Tag Archives: 21st Century skills

Clownin’ Around

“That’s a clown question, bro.” And with that, 19-year old Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper was a viral internet sensation. The follow-up article from Slate by Katy Waldman made the decidedly unclownlike inquiry, “What exactly is a clown question?” She offers that “Clown questions get on people’s nerves because they raise topics that no one cares about.” She goes on to add three key components, that clown questions are 1) irrelevant, 2) irreverent, and 3) “gotcha” in nature. They are, in other words, designed to trip you up – as was the alcohol-related question posed to the underage Harper.

So is this B-roll material for ESPN between SportsCenter reruns, or can we learn from this instantly meme-worthy moment? What kind of questions do we as educators ask in our classroom instruction? Are they clown questions? Hopefully not! As we strive for authentic assessment through inquiry-based learning, the prompts and questions we use should never be “gotcha” in nature. Our goal is not to make our students wriggle and squirm like they’ve been caught in a trap!

Neither should our questions – whether they are spoken or on a test/quiz – ever be anything other than relevant and reverent. By relevant, I mean that our assessment needs to be grounded in what it is important and valuable for the growth, development, and achievement of our students. We must connect to real-life scenarios whenever possible, and use constructivist-influenced lessons to make problem-solving link to our students’ experience sets – past, present, and future.

Reverent questions are important too, by which I mean we need to have respect for our students. They of course deserve nothing less than us at our best, and our professionalism counts for something. Save the whoopee cushions and pie-in-the-face antics for another time… We’re busy building the future here!

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Flipping Without Flopping

Without question, the most talked-about educational innovation to go mainstream recently has been the “flipped” classroom. For the uninitiated, this term broadly refers to the practice of delivering content to students electronically for independent consumption, while the classroom becomes a place for completing assignments and getting help. The surging popularity of the Khan Academy has been the most notable examples of this method.

The benefits are clear – students get more opportunities for guidance and help during the class periods, and the videos they watch are typically more engaging than a textbook. Yet, there have been some problems identified with the approach as well – especially when the application has varied from classroom to classroom. One major criticism of the flipped classroom (also known as reverse instruction) is that it highlights the digital divide. [I’ve mentioned this topic in a previous post.]  Students without independent access to the Internet from home could find themselves at a severe disadvantage when a classroom completely flips. Additionally, many see the method as a way for teachers to avoid having to actually teach the whole class. The pros and cons of flipped teaching (taken from the pro side) are summarized nicely here.

There are many valid points on both sides of this debate, although I tend to take the conversation at-large as being a good thing. When was the last time we had educators this passionate about methodology? Surely this is net positive!

I recently conducted my first major experiment in flipping my classroom, to see for myself whether or not this method was worth trying on a larger scale. I had my opportunity because the technology in my school had finally caught up to providing me the necessary tools, and a week-long professional opportunity out-of-town gave me the excuse to implement the plan. I conducted my flipped classroom roll-out in two phases:

Phase One: Introduction

I think a CMS (course-management system) is a good idea for a flipped classroom. Having a communication hub to center everything around becomes pretty essential. Prensky was right in his assessment of Digital Natives – yes, today’s students process their thinking about technology differently than those of us from the print age do. However, many of us overlearned the lessons of Prensky and assume too much out of students today. Just because they are more wired when they get to us doesn’t mean that they automatically know how to operate every web tool that we throw at them! They still need to get introduced to new tool and be given time to work with it a bit before deploying it fully. A CMS provides an easy “sandbox” for students to get acclimated to the tech before accountability kicks in.

I settled on Edmodo as a CMS due to its pricetag (free!) and its design, which is stylistically similar to Facebook and therefore appealing to most students. The seamless integration with Google Docs is another huge bonus! I took my classes in the computer lab for a day and rolled them through the sign-up process and a tutorial on how to use the various features. Fortunately, we have been using a lot of Web 2.0 tools in class all year so it was not too laborious getting the students all signed up. I also made it a point to contact parents and send home a form letter with the parent Edmodo code included. Once I was done, I had created an instructional space outside of my classroom where content could be shared.

Phase Two: Implementation

Developing the habits of mind when it comes to sharing took a few weeks! I slowly started rolling out links and Google Docs through Edmodo, and encouraging students to use the digital dropbox feature for turning in assignments. Once we got Edmodo down, I started to experiment with YouTube. Now I recognize many schools block YouTube, but there are many other sites out there for sharing video content, so don’t fret! The bottom line is that by sharing an RSS feed through your CMS, it’s a snap to start podcasting your direct instruction content to students! I started creating “learning modules” for student consumption at home and it was a great success! Edmodo provides easy sharing of attachments, and combining a reading, a video of yours truly, and a written assignment as a package was beyond simple. Check out this example on William Blake where I blended a documentary film, a VoiceThread, and a YouTube clip. The writing assignment extended into the next day where I was able to provide help in person.

The final test came when I was absent from class for a week while conducting an evaluation of another school. I flipped my sub plans for the week and let the proctor run the learning modules in the class. After years of trying, I finally learned how to bi-locate! Pre-recording my lessons and flipping the sub plans was probably the most ambitious tech move I’ve ever attempted. There were a lot of bugs in the system, but the overall benefits to my students, and the impact that it had on my professional development were more than worth the effort it took to orchestrate the whole plan. I have never had a better return rate on my assignments, and the scores on those assessments showed a significant bump! Take it from someone who has been a skeptic – flipping your classroom doesn’t have to be a total flop! Give it a try!

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Bloom, Revisited: Towards a Digital Taxonomy

Once you gain support in your school/district for the development and promotion of 21st Century skills in your curriculum, you begin the real work in training the staff.  When you direct the PD, don’t forget to highlight the fact that there exists a spectrum of skills.  Far too often in the rush to share the advantages of 21st Century skills in a student’s development, we leave out the fact that we have effectively carved out a new domain in Bloom’s Taxonomy.  And not all 21st Century skills are created equal!  This new domain for a new age of pedagogy emphasizes the hierarchy of skills needed to be successful in the information economy:

  • Curate – Students need to show facility in navigating a vast array of resources and discerning which are valuable and which are irrelevant to the needs of the moment.
  • Share – Students need to demonstrate judgment in calibrating how much is shared with an audience and by what method.
  • Collaborate – Students need to show they can engage with their peers in a collective effort, and act as both leader and follower as appropriate.
  • Cull – Students refine their thinking by gleaning the best of the collaborative process to produce informed decision-making.
  • Publish – Students express themselves confidently and creatively in a manner that shows full participation in the cycle of learning.
  • Reflect – Students can effectively and thoroughly consider the process of learning on a metacognitive level.
How will you best prepare your students for the world they will inherit?

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