26 July 2013

Engaging and Authentic Student Blogging

Last year, I started blogging with my students on Kidblog. I immediately saw the benefits to their motivation to write and the potential to expand our classroom across oceans and continents. In the next school year, I plan to use our class blog as a hub for writing and collaboration with other classes around the world.

There are as many approaches to student blogging as there are innovative teachers doing it, but I have a suggestion related to promoting and commenting which I think would make blogging more engaging and authentic for students.
Photo by Lars Plougmann

24 July 2013

Learning Walk

I thought my evening commute would be a good route for a Learning Walk. New perspectives on a familiar pathway...

20 July 2013

I want workbenches in my classroom.

Make Cycle 5 (reflection)

The first assignment I remember from my 'teacher training' was to make a map of my ideal elementary classroom. It was based on what I called 'zones'. There was a quiet reading zone equipped with beanbags, a gallery zone with easels dedicated to exhibiting artwork, and a vegetable garden under the windows. My proudest feature, however, was the workbenches. When I presented my map to the class, I spoke about how it was fine for students to have desks, but I wanted another area without chairs, just large, tall tables around which they could collaborate and build.

I wanted workbenches.

I had a few years experience teaching musical keyboard classes. I had wild ideas of 'open school' and giant learning spaces in which the boundaries between teacher and student, classroom and community, were smeared beyond recognition.

All I knew was that children learn best when they are self-directed and encouraged to collaborate.

14 July 2013

Inquiry with Evernote vol 1

Three weeks ago, I began exploring Evernote. Literally within minutes, I was convinced that it is an essential tool for inquiry-based teaching. I hope that by the end of this post, you will agree and want to join me in taking a huge step toward true metateaching. If student curiosity is a spark, I want to use Evernote to ignite that spark into a raging inferno. To be authentic, inquiry must be unpredictable. Inquiry teaching includes a fair amount of modeled and structured inquiry, but the deepest learning occurs when learners follow their own interests and processes to construct understanding.

I have been using Evernote to create an interconnected web of media that can be instantly searched based on criteria I create for my inquiry classroom. I already feel like a librarian from a futuristic sci-fi movie! Here is my process for curating resources:

1 Discover an image, website, video, etc, which I think would be provocative for inquiry. I most often find them on tumblr, education blogs, and science and geography journals.

2 Create a note. I prefer to use the Web Clipper and to clip a stimulating image rather than the entire webpage. As long as I ensure that the URL included in the note is correct, I can easily follow my note to its source for further investigation. 

3 Customize the title of the note.

4 Add tags.

5 Done. Tags are the key to creating an inquiry library. My system for creating the tags is what makes Evernote both a scalpel and a battle ax of inquiry. I use five categories.

General Use a few tags for broad categories. For example, 'education', 'technology', or 'learning theory'. Each of my notes usually gets just 1 or 2 general tags.

Thematic I recommend to use 5-8 thematic tags relevant to your units of inquiry like 'Who we are' or 'Personal Expression'. If a note that you create seems relevant to any of your themes, tag it as such. Keep in mind that the more tags you create, the more connected your inquiry notebook will be.

Conceptual tags such as 'form, 'perspective', 'identity', 'independence', 'creativity'. When inquiry is running rampant, concepts become the adhesive that connects learning across disciplines, genres, and any other classifications. I recommend using 7 or 8 key concepts so that your web of connections is strong, and many (50+) secondary concepts so that you can search very specifically. If you search for a secondary concept, it will connect to various key concepts which relate to more secondary concepts, and so on.

Disciplinary tags like 'history', 'biology', 'music'. These will be useful when a discipline-oriented inquiry is unraveling or when creating presentations, displays, etc.

Specific tags like 'moon', 'pelican', 'fuzzy', 'grief'. These tags simply describe the note. I also include tags like 'graphic', 'photo', 'game', and 'website' to tag each note as explicitly as possible. If you curate a few hundred of resources in this way, your Evernote inquiry notebook will be a powerful tool for provoking inquiries both planned and spontaneous. If you curate a few thousand... Let's go through the process with an actual resource from my notebook.

How would you tag this image in Evernote?
My note for this resource.

The general tag I chose for this note is 'bloom's taxonomy' because I feel it could provoke an inquiry all the way up the cognitive ladder. The thematic tags are 'Sharing the planet', 'Who we are', and 'How we express ourselves'. My conceptual tags are 'form', 'responsibility', 'creativity'. This note's disciplinary tags are 'arts', 'social studies', 'geography'. The tags specific to this note are 'painting', 'color', 'fish', 'animal', 'nature', 'indigenous', and 'student work'. Could there be more tags? There can always be more tags! The important thing is that your tags, in terms of categories and connections, work for inquiry by being broadly and deeply connected. Also, take care that the link in the note directs to the website from which it came. This image happens to be from a blog post by a middle school art teacher which includes many other examples, so it could be an excellent provocation for deeper inquiry leading to researching the artist who inspired the work or contacting the teacher who posted the image. Be sure to customize the title to your taste. I titled this note 'Morriseau inspired paintings'. Often, the automatically generated title is quite long and jumbled. I prefer succinct titles.

In conclusion, there are many implications and applications for Evernote in inquiry learning and teaching. Knowing that I have only peeked under the lid is very exciting for me and I plan to explore much more deeply and share my adventures and misadventures in a series of posts here at Inquire Within. I hope your interest is piqued and that you will join me on this inquiry. What would you add? What would you subtract? Am I missing something obvious? I would love to collaborate to discover new ways to use Evernote to provoke and orchestrate inquiry learning and teaching! "As metateachers, we design the physical, social, emotional, conceptual, and informational environments in which learners can thrive." (from Bill Evans - Creative Process and Self Teaching)

12 July 2013

My Connected Learning Credo

Make Cycle 4 Reflection (Credo)

I believe that trust is the foundation of learning.

Learning is built on a foundation of trust.

I'm having a hard time trying explain it. It's kind of a gut feeling and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway. I would like to I really need to reflect on how I arrived at it, however.

I joined the Making Learning Connected MOOC for summer professional development and specifically to help develop my Independent Inquiry project for the next school year. Since the project was largely inspired by Mimi Ito's talk in the MIT MediaLab Learning Creative Learning MOOC, it only made sense to continue along that path of inquiry. I introduced myself innocuously and interacted with some nice people until...

07 July 2013

Is laziness good for learning?

Make Cycle 3 Reflection (Map)

Witnessing the creativity and originality of the maps my peers in the Making Learning Connected MOOC had submitted, I was overwhelmed by my own laziness. I didn't feel like being 'hands on'. Didn't want to tinker. Wouldn't go outside. I wasn't even inspired by the thoughtful prompts or useful tools which had been shared. I was just too lazy.

Was it because this is the first week of my summer break? Was it because the weather in Tokyo is becoming hotter and muggier? Am I naturally lazy?

From an evolutionary perspective, isn't being lazy very important? Wasted energy and effort don't support survival, and nobody likes a busybody out on the Serengeti. Lions are lazy, sleeping most of their lives, and bears hibernate for a few months every year! Bears and lions are awesome, so why is laziness such a taboo?!

As I wallowed in my laziness, it dawned on me that I could make a map to help solve my problem, both to understand my laziness and finish my assignment, and viola!, my Laziness Map.

Click to view in google drive.

01 July 2013

Parents as Catalyst for Professional Development

During end-of-year conferences, I had an enlightening conversation with the parents of twins. What made it interesting was the fact that the two siblings have completely different approaches to learning. We described one as a 'Part to Whole' learner and the other as a 'Whole to Part' learner. In the conference, they generously shared a story about their children learning to walk: One carefully analyzed the process of walking before venturing out; the other stood up and stumbled across the room without hesitation. It reminded me of my summer DES!GN project and my interest was piqued. How might I better design learning experiences to better engage 'whole to part' learners? Hence this blog post.

A brief inquiry led to this fantastic paper by Linda Kreger Silverman, Ph.D., Visual-Spatial Learners.

Although sharing terminology with the learning modalities and multiple intelligences, I am finding it very helpful to think of different approaches to learning existing on a continuum from Visual-Spatial to Auditory-Sequential.

Everyone is unique, but from an instructional design perspective, if I always consider the extremes of the spectrum, I should be accommodating any learning style on the spectrum.