Friday, May 18, 2012

"Why Do You Blog?"
A lot of my friends, family members, and colleagues often ask me, "Why do you blog?".  It is always difficult for me to give them a straight answer, other than I thoroughly enjoy it and its addicting!  I have always known the real reasons why I blog, but I have never really articulated my purpose for blogging.  After receiving a very inspiring email yesterday, I decided to create a list of the top 5 reasons why I blog.  My goal is to encourage all educators to digitally share and learn with each other to create an ongoing GLC (Global Learning Community)!

Why do I blog?

  1. To internalize all of the information and media that I consume everyday regarding best practices in education. 
  2. To build on my pedagogical beliefs, keep current in my field, and stay up to date on the latest technology resources that are available.
  3. To share my expertise, resources, and pedagogy with other educators around the world. 
  4. To give back to my personal learning network of educators who already do so much for me.
  5. To continue to learn and grow with my personal learning network with the hope that our knowledge and expertise continues to provide the best possible education for students all over the world.

I would like to touch on reason number 3 for this post. I received an email yesterday from a complete stranger who just happened to be an educator. She contacted me to request permission to use my resources such as my website and my blog for her professional development presentation to her staff members. She wrote that she had been following me for quite some time and finds my blog posts to be inspiring. Below is the email that was sent to me yesterday (which I have permission to include in this blog post).

Mr. Lands,

I am a middle school visual arts teacher who has avidly included STEM-oriented projects in my classroom. I have been asked to facilitate a Professional Development day for related arts teachers at the middle and high school level in our district. In my research, I have run across your class website as well as your blog. I have found both to be extremely helpful in getting me started. I am contacting you for permission to use your sites as a reference for the teachers in our STEM in the Arts PD day. I know they will find it equally useful and time-saving….to narrow down information in your “top” lists and the MVP sections would be particularly helpful!

I am inspired by your teachings and look forward to future blog posts!

Thank you,
Laurie Norris

Laurie Norris

Visual Arts
Robinson Middle School

My Reaction

Knowing that I have reached at least one other teacher out there in the world, is so incredibly powerful. This teacher works in a middle school in Tennessee and we have no other connection other than our passion for teaching students. My efforts of blogging reached another teacher, who will share this knowledge and expertise with her colleagues, which will ultimately reach the 800 students in her building. And this is just one teacher.

I like to think that there are lots of other teachers out there that are reading my blog and are doing the exact same thing as Laurie, but I just don't hear about it. I can only imagine the impact that is being made on all of those students out there. That is why I blog.

For your consideration

  • Why do you blog?
  • If you don't blog, what is preventing you from blogging?

Click on the link below to find out the sequel to this story

Never Underestimate the Power of Social Networking

You might also like

5 Blogs To Enhance Your PLN for Education
Get Your Teachers Learning and Sharing with Google Blogger
The Landscape's Guide to Creating Your PLN

Resources on blogging

10 Steps to Get Teachers Into Blogs
21 Key Benefits of Blogging
20 Ways to Get Ideas For Writing Blog Posts

Monday, May 14, 2012

The 21st Century Skills Movement: Who's With Me?

Picture Source:
It has been a long time since I have read an article that truly spoke to me.  As I was reading 21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead I honestly felt like I was reading an articulated version of the thoughts and beliefs that are inside my head.  So, I decided to synthesize the article and highlight the big picture ideas.

The purpose of "school" is to ultimately prepare students for the workforce in the real world. As a Career and Technology Education teacher, I honestly feel that the American Public Education System is not effectively preparing our students for the 21st century workplace. There is currently too much emphasis on content knowledge, and not enough on workplace readiness skills such as critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, collaboration and innovation. To truly improve education in America, we need to create rigorous and challenging curriculum, implement student-centered instruction, and administer assessments that measure students' ability to use workplace readiness skills in conjunction with their content knowledge.

Students are our most valuable stakeholders in education. We need to prepare them for their future in this demanding, rapidly changing world. Its time that we start making decisions that are in their best interest, not our institutions'.

Regardless of the decisions that are made in Washington, the 21st Century Skills Movement can still be achieved by leaders in education.  Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment (CIA) are the key components to a successful education, and teacher-leaders like you and me have the power to make these improvements in our own school districts!

It all starts from the ground up! Who's with me?

Below are highlights taken directly from Educational Leadership21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead

Leadership in Education

"A growing number of business leaders, politicians, and educators are united around the idea that students need '21st century skills' to be successful today. It's exciting to believe that we live in times that are so revolutionary that they demand new and different abilities. But in fact, the skills students need in the 21st century are not new."

"What's actually new is the extent to which changes in our economy and the world mean that collective and individual success depends on having such skills."

"For the 21st century skills effort to be effective, curriculum, instruction and assessment must be implemented in concert. Otherwise, the reform will be superficial and counter-productive."

Better Curriculum

"The issue is how to meet the challenges of delivering content and skills in a rich way that genuinely improves outcomes for students."

"Without content knowledge we often cannot use thinking skills properly and effectively. To think critically, students need the knowledge that is central to the domain."

"Students need exposure to varied examples before their understanding of a concept becomes more abstract and they can successfully apply that understanding to novel situations."

"Another curricular challenge is that we don't yet know how to effectively teach self-direction, collaboration, creativity, and innovation."

Better Teaching

"Advocates of 21st century skills favor student-centered methods—for example, problem-based learning and project-based learning—that allow students to collaborate, work on authentic problems, and engage with the community."

"These approaches are widely acclaimed and can be found in any pedagogical methods textbook; teachers know about them and believe they're effective. And yet, teachers don't use them. Why don't teachers use the methods that they believe are most effective?"

"For change to move beyond administrators' offices and penetrate classrooms, we must understand that professional development is a massive undertaking. Most teachers don't need to be persuaded that project-based learning is a good idea—they already believe that. What teachers need is much more robust training and support than they receive today, including specific lesson plans that deal with the high cognitive demands and potential classroom management problems of using student-centered methods"

"Unfortunately, there is a widespread belief that teachers already know how to do this if only we could unleash them from today's stifling standards and accountability metrics. This notion romanticizes student-centered methods, underestimates the challenge of implementing such methods, and ignores the lack of capacity in the field today."

"And of course none of this will be successful without broader reforms in how teachers are recruited, selected, and deselected in an effort to address the whole picture of education's human capital challenge."

Better Tests

"There is little point in investing heavily in curriculum and human capital without also investing in assessments to evaluate what is or is not being accomplished in the classroom."

"Although higher-level skills like critical thinking and analysis can be assessed with well-designed multiple-choice tests, a truly rich assessment system would go beyond multiple-choice testing and include measures that encourage greater creativity, show how students arrived at answers, and even allow for collaboration."

A Better, But Harder Way

"The past few decades have seen great progress in education reform in the United States—progress that has especially benefited less-advantaged students. Today's reformers can build on that progress only if they pay keen attention to the challenges associated with genuinely improving teaching and learning."

"Without better curriculum, better teaching, and better tests, the emphasis on '21st century skills' will be a superficial one that will sacrifice long-term gains for the appearance of short-term progress."

To read the full article, visit 21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wikipedia: Setting the Record Straight

Wikipedia has been around for years and it is the largest encyclopedia in human history. Yet, I still often hear teachers say that they don't allow students to use  Wikipedia for research. Interestingly enough, students also believe that  Wikipedia is not a reliable resource because their teachers and parents are telling them that its not.

I recently took an online poll in my 5th, 6th, and 7th grade classes using Socrative and I found that more than 75% of all of my students feel that  Wikipedia is NOT a reliable resource. Without bias, I asked them to answer true or false to the following statement, "Wikipedia is a reliable resource". Some classes only had one student agree, and most all of my classes only had a few that agreed.

I find this data very interesting, because I personally feel that  Wikipedia  articles not only have factual and reliable information, without bias, but they also have lots of primary sources that are cited at the bottom of each article. Students can either use the information that is provided in the article (used from those primary sources) or they can simply explore the primary resources that are listed at the bottom of each article for further research.

The reason why some teachers and parents don't want their students to use  Wikipedia to look up information is due to a lack of understanding of how  Wikipedia works. The Common Craft video below does a great job of explaining what  Wikipedia is, how it works, and why it's a reliable resource.

Wikipedia Explained by Common Craft

Below is an example of a  Wikipedia article on Albert Einstein.  Notice how the information that is underlined is factual and reliable information that is pulled from a primary source.  The references (primary sources) are cited down at the bottom of the article in numerical order.

Final thought

Whether or not you use Wikipedia, or whether or not you let your students use Wikipedia, is ultimately your choice.  The purpose of this blog post is to give you factual information about Wikipedia to let you make an educated decision.

For your consideration
  1. Do you use Wikipedia with your students?  Why or why not?
  2. If you do not use Wikipedia with your students, what supporting evidence do you have against Wikipedia? 

You might also like

Inquiring About Inquiry
YouTube: "Broadcast Yourself" Solving Problems
Why Do I Have to Memorize This When I Can Just Google It?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Inquiring About Inquiry

What if students were assessed not on their ability to answer, but on their ability to question?  What would these assessments look like? How could we accurately measure the data? Is questioning more important than answering?

Inquiry is the foundation of all learning.  One cannot acquire true knowledge, without having inquiry.  Questions lead to answers, which then lead to more questions.  Naturally, the more we know, the more we question.  We should be encouraging inquiry from our students and facilitating their learning process in all subjects so that they become critical thinkers and independent learners.

Take Dan Meyer's 101 Questions project for example. Members can submit thought-provoking pictures and videos  about fascinating and interesting things happening in the world around us.  The questions we ask ourselves about the real world is what inspires us to seek the answers.

It has been said that, "If you catch a man a fish, he eats for a day.  If you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime".  This is analogous to education.  If you tell a student an answer, he learns for a day.  If you teach a student how to answer a question, he learns for a lifetime.

Google recently launched Google Search Education to provide free resources, lessons, and activities to help students become better researchers. "With more and more of the world's content online, it is critical that students understand how to effectively use web search to find quality sources appropriate to their task". - Google

After reading through Google's Search Education, I decided to synthesize the best of its resources into a Google Presentation.  All of the content in the presentation has been provided by Google.  In order to make meaning of the information, I took what I thought was most valuable and created this presentation for my students and anyone else who would like to use it.

Below are some extra tips and resources that I use to teach my students about conducting effective online searches.

MindShift Resources

"Just as having students predict answers to math problems is a way of creating more meaningful learning, prediction can be a useful strategy in successful searching too." -MindShift 

Here are some questions to consider when conducting an online search, provided by MindShift 

  • When I run this search, what do I expect to appear? 
  • When I find this answer, what do I expect it to look like? 
  • When I click this link, what do I expect I will see? 

Google Search Resources

"A Google A Day challenges help your students put their search skills to the test, and to get your classroom engaged and excited about using technology to discover the world around them." -  Google

For your consideration
  1. How can you use inquiry-based learning to drive your curriculum in your classroom?
  2. What are some other resources, tips, tricks, strategies that you use with your students?

You might also like

Wikipedia: Setting the Record Straight
YouTube: Broadcast Yourself Solving Problems
Why Do I Have To Memorize This When I Can Just Google It?