Monday, December 3, 2012

The Evolution of my Teaching

Over the past years I have been re-thinking my approach to teaching.

The focus of my evolution as a teacher is on the shifting of ownership. After all, who is supposed to own the learning?

I am in the process of evolving from having a teacher-centered classroom where I am the provider of knowledge and the designer of assessments to focusing on developing and supporting my students learning autonomy. I strive for a learner-centered environment where students actively participate to construct their knowledge and reflect on their learning process.

As part of my teaching evolutionary process I have taken some elements to focus on each year. Last year I focused on ways to engage my students through connections. You can read my blog posting here: Engage = Connect.

Focus: Assessments
For this school year, my evolution focuses on assessments.

What is the objective of assessments?
Is it how well my students can regurgitate facts or how well they can find the “formula” to solve a problem? What if the day before an assessment a student had a cello recital to prepare for or they had a basketball game and arrived home not until 10:00 pm? How can a grade on a quiz or a test reflect their best?

The word assessment has a Latin root: assidere. It means to sit beside. In an educational context, the process of observing learning; describing, collecting, recording, scoring, and interpreting information about a student's or one's own learning. 

I see assessment as an ongoing process that informs me and my students and gauges the learning progression. I partner with my students to facilitate their learning and they appreciate not being constrained by fixed deadlines and dead-end quiz scores as they have ample opportunities to demonstrate that “they can” accomplish every single one of our Learning Objectives.

Authentic Assessments
I like to offer a variety of authentic assessments in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential physics concepts and scientific skills.

The most important feature of authentic assessments is that they provide multiple paths to the students’ demonstration of their learning.

This is an example from our kinematics unit. The students were presented with a Lab Practicum challenge:
At what position will two cars moving at different speeds collide if they are released from opposite ends at different times? Cars are 2 meters apart and one car is released 3 seconds after the first one.’

Instead of writing a traditional lab report, students created a video of their lab by engaging in a collaborative approach to the construction of knowledge. Take a look at one of the teams presenting their video as a TV show reporting on a train accident. The team used the experiment as a model to investigate the incident and demonstrated their understanding of kinematics through multiple representations of knowledge:

Another assessment asked the students to pose a question and apply their knowledge of kinematics to answer their question. Within the final product they had room for different modes of expression. Here are a few examples:

The class also completed a series of Performance Task Assessments where they were presented with context rich scenarios that required a meaningful application of the concepts. Context-rich tasks discourage the ‘plug and chug’ approach. These multi-step problems are constructed as a short story in which the main character is the student.

At the end of the trimester I gave the class a thorough class evaluation. It was meant to help them look back into the first three months of class and think deeper about their learning.
Selected questions and student responses can be seen below:

So, where are you in your evolution as a teacher?

Image Creative Commons license by Stefan 
Image Creative Commons license by toolstop 
Thank you to Kelly O'Shea and John Burke for inspiration in creating the evaluation questions.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Aggregate, Curate and Create Your Own Textbook

One of the latest buzz words in social media is curation. Some media analysts ponder whether the content curator might be the next big social media job of the future.

In a review of Steven Rosenbaum’s Curation Nation, Frank Paynter wrote that: 

 'The job of curator has spread across the digital media world and may already have replaced “editor” and “publisher” in the minds of marketers and social media mavens’.
  • What are the implications of curation in education? 
  • How will content curation impact the textbook market? 
  • Will it make textbooks irrelevant? 
We are seeing more and more publishers jumping into the digital textbook market but so far the digital editions are mere pdf versions of the hardcover versions. Moreover, these e-textbooks are still very expensive. Let’s take a look at these options for a popular high school Chemistry textbook:

What? The e-textbook version costs $115 bucks and the license is only valid for180 days. Are you kidding me?  High cost is just one of the reasons shown in this infographic: How far students will go to get rid of textbooks--and why.

The Journal's article: 5K-12 Ed Tech Trends for 2012 includes: ‘Beyond the Digital Textbook’ as one of the trends with the premise of adding interactivity to digital versions of textbooks. Apple has now partnered with the major textbook publishers with the newly unveiled  iBooks Textbooks.  There are a handful of textbooks available through iTunes at about $15. These books are constrained to be viewed using iBooks 2 in an iPad with Apple iOS 5. Moreover, it looks like Apple's new products do not allow social interactivity and collaboration.

Several concerns about Apple's new enterprise have been voiced in the blogosphere. I recommend reading Audrey Walters' posting: Apple and the Digital Textbook Counter-Revolution.

Is there an option for a free, relevant course companion? Yes!

With information being ubiquitous, I believe that teachers can (and should) take control of their courses by creating their own interactive textbooks. It might seem like a daunting task but the availability of quality materials online and the power of tapping into personal learning networks should make this a worthwhile learning journey. 

In this post I will explain the process of creating a digital textbook, tools for each step of the process and strategies for involving the students in its development. 

The process of creating your digital textbook involves three steps:

The first step is to gather the sources of information. The best way to aggregate content is through social bookmarking.  My favorite tools are Delicious and Diigo

I would recommend Diigo as ‘its features allow teachers to highlight critical features within text and images and write comments directly on the web pages, to collect and organize series of web pages and web sites into coherent and thematic sets, and to facilitate online conversations within the context of the materials themselves.  Diigo also allows teachers to collaborate and share resources among themselves.’                                                                     
Here is a short video explaining the main features of this tool:
Diigo V5: Collect and Highlight, Then Remember! from diigobuzz on Vimeo.

Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate! 
Teachers can work with colleagues within their subject area departments and beyond the walls of the classroom to aggregate resources through social bookmarking.
The main sources of information for my professional learning come through my Twitter PLN and the RSS feeds from Google Reader. 
If information becomes overwhelming, use an Aggregator such as or The Twitted Times. These tools will sift through your connections' resources and gather the most significant ones.

While aggregation can be seen just as collecting websites, the process of curation involves a deeper analysis of the aggregated sites to select the ones that have the most relevant information for a particular topic,  just like a museum curator summarizes and edits intricate subjects into easily consumable and enjoyable exhibits.

Use your subject area syllabus, state standards or learning objectives to hand pick the content for a particular unit of study. Focus on the essential questions to guide your selection of resources. 
In order to make your textbook interactive try to include images, videos and simulations to engage your students.

My favorite free tools for curation are LiveBinders and!

One of the easiest tools to post resources for your course is LiveBinders. 
Take a look at this example: Señora Evans - Course Materials and Resources

Another powerful tool for curation is Scoop-it!. This free tool allows you to create your own online magazine.

Take a look at my! PhysicsLearn, “Connections to learning resources for physics teachers and students'".

Want more? Here is a post with: 
And here are some Curation Apps for the iPad.

This is the most important (and fun) part of the process as you will design and share how the curated resources will be used in your class.

Creating an online repository using a wiki digital tool such as Google Sites, PBworks and Wikispaces will enable you to organize your resources neatly. You could also use LiveBinders as you can select a template that allows you to include text for each of your resources. If you have an Apple platform you can use  iBooks Author.  The free app offers a drag-and-drop template that can be customized with images, interactive diagrams and videos to create a stunning looking book.
Learning management systems (LMS) such as Moodle,  Edmodo and Schoology are also great alternatives with other neat features for educational social networking.

My favorite is Google Sites. You can easily post images, directly embed videos from YouTube, lecture podcasts, and Google Documents. You can also embed assessments using Google Forms and a calendar. Setting up the site as a wiki by adding the students as collaborators will enable authentic interactivity among teachers and learners.

Here are some guiding questions for creating your digital textbook:
  • How are the learners going to use the information?
  • How will they demonstrate their learning?
  • Are they completing a document, creating an outline or answering a set of questions?
  • What are the assessments associated with the material?
The table below compares and contrasts the elements of the various levels of involvement of teachers and learners in the process of creating a textbook. You can use the traditional model where all steps of the process are managed by the teacher or move towards a learner-centered approach using the chart to determine which level is appropriate for your course:

Here are some examples:
Teacher as curator:
My unit on Projectile Motion includes content information, exercises, a virtual lab and a couple of assessments.
The wiki of my colleague Craig Savage with his resources for AP Biology and AP Psychology.
Students as curators:
American Democracy in Action, a digital textbook for AP US Government created by seniors at St. Gregory College Preparatory School

For excellent strategies to involve your students take a look at Silvia Tolisano's posting:  Students Becoming Curators of Information.

Here are some resources for all academic subjects:
iTunesU (iTunes University): This free app enables video, audio, and an integrated Learning Management System with available push notifications options.
CK-12 Foundation: You can customize your own FlexBooks with open-content in all subject areas.
Open Culture Links of 400 Free Online Courses from Top Universities
National Repository of Online Courses: Algebra, Calculus, History, Biology, Environmental Science, Physics and World Religions.
Also check the great resources by Jerry Blumengarten, the Cybrary Man Educational Resources

Are you ready to ditch your textbooks?

Cross-Posted at Voices From the Learning Revolution (PLP Network #vflr)

Images attributions: