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Friday, July 27, 2012

Getting Motivated

Looming over my head as I vacationed on the back of a Harley making a loop through the extraordinary countryside of Northern California was the deadline of making a one minute video on “Motivation and Learning.”  As we zigzagged along the coast, through the redwoods, to the top of a volcano, I could not help but wonder.  I wondered what those crops were, why there were cows on the top of a mountain, how those seals could be comfortable on those rough rocks.  I wondered about how all of those pears got pollinated (they self-pollinate), how they get from those trees to my grocery shelf, how the weather could change in the matter of a mile.    Then I realized that I was surrounded by the perfect example of motivation and learning:  curiosity.   It was not just me wondering, I traveled with a group of lifelong learners, they too were people who were inspired and awed by the vistas and curious about how it all came to be.  As we traveled, we asked questions, looked things up, and wondered out loud. 
We wanted to know more! 
Curiosity and enthusiasm are great motives for learning.  Can you replicate the motivation and inspiration that we felt in the classroom (can you say Harley field trip?)? 
 Here are a few things that you might try:
  1.  Share your enthusiasm.  You don’t need to show them your online digital photo album of your summer vacation, but why not show them a picture or two and have them wonder with you?
  2. Share their enthusiasm:  Let them share a photo (vacation or otherwise) that will make you wonder. 
  3. Keep it real – I know field trip planning has gotten quite complex, keep the trip simple-just take your students outside and give them a two foot plot of grass to explore!
  4.   Make kids wonder - As a science teacher, I had a number of “discrepant events” videos, demonstrations and activities that I used as grabbers in the beginning of a lesson.  For example- you can tri-fold a piece of tissue paper (we used to use the tissue that came in between the ink and the paper in a ditto master:).   Set it up like a chimney and light it on fire from the top-it will burn down and the ash will fly up.  Like a magic trick, it makes them wonder and ask “how did you do that?’ – a first step in critical thinking and developing the motivation to learn more.
    Technology now puts resources and learning at our fingertips.  You can use all sorts of media to get kids motivated and increase the learning by having the research tools in their pockets.
How do you get kids motivated to learn?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Do We Need to Individualize PD Instruction?

I was cleaning out my father-in-law’s house the other day and noted that he had at least 3 book shelves full of manuals – how to do, how to fix, etc.  He also had quite a collection of “____________ for Dummies”  books (DOS for dummies, Windows for Dummies, Lotus 123 for Dummies).  He is no dummy.  I marveled at all of the stuff that he wanted to learn (and at how much stuff we had to dispose of).  There was even a two inch thick, three ring binder that was just a manual for Eudora email!  Can you imagine?  Hard to believe that:    1. It was needed and 2. It existed!  He recently downloaded and printed the manual for his Samsung Galaxy Tablet.  At 85 years old, this is just the way he is comfortable learning. 
Where’s the Manual?
Perhaps that is one of the problems with teacher’s being comfortable with using new technology with students.  There is a disconnect in the way that the generations have to learn it (or want to learn it).  In education there is a wide spectrum of generations of educators on any given staff.  One thing is for sure; most of our students are not looking for the manuals!  In fact, there are very few manual readers left anymore (my husband is one- he once brought me a car manual to read while I was in the hospital, but I digress) and since they are on DVD’s or online, you still have to know tech to get to them! 
The Power of Video
Twenty years ago, I facilitated a revolutionary modular learning system called Synergistics from PITSCO. Since each pair of students had different curriculum and activities, they had video tapes that showed them “how to” do the activities of the day.  I saw then the power of video for learning.  It allowed for individualized instruction, students could work at their own pace and they caught on quickly.  I used to make “how to sheets” complete with screen shots for my students and fellow teachers.   Youtube has virtually made them unnecessary.  The most recent group of students I worked with, wanted the “how to” for completing the project, but definitely did not need or want the “how to” for learning the technology.  They just chose it from a list of links of cool tools and took it from there!
The Continuum of Learning
I think the generation we are teaching now is perfectly comfortable learning by doing, and are certainly adept at finding a video that will teach them if they need it.  I often forget that I have the answers at my finger tips (which my own children are quick to point out when I call for help, duh!).   The next group will have had iPads in their hands since they were very young.  Their technology may be built right into their glasses.  There is a great continuum of learning styles and comfort levels in teaching staffs that should be addressed in professional development.  We strive to individualize learning for our students – do we need to individualize learning for our staff?   How would that look?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone and into the Learning Zone

I worked with a colleague on an open-ended challenge this past spring….the MMS Mission.  She was a G&T teacher with a background in Language arts and the science content of the Magnetospheric MultiScale Mission and technology options were a bit out of her comfort zone.  Students were asked to determine why this mission, launching in 2014 is relevant to their lives and to find a way to share what they learned with the world.  I assured her that her students would rise to the challenge and learn the technology part on their own.  It was a stretch for both students and teacher, but the results were amazing!  (Check out some of their projects under the Student Sample Challenge Solutions tab)
The teacher’s assessment of the project:
I do have to tell you that it was very exciting for me to do this project!   Way out of my comfort zone!   I learned so much about the magnetosphere and about learning!  As educators we are programmed to be the expert of the subject matter.  After a lifetime of teaching, I am thinking that it is stifling. 
Most of my students gained so much from this experience!  There were some who wanted the road map, the requirements, the RUBRIC etc., I get that.  But the curious and the "gifted" really loved the learning and the creating.”

The students' assessment of the Challenge:

“I like the way that our teams were able to collaborate.  Also, we had free reign over the project’s actions.  Finally, we had time and were encouraged to use social media in school.”

“I like that this challenge was actually a challenge.  It caused us to work harder and faster, challenging us to learn more.” 

“I liked how it was a project for the real world instead of just in the classroom.  I learned more ways to share my work and make it public.”

“I loved the flexibility and challenge of the challenge.  Because we had really no guidelines, my creativity was at its maximum.  That is why I’m very proud of my xtranormal animation video.”

“Throughout my journey with the MMS Challenge, I had learned about more than simply the magnetosphere.  For instance, I learned about commitment, teamwork, responsibility, listening, taking advantage of given tools, etc.  The livebinder provided my group and I with a handful of tools and features that we could learn how to use then use.  This gave me a sense of the unique possibilities that could easily be found and used for the largest or smallest of projects.  I was given the feel for the community connected by the internet and web.  …I learned about technology in the real world, the everyday life of a scientist working for NASA.  I had a taste of a dream”

Wow!  Is that powerful or what?  Imagine giving your students a “taste of a dream?”  Having them enjoy the “challenge” of being pushed? 

Here is what I learned:

1.     You do not have to wait to be comfortable with something.  Take the risk.  Teachers do not have to be experts in all content areas or perfect.  Resources abound! 
2.     Let them share!  One of the keys to the great enthusiasm, creativity and care taken in this project by students resulted from the knowledge that projects would be shared with the world (one of the criteria).  Want to see some of their projects?  Link to video.  Link to livebinder
3.     Let them choose.  Students loved being allowed to select the medium of their project.  They were encouraged to select a “career path” – artist, physicist, writer, or engineer to help spread the word about the mission.    
4.     You do not have to be a techno-geek.  Students were given a long list of 2.0 tools listed by function that they might use (web-site developing, video production, blogs, animation sites, etc.).  Not one student asked for directions!  They just get on and go (my get on and go is considerable slower than theirs, but I find that there is a video for everything!).
5.     Challenge yourself and your students.   Both teachers and students were excited to learn the challenging vocabulary involved with the MMS mission.  Push each other to learn a little more!