Friday, November 30, 2012

Six Nations Numeracy Wikispace

A big thank you to our PD presenter from the November 16th PD day, Janet Ragan, who established a Wikispace for her workshop, but more importantly, for our future continued use as professionals at Six Nations.  The wiki can be found by clicking here, but is also housed permanently on the right sidebar under Links for teachers.  This can be a space to further develop, share and discuss our Numeracy resources.  Thanks again to Janet for creating the space for us.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Last night I discovered a new App Directory entitled Appolicious.  It is more than just educational apps, but you can browse the recommendations submitted by users by category, so the education section if FULL of suggestions by teachers or other educational users of apps.  It isn't solely Apple apps, either, so those of you running now Mac products might want to take a look too.  Here's the link to the education page.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Mysterious Workings of the Adolescent Brain

Having TED Talk withdrawl since the series I posted last week?  Here's another talk on the Mysterious Workings of the Adolescent Brain.  If you've ever read the comic strip "Zits" or had one of these teenage things living in your house, you know what Sarah-Jayne Blakemore is talking about.

Monday, November 26, 2012

McGraw-Hill Exec: Tech Will Make Us Rethink Age-Grouping in Schools

Sep 27, 2012 - 1:34PM PT
by Ki Mae Heussner

As digital learning platforms continue to personalize education, McGraw-Hill SVP Jeff Livingston believes schools, particularly at the high school level, will need to rethink grouping students by age and instead organize students by competency.

Online platforms like Khan Academy are already starting to flip classrooms across the country so that students can learn at their own pace. But some think it might not be too long before technology pushes schools to personalize education in even more structural ways, so that students are no longer grouped by age, but by competency.

Noting advances in educational technology –- from online platforms that deliver instruction to programs that analyze student learning data -– Jeff Livingston, senior vice president of College and Career Readiness at McGraw-Hill, said Thursday he thinks that in the next five to six years, schools and educators are going to have to rethink age-grouping as the primary organizing principle for K-12 education, especially at the high-school level.

In a virtual roundtable with reporters, he said, “What does it mean to be a 9th grader or 10th grader beyond being a certain age? … It doesn’t make sense that all the 15-year-olds are in this grade and all the 16-year-olds are in that grade. It should be where your interests, your skills and your mastery of certain concepts takes you.”

Competency-based vs. seat-time-based learning

Mixed-age classrooms, not so unlike those from the days of the one-room schoolhouse, are already espoused by many Montessori and Quaker schools. In those environments, the thinking is that real learning is best accomplished when students are motivated to progress at their own pace and help each other.

But as technology helps teachers guide students through content at their own pace -– and effectively assess their mastery of skills and concepts -– multiage classrooms could become a reality in more traditional classrooms.

Some schools and teachers already seem to be trying the model using Khan Academy. And, led by higher education, Livingston only expects that trend to pick up.

In a conversation with me after the event, he pointed to the online Western Governors University (a McGraw-Hill partner) as a model for learning based on competency, not the number of hours a student spends in a classroom. He also highlighted the growth in students taking online courses as well as college courses on campus to offset the limitations of their local schools. As more self-motivated students start cutting their own path -– increasingly with the help of digital platforms –- educators will have little choice but to figure out how to accommodate them, Livingston said.

What does the high school diploma mean?

New models of learning based on competency will also contribute to new ways of thinking about certification and credentialing, he said. That debate is already brewing at the higher education level, as startups like Udacity and Coursera start to certify students’ skills online. But Livingston said the high school diploma will also increasingly be challenged to prove its value against other kinds of certificates that are “organized around what you can do, more than what you know.”

In the past couple of years, digital education has experienced such profound growth and investment that it’s not hard to imagine that its momentum will only continue to build and re-shape schools and classrooms. But as important as building the technology to enable competency-based classrooms is building teacher support and education for new models. The technology is increasingly there, but the challenge is breaking through bureaucracy and overcoming entrenched ways of thinking about how education is structured and experienced.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Tools for Teaching: The Amazing Sticky Note | Edutopia

Tools for Teaching: The Amazing Sticky Note | Edutopia

Click on the link above to read an interesting article/blog post about the undervalued, everyday common sticky note and how it is used in teaching.  There is also a short video to watch.  Below is a brief list to give you a taste of the article.

Some of the ways I've seen sticky notes used in classrooms:

•When reading difficult passages from technical texts, I have seen teachers encourage students to summarize what is being stated on a sticky note and then place the note in the margin so it sticks out a bit to make it easy to find in the future

•Students use sticky notes to organize their folders, study cards and notepapers

•Students storyboard their writing with sticky notes so they can be moved around. This matches the idea that not all of us think sequentially, and allows students to take advantage of ideas spawned out of order

•Some students (particularly boys for some reason) when they get a pad of sticky notes seem to always want to draw the antics of stick men on the bottom of each one so that when they flip the pages, it appears that the stick men are moving. This actually requires planning and higher order thinking

•Students comment on other student papers or work and give suggestions for improvement and compliments on sticky notes

•Students sticky notes to identify things in the classroom, label items in a target language, or categorize items by type

•Gallery walks in which students analyze poetry, quotes or philosophies by placing their responses on sticky notes

•Teachers use colored sticky notes as disciplinary measures, green notes being exemplary behavior, and red ones warning of impending discipline if behavior doesn't change

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Changing Education Paradigms

We've reached the end of the TED Talk Top 10 we started a week and a half ago.  What kind of conversations did this bring about at your school?  With your colleagues?  This final video I've shared on more than one occassion on this blog, for its powerful visual appeal, as well as the awesome speech from Sir Ken Robinson.  In the final days of McGuinty's "education government", will we see these ideas become common place reality in Ontario schools?  Only time will tell.  Share your thoughts below.

Friday, November 9, 2012

10 Talks on Making Schools Great

10 talks on making schools great

Check out these amazing TED talks focused on schools and education.  Some of them I've posted on this blog before, but with the upcoming U.S. election, the TED Blog itself put together a list of Top 10 talks. 

Give yourself some excellent flipped classroom homework and have you and a handful of colleagues watch one a night and discuss over lunch time the next day at school.

To give you a hand, I'll post them throughout the week.  Here's the first one from Sir Ken Robinson:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Is it only a matter of time?

Some Schools in Australia Now Requiring iPads for Students

updated 03:00 am EDT, Fri October 12, 2012
By Electronista Staff

A church-based private school, along with several other private educational institutions in Sydney, Australia are now informing parents that most students will be required to own an iPad beginning in the next school year. The move to tablets has become compulsory at the schools because educators believe they are significantly more effective as learning tools than notebook, and eliminates the need for students to lug around heavy textbooks. While not all schools are mandating iPads specifically, traditional printed materials and even laptops are clearly on the way out.

St. Andrew's Cathedral School in central Sidney, reports the Sydney Morning Herald, now requires parents to buy iPads for seventh- to tenth-graders. While currently this represents an extra $600 or so from the parents, officials say that as e-book textbooks become more widespread the savings from not buying the printed books will more than offset the cost of the iPad.

The use of the tablet, with its ubiquitous wireless connection, allows classes to be more mobile and for students to more easily carry all the materials they need with them from one class to another without having to change out books at lockers. While some parents are concerned that additional time spent on the computer could increase Internet addictions or be abused, the school networks are used to filter where students can go on the Internet and limit non-educational use.

Officials argue that strong computer and Internet interaction is the way modern children communicate and that schools must work with the students on a level they can engage in. The machines are also used to set up FaceTime-like conferences when the student is sick and must work from home, allowing students to not fall behind and still be involved with the class.

A girl's school called St. Catherine's in Waverly went with the heavier and more expensive Samsung Series 7 Slate PC for its sixth- through tenth-grade students. It was chosen for its native ability to use a stylus, better for drawing and for some tests which still require students to hand write their essays. The Slates are considerably more expensive, around $1,500 not including some $500 in app and e-text costs.

Parents of the private-school students -- where tuitions can range up to $25,000 per year -- have generally been accepting of the changes and costs, but worry about the propensity of students to lose valuable items, with schools advising that parents add coverage of the tablets to their insurance policies, and impress on youngsters that they may have to pay (or work out in chores) the cost of any lost items. [via Sidney Morning Herald]

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Veterans Remembrance Day Mash-up

The Veterans Affairs Canada website has a great challenge for students to conduct.  Check out the contest here for details.  It's simple. Use the videos and images available on the site to create a mashup, a virtual scrapbook, a fan page or decorate your space. The options are endless. Share with others and link back to the Veterans Affairs Web site.

It seems like a really cool, current and relevant way for students to learn and show their respect for our Veterans.  Leave a comment if you try it out this year.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Are you a fan of Wikipedia?

Why Wikipedia Does Belong in the Classroom

by Jonathan Obar
September 20th, 2012

The proper place of social media in the classroom remains a mystery to most people, with Wikipedia standing as the biggest, baddest new media nemesis of them all.

Note: Earlier this month, Brian Proffitt’s post explaining Why Wikipedia Doesn’t Belong In The Classroom garnered strong reactions both pro and con. Here, guest author Jonathan Obar, PhD, like Proffitt a practicing academic, takes the opposite point of view.

In the 80s, Neil Postman wrote, “You cannot do political philosophy on television. Its form works against the content.” To Postman, television was a medium that privileged entertainment, whose decontextualized method of communicating the ephemeral at blazing speeds made linear argument and true learning impossible.

I find it fascinating that while educators work feverishly to incorporate YouTube, video games and other video-based technologies into classrooms, Wikipedia, a text-heavy technology that privileges old-fashioned reading and writing, still befuddles members of the academic establishment.

Wikipedia remains misunderstood because many educators have yet to recognize the distinction between Wikipedia as a tool for teaching and Wikipedia as a tool for research. Unfortunately, fear of the latter has blinded most to the possibilities of the former. I believe Wikipedia to be an effective tool for both.

Wikipedia As A Tool for Teaching

Since 2010, the Wikimedia Foundation has been working hard opening closed-minds, connecting thousands of students at more than 50 schools across the U.S., including Harvard, Yale and UC Berkeley to the Wikipedia Education Program. Thousands more have participated at top universities in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, India, Egypt and in more than 10 European countries. Law schools, social science, health science, engineering, psychology and humanities departments (among others) have participated. The University of Toronto’s medical school is considering having its residency program participate as part of its community outreach requirement. The Association for Psychological Science and the American Sociology Association are concurrently running their own programs and every semester we discover new professors teaching with Wikipedia on their own, happenings common to open-source projects.

Clearly the professors at these schools are overcoming what some might call new media myopia. But how and why?

Wikipedia Education Program professors incorporate Wikipedia into courses by having students collaborate with the community of Wikipedia editors (“Wikipedians”) to write course-related Wikipedia articles, replacing traditional term papers. Student preference for the Wikipedia-way has been demonstrated, and the incentives are clear:

* Similar benefits to traditional writing assignments - as students are still researching and analyzing sources, and writing-up material on course content.

- Digital literacy training. Profs now teach two-courses-in-one as students learn how to use wiki-technology, engage in wiki-culture and collaborate with a virtual social network. They will likely need to know about wikis when they graduate as wikis are everywhere these days, including the corporate world, government (heard of the CIA’s Intellipedia?) and NGOs.

- Multi-layered feedback. Professors and assistants can provide feedback and engage in debate with students, as can the community of Wikipedians. Students are thrust into an intense game of literary dodgeball considering feedback on content, style and presentation from users of varying levels of expertise on content and wikis.

- Students learn to write in an encyclopedic style. A welcome change from argumentative writing, expanding their writing abilities.

- Student favorite: Getting some exposure. In years past, the student and professor would be the only two readers of a term paper. Wikipedia articles remain online indefinitely and contribute to the information available online about course content. We’ve had students tell us they’ve used Google searches to show their grandmothers their work over Thanksgiving. Then there’s Patrick Friedel from Georgetown University who re-wrote the article on the National Democratic Party (Egypt) in fall 2010, an article that since has received more than 160,000 hits. Not bad for a term paper that would normally have ended up in the drawer or the garbage.

Taken a step further, when we introduce Wikipedia into the classroom as a teaching tool, we provide students with a space to reflect and learn about the nature of knowledge and its evolution, about the normative ideals of participatory democracy and about the role of information in societal development. Oh, and did I mention that it’s free?

Wikipedia As A Tool for Research

Brian Proffitt’s article recommended against Wikipedia’s use in the classroom. His argument was straightforward and in two parts:

Argument One (paraphrased): Wikipedia content is amateurish (i.e. crowdsourced), is defined by illogical policies and a variety of indoctrinated (in some instances eccentric) editors, and as a result, shouldn’t be trusted as a reputable source for academic writing.

My response focuses not on the fact that Wikipedia is the largest collaborative project known to humankind, containing more than 4 million articles, 24 million project pages, nearly 800,000 images, a social network of 17 million users (and that’s just the English-language Wikipedia, there are 284 other Wikipedias operating in different languages), or the fact that Wikipedia is currently the sixth most popular site on the net according to Alexa, receiving 450 million+ unique hits and 6 billion+ total hits monthly according to comScore, or that Professor William Cronon, President of the American Historical Association, said last February, “I don’t believe there’s much doubt that Wikipedia is the largest, most comprehensive, copiously detailed, stunningly useful encyclopedia in all of human history.”

Instead, my response to Proffitt will address an incentive for using Wikipedia as a tool for teaching (and research) – teaching our students to be informed consumers of information, or information literate.

When I teach my students about information literacy, I often begin by describing the place of debate in knowledge creation. This idea certainly isn’t new to academics; in fact it’s perhaps one of our oldest and most cherished ideals. Debate can happen in a variety of places; for example, between individuals on a Wikipedia talk page and even within one’s own mind while considering which sources to use when writing an academic paper.

Unfortunately, when students are debating which sources to work with, they must traverse a dangerous terrain. No matter where they look, there are mistakes everywhere. There is bias everywhere. There is missing information everywhere. What this means is that no source should be regarded as the source on any given topic. That includes Wikipedia and the Britannica, the popular press, and even the academic literature - I won’t bother getting into the challenges associated with annual reports, the trade press and reports released by government agencies. In addition to the landmines that we encourage our students to consider, whether we like it or not, students are going to use, Yahoo!Answers and a myriad of sites just like them.

The answer is not to ban Wikipedia. The answer is to teach students how to use sources appropriately. Teach students to be informed consumers of information. Teach them how the encyclopedia ought to be used in academic writing, as well as how to use blogs, tweets and Facebook posts. Teach them not to feel safe anywhere when it comes to our high standards. Teaching information literacy will empower our students to navigate and benefit from the greatest technology of abundance the world has ever known.

Argument Two (paraphrased): Academics do not like Wikipedia. It is often the source of plagiarism, and shouldn’t be cited in academic work.

The popularity of the Education Program and related initiatives suggests that some academics do support Wikipedia. Every semester we have to turn people away because a volunteer army can support only so many classes.

I will not claim to have the answer to the problem of plagiarism, which existed long before Wikipedia. But I say again, banning Wikipedia is not the appropriate response. My answers to the plagiarism and citation charges are the same – engagement. That’s what drives social media, that’s what should drive our teaching.

Teach students that the act of writing in any setting is defined by both form and content. I don’t let my students cite Wikipedia in their academic papers (GASP!) because I don’t believe it to be proper academic form. I don’t let them cite the Britannica or dictionary either. In an effort to shape informed consumers of information I teach them how Wikipedia should and should not be used. I agree with Proffitt when he says it’s a great place to start and a terrible place to finish. Though in some academic circles, the tide is turning.

Wikipedia remains a shining example of what has been made possible by the greatest technology of access and abundance the world has ever known. The power of the network can be intimidating. As educators we can choose to ignore our ever-changing reality or attempt to harness its power.

“Imagine a world in which every single person is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge” - words once spoken by Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales. We must teach our students to navigate the information torrent as informed consumers, and recognize how user content-generation, especially through interactive Web 2.0 technologies, can lead to tremendous active-learning outcomes. In doing so, we will be offering our students the benefits of a 21st-century education, and preparing them for success in the ever-changing brave new world that awaits them outside the university walls.

Jonathan Obar, PhD is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media at Michigan State University, and Associate Director of the Quello Center for Telecommunication Management and Law. He also works as a research fellow in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information. He continues to volunteer as a member of the Wikipedia Education Program, which he joined in fall 2010.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Are you a hater of Wikipedia?

Why Wikipedia Doesn't Belong In The Classroom

by Brian Proffitt
September 12th, 2012

Wikipedia's stated goal to be a neutral fact-based encyclopedia has enabled it to accumulate an incredible amount of useful information. But the service's very nature makes it unsuitable for classroom use in the minds of many teachers and professors - no matter how much students want to rely on it.

As a part-time college teacher at the University of Notre Dame, my own position is clear: Wikipedia has no place in my classroom. (For more on Brian Proffitt's technology experiences in academia, see MIllennials: They Aren't So Tech Savvy After All.)

Mistakes Are Not The Problem

The gripes against Wikipedia are woven well into our urban fabric. Many is the tale of some silly mistake creeping into a Wikipedia entry - either through an honest error or a case of Wiki-vandalism. But errors are natural, and definitely human. Is that reason enough to prevent Wikipedia from being used as an educational tool?

That's part of it, but not the main reason I avoid using Wikipedia in the classroom. The biggest complaint for me is that Wikipedia's method of crowdsourcing the truth is often the very thing that trips up the service.

On the one hand, you have the idea of crowdsourcing: put enough humans in a room and they'll eventually produce something like Wikipedia. The problem is, they will also produce something like those tabloids you see in the checkout line at the grocery store.

One person's truth is another person's lie… which is why a project like Wikipedia has to be reviewed by a hierarchical system of editors who have the power to overrule things that are believed (such as the 37% of Americans who believe in UFOs) versus things that are true (that pesky speed-of-light limit Einstein came up with). Otherwise, in a purely crowdsourced Wikipedia, Elvis would still be alive and rocking out from his Area 51 fortress of solitude.

"Citogenesis" Leads To Trouble

But even that editorial framework is not enough. Because Wikipedia's editors rely heavily on cited material to back up the veracity of the material in Wikipedia, but Wikipedia is still instantly published, you can get phenomena like what XKCD artist Randall Munroe calls "Citogenesis."

Citogenesis may be behind what happened to distinguished author Philip Roth last week. The author of the novel The Human Stain found himself in the unique position of trying to change a factual error about this book in its Wikipedia entry… only to have his efforts rebuffed because Roth didn't have a second citable source. That's worth repeating: the author of the book - the ultimate source in this case - needed corroboration from someone else about what had inspired him. Yikes! According to an open letter from Roth published in the New York, s a Wikipedia administrator responded to his request saying: “I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work, but we require secondary sources.”

It is this kind of circular reasoning and blind spots that forms the basis of my avoidance of Wikipedia as a tool in the classroom: it's not just that Wikipedia is sometimes wrong, it's also that its error-correcting system can get so wound up in itself that it loses touch with common sense about fact-finding.

Other Professors Agree

According to Dr. Teresa Fishman, Director of the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI), I am not alone in my opinion of Wikipedia. Fishman - speaking only from her own experiences as director of the ICAI - said that "most instructors are not in favor of citing Wikipedia, and some would rather see it not used as a source at all."

That doesn't mean Wikipedia has no place in academia, though. Fishman related some innovative ways instructors at the college level have used Wikipedia to demonstrate how wikis work as a source of crowd-based content. Fishman described how one professor assigned his class to heavily revise or create new Wikipedia entries, working within the Wikipedia system to have the entry posted and ideally approved by the Wikipedia editors and peers.

This method demonstrates to students pretty quickly the advantages and limitations of Wikipedia, and how the system can be subverted at times. Fishman believes that this method is better than simply banning Wikipedia outright, since it gives students a chance to see for themselves how it works.

The Plagiarism Question

Critics also charge that Wikipedia is too often the souce of plagiarism in academic settings. In its annual survey of students, the ICAI has not determined if that's the case, but recent surveys have shown that many students, particularly those coming up from high school, see nothing wrong with using material from communally authored sources without citation in their own school work.

"The assumption is they are just common knowledge," Fishman explained. To combat this issue, "we hope that teachers will have students hold to the same standards of Wikipedia and cite the source of their thoughts."

Is Wikipedia poisoning the minds of our children? Hardly. Wikipedia is a good place to start research, I tell my students, but for academic work, it is not a good place to end.

Or cite.

Friday, November 2, 2012