Low Level Tech/Higher Level Thinking

Years ago, I created a hierarchy to explain my thinking around higher level usage of technology.  Since then, Common Core standards have been adopted and the SAMR model has risen to popularity.  I still use my hierarchy.

Nevertheless, through my work in supporting 136 schools with their instructional technology needs, I have found it necessary to explain the usage of classroom technology in a new way.

I broke down technology tools in terms of how much technical knowledge and effort they require (Higher Tech Effort) and how much student thinking they normally require.  (Of course, the teacher determines the level of thinking, not the tool but, by and large, I do believe some tools have a limit to the amount of thinking they can generate in students.)

In the top left (Higher Tech Effort/Higher Level Thinking) are tools that require technical knowledge on the part of the teacher but inspire greater thinking in students.  Although these tools benefit students, I wouldn’t start there if you are just beginning to integrate technology.

On the top right (Lower Tech Effort/Higher Level Thinking) are tools that can generate higher level thinking (when used by students) and require very little technical knowledge to get started.  Tools in this quadrant would be easy to get going and produce the best gains in student achievement because of the amount of thinking they require.

Tools on the bottom left (Higher Tech Effort/Low Level Thinking) are not easy to implement on the teacher’s part and they generally inspire low levels of thinking on the part of students (substitution on the SAMR model).

On the bottom right (Low Tech Effort/Lower Level Thinking) are digital flashcard apps.  I would include in this quadrant nearly every pre-boxed program (IXL, Accelerated Reader, Brainpop, ST Math, etc).  These tools are easy to implement but give very little gain in terms of student achievement.  To put it another way, it’s not worth the price of a computer if you never leave this quadrant.

From my work in the field, the tools in the bottom two quadrants “Lower Level Thinking” are by far the most popular.  This suggests that it’s not that most teachers are uncomfortable with using technology, most are uncomfortable with thinking.  It’s never about the technology.

Clarifying Questions in the Common Core Classroom

If you think about your educational experience growing up, it may have looked something like this. The teacher asked the questions, students gave the responses, and the answer was either right or wrong. A correct answer was rewarded with “good job” and a smile. An incorrect answer was met with a shake of the head or a frown, and the student felt bad for getting the wrong answer, and didn’t always know why the answer is wrong.

With the Common Core State Standards, students are asked to validate their answers with evidence. Instead of accepting an answer as merely right or wrong, push students to support their answer with evidence by asking clarifying questions. Here are some clarifying questions that you could ask your students:

Why do you think that?
Can you explain that?
What is the support for your thinking?
What evidence do you have to support your answer?

I recently taught a lesson in a classroom, where the students talked about a photograph of a Native American woman peeling acorns in the forest. I asked the students, “Where do you think the woman is?” Sam responded, “She is in the forest.” His answer was correct, but I asked him to explain why he thought it was the forest, and he looked confused. He knew his answer was correct, but he wasn’t expecting me to question his response. After some think time, Sam was able to respond with evidence to support his thinking. Another student, Sara, said that she thought the woman was sitting in front of a sand castle. Instead of telling her, “That’s not right,” or “Try again,” I responded with, “Do you have evidence to support your thinking?” She took a moment to look at the picture, studied the woman’s surroundings, shook her head no, and revised her answer. She was able to conclude that the woman in the photograph was outside in the woods or the forest, and not at the beach. She told me why she changed her mind.

Think about the power of students having the ability to revise their own thoughts and finding evidence to support or refute their answers. Learning becomes more meaningful to students when you stop accepting a right or wrong answer, and ask students, “Why?”

What are your tips for asking questions?

iTunes U Courses on Innovation and Common Core

I’ve authored two iTunes U courses which you’re welcome to subscribe to.

Innovation and Communication is a course for school leaders on how to start a movement, support teachers, and lead by example.

Technology in the Common Core is a course on how to integrate technology into the teaching of the Common Core.

As with all iTunes U courses, you must have an iPad to view.

Moving Beyond the Personal Narrative

Narrative writing.  What is it?  From the perspective of an elementary school teacher, it’s the first genre of writing you teach of the school year.  And it’s always the personal narrative.  Students brainstorm and write about their trips to Disneyland, the beach, or playing video games for hours on end.  While students should write about what the know and experience, a narrative is an account of events, either real or fictitious.  The Anchor Standard for Writing expects students to “write narratives to convey real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.”  The word “imagined” does not appear in a grade level specific standard until third grade, but that does not mean that you ignore children’s imaginations in grades K-2.

I would push you to teach children the art of storytelling beyond the personal narrative.  Why?  Let’s think about advertising.  The most memorable commercials are the ones that tell a story, whether it that makes you laugh, cry, or cringe.  But it’s the advertisers job to sell a product, right?  Some commercials use gimmicks, but storytelling is an effective communication tool.

Here are some tips for thinking beyond the personal narrative:

1.  Start with a concrete object.  In her book Making Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading, Tanny McGregor has a lesson on inferencing in which students look at a shoe and answer the question, “Who wears this shoe?”  Based on physical evidence, the students can infer who wears it (e.g., a gardener wears the scuffed, faded brown boot).   I would take the lesson a step further and tell a story from the perspective of the person wearing the shoe.  Perhaps the gardener found a secret portal in the garden that took him to another world.  Let the students’ imaginations drive the storytelling.  As the teacher, you still teach the techniques of effective storytelling such as adding sequencing events, descriptive details, using quotations, etc.

2.  Use a painting or an illustration in a picture book, with the words covered up.  Have a discussion about the painting.  For example:

This is the painting “The Circus” by Georges Seurat.  Ask the students, “What is going in the painting?  How do you know?”  Chart the “characters” that they see in the picture.  Once the class has had a discussion on what is going on at this current moment, students can then select a character and talk about what happened before and after.  Students can create a Flow Map to show the sequence of events, and let the writing begin.

3.  Primary sources are a great tool for storytelling.  A primary source can be an object, photograph, diary entry, newspaper article, or anything from the time period that you are studying.  Archaeologists analyze artifacts they find and try to piece together a story with the remains.  Students can think like archaeologists and create a story about the primary source  For example, something as simple as the remains of a plate from the colonial era.  Ask students questions such as, “Who would eat from this plate?  Why was it broken or abandoned?  What could have happened to the owner of this plate?  What was going on at that time?”

Students can write a story from the perspective of the owner of the plate.  A plate is just a plate until students begin to ask questions, then it becomes a key to the unlocking the past, and the pen for their story.

What have you done to move your students beyond the personal narrative?  Please post your ideas below.

Mathew Needleman’s note:  This post was written by Susan Obuchi.  She is a Elementary Common Core Facilitator in English Language Arts and a National Board Certified Teacher.  I hesitate to call her a guest blogger.  If this goes well you may see some additional posts related to English Language Arts posted here.

If You’re Dying by Powerpoint Don’t Try Prezi

I’m happy that many educators outside of the blogosphere are beginning to recognize that sitting power points that are chock full of bullet points are not the way they want to engage and be engaged.  However, I believe if they think the answer is to switch from Powerpoint to Prezi, Haiku, or any other brand of slide deck they might need to ask themselves what the problem with powerpoint is.

1.  Powerpoint is presentation software, that is to say it is intended to support a speaker when delivering a speech.  If you are using powerpoint as a substitute for a web site, a movie, or a student portfolio  or anything that does not require a speaker you are likely using it wrong.  Words come from the speaker, images when they support what the speaker is saying, can be used in the powerpoint.

2.  If Powerpoints are ineffective in supporting a speaker’s presentation, we need to teach some presentation basics, not necessarily pick up a new tool (though I prefer Keynote).

If we don’t teach students to be effective communicators, they will communicate ineffectively no matter what tool they’re using.

Further reading/watching:
Don McMillan’s “Death by Powerpoint“, Scott Elias’s Taking Your Slidedeck to the Next Level, and Dan Meyer’s “Powerpoint: Do No Harm.

Four Steps for Troubleshooting iOS Devices (Updated)

I’m updating my steps for updating iOS devices to include the new process of force-quitting apps in iOS 7.

There’s not too much you can do to fix a problem when your iPad or iPhone stops working…that’s the good news.  There’s just a few things you can try and these usually work.  Try each of these one at a time and see if one of them will fix your problem.

 

1.  Update your apps.

2.  Force quit the app.

In iOS 6:  Double-click on the home button.  Find the problematic app on the bottom of your screen where it shows recently used apps. Press and hold on the app icon until it wiggles.  Click on the red circle with a minus sign.  Your app icon goes away.

In iOS 7:  Double-click on the home button.  Find the problematic app image and swipe up on it to flick it away.

When I’ve used this successfully: iMovie was crashing.  I forced it to quit and then it worked fine.

2.  Restart the device.  You don’t normally need to turn off your device.  However, if you’re having problems, it’s a good idea to do so.  Press and hold the power button on the top right of the device until you see “Slide to power off” on your screen.  Now, swipe to power off the device.  Then press the power button to turn the device on.

When I’ve used this successfully: A strange fluttering was showing up on the screen in all apps and on the home screen.  I restarted and problem went away.

3.  Delete the app and reinstall (use this for app-specific problems).  Press and hold on the app icon on the home screen until it wiggles.  Press the red circle.  The app will be deleted after you confirm.  This sometimes might also delete your data for that app so only try this when you have to.  Then go to the iTunes store and download the app again.  You will not be charged twice if you are using the correct account.

4.  Restore the device.  This wipes out everything and is done by hooking up the device to iTunes.  I’d only use this if a bunch of apps are giving you problems as it’s a headache having to set up all your apps again.

If you have any other troubleshooting steps, please add them below.

 

Using Notability for Classroom Observation

This article describes how to use the app, Notability, to assist in classroom observation.  Classroom teachers can easily adapt these directions for student observation.  I recommend Notability at a cost of $1-$2 over any potentially costly commercial classroom observation system I’ve yet seen.  Notability provides the most flexibility for meeting individual needs.

If you’re looking for a checklist system of observation, Google Forms provides a free system that’s fully customizable.  Notability offers a blank page for handwriting notes, typing notes, and adding pictures and audio recordings.  If you’re still using Apple’s built in notes, stop.  Here are step by step directions for using Notability as a classroom observation tool.

You will want to create a notebook for each teacher.

1.  Create a notebook by tapping the plus sign.

2.  Tap the edit button to bring up the option to color code your notebook.

 

 

 

 

3.  Choose a color.  You may wish to color code grade levels so that all first grade teachers are blue, for example.

4. Create a new note.  You’ll use a new note for each observation and store all notes in the individual notebook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.  Add a photo by tapping the plus sign towards the top right and choosing “Take a Photo.”

 

 

 

 

 

 
6.  You can either handwrite or type or your notes by selecting the appropriate icon.

 

7.  Share the note by tapping the universal share button and sending it by email.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it.  Repeat this for each teacher or student you wish to observe.  You can move notes around between notebooks by dragging and dropping them into a different notebook.

One of the best things about Notability when used this way is that each teacher/notebook will have a number next to it showing you how many notes/observations have been completed.  So, you can clearly see how many visits each teacher has had.

Please leave your tips or suggestions below.

Update:  You can import PDF documents and then handwrite and/or type on them.

How do I import a PDF?

There are several ways to import a PDF into Notability:

  • 1) If importing from an email attachment or Safari browser
    Tap the PDF to preview. Then select Notability from the
    “Open in” list.
  • 2) If importing a PDF file from Dropbox and other cloud services
    Tap the Import button on the top toolbar in the library and select
    the desired service.

iPhoneography Resources (Great Apps and People to Follow on Instagram)

Here are my resources on iPhoneography from the 2013 CUE Conference.  Keep reading or iPhoneography CUELA.

People to follow on Instagram:

needleworks (your presenter)
magrelacanela (grade 4 teacher)
fisler_school (see learning)
joshhohnson (for contests)

Here’s a list of apps sorted by Tiers.

Find app sales:

AppShopper (free)
create an app wishlist and receive notifications of sales

Tier I (Everyday Use—iOS/Android)

Instagram (free)
the go to app for sharing, community, and photo editing

Snapseed (free)
simple navigation, provides filters for grunge, vintage, drama, and fine-tuning

Tier II (Heavy-duty editing)

Photo Wizard ($2 sometimes free)
clunky design but has very powerful tools beyond Snapseed

Photoshop Touch ($10)
elegant design with advanced features like layers

iPhoto ($5)
strengths include albums, sharing, and transferring photos between devices

Tier III (Great once in awhile…cost $0-$5)

Camera+
better camera app

Hipstamatic
fun vintage filters

Old Photo Pro
old time looks

Color Effects
mix b&w and color/recolor

Percolator
fun color effects

Pixlromatic, VFXStudio
special effects apps

ScratchCam
add scratches/grunge

FrameLens or Diptic
make collages

WordPhoto
add words to photos

Fracture
Van-Gogh effects

Slow Shutter Free
for blurs

MySketch
turn photos into sketches

Cinemagram
animated gifs

Film Director
for silent videos

Action Movie
cool video effects


iOS App Recommendations for Literacy

Many fun party conversations have started by whipping out a smartphone and sharing the latest and coolest apps.  However, in educational settings we continually need to refocus the discussion around choosing apps to meet our instructional objectives rather than the other way around.

About a year ago, I published a list of all the apps I installed on our school’s iPads.  I still like that list, however, there are a number of drill-and-kill type apps that see occasional use in  my classroom as well as those that require higher-level thinking and student creation which I use more often.  I wanted to give our teachers options so I gave them tons of apps.  However, my personal toolkit is much smaller.  Here are my recommendations based around instructional needs in the area of literacy.  The specific apps I recommend don’t matter so much as how we they are used in the classroom:

Fluency

Any voice recorder from the free and simple, Audio Memos to the pricier and more advanced, Garageband, can be used to have students record themselves reading.  Data from Escondido Unified which used iPods and Voice Recorders with English Language Learners (back before iPhones and iPads existed) consistently shows that students showed growth.  The key is having students record and then listen to themselves reading so that they hear the mistakes they don’t hear when they’re focused on decoding.

I’ve used Reader’s Theater in my own classroom (find free printable reader’s theater here or see our class reader’s theater movie, The City Mouse and the Country Mouse).  However, you can also use any passages that might target certain spelling patterns or sounds students are working on.

Writing

I like simple.  StoryKit is a free iPhone app that works on the iPad and allows students to write, record their voice, add a photo, or draw on a page resembling kindergarten writing paper.  If you want to publish a whole book from the iPad, the $5 Book Creator is a great option.  Apple’s free desktop app, iBooks Author is even better but it requires both an iPad and an updated Mac desktop or laptop.  With iBooks Author you create the book on your computer and preview it on the iPad.  You can easily import Keynote and Pages files into your final product.   When you’re ready for multimedia, iMovie is a great way to engage even the most unmotivated writers in writing something that will include audio, visuals and an audience.

Apps like Toontastic and PuppetPals are also fun.  However, be careful, Toontastic teaches story crafting via a beginning, middle, and end structure.  If you’re a fan of Lucy Caulkins writer’s workshop and the notion of expanding a single moment with details to make it something bigger rather than structuring a bare bones story sequentially, you will might not be happy with an app that would set you back to an outdated way of teaching writing even if it’s more fun.

Learning Letter Sounds

Apps like the above mentioned Storykit can be used to have students make a book of letter sounds by taking pictures of things that begin with the sound /p/ for example.  Student Tommy would end up with a page with photos of pencils, pictures, paint, and paintbrushes and then record his voice making the sound /p/ on the page.   I know that you can find apps that give students the letter sounds while students passively listen but I’m much more in favor of having students create their own books with the sound in it.  I suspect the learning is more internalized.

What other areas of student early literacy need do you notice?

 

 

 

What Good Teaching Looks Like: Digital Research

As per the Common Core State Standards students must incorporate digital research in their work.  I interpret this to mean that students need a twenty-first century version of book sense.  We used to teach students how to find books in a library, how to determine who the author and illustrator is, and where to find copyright information.  We now need to teach them how to determine keywords, know how to search, be able to determine who created a particular web page and evaluate a page for bias and reliability.

How do you do this and what does it look like in a classroom?

Let me be clear, I’m a fan of digital libraries (LAUSD teachers should check out the LAUSD Digital Library).  However, in addition to putting expensive high quality pre-vetted resources in front of students we also need to be teaching them how to choose keywords and use Google like a pro.

Picking Keywords

Beginning in kindergarten I would be modeling how to pick keywords before entering them in the Google search box and finding results.  For example, let’s say you’re researching where an octopus lives.  Say to students,

“I’m looking for information on where the octopus lives.  What words should I search for?”

With your help, students should come up with something like “octopus home” or “octopus habitat” depending how much academic language  you’ve seeded.

This two minute step would go a long way toward building effective researchers.

Sharon Sutton at the UCLA lab school has compiled and created some resources to help.  Scroll down to the Information Literacy Worksheets, in particular the keywords and synonyms one which asks students to list keywords and synonyms for a research question.

Advanced Googling

Familiarize yourself with the Google Cheat sheet.

In particular, know that using quotes allows you to search for a particular name or phrase e.g. “Mathew Needleman” gives you only people with my first and last name rather than any page with both my first and last name, possibly disconnected on the page.

Also know that using the minus sign “-” eliminates results.  For example, when searching for information about the band, The Eagles, you might search “eagles -football” (eliminating results about the football team).  In this example, you will likely need to add keywords to specify information specific about the band and not the bird.

Bias and Reliability

Students should always check for an “about this page” link.  If there isn’t one, move on to another site.  I’m a fan of the site All About Explorers, it’s created by teachers and gives absolutely false information about famous explorers.  Will students catch the errors or will they report that Columbus was born in Australia?  Students always need to triangulate the data, find information from multiple sources to eliminate inconsistencies and gain depth.

Have any tips to add?  Post them below.