Sunday, March 3, 2013

Grovo: Technology that Enables

Had a really hard time coming up with a title for this post.  I'm not actually trying to promote Grovo so much as explore the different ways that tool like Grovo might really push our practices around student centered learning.  And, I do think Grovo is pretty sweet.

I actually landed on Grovo in a typical Sunday AM web fashion, I was hoping to learn about something else, in this case Trello, which @jschackow first surfaced for me and which I HIGHLY recommend to all PBL teachers as a very cool project management tool.  Hoping to blog on that one shortly.  Wanted a few example videos to think about how to organize this very flexible management tool, and I ran across a sample from Grovo.  After watching the sample, I decided to check out what this Grovo thing was.  Wow.

So Grovo's  mission is to "To be your trusted source of high quality online training and real-time video updates to the websites, mobile apps and online tools you use most."

When you sign-up for their free account, you have the option of opting in to a number of commonly used programs that you use frequently (GoogleDrive, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Evernote, etc).  What Grovo offers are short training videos for all of these tools.  Obviously, there are tons of possibilities for a tool like this on the work we all do - here are a few:

1. Get Current: Many of the teachers I work with really want to be up-to-date on tools and techniques to implement technology in support of deeper learning and PBL with their students.  Often, however, it is hard to know where to start.  Grovo not only has videos, but the have little "courses" you can do to walk you through some initial tools to get started.

2. Stay Current: Another super compelling idea with Grovo is that they create quick videos whenever products you follow have an update.  You can get notifications when these new videos are up.  This helps make sure you are always taking advantage of the best features (working smarter) and also let's you not worry about being up-to-date. They'll take care of that for you.

3.  Track and promote your progress:  When you finish a course, you get a certificate and have the option of promoting it on your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or website like this:

In addition to being a possible source of motivation and self-promotion, playing around with certifications like this might be a nice little gate-way experience into the world of badging and alternative certification.

4. Develop students' technical skills:  An obvious extension of this would be to turn students on to this tool and have them pursue their own learning at their own pace.  This is a great model of REAL facilitation - not having to be THE expert on everything, but rather the one who is best able to lead the learning of others.  We want our students using real-world tools in real-world ways, tools like Grovo help them do this.

5. Develop students' learning skills:  Maybe the most exciting piece to this is that Grovo could give you and your students a low-stakes place to experiment with alternative ways of learning, tracking progress, and gaining recognition for learning.  More and more learning is happening via virtual channels, why not have students explore this in a low-stakes setting?  In addition to the specific skills they can gain and use in your class, encourage them to consider how tools like this can help them build their resume, enhance their portfolio, or even think about how they can begin to build a stronger online reputation?

Monday, February 25, 2013

PBL Grammar - Half-baked project idea

Recently, I had the chance to visit Compass Academy in Idaho Falls.   Great new school in our network with a ton of interesting things happening.

Spent some time with one of their ELA facilitators who was having the not-uncommon problem of figuring out how to incorporate grammar instruction into PBL in an authentic way.   Their solution is to have student's create personalized writing handbooks that they can use as resources in all their classes to improve their writing.  What I like about this project is the potential for exploration of the world of writers, the tools they use, and the ways they work to continually hone their craft.  Additionally, I think there is real potential for strong self-reflection about thinking and the process of writing.   I was able to sit-in on their critical friends session and it was also fantastic to see the other teachers in other subjects seize on the possibility of having this resource as a reference point for writing in projects in their classes as well.   Excited to see how it turns out!

In follow-up conversations with the facilitator, we stumbled into what feels like a really interesting question to me, and maybe a project idea.  There are TONS of online grammar checking programs.  Something that we were grappling with as we thought about using some possible resources for the project as bread-crumbs is which of these to recommend.   Which lead me to the following half-baked idea:

"Which online grammar checker is the best?"  

Now an obvious way to approach this would be to have students determine which of these was the best  and have the audience be themselves or their class.  It's personal, its relevant.  But I will say I am a fan of changing the lens of a question to provide fresher ways of thinking and different sorts of challenges in addition to engagement.   So I started asking, "Who else might be interested in knowing the best online grammar checker?"

Two possible twists on this question:

Grammar for Google
We all know that google is on a quest for web and world domination and that they frequently buy up smaller companies that have tools they want to incorporate into their package.  What if the project was to make a recommendation to google for which on the online grammar tools they should acquire to add to google docs?

Grammar for New Tech Network
Another angle that teachers in our network might consider is making a proposal to New Tech for what grammar tool we might promote in our growing work on literacy and college readiness.  Maybe a connection with @HortonAlix - Alix Horton NTN's literacy guru about a tool to promote?  Maybe a recommendation to @fitzwalsh - Chris Walsh, NTN's Director of Innovation and Echo Designer?

Done something similar? Have another half-baked project idea?  A way to push this from half-baked to fully baked?  Want to actually DO this one?

Post below or tweet me @edutwitt!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Four must-consume resources

My whole purpose in having this second blog was to have a place where I posted things more rapidly and less hesitantly than I do on my other blog.  And I've been a miserable failure at that so far.  Back to it!

Lately I've had the luxury of encountering a ton of great things that I want to think more about and pass on to people I'm learning with.  Here are a few for this weekend:

Back to Basics:
My esteemed colleague Kevin Gant recently did a wonderful TEDTalk that is steeped in New Tech Network values and beliefs about education.  Watch and be recommitted and re-inspired.

Pushing the Model:
This 8-minute TED from Ewan McIntosh represents, to me, the next frontier in our work in PBL. As an organization, we have always pushed to make sure that when we teach and learn, we are not doing the most important work FOR our students, but rather helping them to do that work for themselves.  We have long talked about the importance of helping students learn to solve complex problems.  McIntosh pushes us a step further to fact that we really need to develop problem finders. As I think about the evolution of our own model, I am beginning to see PBL as the first big step in transforming our sense of ourselves as learners.  The end-in-mind is independent problem solvers - perhaps the scaffolding for students (or more so the system) is structured problem solvers.
Watch this and then tell me what you think.

Good Question is Better than a Great Answer
New Tech's own Paul Curtis provides a more contextual application and exploration of this notion of divergent and convergent thinking here in his recent blog post.

Finally - something to simple DO ON MONDAY - check out this great video and text from Dylan William on "basketball questioning."  Watch it, you'll get it, and you'll do it.  (So will I).

Have a great weekend.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Definition of Traditional Teaching

Traditional teaching is the expectation that students will learn because we tell them to. 

If I were to create a spectrum of teaching practices from traditional to non-traditional, I think I would use the above as my criteria.  Moving away from traditional educational practices has less to do with technology (1:1, iPads, etc) or technique (PBL, PrBL, Challenge based, etc) and more to do with context and motivation.  Whenever I assume that the person I am working with will learn because I am telling them, the more traditional I am being.  

It isn't so much that "kids learn differently these days" or even that there are boundless opportunities for learning and discovery in our technology-rich world - though both are true and part of the push.  

We need to continue moving this direction because learning out of compliance has always yielded superficial understanding for the majority of people and limited the highest levels of achievement to those individuals who were able to find personal meaning and intrinsic motivations despite the system in which they were learning.  This is why so many ideas of progressive education don't sound all that new to people who have been teaching for a long time. They aren't.

In working with teachers on making shifts towards PBL and other practices that require students to solve problems and encounter new information in meaningful contexts, I often have teachers note apologetically that they had to be "more traditional" in one setting or another.  I worry sometimes that the overly simple distinction we make between PBL and Traditional Teaching is that in PBL the students do on their own and in traditional the teacher does it (or that the traditional teacher lectures about it) rather than focusing on the students' understanding of why they are doing what they are doing.  What we don't realize is that going "more traditional" really means simply force-feeding students information when they have no identified use for it other than compliance.   This is often our response, even when we know it doesn't work.

This misunderstanding may be part of the reason why teachers often feel like they "are not allowed to teach" in PBL.  When the distinction is about tools or technique and the ideal is "student learns all by themselves, " many teachers feel like it doesn't allow them to do the very thing that gets them out of bed in the morning and got them into teaching in the first place - helping people understand ideas they care deeply about.  PBL teachers absolutely teach and I might argue that a PBL teachers should expect to "teach" a vast majority of the most important concepts in their discipline.  

Teaching means helping someone know and understand something they don't know and understand.  For me, an ideal learning moment in a PBL classroom would be a teacher responding to sophisticated student questions related to a meaningful concept they were struggling to apply. Now the responses might be a mix of questions and answers, but in that moment, the teacher would absolutely be operating as an expert in their field, leading the students in learning. 

The difference is that in good PBL, we create a context where that expertise is needed, valued, and appreciated.  Back to the above definition, it isn't valued out of respect or compliance - though of course there will be students who do come with this and it is worth cultivating a culture where individuals respect the expertise of others - it is valued because we have respected students enough to help them come to an understanding of the importance of the problems that make our expertise valuable.  And we have helped them come to that understanding BEFORE we have expected them to value our understanding of the answer. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Clearly - a better way to read

I am a huge fan of Evernote as a tool for organizing ideas, work, and research.  I should probably post about that someday.  Today, I want to highlight what has become my favorite tool for making reading online easier: Evernote Clearly.   Clearly is a simple little addition to your browser.   Clearly makes reading on the web just that - clear.  You can see their great little video here.

This is much easier to see than explain.  Here is a fairly typical website:

Nothing unusual - there is the text of the article, but also ads, links, and all sorts of distractions.  Here is that same page after clicking the Clearly button:

Ahhh... so much better.  All of the distractions evaporate and you can focus on the text.

In addition to the streamlined view, Clearly offers:

  • Easy ability to change background color and text size.  Why squint or struggle when the view can match you preferred size and style?
  • The ability to highlight and add comments (see toolbar on the right).  If you come across something useful as you read - highlight it and it is automatically added to your Evernote account This presupposes you use Evernote as a note storage system - which you should consider doing.  As a bonus doing this with students - when a note is clipped, the web address is captured as well - no more "I forgot where I found that information" 
  • Related notes - in the shot above you can see that when I opened the article in the Clearly reading panel, the tool automatically did a search of my existing notes to see if there was anything similar.   This has the potential to be a very powerful tool for helping students make text-to-text connections.
As a tool for students, you will have to convince your district IT people to add the extension and Evernote as a tool.  Worth doing, but potentially a large undertaking.*  If nothing else - give this a test-drive for yourself and I'll bet you won't read the same.

*If you have made a pitch to your districti IT people to add Evernote or Clearly to the general student computer image - please send it to me and I will post it for others to share! 

Check out their video: