Thursday, April 21, 2011

Enaged Students - Authentic Tasks - Disguised Learning

I had the opportunity this week to work with a middle school French class. The current curriculum was addressing occupations. The students were being introduced to the vocabulary associated with this topic. Students in the class were assigned the task of researching and presenting a final project that documents what they learned about their occupation. Of course, the entire projected needed to be written and presented in French.

I worked with the teacher, Mrs. Neuschatz,  to develop a project that the students would relate to. We wanted to move away from a traditional research based presentation where students develop PowerPoint slides of texts and images. These types of projects typically do not involve a high level of motivation nor do they result in significant learning or knowledge exchange in a classroom. We can be honest and refer to them as "death by PowerPoint". I think everyone can relate to this.

What we decided to assign is a "Fakebook" profile. Our district is a member of Google Apps for Education. A quick search of the templates in Google Docs returned a number of "Facebook Profile Templates". I selected one that utilizes Google Presentation. It is a four page presentation template that mirrors a typical Facebook profile.
We assigned the students the task of developing a Facebook Profile for a person who practices the occupation that they select. They must include daily events (postings to the wall), who would this person be friendly with (friends), education and other information (info), events that this person might take part in (videos). Although we assigned a rubric, the students have some flexibility as to the content they could provide.

We expect to have some finished projects in a couple of weeks. However, my initial observations in the classroom were very interesting. The students were motivated and excited about the project. They applied creativity and a level of higher order thinking to make connections between the research they uncovered and the sections of the profile that they must complete. It was not sufficient to mere list responsibilities of "A Doctor". They instead had to apply that knowledge by listing activities and events that a doctor might experience and post them on "the wall".  Rather than supply a listing of facts in a typical slide, they are applying what they learned to a task. Students were not only making connections and applying knowledge, but they were learning French through an authentic and engaging task!

The template for our PowerPoint "Fakebook Project" can be found here.

I will share some of our final products when they are ready.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Flip and Manage the Classroom with Khan Academy

I have written about the Khan Academy many times in my blog postings. It is a tremendous resource and  one that I believe can greatly impact student achievement.  The "flip the classroom" model of instruction involves having students review teacher or student made tutorials at home for homework. They then work on applying problems in the classroom. The benefits of this method of instruction are discussed in one of my previous posting "Are you ready to flip the classroom".

If you are planning on testing this method of instruction, the Khan Academy is a great place to start.  Here is a brief overview of the site from the publisher:

"Our library of videos covers K-12 math, science topics such as biology, chemistry, and physics, and even reaches into the humanities with playlists on finance and history. Each video is a digestible chunk, approximately 10 minutes long, and especially purposed for viewing on the computer.


"I teach the way that I wish I was taught. The lectures are coming from me, an actual human being who is fascinated by the world around him." —Sal"

The site now offers new features as well as integration with our Google Apps for Education Accounts. After students watch the tutorials they can also work on practice problems in a virtual environment.  Each problems can be broken down into individual steps with a the click of a button.  Students are able to track their progress as they progress through an interactive map of knowledge.

Managing this progress has now gotten even easier. They have added an entire new Student/Class manager. Teachers can monitor and report on student progress. Information regarding these features can be found here. ( You will be prompted to login with your Google Apps account.

Students and Faculty who have access to Google Apps for Education accounts can sign directly into Khan Academy with their accounts.  The site is well organized and easy to navigate.

Here is a video from TED that discusses Khan Academy


Friday, April 1, 2011

Can Webcams Improve Reading Fluency?

Webcams have been a part of many classrooms for a number of years. The most common use is for video conferencing. Webcams open up the classroom to the world by allowing classes to communicate and collaborate with authors, subject area experts and other classrooms around the world. I have a wiki page with more information on this topic that can be found here.

Webcams have other uses in the classroom that have a direct impact on student achievement in all subject areas. They can be used to create digital stories, tutorials, interviews and a variety of other student-centered projects. In this posting I would like to discuss how they can be used to increase reading fluency.

The combination of a webcam, microphone (Many webcams include a microphone) and a free program such as Windows Movie Maker allow students to record themselves. These recordings can be stored, played back and even published.  Timothy J Frey, Abby Houlton, and Elizabeth Gruis  recently published a study on using webcams to increase reading fluency. In their article they spoke about a process called "I can see me".  The process looks something like this:

  1. Teacher selects an appropriate text and makes two copies for the student.

  2. Students record themselves reading the story using a webcam and windows movie maker (or any other video capture program.

  3. Students play back the recording of their reading and make note of errors that they made. They assess their rate, volume and accuracy.

  4. The student and teacher then conference to discuss their reading.

  5. The student then re-reads and records the video. He or she will re-watch the video and observe any improvement or mistakes.

It is in the last stage of the process, when students are rereading and playing back, that they see their improvement. They see themselves improving. This provides encouragement and a feeling of success. It is the observable, incremental successes that result in better fluency. "We were really interested in interventions that students can do themselves or that build metacognitive skills," Frey said. "Having the students build skills and learn to detect their own errors rather than teachers trying to fix them over and over again is really important for students."(Frey)

If the storage space is available the student may save their recordings. This portfolio will be available to show how the student has progressed over time. It can also be shared at the end of the school year with the child's next teacher to serve as a benchmark.


I Can See Me -