Author Archives: katevosburg

About katevosburg

I live to love, and I love to laugh!

Teaching as Learning

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It’s always messy, and it’s always fun.

 Photo by Lester Public Library

This past week, one of my classes required me to write a proposal for implementing a Personal Learning Network (PLN) for faculty in the district as well as an assignment in which students somehow engage with a Personal Learning Network.

When I began working on the proposal and assignment, I had no idea what a PLN was, let alone how it was beneficial to teachers and students.  In order to write the proposal, I had to read a lot about PLNs from many different sources.  I read about what they are, how they function, what benefits they offer, and why some aspects of them may generate resistance.  However, after reading about PLNs from so many different sources and reflecting on my own PLN—which I did not realize existed until I began working—I was able to put together the following proposal.

Creating the students’ assignment was difficult in a different way.  While writing my proposal, I had been thinking about how Personal Learning Networks were appropriate for the professional development of teachers.  The student assignment, on the other hand, required that I think about how Personal Learning Networks can become relevant to students.  I was required to think through the process of creating a PLN as well as the learning objectives that I wanted my students to achieve in the process.  In the end, I decided to require a written reflection and presentation on what and how students learned about Personal Learning Networks.  By discussing the reflection and presentation at the beginning of the project, I hoped to encourage students to monitor and record their own learning.  This project was as much about helping the students to see how they learn as it was about the content they were learning through creating a PLN.

In order to teach  someone else, one has to have a pretty deep understanding of the topic.  When I originally approached the topic of Personal Learning Networks, I knew almost nothing about them.  I began reading about them, but I found that reading a couple of articles on their use was not enough.  It may have been enough to grasp them myself, but it certainly did not provide the type of deep understanding that I needed in order to propose their use in professional development purposes as well as in the classroom.  I finally gathered enough information by reading materials from a lot of different sources, visiting suggested social media and social bookmarking sites, and reflecting on my online activities of the past few months, during which i was unconsciously building a PLN.  By reflecting on my own learning, I was able to anticipate possible benefits and resistance to PLNs.  I was also able to decide what I would want my students to learn as they were creating their own PLNs; I included the reflection component because I felt that my own reflection was the most important part of my learning.  Teaching others–colleagues and students–about the creation and value of PLNs was certainly an effective way of learning about Personal Learning Networks myself.

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Collaboration as Living, Breathing Learning

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Using collaboration in the classroom is now more important than ever before.  Over the course of the past three-hundred years in America, education has evolved.  Some would say that it has not evolved quickly enough, however.  Education cannot seem to keep pace with our constantly-shifting society.  Now, because of the massive changes that we have seen over the past twenty years due to technological innovations, education seems to be farther behind than ever.  Yet, many educators are taking great strides to remedy this gap between the modern world and traditional education.  In my opinion, fostering meaningful collaboration in our classrooms should be our first aim.

Outside of school, students are connected to one another almost constantly through Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, Flickr, online video games, and hundreds of other social networking sites and applications.  Anything that these students want to say or show is broadcast almost instantaneously to these communities, members of which have the option of responding.  For today’s students, this has become commonplace, not something to be amazed or totally baffled by, which—because of my placement on the edge of the digital immigrant and digital native generations—I see as a completely legitimate reaction.

But it’s not just students who are becoming dependent on social media.  Many adults are joining the social networking communities as well.  Employers and employees are relying more and more on such technologies for communication and collaboration within and outside of the workplace.  As we move deeper into the twenty-first century, today’s students will certainly need to have experience using digital media, especially social media and collaborative technologies, in order to succeed in their chosen fields.

Because of the changing nature of our society, and the changing way that we interact, technology has become integral to collaboration.  Therefore, we should make use of its capacity to connect people within a single classroom or across the world.  Not only can we use such technologies to stimulate engagement, but also to promote meaningful engagement.  By working collaboratively within the classroom or with others outside of it, students encounter new perspectives and ideas, navigate disagreements, adjust understandings, and learn when to lead and when to follow.  Meaningful interaction can occur face-to-face or digitally; it doesn’t depend on the medium but on the instruction, project, and student goals.  Collaboration allows students to approach the learning process together and teach one another.  Why not use students’ interest in being connected to other people to our (and their) advantage?

A Digital Story: The Making of

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My Puppy Adventure

Choosing a Story

Choosing a story was difficult for me.  I wanted to choose and engaging story, but I couldn’t think of anything really exciting that has happened to me which I could explain within five minutes.  Not only was time an issue, but the format also made it difficult.  Digital Stories are stories presented through visuals, such as images and video.  What story could I tell that would be visually stimulating?

I brainstormed a few different ideas, including my trip to Ireland, my first time on a roller coaster, or bonding with my college roommate for the first time.  All of these sounded like good ideas, but I kept changing my mind.  My trip to Ireland would be nice to show, but it would mainly be made up of actual photos of me in different locations.  It might become repetitive and fragmented instead of a coherent story.  My first time on a roller coaster sounds good, but how many pictures of a roller coaster ride could my audience handle?  Finally, I love my college roommate and the story of how we became friends, but it may not be as meaningful to anyone else.  Finally, I decided to tell a recent story that I remembered well and that had a few funny moments: My Puppy Adventure.

Searching for Media

Searching for media was very difficult because I needed to find images that would not infringe on copyright laws.  I spent a long time searching sites such as Freerange, FreeDigitalPhotos, Stock.xchng, and Stockvault.  However, the images on these sites first had to be downloaded to my computer instead of copy the image’s URL, which does not use any of my computer’s memory space.  They also had nice photos, but not necessarily pictures of what I was looking for.

Finally, I discovered a very easy way to search for the pictures I needed.  Creative Commons offers a search site which allows people to search for copyright-free media, including images, videos, and music on Google, Google Images, Flickr, Fotopedia, and many other sites.  Finally, I found 36 images to fit my story.

Piecing Together a Coherent Digital Story

After I had collected my images and put them in order, it was easy to insert them into Windows MovieMaker.  The difficult part was recording the narration, adding transitions, and timing the pictures to suit the narration.  I had to listen to my narration many times, stopping every four to five seconds in order to adjust the duration of my images.  After I had added transitions between pictures, I had to readjust the timing again because the transitions lasted anywhere from two to four seconds.  Perfecting the timing of the narration and images was certainly the most time-consuming and frustrating part of the entire process.

Finished Product

I am proud of the Digital Story that I created and the work that I put into it.  However, were I to do it again, I would make use of many lessons I have learned during the process.  First, my project was heavily reliant upon narration.  I think that it worked well for my learning in this project, but next time I create a Digital Story, I may try to use only images.  It would be a challenge to tell a story without narration.  Second, I would immediately make use of the Creative Commons search site and save myself a lot of time searching for media.  In addition, originally, I had planned on inputting sound effects and music, but after adjusting the timing twice, I decided that I could not go through with it again.  Were I to do the project over again, I would create one sound file in Audacity which condensed all of my narration, music, and sound effects into one MP3 file.  Overall, I am happy with my finished product, and I am happy with what I have learned about the process of creating a Digital Story.

A Story of Stories

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I am currently working on creating a digital story which will tell the story of my search to find the perfect puppy.  I have been thinking a lot about the role of stories in schools and in life, especially after reading Daniel Pink’s “Story.”  All of these thoughts have reminded me of something that I read as a college freshman but had completely forgotten about: The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination by Robert Coles.

Robert Coles’ educational philosophy is based on his experience as a resident psychologist in a psychiatric ward.  His encounter with two different supervisors allowed him to compare and contrast different methods of “treating” patients.  The first supervisor, Dr. Binger, was very famous in the field, and his practices were based on theory and objectivity.  He instructed Coles to maintain a distance from his patients, decide what he believed to be the problem, and then prescribe a treatment.

Dr. Ludwig, on the other hand, encouraged Coles to be more open to listening.  He told Coles to let the patients tell him their story.  He must then interpret the patient’s story correctly.  In order to do so, Coles cannot be objective, he must be subjective.

Each approach led to very different results.  Dr. Binger’s method caused Coles to be distanced from the patient and to decide on a diagnosis before really listening to or even visiting the patient.  Dr. Ludwig’s approach on the other hand, allowed Coles to really learn from each patient and their experiences.  Each person told a story and it was Coles’ job to interpret it.  Coles describes what is most valuable about the stories: “Our patients all too often come to us with preconceived notions of what matters, what doesn’t matter, what should be stressed, what should be overlooked, just as we come with our own lines of inquiry.  [Dr. Ludwig] pointed out that patients shape their accounts accordingly, even as we shape what we have heard into our own version of someone’s troubles” (13,14).  Patients answer questions based on what they think we need to hear and may not know that other aspects of their lives may be even more important.

The point is Coles’ experiences directly relate to education.  Dr. Ludwig’s method of storytelling is based on respect and trust.  Without the patient’s trust, the doctor cannot effectively treat him or her.  Similarly, in an educational setting, the teacher must gain the trust of the student in order for the student to be open to learning.  It also illustrates that teachers and students can learn from one another.  In his sessions, Coles became the student, while the patient became the teacher.  The roles of student and teacher sometimes interchange.  The learning environment becomes open and “safe.”  Students trust that they can express their own views, while still welcoming other opinions.  Another important principle is that expectations can affect the outcome.  As Coles learned, a doctor’s expectations of a patient can lead to an incorrect or incomplete diagnosis.  Both doctors and teachers need to rid themselves of these types of preconceived notions.  The contrast between Dr. Binger and Dr. Ludwig most pointedly illustrates a teacher’s purpose.  Dr. Binger instructed Coles based on what he thought was important.  Dr. Ludwig, on the other hand, listened to Coles and tried to guide him.  Dr. Ludwig was most effective because he showed Coles, not what to learn, but how to learn.  Shouldn’t that be every teacher’s aim?

Conspiracy Theories: Collaborative Podcast

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Please click HERE to view our Radio Show Podcast on Conspiracy Theories!

I had so much fun creating this podcast!  It was definitely difficult but in a different way than typical homework assignments.  It was worth the struggle, in more ways than one.

First, I loved the experience of collaborating with my classmates, John and Tim.  If I had tried to create the podcast by myself, it would not have been nearly as fun.  The experience of collaboratively writing a script and using pieces of each person’s input gave each of us better ideas.  It became a better piece because there were three minds working on it instead of one.  Making mistakes was also a lot more fun when I had others to laugh about it with.

Second, I have never made a radio show before, and I learned a lot about the process.  It was really difficult to each write a different section of the show while keeping elements consistent, such as the personalities of the narrators, the tone of the dialogue, target length, etc.  These are components of any radio show or podcast that I didn’t consider until I actually made one.

Third, I have a whole new appreciation for those who use audio and video editing software with proficiency.  This is the second project for which I have used Audacity, and I have certainly improved a lot.  However,  it still took hours to edit out all of our mistakes, input sound effects, music, and commercial breaks, and time everything correctly.  When using technology, there are always all sorts of complications, such as needing the LAME software in order to convert Audacity projects to MP3 files.  Trying to get music files to one another without actually driving to meet one another and without being able to convert to MP3 files forced us to find many ways around these limitations.

Finally, I was really proud of our final product.  We all worked so hard to make the radio show the best that it could be within the time frame.  I found myself working for hours to get the timing perfectly right on each section and element of the show.  I certainly cluttered up my computer with so many saved “in-progress” files.  It was all worth it when we shared in class and saw that our classmates enjoyed it as well.  Since we were actually going to be sharing 20-minutes worth of our work, we wanted to make sure it would be 20 minutes well spent.

I think the benefits of using technologies such as podcasts in the classroom are fairly obvious here.  Our group spent a lot of time (too much time in relation to the work we put off for other classes!) and effort on creating a product that we could be proud of.  Students, when given an assignment in which they are encouraged to use so much creativity and that will actually be showcased for others to view, will put a lot more effort into the project.  This added effort will also result in more learning because the skills that we utilized writing, performing, compiling, and editing this podcast are certainly applicable to other genres, disciplines, and the Common Core State Standards.

 

For more information and outtakes, view our “The making Of” Video.

Standardized Testing: Crushing Diversity–All People, Every Time

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On Tuesday, I took part in my very first Twitter Chat.  It was called #edchat and moderated by Tom Whitby.  I have to say that I was very impressed.  I loved the passion and diversity of ideas that so many people brought to the conversation.  A variety of very good questions were tackled, but as all conversations concerning education tend to do, it gradually turned to a discussion of standardized testing.

It gets tiring talking about these tests because of the intense feelings of frustration and helplessness that it generates in most of us.  However, it is obviously one of the most pressing issues facing teachers today, so I guess it’s time I talked about it.

Crushing Diversity on a Daily Basis

What bothers me most about standardized testing is that it completely squashes diversity.  This has consequences across the board.  It ignores diversity of ideas, perspectives, passions, problems, and locations.  It ignores the diversity of people.

First, it completely ignores the diversity of students.  Students have truly terrific and varied ideas.  They also have different passions and learning needs.  No two learners are exactly alike, but the multiple-choice format of standardized curriculum tests in no way represent this reality.  Students are all channeled down the same path, and they either begin to homogenize their thinking or resist and become “at-risk.”

Second, standardized testing and teaching leaves little room for diversity of teachers.  Each teacher has his or her own passions, knowledge, and instructional style.  They have different pedagogical beliefs as well.  Teachers bring their own strengths and weaknesses to the classroom.  Any teaching style can be effective if it is used by the teacher who suits it best.  However, standardized testing does not value diversity in teachers or teaching styles.  It places little confidence in teachers as a whole.

Lastly, this type of testing ignores the diversity of people from different areas.  I understand that there should be national standards which every school should strive to meet.  However, I also believe that learning should be unique to place.  I first encountered David Sobel’s theory of Place-Based Education as an undergraduate.  I fell in love.  I absolutely support the idea that students should learn about their own places, not only those that have become the most popular tourist destinations.  It is important for students to feel knowledgeable about the places in which they live and to critically examine these places.  Each community has so much to offer.

It is ridiculous to think that with such varied people and places as our nation holds, we should all be learning the exact same things in the exact same way.

Student-Centered Choices

As is illustrated in the image above, teaching involves a lot of things, but the most important part of teaching is the students.  Standardized testing (arguably) takes into account the government’s role in education, the economy’s welfare (irony intended), the nation’s standing in the world, and even the teacher’s role.  What it lacks is any consideration of the students’ learning needs.

Whether the current system remains in place for many years to come or not, this is where teachers come in.  Teachers have to find ways to prepare students for the tests because whether we agree with them or not, these tests are valued “measurements.”  However, at the same time, we cannot allow diversity in our classroom to be destroyed, and we must always put students’ needs first.

Making decisions about our teaching methods can be very difficult, but remembering one thing can help make our choices easier: Students need to be the clear focus of our choices.  No matter what choices we make, they are defensible if we are making the best choice available to us for our students.

Children Today: “Glad I never was one”

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“They’re all mistakes, children! Filthy, nasty things. Glad I never was one”

 

Sound familiar?  This quote is taken from the film MatildaMiss Trunchbull, Matilda’s principal, ranks number three on Time Magazine’s “Top Ten Bad Teachers.”  All of the characters listed in the top ten are exaggerated versions of teachers that epitomize all of the qualities that we wouldn’t want in an educator.

The fact that Time Magazine felt the need to create this list reveals the climate in which we live.  The government and the public are ready to blame teachers for all of schools’ ills, and teachers are made to be villains such as Miss Trunchbull.

“Glad I never was one”

However, there is a ring of truth in each of these teachers.  Miss Trunchbull articulates one of the main difficulties in teaching today’s students.  Because of new technologies, more graphic movies and video games, and the super-influence of the media, today’s students are so different from how we remember ourselves as children.  In addition, as we get older, we grow more removed from the daily lives, concerns, struggles, and triumphs of adolescence.  We begin to feel as if we were never children, at least not children like them.

 

“I’m big and you’re small, I’m right and you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

We tend to fear difference, otherness, the unknown.  Adolescents today often fall into this category.  Teachers most certainly care about their students.  We want to help them develop into competent, confident adults, but our ideas about what this means are often different from those of our students.  Unfortunately, our students also often misinterpret our fears and misunderstandings to be the type of statement above.  We fail to understand them, and they fail to understand us.

We have to acknowledge that students today aren’t like us because they have grown up in a different world.  We are responsible for the world that they are now living in, and it’s not an easy one.  Children are growing up differently, and often much more quickly in today’s world.  According to Josephine Peyton Young, Deborah R. Dillon, and Elizabeth Birr Moje’s “Shape-shifting portfolios: Millennial youth, literacies, and the game of life” (2008), “Young people today face unprecedented levels of poverty and violence” (16).   One in three  kids will live in poverty at some point during their childhood, and 75% of the industrialized world’s violent youth deaths occur in the United States (16-17).

Regardless of our different worlds, adolescents still feel many of the pressures that we felt at their age: the pressure to fit in, do well in school (but not too well), excel in sports, and please their parents, while at the same time forming their own unique identities.  Adolescents just go about navigating these pressures in different ways. Despite, or perhaps in spite of, these pressures, most teens juggle life at home, at school, with friends, and online very successfully.

In order to reconnect with adolescence, we need to remember our own experiences.  However, we also have to allow that when adolescents claim that we “don’t understand,”  we may really not understand.  We should try to connect to the worlds that adolescents are living in, whether that be by creating a Twitter account, allowing students to work collaboratively, or even simply admitting, “I don’t understand.  Can you please explain?”

Technology—The Great Equalizer?

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Usually, simply using the term “technology” makes us think of inequality, deficits.  It leads us to think of the huge gaps between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the possibilities and reality.  However, I would like to suggest that technology can also help promote equality in our classrooms.


As I was reading Dr. Richard Curwin‘s blog post “Reframing: Seeing Students in a New Way,” one phrase was particularly meaningful to me: “Fair is not equal.”

“Fair is Not Equal”

As students of the theory of Differentiated Instruction know, “fair” means “same,” but treating everyone the same does not always result in equality.  Instead, we may need to treat students very differently in order to get them each to reach the desired results.

In order to make this concept clear, I always think of an activity that one of my professors used in his classroom.

  1. Hand each student a slip of paper with a different ailment printed on it.  For example, they may say “papercut,” “headache,” “brain tumor,” etc.
  2. Have students write down the symptoms of their ailment.
  3. Claim that you are going to cure all of the students’ illnesses.
  4. Walk around the room and give each student two M&Ms, claiming that they are Tylenol.

As soon as he began handing out the M&Ms, the students began complaining that Tylenol would not cure them.  Those with the most severe illnesses were most upset.  My professor would then turn the discussion into a lesson on how giving everyone the same instruction or treatment may not result in everyone being equal.  Instead, students should be given as little or as much support as they need in order to reach the class’s learning goals.

Technology to the Rescue!


Technology can assist in our efforts to differentiate our lessons.  We can provide supplemental instructional tools, such as online educational games or explanatory websites.  By incorporating technology and multimodality in assessment, we can encourage students to demonstrate their learning in ways that they are most capable.

This can be especially valuable for those students who do not excel in reading or writing, or according to Howard Gardner, those who are not Linguistic learners.  By utilizing technology, we can reach other types of learners such as those described in Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.  Using technology to provide examples, illustrations, or support collaborative activities in our lessons can be very valuable to many different types of students.

Everyone is different, and in order to recognize and value these differences, we may need to treat or teach students differently.  Technology is another resource that we can use to help all students reach our learning goals.  The important thing to remember is that our expectations do not change, only our methods.

Here’s to Joining the 21st Century!

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Isn’t Twitter fantastic?  Now that I am a professional blogger (ha ha), I have decided that I need to look at other blogs dealing with issues in Education and Educational technology.  At first, I had no idea where to start.  Well, I happened to check my Twitter account, and the very first tweet I saw was posted by Edutopia to thank their many bloggers.  Thank you, Edutopia!

Philly Teacher’s blog post “The Four Pillars of Technology Use in the Classroom”  really caught my attention.  These are the four pillars upon which this Technology Teacher’s curriculum rests:

I have been reading and thinking a lot about the learning needs and preferences of the Digital Generation, and I think that these four pillars create a very holistic approach to technology and classroom instruction because they:

  1. Promote skills—communicating and collaborating with others, evaluating information, and creating new texts—that are crucial to success in today’s job market.  Students need to know how to access the information they need, how to effectively evaluate this information, and how to communicate and collaborate on projects and problems.  Most importantly, they need to develop the creativity necessary to the act of creation.  The factory jobs of the 19th century are no longer available; we need students who are confident and competent at using technology to enhance their own success.
  2. Are research-based.   Benjamin Bloom created in the 1950s what is now known as Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Those familiar with the revised version will notice that two of the four pillars find a place on Bloom’s taxonomy.  Those that do not—Communicate and Collaborate—have and are becoming extremely important to life in today’s society.  Therefore, I recommend that these four pillars be dubbed “The 21st Century Taxonomy.”
  3. Give teachers a place to start.  Look at the four pillars again.  Aren’t you already teaching these skills?  Doesn’t your instruction contain instances in which students need to communicate, collaborate, evaluate, or create?  Certainly it does!  The technologies listed next to the pillars provide examples of tools that can augment what you are already doing!  Believe it or not, many of these technologies actually make it easier on the teacher!
  4. Provide focus (for the teacher and the students).   Philly Teacher did not keep these pillars to herself; instead, she shared them with her students, and then helped them explore the meaning of the terms by using Think-Pair-Share exercises (developing students’ communication and collaboration skills while discussing these terms!).
  5. Promote student engagement and investment.  Students at the preteen/teen age LOVE to talk.  Why not make use of this desire by not only allowing but encouraging students to communicate and collaborate in order to evaluate or create?  Students actually like creating new things when they are allowed to work together.

My only suggestion would be to switch the first and last pillars so that they read:

Create

Evaluate

Collaborate

Communicate

This way, they more closely resemble Bloom’s taxonomy.  Students work in logical order from the bottom, upward; from easiest to most difficult.  (This way even visually the skills create a sort of staircase from bottom to top).

These are just a few reasons why I respect these four pillars of focus so much.  I would suggest attempting to adopt them in your own classroom.  Part of the reason that I created this post is to keep a record of them for myself!

Kudos to Philly Teacher and all teachers who are making real efforts to meet the needs of this new, very different generation.  Here’s to joining the 21st century!