Tag Archive for techintegration

Of Mice, Men, and Instagram

Originally published on edSocialMedia


How can middle school students begin to recognize complexity and empathize with characters in literature? In a conventional approach, a teacher might pose thought-provoking questions to students and draw their attention to key passages in the story. However, this approach does not guide all students to deepen their understanding of the characters. Young adolescents are often still developing empathy during the middle school years, but the ability to appreciate the thoughts and feelings of a character is essential to understanding literature.


University Prep English teacher Carl Faucher uses social media to help students think about the characters in Of Mice and Men. To begin, students select one character to follow through the book and then create a new account in that character’s name on their preferred social media platform. As students read the book, they pay special attention to the character’s thoughts and inner dialogue. Students then write one post online for each chapter of the book.


Students choose a variety of platforms: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. They tend to like the familiar format and enthusiastically go about their work. Some post the minimum number required, whereas others write far more. Instagram users in particular find an opportunity to communicate visually, either by selecting stills from the movie version to accompany each thought or selecting more abstract, evocative imagery. Some choose to make the assignment social, following their classmates and liking or commenting on their posts.


Faucher asks students to avoid summarizing the text but rather write what the characters were actually thinking at different points in the book. Those who adopt the persona of the character show the most evidence of learning. Faucher notes, “students developed empathy for the character better than if they had answered conventional questions about the text. They got through the black and white of good and bad and explored complexities of the characters and their relationships.”


Conventional reading questions are grounded in the language of the discipline — academic discourse. Students better learn to think analytically and identify literary conventions such as themes and foreshadowing if they are provided with accessible steps to build upon. The social media introduction allows students to apply an established strength, “to speak the language that they are speaking outside of school.” Having gained some understanding, students are better able to build up to the more complex assignments later in the unit: a mock trial in which George is taken to court, and an expository essay that focuses on character analysis.


“With the advent of social media, our paths of communication are changing the ways we speak, communicate, and express ourselves.” While some may bemoan the decline of long form writing, Faucher takes advantage of the popular microblogging medium to help students achieve the learning goals of seventh grade English.

Computer Use in Classrooms

I find any time I make to get into classrooms very useful, to observe instruction and speak with teachers and students about teaching and learning. It really helps to broaden and update my understanding of what innovative teaching happens here. I hosted a visitor from another school today and ended up joining him for all of the observations and faculty conversations instead of dropping him off.

In an Upper School math class, Lauren effortlessly moved among the students, her computer, and the Smart Board. Students completed problems on paper with the assistance of Geometer’s Sketchpad as a modeling environment, and then Lauren manipulated the same model on the Smart Board while checking for student understanding.

In seventh grade World Cultures, students spent the period developing their trip planning projects, in which they design a hypothetical trip to an eastern hemisphere country in great detail, including a daily itinerary and budget. The entire project is completed in Google Apps (Earth, Docs, and Spreadsheet).

Beyond the trip planning project, it was interesting to note the new table arrangement in Paul’s classroom and how every student was completely on task. The S shaped classroom arrangement provides for both student collaboration and quick teacher access.

In third-year computer science, Andrew explained that students were building simple computers from the most base level using bread boards and a computer-based modeling program. We also discussed the place of computer science in a six-discipline high school and the role of AP exams in our schools.

Early World History students worked in small groups to formulate four different kinds of thesis statements and post their ideas to an online forum for class discussion. These ideas will form the foundation for their individual final writing assignment of the year.

Media Arts students were honing their practice with critique, explaining their reactions to their peers’ work to each other, and then taking notes on a video.

In these classrooms, computers were used very naturally in the course of teaching and learning. They did not receive undue attention, and frankly they were hardly mentioned. Desktop and website applications functioned as part of the fabric of the learning environment, and the students mostly accessed prior knowledge to complete the work of the day.


Ubiquitous Technology in Elementary

Schools are considering how much to integrate technology instruction into homeroom technology programs. Fully integrated (a.k.a. “ubiquitous”) technology is the norm in public schools, which usually do not have specialist technology instructors or separate periods for technology instruction. Homeroom teachers teach computer skills and use what technology tools are available to further homeroom projects. Independent schools commonly have specialist technology teachers who teach students in dedicated class periods.

If a school has the option, should it hold separate technology classes in elementary grades or fully integrate technology within the homeroom program? We have experimented with a hybrid approach for the past two years: technology classes meet in two 40-minute dedicated periods per week, but I teach one and homeroom teachers lead the other. This encourages us to design technology lessons that directly support homeroom projects and necessitates that we plan instructional units together. It sends the message to students that technology use is not a specialized domain but rather a ubiquitous tool that we use when needed.

In the spirit of ubiquity, should we integrate technology wholly into the homeroom program and eliminate distinct technology periods? Recently, elementary technology educators met at Head-Royce School in Oakland, and Olga from Woodland School made the following observation (paraphrased). There exist two sets of technology skills, informational skills (take notes, organize, know what resources you need, streamline, understand how to approach various learning methods) and computational learning (open complex software and learn how to use it, such as Photoshop, Scratch, HTML, etc.). There is no time in a ubiquitous learning model for learning specialized software skills such as Photoshop. With a complex application, students need time for exploration. Computational skills cannot be taught in a ubiquitous class setting like informational skills can. Arguable, the greatest emphasis on computational skills should occur in the middle school years.

This clarifies our choice. If we believe that students can master computational skills in fourth and fifth grades (and why can’t they?), then it makes sense to continue with the hybrid approach. We could continue to split time between applying informational and computational skills to homeroom projects, and the technology specialist and homeroom teachers could continue to collaborate closely to ensure that technology projects remain authentic to homeroom work. At the same time, we don’t have to hire a dedicated technology teacher for such a small course load. Collaboration also serves as professional development for homeroom teachers — their technology skills will likely improve through regular meetings with the technology specialist and teaching technology skills to their students.

Arts Classes Publishing With Flickr

Arts teachers have embedded two Flickr slideshows (1 | 2)  on our public-facing website. I like how students and teachers may contribute to the photo sets, constantly changing what appears on the site. Does a way exist to add a group pool to one’s Flickr favorites without actually joining it?

Technology integration at MCDS

Barbara Cohen graciously shared examples of elementary and middle school student work using technology applications.

Undergrads and IT

My principal challenge in schools is to encourage thoughtful, useful adoption of technology to strategically support teaching and learning. Along the way, I encounter varying attitudes regarding technology in schools. We have early adopters, heavy users, techno-skeptics, occasional users, and more. I often wonder what is the best way to reach different types of technology users so that each makes the most effective use of technology for his/her educational context.

This October 2009 Educause study of undergraduate students and information technology provides some useful information that helps inform my efforts and may help temper fears that our IT department wants everyone to use IT as much as possible.

80% of students were using a learning management system (e.g., Moodle) during the quarter or semester of the survey.

63% found the experience of using a learning management system “positive” or “very positive.”

45% of students indicated that most or almost all of their instructors use IT effectively in their courses.

70% found that IT made working in their courses “more convenient.”

49% felt that using IT improved their learning.

60% prefer moderate use of IT in their courses. Only 4% preferred exclusive use of IT, and 2% no IT. Students appreciate the face-to-face learning experience.

This provides some useful language for explaining our current approach to IT integration to support teaching and learning. We would like for all teachers to explore using IT. A learning management system may smooth class operations, leaving more time to focus on learning. Face-to-face learning is still most highly valued.

Never mind the toys

Oh, how many toys exist to consider.

Kindle! Nook! Reader!
iPhone! Droid! Nexus!
Ning! Twitter! Facebook!
Netbook! Apple tablet! XO tablet!
Smart Board! Active Board! Wiimote!
Google Apps! Chrome!

Education technology blogs appear obsessed with tracking the latest gadgets. Certainly, new product announcements provide a rich source of content for writers. It is easier to reflect on the latest company news and speculate on its effect on education than to consider the core question of education. How does one design rich learning opportunities that will make the greatest difference for students?

Face it: most of the devices above won’t make a bit of difference to teaching and learning. Let’s stop talking about the devices and start talking about students, teachers, and learning environments. I think Warlick has got it right. So does Larry Cuban. Tom Frizelle, too.

Some of our teachers have also got it right. Suspicious about education technology, they tend to shy away from trainings and conversations about computers in the classroom. It’s too bad, because ed tech professionals deserve our reputation for relentless optimism about new technologies. It’s up to us to sing a new tune: all about teaching and learning, all the time.

Let’s promote with our teachers only the technologies that show real promise and stick with them for at least a period of years. Focus on how a technology integrates with an existing, well-designed learning unit or activity. A little skepticism about new technologies may also help demonstrate our ability to think critically.

Forget the new toys. Let’s think deeply about our students, curriculum, and pedagogy.

All Kinds Of Minds in action

You may know the whole-brain teaching philosophy called All Kinds of Minds. A majority of our teachers attend professional development days to learn this brain-based approach to teaching students, one part of our approach to progressive education. Teachers learn to construct learning activities that work for different types of learners. Students learn to identify their own learning strengths and weaknesses and appreciate the unique set of qualities that each person possesses. Such an approach gives students responsibility for their own learning. In the following video, second grade students share what they have learned about their own skills and brains.

The video also serves as a fine example of teacher use of technology to share student learning with the school community. This second grade teacher collected media, produced this video, and presented it to parents without requesting any assistance from our IT department. Well done!

PicoCrickets and Wigwams

A colleague sent this terrific workshop session description for this year’s Storyline Conference, which is happening in Portland.

4th annual storyline conference

PicoCrickets and Wigwams
Mary Boutton, Carole Lechleitner

This session will introduce PicoCrickets (tiny computers used to create inventions programmed to respond to light, sound, and touch) and demonstrate how they can be used to develop students’ programming and engineering skills while constructing Storyline settings. PicoCrickets are recommended for ages 8 and up.

PicoCrickets, based upon research from the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, provide entry points to programming and robotics, engaging students with diverse learning interests and learning styles. Strategies that promote this include: (1) focusing on themes, not just challenges; (2) combining art and engineering; (3) encouraging storytelling; and (4) organizing exhibitions rather than competitions. PicoCrickets support these strategies by enabling students to design and program creations while enhancing creative thinking, problem solving, and co-operative learning skills.

Through Storyline, the elementary social studies curriculum can offer a rich array of themes that can be integrated with PicoCrickets. We will focus on how PicoCrickets were integrated into the fourth grade Ohio history curriculum. The presenters will show how fourth graders used robotic technology and concepts to make their Native American and pioneer villages come alive. Participants will observe Native Americans cooking over a crackling fire in their wigwam, tanning a deer hide, turning a grist mill, and making a river undulate through the forest. Students’ work from the 2007-2008 school year will be highlighted. The presenters will share success stories and pitfalls that should be avoided.

The Presenters will also address how using social studies themes can heighten student motivation by giving students the freedom to work on projects they care about in a multi-sensory, artistic, and creative manner. Cooperation and team effort, rather than competition, are stressed, leading to participation in robotics by a broader range of students, particularly girls.

What is the Storyline Method?

Storyline is a structured approach to learning and teaching that was developed in Scotland It builds on the key principle that learning, to be meaningful, has to be memorable, and that by using learner’s enthusiasm for story-making, the classroom, the teacher’s role and learning can be transformed. Storyline is a strategy for developing the curriculum as an integrated whole. It provides an opportunity for active learning and reflection as essential parts of effective learning and teaching. At the same time it develops in learners a powerful sense of ownership of their learning.

The Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum

Elementary School Tech

Six of us recently presented a technology evening for parents in our elementary school. Our team included our computer skills teacher, fifth grade teacher, librarian, counselor, desktop/laptop manager, and me. We covered a range of topics: tech use in the classroom, teaching research skills, library web tools, “walled garden” intranet tools, tips for Internet use at home, and an explanation of our no-filtering policy. Click on each screeen shot below to link to the full presentation.

fifth grade
Examples from fifth grade

library skills
Library skills

Intranet “walled garden” sites across the curriculum

Home Internet use

Research skills, introducing kids to email