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Co-constructing Criteria? Try Developing an Acronym with Students

In an effort to improve student responses to lab questions, Peggy, a Science teacher at Stratford Central Secondary School, developed a strategy for co-constructing criteria. Instead of creating a large anchor chart or poster, Peggy had students create what she calls bumper stickers. These are small pieces of paper that students will use as anchors, but keep in their notebooks.

Here are the steps Peggy used to co-construct criteria with her grade 10 Science class, followed by a short video of Peggy explaining the activity.

  1. Use an activity to create random groups or pairs.
  2. In groups or pairs, students brainstorm 3 or 4 steps or strategies that they follow when answering questions. Students use small white boards and dry erase markers to record their brainstorming.
  3. Once the group agrees on their criteria for answering questions, one group member transfers the steps or strategies to the blackboard.
  4. As a class, the students and teacher organize the information, grouping like ideas with like ideas, until they have distilled the criteria to 6 points.
  5. The class then comes up with a word for each point and they use these words to create an acronym.

Peggy’s class came up with the acronym SPLASH

S – Snap the question (identify the given and requested information)
P – No pronouns. Be specific.
L – Language. Use scientific language.
A – What is the question asking? Am I answering the question?
S – Support my thinking with evidence like diagrams.
H – Use half of the question in my answer (wording).

Peggy explains her activity and SPLASH in this short video clip.

I’m very sad to share the news of Peggy’s death just a little over a week after we filmed and posted this video. Please consider this blog post and video as a tribute to a truly exceptional teacher. Peggy, we will miss you.

Photo by / CC BY-NC 2.0

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Will Our Digital Lives Become Digital Histories?

A recent episode of Spark on CBC radio made me think about the way we teach history.

The program dealt, in part, with using digital technology to preserve memories, heritage and culture. In a particularly poignant story, Meryl Swiatek recalls finding a cassette tape of her mother reading children’s stories nearly nine years after her mother died of cancer.

Meryl notes the importance of technology in preserving the memory of her mom and comments,

“. . . that got me thinking about how my life is preserved. I have almost 1000 twitter updates . . . and a handful of videos on YouTube. I preserve myself and my life digitally every single day without even thinking about it.”

And that got me thinking about the first time I ventured down this thought path. It started as a conversation about narrative when Alec Couros @courosa helped me recognize how the digital medium changes story telling.

And that is where I was stuck for oh . . . 5 months.

Although we weren’t discussing history in these tweets (above) , that is where this has ended up for me.

Digital History

The internet has no shortage of digital history resources. Digital history involves the use of digital media to preserve, present and study history. Scanned archives, audio files, timelines and interactive maps are examples of digital history and history teachers are using these resources to bring history to life for students. But there is no reason why history students shouldn’t contribute to the digital history ‘pool’. Ideally, they should be creating digital history resources by capturing oral histories and archiving documents and they should learn these research and archiving skills in their history classes. The CBC Spark episode referenced at the beginning of this post provides suggestions and ideas for scanning and capturing audio, including interviewing tips.

Currently, digital history seems confined to websites or blogs as public museums or places that house resources for the study of history. It has yet to fully embrace the idea of digital texts as primary sources. If we are preserving ourselves and our lives digitally every single day, these records will be the historical evidence we use tomorrow.

Shouldn’t students’ research skills shift to consider digital resources, like websites, blogs and tweets, as historical texts? If a diary entry is a primary source, a blog post is a primary source. Shouldn’t students understand how they differ (hint: audience and purpose) and how that shapes the reading of these texts?

Will political historians consider tweets?

What will the future make of tweets like this one by President Obama (or his ghost tweeter) which may have been read by as many as 3,477,140 of his Twitter followers?

What happens to the study of history in a world of living documents?

What happens to social history in the world of social media?

What happens when our students ask “how do we reference twitter in an essay?”

Please share your thoughts on our digital lives becoming digital histories.

Photo by / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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Classroom Structure and Social Learning

Classroom Structure and Social Learning

Last week I was at St Marys DCVI for one of our board’s teacher inquiry meetings. At the end of the session, Richard Farmer, an English teacher with an interest in technology and cooperative learning, asked me if I would like to see some of the structural changes he has made in his classroom.

Richard does not have expensive, new materials in his room. He has salvaged tables from around the school, but the arrangement of his classroom space speaks to the value he places on social learning. Here are two video clips and some pictures. Richard has given me permission to share.

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Effective Teaching Practices for Reaching Boys

In the December/January issue of Phi Delta Kappan, Michael Reichert and Richard Hawley explore effective teaching practices for reaching boys. In their study, they looked for common characteristics of effective practice reported by a large sample of teachers and boys. Teachers were asked to recount the story of an effective practice they have used and male students were asked to tell “the story of a class experience that stood out as being especially memorable.” Schools from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, South Africa and Australia participated in the study.

Reichert and Hawley note the following:

Boys are relational learners.

Teachers who experience success with boys emphasize the relational dimension of teaching, “regardless of the subject”. The boys Reichert and Hawley interviewed recognized and acknowledged when a teacher was open “to what interested, excited, and worried them.”

Boys elicit the kinds of teaching they need.

If either the content or the way it is conveyed to boys is not ‘right’ boys will disengage. As Reichert and Hawley explain, “boys will engage in either passive inattention or diverting disruption.” The teacher will know when he/she has made the proper adjustments when “better engagement, sustained effort and mastery on the boys’ part” is evident.

Lessons must have an element that interests students and holds that interest. Examples include unexpected surprise, kinesthetic activities or competition.

What can we do in Avon Maitland?

Continue to focus on knowing the learner through individualized conversations with students.

Use class profiles, interest surveys and student feedback when designing lessons and activities.

Create fluid and flexible lessons that allow us to make the proper adjustments when we see that students are not engaged rather than expect students to conform to a specific teacher’s prescribed approach.

Recognize that student interests and readiness may vary from semester to semester and from class to class.

Differentiate instruction based on student readiness and interest.

In order for this to happen, the teacher must be an empathetic, reflective practitioner and willing to take risks and try new teaching and learning strategies.

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Creativity and Critical Thinking: An Unlikely Comparison?

Sir Ken Robinson and Steve Martin

As I began sorting through the idea of creativity and critical thinking, I remembered watching Steve Martin’s biography. In 1993, Martin wrote a play called Picasso at the Lapin Agile in which he creates a fictional encounter between Picasso and Einstein in the year 1904. In Martin’s words, “the play attempts to explain, in a light-hearted way, the similarity of the creative process involved in great leaps of imagination in art and science.” Picasso brags about his artistic ability, commenting that it is all in the wrist and the wrist starts in the head. He says, “If I think it, I can draw it.” Einstein confesses that he works “the same way” and makes “beautiful things with a pencil.”

I started thinking about Picasso at the Lapin Agile after reading this statement by Sir Ken Robinson:

A big part of being creative is looking for new ways of doing things within whatever activity you’re involved in. 

Einstein and Picasso did this.

Robinson also states that you “can be creative in math, science, music, dance, cuisine, teaching, running a family or engineering. Because creativity is a process of having original ideas that have value.”

Martin understands that the creative process applies to any activity (as well he should, since he is an art collector, musician, comedian, actor, author, director and playwright).

If you are interested, watch part of Charleston Stage’s version of Picasso at the Lapin Agile (a little explicit language at the beginning). If you cue the video to 8:35 you will see Picasso and Einstein compete to make something beautiful with their pencils. When they are done they argue.

Picasso: Mine touches the heart

Einstein: Mine touches the head

Picasso: Mine will change the future

Einstein: And mine won’t?

Photo by: / CC BY-NC 2.0

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Exploring the Relationship Between Creativity and Critical Thinking

One of the problems that I face in my job as a curriculum co-ordinator is making sense of large amounts of new information and research, particularly if the new information pushes against some of my previously held beliefs and understandings. I am also challenged to turn a sea of information into a clear picture or message I can share with others. If I exposed my process for sorting through information, you would see that I take a lot of tangents, engage people in conversations that help me verbalize my thoughts, and make connections to texts that provide examples, or non examples, to help me clarify my thinking.

Over the next few posts, I am going to expose my thinking as I try to sort through something that Sir Ken Robinson said about creativity and critical thinking in his a September interview for ASCD’s Educational Leadership. He stated that “people see creativity and critical thinking as being opposed.” I am guilty of this. When I think of critical thinking, I think of analyzing and deconstructing, questioning and challenging. When I think of creativity I see inspiration and the formulation or making of something. I agree with Robinson when he says, “you can’t be creative if you don’t do something” and I also agree when he goes on to explain how creativity applies to any subject or activity. In this particular interview, however, he alludes to the idea that creativity and critical thinking are not opposites, but he doesn’t help me reconcile my definitions of creativity and critical thinking. Add to this all of the reading I have been doing about 21st century skills (including creativity and critical thinking) and my thinking is muddy.

If you want to wade through the mud with me, click here to listen to an excerpt of Why Creativity Now? A Conversation with Sir Ken Robinson or click here for the full interview.

Photo by: / CC BY-NC 2.0

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