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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Changing Face of PD: Edcamps and The Art of Good Conversation

In just a few short days I will be attending my very first Edcamp!  I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to participate as a lifelong learner and presenter in some great professional development activities over the years ranging from one-on-one to global connections, face to face to webinars, real time to asychronous.  Free and cheap global conference rooms like Google hangouts, twitter and other social networks are changing the face of professional development, moving us from presentations to conversations.

Edcamps are part of that movement.  The role of presenter has changed to one of facilitator as you can see by two of these Edcamp 101 Guidelines shared by Damian Bariexca one of Edcampnj’s primary organizers.
  • You Are Not The Expert - And that's okay!  The point of this experience is not to be another "sit and git" PD experience.  It is an opportunity for educators to come together, discuss, ask questions, brainstorm, and problem solve.  Your role is not necessarily to have all the answers, but rather to facilitate discussion.  The idea is to draw upon the collective wisdom of the group as much as possible.
  • Talk About What You Know - As a facilitator, you may wish to bring in 2-3 central questions of overarching importance to your topic.  You may also wish to share personal success (and failure) stories with the group, and elicit similar stories from them.
The Questions are Key!
Just like in the classroom, in order to have a high quality conversation, you need to ask the right questions.  In the book Academic Conversations by Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford, there are lots of great ways to use classroom conversations to foster critical thinking.  As the authors state, “When two or more people converse, their ideas mix and interact to create new knowledge.”  Conversations help students (and here we are all students) to develop their own thoughts and create a synergy of learning.  

So what should those questions be?
According to the authors, there are 5 Core Skills of Academic Conversations:
·         Elaborate and clarify- What do you mean by…?  Can you tell me more about….?
I wonder if….?  How does that connect to….?
·         Support ideas with examples:  Can you give us an example from the classroom?  Example from the real world?  Example from your life?
·         Build on and/or challenge a person’s ideas – What might be other points of view?  Do you agree?
·         Paraphrase – What do we know so far?  What is your opinion on what has been said?     
·         Synthesize conversation points- What main points can we share?  What key idea can we take away?
Armed with these questions, I am all set to share my experiences of using online conversations to foster critical thinking.  Do you have other techniques, questions or suggestions to get the conversation started and keep it going?

Zwiers, J., and M. Crawford. 2011. Academic Conversations-Classroom Talk that Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understandings.  Maine:  Stenhouse Publishers.

Monday, November 19, 2012

CCSS lesson: Arguing the School Calendar

It’s easy to get kids writing an argument when they are passionate about a subject and who is not passionate about the school calendar?  Just open up the discussion on year round schools or what religious holidays will be observed can spark a debate.  Adjusting the school calendar for emergency days adds the complexity of previous plans and often emotions run high.  With the recent Hurricane on the East Coast, many schools have been closed to two full weeks.  Why not have your students do some critical thinking and problem solving around the topic of Emergency School Closings?
To get the argument started have students take on the role of parent, Board of Education, teacher and student and read the articles below:
Informational text Resources:
See the Issues
As an individual, have students list the issues they come across for their point of view as they are reading.  List all class issues.
Clarify the issues:
Ask students to clarify the issues that have been posted.  Students should refer back to the articles to see if there is an explanation as to why the issue is important. 
Ask what’s Important
As a class determine what issues are most important to consider when coming up with a solution.
No, what should be done? 
Work as a class to determine what should be done to adjust the school calendar keeping the most important issues in mind. 
Get them writing:  Ask students to describe and defend the new plan making sure they acknowledge other options and points of view.
Online SCAN Tool:
Increase student engagement and participation in this discussion using the SCAN tool at TregoED.  The private online discussion tool walks students through these steps, allows them to comment and collaborate on the solution.  “School Calendar and Emergency Days” is a free SCAN scenario this month featuring these points of view and including links to the articles. 
I guess if you live in a sunny spot with no weather issues you may never have to face the problem of emergency school closings…perhaps you may want to have your students look at the issues involved in the “Year Round School” Scenario. 
This same problem solving strategy can be used at the administrative level.  Check out “5 Steps to Help Your School with Post-Disaster Management” to see how this strategy can work for you.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Simple Tools for Argumentative Writing

Whew!  I'm back from 10 days with no power or heat and a road trip to Oregon.   I often hit the road to help teachers and students integrate technology in a way that makes sense.  Technology should not be layered on top of what teachers do, it should be used as a tool to make what we do better.  In the case of collaborative technology, we are increasing student engagement and participating in the lesson and giving them an authentic audience.  Being digital natives, students instinctively “figure it out” while many educators fear that “figuring it out” will take precious planning time.  The truth is that many simple tools take very little time for teachers to set up and even less time to get students started in them.  In fact, using these tools can make a teacher’s life easier as student engagement takes the place of student management and working online saves time at the copy machine! 

While at the recent AMLE conference, I got a lot of great information on what needs to be done in the classroom in order to meet the new Common Core State Standards.  What I heard emphasized was a shift from persuasive writing (emotion based) to argumentative writing where students need to be able to make a claim, recognize and acknowledge opposing claims, and use credible sources to support their claims.   In my own house, this would translate from “Mom, I need the new iPad because you have always been the coolest mom with the coolest stuff and I need to maintain that image for our family” to "Mom, I need the new iPad because I will be able to do the following:  access over 100 free educational apps, keep all my notes from school organized and in one place, and store over 100 books on it.”  The common core is moving students to argumentation because it relies on more “substantial reasoning” based on logic and evidence and therefore has increased rigor (not the dead kind).

Simple Tools for Complex Learning
 It seems to me that there are a number of simple online tools where students can practice these skills without increasing the physical amount of work (in pounds) or time that it takes to set up, implement and assess.  Catlin Tucker, an expert in the blended classroom and  integrating technology in the Language Arts classroom wrote a great blog “Common Core Standards and Argument Writing” which includes great ways to use Collaborize Classroom, YouTube, Google Docs, and  Ted Talks in the classroom to get this done. She includes great screen shots and easy to follow examples to help teachers see the value of using these simple tools.

The SCAN tool found at TregoED is another simple tool that requires minimal set up and implementation in the classroom.  Scan features a library full of scenarios that include four different points of view.  Students go to a private url to participate in a guided online discussion following the four steps of SCAN (Stop and think – what are the issues?, Clarify the issues, Ask what’s most important, and Now, what should be done).  Along the way, students are asked to support their claims, acknowledge other points of view, and collaborate to solve the problem.  This is precisely what the common core is asking us to teach our students.  SCAN offers free timely lessons for teachers in all content areas.  With a cheap subscription ($45/teacher/year – unlimited use) teachers can write their own lessons to address particular needs of their students or curriculum.  Better yet, they can have their students research different perspectives and evidence in a highly engaging topic (such as the death penalty) and post their own SCAN Lesson!  Students can then share their SCAN session with teachers all over the world.  Relevant argument writing with an engaging tool and an authentic audience – doesn’t get any better.

What tools are you using to reach the core?