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Letting go of the reins: Final thoughts on CEP 810

As my third course in the MAET program, CEP 810 has been the most immediately applicable to my practice. Perhaps it is the timing of the course–I began my coursework just before returning to school this year, so the content was fresh in my mind and I had 150 test-subjects at my immediate disposal. Timing aside, however, it is clear to me the extent to which this course will affect my teaching far beyond the beginning of the school year.

As a BYOD school (bring your own device), I have been struggling to meaningfully integrate technology in my classroom. In years past I have had access to computer carts or labs and could assign technology-driven tasks in any unit. With BYOD, however, I am now trying to manage 30 different technologies, from phones to laptops, in a single classroom. At first, I was discouraged. Through my work in this class, however, I have discovered that it is not the technology that should be driving the task, but rather, the technology should lend itself toward the task’s completion. In other words, rather than asking my students to ‘make a video,’ I should be designing a task asking students to create a product for a real-world audience, and then let them drive the manifestation of the project with technology available to them.

One of the other realizations that I had as a result of this course was the vast array of information available at a moment’s notice online. While I always knew this to be true, I had not previously considered it in an educational sense (beyond research assignments). When my students don’t know how to do something in their personal lives (pass a level on a video game, blow up marshmallows in the microwave), they watch YouTube videos to figure it out. Why, then, do they not consult the online community for help in utilizing Google Drive or adding video clips to presentations? By forcing myself back to novice-learner status, I began to re-imagine the way that I present information to students and the tools that I ask them to use on a daily basis.

While I am clear and confident in my role as a learning-outcome designer and facilitator, one aspect of educational technology still eludes me. When it comes to assessing students’ work in which multiple pathways have been offered, I struggle with consistency in grading. It will take some time to develop appropriate rubrics (perhaps asking my students to weigh-in would be helpful here), but assessing the use of technology is still one of my struggles.

Overall it has been a productive semester in which the course content has been immediately applicable in my practice. I can only hope that future semesters are as meaningful and thought-provoking.

Untitled Infographic

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“Cooking” with TPACK–not quite “Top Chef” quality

As part of our work with rethinking and re-purposing this week, we were challenged in CEP 810 to complete a random culinary task using kitchen tools selected at random by a friend or family member. My challenge: make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich using a saucer, cereal bowl, and a ladle.

In the following video, you can see my true culinary skills shine. I discovered very quickly that I would have to rethink some of my kitchen tools, such as the ladle, to fit the challenge (and the jar). My understanding of the purpose of this challenge was immediately realized upon completing the sandwich: in order for my students to succeed as learners, I must give them the right tools for the task at hand and help them improvise when those tools are unavailable.

This understanding directly relates to the TPACK theory of educational technology. I must understand the task at hand (content knowledge), know which tools will suit it best (technological knowledge), and how best to communicate the ideas to my students (pedagogical knowledge) in order for an task to be completed well.

While completing this challenge, I also thought about the order in which directions are given and tasks are assigned. If technology, rather than content or pedagogy, is driving the task, then students will likely feel like I did when I had my utensils selected but not my culinary challenge. In order to most effectively challenge my students, they must be able to fully understand the task at hand before selecting the best tools for completion.

This challenge encouraged me to reconsider the way I think about educational tools and technology, the way that I assign tasks, and the encouragement I must give to students to work through a challenge regardless of a lack of resources.

Without further ado… “Cooking” with TPACK.

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Working on my Workflow, part 2: The Solution

As I work to revise my workflow and limit my open loops, I have discovered that new technologies may be more beneficial to me than existing structures.Instead of relying on my sticky notes (both digital and the ones lining my desk), as mentioned in part 1, Evernote is a far better use of my collecting and productivity time.

Although Evernote takes some time to master, the time spent exploring the site and its accompanying apps is well worth it. With Evernote, I am able to create notebooks for each topic that I need to organize. I can stack those notebooks to create a binder (i.e., all of my school-related notebooks can be stacked separately from my personal notes), share notes or entire notebooks with colleagues (my favorite feature), and access notes across all of my devices. Another useful feature that I have discovered is the Google extension for Evernote. I can save a pdf version of an article/website to one of my Evernote notebooks. This is not only helpful for me as an educator, as I come across countless articles or instructional ideas and my bookmarks bar is filling up fast, but it will also be a useful tool for my students to collect and organize their research and information.

Evernote

I am still exploring all of the available features, but it is clear that Evernote is a beneficial way to collect information from my open loops, organize that information, share it with colleagues or students, and manage my time. The fact that I can access my lists from any device means that I am no longer tethered to my laptop in order to be productive. I am looking forward to seeing what else Evernote has to offer.

References

Allen, D. (2001). Getting things done: The art of stress-free productivity. New York: Penguin.

Cover Photo: “Sticky Notes in Different Colors” by Rameshng licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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See One. Do One. Teach One. NLP Final Blog Post.

When I set out to learn how to arm knit using YouTube tutorials, I expected an easy road. I learn well from online tutorials, and genuinely enjoy this style of learning. What I didn’t realize, however, is that this is an area in which I have no background knowledge at all. Not knowing even the fundamentals of knitting truly impacted my ability to learn this new skill. As did the various source I consulted. As I mentioned last week, I started with a video tutorial that seemed promising, but I soon discovered that as a visual learner, it was vital that the video demonstrate the action in first person perspective using an over-the-shoulder camera. Luckily, Amanda from the Simply Maggie blog agreed, and provided the tutorial that I needed.

I realized quickly the intent of pushing me back to the state of a novice learner. I was equal parts frustrated and discouraged when I couldn’t seem to make even a simple slip-knot using the bulky yarn. While I had the ability to pause the video and try again, my students are rarely granted this luxury. Nor are most tenth graders going to have the confidence to raise their hand and ask me to repeat myself or break the information down into smaller steps. This must therefore become part of my teaching and be woven seamlessly into my teaching style.
This also helped place my in the mind of my students as they learn a great deal from video tutorials when it comes to their personal interests. They learn how to pass a level on a video game by watching another gamer complete the challenge, but they rarely seek video tutorials for academic purposes. I can imagine countless applications for this style of learning in the classroom–trying new pieces of educational technology, finding creative commons licenced videos to use in their creations, or something as simple as adding page numbers to a word document can all be learned from online tutorials. As an educator, I can also use tutorials to better support my students. I recently created an MLA screencast to walk my students through the process of creating MLA works cited pages. With this tutorial, students can remind themselves of the process at home when completing essays, and can always return to it as a resource even when outside of class. This is a strategy that I could significantly expand for my students and could greatly help to enhance their learning process.

Mostly, as discussed in my final video, learning must be an ongoing process. If I expect to be an expert from one viewing of an arm tutorial video, then I need a bit of a reality check. With time and repetition, however, I can work toward becoming an expert. Remembering the difference between learning as a novice and learning as an expert, the expert never stops the learning process. I must continue to practice, look for new ways to problem solve, and work toward being able to not only complete an arm scarf, but also to teach someone else how to complete one. Then I will be able to call myself an expert (maybe). As my grandfather always says, “see one, do one, teach one.” This is the way toward true understanding.


Without further ado… My final NLP Video. Please click here if the video does not load below.

 

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What in the World? A 21st Century Lesson Plan

Over the past several weeks, I have been working with both my students and colleagues to combat the lack of global awareness many teens (and adults!) display through both formal and informal discussions. One of the reasons that students have offered for their lack of knowledge in current events is a lack of teen-friendly resources at their disposal. Students, who live their lives online, are craving an accessible website or social media platform to help them become more well-informed, without having to search through pages of headlines. While Twitter does a great job offering news in small, bite-sized pieces, tweets also pass by in an instant–so, if students are not online at a given moment (during class, for example), they likely miss whatever Twitter has to offer them.

In order to help my students become better informed, as well as in an effort to help them see the true benefit of educational technology (beyond Google Docs and PowerPoint), I have designed a lesson in which students create an activity or online resource to help their peers become and remain well-informed. Students are able to use a variety of technologies to support their work, but ultimate they must aggregate their information in one place, making it easily accessible for teenagers. Students also must plan for a way to disseminate information about their new news tool to their peers.

As global awareness is one of P21’s core subjects/themes, this lesson nicely aligns with the 21st century learning outcomes (Partnership for 21st Century Skills 2011). This lesson is also reflective of Renee Hobbs’s core competencies (2011) and asks students to achieve all five competencies in a meaningful and sustained manner.

This lesson and activity are also deeply woven into our curriculum. As tenth graders, students are focusing on analyzing non-fiction sources and evaluating digital content. Students are learning how to discern a credible source from a non-credible source, and are also being asked to extend their learning beyond the classroom and school whenever possible. Authentic learning and creating for an authentic audience is one of the four cornerstones of our school, and this lesson/project will be a clear demonstration of that cornerstone.

I look forward to sharing this lesson and activity with my students, and am also excited to share the results of their work and creating in this space.

To read the lesson plan and lesson rationale, please click here. Also, please check back for updates on the lesson and additional student exemplars.


References

Hobbs, R. (2011). Digital and media literacy: Connecting culture and classroom. Thousand, Oaks, CA: Corwin/Sage.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2011). Framework for 21st Century Learning. doi:10.4135/9781473935457

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Working on my Workflow: Saying Goodbye to Sticky Notes, part 1.

I have a self-imposed ban on purchasing Post-it Notes. Whenever I go into an office supply store, I am immediately drawn to the brightly colored, multi-shaped pieces of paper on which I write anything and everything. At work, sticky notes line my desk with reminders, tasks, names of students to e-mail, shopping lists, or notes to my colleagues. The only problem (other than the dent in my wallet) is that I can rarely find the sticky note I need when I need it. While sticky notes are great for text annotation and class chalk-talks, I have come to understand that they are simply not a viable organizational tool for me.

This week, I have been reflecting on my workflow and exploring the various technologies that can support me in my organizational and productivity efforts. My current system (born from my love of physical sticky notes) has been to use the Sticky Notes app on my laptop. The program remains open in my dock, and I can add color-coded notes for anything I need. This works well for me as I can take information from my e-mail, casual conversations with colleagues, notes from administration, and even assignments for my MAET program and organize them on one screen. A lover of the to-do list, I can also delete items as they are completed, offering me the sense of accomplishment created by an empty screen. My digital sticky note method has served me well so far, but I have come to recognize that it has its limits. Although this piece of technology was an initial solution, it may have turned into a hindrance.

This is my current Sticky Note screen. Green represents school-related information, yellow are drafts of e-mails, blue is information for the MAET program, and purple is personal.
This is my current Sticky Note screen. Green represents school-related information, yellow are drafts of e-mails, blue is information for the MAET program, and purple is personal.

I love that my sticky notes can remain in the background of my computer until I need them, but this system limits me to being productive or consulting my workflow list only when on my laptop. It would be far more beneficial, therefore, for me to use a system that is web-based or can be accessed from multiple devices. Similarly, if I need to share a note with a colleague in my current system, I have to send an e-mail, which adds to that colleague’s “open loops” and does not allow for seamless collaboration (Allen 2001).

References

Allen, D. (2001). Getting things done: The art of stress-free productivity. New York: Penguin.

Cover Photo: “Sticky Notes in Different Colors” by Rameshng licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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To Tweet or not to Tweet: A PLN Question

Years ago I chastised my students for their obsessive use of Twitter. I didn’t understand the concept of “following” and “re-tweeting,” and I couldn’t possibly imagine why anybody would care about what my students had for breakfast, or the other inane things my students seemed to tweet. I stood on my soapbox and declared Twitter to be useless and a complete waste of both their time and intelligence. “Read a book!” I exclaimed. “Have a real conversation!” I implored. Although I had been ensconced in the social media bubble since college (the wondrous years when Facebook was limited to registered college students and my thirteen year-old cousin didn’t have one), I could not see the light at the end of the Twitter tunnel and could never imagine using it for myself.

Oops.

Two years later, I have become a fully engaged member of the Twitter community. While I am still entirely sure that nobody cares what I had for breakfast (overnight oats with almond milk and berries, btw), I have grown to see that Twitter exists for three kinds of users, and I have finally figured out where I fit in the Twittersphere.

  • User 1: The producer of content: Primarily entertainers and other media sources, the producers of content are in constant competition with one another to post with increasing frequency and relevance. Entertainers promote their latest work, online news sources spit out content, and other celebrities or politicians post their beliefs or platforms for the world to consume.
  • User 2: The consumer of content: These Twitter users rarely tweet their own content, but often engage with Twitter as a source of information and ideas. They are likely to re-tweet others’ content even if not producing their own.
  • User 3: People who want you to know what they had for breakfast: Self-explanatory–these are the users who tweet anything and everything to build a following and be constantly engaged in social media.

Once I could organize Twitter into these three users, and identify myself as user 2 (consumer of content), I became more comfortable in my Twitter skin. I followed countless educators, blogs, colleagues, and resource sites in hopes of expanding my pedagogical toolbox and reinvigorating my teaching. Unsurprisingly, it worked! Through Twitter I have found or been inspired to create some of my best content and assessments, including the adoption of the Genius Hour project into my AP English Language and Composition class. After reading about the project on Twitter, I quoted the tweet with the comment that I “[couldn’t] wait to try this in my class!” My assistant principal tweeted back at me (a first for me) that she would support me in whatever I needed to get started, and the rest is history. Would I have had the courage to bring this new, slightly radical idea forward without the supposed anonymity of the internet? Maybe not. In this case, my personal learning network, once limited to colleagues in the lunch room and friends that I attended School of Education with, had been immediately expanded.

This was two years ago, and my engagement on Twitter has only grown from there. I am not yet a producer of content, although my MAET program is certainly getting me closer, but I do feel that my connections in the Twitter community have truly enhanced my teaching and instructional design abilities. Twitter has become a source of constant professional development, and I cannot imagine where I would be as an educator had I not abandoned my stubborn belief that Twitter was the end of intelligence.

Snapchat on the other hand… That’s a rant for another day.

PS–follow me on Twitter: @RachelLMatz and check out my “following” list for incredible educators doing incredible things!

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New Spaces; New Opportunities

Last semester in CEP 811 we designed our ideal learning spaces/classrooms using SketchUp. I was in a strange holding pattern with classrooms at this point because we were in the process of moving to a brand new building with learning communities and learning studios instead of classrooms. At the time, I had yet to see the new spaces, and I could only imagine based on blueprints and renderings what I would encounter in September.

Moving in was hectic. The building was not yet complete, and we were moving into classroom spaces that we had no idea how to use or how they would function with 1600 students moving through them on a daily basis. Now that we are two weeks in, I can’t imagine teaching in a traditional classroom ever again. I am not going to claim that everything was easy and perfect–my students still don’t know their way around the building, we don’t have our own spaces so I have no place to hang posters, leave supplies, or set up a pencil sharpener, and our technology is not yet operational; yet, I am so supremely happy with the flexibility that my new learning space is offering to both me and my students.

The first day of class, a student walked in an asked me where the front of the room was. YES. That is all I wanted! “There is no front” I replied. Multi-leveled tables and rolling chairs made for easy collaboration. The three screens in the room all projected my agenda easily so that it could be viewed from anywhere in the room. The lack of teacher-desk confused my students so they chose a seat that was comfortable, rather than being bound by rows and columns.

Where's the front? There isn't one! I can open the wall of my classroom and extend my learning environment. Each student can get what he or she needs.
Where’s the front? There isn’t one! I can open the wall of my classroom and extend my learning environment. Each student can get what he or she needs.

I have access to five classroom spaces on a daily basis. My 7 colleagues and I share a workroom where we each have a desk, and we work together to create a schedule for the five rooms that suits our instructional goals for the day. The project room (heaven) features large collaborative tables, a wall of windows for natural light, and writable surfaces for brainstorming. Learning studios A and D feature multi-level furniture in an amphitheater arrangement so everybody can see and be seen. Learning studios B and C can open into one large room or remain closed for smaller classes. All rooms open to a commons area that includes comfortable furniture, a media bar, and project-able screens so that students can collaborate in their own space.

Students move seamlessly into the commons for a more comfortable work environment.
Students move seamlessly into the commons for a more comfortable work environment.

When I first saw the design, I questioned my ability to remain sane while 1600 students went traipsing through my commons area in front of my glass wall while my students we trying to work. Now that I am living in it, I can’t say that it is perfect (the appeal of waving to your friend is sometimes too much to ignore!), but it is far more functional than I could have imagined.

Three classes work simultaneously in the commons area. Happy students. Happy teachers.
Three classes work simultaneously in the commons area. Happy students. Happy teachers.

My class starts in a “classroom” every day, but we soon find ourselves spilling out into the commons to spread out, be more comfortable, and work at our own pace. I can open the sliding glass wall of the learning studio and extend my learning environment so that students who need quiet can have it and those who want to discuss can do so. Last week, three classes were out in the common area together working and focused, with happy teachers standing by to answer questions and offer support. I now find myself looking for opportunities to spill out into the commons, where I can tell my students are more comfortable and more engaged.

My goal for this year is to remain as enthusiastic about the learning spaces as I am right now. To remember, even in challenging moments, that I have the opportunity to teach in a uniquely innovative space that will benefit my own teaching as well as my students’ learning. I have the chance to live in the space that I could only have imagined just months ago.

New space; new opportunity. New way of teaching.

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My Personal Learning Network: A Popplet Experiment

Last semester during CEP 812 I was asked to reconsider the sources that I consult for news, opinions, and educational ideas. James Gee asserts that if we become too comfortable in the sources we follow, we become complacent, only seeking information with which we know we will agree. Following this, I made it my mission to seek information from as wide a variety of sources as possible to expand my pedagogical knowledge and inspire creativity in my teaching.

This week in CEP 810, I was asked to illustrate my personal learning network using a Popplet mind-map. What I discovered in enumerating my sources is that while I have succeeded in expanding my source bank, I may still be limiting myself when it comes to the kind of sources I follow. I look forward to continuing to expand my learning network through this program as well as my own exploration.
Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 5.41.51 PM

Above is my Popplet. In its creation, I noticed that I am currently primarily a consumer of content–I find and save interesting articles or links from Twitter or blogs, attend conferences and gather information, and watch and share TEDTalks with colleagues and friends. I am not yet a creator of content, though I am expanding my content creation through this program and look forward to continuing to share ideas and examples from my own pedagogical backpack.

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MAET Blog, take one.

Today I find myself in an interesting predicament. Throughout the past school year, I asked my AP English Language and Composition students to blog their experiences in a Genius Hour project using edublogs.org. I helped them establish their blogs, provided prompting questions for inspiration, evaluated their work, and encouraged creativity in the blogging process. Yet, as I sit here establishing my own blog for the first time, I realize that I have once again asked my students to complete a task that I would struggle to complete myself!

As an educator, I pride myself on being able to model success in the classroom–I demonstrate literary annotation, successful reflection, and vocabulary usage whenever possible; however, it has become abundantly clear to me in the past 20 minutes that while I have asked 120 students to blog all year, I have no idea how to do it myself. I will consider this to be the first revelation of the MAET program for me. If I want to be a succcessful teacher, I have to be willing to try anything I would have my students do. I look forward to establishing this blog as a space where I reflect on my own teaching, share interesting experiences, and make meaningful connections about the incorporation of technology into my classroom.

Lesson learned.