Student Elections

Thomas Paine; a painting by Auguste Millière (...

Thomas Paine; a painting by Auguste Millière (1880), after an engraving by William Sharp after a portrait by George Romney (1792) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have worked in education for nearly 25 years, and during that time I have worked at several schools across the country.  These schools are located in different states such as Texas, Tennessee, Washington DC, Maryland, New Mexico, and California.  I have also attended schools in West Virginia, North Carolina, and California.  Even though these regions of the country tend to differ in political and educational policies, I have noticed one thing in common with these schools and educational policies when it comes to school elections for students, and I wanted to share a list of rules that most schools use in order to elect their student candidates.  Yes, I think there is something we can learn.

  1. Student candidates are given the same amount time to speak about what they would do to make the school a better place and community.
  2. Student candidates are not allowed to criticize other candidates or name call anyone in the administration, teaching staff, or student body.
  3. All religions, socioeconomic statuses, family styles, and gender identifications will be respected.
  4. Written advertisements are allowed in a certain style and must be posted in only certain areas.  There is a set limit that cannot be exceeded for advertising.  There is a clear limit on advertising that can not be exceeded.
  5. Favors of any kind are not allowed to be granted.  This includes personal favors and any act of giving that appears to be a gift to voters.
  6. The student voters are encouraged to discriminate between the candidates, but the candidates themselves are not allowed to express that opinion and/or difference.  Student voters are allowed to make up their mind for themselves.  They are respected as thinkers.
  7. There is a clear spending limit.  Excessive spending will not be tolerated and the principal will have to step in.  It is a reasonable limit that all candidates can attain at that school. Supplies are given to candidates for advertising.
  8. Student candidates are not allowed to campaign outside of school.
  9. False statements will be investigated by the administration and the teaching staff to clarify for the student body should there be a misunderstanding or teaching moment.

These are simply common sense approaches to elections in schools as per school communities coming together to solve problems with school elections.  We do this out of the love for our children; however, I think out of the love for our country that we could apply some of these rules.  I think that our democracy needs a firmer set of rules to insure a democracy exists for future generations and that the process intelligently elects a future leader.  What I am hearing today in our elections is scary to me, and I believe a press that is afraid to ask everyone one the same types of questions is an irresponsible press, and I also believe that when candidates resort to a senseless approach of name calling and exaggeration of policy that the American public is being manipulated.  And as for advertising, I don’t even know where to begin to discuss the inequity that exists in that “paid for by candidate and friends” time.

I believe that the United States of America is better than this, and I am still searching for common sense in our general elections.  I wonder what Thomas Paine would have written if he were still around.

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Creating Unique Project Assignments, Written Prompts, and Long Answer Test Questions

Although I wrote my last thought about creating unique tests per student and discussed how to harness the computer for automatic grading purposes, I firmly believe that those types of assessments are only valuable as formative learning moments when students need to understand basic facts prior to creating higher level thinking assignments or prior to moving to the next level of understanding.  The real observation of a student’s growth is in the project, written response, presentation, and long answer question, and this is why it is so vital to make unique prompts to promote individual responses and not easily copied responses.

Students are going to use the Internet, your textbook, its resources and links, friends, and the library’s resources to search for ideas when they are writing responses so your prompts need to be unique, clear, and scaffold.  For example, I know of a history teacher that writes prompts that put the learner in a time period and place, and he requires the learner to write from the perspective of a normal person during that time period.  I also know of a communications instructor who actually makes students go out into the public with their project and communicate to live audiences.  Both of these projects include clear rubrics to help the learner reach the desired goals of the instructor.

As for math and sciences, I have seen teachers ask students to teach a math problem, and I have watched very interesting descriptions of “my life as a cell”.  Once again projects are written that force unique perspectives from the student with clearly written rubric guidelines for the desired outcomes.  These projects, hence, are difficult to copy.

Many instructors who are new to this type of project creation are concerned about grading.  This is why you must create a rubric for the desired outcome and tailor the project clearly with scaffolding.  Once you create the first one, you will see how easy it is to change the rubric slightly and the project scaffolding slightly from term to term to continue to get unique project submissions.  In conclusion, these projects not only force unique responses, they require a generation to think, to express, to present, to support with fact, and to discern the material.  Isn’t that what we need in today’s world?

 

FAIL SPACE

Wow, as I reflect over the past year, I find that I have missed many goals.  One is obviously that I did not update Zoombla over the winter break, and another is that I have somehow left this blog absent of good thought, advice, and personal experiences.  So why or why not should you continue reading . . . .

Because FAIL SPACE is important.  How we educate today is so dependent upon personalized learning environments where students can create, test, fail, and make better.  There is so much brain research that supports that when we struggle and rebuild we are building skills that are life long learning needs that will help is in any endeavor.  Consequently, we need classrooms that support project based learning, flexible design, group collaboration, making, designing, and presenting.  We need to place process over content, and we will find that students thrive, are more engaged, and take the redesign and editing phase as a game level to do better.  Students actually do like to break something and then figure out how to make it better or design, test it, and fix it.

So yes, I have failed you, my readers, in many ways this past year in the sense of content predictability, and while I have been engaged in large projects such as faculty development, the online educational initiative, student orientations, two learning systems management, and course review, I have failed this blog.  (or have I?)  However, you must also know that in my desire to fix, rebuild, create, and maintain this blog that I have simply written this post with gusto, in a quick manner, and with total belief in the success of FAIL SPACEs for the modern learner and, of course, me.

Designing Interaction into Online Learning for Distance Learners

Cover of "Student to Student"

Cover of Student to Student

Online learning programs are growing in demand and choice by students who are independently learning on their own through the vast resources available to them.  Some of these students are distance learners who have little or no actual class time with the teachers.  Motivated students who choose to learn independently need interaction in the course design so that they can understand accomplishments, reflect with other students, interpret the material, and create projects for teachers.  The following are various types of interactions that can be implemented in an on-line course that is primarily consisted of distance learners.

Student Reflection upon Material:  The benefit of writing on-line course materials is that teachers can express their own perspective upon the content and guide students through the skills that they have defined as most important or relevant to course.  Because students need to sense accomplishment after a targeted content goal is reached, courses need to provide reuse and reworking of ideas studied, and courses need self reflection of newly learned goals.  Activities need to be created that reuse the material in creative ways, and stages of growth need to be clearly identified to the user so there is a sense of accomplishment.  This does require a planned chunking of the data so that steps in learning are clearly identified to the user.  Web pages, screen capture software, and video provide great lesson explanation, but the teacher must have moments of sending content to the teacher that expresses an accomplishment of that learning.

Automated Feedback:  In addition to self reflection and teacher generated exercise, courses should take advantage of  automated feedback sites that provide students with graded responses.  Most textbooks today have an accompanying web site for basic skills review, and they generate reports for the teachers.  Reports are based upon participation and success levels, and the reports also help the course creator and teacher understand quickly which concepts are being understood and which concepts need better explanation and/or course design.  These reports while beneficial are only a portion of understanding a student’s progress, and there should be a clear understanding that students are expected to experience failure during those sessions and to obviously learn from that failure.

Student to Student Interaction:  Scaffolding a project so that students can collaboratively create educational goals in a new and creative way is important.  Give students the right background to take your content to the next level though research, design, writing, and presentation.  Students who are learning through design, evaluation, reediting, and presenting are developing skills that are important in a technologically changing world.  Teachers must provide projects that require collaboration with other students outside the classroom, and teachers and course creators need to develop the virtual classroom space so that students sense the social impact of the course too by experiencing other learner presentation and opinion.

Student to Expert:  Experts in the field produce, develop, and create materials that discuss their content for free.  They even respond to motivated learners who are framing their questions and opinions appropriately.  Teachers should never underestimate the good will of experts who will respond to students who go above and beyond in contacting expert professionals.  Students can easily document this interaction and provide samples to teacher of the learning moment.

Student to Teacher:  As course objectives are met in the course students should submit clearly defined learning outcomes to the teacher.  Those can easily be placed as emailed objectives throughout your online course.  In addition to this the teacher should have times when the students can communicate directly with the teacher as a class via on-line learning virtual space and individually through online office hours to ask those real time questions that can’t be properly expressed or lose their meaning in an email.  Milestone type or level type projects that represent a mastering of a skill, concept, genre, and/or other definable learning objective should be clearly made available to the on-line student for proof of accomplishment.  This also provides a sense of learning FLOW that keeps the learner motivated.

These particular thoughts were based upon an online learning program that is truly for distance learners who don’t have access to the live classroom for a blended learning scenario.  This is not an exhaustive list, but I do believe it helps frame the online teacher’s mind in how he/she needs to communicate with his or her learners.  This type of online learning needs to read like a conversation between the teacher and the student, and it needs to engage the student by providing check points for knowledge gained so that the student feels connected to the material.  If you have other ideas that I should place upon this list please comment below.

 

 

 

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Improving Technology Usage Among Faculty

The title simply states a goal for all administrators and school communities.  As technology improves so do the needs for teachers to teach with those technologies and to provide lessons that allow students to create with those technologies.  Because teachers have little time to be trained, timing is always an issue, and realistic goals should be assigned to allow for these changes.  Also in class sessions, while valuable for teachers, are only successful when “just in time” learning approaches are designed to support the teacher during the school year.

arcsAs we look at the ARCS model of adult learning theory, educational technologists need to keep in mind that most adult learners especially teachers know what they need to learn.  Therefore, making that learning relevant (the R in the model) is extremely important.  One on one sessions with faculty can help them design lessons that use the current technology or that can help the teacher create better learning scenarios with that technology. Teachers also find satisfaction (the S in the model) by getting immediate feedback in a personalized learning environment where they can ask a technology expert for specific skills or creative lesson planning that is unique to his classroom.

Confidence (the C in the model ) is extremely important for an educational technology program as teachers who do not feel confident will simply not use the the tool nor provide the projects for the student.  Educational technologists need to be present for the “just in time” support as teachers do not always know what the technology will bring about in the process of teaching or what students will need during the project.  Open labs with after school support and free period support are great ways to increase confidence among students which then leads to the teachers seeing value in assigning these types of projects again.

Attention (the A in the model) is the hook to get the student and/or teacher to try the technology in their projects.  Teachers know that technology grabs student attention, and they know that the technology can be a valuable tool for knowledge transference.  However, what are we doing to remind them of that?  Best practices must be researched and provided as additional resources for teachers in your school.  They can understand a great project (end result) easily, and they will use or modify the best elements of it in their own lessons.  New approaches and best practices are in constant need of sharing.  A community that shares ideas either within the school or through local conferences with other schools is growing from the reflection of others and the evaluation of how technologies can work in their individual classrooms.  Educational communities are better when they are reflecting the craft, sharing ideas, and improving lessons, and educational technology should simply be an extension of an this type of educational community.

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Time for Reflection

Computer Educational games and simulations are a great way to present daily facts and skills that you want your students to master while practicing in a fun, repetitive, rewarding, and instantaneous environment.  In these environments, students tend not to fear failure and will try again in an attempt to win the game by getting better at the subject matter or specific skill.  And there are many computer based or web based games that one can play alone or with others around the world.

Two common examples are Words with Friends and Funbrain where students compete with each other to improve vocabulary, spelling, logic, math, history facts, and other skills.  You, yourself, have probably played a computer based educational game that requires a knowledge of some skill or set of facts to do well.  I am writing the obvious, though, to try and build to the next questions.  Do students learn more than the skill when playing the game?  Do they discuss unique ways of understanding the skills?  Are they just doing?  Do they spend time reflecting upon accomplishments?

At Absolutely Learning we are currently creating computer based games that will increase understanding of skills as stated above, but we also want to give students and people direct time for reflection.  Students can work upon stand alone projects for a certain amount of time, but students should also engage in the face to face time of reflection.  Students need to become great communicators, and they like to discuss how they accomplished a goal with the educational technology.  Yes, these games are designed for people to share results upon completion as well as provide competitive solutions.  Great communicators are needed, and perhaps this is one way that you can have students practice their speaking skills.  Perhaps a student could share an answer for the class too.  These games give your students time to reflect upon the game played, the round won, and the solution solved.

If you are interested in what I am writing then please continue following this blog or send me an email.   There are games in development for the iPhone and iPad that will give your students and friends an opportunity to reflect upon how they accomplished a goal as well as learning valuable skills.  These are both stand alone products and group games that were designed for these purposes.

Student Centered Instructional Design

Are your students learning from each other?  Do you create projects that require students to produce learning, share it, compare it, and make it better?  Could you use technology to complete that task?  Are your projects game oriented, project based, scenario driven, or exploratory?  Are your lessons student centered and do they encourage students to attempt, possibly fail, evaluate, redesign, and redo?  Why not?

Teachers need to put the student in the center of the learning tasks and they need to remove the focus from the front of the classroom in order to reach the modern student and produce great learning.  The instructional design of a project utilizing share, compare, edit, and redesign phases will allow the teacher to have more time to help his students, evaluate their work, put the student in real learning scenarios, and employ current learning strategies and standards that challenge students to develop life long skills.  The students in these types of classes also develop real world skills, and students learn how to learn.  Many of our most successful entrepreneurs promote this type of learning, and they frequently state that this is what they seek in future employees.

Life long learning is our most important goal, but without experiences that get evaluated and reworked students are not developing life long learning skills.  Lab environments with clearly stated goals and objectives, technology tools, and time for editing do produce the best examples of what our students can do.  We need to give them more time to explore and worry less about discrete items in lists, dates, charts, and tables.  They need to learn to use the information that is easily accessible to them, and they need to produce it in creative, interesting, unique, and meaningful ways.  Good instructional design is still as important as ever.