Monday, August 20, 2012

Catching Up - part 2

This is the second part of an update from some of my summer work.  An educational conference at Harvard (see part 1) opened my eyes to the need for understanding motivation, just as much as cognitive development. I set out to dig deeper into the subject by reading Motivating Students to Learn by Brophy.  Below are the more important passages from the book:
  • Motivation is a theoretical construct that is used to explain the initiation, direction, intensity, persistence, and quality of behavior.
  • Students do not need to enjoy school activities to be motivated to learn from them, but they do need to perceive the activities as meaningful and worthwhile.  Focus your curriculum on content that is at least potentially relevant to students and applicable to their lives outside of school.
  • Hands-on activities will not produce important learning unless they include minds-on features that engage students in thinking about powerful ideas. 
  • Ortiz (1983) emphasized to students that their motivational responses to a text - whether interest or boredom - are generated by them and not inherent in the text itself.
  • Mitchell (1993) followed up an idea originally suggested by John Dewey in distinguishing between catching and holding students interest.  Catching an initial interest in a math class may involve a brain teaser or puzzle, allowing them to use work on computer, or allowing them to work in groups.  Holding an interest is necessary to lead to significant learning.  This requires content that features meaningfulness (students appreciate the content's applications to life outside of school) and instructional methods that allowed involvement (students spend most of their time engaged in learning and application and not just watching and listening).
    • Newton (2000) noted that helping students appreciate content often involves embedding the content within a wider context, thus restoring some of the threads that were removed from a larger web when the content was isolated for study.
  • Learners may need teacher scaffolding to develop schema networks that include motivational and cognitive components before they engage in certain learning activities with appreciation. Students do not need much motivational scaffolding to induce learning of physical sports and recreational activities.  Relatively brief observation of models for playing kickball, ping pong, or a simple computer game may be enough to convey (1) a basic sense of the nature of the activity, (2) how to engage in it, and (3) what kinds of rewards or satisfaction to expect.   However, extensive scaffolding may be required to build students' readiness to appreciate typical school content and learning activities (especially as the curriculum moves away from basic skills).
  •  Model interest in learning throughout all of your interactions with students.  Besides teaching what is in the textbook, call attention to school learning applications in everyday life, in the local environment, or in current events.  Share your thinking about such applications - show your students how educated people use concepts learned in school to understand and respond to everyday experiences in their lives and to news about events occurring elsewhere.
  • Students take cues from their teachers about how to respond to school activities.  If you present a topic or assignment with enthusiasm, suggesting that it is interesting, important, or worthwhile, your students are likely to adopt this same attitude.
  • Understanding is a combination of how to do something and why do it.
  • When we talk about motivation, we typically refer to fun, pleasure, enjoyment, or excitement.  However, the potentially motivating experiences that occur during acquisition of school content usually do not involve physical thrills, basic emotional reactions, or immersion in multi-sensory overload.  Instead, they are primarily cognitive experiences, such as achieving insights, making connections, etc.  They can come to be very compelling and highly valued, but they are best described as enrichment or empowerment and not pleasure or fun.  Below are some of the major benefits and satisfactions derivable from acquiring school content:
    • enrichment of knowledge networks
    • empowerment via new or more developed schemas
    • absorption in content or activity
    • aesthetic appreciations
    • applications to life, personal agendas
    • articulating tacit/informal knowledge
    • becoming more discriminating about one's desires
    • clearing up misconceptions
    • enriched perspectives, analyses, experiences
    • forming hypotheses, opinions
    • making meaning, connections
    • new insights a-ha experiences
    • personalization of content, applications
    • recognition of connections to prior knowledge, life applications
    • self-realization, flow
  • These four factors characterized classes in which students reported greater motivation to learn:
    • Opportunities to learn
      • lessons were substantive but not overwhelming to students
      • main ideas evident
      • connect concrete illustrations to abstract concepts
      • relate unfamiliar information to students' personal knowledge
      • make explicit connections between new information and knowledge previously learned
      • point out relationships among new ideas stressing similarities and differences
      • elaborate extensively on textbook readings (view texts as outlines to be elaborated on)
      • guided students' thinking when posing high-level questions
      • ask students to summarize, make comparisons between related concepts, and apply information they were learning
    • Press
      • require students to explain and justify their answers
      • probed students when their understanding was unclear
      • reframe questions or break down into smaller parts when students were unsure
      • monitored for comprehension
      • encouraged responses from all students (using various techniques) rather than having a small subgroup dominate
      • supplement "short answer" textbook questions by adding more complicated questions or alternate representations
    • Support
      • model thinking
      • model suggested strategies 
      • work with students to solve problems when they had difficulty (instead of providing answers)
      • reduce complexity of projects by demonstrating roles, providing examples, and giving planning time
      • encourage collaborative efforts
    • Evaluation
      •  emphasize understanding and learning rather than completion or right answers
      • use mistakes as a way to help students check their thinking 
      • encourage students to take risks
      • allow students to redo assignments and retake quizzes
  • Embellish learning activities with appealing fantasy elements.
    • deSousa and Oakhill (1996) conducted research with eight- and nine-year olds.  The task was to read and study a passage of text and attempt to detect problems such as prior knowledge violations, internal inconsistencies, and nonsense words.  
    • One group of students was asked to edit the text, while another was asked to pretend to be "detectives" and find the problems.
    • The "detectives" found the task more interesting and were more successful in detecting the problems.
  • Once you have clarified the purposes and goals of an activity and provided any needed introduction to its content base, ask questions and engage students in activities designed to help them develop their understanding by processing and applying the content .  Most of your questions should be asked not just to monitor comprehension but to stimulate students to think about the content, connect it to prior knowledge, articulate their understanding of it, and begin to explore its applications.  In discussions, questions may impede the discussion, if they are perceived as attempts to test students rather than to solicit their ideas.
  • Apathetic students are uninterested in or even alienated from school learning.  They don't find it meaningful or worthwhile, don't want to engage in it, don't value it even when they know that it can achieve success with reasonable effort.  They may even resist it if they fear that it will lead to unwanted responsibilities or make them into someone they do not want to become.
    • To establish a potential for succeeding with apathetic students, show them that you care about them personally or individually and are concerned about their present and future best interests.  Help them to see that their prior experiences have been limited or distorted.
    • Another reason for developing good relationships with apathetic students is to learn about their values and interests.  Some of these might provide a starting point for nurturing their motivation to learn.  For example, almost any substantive interest can become the basis for developing literacy skills.
  • Hootstein (1995) interviewed eighth-grade teachers about the strategies they used to motivate students to learn US history.  The most frequently mentioned strategies were:
    • having students role-play characters in historical situations (mentioned by 83% of teachers)
    • projects that result in the creation of products (60%)
    • playing games to review materials for tests (44%)
    • relating history to current events or to students' lives (44%)
    • historical novels (44%)
    • thought-provoking questions (33%)
    • guest speakers from the community (33%)
    • historical videos and films (28%)
    • cooperative learning activities (28%)
    • small-scale hands-on experiences (28%)
  • With respect to its potential for student appreciation, curricular content might be classified into the following categories:
    • content has value that students recognize and appreciate
    • content has value that is recognized by teachers and can be taught in ways that lead students to appreciate its value
    • content has value that is recognized by teachers but the potential for appreciating it lies beyond students' current capacities
    • content has potential value to the students (based on current capacities), but teachers cannot articulate the value clearly enough or represent it effectively in teaching materials.
    • content lacks significant value (and therefore does not below in the curriculum) 
  • The learning of reading, writing, swimming, and other basic skills has obvious utility ot almost everyone.  However, John Dewey and others have pointed out that most school content originated as practical knowledge derived through situated problem solving.  As it got systematized within what became the disciplines, it got formulated more abstracted and separated from its situated origins.Consequently, for much of what we teach (particularly more abstract content and higher order processes), the reasons for learning it are not obvious.  Students may not appreciate the value of this content unless their learning is scaffolded in ways that help them to do so.
  • Dissembling is when students recognize value in the activity, but do not feel capable of meet its demands.  They are uncertain of what to do, how to do it, or whether they can do it.  These uncertainties threaten their identity and self-esteem, so they pretend to understand, make excuses, deny their difficulties, or otherwise protect their ego.
  • Evading is likely when success expectations are high but value perceptions are low.  Students feel confident of their ability to meet the activity's demands but don't see a reason to do so.  
  • The environment affects motivation.  A study of workers' satisfaction found that productivity is not only affected by the nature of the work and potential rewards, but also by their job environment, relationships with co-workers, and feelings about their boss.
  • If a topic is familiar, students may think that they already know all about it and this may listen to presentations or read texts with little attention or thought.  You can counter this tendency by pointing out unexpected, incongruous, or paradoxical aspects of the content.
  • Motivation is a combination of challenge (adjust difficulty so the tasks of optimally challenging), curiosity, control (choices and self-determination), and fantasy (embellish activities in ways encourage students to engage in playful ways).
    • Increase curiosity through props or stories.
    • A topic does not have to be new in order to generate curiosity; add some ambiguity as a "setup".  For example, introduce a unit on Russia by asking how many time zones it has or mentioning that the US purchased Alaska from Russia.
    •  Stimulate curiosity by asking students to make predictions
  • Reeve (1996) suggested five strategies for stimulating curiosity:
    • suspense to foster more satisfaction from seeking answers to challenging intellectual problems
      • ask students to consider competing answers as what caused the Civil War
      • ask students why they think the dinosaurs became extinct
    • guessing and feedback
      • give students an activity to probe their prior knowledge
      • in general, students will want to know the correct answer when guessing wrong
    • playing to students' sense of knowing
      •  ask creative questions that leverage their existing knowledge or ask it in such as way as to challenge their existing knowledge
    • controversy and contradiction
      •  use divergent opinions
      • introduce a contradiction after students have done research and established a conclusion
  • Use authoritative rather than authoritarian strategies because authoritative strategies help students become active, self-regulated learners.  Authoritarian strategies only produce passive obedience rather than thoughtful self-regulation
  • Create a social environment in which everyone feels welcome and learning is accomplished through the collaborative efforts of yourself and your students.
  • Teachers typically plan by concentrating on the content they teach and the activities their students will do, without giving much thought to the goals that provide the rationale for including the content and activities.
  • All students should learn how and why knowledge was developed in addition to acquiring the knowledge itself, and should have opportunities to apply what they are learning to their own lives or current social, civil, or scientific issues.  Student who learn content with this additional level of understanding not only learn the content itself but appreciate the reasons for learning it and retain it in a form that makes it usable when needed.
  • Novices learn through peripheral participation in communities of practice.  As novices acquire expertise, they learn to use the community's specialized discourse and tools.
  • Unhelpful feedback merely informs learners about how well they did, whereas informative feedback identifies which aspects of their performance were unacceptable and how they will need to improve.
  • Students with limited ability who have difficulty keeping up, develop chronically low expectations, and become resigned to failure.  Low achievers need frequent varied and enriched forms of instruction.  Click here for the table entitled, How Some teachers Communicate Low Expectations to Their Low Achievers.
  • McKenzie described three ways to introduce mystery to inquiry in social studies. 
    • Give students examples of a phenomena (i.e., pioneers, etc) that seem to be unrelated and ask them to discover the similarity.
    • Provide divergent historical accounts of an event and ask students to reconstruct the event (or other data to tell a story) like a detective.
    • Present a situation that seems predictable and ask students what they think will happen.  After they make predictions, demonstrate the something unpredictable happens and challenge the class to explain why 
  • Cooperative learning methods do not always work.
    • If you are using cooperative learning strictly for motivational purposes, they let students work individually if they want to work alone.
    • Groups may become distracted from learning goals if they socialize too much, have difficulty negotiating roles, or find that some individuals are not fulfilling their responsibilities.
    • To ensure that cooperative formats yield acceptable learning outcomes, make sure that the activity is suitable for cooperative learning.  
    • Monitor group interactions and be prepared to intervene if necessary.
  • McCarthy (1980, 1990) identified four learning styles by locating students on two dimensions: perceiving (concrete sensing/feeling vs more abstract thinking) and processing (active doing vs reflective watching).  Combinations of high and low scores on these dimesnions produce four learning styles:
    • Imaginative learners perceive information concretely and process it reflectively.  They listen, share, and seek to integrate school experience with self experience.
    • Analytic learners perceive information abstractly and process it reflectively.  They appreciate both details and ideas, tend to think sequentially, and value ideas more than people.
    • Commonsense learners perceive information abstractly and process it actively.  They tend to be pragmatic learners who value concrete problem solving and like to "tinker" and experiment to learn by discovery.
    • Dynamic learners perceive information concretely and process it actively.  They tend to integrate experience and application, are enthusiastic about new learning, ready to engage in trial-and-error learning, and adept at risk taking.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Flipping My Classroom

This year, I am going to flip my technology classes, which are Digital Literacy for grades six, seven, and eight, and an elective programming class for grades nine through twelve.  I expect that flipping my classroom will make me a better teacher because I can observe more in class.  And, there is no reason I can't do a "live" lesson if there is lots of confusion.  I will become a better teacher not only through more careful observations, but also more one-on-one interactions, tracking questions, and having more time to think about the curriculum (see productivity below).  The wiki for the class can he found here.

The increase in productivity comes from the time saved by leverage video instruction.  Let's take math to see an example of more efficiency.  Let's say I teach basic math and every year I teach or review numeric representations and converting fractions to decimals and vice versa.  Over time, my "presentation" will have evolved to address questions that were asked through the years.  I feel good about making my "presentation" clearer for the students.  I wonder, however, if it is good for me to explain the concept more more clearly to diffuse questions?  So, I have given the same "presentation" about decimals and fractions about 100 times (number of classes times years taught).  Let's assume that each class is one hour; this amounts to about 100 hours of time.  Aside from the benefits of fine-tuning the "presentation" each year, that is a lot of time! 

What if I had recorded the "presentation"?  I could have recouped dozens of hours and used them to think more deeply about the concept, thought about opportunities for technology integration, and thought about the potential for interdisciplinary activities.  The 100 hours doesn't seem like a good use of time.  On top of that, what if I don't explain the concept well.  I should be comparing my video to other videos on the concept from my school, other schools, and the Internet.  My inventory of videos will be best-of-breed when it combines my own videos with the best of what other teachers have to offer.  The bottom line is that videos free teachers from the more mundane instructional duties to focus on improving more critical aspects of their classroom (i.e., individualized curriculum, authentic tasks, project-based learning, etc.). Once all of the videos are created, the time "savings" could become substantial and advantageous to the learning environment.

The preparation for flipping my classroom was substantial and would not have been possible during the school year.  I created instructional videos for the Digital Literacy classes because of the age of the students and and the fact that we use our own technology literacy curriculum.  It is taught using a project-based curriculum and this year it will become a flipped classroom. An example of a productive project-based classroom is art. The teacher models an artistic technique and then students create their own artwork. From my observations, very rarely does a student in art class ask, "what am I supposed to do?" or "how do I draw a horse?"   They have the basic guidelines and motivation to forge ahead.  Art is a low-risk environment, where students are not afraid to forge ahead for fear that they may be "doing it wrong".  I am trying to create a similar environment.  I grade projects, but mostly based on how much of the requirements students completed (i.e., work-based).  When accuracy is important, some of the grade will be related to correctness.  An example of this is using spreadsheets for calculations.

A flipped classroom makes the best use of class time by having students watch brief instructional videos at night for "homework". It creates an individualized learning environment at home and a challenging environment school. At home, students can take breaks while watching the video or watch it more than once. In class, students can choose from different projects based on a range of complexity.  Over the course of the year, we will do many projects and I expect that students will have varying degrees of enthusiasm for a particular project.  I give them a choice of three different levels of complexity on each project (bronze, silver, and gold in order of complexity).  I believe that different levels of complexity will help motivate students who don't have internal motivation on a particular project.  It also pushes students to accept higher levels of challenge in a low-risk environment (i.e., not worrying about the project grade).  The gold projects are the most challenging and require the most work.  Each one is graded according to its own merits, which means that students can get an "A" on any level of project.  Which project level students choose is a matter of how much of a challenge they are willing to accept.  In the first year, I am going to make each project level optional.  Next year, I am thinking about requiring students to choose a few projects to choose gold or silver level requirements. 

Students use what they learned from the videos and class discussions and collaborate with friends on the projects. When students have questions, they ask them via an online website called Edmodo. Questions get answered by other students or myself. I use this system as a way to help students assist each other and become more self-reliant learners. I also use this as a way to model the difference between insightful questions and questions that are meant to avoid work.

I am using Edmodo as a way to field questions from students and let them chat among themselves.  I will poll them periodically about their background knowledge, their progress, and solicit feedback about project design.  I am also using the neat badge feature.  The first three badges have no grade impact and are awarded for adventurer (risk taker), detective (inquisitiveness), and helper.  

Potential Issues
I researched the potential downside of flipped classrooms to be prepared for parent conversations and to ensure that it is a success.  The biggest drawbacks center around traditional teachers not being able to stop being the "sage on the stage" and difficulty making videos.  I don't think either one is an issue for me, but there are a few other potential issues:
  • It is almost impossible to control if the students watch the videos for their homework. Students that opt not to watch the videos at home can watch them in class and they will lose time that could be spent actually working on their project.  Maybe each and every student doesn't have to watch the videos.  If enough students watch them, then they can collaborate to understand the project.  If it becomes more important that students watch the videos at night, then I can require them to take a brief online quiz after they watch it.  Off of the top of my head, I would have about ten questions and ask each student three randomly chosen questions.  They could share answers, but finding enough students to get all of the answers is probably more work than answering them yourself.
  • Even though teachers are encouraged to use audio and video for developing their materials, it is still not guaranteed that these materials will be engaging for the students.  I think that the videos will be engaging because they will mostly be screen cams of me actually using the software or surfing the web.  I am using version 2 of Camtasia Studio and it is a very cool product to create videos of computer activities.  
  • There is no opportunity for the student to ask a question in real time when they don’t understand something in the lecture. I am using Edmodo, so students can ask questions.  I will not be available to answer the questions every night, but maybe other students will be online.  In addition, I will encourage posting questions at night so I can see who is actually watching the videos. 
  • In order to make group activities in a F2F or synchronous classrooms successful teachers need to be skillful at team building and team monitoring. In general, students work on their own projects.  They can collaborate with others and must do original work.  In the case of a spreadsheet activity, each student has their own data.  They can work together on the concepts, but cannot simply copy and paste. 
  • Whether delivered in class or via instructional videos, lecture is still a poor mode of information transfer.  I use lectures only to introduce concepts to the students.  In addition, the videos are of me modelling how to do something; more relevant than just facts and figures.


For other resources, visit: The Friday Institute and The Flipped Learning Network.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Catching Up - part 1

I started this blog as a way for me to reflect on teaching.  It is easy to spend all of your time on the day-to-day details and activities of teaching and let your own education grind to a halt.  I like to stay energized by talking to teachers in my own school, talking to teachers at other schools, and attending conferences.  While I was attending a conference, it hit me that I had let my blog go unattended. It is now time to catch up!

  • Students have learning preferences, but if you emphasize them too much, then students will develop negative meta-cognition and be unwilling to learn in certain circumstances.
  • You will know that kids are engaged in the lesson when they ask questions that extend beyond the lesson.
  • "In the US, we expect students to be good at everything."
  • The jury is still out on rewards for motivation.  In some cases, it can help students with little or no intrinsic motivation.  In other cases, it can sabotage students who have intrinsic motivation.
  • We should support and promote academic risk-takers.  In high-stakes environments, the "failure" rate will be low.  Only in low-stakes environments, will high failure rates be successful.
  • There is a network effect in education.  Similar types of students tend to group together to create a social network. 
  • Metaphors are very powerful and this extends into the classroom with teacher and environmental cues. 
    • Experiment using college students to rank people as "warm" or "cold" using profiles.  In some cases, students were given lightweight and heavier clipboard.  In other cases, the instructor was drinking hot or cold coffee.  The results were influenced by the clipboard and coffee temperature cues. 
    • Other studies have shown that vegetables at the entrance to supermarkets induces people to buy more junk food and people who commit crimes are more likely to wash their hands more often.
    • Cues are even more powerful when stereotyping is involved.  Claude Steele (1997) has shown that members of stereotyped groups may perform below their capacities on tasks that their group is expected to do poorly on, especially if they are reminded of their group membership.
  • To understand the best memorization techniques, think about (1) things you learned and have not forgotten, (2) things you have not formally learned and have not forgotten, and (3) things that you tried to learn and could not.
  • Be aware of the way journals and product companies co-opt new technologies and elevate their importance beyond their real usefulness in education.
  • When teachers design lesson plans, they need to incorporate cognitive theories and motivational techniques to ensure that the lesson motivates students.  Motivation is a combination of competence, control/autonomy, and interest.  Below are elements that can be influenced by teachers:
    • setup student to be engaged (priming)
      •  individual buy-in based on why is this important to each student
      • provide positive support
        • may include recreational breaks (i.e., 5-minute video game break)
        • remind students of positive work and lessons
        • positive cuing, "you are going to do well"
    • sustained effort (progress)
      • this provides motivation by setting expectations about how much more work is needed to complete the learning outcome (similar to wait times at Disney World)
      • will the progress show mastery (individual progress over time), or performance (i.e., winning percentage, progress versus others, etc.)?
      • personal dashboard with scores over time or units/steps completed
      • scoreboard showing top scores or other metric (i.e., number of books read)
    • choice
      •  menu of activities (multiple paths)
      • choices to personalize the lesson (also provides teacher insights about students)
      • NO choice to learn or not
    • status/recognition
      • informal recognition when students work collaboratively
      • formal recognition, such badges, etc.
  • Learning requires practice, emotion, and connections.
Notes from the Alan November webinar about personalizing learning
  • Critical issue is who owns the learning?
  • Video games are attractive to students because students have autonomy/control and they get immediate feedback.
  • The first few days of each school year should be dedicated to learning about the students and setting expectations.
    • Build trust between teacher and students as you set expectations.
    • Teachers should be learning everything they can about their students.
      • Learn their backgrounds and family situations.
      • Learn about them as individuals.
      • Learn how well they work with others.
    • Introduce a project that is fun and has nothing to do with the curriculum.
      • Watch how they problem solve.
      • Watch how they work together.
      • Watch how well they work on the task.
  • The current teaching model values teachers for their expertise in a subject and traditional lesson plans are based on this knowledge and are not based on student knowledge.
    • Create lessons around student background knowledge, conceptions and misconceptions.
    • Capture this student knowledge by collecting and analyzing their questions.  At night, review questions from the day and plan/adjust the lesson for the next day.
    • Capturing the questions will likely require some form of social media technology (i.e., Edmodo, etc.).
    • This question database will be key to personalizing and individualizing the curriculum.  
      • Flipped classrooms are also a way to individualize the curriculum because students can watch the videos in a manner what works best for each of them.    
  • Give students work a global audience.
    • Let them collaborate and peer review work with teachers and students from other schools and countries.  
    • Students feel that teachers who don't know them personally provide a "better"critique of their work.
    • The larger audience will create higher stakes.  In one example given, a middle school created a wiki about Africa.  The teacher reported that students wanted to edit their work from years prior.  That is, high school students wanted to revise what they had written in middle school.  
  • Our current assessment practices run counter to the research.
    • The more you grade students, the less they will work - choosing instead to figure out the "easiest" path to a good grade.
    • Students will work for hours to create a movie for an assignment, but will likely rush through homework problems.
    • Involve students in creating the rubric to grade a project.
  • You can see individualization in action when you walk the hallways.  Who is working harder - teachers or students? 
    • Classrooms should be organized more the work environment in businesses.  Students working together on a common goal and contributing in different ways.  The roles rotate so students learn different skills.  Have a social media backchannel for questions and discussions.
    • In this project-based environment, teachers have time to observe students, work with them and interact with other teachers.  In this capacity, teachers become curriculum researchers to improve what they teach and possible create interdisciplinary projects.