These three words represent the theme of the Learning 2.0 Conference in Beijing, China that I am currently attending.
I write from my hotel room this evening after an exhausting, but interesting day. I feel totally and completely brain dead i.e. I just went to brush my teeth and put soap on the toothbrush..blech. Partly this is my fault for having to get up at 5:30am and finish my supply teacher lesson plans for today (oops!). But partly this is because I have been thinking a lot about how I can take what I’ve learned here and apply it to my practice. It feels a bit overwhelming. That’s a good problem to have though, and through blogging I can organize my thoughts and plan out what I want to take away from this experience. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Learning 2.0 conference is an annual gathering of educators, administrators, technology facilitators etc…from around Asia and other parts of the world to communicate and collaborate with each other about technology and education. It’s a fantastic networking opportunity and chance to learn from some of the truly creative and inspiring thinkers, innovators and risk takers out there. I have already met some people with whom I would like to form a long lasting professional relationship. And it’s nice to put a face to the people I follow on Twitter.
At this point I have seen several short presentations by exceptional educators such as @intrepidteacher that have made me feel totally inadequate, but at the same time motivated to set a high standard of practice for myself. I have also attended one extended workshop by @jutecht about flipped classrooms, two cohort sessions with other science teachers and one facilitated discussion on ePortfolios. I would like to use this blog post to summarize and reflect on the top three most useful things I have learned today and think critically about how I can put some of them into practice. In no particular order…
The days of bookmarking websites to my browser are officially over. No more excuses! I’ve known about Diigo and its predecessors for a while, but have been hesitant to use them out of sheer laziness. In August I got a new computer and forgot to save all my bookmarks (see “brain dead” above), yet even that wasn’t enough for me to get my act together. It took today’s cohort session to finally get me to create an account. The reason being that I didn’t realize the potential for collaboration that Diigo offers until now. You can create lists that you can share with others in a group and essentially create a network of people who are bookmarking similar interests to yours. You can add a Diigo extension to your Chrome toolbar that makes bookmarking ridiculously easy. You can even make it so that when you do a Google search, it goes through your bookmarks! What more convincing do you need? Do it now. It takes 5 minutes to set up.
2. Google Searches
Did you know that if you add “site:” after your key words in a google search, you can control the types of websites that come up? Well I sure did not! Thanks to Jeff Utecht a simple tip becomes a powerful tool. For example, if you are interested in studying stem cells in biology, you can search “stem cells site:gov” and only sites with .gov at the end of the URL will appear. Or you can search by country code like “cn” for China. As you can imagine, different countries’ websites might have very different perspectives on these controversial issues. You can also search by how often a site has been linked to. These are small changes that have a huge impact on how we access information. What I took away most from Jeff’s session is that we need to teach students how to be effective at finding useful, authentic, unbiased information. Today’s students have access to more information in their pockets than we will ever be able to give to them in our careers. They need guidance on how to evaluate these sources of information for the right audience, currency, authenticity etc…The best part about Jeff’s session was the emphasis he placed on the fact that we don’t need to give students all the answers all the time. We need to be less helpful with content delivery and spend our class time teaching students useful tools and skills to be able to find the information they need. That frees up class time for rich, active discussion and activities that allow students to analyze, evaluate, synthesize and create. As teachers we need to put the content into context. After this workshop I am going to make myself do Jeff’s ninja courses on Google searches so that I can be more familiar with these techniques. As things progress in my Better Biology course I need to allow the students more freedom in selecting their sources of information so that they can gain these increasingly important skills. I am still holding their hands too much.
My major disappointment with this workshop is that we didn’t get to discuss this blog post by Shelley Wright that Jeff had posted in our group the night before. I thought it was interesting and would have like a more rich, active discussion about it! I guess nobody did their homework (oh the irony).
This is something I have wanted to do since I started this year. I really wanted to do it through MOODLE so that I wouldn’t have yet another tool that the students had to learn and use. I like things to be consolidated! Unfortunately, MOODLE just is not built to be a great showcase of student work. If you know me, you know I am a MOODLE fan, but I just can’t envision how to use it in this way. There are alternatives out there such as Mahara, WordPress, Weebly etc…I was really keen to try Google Sites after seeing the way Chris Ludwig does it for his AP science classes using Standards Based Grading. I went into this discussion with the hope that I would learn more about using Google Sites as an ePortfolio. Thank goodness we had a facilitator who is much wiser than me! He totally changed the focus of the discussion to WHY we are asking students to make ePortfolios. Here I am, a huge advocate of “pedagogy first, technology second” and I was forgetting my own philosophy! I don’t need to sit in a room with other teachers while we practice making a Google Site. That is easy enough to do at home. What I really needed (without knowing it) was this discussion. Why should we have students create ePortfolios? There are several reasons that came up. ePortfolios allow students to:
- Go paperless which is obviously helpful for the environment.
- Build the skill of reflection which (as I have experienced through this blog) leads to deeper understanding, critical thinking, introspection, and a more meaningful and personal learning experience.
- Create an archive of their learning forever. They can keep their portfolios forever on the web and refer to them as needed. If they change schools they can use their ePortfolios to show new teachers and administrators what they have accomplished. I was even informed that one student’s ePortfolio helped to get him into university. If they start their ePortfolios in grade two and keep them until grade twelve, they have created their own learning journeys that they can go back to and make connections with.
- Provide evidence of their understanding. My main reason for using them was as a tool for assessment, but now I am rethinking how I want to do this. As soon as students see their portfolios as just another evaluation task, they will lose interest. I think if I use them the way Chris does, the students will enjoy it more. What I plan to do is create the standards for my biology class and ask students to post two things they have done during that unit that they are proud of which demonstrate that they have met that standard. This way they do not have to do reflections after every activity (boring and repetitive) and they have to critically evaluate themselves. What was my best work? How did I achieve the standard of competency in the lab? I really like this idea and hope to use it in the next unit.
- Create a digital footprint. Using ePortfolios, we can guide students as to how they can portray themselves in the virtual world in a safe, appropriate manner. We can model this for them with our own blogs. I’ve been having some great discussions with my colleagues about this. Should students be posting their work publicly? Should their Google Sites be password protected? Anonymous? These are things I need to seriously consider. Right now I’m thinking that they should be open as I want the students to learn how to act responsibly on the web. Having them only write two posts per standard, they can take the time to thoughtfully and carefully consider what they are going to write instead of trying to just post about everything they have done. More to come on this in a separate post.
Other miscellaneous tools I need to explore more
a) Mind Meister – allows for collaborative mind mapping
b) Wall Wisher – a blank page where you can create discussions, make noticeboards, brainstorm etc..in a highly visual and collaborative way
That’s it for me for now. Tomorrow I really hope to connect with other IB biology teachers and see what they are doing and how we can collaborate.