Ditch That Textbook

Teaching with less reliance on the textbook.

Archive for the tag “teaching”

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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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

 

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.

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.

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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