Ditch That Textbook

Teaching with less reliance on the textbook.

Google Voice: Including student voices in class (Part 1)

Including student voices in lessons is an instant way to gain interest.

Google Voice, a pretty powerful tool in the wide world of Google apps, opens up a whole new dimension of learning opportunities for the classroom.

Teachers can create a Google Voice account for free, which includes a local phone number, a voicemail account and the ability to send and receive text messages. When someone leaves a voice message on a Google Voice account, he or she can play the audio message, read a text transcription of it or even download the audio to a file.

Once the account is created, the sky’s the limit for using Google Voice with students. A slew of verbal communication activities can ensue, even with introverted students that rarely speak up in class. Recording audio with no one watching or listening can limit these students’ inhibitions about speaking and give them motivation to speak.

These types of speaking activities really touch on desirable real-world skills. In fact, the National Association of Colleges and Employers cited “verbal communication skills” as one of the top five personal qualities that employers want in new hires, according to its “Job Outlook 2012” survey.

So how do we use it in the classroom? Think about relevant applications in your classroom for now. Tomorrow, I’ll list 15 ways to classroom uses for Google Voice.

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Is Wikipedia reliable?

(Creative Commons photo of Wembley Stadium / Nicholas Babaian)

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re standing in the middle of the biggest stadium you can imagine. (I’m thinking of Wembley Stadium in London, which seats 90,000 people.)

You’re getting ready to give a five-minute presentation on a topic with which you’re fairly comfortable.
But there’s a catch.

All of those thousands of people listening and watching have smartphones. And they have the capability to send text messages to the enormous video screen in the stadium if you make a mistake to correct you.
Makes me sweat a little just thinking about it.
But what if you were the information receiver instead of the information giver? There’s a pretty good chance – although not 100 percent – chance that an “expert” and thousands of amateur editors could get the facts straight, right?
Welcome to the world of Wikipedia, bane of many a teacher’s existence, salvation of many lazy students with research papers to do.
Countless educators have told their classes, “Wikipedia does NOT count as reliable research!” And, to some degree, they’re right.
But should we just drop it from consideration entirely?
Here’s your one-paragraph background on Wikipedia: it’s an open-source article database, meaning that users can add, delete and modify its content. Its array of topics is vast, and its contributors (called “Wikipedians”) number more than 16 million (in number of registered named accounts).
It’s the open-source part that many educators take issue with. If anyone – an expert in the field or some guy who wants to pull a prank – can modify the articles, how can they be reliable?
The short answer is that Wikipedia’s articles aren’t guaranteed to be reliable. But they come pretty close, according to some research.
The main study cited in the Wikipedia reliability argument was published in 2005 by a journal called Nature. Nature submitted articles from Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica — considered a more traditional, reliable source — for experts in those articles’ fields to review for accuracy.

The experts reviewed and returned 42 articles, and the results were interesting. Eight of the articles total from both sources had what were called “serious errors” — four from Wikipedia and four from Britannica.

The rate of average factual errors in those articles was pretty similar (at least, depending on your perspective). In those 42 articles, Wikipedia had 162 factual errors (3.86 errors per article), while Britannica had 123 factual errors (2.92 errors per article).

Wikipedia’s founder told CNET he was “very pleased” with the results, while Britannica’s president claimed that the study showed that Wikipedia was a third more inaccurate. Again, it depends on your point of view.

Other similar studies are posted on Wikipedia’s own Wikipedia reliability page (a page on Wikipedia about Wikipedia alone makes me a bit skeptical).

As an educator, these findings tell me a few things.

One, we shouldn’t rule Wikipedia out as a resource for conducting research. Again, think back to the speech in the stadium. With so many observers watching — even more now than when that study was done in 2005 — the chances of accuracy are pretty good. Sure, they’re not perfect, but even trusted information sources make mistakes.

Two, that still seems like a lot of errors to me. And if Britannica — a source I’ve trusted for years — can’t be any more accurate than that, we had better verify with multiple sources. There’s a rule in the newspaper business: always verify your facts, even if your mother said it. We need to teach our students to find truth online, not just find the first “fact” that they can.

Which begs the question, “How do we do that?”

The website for the “Dummies” how-to books offers some tips that go beyond “just dig until you’re sure.”

  • Look for a slant, especially in one-source articles.
  • Consider the source. Sometimes information is taken, but unfairly and inaccurately.
  • Look who’s talking. If you can ascertain that a source is an expert, that increases credibility.
  • Wikipedia should be a starting point for research. Footnotes give links or information to the article’s sources, allowing readers to do their homework.
  • Beware of “edit wars,” where two contributors with opposing views change each other’s content. This can be viewed sometimes in the edit history of an article.

So just because it comes from Wikipedia, that doesn’t mean it’s likely to be inaccurate. We can’t make those kinds of assumptions anymore.

But it does mean that we should verify our information before we announce it to thousands at Wembley Stadium.

 

BONUS LINK — Wikipedia’s 5 Pillars (the fundamental principles by which Wikipedia operates): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Five_pillars

 

5 ways to use cell phones for homework

OK, so BYOT (bring your own technology) doesn’t work for everybody. Not every school is ready to connect a ton of different devices to the district network. I can respect and understand that.

So let’s try a different approach.

For lack of a better term, let’s call it BYOTOOS, or “bring your own technology outside of school.” (I know, horrible acronym. My former journalism professors would chastise me creating “alphabet soup.”)

No change to the district’s acceptable use policy. No overhauls to anything. But still meeting students in the digital world where they live.

Let’s put those handheld supercomputers of the future in their pockets to use.

1. Taking and sending digital photos. This works for just about any subject area. Take something your class is studying and have students take digital photos of it. Use them for real-life examples instead of the pre-packaged textbook pictures. Students can text or email them to your school email address. Or, if you don’t want your inbox flooded, set up a free Flickr or Picasa account with emailing capabilities. Those photo sites provide an email address where photos can be sent for collection in your account. Just download from there and you’ll have plenty of personalized material to draw from.

2. Recording digital video. Similar to the first item, but it can achieve different classroom goals. Students can act out a skit, do a documentary-style video or display something from your curriculum. Download and play them on an LCD projector or a computer with sound for the class to watch. Student-produced work is high viewer interest stuff for kids. Photobucket has free upload-by-email capability (although not unlimited), again, if you don’t want a ton of digital videos clogging your inbox.

3. Practice by text message. StudyBoost is a free site that allows users to create questions with answers and text the questions to a mobile device or social media site for answering. Create a batch of questions and share them with students, or encourage them to create their own. StudyBoost will send questions at a preset time so students aren’t receiving texts while in class.

4. Record answers to digital audio. For some assignments, submitting an audio assignment is just as good — or much better than a paper one. This fits well for me as a world languages teacher — speaking practice is an important part of what we do in my classroom. Students could practice speeches, do poetry readings, create radio shows, recreate the audio of world events, etc. This can be as simple as having students call from their cell phones (or traditional phones) and leave you a voice mail message on your school voice mail (if you have it). If that isn’t possible or desirable, Google Voice will create a voice mail account for you for free with a free custom phone number. Plus, you can download the audio for playback.

5. Download relevant podcasts. Podcasts are ubiquitous. Anybody can create one with a microphone (or a device equipped with a microphone), a way to record and an idea. There are a ton of good ones out there (and some pretty bad ones, so beware). ITunes has a wide array on virtually any topic. A basic search coupled with some digging and previewing could result in extra resources for your students. Of course, brave technophiles can create and share their own podcasts tailored to their classes.

Word of warning — When planning for these kinds of activities, keep cell phone plans (minutes, coverage area, different options available per model) as well as family cell phone rules in mind. Also, be flexible when students don’t have access to technology. Chances are there’s someone with a phone, digital camera or other digital device that students can borrow to complete the assignment. There’s also a pretty good chance the school has something that could be loaned/checked out to a student.

Play around with your cell phone for a while with this concept in mind and new ideas for classroom use are sure to spring to mind. And they don’t have to be assignments for every student to complete. They could be used for extra credit or for extra learning opportunities. Sounds like differentiating by offering additional material to those that get assignments or projects done early and need something to do.

BYOT: Bring Your Own Technology

I teach in a small, rural Midwestern school district where poverty is an issue. Thankfully, we have a technology staff that has been very active in procuring grants for technology, and we are ahead of many school districts like us.

However, plenty of poverty-stricken school districts don’t jump into the new world of educational technology because they simply can’t afford it.

As technology moves forward and everyone’s gadgets get more powerful, there’s a push toward using them in class.

Instead of slapping kids on the hand for having their cell phones or devices in class, why not find a way to incorporate them into the classroom? These devices have great capabilities. We can access the Internet to research, collaborate and share through them. We can gather information, images and videos with them. We can use specifically crafted applications on them to do tasks smarter and faster.

If someone approached a school district and offered to supply it with devices like these, most would jump for joy.

Imagine what technological innovations — or supplements to existing technology — that could be purchased if we didn’t have to buy enough computers, iPads, iPods or tablets to go around. Buy devices to supply students that don’t have their own and invest the rest in tools to make classrooms thrive.

Mind/Shift — which is a super interesting and very well-done blog — published an article about Mankato public schools in Minnesota and their decision to take this route (http://mindshift.kqed.org/2012/02/in-cash-strapped-schools-kids-bring-their-own-tech-devices/).

I think the pull-out quote in the article hits a very valid point — “The common theme from parents: ‘If I spend $500 on an iPad for my kid, I hope the teacher uses it!'”

But what if kids text in class? What if they get on Facebook or Twitter? Won’t this decrease productivity? And what about network safety concerns? The doubts can mount pretty quickly.

Isn’t it our job to teach our students how to function and thrive in the real world? And wouldn’t appropriate use of technology be a great lesson to equip our students with?

Fact: The kids that really want to text in class are going to do it anyway. In their pockets. While you’re not looking. In fact, they’re doing it now. But if they’re doing it blatantly when you’ve asked them not to, let’s handle this like any other type of disciplinary issue.

Kids will probably have access to technology in most any line of work they choose. They need to know social norms like refraining from texting on the job, silencing cell phones during certain work situations and using their time wisely without squandering it on frivolous ‘Net surfing.

If we as educators monitor their work time in class, as we should anyway, productivity could hit a new high.

And network threats are going to happen regardless. If we teach proper use and are diligent in watching how our kids work, we should be able to head off most problems.

Imagine how we could prepare our students for those “jobs that haven’t been created yet” that we keep hearing about.

Imagine the type of adults we could help produce — ones that can access the digital world in a responsible, productive fashion.

Imagine the relevant teaching we could create.

BYOT: Bring Your Own Technology

I teach in a small, rural Midwestern school district where poverty is an issue. Thankfully, we have a technology staff that has been very active in procuring grants for technology, and we are ahead of many school districts like us.

However, plenty of poverty-stricken school districts don’t jump into the new world of educational technology because they simply can’t afford it.

As technology moves forward and everyone’s gadgets get more powerful, there’s a push toward using them in class.

Instead of slapping kids on the hand for having their cell phones or devices in class, why not find a way to incorporate them into the classroom? These devices have great capabilities. We can access the Internet to research, collaborate and share through them. We can gather information, images and videos with them. We can use specifically crafted applications on them to do tasks smarter and faster.

If someone approached a school district and offered to supply it with devices like these, most would jump for joy.

Imagine what technological innovations — or supplements to existing technology — that could be purchased if we didn’t have to buy enough computers, iPads, iPods or tablets to go around. Buy devices to supply students that don’t have their own and invest the rest in tools to make classrooms thrive.

Mind/Shift — which is a super interesting and very well-done blog — published an article about Mankato public schools in Minnesota and their decision to take this route (http://mindshift.kqed.org/2012/02/in-cash-strapped-schools-kids-bring-their-own-tech-devices/).

I think the pull-out quote in the article hits a very valid point — "The common theme from parents: ‘If I spend $500 on an iPad for my kid, I hope the teacher uses it!’"

But what if kids text in class? What if they get on Facebook or Twitter? Won’t this decrease productivity? And what about network safety concerns? The doubts can mount pretty quickly.

Isn’t it our job to teach our students how to function and thrive in the real world? And wouldn’t appropriate use of technology be a great lesson to equip our students with?

Fact: The kids that really want to text in class are going to do it anyway. In their pockets. While you’re not looking. In fact, they’re doing it now. But if they’re doing it blatantly when you’ve asked them not to, let’s handle this like any other type of disciplinary issue.

Kids will probably have access to technology in most any line of work they choose. They need to know social norms like refraining from texting on the job, silencing cell phones during certain work situations and using their time wisely without squandering it on frivolous ‘Net surfing.

If we as educators monitor their work time in class, as we should anyway, productivity could hit a new high.

And network threats are going to happen regardless. If we teach proper use and are diligent in watching how our kids work, we should be able to head off most problems.

Imagine how we could prepare our students for those "jobs that haven’t been created yet" that we keep hearing about.

Imagine the type of adults we could help produce — ones that can access the digital world in a responsible, productive fashion.

Imagine the relevant teaching we could create.

Super Learning: Encouragement from Super Bowl XLVI

Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

Teaching, as many professions, can be a thankless job, so a little appreciation can go a long way. Especially when it’s at the biggest sports stage in the world.

So when I received an invitation to go to a brunch honoring educators in Indianapolis, at the Super Bowl XLVI site — part of the Super Learning in a Super State program — it was a no-brainer. I love football, especially the Indianapolis Colts, and mixing that with my other passion sounded great.

It turned out to be a heartwarming reminder of how important educators’ work is and how much influence we can have.

Mark Schlereth, NFL analyst and former Washington Redskins player, encouraged educators with stories of his learning life. Former Colt Bill Brooks and other former players contributed.

Schlereth, who is dyslexic, talked about his struggles to read in school. A junior high journalism teacher humiliated him by forcing him to read from a newspaper in front of the class. After politely pleading the teacher to pick someone else, he went to the front of the class. And struggled. And stammered. And finally made his way through the first sentence.

That’s enough, Schlereth told us that the teacher said. He was finished because he was too dumb to go on.

Thankfully, that wasn’t his last impression of education. Another teacher saw potential in Schlereth and helped him to reach his potential in reading.

Now he’s an avid reader. He considers himself a “wordsmith,” underlining words he doesn’t understand in articles so he can look up their meanings later. He carries a speaking dictionary and a notebook with new words that he can review.

Now, his son struggles to appreciate the joys of education, and Schlereth hopes that his son’s teachers will inspire him in a similar way.

“I really appreciate all that you do,” he said. “Please don’t give up on kids like me.”

Those at the Saturday brunch were given a gift bag of trinkets with the “Super Learning in a Super State” logo, but I think that many of us took away more than that. Sure, the dignitaries at this brunch hadn’t gone to most of our classes and validated what we did on a day-to-day basis. But when there’s a huge force like the Super Bowl in town, and some of that force is used to lift up teachers for what they do, it can have a major impact.

Maybe one that we’ll live on for more than a couple of months.

Digital teaching in 30 words

OK, so in our brief blog relationship, you’ve probably already figured out that I love incorporating technology into teaching. I love watching kids connect with the material and with each other in a medium that just didn’t exist when I was in school.
So, despite the possibility of casting myself as a total techno-teacher geek, I present to you a quick, fun “Ode to Ed Tech” — educational technology in 30 words. Not sure how this will go, but hopefully well.

Wireless. Online. Discussion boards.
Keyboards clicking. Minds humming.
“Did you really post that???”
Comments. Likes. Digital dialogue.
“Stupid autocorrect!”
Quiet classroom. Noisy conversations.
“Can we do this again?”
Submit.
Success.

To spark interest in class, get personal

I was a yearbook adviser for several years and was the editor of my high school yearbook staff. I believe that working on student publications allows for learning that students can’t easily get anywhere else.
Here’s a key yearbook lesson that I’m sure my students are glad that I learned.
What’s the first thing you look for when you open a new yearbook?
Answer: You.
We are important to ourselves. We’re concerned about our image. We’re concerned about how we look and sound to people (even if we don’t outwardly admit it).
Think our students are any different? I teach high school students, and if that’s not a major egocentric time of life, then my hairline isn’t disappearing like a setting sun.
If our students want to find themselves when they open a yearbook, wouldn’t they want to find themselves in our instruction?
Blaine Ray, the creator of a conversational method of teaching world languages, says that we’ll know students are listening if we’re talking about them.
“They will pay attention better and they will remember what you have taught better,” he writes in his book “Fluency Through TPR Storytelling”. “Bring in events from their lives. Have mini-stories contain important school events or national events. Talk about food the students eat. This is all part of ‘personalization.’”
As a world languages teacher, I can talk about practically anything in my classes as long as it’s using vocabulary and grammar concepts that we’ve covered or that they can figure out on their own. So, from time to time, I’ll make up stories in class with my students as the stars.
We’ll talk about things that are important to them. Today, the start of our day was delayed two hours due to fog, so one of my classes and I talked about that a bit.
I don’t like using worksheets and activities out of textbooks. (Surprise, surprise, right?) When I need something like that, I prefer to write my own content, and often, my students are the main characters. Their lives are the plotline. If I have multiple class periods of the same subject, it just takes a “find and replace” in Microsoft Word to change the names.
Personalizing activities in a class is pretty easy in world languages, but it certainly applies to other areas of study.
Social studies teachers can equate the conflict and social ramifications of historical events to students’ lives.
Science teachers can personalize processes and concepts by having students act them out or by comparing them to their own lives (“mitochondria are kind of like the Red Bull that Jack drinks to stay awake playing Skyrim”).
Literature has so many parallels to our students’ social lives that we can often personalize what we read pretty easily.
Obviously, we should be careful when we personalize. Embarrassing our students is the last thing we want to do, and discretion is the key when selecting topics to discuss.
But, when done well, personalizing is exciting and attention-grabbing. It’s a great way to ditch that textbook!

The new textbooks are wired — and wireless

The print medium is dying a slow death.

Newspapers are declining in circulation as more and more readers look for their content online.

Libraries are being forced to either adapt to a new digital age with new equipment and programs or become ancient artifacts.

And then there’s the traditional classroom textbook.

No clickable links. No flashy videos. No interactive games.

Paper and ink. And at a high price, no less.

As we continue to move into this new technological world, our jobs as educators must change as well. Our students are much different than the students of decades ago — even a few years ago.

They don’t know a world without computers. The Internet. Digital devices.

They multitask like crazy.

Their media-innundated minds are wired for constant change.

And we can take two approaches. One is to continue teaching the way we always have. Good teaching is good teaching, right? And if we put the information out there and the kids want the grade enough, they can come get it.

Or we can step into their world. Change up our methods, but stick with solid pedagogy. Supplement with a blog. Engage students with a discussion board. Create a multimedia presentation. Use the vast communication ability of the ‘Net to connect to people with viewpoints our students would never see otherwise.

Go from the limited to the vast, unbounded limits of cyberspace.

But how do we do that? One-to-one computer initiative schools have an instant connection to the information superhighway, as do classes with abundant access to computer labs or laptop/iPod Touch/iPad carts.

But it doesn’t have to stop there. Our students carry more powerful computers with them every day than those that launched spacecraft many years ago. Smart phones — even more traditional cell phones — have powerful information gathering, recording and publishing abilities. Even if our schools have “no cells in class” policies, that doesn’t mean we can’t harness that power outside the walls of the school.

The information and options available to us is unlimited. Our tools are powerful and more ubiquitous than ever.

The digital natives are here. Now it’s up to us to reach them where they are.

A month of Web 2.0 apps

Digital Learning Day is upon us. For those of us that love to dabble or delve into technology in our classrooms, it gives us a chance to hone and refine our skills, add new tools to our arsenal. For the ed tech newbie, it’s a great opportunity to jump right in.

The Indiana Department of Education is offering 29 days of useful Web 2.0 apps with tutorials and tips for use — a new one each day of February. I’m a teacher in Indiana, so this applies directly to me, but teachers in any state of the US or in many countries around the world can join in this, too.

Even the most seasoned technology-using educator will likely find a new site or app that he/she can incorporate. Check it out — idoe29dayweb20challenge.blogspot.com.

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