Ditch That Textbook

Teaching with less reliance on the textbook.

Archive for the tag “edtech”

Use Facebook while studying, get lower grades (Mashable)

Technology can revolutionize how we teach. But like anything else, it has its ugly side.

The effects of texting and Facebook won’t surprise many of us, but it is interesting to see a direct correlation in a study connecting them to lower GPAs.

(Does this mean I should probably leave Facebook alone when I write tests?)

Use Facebook while studying, get lower grades

By Sarah Kessler, Mashable

Students should think twice before logging into Facebook or sending text messages during study time, suggests a study to be published in the journal Computers & Education.

The study — which controlled for demographics, high school GPA, internet skills and amount of study time — asked 1,624 students at a four-year university about their multitasking habits.

The study included questions about how often students IM, email, search and talk during study time, but only Facebook and texting ultimately correlated with a lower GPA. There was no relationship between grades and using other technologies while studying.

Scientists already know that the brain isn’t capable of successful multitasking. “Human information processing is insufficient for attending to multiple input streams and for performing simultaneous tasks,” write the study’s authors Reynol Junco and Shelia R. Cotton.

Previous studies have determined, for instance, that driving while talking on a cell phone can have more of an impact on driving performance than alcohol does. Even simply walking and talking on the phone at the same time can throw our brain off of its game.

In other words, one would think that any multitasking during study time — not just using Facebook and texting — would have a negative impact on grades.

Junco suggests the difference might have something to do with how students are using different technologies. Students may be more likely to email professors and search out of academic curiosity than to socialize through email or search, while they’re unlikely to text message their teaching assistants for homework help.

“It could be that students with lower grades just happen to do more Facebook and texting,” Junco tells Mashable. “But I think this study in the context of other research does seem to show that it is about what they’re doing while they study and not the other way around.”

On average, students in the study sent 97 text messages and spent 101 minutes on Facebook every day. Junco doesn’t think that they’ll leave either technology behind, but in his own classes at Lock Haven University he encourages students to think about how they use them.

“What I tell them is, ‘look, you’re going to sit down to study anyway,” he says. “You might as well make it the most efficient use of your time.’”

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7 classroom uses for forums and discussion boards

These days, discussion boards and forums are pretty ubiquitous.

You can find discussions on almost any kind of website — about products to buy, music to listen to, food to eat, other websites to visit. There are probably discussion boards about discussion boards somewhere.

They really do highlight what we know and love about the modern Internet. They’re instant. Anyone can join the discussion (most of the time). We create and interact with content instead of just consuming it.

That’s why they’re perfect for classroom use. They hit many of our students’ strengths. Many of our students have never known of information sources where they couldn’t interact. (Except maybe those pesky textbooks.)

And they’re very accessible. Several course management programs such as Moodle, Edmodo and My Big Campus already feature them. They’re easy to set up. They’re easy to monitor. And the student collaboration possibilities are huge.

Discussion boards are even available for the less-than-tech-savvy educators. It’s called flip chart paper. Butcher paper. Chalkboards. The “graffiti on the wall” concept. Pose a question and let students discuss.

Here are some ideas for using discussion boards in the classroom:

1. Student opinions on content. After studying a concept, let students talk about it. There’s a lot we can learn from this collaboration — what they don’t understand, what stimulates them, what we left out of our teaching, etc. It may also encourage some peer teaching, which we know can often be more effective than teacher instruction.

2. Hypothesizing. Take an idea from your curriculum and turn it on its head. How would life be now if the Cuban Missile Crisis hadn’t been resolved? What how would the story be different if the main character hadn’t died that tragic death? This touches on some of the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

3. Vocabulary practice. Let students create a story together using new vocabulary — one line at a time, adapting to each other’s posts. Post a picture and have students write creative sentences/thoughts about it using vocabulary. Play with language.

4. Quiz show. Have students develop their own questions for each other from material you’ve been covering. They pose them to each other and answer in the comments section.

5. Anticipating. Stop in the middle of a story or chapter and, before proceeding, have students anticipate what is coming next. History, literature and so many other things we examine in school have such strong ties to students’ lives. Let them (or help them) make those connections.

6. Solving problems. Students can tackle the problems of the world, big and small through discussion boards. Pose a question relevant to what you’re covering and have them present well developed solutions.

7. Support. Offering a discussion board for students to ask questions about homework, a reading or a topic from class discussion opens up a potentially 24-hour help desk. Students can help students, or the teacher can provide help, too.

Things to consider — The level of privacy is crucial here. Discussion boards, I believe, must be closed to anyone who isn’t involved with the class. They can be opened to a whole class or grade level,MIT never to the public. It is up to us to protect our students’ personal information and protect them from predators.

Also, keep a close eye on what students are saying in these discussion boards, either from your own computer or by watching over their shoulders. This helps to ensure the integrity of your activity (avoiding student talk about how the cheerleaders look in their new uniforms). It also protects you and your students from the repercussions of inappropriate posts.

How do you grade these discussion boards? Often, in my Spanish classes, I just require a number of posts or comments and type my own comments to point out grammatical mistakes or ideas they may have missed. A rubric could be developed to pinpoint your expectations for students. Or it could simply be a class discussion tool for no credit or extra credit.

When done well, discussion boards are meaningful, interesting activities that take little preparation time and engage students.

In fact, you might save enough time to read (and re-read) all of my posts at Ditch That Textbook!

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Google Voice: Connecting to the mobile student (Part 3)

Think teens love to send text messages?

The Pew Research Center in 2010 published results of a survey showing that 75 percent of teenagers own their own phones, and 87 percent of them use text messaging.

Half of texting teenagers send 50 or more texts a day, according to the survey. One third send 100 or more texts a day. The simple math tells us that’s 3,000 texts on an average month.

Can we harness that power for education?

Yes, but we have to be careful.

Communication is key, and it’s the first step. After weighing the possible consequences, be ready to have an honest conversation with administration. With the OK from leadership, parents need information on the situation and may need an alternative to educational texts if they’re uncomfortable. The ramifications of educational texting is a full topic of discussion for another day, but principals, students, parents and maybe even school boards need to be involved.

With that hurdle cleared, here are several ways Google Voice’s texting capabilities can help in the class:

1. Reminders: Remind students about assignments, projects, quizzes and tests. Parents may want to get these reminders, too.

2. Promos: Marketing professionals create hype for products by divulging details beforehand. Why not use that as a tool to get students interested and excited?

3. Review: Sending texts with questions or review information can give extra repetition with the material. In many cases, repetitions can equal increased achievement.

4. Primer: Get an in-class discussion started early. Give students a topic and something to think about before the arrive.

5. Extra learning opportunities: Offer the occasional extra credit question. Direct students to an interesting website relevant to class content. Some students won’t bite, but others are truly interested in going the extra mile.

Google Voice: Including student voices in class (Part 2)

Plenty of options exist for incorporating Google Voice, a free service from Google for voice and text messages, into many types of classrooms.

Yesterday, we reviewed what Google Voice can do. Today, we’ll cover some classroom applications for the voice message feature. By having students call a number provided by Google to leave voice messages, they can accomplish a lot of useful activities in a new environment.

1.  Traditional lesson questions: Haven’t ditched that textbook completely yet? Put a new twist on a common practice. Have students answer textbook lesson questions by voice instead of by pencil. Grading may take a bit longer, but the change of pace may inspire.

2. Audio essays: Give students a chance to make their case verbally. Audio essays – whether the 30-second or multiple-minute variety – let students inform and persuade verbally, a skill they will likely need in the workforce.

3. Interviews: There are so many directions this can be taken. Students can interview their friends for their opinions about topics from class. They can delve into their own genealogy with family. They could even interview community experts on a research topic.

4. Debates: This takes interviews to the next level. Students get a topic from class and find one or more classmates. They grab a cell phone (or land line phone) and dig in for a discussion.

5. Poetry reading: Make poetry assignments come to life. Students can write their own poetry and recite it, or they can give their own interpretation of a poem the class is studying.

6. Speak for a character: Let students interpret what a character in history, in a story or in anything involved with your class would say. How would Juliet describe her sticky family situation? What would Adam Smith say about the state of our economy? How would a Haitian describe her daily life and struggles?

7. Directions: Give geography mapping activities a new look by having students give directions from one place to another. Include important cities or landmarks they should know. Creativity reigns!

8. Tour guide: This is similar to the directions activity. Students study an important place and take tourists on a verbal tour, identifying people, places and things and injecting information along the way.

9. Predicting the future: Based on what’s happened in the past and what students have learned in class, what do they think the future will be like?

10. Songs, raps, chants or cheers: These can be fun to write and even more fun to perform. Make sure they tie back to class content, of course.

11. How did you solve it?: When students hear their peers explain how they’ve reached a solution on a problem in math, science or any other class, they might be more receptive to hearing it. However, student explanations can have mistakes (sometimes serious mistakes), so checking answers before recording might be a good idea.

12. Talk show: Students take the role of talk show host, taking call-in questions, discussing issues with their co-hosts or talking to guests.

13. Game show: Hosts ask the questions and contestants answer them for fabulous prizes. Celebrity guests could make things interesting!

14. A call home to Mom: Students could leave a message for their parents or siblings, explaining an interesting place they’ve visited, an interesting event they’ve witnessed or talking about something that’s on their mind. Tie it into a theme from class and you get conversational, easy-to-understand explanations of your class content.

15. Surprise question: Leave a question that students must answer on the outgoing message. The catch: Students don’t know the question until they call! This can be a kind of pop quiz and an opportunity to think on their feet.

Some notes about using Google Voice voice messages: Student cell phone minutes or long distance charges can be an issue, so warn them ahead of time. A letter of explanation (cleared by school administration) to be signed by parents can get them on board with avoiding potential problems. If parents are opposed to using Google Voice or don’t want to call to your specific number (if it’s long distance), calling a school voicemail could be an alternative. Also, students make mistakes. I’ll often let them re-record their messages by hanging up on their mistake message and calling right back. I just grade the last one they submit.

Next, we’ll delve into the text messaging options for Google Voice.

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.

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

 

Time for a change

I was frustrated.

Green.

Knew something was wrong and didn’t know what to do about it.

I’m teaching from a textbook. That’s what MY teachers did. We did book activities and workbook pages. We read passages from it in class and wrote sentences from it at home.

In my classroom, the students slumped in their desks, cheeks in their hands. They checked the clock. Dashed for the door when the bell rang.

Somewhere in my first few years of teaching high school Spanish in Indiana, I knew that I wasn’t connecting with my students.

It was time for a change.

Unbeknownst to me, that was my first step into the a new realm — the land without textbooks. OK, it wasn’t TOTALLY devoid of textbooks, but it certainly wasn’t dependent on them. Instead of having students open to a certain page of a book to start class, I was giving them study guides of the essential information for the week. Directing them to relevant websites to find pertinent information. Or (*gasp*) having them search out information on their own.

I was directing them to dynamic web apps that helped them do what we had done before and much more, but in a more exciting and powerful platform.

I jumped in with two feet. And, honestly, I never want to come out of the water.

So that’s why I’m here. I’m no expert in education theory, pedagogy, teaching methods of world languages or any subject. But I’ve heard the same gripes from countless teachers that I griped myself.

I have a message in my heart that I’m ready to share. Hope it helps.

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