Authenticity- Learning and Assessment

Many of us are asking what the school of the future should look like–what experiences students should have, how we can assess, how we can make sure the students learn the state and local curricular objectives, what experiences are crucial,  where it should happen, how technology plays a role, and the questions we have go on and on and on…

Many research studies have shown the importance of relationships in learning, and recent ones speak to the importance of the one between teacher and student.

My personal belief is that students are a lot more competent than we ever give them credit for, and sometimes all we need is to do is get out of their way.

I am a Gifted Resource Teacher. In my division, that means we have a lot of leeway in the services we provide our students.  For good or bad, it means I can really individualize and provide a lot of unique experiences to my kids, since I’m NOT locked into a core subject, for the most part. I am responsible to make sure they are challenged, and they grow in all areas–not just their area of strength or the subject I am working with them at a specific time. I do teach a 3rd grade and 5th grade math class 4/5 days a week, but even those classes can be flexibly scheduled, and because I teach the highest performing kids (who are not all identified kids) I can compact the curriculum and still have time to support kids as they  pursue their passions.

At the beginning of the year, I gave my kids wikis and some of them moved, in January, to blogging as well. It is amazing to me to see how they are using the various media and to see what I am learning about them through the  freedom and latitude I give them in these venues. I am learning more about them through this work than I could have ever imagined–I am seeing what they enjoy in their lives outside of school, how much they are motivated to learn, how much they challenge themselves, how much initiative they show and I am discovering what topics and activities truly draw out their passion!

I have become involved in a child’s struggle as she watches a beloved horse begin to slip downhill from a battle with cancer. I listen to her fears and show my compassion for her impending loss.

I am intrigued by another’s grappling to explain thinking processes clearly as she attempts to describe her fascination with and understanding of math through “math tricks.” She also maintains a fictional writing blog called “Duck In for a Story.”

I see leadership in some students  in the wikimail exchanges I read–skills I generally do not see visibly in school.

I watch a young man aspire to become part of a parent’s passion as he begins an independent study on Shakespeare in 5th grade.

I am amazed at just how GEEKY some of these kids are and how fast they figure out how to embed videos, create Google polls with Google forms and analyze the responses they get in spreadsheets.

I support them as they they ask to figure out why we are having such an unusually cold and snowy winter.

I have a 10 year old girl who wants to know how computers work on the inside–even to the differences between laptops and desktop machines.

I have another who is enthralled with the digital fabrication lab we have, wanting to create a 3-D eagle that really can fly. (She is trying to decide whether she wants to major in physics in college or become a veterinarian, as she writes passionately about her riding on her “Horsin’ Around” blog.)

My 8 yo third graders have created an Earth Protection Club on a wiki–their description of it says, “The Earth Protection club is about saving the earth and ways to clean up the earth so we can have a better place to live!” They talk about protecting endangered animals and getting together to clean up the environment. I believe these are pretty hefty goals for very young children!

I only have 2 who are heavily into gaming–but as they share code to play the games better across their wikimail, I realize again how much we underestimate  students’ abilities, how much the rote learning opportunities provided in school must bore them.

Yet, many of my kids said to me yesterday  (after returning to school from nearly a two week closure of schools due to weather) that they were so happy to be back and they hoped we got to keep coming to school. When I asked why, a HUGE part of their wanting to be back was the face to face social interactions and the mentoring and support they receive from intelligent others. They KNOW they don’t know everything, nor do they know HOW to learn everything they want to learn–and they want that support to learn and understand deeply.

And, as for assessment, I DO know what my kids know and need to learn in much of their assigned grade level curricular areas.

Exploring all of this UNASSIGNED work the students do OUTSIDE of school,  I can clearly talk with parents and the students about the strengths and weaknesses they have in the areas of literacy.  I can make lesson plans and personalize the lessons to individuals or small group to target the skills they will be tested on in the state writing tests they will take in a couple of weeks.

Yes, it takes time for me to look through the work they do.

Yes, some are more motivated than others to produce on the web in these areas.

Yes, the work is not done on any particular timeline that fits MY schedule.

BUT the student work is authentic, it engages them in real world topics,  it gives them choice, allows for novelty and variety and they learn from one another as they explore what others are studying and we share, discuss and delve into their projects together in class. (See the Schlechty Center’s work on engagement.)

It IS powerful learning.

It IS powerful engagement.

It is NOT compliance.

And, we are all confident they will pass the tests with flying colors.

Monitoring Wikis

I have had elementary students on wikispaces wikis for 3 years now. Over those 3 years, I have learned much about how to work the system to most thoroughly  monitor everything the kids do–creating or making changes on pages, wiki-mailing one another and participating in discussions on other students’ pages. Recently several people in my county have asked for help, and so I tweeted out an older page I had created with some tips and tricks. There you can find a sample parent note and a permission form.  Then, several folks in my PLN had comments or questions, so I thought I’d share what I do here.

First, for those of you new to wikis, (or unfamiliar with creating web pages or sites), let me give a fairly easy analogy.  Each wiki is sort of like a folder–it is a central place where the owner or organizer can add different sections, much as a folder can hold only a few or many papers.  The wiki is the container, and the pages created on that wiki are all inside of that container.  (It’s like a folder that has papers inside.)  What I typically do for my classes is create a group wiki, and give each kid their own separate wiki, and then connect those by listing each student on the main wiki. I then link that student name to that specific child’s wiki. So I nest the names of other folders within the main folder–or wikis connected to the main wiki. (See William’s wiki–he has clearly named the lists he has connected to in his navigation pane.) For example, under his cluster map is a list of the pages he has created, under that is a list of links (webpages) he likes, and then a list of school wikis and then other student wikis.

Screen shot 2010-02-12 at 2.23.26 PM

As you set up a wikispace for your class, think through how much you want to monitor, how you’ll use the space, and how you want your students to interact. The way you organize the space will DEFINITELY impact how the students support and talk to each other.

I typically set up the students with accounts on wikispaces, as it is extremely easy.  Simply create a list of student names and accompanying passwords in a spreadsheet and upload it as you  use the “usercreator” in the “manage wiki” area. I typically name the student logins with their first name and our school initials–paulacres would be mine, for example. Then I create the passwords all the same to begin with so that logging in for the first time is easy.

As I create the student accounts, I attach MY email to each one. I use a trick that works with a gmail account so that every single wikimail the kids send comes to MY email account. The trick is this:  each student email is mygmailname+studentname@gmail.com.  So, if I had a child named Drew, and my gmail account is whiteclass@gmail.com) the email I attach to the drewcres account is whiteclass+drewcres@gmail.com.  (Google mail does not recognize whatever comes after the +symbol, but it still sends that mail to MY account.) Then, I set up my gmail account to be forwarded to my school account and also set up a rule to send all wikispaces messages to a folder on my computer so it does NOT stay in my school account OR my gmail account and they are all located in one folder that I can read with or without internet access. As they come in, it shows who is sending the wikimail AND who the wikimail is addressed to, so I have a clear record of who sends and receives the mail.

I spend some up front time creating each student wiki and setting up the main page for accessing each one (such as the Crozet 5th math page).  Since I create it, I then have the ability to accept or deny other members of this wiki. I begin by inviting the named student to the wiki and making him or her an organizer so they can do the same, and they have the ability to change the appearance of their wiki.

At the top of the wiki is a tab called notify me.  As the teacher, I want to be notified of ALL changes on the entire wiki, so I make sure I set it so that I get notified of ALL changes in both the discussion tab and on the pages, wiki-wide. Make sure you don’t select JUST the changes on the home page as you create each student wiki.

When I introduce wikis to the students and have them login the first time, I give them certain rules AND also have them change certain settings on their wiki.

First, we all go to the account settings together, and

1. they select the correct time zone,

2. change the setting about wikimail to “ONLY allow private messages from other members of wikis I belong to

3. change email private messages to YES

4. change email monitored changes to YES.

With those settings, as the teacher, I get notified of every change made and every email written and sent.

Secondly, I tell them the following things:

1. This wiki is set up under the umbrella of you as a student at Crozet Elementary School so any rule in place here at school is in place with the wiki–appropriate behavior, language and courtesy.  Using t he wiki or wikimail, you are a representative of Crozet School and you have to make sure anything you do will be okay with your parents, your teacher and the principal.

2. EVERY single email you send or receive comes into my email box, so know I have a record of every single thing you read and write.  Make sure you are being an appropraite representative of Crozet Elementary school.

3. I show them the history tab (on the wiki I created to house the links to their wiki) so they clearly see every change I made and the time stamp.  I tell them this is a feature in every wiki page, so they can never do anything without a record being kept. I explain it as a safety feature for them–so if someone claims they messed up their page, the history can show they did not.

4. I tell them they can never delete an email they send or receive.  They are to archive EVERYTHING. Again, this is for THEIR safety, so that if they are accused of sending a nasty email, I can show the accuser they did not. (I remind them here I will also have copies in my mailbox.)

5. I also say that if I EVER find they have deleted an email, they will be off wikispaces immediately, (since I can no longer tell parents they have followed the rules without exception.)

With the freedom I give them to create their own pages, they WANT to be on wikispaces, so I have had very few problems with any child NOT following my rules. I HAVE had two children (including my own grandson) call me at home almost in tears letting me know they accidentally deleted a wikimail and apologizing profusely and begging NOT to be kicked out of their wiki.

Now the cautions.

I put no students on wikispaces without a signed parent permission.

I go over the rules numerous times, and have kids repeat them back to me. They also know they are to follow our school and county AUP rules as they work on their wikis.

As they realize they can wikimail YOU, they will.  Be prepared to respond to (perhaps) frequent wikimails from kids, especially at the elementary level.  For me, that’s good–in our recent bout of 9 snow days in a 10 day period, I was in touch, at least several times, with 3/4 of the students currently in class with me.

Earlier, I said:

As you set up a wikispace for your class, think through how much you want to monitor, how you’ll use the space, and how you want your students to interact. The way you organize the space will DEFINITELY impact how the students support and talk to each other.”

The “how much you want to monitor” is crucial. I have over 50 kids with their own wikis. Many of those  kids create prolifically–so I spend some time EACH evening going through my email folder, checking out what they have done. By giving kids their own wikis, the amount of interaction may be reduced, in some ways. My goal, 1st semester, is to get them to be facile with creating pages.  2nd semester I push the collaboration and working together.

Please feel free to leave a message here if you want more support 1:1 or have more questions.

Mimicry-Ya Got That?

As I’ve been working on thinking about “LEARNING”  for the project at Thinking About Words Through Images,  my camera has been my constant companion at school.  That’s not unusual, for me to pull out my camera and snap pictures of my students working, but the difference is that I have told them WHY I am taking pictures and some of what I am thinking.  I have shared the link to that wiki, and it’s been interesting–knowing that I am collaborating with educators from all over the world seems to have had an impact on my students. I notice them commenting on each others’ wikis more, offering strategies in class more explicitly and asking each other questions that imply accountability to the community (like, have you finished your  geometry wiki page, I’ll call you tonight to remind you to bring in your iPod, etc.)

But, I wonder– am I seeing these things more because I am looking for specific instances of learning to photograph?

I have learned a lot in the first week of January, trying to take pictures of “learning.” First, it’s HARD trying to capture a still picture of the active learning in which my kids engage. I find myself wanting to describe the pictures, to explain what’s going on, to share the amazing thinking I see in my kids. While the images can capture some of what is going on, I need words as well.  I find myself posting my lessons (both adult and student ones) to the web, describing what happened and what I was hoping to happen. It’ll be interesting to see what I think and how I’m looking at the world through the lens of my camera at the end of the month.

What else I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter what age kids are, they still mimic their teacher.

In teaching kindergarten, one of the funniest things to watch was when kids were in “free choice” time and they chose to play school.  I would hear my words coming out of their mouths, just as in housekeeping, I would hear their parents’ words.  It was eye-opening in both situations, and I often changed the ways I worded things based on the feedback I received watching my kids mimic me. (In parent conferences, I often told parents I wouldn’t believe half of what their kid told me about them if they’d promise me the same–because we ALL know that age also has a very active imagination!)

Yesterday was a hoot–the mimicry happened with fifth graders. In my class, when students are explaining their thinking, I often play confused so they have to be more explicit in their explanation and they learn how to explain their thinking more logically, sequentially and in depth.  I check for understanding with the group listening frequently by stopping the explainer periodically and asking the group things like, “Do you understand what s/he is saying?”  or “Did you get that?”  or “Does everybody know what s/he means when s/he says. .. ?”   I guess my most used is, “Did you get that?” Kids in my class don’t hesitate to ask for more explanation because this is part of our day-to-day conversations, AND they see me model confusion and asking clarifying questions.

Ms. White, Tzstchr

In a lesson where these pictures were taken, I was playing my confused self.  I had been taking pictures, but sat down at a table to probe a student who was making an assumption she shouldn’t have been making. Setting my camera on the table, I began asking the child to show me her thinking. After several minutes of interaction, another student picked up my camera and began taking pictures of our interactions. I paid no attention to that and continued with my questions.  She put the camera down, and throughout the next 5-10 minutes, several students took turns picking it up and taking pics as others gathered around to hear the conversation and support the child being questioned if they could. watchingThe pictures they got were pretty good (I had to leave out two because they have students whose pictures may not be put on the web.)

However, the funniest part was Toria taking over the explanation for the child I had begun with and explaining to me the way she saw to work the problem.  (She describes class on her wiki page, MathIDidToday.)   She was showing me her way, and I made her do it three different ways, apparently not understanding each time. (I asked her to, NOT because she didn’t get it, but because she was so adroit at thinking flexibly, choosing various shapes and changing her approach and modeling descriptive language for the others watching.)  By the third time, she was getting a wee bit frustrated with my lack of “getting it”, so she finished and, (truly) standing up, with a hand flourish, asked,  “Ya got that?”

The class erupted in HOWLING laughter. . .that’s why they all left with the red faces Toria describes!

UPDATE: the kid who picked up the camera first just wiki-mailed me and asked if I had ever figured out whether S4 was half of S5 (which was the problem we were working on that’s described in this blog.). I wrote her back this message:

Hanna, I’ll share a secret that you cannot share.
Please read this: http://tzstchr.edublogs.org/mimicry

PW

Her response back to me was simply priceless:

wow that is so cool i have never known but i did notice that you ALLWAYS didn’t get what we were telling you

Parallel Play or Collaboration?

I am struggling with something I think many of my PLN folks are thinking about. . .and that’s HOW to improve our work, HOW to change what happens in our schools, and HOW to meet the needs of contemporary learners. Ben Grey introduces himself on his blog this way: My name is Ben Grey, and I am but one of the many. The many who are looking for change. The many who are engaging in dynamic discussions. The many who think there could be more to the way we engage education. I am also on that quest.

Dean Shareski wrote a post “My Big Fat Brain Dump” and he talked about how education conferences need to change to meet the needs of those of us struggling with these kinds of thoughts. Ira Socol Jen Wagner, Scott McLeod, Will Richardson, Becky Fisher, David Truss, Liz B. Davis, Michael Wacker, Miguel Guhlin, Paul R Wood, Scott Merrick, Jon Becker, Mike Fisher, Michele Bourgeois, Tom Woodward, John Mikulski and a multitude of others have written or talked about this topic of change in many ways.

Today , I received a tweet with a link to a YOUTUBE video by a 17 year old about  The iSchool Initiative. Kids can paint these pictures. Why aren’t we educators better at doing so for each other?

Here’s MY backstory: I have been using wikis with kids for two years now–really bright kids, really motivated kids, really thoughtful kids who WANT to learn and do well.They love having the opportunity to work on wikis and clearly “get” the potential! (See wikiworld.)

But my wikis–THEIR wikis– are pockets and pools and islands of isolation. . . They’re examples of parallel play at best, NOT collaboration. As the teacher, I own that outcome. I didn’t do enough ahead of time, I didn’t set up the structures, I didn’t paint the pictures for kids so that the work NEEDED collaborative efforts and so I didn’t get it.

I participated in several online, “collaborative” wikis this year as well. One was where we shared our writing based around a common text. Another I created, (And To Think) where kids also shared products around a common text/author, Dr. Seuss. Again, these I see as parallel play.

I skyped with several classes this year–about the Dr. Seuss wiki, about our state of VA– and found it fascinating to watch kids’ reactions to talking to other kids from “far” away. However, the interaction was bizarre. . very traditional, in that kids raised their hands to talk or ask questions, teachers (on both sides, including me) were CLEARLY in charge, and most interactions/questions were designed ahead of time. Again, parallel play in my mind, NOT collaborative.  I OWN these behaviors and outcomes, as, again, I didn’t do enough ahead of time, I didn’t set up the structures, I didn’t ask enough questions of my skyping teacher friends to make these experiences more than that.

So, I’d like to see models-and asked last night on Twitter “I’m wondering what is the most interactive /interdependent KID authored/written/produced wiki you know? Examples?”

I got no responses.

NOT ONE!

I got several DMs or replies from folks asking me to share the results of my request, so here it is.

NO one named a truly collaborative kid wiki.

So where are they?

Update:

@ellsbeth sent a couple of links this AM: “look up gaming wikis like http://bit.ly/lnavg & http://bit.ly/3s8QW Kids contribute.”

What do you think?

iPod Pilot

We have an iPod Touch Pilot going at our school.  Well, we really have a mini pilot, since we only have 4 and we are trying them out with 7 kids. It’s been an interesting venture thus far, so much so that I thought I’d share some thoughts here and you can read the kids comments on our wiki, Crozet Math Musings iPod Pilot.

Sue Waters (@suewaters) tweeted on April 13 that

Education 1.0=Consumer

Education 2.0=Producer

Education 3.0=Collaborator

Others have said a similar thing about web 1.0, web 2.0 and web 3.0.  What we need to realize, as we work with iPod Touches (and I’m referring to the 2nd generation) is that it is designed as a device for access. It allows users to get to “stuff”–email, twitter, texting, the internet, games, etc., but it is NOT easy to create on it. It doesn’t allow access to many web sites in ways that you can use them (flash doesn’t work, for example, so there go all the flash-based games on my school’s computer support site), and the kids complain that the keyboard is hard to use.

If that is so, and it is mainly a device for access, then would it not make sense to categorize it as a web 1.0 device, since you are mostly consuming web pages with it??

But wait, can you not record on it?  Can you create a voicethread?  Can you work on a wiki?  If you can do some of those things, then doesn’t it become a web 2.0 device, since you can now produce on it?

And, as you record for that voicethread, or make that wiki, or respond to an email, text or Twitter, aren’t you collaborating?  Doesn’t that, then, allow us to classify it as a tool for collaboration, and thus a Web 3.0 tool?

If it’s such a tool for collaboration, then why aren’t we infusing them into classrooms and using them daily  instead of machines that cost three and maybe even as much as four times as much as an iPod?  Why don’t they become the basis for our 1:1 programs?

What are people using iPod Touches in the classroom for? My 8 and 9 year olds are exploring games on them, and reviewing the games (see our wiki).

What are others doing? See Chris Webb’s Why an iPod Touch in education? for more info on using iPods in the classroom.

There are lots of ways to use them, but do they REALLY do collaboration well?  I’m not so sure, and would be interested in YOUR ideas of what you would like to see on the iPod to make it more of a collaborative tool.  Iin the third or even fourth generation iPod, what features would YOU like to see?