Tuesday, December 31, 2013

11 random facts. Because Andrew.

I was tagged by 3 friends in the blogging homework meme but decided to break the rules and post 11 questions about education that need answers rather than 11 random facts and responses to someone else's 11 questions. It has been brought to my attention (ahem.... Andrew) that, while ignoring rules is admirable, posting questions for others without responding to any myself is not quite fair. So, in the spirit of equity, below are 11 random facts about me for anyone who may be interested. Some of these are not-so-random for those of you who know me well.

1. I've always wanted to be an astronaut. Still do. I'm a huge nerd when it comes to all things space. As a classroom teacher, I was selected for a week-long NCCAT seminar at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. It was, without a doubt, one of the best weeks of my life. So much fun. At the time, my first graders were convinced that I actually went to the moon.

2. I'm a recent Mac convert. I've been PC my entire life, with the exception of iPad, iPod Touch, & iPhone. Last summer, a local school district partnered with me so that my STEM campers could use the district's iPads. I used iMovie on the MacBook Air that was with the iPad cart to create videos for campers' parents. That was the turning point for me. After using the MacBook Air during the summer, it was really, really, really tough to go back to using my PC. Since last summer, my husband has surprised me with both a MacBook Pro and an iMac. I'm completely spoiled now and love my Macs.

3. My husband and I have two beautiful children (6 and 2 years old) and are in the process of adopting siblings through a local adoption agency. We're still several months away from being licensed and are super excited about expanding our family!

4. Katie Wood Ray was my writing methods professor and student teaching supervisor. For most of you, that probably means nothing. But for some of you, you know that's a big deal. Katie is a Heinemann author and speaker on writing workshop, and I was most definitely in the right place at the right time in my undergraduate program. She is the reason I am a professor.

5. I didn't want to be a teacher. Like, ever. I always did well in school and was encouraged by family and others to be a doctor, so that (and astronaut) is what I always thought I would do. I can't remember ever wanting to do anything else. I was a pre-med biology major when I first went to undergrad, but decided my sophomore year that I didn't have the stomach for it. Since I'd never thought about another career, I was lost and had no idea what to do. I had a long conversation with my advisor, and she recommended that I take an introductory education course. After just a few class meetings, I found my calling. I honestly don't know how I'd missed it all along.

6. My first year teaching, I taught in Marietta, GA. The move from student teaching in the rural mountains of NC to teaching just outside of Atlanta was like culture shock for me. I faced a lot of challenges that year, as do all first-year teachers, and I learned so much from my students. After that year, I moved to Hickory, NC, where I live today.

7. I've owned 9 cars, and I've been driving for 18 years. Two reasons: I've had several accidents (only one of which was my fault) and my husband works at Carmax.

8. I play piano. I took lessons from 6 to 16 years old. I don't play nearly as much as I'd like, mostly because my free time is spent on doctoral work. I've played for a couple of weddings, and my favorite thing to do is play duets my mother.

9. I almost flunked keyboarding in high school. I was a really fast typer because for several summers I did clerical work at my mom's office. My keyboarding teacher didn't understand how I moved through assignments so quickly, and I think she didn't like my attitude about it all, which probably wasn't great. My mom came to the school to talk to the teacher, which was the second time she'd ever done that. (The first time was in 4th grade when I went from being the kid who loved school so much I cried when I had to stay home on sick days to being the kid who was literally sick to my stomach every morning because I hated school so much. My teacher was a very, very not-nice person.)

10. I'm allergic to furry creatures, which is sad because my daughter wants a dog in the worst way and I refuse to take a pill every day or get regular shots. I wasn't always allergic to furry things. We actually had dogs and cats while I was growing up, and it never bothered me. I developed allergies in my early twenties, which my doctor told me is completely normal. Apparently someone can not be allergic to something one day and develop an allergy the very next. I'm hoping one day the allergy will go away as quickly as it came.

11. I was on the TV show Club Dance on The Nashville Network when I was an undergrad at Western Carolina University (Go Cats!). For one of my PE credits, I took folk and line dancing. The culminating assignment for the class was an appearance and group line dance on Club Dance. I'm pretty sure I have it recorded on VHS if anyone is looking for a good laugh.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

11 Questions that Need Answers

You may have seen the blogging homework floating around your PLN. Bloggers are sharing info about themselves, then tagging other bloggers to do the same. I have now been tagged by 3 friends, so I decided it's time to write a post. Thanks Jaime, Craig, & Jill for sending this my way. I'm going to play along, but I'm not going to play by the rules. Instead of sharing 11 random facts and sending 11 questions to other bloggers, I'm going to ask 11 questions that need answers. These are the questions that keep me up at night.

I'll tag 11 bloggers in my post in the hopes of getting a conversation started around these 11 issues. Time and again, my PLN has come through for me in searching for answers to questions and, more importantly, finding the right questions to ask. So here goes...


1. How can we cultivate a risk-taking, innovative learning environment in a high-stakes testing culture?

2. How can we recruit promising prospective teachers and keep effective educators in the classroom?

3. How can we increase the amount of connected educators who actually do what they blog and tweet about?

4. If we know that collaborative planning is powerful, why don't we create time and space for teachers to do that regularly?

5. How are schools empowering teacher leaders?

6. How should we really be measuring educator effectiveness?

7. What kinds of support do K-12 schools need from teacher educators and educational researchers?

8. How can we empower educators to use classroom assessments to inform instruction rather than externally controlling the assessment environment in our classrooms?

9. Why do we insist on teaching kids to hate reading by pushing programs that use extrinsic rewards?

10. What do the best school administrators do? How can we spread that to less effective administrators?

11. How can we expand collaboration across schools so that we continually help each other better meet the needs of our students?


Responses from my PLN:

Derek McCoy, North Carolina principal and valuable member of my PLN, posted his responses to my 11 questions here. Check them out and post your own response to keep the conversation going.

Jennifer LaGarde, librarian extraordinaire and North Carolina Educator-on-Loan, developed 11 questions (about libraries) that need answers. Her questions for teacher librarians are thoughtful and urgent, particularly for libraries today.

My dear friend, North Carolina high school English teacher and #coflip co-founder Andrew Thomasson, posted his responses to my 11 questions here. As with everything Andrew writes, his responses are thoughtful and well-written. Andrew is also giving me grief about my posting questions without first answering someone else's, so I'll have to see what I can do.


In the spirit of the bloggers who tagged me in their posts, I'm tagging the following 11 bloggers that I hope will engage in this conversation with me. There are plenty of other folks who are non-bloggers that I hope will join the conversation.

Kurtis Hewson

Andrew Thomasson

Steven Anderson

Melissa Edwards

Andy Marcinek

Michael Maher

George Couros

Bill Ferriter

Jeff Carpenter

Steven Weber

Derek McCoy





Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Are we avoiding best practice simply because change is inevitable?

Last week I had a brief conversation with a colleague from a different department at my university. The conversation went something like this:

Him: "You know, my theory was right."

Me: "What theory is that?"

Him: "I predicted that by the time I learned how to use the new management system, we would switch to a new one." (By the way, the "new" LMS he's referring to has been in place for several years now.)

Me: "Yeah, I know the task force is working to select a new LMS this year."

Him: "That's why I didn't bother to figure out how to use that one. I knew that by the time I learned it, we would move on to something new."

Me: (like a coward) "It can be hard to keep up sometimes."


Since that conversation, I've thought of so many better things I could've said instead. Here are a few of them, beginning with helpful responses followed by some snarky ones.

"When I was new here, I attended some workshops so I could learn how to use the LMS well. Did you participate in any of those?"

"How do your students feel about all of the paper you use in class? My students don't particularly like our LMS, but they like having access to course resources online."

"It might have taken you a semester or two to become familiar with it, but then you could have been pretty efficient with it for the past 4 years."

"I would love to help you transition to the new LMS once the task force selects one."

"That's why I never attend mandatory faculty meetings. I figure that once I get used to the meeting schedule, they'll change the date on me. Why bother?"

"Wow. I wasn't aware of your psychic powers."

"That sounds like a cop-out."


I hear conversations like this all too often in education. Let's face it, things do change. And often, the change is just some reiteration of a previous initiative. Educators who've been in the field for a while are quick to let you know that they've seen things come and go. They proudly state that they're going to "wait it out" because "this too shall pass".

While there's some truth to these comments, I wonder if that perspective is in the best interest of our students. Our students are the ones who suffer when we choose to dig our heels in and wait for the next big thing. Is it your students' fault that your district is implementing a curricular change that looks, at first glance, similar to something you did 15 years ago? And is it their fault that it's difficult to keep up with changes in technology? Our students deserve our best. Every. Single. Day. Even when it's not easy. Even when it takes more of our time. Even if it means we have to ask for help.

The next time you overhear or participate in a conversation like this one, I hope you'll be brave enough to encourage / challenge your colleagues to embrace change in order to better serve our students.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Differentiated Syllabus: Continued Revisions of a Tech Integration Course

I've taught seven sections of Technology in the Classroom across four semesters, and each time I've made substantial changes to the course based on my reflections and feedback from my students. I've blogged several times about the evolution of this course. As the semester comes to a close and I look ahead to next semester, I am again making course revisions. My students gave me some really great feedback, which I'm using to continuously try to improve the learning experience for students in this course. Here's some of the feedback they gave:
  • Make the virtual field trip assignment a graded assignment with more specific and clear criteria
  • Involve students more during Google Hangouts
  • Spend more class time on big assignments
  • Have more app / web tool smackdowns in class
  • Provide more support for the personal learning network assignment
I'm incorporating all of that feedback into the course design for next semester. I'm also doing something I've attempted to do previously but have only had success with once, during a course I co-taught with a colleague: I've revised the syllabus for this course to provide students more flexibility and choice. My new syllabus is designed as a menu, which is one format for constructing a differentiated learning plan for students. You can take a look at my revised syllabus here. Developing a syllabus in this format has forced me to think about which assignments are absolutely necessary for application of course content. What I've decided is that there are two non-negotiables for this course: developing a personal learning network (PLN) and blogging. Within both of those assignments, there is a great deal of choice, flexibility, and ownership. Students gather their own evidence of PLN development throughout the semester and use that evidence to justify a self-assigned grade for the PLN assignment. (See an example of a student's PLN evidence here.) Students also have several options for blogging prompts (thanks to a shared Google Doc from Alec Couros) and are encouraged to be creative in communicating with their audience.

Beyond those two assignments, I'm giving students choice with assignments I typically require all students to complete. In addition, I'm introducing two new assignment options I haven't used in the past: a Wikipedia assignment (thank you Bethany Smith!) and a plan for gaming in the classroom (thanks for the feedback Dayson Pasion).

As you can see, I've gotten help from many educators along the way, and as this course continues to evolve I imagine collaboration with other educators and feedback from students will continue to help me improve the course. One final note about collaboration for this course: I've been working with Chris Casal, a technology teacher / coordinator in Brooklyn, NY, to develop a collaborative learning experience for my students and his. We've been blogging about the experience here and are hoping to share our story at ISTE 2014 in Atlanta.

I'd love to get your feedback on these course revisions and welcome your suggestions for improving the course.

Friday, December 6, 2013

In Search of a Better Research Process

For the past three years, I've read thousands of pages of text and written hundreds of pages as part of my PhD program. The work of a doctoral program forces you to stay current with research in your areas of interest, critically analyze research literature, and contribute your own research to the field. While I've developed my own systems for reading, annotating, organizing, and responding to readings and research, I've also used a variety of processes for different assignments, depending on professors' expectations, the amount of collaboration involved with fellow students, and assignment requirements.

As I near the end of my doctoral program (graduation is only 8 months away!), I'm beginning to wonder what kind of system will work best for me. Efficiency and productivity are absolutely necessary, but I also need a system that allows for creativity and a wide range of functionality. One thing I've committed to (and added as a repeating task on Wunderlist) is setting aside time each week to read recent articles and books related to my teaching and research interests. With the desire to stay current and make time to engage in research, I am in search of a better process than I've used in the past for taking notes on my readings and allowing that to feed into my research.

I'm very much a verbal processor, and I know that I do my best thinking by talking (or writing) about it. (Talking is preferable, but it's 10:45 in the evening and I don't know anyone who wants to have this conversation with me at the moment.) So... I've decided to write this post to help me sort through my thoughts and hopefully come up with a process that might work for me. (Also, writing this post is a better alternative to writing up findings from a recent study, which is what I should be working on right now.)

I'm going into this decision with two solid options: Mendeley and Evernote. I know there are probably many, many more possibilities, but those are two tools I've been using for this kind of work and two tools that I know are well-suited for this kind of work. I've been inconsistently using both of them for similar processes, but in order to be more efficient and productive with my commitment to spending time each week engaged in this work, I'm forcing myself to weigh out these options.

What Mendeley has going for it...

  • Mendeley was basically created for this type of work. Mendeley is built to make the process of reading, annotating, and citing resources simple and organized. 
  • Mendeley makes it quick and easy to create a reference list and cite sources in my writing. When I'm consistently using Mendeley for saving, annotating, and note-taking, the writing process is a much more efficient one.
  • Mendeley's browser extension allows me to add web resources to Mendeley with one click. During this simple importing process, I can choose which folder to drop the resource in, give the resource a title, add keywords and tags to help with organization and search, and take notes on the resource to help with future work. In addition, Mendeley will automatically add bibliographic information to web resources when available. 
  • Connecting to other researchers is possible with Mendeley. I can share folders and resources with other Mendeley users, like people on my research team, folks in my department, colleagues with similar research interests, and critical friends, which I'm always on the lookout for, by the way.
  • With one click, I can search for related documents to the one I'm currently reading. By clicking the "related documents" button, I can quickly search through all resources I've saved to Mendeley for other sources that have similarities. 

Despite those amazing features, I have never been able to grab onto Mendeley and use it with any consistency. I've tried several times, each time spending a lot of time initially setting up folders, adding and organizing resources, and gathering bibliographic information, only to abandon it after a little while. I have friends from my doctoral program who swear by Mendeley and could probably make a living marketing Mendeley and training folks to use it, but it's just never grown on me. An attempt to use Mendeley on an ongoing basis would require a time commitment and mental investment on my part, and probably a repeating task on Wunderlist to spend a few minutes in Mendeley every day.

Here's why I'm thinking Evernote may come out on top...
  • I already use Evernote for gathering, organizing, and coding data. Since Evernote works with any type of data (audio, text, video, images, documents), I can easily import all data sources and organize them into notebooks. Nested notebooks allow me to create subcategories to take organization to the next level. Better yet, I use tags to code my notes, making the data analysis process more efficient. Perhaps the best thing of all is that I can access my research anywhere on any device, by logging into my Evernote account. 
  • I use Evernote for practically everything else that's non-research related, including:
    • Lesson planning
    • Shopping lists
    • Note-taking 
    • Party planning
    • Brainstorming
  • Evernote's search functionality is.... well, let's face it... second only to Google. A keyword search in Evernote will search through all of my notes, including text, images, and handwritten notes that I've scanned in or captured with the camera on my phone or iPad. This search functionality means I can find anything I'm looking for in the amount of time it takes to type a keyword. Also, since my data are coded by tags in Evernote, I can find what I'm looking for by searching through my tags. 
  • In addition to annotating and taking detailed notes about articles, Evernote also allows me to move directly from reading & annotating an article to brainstorming a research plan to gathering and organizing data without opening any other tools or programs. While there are countless programs out there that allow you to annotate and organize texts and other types of media, I know of no other programs that provide so much functionality to transform the reading/annotating process into a creative process. 
  • Evernote's shared notebooks allow me to collaborate with everyone on the research team. Any member of the team can add resources, code data, and brainstorm from any device. 
  • Since I use Evernote multiple times a day for other tasks, it would require much less of a time and mental investment to create and sustain a workable system for my research.
So there you have it. It looks like Evernote is my choice, at least for now. While writing this post, I took a break and popped into Evernote to set up a few nested notebooks in my "Research Interests" notebook. My next step is to explore some possibilities for a research workflow in Evernote. I'll let you know how it goes. Stay tuned....

Instructional Tech Tutorials from Pre-Service Teachers

Each semester, pre-service teachers in my Technology in the Classroom course create multimedia presentations to help teachers use technology in meaningful ways in their classrooms. These presentations are designed to help educators make sound instructional decisions about technology integration. Explore the presentations below to find out how and why to use these tech tools in the classroom. Please share this post with other educators to help them learn from these pre-service technology leaders.

Google Hangouts by Jared Clark & Emily Pinnix

My Fitness Pal by Kenny Dockal, Michael Hedrick, & Andrew Thomas

Padlet by Lindsay Guill, Katie Owenby, & Charlene Taylor

PowToon by Brooke Bolin, Melissa East, & Jesse Waycaster

Socrative by Leigha Banner, Prasilla Castillo, & Laura Hofeldt

Socrative by Quinn Scarvey & Robyn Tewksbury

Twitter in the Classroom screencast and Prezi by Morgan Mitchem & Samantha Williams


Friday, November 15, 2013

Memes by Education Majors

To relieve some stress, I asked my elementary education pre-service teachers to create memes and share them with the class so we could laugh a little. They used the Meme Generator iPad app by MemeCrunch. I've posted their memes below. Enjoy...







And for the finale...

Freshman Year

Senior Year

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Classroom Web Pages built by Pre-Service Teachers

Each semester, students in my Technology in the Classroom course build a classroom web page they can use in their student teaching and in their future as teachers. This assignment begins by having my pre-service teachers explore existing classroom websites to find out what to do and what not to do. The rubric I use to evaluate this assignment is below. I've posted web pages from previous semesters here and here. This semester, my students have done outstanding work. Their web pages are linked below. Please take a few minutes to explore these new exemplary classroom web pages built by pre-service teachers. They would love to get your feedback, so feel free to leave a comment below.


Health and Physical Education

Kenny Dockal
Melissa East
Mike Hedrick
Andrew Thomas


Music

Robyn Tewksbury


Elementary

Leigha Banner
Brooke Bolin
Prasilla Castillo
Jared Clark
Lindsay Guill
Laura Hofeldt
Katie Lunsford
Morgan Mitchem
Emily Pinnix
Quinn Scarvey
Charlene Taylor
Jesse Waycaster
Samantha Williams










Friday, November 8, 2013

Virtual Field Trips Created by Pre-Service Teachers


In my Technology in the Classroom course, we've been exploring possibilities for using virtual field trips (VFTs) to expand the curriculum and take students to locations they may never visit in person. If virtual field trips are a new concept for you, I've blogged about them here and here. After exploring virtual field trip resources and examples of VFTs, my students worked to build their own. We've shared these trips with our 3rd grade buddy class in Brooklyn, NY, who gave us feedback on our VFT plans as we were developing them. Our 3rd grade friends will be taking some of these trips and giving us feedback to help us improve our skills in designing and developing virtual field trips. The 3rd graders have also brainstormed their own VFT ideas and shared them with my pre-service teachers via Google Docs. I hope you'll explore some of our virtual field trips below and leave a comment. Happy exploring!

Environments and Human Behavior - 1st grade
by Lindsay Guill, Katie Lunsford, and Charlene Taylor

The Sun - 3rd grade
by Brooke Bolin, Jared Clark, and Quinn Scarvey
Symbaloo webmix
Instructions

Team Sports
by Kenny Dockal, Mike Hedrick, and Andrew Thomas

Exploring the Sport of Biathlon - 2nd grade
by Melissa East and Jesse Waycaster

Ecosystems - 5th grade
by Morgan Mitchem
Symbaloo webmix
Instructions

North Carolina State Symbols - 4th grade
by Leigha Banner, Emily Pinnix, Samantha Williams

Weather and Natural Resources
Kindergarten Prezi and Google Earth file by Prasilla Hofeldt
2nd grade by Laura Hofeldt

The Human Body by Robyn Tewksbury
Enter Track number 452292 and click "View in Text"

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Take Your Students on a Virtual Field Trip Every Day

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Google Earth. I regularly tell the pre-service and in-service teachers I work with that every teacher at every grade level in every content area could be using Google Earth every day. A couple of years ago, I wrote this post about why you should be doing more with Google Earth.

Over the past couple of weeks, students in my Technology in the Classroom course have been working on plans for creating virtual field trips. In class tomorrow, they'll actually begin to create virtual field trips using the plans they've designed collaboratively. And later this semester, we'll be sharing our virtual field trips with 3rd graders in Brooklyn, NY. Go here to learn more about the partnership between my students and 3rd graders in Chris Casal's classes.

Two weeks ago, I demoed some of my favorite virtual field trip resources for my students and gave them time to explore the resources on my virtual field trip Symbaloo webmix. As they were exploring, one student commented on Africam - a free site with live webcam feeds from different locations in Africa. That got me thinking....

What if you started the day (or class period) with a webcam or other virtual field trip site projected onto your screen / whiteboard / wall? As students get settled and complete routine tasks like turning in assignments and getting materials ready for class, they could observe what's happening in some location around the planet. You could even ask students to keep a log or journal about their observations. When class begins, take 5 minutes of your class time to learn something about the specific location. Use Google Earth to take your class to the place they were just observing or explore other web resources to learn more about the history, culture, or geography of the site.

A quick virtual field trip would be such an engaging way to start the day.... much better than the typical "bell work" or "morning work" I've seen in schools. Taking a virtual field trip every day could help your students develop global and cultural competence in a way that isn't possible with traditional curricular materials. Let's move beyond the four walls of our classrooms and give our students opportunities that only technology will allow.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Putting the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy to Use

During my Curriculum, Instruction, and Environmental Design class today, I asked students to work collaboratively to plot a set of curricular standards on the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy. This learning experience required students to have a working understanding of the four types of knowledge and six cognitive domains represented by the taxonomy. We used Padlet and Triptico in class two days ago to explore the taxonomy, so my goal today was to get them to apply, analyze, evaluate, and create with the taxonomy. (Oh, and we used sidewalk chalk!)

A couple of take-aways from this learning experience that my students and I discussed afterward:

  1. Students can show you what they know in SO many different ways. This course is one of the first courses that teaching candidates take in their college careers. Most students take the course prior to being admitted into the teacher education program. This means that, up to this point, their own K-12 and higher ed learning experiences are all they have to pull from. Sadly, most of those experiences have involved lecture and worksheets. Because of that, my students are wanting to rely pretty heavily on the use of worksheets in their own early attempts at writing learning objectives and designing lesson plans. One of my primary purposes in this activity (beyond applying the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy to a set of standards and becoming more familiar with those standards) was to model that students can show you what they know in a lot of ways that are more engaging and collaborative than worksheets. I could have easily developed a taxonomy worksheet and asked students to work independently and silently to plot the standards. Instead, students worked collaboratively and used more engaging materials. (Who doesn't love sidewalk chalk?) Same learning outcomes. Completely different experience. 
  2. Curricular standards are the floor, not the ceiling. It isn't difficult to infer from these taxonomy tables that these standards leave much to be desired in terms of complex thinking. If we structure teaching and learning around the cognitive processes and types of knowledge required by the standards, we will certainly not be developing critical thinking, collaboration, communication, or creativity. My students and I agree that the majority of thinking they do on a typical day (outside of class time, sadly) would be plotted at the higher end of the taxonomy in both types of knowledge (metacognitive and procedural knowledge, mostly) and cognitive processes (application, analysis, evaluation, and creation). We, as educators, are failing our students if we simply ask them to remember and understand factual and conceptual knowledge. It just isn't enough. This means that we have to go beyond the thinking that's required by the standards and ask our students to do more. Dayson Pasion agrees. What about you?
Disclaimer: This post has absolutely nothing to do with technology. :)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The evolution of a tech integration course

In February 2012, I wrote a guest post on Richard Byrne's blog Free Technology for Teachers about my first semester teaching Technology in the Classroom. At the end of the spring 2012 semester, Richard allowed me to write another guest post as the course came to a close. That first semester teaching Technology in the Classroom was a powerful learning experience for me. Since then, I have taught 5 sections of the course (and I'm teaching 2 sections this semester). Each semester, I've gotten valuable feedback from students and made revisions to the course based on that feedback. You can read about various revisions in the blog posts linked below.

This semester, I have made significant revisions to Technology in the Classroom, and I'd like to explore those revisions in this post. My wonderful School of Education voted to change the course from a 1-credit hour to a 2-credit hour course, which gave me a lot of space for flexibility in course design in addition to allowing my students and I to dig deeper into concepts and issues in class. The first change I made in course design was to move Technology in the Classroom to a blended / hybrid course. My students and I will meet for approximately half of our class sessions face-to-face and the other half online. This move to a blended learning model has pushed my students to use technology in a significant way as a learner, enabling them to gain experience in online learning while exploring new tools. So far, it appears that the blended approach is appealing to my students who can participate in online class sessions in their dorm rooms in their PJs.

For the online portion of the course, I'm using multiple tools. We will primarily be using Google Hangouts for synchronous, collaborative class meetings. Some class meetings will take place asynchronously via Google Drive, VoiceThread, and other tools. During our first Hangout, we:


I've also chosen to maximize class time, increasing time for collaboration and creation, using the flipped classroom model. In previous sections of this course, I spent a portion of class time each week demo-ing (or asking students to demo) web tools. This semester, I'm recording (or finding) tutorials and asking students to watch those prior to coming to class. This allows us to spend time using the tools and applying course content while we're together as opposed to doing that work independently of one another after class. 

Each time I've taught this course, I have used Edmodo as my Learning Management System. This semester, I'm playing around with Google+ Communities as a space for bringing students together and collaborating online. I'm currently considering ways that Google+ Communities might replace Edmodo for me at some point in the future. Thankfully, my students are willing to learn alongside me and explore new possibilities for learning and connecting. As of now we have a Community set up, but we aren't doing much with it yet. 

Previously, I've posted discussion questions to Edmodo to get students reflecting on and discussing important concepts. I have never been excited about the typical discussion board format, with one person posting a question or prompt and everyone else responding to the original post. I've always found it difficult to get real, meaningful conversations happening in a discussion board format (both as a student and a teacher). This semester, my students are blogging (with Blogger) instead of responding to discussion questions on Edmodo. I'm hopeful that blogging will allow students to delve deeper into concepts, spend more time reflecting on what they're learning and experiencing, and engage in meaningful conversations with each other. 

The combination of the increased class time, hybrid design, and flipped model has allowed me to design more interactive, engaging, and thoughtful learning experiences for students. Within the next few weeks, I will be gathering feedback from students via Google Forms. I'll share that feedback here to let you know how students are responding to the course. 

I'm hopeful that some of you will take a moment to leave a comment on this post. I would love to hear about your own efforts, and I would appreciate so much to hear your feedback on the evolution of this course. 



I've written other posts about my experience teaching this course. You can read them below.

Edmodo as my Learning Management System

Technology for Formative Assessment

Tech Integration Advice for Pre-Service Teachers

Social Media as a Learning Tool in Higher Education

Feedback 2.0

Exemplary Classroom Webpages by Pre-Service Teachers

Building Pre-Service Teachers' Leadership Capacity for Technology Integration

Helping Pre-Service Teachers Build a PLN

Creating with TPCK and the NETS*S

TPCK Tournament: March Madness in EDU 451

More Exemplary Classroom Webpages by Pre-Service Teachers




Wednesday, July 17, 2013

NC Teaching Fellows Senior Conference 2013

On Saturday, July 20th, I will be presenting four sessions at this year's North Carolina Teaching Fellows Senior Conference. Five hundred pre-service teachers from across the state will come together on my campus, Lenoir-Rhyne University, to participate in sessions covering a wide range of topics relevant for teacher candidates. You can access resources from my sessions below. Feel free to pass the resources along or leave a comment with feedback.

Best of the Web for Teachers and Students


The Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence


All resources for this session can be found at http://coresix.wikispaces.com.

Getting Organized Online


Apps for Any Classroom

For this session, I will do a brief live demo and share potential classroom uses for the following apps: 
  • Mastery Connect's Common Core app
  • Splashtop Desktop Remote
  • Nearpod
  • Socrative
  • Edmodo
  • ClassDojo
  • Dropbox
  • neu.Annotate
  • Dragon Dictation
  • Skitch
  • ThingLinke
  • Knowmia
  • ScreenChomp
  • iMovie
  • WatchKnow
  • iBrainstorm
  • Make Dice Lite
  • Haiku Deck
  • VoiceThread
  • Popplet Lite
  • Sock Puppets
  • My Story
  • Google Earth

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Increasing Interaction in Online Learning Environments

Originally posted at http://www.fractuslearning.com/2013/07/09/online-learning-environments/ 

In my experience as an online learner, some courses I've taken virtually have been lacking in opportunities for interaction. My online learning experiences have mainly consisted of reading texts posted by the instructor, listening to lectures, and participating in asynchronous discussion boards. Many of you may have had similar experiences as online learners. If you spent time in a traditional classroom where students rarely interacted with one another or with the teacher, you would likely deem the instruction as poor quality teaching. However, this somehow seems to pass muster in many online courses and programs. All learners crave interaction, whether in face-to-face settings or online environments, and research shows that interaction can increase learning and lessen the psychological distance involved in online learning (Mayes, Luebeck, Ku, Akarasriworn, & Korkmaz, 2011). 

While creating opportunities for interaction may occur without much planning in a face-to-face environment, designing and implementing interactive learning experiences online requires strategic planning. After conducting a thorough review of current literature on the qualities of effective online teaching, I've identified strategies that can increase interaction in online learning environments. These strategies are organized by the three types of interaction defined by Moore (1989): learner-instructor interaction, learner-content interaction, and learner-learner interaction.

Learner-Instructor Interaction

Interaction between the instructor and learners has been found to be the most important type of interaction in online environments. Frequent interaction with the instructor helps learners feel a greater sense of community and leads to higher levels of student engagement (Brinthaupt, Fisher, Gardner, Raffo, & Woodard, 2011; Mayes et al., 2011). Shackelford and Maxwell (2012) identified seven types of learner-instructor interaction: 

1. Providing information on expectations - Online instructors need to communicate their expectations for online participation as well as course procedures. One easy way to do this is by creating a weekly screencast or podcast to model and explain expectations for online learners. 
2. Participating in discussions - When instructors are absent from online discussions, learning and engagement are low (Journell, 2008). Just as in face-to-face discussions, online instructors need to provide guidance and feedback to help shape the conversation and keep it connected to key learning outcomes.
3. Providing support and encouragement - Providing encouraging feedback doesn't necessarily need to take extra time, as it can be woven into content-related feedback. Online instructors can use text, audio, or video to provide encouragement to students.
4. Providing timely feedback - Learners in traditional classrooms get ongoing feedback through verbal and nonverbal cues, which are missing in online settings. Synchronous class meetings provide a good opportunity for online instructors to give general feedback to the class, while emails, podcasts, blog comments, and discussion board replies allow for individual feedback.
4. Using multiple modes of communication - Using a variety of communication types increases the likelihood that learner preferences will be met. Online communication can happen via synchronous class meetings, one-on-one virtual meetings, emails, blogs, asynchronous discussion boards, podcasts, wikis, and screencasts. 
5. Instructor modeling - Of these seven types of learner-instructor interaction, instructor modeling was found to have the largest impact on students' sense of community. Again, instructors model frequently for learners in face-to-face classrooms, but this modeling must be more explicit online. Instructors can use tools like screencasts and podcasts to model skills and concepts for online learners. 
6. Required participation - Requiring students to participate in online discussions and other learning activities ensures that all students will have access to interaction with the instructor.  

Learner-Content Interaction

In online learning environments, instructors must balance the desire to provide students with a wealth of content with the need to avoid overloading students with excess content (Garrison & Anderson, 2003). Effective online instructors carefully consider each piece of content that is provided for students and design opportunities for students to engage with content. Collaborative project-based learning (PBL) can be an effective way to get students interacting with meaningful content. Working in project-based learning teams allows students to collaborate with their peers, share their work with others, and connect to real-world experiences (Schweizer, Whipp, & Haylett, 2012).
In his ISTE 2013 presentation entitled Empowered: Blended Learning through PBL, Andrew Miller (@betamiller) shared the following tips for designing PBL for online and blended learning environments:
  • Develop a network of experts - Find PBL colleagues you can go to for ideas, support, and collaboration.
  • Establish benchmarks and formative assessments - Build formative and benchmark assessments into the PBL design to help you and students monitor their progress toward learning outcomes. 
  • Be flexible - Design an online curriculum that is structured, yet flexible enough to meet individual student learning needs.
  • Align online content to the project - Be selective in choosing content for PBL, and provide guidance in understanding and using the content.
  • Teach and assess collaboration skills - Be explicit about your expectations for collaboration within PBL, and model them for students.
  • Use synchronous online class meetings for collaboration, not content delivery - Rather than spending virtual class time lecturing, which tends to disengage students, use this time to get students working with their PBL teams. 

Learner-Learner Interaction

Numerous studies have shown that the quality of learner-learner interactions matters more than the quantity of interactions (Garrison & Cleveland-Innes, 2005; Journell, 2008). While online learners need multiple opportunities to interact with one another, it is more important that the instructor design quality interactions than numerous interactions. One way to facilitate learner-learner interaction is allowing students to facilitate class discussions, either synchronously or asynchronously. Prior to having students facilitate discussions, the instructor should teach and model how to lead an online discussion, gradually releasing responsibility for facilitating dissuasions to students. Researchers recommend using a variety of groupings for interaction, such as whole class and small group discussions, partner assignments, and individual responses (Mayes et al., 2011). During both synchronous and asynchronous discussions, students can break out into smaller groups to engage in deeper conversations about the topic of discussion before coming back together with the whole class to share and reflect on small group conversations. Beyond the asynchronous discussion board and synchronous class meeting, there are endless possibilities for using web tools for learner-learner interaction online. Below are a few possibilities to consider.
  • VoiceThread allows anyone to create a multimedia slideshow and have multiple people comment on the slides. Collaborators can leave text, voice, or video comments. Students can comment on each other's slideshows to engage in a conversation around the content on the slides.
  • Twitter chats, 1-hour conversations on topics of interest to participants, provide an opportunities for real-time conversation. Chats can be designed to involve only course participants or to reach out to others beyond the course to gain new perspectives and expertise.
  • Watch2gether provides a setting where students can watch a YouTube video together online and engage in a synchronous chat while viewing the video. Rooms in Watch2gether are private, so the only people who can join the discussion are those who have been invited.

Whether you teach fully online courses, blended courses, or web-enhanced face-to-face courses, consider these ways to increase learner-instructor, learner-content, and learner-learner interaction. I'd love to hear your ideas for creating interactive learning experiences for students. Fee free to leave a comment to share your ideas.


Brinthaupt, T. M., Fisher, L. S., Gardner, J. G., Raffo, D. M., & Woodard, J. B. (2011). What the best online teachers should do. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(4), 515-524.
Garrison, D. R., & Anderson, T. (2003). E–Learning in the 21st century: A framework for research and practice. London: Routledge/Falmer.
Garrison, D. R., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating cognitive presence in online learning: Interaction is not enough. The American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3), 133-148.
Journell, W. (2008). Facilitating historical discussions using asynchronous communication: The role of the teacher. Theory and Research in Social Education, 36(4), 317-355. 
Mayes, R., Luebeck, J., Ku, H. Y., Akarasriworn, C., & Korkmaz, O. (2011). Themes and strategies for transformative online instruction: A review of literature and practice. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 12(3), 151-166. 
Moore, M. G. (1989). Editorial: Three types of interaction. 3(2), 1-7. 
Schweizer, H., Whipp, J., & Hayslett, C. (2002). Quality control in online courses: Using a social 
constructivist framework. Computers in the Schools, 19(3/4), 143-158.
Shackelford, J. L., & Maxwell, M. (2012). Contribution of learner-instructor interaction to sense of community in graduate online education. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 8(4), 248-260. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Window into my ISTE 2013 Experience


As my friend Andrew Thomasson pointed out, I am a copious note-taker. I took several pages of notes at ISTE 2013 in Google Drive. My purpose of the notes was twofold: 1) make direct applications of what I learned at the conference with my everyday work and 2) share the learning with others. I was #NotAtISTE but #WishingIWas for the past few years, and each summer I've been excited and grateful to participate in the ISTE conference experience via Twitter. Educators are the greatest at not keeping their learning to themselves. (That's our job, right?) Since I finally had the opportunity to get to the conference, I wanted to share every bit of the experience I possibly could with others who weren't (and were) there. I found that Twitter allowed me to be in several sessions at once. Thanks to all of you who shared your slides and notes or tweeted ideas from sessions and conversations. My ISTE 2013 experience was so much richer because of you. If you'd like to take a look at my copious notes to see if there are any gems of information that may be useful to you, you can view them here. Feel free to save them to your Drive or never ever look at them again. I'm good either way.

Along with most other ISTE 2013 attendees, I tweeted quite a bit. Most of my tweets were not my original ideas, but ideas shared by presenters during sessions or friends during informal conversations. In order to capture the essence of a few of the ideas from ISTE 2013 that struck me the most, I decided to create a visual representation of a few of my #iste13 tweets using Haiku Deck. (In case you haven't heard, I love how simple it is to create a beautiful slideshow, focused on visuals rather than text, with the Haiku Deck app, but that's another post.) Below is attribution for the originators of the ideas shared in my tweets, ordered by slide.


Slides 1 - 8: Will Richardson (During his session, I tweeted that Will is right about everything. His session was profound for me, hence the majority of the slides in my deck originated in his session. You can view slides from his session here.)

Slide 9: Me (One morning as I was walking into the convention center, I overheard two ladies having a conversation full of buzz words from the conference, like gamification. I had a sudden fear that thousands of educators would go home from ISTE and completely redesign their classrooms and teaching practices based on a catchy idea they heard during a keynote or session. If you're considering that, please, please put thoughtful consideration into changes before making them.)

Slide 10: Sam Patterson

Slide 11: Steven Anderson and Kyle Pace

Slides 12 & 13: Adam Bellow

Slide 14: Me




Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Collaboration between Teacher Education Programs & K-12 Schools

In my role as Director of Teacher Education, I am in constant contact with local teachers and administrators who partner with us to develop pre-service teachers' skills and competencies. One of the best parts of my job is that I get to deliberately focus on growing partnerships between the School of Education and local schools. Through these partnerships, collaborative and innovative work happens on an ongoing basis. As we were told during our recent accreditation visit from the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, our partnerships don't solely exist on paper. They are living, breathing partnerships that serve very real purposes and have very real effects on our programs and on students and teachers in local schools.

Partnerships like the ones we've developed don't happen on their own. It takes time, energy, and intentional action to grow meaningful partnerships, but the pay-off is well worth it. Teacher education programs that are disconnected from local schools are doing a disservice to the local and global education community. We all have much to learn from others, and we each have a lot to offer others as well. To that effect, below are a few of the ways we're partnering with local schools to build a stronger teacher education program and contribute to the local education community.

MAT Task Force

We are in the process of developing curriculum for a new Master of Arts in Teaching program. The program is unique in several ways, such as a required year-long full-time residency in a local school. We've put together a Task Force which consists of School of Education faculty and local school- and district-level folks. Our school partners on the Task Force have a wealth of experience and expertise in curriculum, instruction, professional development, and administration. We're building this program from the ground up, and the input of our local school partners has been extremely influential.

MAT Advisory Board

Our MAT Advisory Board is made up of School of Education faculty, school and district administrators from the three school districts in our county, and representatives from the business community. This board serves the purpose of guiding  and providing feedback on the direction of our MAT program. The administrators serving on this board will be hosting MAT residents in their schools, so their feedback is crucial to ensuring that our program is meeting the needs of our students and local schools.

Field Experiences

The cornerstone of our teacher education program is field experience is local schools. These experiences are essential for pre-service teachers to apply concepts and skills they've learned in their coursework in authentic settings. There is much knowledge about how to be a teacher that can only be acquired by teaching. Students in our undergraduate teacher education programs have their first field experience in their first semester of education coursework. Field experiences are interwoven through their coursework, culminating in a year-long internship with one semester of part-time and one semester of full-time teaching in a local classroom. Students in our MAT program will participate in a full-time year-long residency in a local school. The cooperating teachers who open their classrooms to our students are extensions of the teacher education program out in the local schools. Their guidance, feedback, and mentoring has a huge impact on shaping our future teachers.

Professional Development 

Cooperating teachers are invited to participate in a year-long professional development seminar series. These seminars are designed for interns, student teachers, and master teachers to develop a common vision for effective teaching and to learn from and alongside one another. These seminars are hosted in local schools and facilitated by School of Education faculty. One key feature of our MAT program is its emphasis on professional development and co-teaching in residency schools. Faculty serving our MAT students will be available to co-teach with master teachers and provide professional development aligned with residency schools' needs. 

Teacher Education Council

The work of the School of Education is guided by the Teacher Education Council, which is made up of faculty from the School of Education and other schools and colleges across the University as well as local school teachers and administrators. The TEC provides input on our programs and serves as a sounding board for the School of Education.

As you can see, these partnerships are not add-ons to our programs. They are fundamental in the planning and implementation of our programs. I would love to hear about how your school, district, or university builds partnerships and leverages them for continued improvement.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Learn how to integrate technology in your classroom from pre-service teachers

Pre-service teachers enrolled in Technology in the Classroom have created the following multimedia presentations to help educators integrate technology. Please take some time to explore their presentations and leave them a comment below.

Cell phones in the classroom by Megan Laxton, Amber Longhi, & Meredith Lutz

Coach's Eye by Matt Amerto, Justin Lunsford, & Rai Robinson

Google Forms by Katrina Rich

Prezi by Samantha Feimster & MaryLyn Swanson

Story Kit by Simone Anderson & Anamaris Felix

Symbaloo by Cheyenne Cash, Molly Haynes, Allison Trudnak, & Brooke Wilson

VoiceThread by Mollie Beam & Mara Hall

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

More Exemplary Classroom Web Pages by Pre-Service Teachers

Pre-service teachers taking my Technology in the Classroom course create a classroom web page as part of their course requirements. Each semester, we spend time exploring existing classroom web pages and evaluating them according to these criteria. Students then build their own web pages which they can use in their student teaching and hopefully continue to use as they enter the teaching profession. I have high expectations for this assignment, and this semester's group did not disappoint. Their web pages are linked below. If you're a classroom teacher or someone who supports teachers in instructional technology, you can take a few pointers from these students and apply them to your own work. You can read about my assignment expectations and view web page submissions from the fall semester here.

Health and Physical Education


Elementary


Middle Grades Science and Mathematics


High School English


High School Mathematics


High School Social Studies


University

http://informaticslru.weebly.com - Informatics for Nursing (The professor for this course is taking my Technology in the Classroom course this semester.)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

TPCK Tournament: March Madness in EDU 451

March Madness is my favorite time of the year, so I've decided to bring it into my Technology in the Classroom lesson today. This afternoon, my students and I are hosting a TPCK tournament. I designed a bracket with 32 technology tools. These 32 tools are going to compete against one another until we're left with one champion. To advance through the rounds, we're going to use two dice I designed in the free app Make Dice Lite. One die contains 6 different content topics (i.e. fractions, current events, photosynthesis). The other die contains 6 different pedagogical techniques (i.e. peer teaching, problem-based learning, role play). For each round of the tournament, a student will shake the iPad, I mean roll the dice. As a class, we'll determine the most appropriate technology tool to teach the specific content with the instructional technique (both determined by the dice). The tool that is the best fit for the content and pedagogy will advance to the next round, at which time we'll roll the dice again to see who advances further in the tournament. For the championship match-up, students will work in small groups to design a teaching scenario using the tool they think is the best match for the content and pedagogy on the dice. Groups will share the scenarios they design, and the class will vote on their favorite scenario. The winning tool will be the TPCK Tournament champion and will get a shout-out on Twitter from EDU 451.

You can download my TPCK Tournament bracket here.

Content and Pedagogy dice created in Make Dice Lite

Note: I only had about an hour to put this idea together, so the bracket isn't as pretty as it could be. I'll work on making it prettier for next year. (That's for you, Cindy Geddes.)

Monday, March 25, 2013

3 Things I'll Do Because of TEDx Hickory

On Saturday, I attended the second annual TEDx Hickory event. The emcee for the day, Mike Hall, encouraged all TEDx Hickory attendees to do three things with the information we learned on Saturday: one that's easy to do, one that's a little more difficult or we've been putting off, and one that requires a lot of guts. I've been thinking about what those three things might be for me, and here's what I've come up with. I'm grateful to Mike for giving us this challenge, because I'm a believer in learning followed by action. At the end of each #edchat, Steven Anderson reminds participants that it's not enough just to participate in the chat. We need to go out and do something different based on what we've learned. I couldn't agree more, which is why I'm committing to these three tasks and sharing my commitment with the world.

You might not have attended TEDx Hickory, but chances are you've participated in a learning opportunity recently that's got you thinking. Don't just sit on those thoughts. Do something with them. Mike's three-task framework might work for you.


One Thing That's Easy to Do

Make people feel like they matter every day.

Tell people I'm proud of them. Thank others for the work they do that often goes unnoticed. Thanks, Mike Hall, for reminding us that heroes are folks who make other people feel like they matter.

One Thing I've Been Putting Off

Apply for a grant to get some new technology on campus.

The most difficult part of my transition from public K-12 schools to a private university setting was the change in access to technology. I've been steadily making changes by providing professional development to help faculty utilize the technology we have access to and by requesting technology purchases. (I found out over the weekend that the iPad cart and Apple TV I requested have been ordered!!) However, I know there's more I could be doing to get technology into the hands of faculty and students. Between now and summer break, I'm going to seek out grant opportunities to help me do just that.

One Thing That Requires Guts

Make something with my hands and keep it for myself.

Emily Miller's talk on Saturday reminded me how much pleasure I get from creating something original. Learning to do things with our hands can be extremely valuable and give us a sense of self-worth. Emily's talk struck a chord with me as she mentioned how gifting things we've created gives away the pleasure we could have on a daily basis by being around the thing we created. I am not a naturally crafty person, but I do a bit of scrapbooking and always give my scrapbooks away as gifts. I've also made stationery and scarves (two) to give away. Emily described how much pleasure she gets by living in a space that contains so many things she designed and created. My house contains almost nothing that I created, because I hardly make things and when I do I gift them. So one thing I want to do that requires guts (and a little selfishness) is take time to make something with my hands and keep it. This spring, my husband and I are going to start a garden. And while I'm sure we'll give away some of the fruits of our labor, we'll also keep a lot of it to feed our family. It's a very rewarding experience to eat food you've grown, so I'm looking forward to a summer full of that feeling. I'm still thinking through what other things I might create. My 5-year-old daughter is into sewing right now and knows more about it than I do, so I'd like to learn more about that myself.

I'm counting on my PLN to hold me accountable for these commitments (that's YOU). I'd love for you to leave a comment if you choose to put some things into action. If you missed TEDx Hickory, you can read the Twitter archive here and you can find tons of pictures of the event here.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

What I Learned from the 20 to Watch

I was honored beyond words to be included in this year's "20 to Watch" by the National School Boards Association. I was invited to attend the CoSN conference in San Diego last week and participate in several events designed for the "20 to Watch". It was an amazing and humbling experience to talk with these exceptional educators. Over the course of several conversations with these leaders in educational technology from across the country, some trends emerged. Here's what I learned from chatting with these awesome folks.

Push the Envelope

Almost all of the "20" described themselves as people who push the envelope, challenge others, push buttons, move people outside of their comfort zones, and sometimes annoy people with their persistence in challenging boundaries. These folks are naturally curious about educational technology and are passionate about sharing that curiosity with others. They also tend to constantly be on the lookout for innovative tools and practices, thinking about ways to implement them in their settings and get other people on board.

Collaborate

None of these educators accomplished the great things for which they were recognized alone. They realize the power of tapping into the expertise of others and focus on building capacity in those around them. Efforts that change schools and districts do not succeed or fail on one person. They require teams of educators working toward common goals. These "20 to Watch" educators have the ability to bring people together and empower them to do the important work that needs to be done.

Know Technology and Pedagogy

To be an educational technology leader, it isn't enough to just know technology. Each of the "20 to Watch" could talk at great length about the latest technologies and their implications. More importantly, though, these folks understand the complex ways in which technology can be used to develop curriculum, enhance and support pedagogy, engage and motivate students, and increase learning. It's apparent that these educators are leading their schools and districts in instructional technology efforts due to their understanding of the intersection between technology, teaching, and learning.


Connecting with these "20 to Watch" was life-changing for me. I'm grateful to have these folks as part of my PLN and be able to call on them when I need them. If you'd like to connect with them, most of them are on Twitter. You can connect with them here.



Thursday, February 14, 2013

Using Technology to Make Essential Questions an Essential Part of Your Instruction


Updated February 14, 2017

In an extremely thoughtful and well-written post, On genuine vs. bogus inquiry, Grant Wiggins writes

Merely posting the EQs and occasionally reminding kids of it is pointless: the aim is to use the question to frame specific activities, to provide perspective and focus, to prioritize the course, and to signal to students that, eventually, THEY must - on their own - pose this and other key questions.

My understanding and application of Essential Questions has developed over time. As a teacher who was asked to post EQs daily and include them in lesson plans without any instruction as to why or how to do that effectively, I felt that EQs were a waste of time and just another thing to do. Later, as an instructional coach, I worked to help teachers write EQs that were aligned with their content standards and learning outcomes. Early on, my focus was on wording the EQs well. Eventually, I came to understand that EQs are meaningless unless they are used during instruction. The purpose of EQs is to help both the teacher and students focus on key content and develop the ability to ask and answer meaningful questions about content and processes. I encourage in-service and pre-service teachers I work with to ask EQs aloud at the start of a lesson, during the lesson, and again at the end. An EQ should frame the lesson or unit of instruction and provide a context for the learning to happen. EQs give students a learning outcome to work toward and should allow learners to respond in multiple ways over time. Keep in mind that students should not be able to answer an EQ with one word. EQs should prompt a thorough response to demonstrate depth of understanding.

Let me digress for a moment...

Attention is a necessary prerequisite of learning. Educators have to find a way to help students attend to important content. Selective attention involves the ability to choose where to focus your attention. Today's students are bombarded with stimuli and often need help attending to what's important. We also need to help students develop strategies for self-regulating their attention. Check your classroom environment. Is there a chance that your classroom is too stimulating for some students? Work to remove distractions. I encourage you to try these auditory and visual attention tests to experience what it's like for some students to attend when there are distractions in the environment.

After reading Wiggins' post, I immediately started to think through how technology can support teachers in making EQs meaningful. Below are some tools to help you integrate EQs into teaching and learning in your classroom and help you view them as more than just "one more thing to do".


    Use Canvas to connect assignments, discussions, and content to EQs. First, add your EQs as learning outcomes, and then import those outcomes to rubrics to explicitly connect assignments and discussions with EQs. Once you connect outcomes to rubrics, the Learning Mastery Gradebook in Canvas allows you to easily track student progress toward learning outcomes. 

Use Google Classroom to post EQs and have students compose responses and engage in ongoing conversation around the EQs. You can also label assignments with specific EQs to help students make a connection between learning outcomes and tasks.







Use Flipgrid to create a video-based discussion focused on an EQ. Create a new topic and pose the EQ as either a text or video prompt. Students can use flipgrid.com or the free mobile app to post a short video reply (up to 3 minutes). Encourage students to reply to one another's initial videos to deepen the conversation. You can provide video or text feedback on each student's reply and use Flipgrid's rating scale to evaluate the thoughtfulness of student responses.


Socrative allows teachers to create individual or team-based quizzes containing open-ended, true/false, or multiple-choice questions. Students can respond through any device. Use Socrative to find out what students know before a lesson or unit of instruction. Use the stand-alone question feature to ask an EQ throughout a unit of instruction and get instant feedback. Students feel safe to respond anonymously and don't risk looking foolish in front of their peers.


Poll Everywhere provides a simple platform for asking EQs and allowing students to respond through any device. Set up an open-ended poll and allow students to respond prior to, during, and after a unit of instruction or learning experience.




Use Padlet to pose questions and have students respond by posting sticky notes to a wall you've created. Padlet allows students to add text, images, videos, or hyperlinks to their sticky note responses. Students can also take the lead on posting questions and prompts for their peers.



Host a Twitter chat using a classroom-specific hashtag focused on the EQ for your unit of instruction. Pose the EQ at the start of the conversation, and encourage students to respond to you and one another. Work toward releasing ownership to students by asking them to pose questions and moderate chats. View chat archives to see how students' understandings have developed over time.


Blogs allow for more thorough and developed responses to EQs than other tools I've mentioned here. Students can include a variety of media in their blog posts. Encourage students to comment on classmates' posts to challenge and extend their thinking with regard to the EQ.




Keeping in mind what we know about attention and learning, think about how helpful it is for your students when you give them cues that help them focus on and attend to key information. Essential questions are one approach, and these technology tools can help you use EQs in meaningful ways to deepen students' understanding of key content. What other strategies do you use to help students attend in your classroom? What other tech tools can you use to integrate EQs meaningfully?