Digital Sandbox

This Blog is designed to provide the reader with information on how to adopt technology into the classroom by relooking at traditional classroom tools and transitioning into new ways of teaching and learning. The Digital Sandbox explores the future of learning through the recreation of 21st Century learning environments.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Connected Classroom

The connected classroom provides avenues for teachers to become facilitators of learning and move away from the sage on a stage approach to teaching. The foundational concepts of instructors guiding students or facilitating their progress are based on the idea that the instructor is no longer at the center of the interaction and application of knowledge. The instructor remains available to students as a facilitator of resources. The connected classroom teacher is a resource to the students by frequently checking student  understanding for their assigned learning.  The teacher, when necessary provides guidance to students in how to process information for a unit of study. The facilitators role in a connected classroom changes dramatically in that the teacher becomes a source to students in how to better use technology resources, access information and how to apply these resources to authentic task.

The connected classroom is a melting pot of knowledge where project based and problem based learning thrives. These are classrooms where high levels of engagement occur as students work cooperatively to access information, create new ideas, build artifacts from their experiences and formulate models through predicated learning. The connected classroom cannot be defined within the traditional classroom setting as it must simulate the workforce of tomorrow. Tony Wagner provides a definition of the how corporations have changed dramatically in the new world of work through a quoted section by Karen Bruett. Bruett states, "The way work is organized now is lots of networks of cross-functional teams that work together on specific projects."1  Work is no longer defined by a workers specific skill set, it is defined by the task the team has been given.  In summation, these are the workforces that thrive on co-creative environments. Workforces that thrive on meeting goals through creative problem solving. For students to gain an edge on employability schools will need to model, design and simulate co-creative learning environments. These are the learning environments that promote web found knowledge that use information as a source to skill development. These are the future networks in creating the classrooms without walls, were students participate in a universal learning experience, utilizing mobile tools to continually access and create multidimensional patterns of explanations of the world around them. Don Tapscott in his book Wikinomics states,  "Work has become more cognitively complex, more team-based and collaborative, more dependent on social skills, more timed pressured, more reliant on technological competence, more mobile and less dependent on geography."2 It is with these ideas that co-creating may become one of the most powerful engines of change and innovations that the education world will now have to explore.

These are the learning environments of the flipped classroom. The co-creative environments that has given birth to the millennial learner. A generation equipped with the mobile tools structured in the provision to create, and  share information across multiple platforms designed for a world of co-creating. This is the world that educators should capture.  These are the classrooms where students are allowed to tap into a knowledge pool of similar interest, a reservoir of creativity that may emerge through an enthusiastic wealth of talent producing warehouses of digital content. The digital content that is shared with those who have similar learning interest, through the creation of digital textbooks, wikis, or blogs. It will not be an easy change and many tough challenges lie ahead to offset the standardized models of the existing rigors of traditional education.  

Saturday, June 23, 2012

How Students Learn

To be a student centered school educators must first know and understand how our students learn. Educators must be aware of where students come from and the learning tools they are most familiar with. Educators must also have an understanding on how to motivate students to learn and what challenges they will face when entering the work force of tomorrow.  Research has shown that too many students are disengaged and alienated from school, seeing little or no purpose for their education. Business leaders say there is a widening gap between the skills of the workforce and the needs of businesses seeking competitive advantage. Additionally, technology and the networked era threaten to further stretch the already-wide equity gap in education unless there is decisive intervention and a strong public agenda. 

In 2001, Marc Prensky began to bring ideas to the forefront about a new generation of students. In a landmark article entitled "On the Horizon" Prensky popularized the terms “digital native" and "digital immigrant". What he portrayed in these terms was the idea that there is a gap between generations as they experience and learn from the evolution of technology. What can also be suggested from these terms is that technology may be creating an ever widening gap between each generation. 

For those who are in the business of education, becoming aware of these gaps may be the starting point. A starting point that immerses the educator in the learning tools of the millennial student. In other words, bridging the gap may mean to learn as our students learn. To say the least, If we are to be missionaries of learning then we must get among the natives. Learn as the natives learn means building your campfires with the tools the natives use. Visit the watering holes where collaboration is ongoing. Hangout in the caves of posted hieroglyphs of creative thought. Nothing about what we say is primordial as the natives become restless they show us a new way to become engaged. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Information Harvesting

The Backchannel and Information Resourcing 
In the traditional classroom setting, backchannels are simply a way to provide feedback while someone else is talking. In the early stages of instructional practices teachers used the backchannel method to check student listening skills. The teacher would call on a student to ensure that they were listening to the lecture. These backchannel methods have advanced over time and have evolved from keeping students' attention to that of checking student understanding. Marzano and Pickering found that creating backchannels within instructional practices are an important form of checking student understanding. Checking for understanding is made up of at least three instructional practices that formulate high engaging strategies that support the formative assessment process. These three instructional practices include: using questioning to check for understanding, providing meaningful feedback, and reinforcing effort through modeling and reframing of conceptual awareness.

Since I used the term backchannel in a different form it becomes a fluid term as we make associations to educational practices and digital literacy. Now all we have to do is identify some backchannel tools and apply them to our understanding of the three formative assessment strategies of providing feedback, reinforcing effort  and reframing conceptual awareness. Twitter, for example, can be used as a backchannel tool .

Creating A Backchannel
Through a social media software protocol like Twitter, students can share their thoughts and ideas about the information being presented with others. The key to any backchannel dialog is  it must include not only the information that is being exchanged, but also the management of the communication. Some teachers perceive management of classroom information as a priority and because of this reasoning, rule out the use of social media in their classrooms. These teachers believe that information sharing using Twitter is to loosely fit for the classroom. The over cautious teacher should be commended for classroom values but at the same time, given examples of how to setup classroom social media norms.  These types of teacher apprehensions are normal in protected learning environments where there is a concern that a student might express thoughts with nuances of attitude and bad intentions.

To offset this fear the instructor needs to set up patterns of classroom expectations "digital citizenship norms," that are appropriate in sharing ideas during a mini lesson or information sharing session.  The goal of any effective classroom experience is getting students involved in discussion while protecting the integrity of all ideas being shared. These are some of the skills that need to be taught and are a part of digital literacy. These are also the same norms we set up for our classrooms in expectations for appropriate social interaction. Any teacher who is a master at classroom management will also provide the same guidance in the promotion of digital literacy.

One method found to be successful in setting up a twitter backchannel is to create a hash tag discussion forum for a classroom event.  To provide information management and to get students more involved, is to plan ways that allows for mini sessions opportunities to take during Twitter breaks. Another method to use on a Twitter backchannel would be to push out preliminary content prior to the start of a classroom session. Pre- content assignments are real time notifications that provide students reminders of what content is required for any given session which can also be used for post session assessments.

Asynchronous Backchannels
A second type of backchannel used for information sharing is a one way response application, established by the classroom teacher that is a synchronous form of communication. Asynchronous means that information sharing is not synchronized at predetermined or regular intervals. These are the backchannels that closely resembling actual, real-time conversations. There are several different types of a synchronous backchannel software protocols available that require teacher management and setup. The two most suggested and easy to use are TodaysMeet and Google Moderator.  The initial setup for an  asynchronous backchannel requires the teacher to establish a specific website address that points to the discussion board.  The purpose for establishing the web address is to reference participants to a virtual meeting place. Within seconds of writing a comment online, everyone else logged-into the system can view and immediately respond to these initial remarks.

The best suggested method for introducing a backchannel to your classroom would be to develop a virtual jigsaw. This will allow the students to participate in a virtual conversation while being facilitated by the classroom teacher.  Backchannels that are asynchronous can be used for various classroom formal or informal discussions about current events, collaborative projects, readings, portfolios, and many other content specific activities generated by the teacher.  The purpose behind the asynchronous backchannel is to provide immediate feedback or responses to learner. The teacher can also generate questions on the backchannel to support students in the construction of a project. Students can use the backchannel to describe their work to others; while other participants provide feedback or advice.  Participation on the backchannel can help in the formation of a community among groups of learners who otherwise would be unable to communicate formally or informally.

Harvesting Ideas on the Backchannel 
To create deeper meaning or an understanding of an idea, presentation or concept in a traditional method would be for a student to take notes on a directed reading. Note-taking skills are important in any academic environment. It helps the student reflect their thoughts on what they have heard or read during a learning experiences. It is both a form of documentation and keeping records on portions and segments of an assignment. The best method for sharing ideas on a backchannel is to keep the channel open until the assignment has been completed. This method of open sharing ideas provides students to create summaries of shared ideas available for review. In a non traditional method we could use a backchannel to support the sharing of multiple resources artifacts of information within a network of contributors. This type of learning provides a different approach to the learning process as the teacher provides social networking tools to harvest information summaries.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Creating and Sharing Digital Books, A Facilitated Learning Approach

In today's digital world where multiple tasks are required in student learning, we must begin to teach students how to function in a dynamic organizational system. These skills involve invariable adjustments to setting priorities, performing multidimensional tasks, evening out workloads, adjusting time-frames, prioritizing tasks and navigating networks. All of these skills in the near future will become less teacher-directed and more student-directed.

In the past, teachers have taught organizational skills in a static system within a structured format. This delivery format took on the model of breaking down tasks and asking students to explicitly complete much defined units of information, such as "do as I do" and "you will learn." A typical classroom instructional practice for developing organizational skills would include: record my notes from the board, write your name on your paper directive, or complete your assignment on time.

Andrea Santilli, a teacher at Woodlawn Beach Middle School in Gulf Breeze Florida, is taking a new approach in helping her students to be organizers and creators of content. Her seventh grade science class has just recently published a digital book using iAuthor. The digital iBook has taken the number one spot for nature downloads. The ibook published on iTunes is entitled, "Creatures, Plants and More! A Kid's Guide to Northwest Florida."
I recently contacted Andrea Santilli and asked her to share with me some of her instructional strategies that she used when helping students organize their digital learning environments.  Andrea responded by stating that, "I originally started the school year with the intent of having my advance life science students to publish information that they learned in class. This was my way to challenge and give them the opportunity to experience publishing. They would use their  work as part of their academic resume. 
When Apple announced the release of iBook Author I was excited that I could change the format from the traditional old school format to an interactive digital format. So at the end of January, students received their grading rubric and we started the project. 
Each student had to choose an organism that they wanted to write about. Pictures had to be pre-approved to validate that they took them, then they could begin the writing portion of their project. Parents signed release forms and the students had a grading rubric with expectations and guidelines that they had to follow. They had a month to complete the project.  
At the end of the first month, the editing team (student based) was available to help students who chose to improve their article for the 2nd round of submissions. I also helped these students as well. Students submitted work on thumb drives in any format because not all of my students have Macs. I entered all their work in iBook Author to make it a completely digital interactive book. "
Andrea Santilli's science classroom is a point of reference that breaks away from traditional learning options. Her classroom has become connected through the creation of digital content.  Santilli's classroom is an example of how a team of students were asked to learn on their own as they applied new knowledge to expand a deeper understanding of selected content. Her classroom became a connected classroom where students were at the center of knowledge obtainment and shared their work with others. They were strategically linked to the process of engaged activities as they were asked to perform authentic tasks. These facilitated instructional strategies used by Andrea Santilli, were masterfully exercised to elaborate the learning process without influencing student choices. The students were also given support throughout the project to guide them in finding the exactness of knowledge and skill obtainment.

To better facilitate the learning process, associations must be made between knowledge and application.  The facilitator of content must provide a true form of elaborative rehearsal within the learning environment. Elaborative rehearsal encompasses a variety of strategies that provides the learner an opportunity to intricate their learning. Through elaboration the learner can express ideas more openly using multiple skill sets to compare new concepts with known concepts that hook the unfamiliar with something familiar.

Classrooms of the future, especially when moving over to the Common Core, will require a more diverse approach to the development of organizational skills by the expansion of "Personal Learning Environments," especially when working in a digital setting.  These are: the learning environments of the fluid classroom of elaboration learning; the co-creative environments that has given birth to the millennial learner ; a generation equipped with the mobile tools structured in the provision to create, and  share information across multiple platforms designed for a world of co-creating.

Mrs. Santilli encourages educators to download the iBook, which is available only on the Apple iPad. She would like others to see her students work and encourages teachers to start a classroom iBook project of their own.

See related story: "Middle schoolers create interactive eBook"

Creatures, Plants and More is an interactive field guide of Northwest Florida.  The stories and photos are a collection of what students  from Woodlawn Beach Middle School have compiled for everyone to enjoy.  If you are interested in visiting Florida's Best Kept Secret, look no further, the answer lies within the pages of this book!  Enjoy fascinating interactive photo galleries and videos that will AMAZE you! Click here  to visit the iTunes store to download the book.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Virtual Jigsaw

The virtual jigsaw strategy can be a  powerful method to use when presenting or analyzing narrative materials. By using this approach, the teacher can cover large amounts of material in less time with greater participant comprehension and involvement. The method requires each person in the group to read a different section of the content prior to a class session or during and then share out to other members of the group on what they have learned on a back channel.

To use the virtual jigsaw the teacher or presenter would setup a backchannel using Today'sMeet or Google Moderator. The link to the backchannel would be established on a reservoir learning site like a wiki or blog. The reading materials for the activity would also be posted and numbered accordingly.

For example, in some of the workshops I have presented on the elaborative learning environment I have focused on the idea of changing classroom learning spaces to meet the learning needs of students in the 21st Century. An article that I use to establish a method for the rearrangement of learning spaces is entitled, "Campfires in Cyberspace: Primordial Metaphors for Learning in the 21st Century by David D. Thornburg, Ph.D." Prior to the workshop I break down the article into four different reading assignments and post theses assignments on the workshop wiki. During the workshop I demonstrate how to use a virtual jigsaw using a technology tool like a backchannel.

The purpose of this demonstration provides participants with two levels of technology integration. First it provides the participants with information on how learning spaces can be developed to accommodate the elaborative classroom, and secondly it provides an example on how co-creating methods can be used to curate information from a whole group while reading parts of an article using a back channel. The steps used in a virtual jigsaw have been posted below.
  1. A back channel is set up for the class or workshop using one of the following response tools, Today'sMeet or Google moderator.
  2. The material is divided into parts and numbered. The material is then posted in pdf format on a reservoir learning site. If the virtual groups are composed of four members, then the material is divided into four equal parts. (See Example)
  3. The group members are numbered off and each one is assigned the section that corresponds to his/her number. (Please note that these assignments can also be made outside of the classroom by hashtag notifications of students through twitter.)
  4. The teacher establishes a time frame during which each participant is to read his/her assigned section. (Five minutes is probably plenty.)
  5. After reading, each member then post their comments on the backchannel according to the underlying predefined questions associated with the article or just by sharing their posted thoughts. It is important to let the participants know that posting to a  backchannel has limited number of words that can be used in a response. For example Today'sMeet is limited to 140 Characters in a response. The limitation to the number of characters used in a response also helps teach the importance of the use of paraphrasing and summarizing as a teaching strategy.
  6. After all group members have finished, the presenter should provide some time for large group discussion as information is viewed on a projection system to the whole class or session. It is important that each participating members response is read to the whole group in case the group needs clarification. 
Jigsaw Activity Example
PART ONE LEARNING SPACES: "The Facilitation of Learning Spaces"
Overview: In an elaborative learning environment “classroom spaces,” are created in ways that students are at the center of knowledge obtainment. These learning spaces are linked to the process of engaged activities as students are asked to perform authentic task.” 

Activity One: Facilitated Learning
1.       Number off one to four.
2.       Once you have been given your topic number you have three minutes to respond to your assigned topic on the back channel.  
3.       To Answer the question assigned to your topic select the Back Channel Link to Today's Meet
4.       Please monitor other response as you will be asked to provide feedback on one or all of the four questions listed above. 

Topic One: "The Campfire"
·         Question One: In a facilitated classroom the campfire can be compared to learning in what ways?

Topic Two:"The Watering Hole"
·         Question Two: In a facilitated classroom how is the watering hole being compared to a part of a lesson?

Topic Three: "The Cave"
·         Question Three: In a facilitated classroom what part of a students learning is compared to a cave?

Topic Four: "Life"
·         Question Four: What role is directly associated with Life as it is applied to classroom learning?

·         TodaysMeet as Elaborative Learning Tool
·         TodaysMeet Direct Link 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Creating Digital Worlds with Digital Tools

Posted on January 24, 2009 by digitalsandbox |
His eyes bulging with wondrous curiosity, Michael Marino was able to explore his creative side when he developed an integrated project about New York City using audio, video, satellite images, and other digital technologies.

“I got to see things and do things I didn’t even know about,” said Marino, a seventh grader at Dodge City Middle School. “Using all this technology on the computer was pretty interesting.”

 Marino was just one of 17 seventh graders who took part in an all-day workshop on Jan. 16 called “Creating Digital Worlds with Digital Tools.” It’s part of an effort to use the latest in 21st Century technologies woven into integrated learning projects.

It’s essentially taking storytelling to a whole new form—the digital story. A digital story combines a written narrative with digital voiceovers narrated by the student along with pictures, musical soundtrack and video. These multi-media tools and others, such as a virtual tour using Google Earth, give story telling a whole new meaning, said DCMS Principal Michael King.

Called The Halliburton Project, the initial phase of this program is named after Richard Halliburton, an author and adventurist who traveled around the world in the 1920s, visiting places most people can only dream about. He profiled 30 of these locations in his books such as The Glorious Adventure and New Worlds to Conquer.

A new generation of students expects a learning environment that integrates today’s digital tools, accommodates a mobile lifestyle, adapts to individual learning styles and encourages collaboration and teamwork,” King said. “The Halliburton Project is designed to explore the latest technology tools and solutions available to help schools build 21st Century learning environments that motivate and engage today’s students.”

The recent workshop enabled students to choose a location that Halliburton visited, write a script, narrate it using an audio-editing program called Audacity, download pictures, and import all of that into Windows Movie Maker. Students also incorporated Google Earth into their project so that viewers can see actual satellite images of the location.

“I learned how to make a small movie with narration, background music and pictures to go with my script on my historical place,” said Nallely Rios, another seventh grader who attended the workshop. Rios conducted her project on ancient PompeiiItaly.

King and co-presenter Jesse West, a technology teacher at DCMS, presented this workshop to seventh graders in gifted education first as a pilot program. The plan is to then offer it to eighth graders in the gifted program. Eventually, King’s hope is to take it school-wide.

Also invited to the workshop were teachers from throughout Dodge City Public Schools who were partnered with the seventh graders. Sitting side by side with a computer in front of them, they shared in the learning process. The idea is for these teachers to introduce these technologies back at their own schools.

At several points during the workshop, King and West paused to administer quizzes to students. But these were no ordinary quizzes. They were high-tech quizzes in which students were issued electronic responders. Given the opportunity to read questions on a Smart board, an interactive screen at the front of the room, students registered their responses by pointing at the screen and simply clicking. After all, receiving immediate feedback on their answers helps to improve the learning process, King said.

Some students said they could have done without the testing if they had it their way, but Samantha Reyes, another student who attended, said the “clickers” as she called them “made it entertaining and fun. I wish I could do this project again if I could.”

It appears that Reyes will get her chance, for DCMS gifted education teacher Bill O’Brien will expect his students to fine-tune their existing projects and then develop more in-depth projects in the near future.

“It would be really great if we could have this technology in other classes,” said Jesus Bautista, another student at the workshop who conducted his project on the Iguazu Falls located on the border of Brazil Argentina.

That’s the goal, said King, who wants to integrate a whole new generation of multi-media technologies into the classrooms. These technologies also feature podcasting, blogs, vodcasting, Web 2.0, and wiki’s—a mini collaborative web site of sorts that allows the originator to grant editing privileges to multiple parties.