Sunday, 29 January 2012

It takes a website to raise a child

On Friday, I was given the opportunity to present at Brock's 2012 Teaching with Technology Showcase.  Given that I won't give a presentation or participate in a practicum without a Google site, I was thrilled to be presenting on websites in the classroom.  For me, the best part of the presentation was knowing that a few people committed to creating their own class websites.  Overall, my presentation included two parts:

Office Clip
Part 1:  The Sales Pitch
Along with covering the benefits to differentiated instruction, enrichment, engagement ... I covered the importance of facilitating connections.  It takes a village to raise a child, and we tend to take a passive role in fostering connections.  The student's village has changed from Bronfenbrenner's model, and we need to recognize the role of 21st century technology in our students' lives. We contact parents 3-5 times per term and rely on those contacts to create a bond between school-student-parents.  Our class lists are decided for us and those 60 or 75 minutes per day might or might not include the student's peers.  I believe that one of the critical functions of a class website is to bring the student's peers, parents, social media, internet and school / teachers together.

Part 2:  The Advice
Clipart Graphics
Based on my experience with my first website, I also offered some advice to those who visited my table.  The last thing I wanted was for someone to give up on setting up a website due to frustration.

  1. Start small and take time out of the equation:  pick one unit to start and make sure that it's not the current or next unit you're working on.  Give yourself some time to play with the website ahead of time.
  2. Decide how you want to organize your website:  I lost tons of time based on trial and error setups.  The organization can always be changed, but it's time consuming.  Google search your course code to see what others have done and ... pick something and stick with it during the initial creation phase.
  3. Choose one of the default themes:  I spent countless hours choosing backgrounds for my first website.  Aesthetics can be changed easily so get your site going first.
  4. Upload documents:  Google docs holds all of my rubrics, assignments, handouts, exemplars ... find a convenient way to get things on line.
  5. Lots of images:  Find some go-to sites for images.  For history, I tend to lean towards Wikipedia since all of the copyright details appear alongside the images.  For math, I will lean more towards Flickr (same reason).  Overall, make the site visually appealing and model appropriate use of web content at the same time.
  6. Get feedback everywhere:  Since you're creating a virtual textbook, solicit as much feedback from students, parents, colleagues ... as you can.  You're creating a resource for everyone, so try to find out what everybody would like.
  7. Finally ... don't get bogged down:  I got incredibly frustrated when I first tried to move my tabs to the top of the webpage.  Don't spend too much time trying to work things out by yourself, especially when Google sites have an active how to / help forum.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Milton, Proust & Austin, and indirect instruction

Sometimes, people can roll their eyes in a good way.  So when I proposed modelling indirect instruction to present indirect instruction to the class, the professor used phrases such as "you're brave," "this will be interesting," and "I like to see people take risks."  It felt right, but I had a fair bit of work to do before I could believe that I was taking the right approach.

First things first, I had to say farewell to my favourite presentation tool, Prezis, since they're delightfully direct.  Next, I said farewell to the presentation handout since the actual analysis of the methods would be done by the class.  Bit by bit, I removed all of my safe havens and standard practices from the presentation and prepared to cede my presentation to the class.  So, with a shell of a website to hold the presentation questions I needed, I started to consider the summary slide template.  What was the main difference between direct and indirect instruction...

Marcel Proust
For me, it came down to one question... where is my personal balance between higher order thinking skills and time?  I recognize that indirect instruction is necessary at times, because I can't teach a jump shot and I can't lecture a student's analysis, but what about those in-between areas?  I know that I would rather rely more on indirect instruction, because the skills and critical thinking skills are far more important than the facts and figures, but what if?  What if the exercise completely flops and I end up like Proust, In Search of Lost Time?  What if the class doesn't come to the understanding that I'd hoped they'd find, or they don't end up developing the skills that I'd anticipated?

In the end, I realized that the whole issue came down to trust.  I realized that if I didn't trust my class in teachers' college, I would never be able to trust my own class.    With this realization, I finally knew that I had the right approach.  Throughout the presentation, I got to experience many of the positives and negatives of indirect instruction.  Our flipped class on Viking Poetry flopped.  Our unguided inquiry on 'love, friendship and the hero' went so well that I could barely wrestle the class back to move on to the next topic.  Our PBL / case study went well despite me asking the wrong question - we just transitioned to a better question.  And finally, we ran out of time and could never get to skill building / concept mapping.

Well, the web summary from the class is here.  The majority of the strengths, weaknesses, teacher role and students' role answers came from the class' guided organizers.  The summary was primarily based on the ending discussion on the roles of direct and indirect instruction.  Overall, the presentation was a resounding success that left me with only one bit of guilt.  It's often said that indirect instruction results in the teacher learning as much as the class; in this case, I learned more since I not only learned about indirect instruction, but I learned how it felt to teach that way.