankly, I was dubious of the lesson’s success. On the first day of class, I administered a team-building exercise, a tower-building activity, and not every group was able to create a free-standing tower. I was worried that this assignment would show a similar success rate, and that not every team would be able to create a product.

To my surprise and delight, however, every team was able to create a narrative that included that major markers of the historical event in question. This shows that every team was able to utilize their historical reading skills to pull relevant information from the documents, and synthesize an historically accurate interpretation of the event in question.

My approach to presenting the lesson, emphasizing that it was supposed to be fun and “for the glory” of creating the most quality norm-referenced product, met with mixed success on a per-student basis. I would be curious to see if with a consistently implemented “for fun” approach, coupled with the peer-pressure effect, would create a classroom climate in which every team member would give his or her best effort.
 

Image credit:  from page 455 of “The diseases of live stock and their most efficient remedies : including horses, cattle, cows, sheep, swine, fowls, dogs, etc. …” (1886)
Identifier: diseasesoflivest00mill
Title: The diseases of live stock and their most efficient remedies : including horses, cattle, cows, sheep, swine, fowls, dogs, etc. …
Year: 1886 (1880s)
Authors: Miller, William B. E Tellor, Lloyd V
Subjects: Horses Veterinary medicine
Publisher: Boston, Mass. : L.C. Hascall & Co.

The American Revolution: Historic Thinking DBQ

Bostonians paying the excise-man

My Social Studies Methods class at the University of Portland recently published a free multi-touch iBook –  Exploring History: Vol II. It features ten engaging questions and historic documents that empower students to be the historian in the classroom. For more info on our project and free download of the fully functional version click here.

To better publicize student work, I’m featuring each chapter in it’s own blog post. More in series here.

Generative Question: Did the American Colonists have legitimate motivations for initiating war and separating from Britain?

The American Revolution by Scott Deal  - Download as pdf (8.5MB) The American Revolutionary War lasted from 1775 to 1783. The conflict was between the thirteen North American colonies and British. Both the American Colonists and British had different perspectives on the war. The follow documents are primary sources from both the American Colonists and British. As you analyze and examine the documents, take into account the source of each document and any point of view that may be presented in the document. I want the students to use evidence to support their answers to the questions pertaining to each document and form an argument based on what they have learned and think.

Reflection by Scott Deal

Designing a Document Based Question, or DBQ, has been a great experience. I learned the importance of creating a dynamic generative/essential question that serves as the framework of the assignment. Just as critical, are the five to eight related documents that will assist the students in answering the generative question. The documents can be sources including images, texts, videos, or audio. Each document will also include scaffolding questions to assist the student in examining the document.

The goal of the DBQ I created was to design and utilize a generative question, documents, and scaffolding questions that incorporated historical thinking skills. I wanted students to analyze the documents, gather evidence from the sources and create an argument, or side, about a topic. The topic of my DBQ is the American Revolutionary War. This DBQ could be used as a conclusion of a unit.

I think the DBQ assignment process has given me a great deal of value as a learning experience. Creating interesting and engaging questions and finding quality sources has helped me learn and work through the process of finding content for my classroom. The challenges I had were making sure the assignment incorporated proper historical thinking skills. I found a lot of success in discovering a variety of documents and sources. Some of the lessons I learned were the importance of peer review and advice from peers.

Next time, I would approach this assignment with the intent of finding more engaging documents such as video and audio. I thought this assignment was clear and intriguing. I look forward to creating a DBQ assignment in my future career.

Image credit: The Bostonians paying the excise-man, or tarring and feathering
Philip Dawe(?), mezzotint, 1774, 14 x 9 1/2 inches
Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Visions of Freedom: The American Revolution

Illustration for Phillis Wheatley Poems on Various Subjects
I assigned my preservice teachers at University of Portland the task of using Learnist to design a document based question that would eventually become part of a class-produced DBQ iBook collection. DBQ assignment here. More samples of student-designed DBQs here.

I’ve asked them to reflect on the assignment and invited them to guest post on my blog. Here is Visions of Freedom: The American Revolution – a DBQ designed by Collin Soderberg-Chase. This DBQ presents multiple “views of freedom” viewed through the “lenses” of differing perspectives held during American revolutionary era. The essential question examines what factors influence one’s vision of freedom.

See Collin’s chapter in our class-designed iBook – free at iTunes

You can find Collin’s posts on our class blog.

By the end of the DBQ, readers would have investigated views of freedom between the colonists and the British government, military officers and laymen, and slaves and freemen.

This DBQ explored slavery and the American Revolutionary War through various visions of freedom that existed during the mid- to late-1700s. The idea for this project came from the understanding that oftentimes only one voice is heard in history. That approach, however, does not take into account the full narrative of the time and provides a false reality of important historical events. As a result, the purpose of this project was to provide readers an opportunity to look at central documents in a different light, while at the same time offering a chance to explore documents that may not take a dominant role in many studies of the American Revolution. By the end of the DBQ, readers would have investigated views of freedom between the colonists and the British government, military officers and laymen, and slaves and freemen, building content depth and providing the means to explore many unfamiliar corners of this important event in American history.

Even though the main essential question revolved around what influences visions of freedom, there were many other generative questions that were incorporated into my project.

  • How does individual identity change during times of revolution?
  • How does the political atmosphere of a time change social understandings?
  • What are the motivating factors that lead one to revolt against authority?
  • How do people express their distrust and discontent towards authority?

Because these questions permit the reader to investigate multiple horizons of possibilities, this project fits perfectly into many course and state standard requirements.

In the end, I feel like this DBQ completed my goals to introduce different visions of freedom to the American Revolution story. What I really enjoyed about this process is that it forced me to think deeply about every document that I wanted to add to the project. In order for readers to successfully complete the DBQ, the documents and order needed to be coherent and accessible. This thinking exercise now can be easily translated into the classroom, which I foresee as a priceless skill when I begin to introduce students to primary documents.

Image credit: Illustration for Phillis Wheatley Poems on Various Subjects Wikipedia

Visual Rhetoric of Women’s Suffrage

Official program woman suffrage procession. Washington, D. C. March 13, 1913I assigned my preservice teachers at University of Portland the task of using Learnist to design a document based question that would eventually become part of a class-produced DBQ iBook collection. DBQ assignment here. More samples of student-designed DBQs here.

I’ve asked them to reflect on the assignment and invited them to guest post on my blog. Here is Propaganda of the American Suffrage Movement, c. 1910-1920 – a DBQ designed by Heather Treanor and Cory Cassanova. This DBQ is meant to encourage students to think critically about the American suffrage movement propaganda. The generative questions are: “How do images express biases?” and “How are political, social, and economic factors presented?”

You can find Heather at LinkedIn and here’s her posts on our class blog. Here’s Cory’s posts on our class blog.

See Heather and Cory’s chapter in our class-designed iBook – free at iTunes.

Here’s Heather’s reflection on the project:

In our DBQ on women’s suffrage, we wanted the students to learn how image propaganda is used to make an argument or portray a side. Our generative questions were:

  1. What is the role of image media in the suffrage movement?
  2. How are pro-and anti-suffrage movements depicted in media?
  3. What are the biases that are found in image media?
  4. How are political, social, and economic factors portrayed in image media?

After doing this unit, the students should be able to look at a women’s suffrage image and answer the following questions (which connect back to the generative questions):

  1. What side is this image from? (Pro-suffrage or anti-suffrage?)
  2. What argument is the image making? How do you know?
  3. What does this image say about the society at the time this image was printed?

Each image asks the students to make a decision on the image’s argument and back up their answer with evidence.

Making the DBQ was a challenging assignment, mainly because we needed to find the best images that represented exactly the argument that we wanted. One of the problems was that, because there are so many images from the suffrage movement, there are often images that have different pictures but that make the same argument. We tried to be careful to choose images that did not just show a repeat of an argument, but that depicted a new suffrage position.

Our final project met all of the generative goals and objectives quite well. Each image asks the students to make a decision on the image’s argument and back up their answer with evidence, or it asks the students to compare the images to make a decision on how society had changed between the picture publications. The final DBQ is a great tool that can be used in conjunction with a social studies or communications class that is studying the suffrage movement in the United States. It can be found on the website Learnist, and soon on an iBook

Here’s Cory’s reflection on the project:

We discovered that if the students had only positive (pro-suffrage) propaganda to view, then the lesson loses some of its strength.

When we first started working on this DBQ we knew that we wanted to educate students on how to best analyze propaganda, understanding what each piece is trying to say, being able to discover how each piece goes about conveying its message, and what historical events are transpiring to bring about such pieces of work. At the beginning of this DBQ lesson there was talk of only showing pro-women’s suffrage propaganda, but we discovered that if the students had only positive propaganda to view, then the lesson loses some of its strength. As a result we had to make a slight change my overall lesson. Instead of using only pro-suffrage pieces, we would also use anti-suffrage pieces and  the students would compare, contrast, and analyze these pieces as a whole as well instead of independently.

I personally believe that the final project achieved all of my learning goals. My partner had a large amount of excellent material that we used and as a result we were able to create a DBQ that pushes students to both compare and contrast multiple pictures, as well as analyze individual pictures at a deep level.

The biggest lesson that I learned while working on this DBQ is that you have to be careful with what photographic material you use. Pictures are one of the most important parts of a DBQ and if the DBQ has poorly chosen pictures than the overall quality of it will suffer greatly. I also learned that you need to be careful when choosing a topic. While something such as the women’s suffrage movement is well documented through images and propaganda, there are other events that are either lacking sufficient pictures or lack any diversity in their imagery.

Image credit: Official program woman suffrage procession. Washington, D. C. March 13, 1913
Library of Congress: rbpe 20801600

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