I've had this post in my head for weeks and couldn't find the time to write it, so I took advantage of my commute and made my first vlog post. (Don't judge my camera angle and amateur-ish recording--it's a total FAIL and I'm proud of it!)
Anyhow, one of my personal goals this year is to learn more about gamification and how we can start implementing it into our curriculum. Here are some baby step ideas to get started in your own classroom:
I'd love to hear how you're leveling up--feel free to leave comments and ideas below. Learning can be all fun and games!
If a picture's worth a thousand words, then take a look at this:
It's a side-by-side comparison of two activities, but I'm not going to share with you yet which activities. The image is from a study conducted by an MIT professor in which students were equipped with wristbands that measured skin conductance as an index of the “arousal associated with emotion, cognition and attention.” The students wore the wristband for one week. These are images of "highly-spiked" activities, or activities that stimulated strong physiological enthusiasm from one student:
The obvious conclusions we can draw from these images aren't too much of a stretch: the more intellectually stimulating the task, the more the brain is engaged, right? So, studying, homework, and testing all create tangible spikes.
Okay, ready for the big reveal?
Yep...sitting in a classroom is about as intellectually stimulating as snoozing. Digging deeper, we can reasonably assume that this particular classroom activity is most likely lecture-based.
Did you know that since the establishment of the university system in 1050, class-long lecturing has been the predominant method of instructional delivery? Let that settle in for a moment: we've talked at students for almost 1,000 years. Despite recent studies that confirm fifteen minutes is about the maximum amount of time students can focus on lecture material, we're still encouraging students to passively accept our content knowledge. Or, to quote my math coach buddy Mike Lipnos, "We have no idea how much we take from children when we give them our thinking."
What Can Be Done?
Fortunately, this is an easy fix, and I'm certainly not endorsing a complete ban on direct instruction; sometimes it's necessary. However, it's not our only option. Vicki Halsey, author of the book Brilliance by Design, suggests a six-step ENGAGE model for instructional delivery, and you can read more about that in more detail here. Distinguished teacher Angela Watson provides eight quick-start ideas we can immediately implement to get our kiddos actively talking more, such as:
In other words, keep it brief, keep it active, and keep it about the students.
What strategies do you use to cut down on the amount of time you lecture?
When Dr. Ruben Puentadura devised the SAMR model as a pathway for teachers to integrate technology into instruction, he justified its existence in the following way: “I see students taking charge of their own education. Those are classrooms where the students say…’I can see a better way of doing that!’ There is a certain excitement [and] a certain ownership of learning.” In other words, he envisioned a world (and classrooms) where the teachers and the technology would work together to create student-centric environments.
I appreciate the simplicity and step-by-step approach of the SAMR model. More importantly, I appreciate the #awesomesauce potential it promises. Truly defining 1:1 in the classroom comes down to this:
These are the goals not only of the SAMR model, but of the redefinition of learning. Today’s classrooms should be teacher-bordered and not teacher-focused. Our learning environments should encourage students to individually find a better way to think, to solve, to learn, and to re-learn.
The 1:1 classroom offers that potential, for sure. But in my travels, I all too frequently see many districts or buildings or classrooms not quite hitting the mark. (I’m not getting all Judge Judy here, I promise!) I think that we all too often get stuck at the substitution level of the SAMR model when it comes to 1:1.
And then we get comfortable staying there.
And the next thing you know, we’re wearing sweats, we’ve abandoned makeup, the hair’s up in a messy ponytail, and we’re hanging out the couch, with pizza and Netflix now a substitute for our date night. In other words, we’ve stopped making an effort.
image courtesy of The Odyssey Online
We weren’t meant to get stuck. A digital worksheet is still just a worksheet, after all.
Being 1:1 isn’t just about the technology--because the technology isn’t going to magically make students empowered and engaged. Just because every kid has a device doesn’t mean that kid is using the technology to his or her advantage. We need to keep this top-of-mind when we introduce technology into our classrooms, schools, districts: “A one to one classroom occurs at the intersection of content, pedagogy, and technology.”
When I assist teacher teams with integrating technology into their classrooms, I lay out for them the things that need to really change--and that’s first and foremost the pedagogy. We can’t continue teaching to 21st century kids as if they’re 20th century ones. With that said, when teachers and administrators ask me how they can get started going 1:1, I always ask the following questions:
Are You Willing to Change the Design of Your Classroom?
A 1:1 classroom requires flexibility for both individual and collaborative work. Are you willing to ditch the desks? Are you accepting of the idea of a space that is stripped down, inviting, and designed for collaboration? Are you willing to give up your teacher desk (or as I call it, “Fort Desk”) in favor of a have-laptop-will-travel mentality to work with students? Are you ready to make your future-ready classroom brain-friendly? Simply put, does your classroom look like your local Starbucks or the Google offices? (Okay, okay...you probably can’t make it look exactly like the Googleplex, but consider the open spaces, collaborative idea sharing areas, and inviting atmosphere.)
Are You Willing to Give Up Control--and to Be Okay with Occasional Chaos?
Are you okay with not feeding students content via lecture notes, graphic organizers, and prepackaged worksheets from Teachers Pay Teachers? Are you okay with asking them questions and then letting them explore like free-range chickens? Are you okay with not having an airtight, rigid lesson plan? Are you okay with abandoning a lesson when an opportunity for exploration presents itself? Are you okay with letting students get it wrong occasionally--make mistakes, fail, and self-correct? Are you okay with not stepping in and taking over--being the guide and not the facilitator? Are you okay with students being out of their seats? Are you okay with non-silent, working students?
Are You Willing to Let Students Create?
Are you familiar with the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy--where creation is now the highest level of learning? Are you happy to let students show what they know instead of having them take and end-of-unit summative? Are you ready to let your students be content creators instead of content consumers? Knowing that whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning, would you be willing to let students teach something to increase their retention of material? Would you even be willing to let them write a textbook or create learning materials for their peers instead of simply recalling? Would you consider allowing students to publish to a global audience via YouTube, blogging, or the creation of a website?
Are You Willing to Give Up the One-Size-Fits All Mentality?
Can you create an assignment or activity that accommodates different types of learners? Will your learners have choice and voice in how they present their learning? (As Chris Lehmann points out, “If you assign a project and get back 30 of the exact same thing, that’s not a project. That’s a recipe.”) Would you consider different instructional delivery methods that might be self-paced? (Think HyperDocs or gamification here.)
And the biggie...
Are You Willing to Become a Flipper?
Can you get comfortable with the idea of assigning homework for classwork and classwork for homework? Can you give up lecturing and instead devise active learning experiences, problem-based learning, or peer instruction? Can you challenge yourself to deliver content outside of class that is engaging? Are you willing to let students use their mobile devices in the classroom to learn and create?
If the answer to the majority of the questions is yes, then we are good to go, to explore, to learn, to transform, If the answer is no, well, that’s neither bad or good--it’s just the way it is and some guided hand-holding and confidence-boosting needs to occur.
These are all uncomfortable questions, and it’s sometimes uncomfortable for me to ask them--and for educators to even consider them. But change doesn’t happen in our comfort zones.
Speaking of getting uncomfortable, let’s revisit that date night analogy again: Remember when things were new? You know, when we actually put forth some effort? When we shaved our legs, applied the eye shadow, curled the hair, and donned the heels? (Guys, not sure what your equivalent of date-night effort is. Don't throw shade at me.) Let's get back to putting forth the effort. It makes everyone happy.
We have to encourage ourselves and our colleagues to make the effort again, too. To not get comfortable. To ask of our current pedagogical practices, What can I do to keep this fresh?
We need to keep making the effort and we can’t stay comfortable.
Because our 21st-century students, after all, deserve our effort.
image courtesy of Pixabay
Note: This is the first in a series of posts about lesson makeovers. These are opportunities I've had to transform traditional instructional practices to make learning more engaging and meaningful in a 1:1 classroom environment.
I'm a sucker for makeover shows: home makeovers, fashion makeovers, beauty makeovers, whatever. It's the transformation that mesmerizes me--the gift of the makeup artist to alter one's appearance, the talent of the designer to reimagine a space, the genius of a fashionista to envision the future.
Hey, we all could use an update.
The same is true of our instruction: a little change now and then is a good idea. (You know, maybe trade in that blue eye shadow for something a little more this decade. And really, how much longer are you going to hang on to that Forenza sweater?)
Recently, I've been working with a group of teachers who've asked me to remodel their "clunkers"--or as I like to call them--the educational equivalent of MC Hammer pants. (Side note: my pal Amy Roediger calls this "remaking the worst lesson" and a terrific place to start when it comes to educational technology transformations.)
So with that said, here's this month's makeover: a 4th grade subject and predicate worksheet.
Before: Wearisome Worksheet
This standard cut-and-paste worksheet from Teachers Pay Teachers doesn't do much in the way of helping fourth graders show what they know. In fact, it's a DOK Level 1 activity in that students are simply asked to arrange subjects and predicates without even having to understand what they are, as evidenced by the fact that simply knowing a sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a period would enable you to complete this having zero knowledge of such. And did I mention it involves cutting and pasting--UGH.
After: Radical Reshaping
This former worksheet remade via a Google Drawing can be pushed out via Google Classroom with the following directions:
Sure, it still has the arranging task to it, but notice that all punctuation has been removed. This compels students to distinguish (DOK 2), to revise (DOK 3), and to create (DOK 4). Furthermore, they're practicing necessary technology skills which so many of our kiddos need to have mastered. More importantly, students are really, truly showing what they know.
So, let's leave the cutting to our bangs, okay? (Or maybe not. Go see a professional for that.)
image courtesy of FemaleMag
Have you seen the new Google Pixel 2 commercial? Before you read any further, take a look:
What’s your first impression? Mine is That’s brilliant. But it’s not just the commercial that’s brilliant (although the advertising executive who dreamt it up sure deserves a bonus)--it’s the message:
A question mark changes everything.
As the Google design team makes abundantly clear in this ad, statements are limiting, and placing a period at the end of a sentence indicates finality. No more ideas. No more moving forward. The end. Game over. ‘Nuff said.
But what if?
As we Google fans know (and as the company itself affirms), Google is a company “built on questions.” And as more schools go Google (70+ million G Suite for Education global users), we need to change our mark of punctuation:
We are learning.
We are learning?
Think about our CCSS “I Can” statements--the ones prominently displayed in every classroom to indicate content learned by students. Here’s one for high school biology:
I can use a model to illustrate the role of cellular division (mitosis) and differentiation in producing and maintaining complex organisms. (LS1-4)
How do we know they can?
Well, traditionally, a teacher will prepare slides about mitosis, give lecture notes about mitosis, copy study guides and worksheets about mitosis, assign homework and reading about mitosis, and then finally administer a unit test about mitosis.
No more ideas. No more moving forward. The end. Game over. ‘Nuff said.
(By the way, notice the verbs I used above to describe the traditional learning process: prepare, give, copy, assign, administer. While these aren’t passive verbs--and this former high school English teacher should know!--they certainly designate passivity when it comes to learning. And notice that all the “work” is being done by the teacher. The students will watch the slides, copy the notes, complete the study guides and worksheets, do the homework and reading, and take the test. Check out the verbs I used in that last sentence. See a pattern? Those verbs make a point, and the point is this: If whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning, then we’re doing it wrong.)
A question mark changes everything.
What if we changed that period at the end of a traditional "I Can" statement into a question mark?
I can use a model to illustrate the role of cellular division (mitosis) and differentiation in producing and maintaining complex organisms?
Imagine projecting that question to a class and simply saying, Can you? Imagine allowing them to pursue their own learning, to show, to demonstrate, to create. What if we said, “Figure out a way to show how you can master that standard, whether it’s a screencast, a song, an infographic, a story, an animated Google Slides deck, a carefully-curated assemblage, a playlist...a whatever you can imagine! I’ll be here to guide you, to coach you, to encourage you, to direct you, but I will not do the work for you.” Imagine stepping to the side and allowing them to be active participants and owners of their learning.
I can learn.
I can learn?
Statements finalize possibilities. Questions open them up.
Still not convinced? Think about this for a minute: Google didn’t create the latest in innovative smart phone technology by making statements. Google did it by asking questions.
So why aren’t we?
A question mark changes everything.
Note: To learn more about asking questions to inspire learning, check out inquiry-based learning.
This post is inspired by Alice Keeler’s May 1, 2017, keynote speech at the #ITIP2017 Ohio Google Summit: “In The Future, Cars Drive Themselves”
I saved this image about a year ago. Don’t know why, didn’t know if I was going to use it, wasn’t sure how I was going to use it, but I knew that while it specifically speaks to the revolutionary work done by both Steve Jobs and by Apple, it generally speaks to the evolutionary work we need to be doing in education.
If you follow me or my blog, you know I’ll evangelize until I’m hoarse (or until someone throat punches me just to shut me up) about the shift that needs to occur from depositing knowledge into our learners’ heads to allowing them to acquire knowledge for themselves.
We’re still asking questions that can be answered with a simple Google search. We’re still feeding factoids that can be found online. We’re still assessing kiddos based on their ability to memorize those factoids.
“We need to teach,” says Google guru Alice Keeler, “like Google exists.”
We need students to create. Not to memorize.
(By the way, do you know that the synonym for “memorize” is “recollect?” Re-collect. As in collect again.)
Why are we asking students to memorize the dates of the Norman Invasion? Is that learning? We’re fooling ourselves if we think our searchable questions are original. Don’t believe me? Well, Buttercup, check out this video about PhotoMath, an app that uses your students’ smartphone camera to snap a pic of a mathematical equation worksheet--and then solves the problem and gives them the answer. If we want answers that aren’t searchable, we need to design questions that preclude that.
So, instead of treating Google like a red-headed stepchild, banning search bars from our classrooms, let’s make friends with it. Let’s keep the end-user in mind when designing instruction. I don’t care how afraid we are of the technology, we have to remember for whom we work--and that’s the kiddos.
If Google’s in the process of design self-driving cars, how about we design self-driving learners? If we hire a personal trainers, we don’t expect them to do the work for us (though I wish they did!). So why do we do the work--vocabulary lists, study guides, packaged lecture notes--for the students?
Are we teaching the future?
Or are we teaching the past?
“It's Hard When You're Young:” What the Chainsmokers Taught Me About Teaching (and Reaching) Generation Z
I attended my first rave last night. Well, as much of a rave as a 49 year-old mother is willing to attend (and endure). It was a Chainsmokers concert that my teenage son graciously allowed me to accompany him to here in Cleveland. (And by “accompany him” I mean he “let me pay for the tickets" and "let me drive him there and back.”) Nevertheless, we had a blast: he bounced and sang along, and I bounced and sang along, too--a Gen Xer sticking out among the Generation Z crowd like a...well, like a mom at a Chainsmokers concert.
But being who I am, I also observed. I couldn’t help it. It’s what I do.
The Facebook Generation vs. The Snapchat Generation
The profound age difference between me and everyone else first hit when I started taking videos and photos with my phone. My intention was to upload them to my go-to social media outlet--which for us Gen Xers is Facebook. And then I noticed that everyone else around me was uploading to their go-to social media outlet--which is Snapchat. I should mention here that I have a Snapchat account; it’s infrequently used, but I have one. My sons have been (im)patiently teaching me how to use it. (I taught them how to tie their shoes. It’s the least they can do to return the favor.)
I’ll admit it: I really, sincerely admire and adore post-Millennials, a.k.a. the Internet Generation, a.k.a. Generation Z. While others may complain about their short attention spans, their self-involvement, their digital media obsession, there are those of us who are intrigued by them, who celebrate them, who believe they will change the world. This past October, I was invited to deliver a keynote at NEOTIE about today’s learners entitled “TBH...It’s Time to Meet Learners Where They Are,” a talk designed to help educators understand how this group--digital since diapers--requires us to transform the way we teach if we hope to keep connecting with them. It was my favorite of any of my presentations, mostly because I loved what I learned about this oft-maligned group.
Due to my admiration of this generation and because they’ve taught this old dog more than a few new tricks, I started emulating those around me at the concert by uploading videos and pics to share later on Facebook, but I also started Snapchatting my Chainsmokers story.
That was my first A-ha! moment: It was so much easier and so much quicker to share what I was experiencing in the moment instead of collecting media to share later in a post that featured what had already happened. Sort of like live-Tweeting, but better. (By the way, it’s no coincidence that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have also added their own stories or memories feature to their platforms. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.)
This living-in-the-moment attitude and not being burdened down with “stuff” is indicative of a generation of kids who, like it or not, are globally-connected, socially aware, and have influenced and developed their own media language mostly consisting of visuals and acronyms, and who have resolved to do things differently.
Okay, enough adulation. I don’t want to lose those of you who still need some convincing about these kiddos. Suffice it to say, my foray into Snapchat got me thinking about other A-ha! moments: How can we reach today’s learners?
EMBRACE THE (R)EVOLUTION
The Chainsmokers are both revolutionary and evolutionary. They’re an EDM-pop crossover DJ duo who rose to fame by first making remixes of independent bands and then by collaborating with recording artists to write their own original songs. I mean, they’re not even true musicians, as historically defined, really. They’re DJs. (I couldn’t believe I was going to spend good money watching two dudes spin records, as I explained to my son months ago.) However, the DJ duo, Alex Pall and Drew Taggert, started experimenting in 2015, writing their own songs, and then--eventually--singing them. They’re now playing instruments, and have added a drummer and a classical pianist to the mix. As educators, we need to get on board with that same mentality: we can’t keep doing things the way we’ve always done them just for the sake of continuity or because we’re afraid to try something new. We need to get out from behind the record player and try to spin something new.
STOP SAVING & START LIVING
Snapchat stories only last 24 hours--that’s it. I wondered, Why wouldn’t you want to post these memories to, say, Facebook, so that you could have them forever? (Neither one of my sons have a Facebook account. They laugh at me when I suggest it to them: Ummm…yeah. Like I want a “Mom-book” account.) Just so you know, you can save photos and videos in Snapchat to your camera roll, but to this generation, it’s important to live in the moment--to experience the next thing instead of holding on to the past. As educators, the lesson we can learn from this is that we should learn to live in the moment, too. Toss out those file cabinets we’ve hoarded of outdated study guides and tried-and-true lesson plans. Get rid of all the posters, anchor charts, and other hanging crap on our walls and bulletin boards. Strip it down. Get current. Keep it simple. Surf the ‘Net for videos, photos, articles, and memes that speak to today--not to five or ten or fifteen years ago.
WE'VE GOT TO MIX IT UP
The Chainsmokers’ setlist from last night featured their singles, but it also pulled in a whole bunch of yummy goodness from other tracks by the Killers, Panic! at the Disco, the Notorious B.I.G., and one of my personal faves--Coldplay. That’s what DJs do: they mix it up. They don’t just spin one record; they spin an amalgam of them. How many of us still own LPs? My vinyl has been donated or sold. As educators, let's think more and think often about pulling from other content areas and genres to teach: Grab a video from Vevo as a conversation-starter; open up Spotify and create a playlist of songs relevant to the subject matter (or even better--let the kids do it!); let them respond to a class question in Twitter. Stop playing just that one single like a broken record. (Pun intended.)
LET THEM TAKE A #SELFIE
OMG, the selfies. Tons of them, everywhere last night. The Chainsmokers gained initial fame with their 2014 hit #SELFIE--a sardonic yet hilarious look at the selfie phenomenon--but it speaks to a generation of students who need to see themselves. Why they do it isn’t important. Maybe we should instead ask, How can we as educators get students to see themselves in their learning? Most learning is teacher-directed and teacher-assigned. What if we instead provided for more choice and voice in assignments? What types of things would they create? What if we allowed them to pursue and/or construct their learning paths? Of course, we still need to teach the standards, but do we need to do so in such a rigidly-structured manner: lectures, quizzes, and tests? What if we asked our students: How would you like to show what you know?
ACT LIKE A DJ
Okay, so with all this talk of changing it up, I’d like to address the fact that without DJs--the music would come to a screeching halt. [Insert record scratch sound effect here.] Teachers: you’re the DJ. Keep the beat going. You still have to curate the songs and the song clips. They still need us. We are still important. But could we maybe change the song every once in awhile?
CHAMPION CREATIVITY OVER CONSUMPTION
The Chainsmokers didn’t wait around hoping to be discovered by a music industry executive. They made their music and uploaded it to SoundCloud, an open music and audio platform that allows our globally-connected post-Millennials to discover breakthrough artists and to connect with them. From there, the audience grew. The Chainsmokers created their own content, published it, and shared it. In contrast, we often tend to assign one task with a very rigid and specific set of directions based on the notes and lectures we have fed to our students. Do you have any idea how many of your students have published their own work to YouTube or SoundCloud already? Allow opportunities for them to do so in the classroom. What about a video essay (vessay) instead of an essay? What about letting them write a song that exemplifies the tone or mood of an historical era?
LET THE BEAT DROP
I once read something somewhere (I think it was a blog post by George Couros) that asked Would you want to be a student in your own classroom? In other words, are we having fun? Are we engaged? Are we active? When the “beat drops” in a song by the Chainsmokers and other EDM groups, it signals a pause before a major shift in beat or tempo--usually something big and loud and crazy and fun. Like this. Do we let the beat drop in our classrooms? Do we provide some spectacle, something big, something to let our students know that the best is yet to come? Are our hooks “hooky” enough? Learning should be fun. Lectures make it not so much. Dave Burgess is onto something.
WE'VE GOT TO REMIX IT, TOO
Last night, the Chainsmokers’ played their hit “It Won’t Kill Ya” in two (or was it three?) different versions, or what are commonly called remixes. A remix is a different interpretation of a musical recording. The result is something that has hints of the original, but may have a completely different meaning. I immediately connected with the Notorious B.I.G. version of the song; my son (who by the way, loves remixes; he’s on SoundCloud all the time looking for remixes of his favorite songs) preferred the trap remix of the original. Not all remixes are for everyone, however. But to reach an audience equally, we have to consider that not every audience member is equal. And that’s why differentiation is so utterly important. We can’t have a one-size-fits-all mentality when it comes to instruction and learning. Regardless of how we feel about differentiation in education, we have to take the end game (the learner) into account. How are we providing different avenues for learning?
CONNECT & COLLABORATE
Take a look at the Chainsmokers’ songs. While Alex has taken on some singing responsibilities, a number of their songs feature contributing vocals from other artists such as Emily Warren, Halsey, Daya, and Chris Martin from Coldplay, to name a few. Indicative of the generation who loves them, the Chainsmokers aren’t shy in reaching out to connect with others they don’t know. For example, the story goes that the duo, hearing through the grapevine that Coldplay was a fan of their music, simply reached out to them about the possibility of working together. That’s it. We need to reach across the hallway, across the building, across the campus of our schools and districts to collaborate with other teachers instead of teaching within the isolated four walls of our classrooms. Hell, we need to reach out across the globe, using Twitter, Skype, and Google Hangouts to connect with experts, authors, congressional representatives, and scientists. Let’s show our students that their reach should exceed their grasp and that collaborating leads to creation.
IT'S OKAY TO SOMETIMES INTRODUCE THEM TO THE OLDIES BUT THE GOODIES
While before the concert, much of the Chainsmokers’ music was unknown to me--except for what I heard on the car radio--it was comforting to hear the inclusion of music with which I was familiar. Last night’s setlist included snippets of, as I mentioned, the Killers, Panic! at the Disco, The Verve, and Biggie himself. On the drive home, I was provided the opportunity, then, to introduce those artists to my son. Our students don’t know everything, and while they may have access to everything via the Internet, they still need guides to help them figure out what’s important. What we know is still important.
We have a lot to learn from the Generation Z crowd--if we’re listening to them. Oh, by the way...the title of this post? It’s a Chainsmokers song. (Here’s my Spotify playlist of the setlist.) And while my Snapchat story has expired since last night, be sure to follow me for new ones. I’m still true to my GenX roots, though, and that’s why you’ll find my pictures on Facebook, too. I’m happy to embrace both worlds. 😀
Go drop your mic!
I overheard the following exchange between two junior-high students yesterday. (I wasn’t actively eavesdropping; simply trying to navigate the hallway between classes..sort of like a salmon swimming upstream.)
Student #1: Dude, I heard we have a sub for English.
Student #2: Awesome. That means we’ll have no work to do.
At that point, I was able to jump my salmon run for the upper river, but the students’ terse yet thought-provoking conversation got me thinking: what is it about a sub situation that prods kiddos to equate a substitute teacher with a free-for-all? There’s still a task to be addressed, work to be completed, and an outcome to be achieved. It’s not like it’s a study hall or a three-ring circus or an ecstasy-infused rave, right? (Okay, I know the kids think it will be, but the amount of work on a teacher’s part that goes into prepping for a substitute is almost more work than taking the personal or professional day. Simply recalling that time I had jury duty causes me to break out into a cold sweat as I write this.)
As I tend to do, I started to overthink it. Was the comment by Student #2 a passing, not-so-serious one? Or did it speak to something greater and more problematic with the whole notion of substitution?
In algebraic terms, substitution refers to simply putting numbers where the letters are. For example, What is x + x/5 when x = 15? If we substitute x for 15 in the equation, we arrive at the following: 15 + 15/3 = 15 + 5 = 20.
The final equation looks different, but it’s essentially the same thing--just dressed in a different costume. (Like a substitute teacher.)
If you’re lactose intolerant, you can opt for rice milk or soy milk as a substitute for dairy. The act of substitution here takes the place of another. In this instance, however--as those of us lucky to not be lactose intolerant know--no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise, there’s really no substitute for from-the-cow milk, no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise. I’m not denigrating the lactose-intolerant; I myself am peanut intolerant, and no amount of chocolate-covered, roasted edamame is going to be as salty and satisfying as a Snickers bar--or so I discovered the one time I ingested one. (And by the way, it was so worth it.)
As I also tend to do, I’ve now wandered off my intended path and into the woods (or out of my stream and into a tributary, if I’m still going with the salmon metaphor). Anyway, my point here is that no matter how PC or self-delusional we choose to be, let’s face it: a substitute (whether it’s a teacher, algebra, soy, or roasted edamame) is never really quite as good as the real thing.
Which brings me to the S in SAMR...
If you’re unfamiliar with the acronym, I’m guessing you’ve probably spent the last five years or so trapped under a house (and in that case, you’ve got more pressing concerns than an acronym), or that it’s been on your radar and you haven’t gotten around to exploring it just yet. If that’s the case then, and before you read any further, I strongly encourage you to watch this quick and painless overview of SAMR.
Here’s the thing, though. I see a lot of us stepping onto that first rung of the ladder--the S (or substitution) level--patting ourselves on the back, and setting up camp there. In other words, we take what was once a paper worksheet and transfer it into a Google Doc. Or we exchange Google Forms for our paper quizzes. Or (and I swear I’ve seen this) we use Google Classroom to post our recycled Word Docs from last-year-at-the-same-time’s weekly homework.
There’s nothing wrong with taking that first step on the ladder. But when we stay there, either afraid to or unable to or unwilling to climb higher, then we’ve created an old classroom in a new way.
The psychiatric definition of substitution is the "turning from an obstructed form of behavior to a different and often more primitive expression of the same tendency" [emphasis mine]. Here, the "obstructed form of behavior" is the paper version; the "same tendency" is the idea that making something digital makes it new.
While we may create digital tasks to replace the paper ones, we’re still doing old things. We’re doing them differently, sure, but we’re not doing them in a challenging or engaging manner. A digital worksheet is still just a worksheet.
We need to modify and redefine our tasks instead of substituting them, and we can do that by heeding the call of 21st-century learning: strive for creativity and collaboration. Let’s take a book report, for example. Instead of typing it into a Google Doc (substitution) and having students use Easy Bib or a thesaurus add-on in conjunction with it (augmentation), encourage them to work collaboratively in Google Slides to create a literary walk (modification). Even better: allow them to use a video tool of their choice to create a book trailer (redefinition).
Substitution is a poor imitation of the original. (And just to be clear: I’m not book-ending this post by saying substitute teachers are a poor imitation. I’ve known some pretty amazing substitute teachers, as I’m sure you have.) When it comes to digital task design, however, we need to dump the substitute, because--and I quote--there’s really “no work to do.”
Most substitute teachers, though, aspire to something more--to have their own classrooms. And that’s how we should view the S in SAMR: it’s a good place to start; but let’s not get stuck there.
Let’s aspire to something greater.
Last week, Mrs. H asked me to help her devise a plan to teach Google Drive, Docs, Slides, and Drawings to her sixth grade class.
And I started doing just that.
And then I slowed my roll.
And then my slow roll screeched to a halt.
Because sometimes I have to remind myself--even though I preach it like it’s my job and I’m getting paid for it (Oh, wait...I am!)--that I have to get the heck out of the way when it comes to learning.
Because when it comes to teaching, there’s a very delicate balance among leading, following, and getting out of the way:
Direct instruction (or “leading”) is the most predominant method of instructional delivery, and it occasionally has its place in the classroom; but it should be limited. Very limited. Like no more than a ten to fifteen minutes kind of limited.
Since my own classroom epiphany in 2008, I've tended to favor the “What Can the Kids Teach Me?” method of pedagogy (or what I like to call “following”). If 90% of what we retain is what we teach, then we should be encouraging our students to find their own answers by doing and teaching themselves.
Now, with regard to the above-mentioned scenario regarding Mrs. H's request, I opted to be the guide on the side--or what I call the teacher-bordered classroom (aka, “get out of the way”). What does this look like, exactly? It’s a combination of acting like a border collie while letting the sheep sometimes run amok. Actually, it’s more professional than that. Ever hear of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development? It’s where learning occurs just beyond the level of what students can do independently. Sort of a “lead-them-to-water-and-then-let-them drink” mentality.
What this involves is not telling...but asking. Not asking recall questions, but thought-provoking ones. Questions that demand exploration and investigation. Questions without easy answers. Questions that lead to creation.
And that’s when I came up with the idea of what I call the “Explore - Do” model. (Okay, okay...it’s not exactly a trademark-able name, but it does the job.) Instead of teaching Mrs. H’s kiddos, I opted to let them play in the digital sandbox and teach themselves.
In this glorious day and age of collaboration and social media, I tweeted out my idea, hoping others could use it in their classrooms. My buddy Jake Miller got me thinking:
We have to get out of their way sometimes and allow them to think for themselves.
Maybe it makes me smart or maybe it makes me lazy.
Either way, I believe it works out best in the end for them.
I've been a visual learner my whole life.
As a student, my hand-scribed notes were always accompanied by graphic organizers, and my index card flashcards were accompanied by some type of hand-drawn visual cue. (For example, in order to remember what word "libertatis" meant for a Latin exam, I sketched a picture of the Statue of Liberty next to the word...because "libertatis" means "freedom.")
All that sketching and visualizing? It turns out I was ahead of my time.
Presently, infographics have taken center stage, as you may have noticed. It's because the less-words-and-more-images approach has been scientifically proven to increase information retention. According to Mary Jo Madda in her article entitled "Why Your Students Forgot Everything on Your PowerPoint Slides," our kiddos are in cognitive overload with our bullet-laden PowerPoint slides and the redundancy effect of us reading aloud from them.
(Not that any of my dear readers even remotely resemble the economics teacher from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," I'm certain. I'm just trying to make a point.)
Imagine trying to pour water into an already-full glass. Now you have a clear image of what cognitive overload is all about.
In order to avoid cognitive overload, Richard Mayer, a brain scientist and author of the book Multimedia Learning, offers the following solution: Eliminate textual elements from presentations and instead talk through points, sharing images or graphs with students. (You can watch a quick video of his theory here. More visual learning--yay!)
Data visualization is totally legit. Just ask David McCandless, who takes mind-numbing data and transforms it into beautiful and simple graphics because, as he so accurately puts it, good design is the best way to navigate information glut. His TED talk on the subject absolutely and firmly convinced me to drink the infographic Kool-Aid. For those of you who think that infographics dumb-down our kids or spoon-feed them information, watch this 17-minute talk. As McCandless demonstrates, identifying and evaluating the hidden patterns in data visualization is higher-level thinking at its best.
Still not convinced? Then you really need to check out this infographic about why infographics are so essential. (An infographic about infographics? How totally meta!)
In any event, I'm practicing what I preach. The other day, this very helpful post from Eric Curts' blog Control Alt Achieve came my way: "26 YouTube Shortcuts Everyone Should Know." I wanted to share it with the teachers in my district, but I knew if I forwarded it, it would get stuck in the vast virtual wasteland of inboxes, or worse yet, it would get printed and forever lost in the shuffle of the perpetual paper piles. I wanted to condense it, because while it was incredible relevant and useful--it was just still too wordy for me.
That's when I busted out my favorite graphic design tool, Canva, and its spawn, Canva Infographic Maker. Like it promises, Canva does indeed make design simple for everyone. If you're new to Canva, I HIGHLY recommend pouring yourself a glass of wine and giving over an hour of your life to Canva Design School's tutorials. Seriously. Otherwise, you'll just be re-creating your crappy PowerPoints in a new platform.
Okay, enough talk. How about a little show? Here's what I made in under an hour, using Eric's content:
While I know I'm not going to light the graphic design industry on fire, I'm still pretty proud of myself.
So what do you think? Ready to give it a try yourself? How about transforming one of your current PowerPoint presentations and comparing the before and after versions? You'll be amazed at what you can create. And your students will be grateful that you've saved their brains from overload.
Image courtesy of MemeGenerator
Educational consultant + #pedtech coach in Cleveland, Ohio sharing innovative technology ideas for educators.