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 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?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Creating with TPCK and the NETS*S

This week, I had the opportunity to attend the annual conference of the North Carolina Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (NC ASCD). While I was away at the conference, I asked pre-service teachers in my technology course - EDU 451: Technology in the Classroom - to meet without me. Their task was to work collaboratively in small groups to create original pieces of media on topics of their choice. Through this assignment, I wanted my students to experience a technology-infused learning opportunity and utilize the NETS*S rather than simply reading about and discussing them.

Instructions for the assignment:
  1. Select a topic of study that is of personal or professional significance to you.
  1. Create a minimum of three pieces of original media related to this topic. You must create at least two different types of media. (image, video, podcast, screenshot, screencast, digital drawing, etc.)
  1. Combine your created media into a format that can be used for presentation or sharing with others. (slideshow, blog post, PowerPoint, Google Doc, flyer, Pinterest board, LiveBinder, etc.)
  1. Post your finished product to Edmodo, and include a paragraph describing how you would use these media to teach your topic of study to someone else.
  1. View your classmates’ products and comment on at least one of them.

Once the projects were created, each group completed this handout to document how their creation project utilized the TPCK framework and NETS for Students. The handout also guided groups through a conversation about applications for this assignment in their own classrooms.

Below, you'll find the projects my students created. The class meets for one hour, and I encouraged them to spend half their time creating and half their time working through the handout. I'm not sure how much time was actually spent creating, but I was certainly thrilled with their products. Please feel free to leave a comment for my students.

Prezi introducing a musical term - Ostinati

Football video

President's Day VoiceThread

English Pinterest board

Weather PowerPoint

We love Labs Prezi

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Building a Network for Pre-service Teachers with #edteach

My favorite hour of the week is the hour I spend with pre-service teachers exploring applications of instructional technology in EDU 451 - Technology in the Classroom. In past sections of EDU 451, it has been a huge challenge for me to encourage my pre-service teachers to believe in the power of a PLN and invest in developing their own PLNs. I have approached this challenge in different ways each semester, adapting the PLN course assignment in an attempt to build a process that helps my students discover the benefits of developing a PLN and assists them in connecting with other educators. Previously, I have required my students to post a certain number of course-related tweets each week using course hashtag #edu451. I've also tried using Twitter for weekly discussion questions. I've required students to follow a certain number of educators and to participate in a Twitter chat of their choosing. We even had class as a Twitter chat once when I was away at a conference.

Despite my efforts, I have yet to feel successful in getting my students connected with other educators and invested in their PLNs. This has been a real struggle for me because I learn from my PLN every day and have made countless connections and built partnerships with other educators through tools like Twitter. I desperately want to pass this on to my students. At the end of the fall 2012 semester, I got some great feedback from students who suggested that I open up the PLN assignment and allow students to use tools that work for them rather than requiring Twitter. After all, a PLN is a personal learning network. Based on that feedback, I spent quite a bit of time thinking through how to revise this assignment yet again. I even wrote a post about it. You can read the revised assignment here.

Through Twitter, I was fortunate to connect with Kurtis Hewson, a professor in Alberta, Canada who also works with pre-service teachers and has a desire to help them build PLNs. He and I have been collaborating and brainstorming for several months to create a process for getting our students connected with one another. Our brainstorming led to the creation of a bi-weekly Twitter chat for pre-service teachers: #edteach. We decided to make participating in #edteach chats optional for our students. (I offer extra credit for participating.) We also wanted to open the chat up to pre-service teachers and other educators around the world to show our students the real power of Twitter.

Last night at 8:00 pm EST, Kurtis and I hosted the first ever #edteach Twitter chat. There were 38 participants, which we felt to be a great turnout for the first chat. The topic for our first chat was making the transition from student to teacher. This is a timely topic for students in our current courses, most of whom are student teaching and will be first-year teachers in the fall. The conversation flowed quickly. Participants asked each other questions, shared great ideas and resources, and made connections that hopefully will grow into collaborative partnerships over time, just as my connection with Kurtis has grown. We were joined by several new and veteran teachers who offered their wisdom and experience to these pre-service teachers. The mix of folks in the chat made for a lively and meaningful conversation.

I am finally beginning to feel confident that my EDU 451 students will experience the power of Twitter and begin investing in their PLNs. Others agree that #edteach is a great support for pre-service teachers. I can't wait for the next chat on February 19th! I'm looking forward to seeing #edteach grow and watching these teaching candidates take ownership of their learning.

If you're interested in learning more about #edteach or participating in a future chat, visit our site to view archives, upcoming dates, and future topics.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Using Student Blogs to Develop Proficiency with the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice

Today, a guest post I wrote for Fractus Learning went live. In the post, I describe how teachers can use blogging to develop students' proficiency with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practice, providing specific examples for each of the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice. You can read the post here.