Integrating Practical and Academic Knowledge: How Technology Can Bridge the Gap

Last module I spoke about Dr. Tony Bate’s conception of a “knowledge-based society” and articulated some hesitation I feel as an educator in an increasingly tech and practical skill driven world. The truth is practical knowledge is not my weildhouse; academic knowledge is. I often fear that emphasis will be “placed on the utility of knowledge for commercial purposes,” (p. 2.7.1) instead of on the importance of knowledge for knowledge’s sake – knowledge being integral to critical thinking skills and active citizenship. Dr. Bates assuaged my fears, however, in suggesting that focusing only on practical knowledge is “a mistake, even in terms of economic development,” (p. 2.7.1) and contending that academic and applied knowledge are, and should be, deeply integrated.

So how best could I integrate applied knowledge into my academic curriculum, I asked myself? How could applied knowledge actually better support academic development? What types of digital tools and environments are out there to support both individual and collaborative learning in and out of the classroom?

Part of integrating practical and academic knowledge involves tearing down the classroom walls. Students should engage with their academic subjects in practical ways in their own time. The online textbook is a great way to do this. It allows students to intellectually explore as they use practical-internet based skills to best interact with their textbook.

In my own AP U.S. History class we often suggest that our students use the companion website for our textbook, America’s History (2007), at http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/henretta7ehs/#t_771262____ The website offers students several resources integral to learning at home. The website offers an e-book version of the textbook, should a student want to virtually interact with its contents, as well as section and chapter reviews and practice quizzes. The site also includes resource guides that point students towards additional online resources. Instructors can also enjoy in the site’s resources – they can check out its supplemental primary source materials and lesson plan suggestions, and can even check in on student interaction with the website.

Another part of pairing practical and academic knowledge is asking that students collaborate on learning projects. Google Applications for Education, https://www.google.com/edu, is a widely-used practical tool that enables students to engage in collaborative activities and projects. Students can simultaneously edit documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and more, as they interact with a site integral to the commercial workplace. Google Applications for Educators also allows for a great deal of instructional oversight, as teachers can create accounts for their classrooms. They can check in on student collaboration outside of the classroom, and offer insight and guidance from the privacy of their own home.

The trick, of course, is to keep thinking on ways to incorporate digital tools that may someday be integral to the commercial workplace into the academic setting. We can focus our energies on academic knowledge while simultanously teaching our students practical skills that support both individual and collaborative learning in and outside of the classroom walls.

References

Bates, A.W. (n.d.). Fundamental change in education. In Teaching in a digital age (2). Retrieved from http://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/part/chapter-1fundamental-change-education/.

 

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Telling (Digital) Stories of our Nation’s Past: Using Film Technology in the U.S. History Classroom

The technological revolution has knocked on our classroom door, and it is asking to come in. Proponents of using technology in the classroom insist that it allows students to investigate learning in new and individualized ways. Teachers must focus on the skills students need in our rapidly advancing world while still maintaining the integrity of intellectual and independent learning.

Dr. Tony Bates purports that we are living in a “knowledge-based society,” or a society dependent on its 21st century skills so I began this week by questioning how I could better incorporate the tech-skills needed for this same society into the Social Studies classroom. I asked what types of tech-driven projects have been used in the History classroom that have allowed student to demonstrate creativity while constructing genuine experiential knowledge? What innovative ideas were out there and what technological products and processes were best for students to engage fully in exploration-based projects?

I began answering this question by reading up on digital storytelling. History, after all, is our world’s narrative; it’s a compilation of stories – biased, tainted, epic, and tragic. Bob Dillan (2014) writes of the power of digital storytelling and promises it is “now both easy to produce and simple to publish [and is] an ideal way to energize learning and engage students at a deeper level.” The digital storytelling model allows students to showcase their learning not only for their peers and teacher, but also for a public beyond the school building.

I have found that telling stories, particularly through film (with its important visual aids and historical reenactments), really brings History alive for students. My mentor teacher and I have been discussing developing a project in which our AP U.S. History students create a digital story through a historical film reel. We plan to introduce a little bit of film history to the course — i.e. when it was that the reel was first invented and what early filmmakers did with it — and ask that students channel the storytelling skills of those early filmmakers and document something of that time in a short film sketch. Dillan’s work assured me that there was a lot out there. Students can use tools such as WeVideo, Youtube, and iMovie to craft and edit short films to better tell their digital stories of the past.

Further investigation brought me to teachinghistory.org, a website with incredible resources for Social Studies teachers, full of ideas for best practices and suggested teaching materials. I stumbled upon an article about integrating technology in the classroom, which referred to the Reel American History Project (see http://digital.lib.lehigh.edu/trial/reels/), a film project created by Lehigh University students which offers a list of independent and historically significant films, and explains how best to use them in the classroom. Each film helps students construct a deeper understanding of history. The project also encourages students to submit their work to its archive so they can be shown in other classes throughout the country.

Teachinghistory.org also described Digital Storyteller (see http://www.primaryaccess.org./) a web-based tool used for creating short digital movies using text, images, and narration. “The goal,” teachinghistory.org states, “is to guide students in effectively using, interpreting, and integrating primary sources” (n.d.). Teachers can even create a classroom account and select and annotate resources students may use to create their 1-3 minute movies.

Students are always more engaged in their learning when they are asked to produce something creative, original, and uniquely their own. Short film reels will allow them to do just that, and to tell their own digital stories through independent renderings of the past.

Is it just me or is technology’s knocking on the classroom door getting even louder? We better let it in, invite it to stay, and see what it can do! At the very least it can help us tell pretty great visual stories of times long past.

References

Bates, A.W. (n.d.). Fundamental change in education. In Teaching in a digital age (1). Retrieved from http://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/part/chapter-1fundamental-change-education/.

Dillon, Bob (2014). The power of the digital story. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/the-power-of-digital-story-bob-dillon.

Teachinghistory.org: National History Education Clearinghouse (2016). Integrating technology in the history classroom. Retrieved from http://teachinghistory.org/teaching-materials/ask-a-master-teacher/23634.

 

 

It Can’t be Done Alone: Course Reflection for Professional Issues and Abuse

This fall quarter in Professional Issues and Abuse, EDU 6134, we have explored the practice of teaching and followed it outside of just the classroom walls and into the community at large. There, we have had the opportunity to give thought to the educational community and all its integral parts.

Program Standard 8, Professional Practice, calls for teachers to participate in the educational community around them. It asks teachers to collaborate with coworkers, administrators, families, professional groups, labor organizations, and much, much more in an effort to improve instruction and foment a strong educational community in the public school system.

Teachers can and should seek out (and give) professional guidance from (to) other teachers and administrators. They can and should partner with families and community members to improve student education. And they can and should join professional organizations and advocacy groups to defend and advance our nation’s public school system.

This quarter we explored many different types of professional issues. We started locally and slowly extended our purview. First we looked into the classroom itself, and investigated trouble areas for new teachers, technology-policy, student confidentiality, and appropriate student-teacher relationships. We then shifted our gaze into the school building and local community as we considered strategies for promoting effective relationships with other teachers and with families. We then looked out even further and considered professional organizations and advocacy groups that could offer important resources.

As a new teacher myself, Moir’s (2011) phases for first-year teachers really resonated and got me thinking about how essential it is for the new teacher to create a strong professional community to help them through each and every stage. To do our jobs well, it is important we as new teachers know about mandated professional guidelines, and this course asked that we read up on professional issues and abuse in state guidebooks.

We also focused on how partnerships and collaboration can also help us navigate the teaching world more effectively. Epstein (1995), for instance, showed us the multitude of reasons that we must develop “school, family, and community partners,” emphasizing that “they can improve school programs and school climate, provide family services and support, increase parents’ skills and leadership, connect families with others in the school community, and help teachers with their work” (p. 82). DuFour (2011) demonstrated that teacher collaboration that focuses on department and school-wide strategies is similarly essential to improving instruction and promoting a positive school environment.

Later, this course brought us to research professional organizations that help teachers along in networking and teacher development. In an effort to begin by concentrating on the local and then extend my purview — much like the format of this course — I started by researching organizations close to home and then considered national, and even international, organizations. I took particular interest in the Washington State Council for Social Studies (WCSS), the Washington State AFT chapter and its national AFT affiliate, and Teachers without Borders. Lastly, we researched the mission and accomplishments of the WEA and NEA, which only affirmed my resolve to become an active member of my future professional teachers’ union. These unions defend the merits of public education while protecting its most important advocates, we as teachers.

Ultimately, Professional Issues and Abuse showed me that teaching is a whole lot more than the curriculum we design. It is a profession, complex and multi-dimensional, that depends on collaborative partnerships in and outside of the school building. I learned teachers would be remiss to discount how essential professional protocol and communities are to the teaching profession. Should teachers really come to rely and collaborate on others in the schoolhouse, the community around them, and the local and national organizations founded to protect and serve them, they will find that they have incredible resources and support at their fingertips. These same resources will make them far more effective educators, and the implications of this for student learning are profound.

Well-supported, protected, and resource-rich teachers simply teach better. Fostering positive relationships with families and communities is particularly important to student learning, as students would see that all of those around them who care about them most are allied in their efforts to promote their ongoing education.

In terms of moving forward, I know that I personally want to begin establishing contact with parents, even as a student teacher. I want to design a final project that calls for community participation in some way. Perhaps I will invite community members to watch or judge student presentations. And although I have already met a few times with WEA representatives to talk about membership responsibilities, I want to think more about how next year I can take on some leadership roles for them in the teaching community. I also intend to continue to research and find inspiration from professional organizations, like the WCSS.

My next steps are simple: remember that the teaching profession extends beyond the content of the classroom and into the very fabric of our communities and society at large.

 

References

Defour, R. (2011). Work together, but only if you want to. Kappan Magazine, February 2011 ed., pp. 57-61.

Epstein, J.L. (2010). School/family/community partnerships: Caring for the children we share. Kappan Magazine, November 2010 ed., pp. 65-96.

Moir, E. (2011). Phases of first-year teaching.

Theory of Multiple Intelligences and Student Evaluation

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences articulates eight criteria for intelligent behavior, rather than just a single, general ability. The founder of the theory, Howard Gardner, outlined eight intelligent abilities: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. The idea is that people cannot be categorized into one type of these learning abilities, but a unique blend of them all, allowing for more “categorical” nuance. Gardner claimed the theory should “empower learners” as it suggests that everyone is intelligent in some, or multiple, ways.

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences opens up assessment to multiple modalities of learning. If intelligence is multi-fold, so too should be assessments. Assessments could incorporate several of the aforementioned intellectual abilities. One exam, for instance, instead of all being multiple-choice, could incorporate a multiple-choice section, a collaborative essay writing section, a visual/modeling section, an oral/auditive section, and so on. Now, this may be quite time-consuming, so it may be worth incorporating one or two of these abilities in each exam, and change the abilities for which we are assessing each time.

It is important to mention, however, that these multiple abilities speak directly to each other, and depend on one another. They can and should be combined to be assessed within just one type of evaluative section.

The idea is to begin thinking out of the box; to begin thinking of all types of intelligence when designing assessments. We can empower multiple types of learners by reinvigorating our evaluations. We can and should be inspired by the Theory of Multiple Intelligences to infuse creativity and innovation into our assessments from here on out.

Roosevelt High School AP Testing

Roosevelt High School offers several AP courses. Students self-track by opting to enroll in AP courses, trademarks of the College Board. In the tenth and eleventh grades, however, all students must take at least one AP course. In the tenth grade, students are required to take AP Human Geography for their Social Studies course, and in the eleventh grade students must take either AP Language and Composition or a University of Washington at the High School level course for their Language Arts course. Several other AP courses are offered in the 11th and 12th grade, including AP U.S. History, AP Chemistry, and AP Calculus.

According to U.S. News Education Ranking, in 2013 66% of Roosevelt students were enrolled in AP courses. While students prepare for the AP tests in their courses, they may also opt out of taking the exam should they choose. Seventy five percent of students enrolled in the AP courses, however, received a passing score, meaning they received a 3,4, or 5 on their exam.

Roosevelt is a high ranking school, ranking nationally at 464th, and 8th at the state level (US News, 2013). In order to remain highly competitive, Roosevelt continues to advertise its AP course participation, and its success.

Teacher Evaluations: The Case for Some Subjectivity

Despite our best efforts, no evaluation is ever completely objective. This is the case for both student and teacher evaluations. Assessing student work, particularly student writing, is invariably subjective. We as teachers consider individual student growth, motivation, and even “grit.” There is no way to perfectly grade student work, and no perfect rubric could possibly exist to eradicate that problem. But then again, is it a problem? Honestly, genuine evaluations necessarily incorporate subjectivity.

The same goes for teacher evaluations. There is no full-proof way to objectively evaluate teacher performance. If teachers are grading in subjective ways, we can hardly use their grades as an objective determinant in deciding how well they are doing their work, right? Grades, I will also mention, can be easily manipulated and basing a teacher’s performance on classroom grades could actually lead down a dangerous road. Assessing teacher performance on students’ performance on standardized tests could be arguable too objective. As in, these scores do not incorporate student socio-economic obstacles or learning challenges. Again, subjectivity is a natural and integral part of evaluations.

Grades and standardized tests should be incorporated into teacher evaluations, but they themselves should be considered subjective components of that evaluation. Other subjective factors should also go into this — administrative observations, department reviews, student surveys. Adding up several subjective sources will never get us to our desired objective evaluation, but it gives us a great deal more evidence to work with. We should always be asking questions about our evidence, and openly admitting their subjective nature will bette equip us to ask the questions necessary to evaluate their validity. Let’s not, then, depend on any one objective measurement, because it just doesn’t exist. Let’s rely on a compilation of subjective evidence, and question it to piece together a more cohesive, though still complex, story about a teacher and their performance in the classroom.

The Drill Sergeants and Quiz Day Fridays: Classroom Management and the Learning Environment

The Learning Environment program standard stipulates that a teacher must be able to “foster and manage a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account physical, emotional and intellectual wellbeing” (SPU Program Standard 5). My Classroom Management course has helped me determine that such a safe space is created through clear classroom expectations, presented to students on the very first day of class. Such expectations create a structure that allows for intellectual liberty and genuine exchange. Within this structure students assume responsibility for their own learning. In my AP U.S History course, for instance, my mentor teacher detailed all of the expectations and procedures of her classroom in a detailed syllabus that she asked students to read on the very first day of school.

In particular, the classroom syllabus addresses Quiz Day Fridays. On Fridays, students are expected to arrive to class having read the textbook chapter for the week. They are also expected to have handed in their “Key Terms”– which ask students to identify and explain the significance of events, people, and concepts that appear in the chapter – at 8am that morning to be stamped in as in “on time.” These key terms  are returned to the students at the start of class.

While the Friday schedule is well detailed in the syllabus, students learned that very first Friday exactly how things were done. As Wong and Wong explain, in a well managed classroom, “Students know what is expected of them and are generally successful” (85) and that first Friday our students learned the ins-and-outs of Quiz Day Fridays.

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So here’s what it looks like. Students walk into the class and are given five review questions right off the bat regarding concepts from the week’s chapter (one such review sheet is pictured above). With their table partner, students begin right away about answering the questions, and are expected to write a paragraph response to the question they find the hardest to answer. Component 5.3 explains that the systems “for performing noninstructional duties are well established with students assuming considerable responsibility for efficient operation,” and students do just this as they set about investigation on their own. Fay and Funk explain that students “have a strong need for control,” and giving students the freedom to answer these tough questions by themselves and choose which question they would like to answer in more detail gives them a sense of ownership and choice within all of the structure of our classroom (28). Students really do cherish that sense of control and choice.

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After half an hour we review the question(s) students grappled with most as a class. Students then get into their “quiz formation” (we sound a little bit like drill sergeants when we call out for students to get in “quiz formation,” hence the photograph of my mentor and her mighty gavel pictured above). Students are old experts by now at their “quiz formation.” They separate their tables, sit on either side of them, place a backpack in the middle between them, and then await patiently for their scantrons and quizzes. As Component 5.2 stipulates, the transitions on these quiz days (and every day) “are seamless with students assum[ing] responsibility in ensuring their efficient operation” (SPU Program Standard 5).

Quiz Day Fridays have allowed me insight into just how important it is to practice these types of routines and procedures. The students like knowing exactly what to expect. The structure of these Fridays actually allow students a great deal of liberty as they go about exploring these review questions on their own and take ownership of each and every transition. I believe my ability to explain and model these expectations for students has developed significantly and I know that I will create clear and established routines such as those used on Quiz Day Fridays in my future classroom.

The effect of this type of structured safe space on student learning is considerable. I watch every week in amazement as these students approach their individual learning in genuine and self-motivated ways. In moving forward, I’m curious to see how I can bring the efficiency and effectiveness of Quiz Day Fridays to other days of the week when I myself am in front of the classroom. I want students to start each day by writing the day’s date and the topic at hand in their Table of Contents for their notebook, and immediately turn to a piece of blank paper — titling it with the date and day’s topic again — ready to take notes and participate in the day’s activities.

I am lucky to have a mentor teacher that has already made expectations for the class so clear. I get to ride on her coattails for now, but the real challenge will come in establishing this type of efficiency and structure on day one in my very own classroom next year.

 

Works Cited:

Fay, Jim & Funk, David. (1995). Teaching with love and logic: Taking control of the classroom. Golden, CO: The Love and Logic Press, Inc.

Wong, Harry K. & Wong, Rosemary T. (2009). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc.

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