The call for proposals has come out for your favorite educational conference and now it’s time to submit your presentation or workshop. If you aren’t feeling confident or have been rejected before, don’t despair. Just because you don’t have experience, doesn’t mean you don’t have something valuable to share. If you have been rejected one too many times, take solace in a few famous authors who were rejected many, many times.
I have been presenting at educational technology conferences since 1994, and have been on the submission as well as the review side of the equation. I have found that submission reviewers are looking for several things: presenters they already know are great, presentations that will interest and benefit conference attendees, and submissions they can quickly delete so they can focus on the good ones.
Before you even begin writing or envisioning what you want to present:
1. Read the guidelines
This one seems easy, but be sure to read the guidelines, follow the rules, and complete all requirements. If you think it takes a long time to write up a presentation submission, think about how long it takes to wade through (I mean evaluate) them all and choose which ones to accept! If conferences have an overwhelming amount of submissions, don’t have yours automatically thrown because you forgot to proofread and made a glaring error or omission.
2. Choose from a range of presentation types
A lecture-style presentation isn’t the only way you can share information. Many conferences are also looking for presenters who are willing and able to lead round table discussions, poster sessions, or even workshops. For example, this year’s ISTE conference only accepted around 20% of submissions for lectures and panels, but 65% of proposals for poster sessions.
Hands-on workshops are generally and additional cost and a way many conferences generate income. If you can attract people to and deliver a great paid workshop, many conferences will see you as their partner and actually ask you to submit in future years. Most conferences provide a small stipend for giving a workshop, helping you pay for the additional cost of attending or coming early.
3. Start small
Doing great things in the classroom does not prove you are able to pull off a great presentation. I have sat through the most AWFUL conference presentations about the MOST FANTASTIC classroom projects. If you have never presented before, session evaluators probably won’t feel confident about your ability to deliver your story in a way that participants can enjoy and replicate. If you are just getting started, submit for a presentation at a district-level conference, then move to state, regional, national, or even international conferences.
4. Promote yourself
Teachers often don’t like to talk about themselves or their work. Be proud of what you have done and share it. In marketing speak, build your brand.
When I have evaluated submissions in the past, I first get rid of poorly written proposals. But after that, reading and comparing descriptions is rarely enough. Of course I read the descriptions, but I usually head online for more information so I have a better picture of the entire package. Who is the presenter and what is their online footprint? Where had they presented before? Did they include a URL for their blog, so I could see their philosophy and style? Had they already been collecting and sharing thoughts and ideas on the topic through online articles, wikis, or web site?
Certainly build your credibility by sharing experiences, accomplishments, and recommendations in your bio. List the presentations you have given before. Share quotes from participants in past sessions you have led. If you have additional credentials and degrees, mention it. If you have won Teacher of the Year at your school, include that in your bio.
You also need to promote yourself outside of your session proposal. Session evaluators often want more information about your philosophy, past experience, and style.
Not everyone wants to invest in the time in a personal web site, but this is a great place to collect the work you have done. Think of it as an electronic and organic (growing and changing) curriculum vitae.
If you have a blog, share it. If you don’t maintain a blog, find a blog that might be interested in having you write a guest post. Creative Educator is always looking for classroom stories. These aren’t articles you have to spend days researching, editing, and visioning; they are snapshots of effective classroom practice.
5. Explore what was ACCEPTED last year
I can’t encourage this one enough. If you want to know what types of sessions are accepted at any conference, explore their conference program from last year. What titles or topics were mentioned over and over? Even if these aren’t your focus or cup of tea, you will get an idea of what the conference is hoping will be submitted.
If you have attended an educational technology conference in the past year, it is likely that you have used an online scheduling program to organize your time. Start by going back through your schedule to see what you choose and try to determine why. How did you pick what you wanted to attend? What key words did you use in your search? What titles did you click to read more? Did you search by presenter name? Hmm, nice reminder to go back and work on #4 and build your own brand.
6. Find connections to standards and research
While not all conferences require you to submit related research and standards, it is still a good ideas to share the skills that students, teachers, media specialists, or administrators will gain from your presentation or as they implement projects and strategies you are sharing.
Common Core is at the forefront of just about everyone’s mind, with Virginia (SOLs) and Texas (TEKS) the exception. The Common Core standards are specifically written not to be curriculum (what or how to teach), but a series of performances, freeing you up to choose you how you best think you can help your students reach them. Be sure to specifically share how your instructional strategies, visioning, and classroom ideas will help students demonstrate mastery of these news standards as well as those for science and social studies.
In the words of ISTE, “Simply being able to use technology is no longer enough. Today's students need to be able to use technology to analyze, learn, and explore.” Whether you are sharing how students can build digital age Communication and Collaboration skills or how teachers can Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments, demonstrate that you aren’t using technology for technology’s sake. You can find a list of the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for Teachers, Students, Administrators, Coaches, and Computer Science Educators online at: http://www.iste.org/standards
Is your district focusing on Classroom Instruction That Works? Be sure to not only include a reference to the research by Marzano et al. (2004) or Dean et al (2012), but to the specific strategies you are referencing such as Nonlinguistic Representations or Summarizing and Note Taking. If your system is focused on 21st century skills, be sure to include the Learning and Innovation skills (4 C’s) as well as the 3 R’s.
Write the proposal
Still here after all that? You thought fitting all your great ideas into a 50-word description was hard? After you have done all of the above, the writing may be the easiest part.
You know you are great, you have done the work to establish your professional and presentation prowess, and now it’s time to show the reviewers that your presentation itself great. Tie in to the theme of the conference. Go beyond a title that simply latches on to the theme, but hits at the heart of why the theme applies to student learning (think thematic unit based on big ideas, not apples).
Get creative with your title, but be sure that it accurately describes the content of your session. Your goal is to get the right people to want to come to your session, not just any conference attendee. If you are focusing on primary students, be clear on the age range. Don’t say literacy if you are focusing on strategies for ELL’s.
My final word of advice?
Write a proposal for a session you want to attend!
I look forward to watching your presentation!
In Classroom Instruction that Works, Robert Marzano, Debra Pickering, and Jane Pollock examine decades of research and distill the results into nine teaching strategies that have a significant, positive impact on student learning. Student learning with creative software tools matches and supports many effective instructional strategies, including those mentioned in this book.
Identifying Similarities and Differences
Identifying similarities and differences can be done in many ways, including comparisons, classifications, creating metaphors, and creating analogies. Specific mention is given to the strategy of “representing similarities and differences in graphic or symbolic form enhances students’ understanding of and ability to use knowledge.”
Graphic organizers like Venn diagrams, webs, and classification charts help students compare and classify in a visual or symbolic form. Teach students a variety of organizers and give them opportunities to determine for themselves what sort of organizer would be most helpful.
Another fun way to have students write and create to identify similarities and differences is through the creation of an If… But report. This type of projects includes a sentence or paragraph that begins with “If I were” or “If I visited” to describe their one topic and follows with “But I would not” to describe the second topic. (Explore more If... But examples).
Summarizing and Note Taking
Summarizing involves deleting, substituting, and evaluating information, and requiring students to engage in detailed analysis of the content.
To get students excited about engaging in detailed analysis with the content, have them design and develop comic strips. While the visual (or nonlinguistic) nature of comics may be the more obvious connection to Classroom Instruction That Works, because of the limited amount of text available in this format, it is a great vehicle to help students summarize. The limited amount of space in a comic’s panels requires students to choose the most significant points in a text or story.
Creating nonlinguistic representations of knowledge requires students to organize and elaborate on information. Marzano and team state, “the more we use both systems of representation – linguistic and non-linguistic – the better we are able to think about and recall knowledge.” Comics are a natural marriage of these two forms of representation.
Designing comics not only provides relevance to classroom projects, the visual nature supports visual and second-language learners, allowing them to demonstrate knowledge even when they don’t know the words. By combining visual support with necessary text practice, designing comics is a great way to build confidence and develop linguistic proficiencies.
Having students work together to complete projects prepares students for life in the world outside of the classroom where “most complex communal, social, and workplace problems are solved by groups, not individuals.” Whether each student contributes a page, or paragraph, or painting to a cooperative class project, or works with a team to complete work collaboratively, they learn to recognize and value the various perspectives and contributions of themselves and others.
The best part about using a creative approach to improving student learning? It’s fun for both you and your students. Have fun making with creativity software!
PS - Here's a document with quick ideas for multiple tools (all T4L) for all nine strategies.
Recently, I have been presenting at STEM conferences and I keep finding myself showing and using Frames, our animation tool. While there are many right ways to approach STEM, I think animation (student-created that is) should have a special place in your tool box of approaches and solutions to building strong STEM skills.
Animation can help make abstract science concepts tangible. Illustrating diagrams and models can help students analyze structures, especially useful when those are as small as a single-celled organism or as large as a solar system.
Animating scientific processes requires students to break processes down into component pieces and "determine what factors are necessary for each step in the process and movement from one step to the next." When "students animate these graphics for the purpose of describing a...process, they are also creating an artifact that evidences their understanding of the process."
Read more at: Support Science Learning with Clay Animation
Read more at: Digital Animation in Secondary Math and Science
Lesson plan: Fastballs, Free Throws and Physics
Lesson plan: Animated Chemical Bonding
Technology is a great way to engage students and animation even more so. Our students have grown up surrounded by moving media (cartoons, video games), and animation is mainly designed for them (student's world).
But so often we use technology in school to deliver instruction (our world), or information "to" or "at" students. Building, creating, developing their own animations gives agency to students, putting them in the driver's seat as media producers, not just consumers.
Find more videos like this on Tech4Learning
Engineering is the application of math, science, and past technologies to create new structures and tools that benefit society. As we have learned from the Marshmallow Challenge, effective solutions are the result of many prototypes and iterations (Fail early. Fail often. --IDEO).
When you are building animation, it never goes exactly as planned. You build, watch, then edit and repeat. You are constantly "tinkering" to get it the way you want, as well as making incremental improvements based on goals and audience - exactly the mindset needed for effective innovation.
Animation requires logical thinking and sequencing. You have to organize your ideas and present images in an order that makes sense. As you adjust the timing of various scenes or pieces of the animation, you need to multiply and divide each frames duration so that groups of frames match the time you have or need or the narration you have recorded.
Making the most of repeating images not only saves time, but builds awareness of patterns. When you duplicate a series of frames to create speech, do you repeat the same set over and over? Is that a natural speech pattern? Do you mix it up? How is this different from patterns (short sequences of frames) you might duplicate for running, waving, jumping jacks, and so on?
Animation adds STEAM to STEM
The initial push for connecting various disciplines into STEM was based on getting more students interested and competitive in these subjects and their intersections so we can remain economically competetive into the future. I don't want to talk international comparisons or competition here, but one thing that has always set us apart is our innovation and creativity. But of course, recent studies are now claiming we are becoming less and less creative.
This is yet another place animation excells. The process of building successful, effective, and powerful animations requires both analytical AND creative thinking. You need analytical thinking skills to break down complex ideas, information, and processes and sequence them so they make sense for the viewer. You need creative thinking to help you share your ideas with a specific audience in mind. You need to empathize and then reach out to inform, sell, and persuade.
Creating beautiful animations is the result of application (whether known and understood or not) of artistic ideas like repetition (patterning), line, balance, perspective, and so on. Taking the time to evaluate completed student animations provides an opportunity for everyone to discuss not only the content it contains (curriculum goal), but the processes used to get there (technical and creative).
Find more videos like this on Tech4Learning
Animation also provides an opportunity to build and expand on visual thinking and visual communication skills. Research by Robert Marzano, et. al. shows that nonlinguistic representations boost student understanding. Representing information in visual form is an essential skills in our modern world and is a great way to engage non-traditional learners in the curriculum. English language learners also often benefit from being able to draw or show what they know when they are still in the silent acquisition phase.
How are you using animation to engage students in STEM and STEAM learning?
Lately, I have come across lots of fun projects interview projects. Many are the more traditional oral history style projects, but some use the interview model as a way for students to apply content knowledge and demonstrate understanding. Interviews help prevent a simple copy and paste of information as well as help students learn to ask questions.
In her great article Foundations for Independent Thinking, Liz Allen shares, “When students are given an assignment that encourages higher-level thinking, the opportunity for “data dumping” (copying and pasting) is almost nonexistent.” One of things that is great about creating interviews from research and information are the actions students need to build them – dramatize, order, arrange, prioritize, combine, and plan. These words can be found in the higher-order area Bloom’s taxonomy.
Most importantly, developing in interview from research and information requires students to determine the questions that should be asked. As Sara Armstrong explains, “Effective inquiry skills are essential for success in our rapidly changing world.” In a world of near constant testing, so often classrooms are focused on getting the answer correct. Paying attention to questions helps us think critically about information as well as prioritize.
Interviews with Historical Figures
For example, to summarize learning about Colonial Virginia, 4th graders at Ellis Elementary School in Manasses, Virginia interviewed a Colonial Virginian. Based on their notes from their studies, students worked to develop the questions for their interviews. They used a green screen to combine themselves, clip art, and site photos into a more authentic product.
Read more about the project and watch the video.
After completing a unit on owls during a larger unit about endangered species, third-grade students at Krieger Schecter Day School in Baltimore, Maryland were challenged to interview an owl. They worked in teams to research an owl, write questions, develop a script, illustrate their interview, record it, and create an interview movie. As teacher Amanda Levine shares, “The best part of this project was watching the students read, process, analyze, and apply information” as they developed their interview.
Find more videos like this on Connect
Interviews with Artifacts
Historical artifacts, like documents, buildings, artwork, and household objects are great ways to learn about life in the past. Students can help bring these artifacts to life and make history more personal by interviewing the objects. Interviewing helps students identify the perspective of a historian as they personify the object with gender and other human characteristics.
Find more videos like this on Connect
Documenting Oral History
Sharing the content of interviews through digital storytelling values the experiences and ways of knowing in our own communities. Interviews showcase the knowledge, wisdom, and values a person holds and reflect a way of looking at our world. When students conduct interviews, collect oral histories, and create living multimedia memories, they act as community researchers.
When Pat Leslie and her students at Robert Hunter Elementary in Flemington, New Jersey were learning about the experience of immigrants at Ellis Island, recent immigrants visited the classroom to share their stories. Students listened, asked questions, and responded to what they learned through visual representations and a class movie on theirJourney to Freedom. As Leslie so eloquently eloquently shares, “When the collected oral histories were transformed into a digital story, it provided deeper understanding of the recent past.”
In an earlier post, I talked about the importance of the 4 C's (creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication) as well as the 3 R's in preparing students for life in the digital age. All to often technology skills, as well as curriculum standards, are taught as a discrete set of skills.
In a mindset of covering information (that will be on the test), adding in things like 4 C's seems like one more thing squeezing in our instructional time. This mindset does little to improve student learning and misses an opportunity to provide students with a rich learning experience that addresses both the 3 R's and the 4 C's.
Recently, I have been working on materials specifically designed to boost literacy (Building Literacy Resource Kit - New approaches with creative technology) through work that were relevant and meaningful, and utilized technology projects that encouraged collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and digital age communication.
So where does math fit in? As I was looking at ways for students to connect to literature through retelling, adapting, and writing, I came across a list of math books and project ideas I had created. The list included a lot of ideas that paired reading and writing with math through creative work with technology. What I liked about it most was how simple some of the ideas were and while not high-level, pbl work, a step in the right direction and easy to implement.
Great books for connecting to Literature in math
Five Creatures. Emily Jenkins
Have students write and illustrate their own Five Creatures story using the members of their family. Print the files as a booklet to take home or export as an HTML storybook.
The Grapes of Math. Greg Tang
Have students write and illustrate their own math rhyming riddles. Combine all of the class riddles into one book and export to HTML to share online.
The Greedy Triangle. Marilyn Burns
Have students write their own story about a geometric shape. Using the ideas in the book, encourage them to make connections to where the shape is found in the real world.
The Math Curse. Jon Scieszka
Have students write their own stories about the problems they encounter during a typical school day or the problems encountered by a fire fighter, police officer, doctor, etc.
The Best of Times. Greg Tang and Harry Briggs
Have students create their own simple rhymes to help them memorize basic facts. Students may use stickers and paint tools to illustrate each rhyme.
Math for All Seasons: Mind Stretching Math Riddles. Greg Tang and Harry Briggs
Have students create their own unique counting book with patterns using stickers and pictures. Student may publish their stories as short movies to share with others.
Math Fables. Greg Tang
Have students create their own counting fable using scenes and characters from familiar stories they have read. Print their stories to place in classroom library.
Marvelous Math: A Book of Poems. Lee Bennett Hopkins and Karen Barbour
Have students create their own math limerick poem for students to share. Compile each student’s poem as a class book.
Pigs Will Be Pigs. Amy Axelrod and Sharon McGinley
Have students create their own comic strip using basic money concepts for counting and making change. Other books in this series can help students explore math through travel, cooking, sports, and more!
Polar Bear Math: Learning about Fractions from the Klondike and Snow. Amy Whitehead Naqda and Cindy Bickel
Have students choose a daily concept like making lunch or time spent on homework to illustrate daily fractions found in the day. Student can create an HTML project to share with others.
Last to Finish: A Story About the Smartest Boy in Math Class. Barbara Esham, Mike Gordo and Carl Gordo
Have students create a step-by-step guide for problem solving. This guide could be shared with others for future problem solving situations.
I encourage you to come up with and share your entry level ideas which combine literacy, math, and technology to help students work on both the 4 C's and the 3 R's without treating them as specific skills or narrow standards we have to cover.
When I am at a conference and a little burned out and don’t want to get stuck in a session for an hour, I head on over to the poster sessions. Poster sessions are a collection of specific projects grouped together in one area. You walk through the table and displays to see what interests you.
So rather than sit through a lecture, poster sessions allow you choose which ideas and student projects you want to learn more about, as well as have fantastic one-on-one, or at least small group, conversations with great educators.
Attending poster sessions
Poster sessions are usually offered in groups, so I start by scanning the topics in the program to see which time might be best for me to visit. I like to start with a brief walk through the entire group, scanning the visuals on the display boards to determine which I might like to visit and how much time I have to do so. Then, I go back and talk with whomever looks friendly and seems to have an interesting topic or project.
But posters are great opportunities to make new friends and expand your personal learning network (PLN), so don’t rush. If you end up having a great conversation keep talking! You may make a lifelong friend.
Want to share what you and your students are doing, but hate public speaking?
Poster sessions are a great place to get your feet wet and try out how to share your idea, since you are mainly talking one-on-one or in small groups.
But don’t take this to mean they are less work! Not only do you have to set up a great looking display, but if you want people to hear about the work you are doing, you have to “sell” your project to get them to stop and have a conversation.
Here are some suggestions from my experience as well as the experiences of Tech4Learning Innovative Educators Ellen Phillips, Amy Boehman-Pollitt, and Jamie Hagan.
What is provided?
Most posters give you a table, bulletin board, and power. Some also provide a computer, or at least a monitor you can connect to your laptop to show off student work. You may also get lucky and get a spot that has a donated interactive whiteboard or projector. If you really want people to see your stuff a projection device makes a big impact!
Be sure to take at least one laptop with your presentation and student/project samples. Be sure to have a back up of your presentation on a Flash drive or in the “cloud” so that you have a backup in case something goes horribly wrong. If your laptop requires a special dongle to connect to a projector or monitor, be sure to take it with you. If your projects have student voices, take your own speakers.
What should my poster session look like?
The board, or poster, for your session is the main thing that people will use to find you. Be sure to include the title of the poster and your name in text large enough for people to read from a distance, then fill, fill, fill the space with student work. The more colorful the better.
Run a slideshow of student work on a large monitor or over projection. The color, sound, and movement will attract people closer. This also gives people something to watch without having to talk to you, which helps if they are shy. Once they have a clearer picture of what you are sharing, they are more willing to ask questions and start a conversation.
Remember to have a high-touch table as well. While you don’t want to bring oodles of stuff, having printed examples of student work encourage people to approach and explore.
How do I prepare?
While you might be tempted to have a presentation ready, be sure that it is non-linear (why Share makes a great presentation tool!). Because you will be having lots of small group conversations, you should tailor your discussion for each participant. Share your story by referring to specific examples in the slideshow or by opening individual project files.
Ellen Phillips suggests creating a rough list of points you want to cover. She suggests being sure you share:
- how what you are sharing will work for their kids in the classroom, and
- how easy it will be for them to learn and use it.
In other words, while people are there to hear about your project, attendees really want to know if they can do it, how they can do it, and what it will do for their students.
To save time, weight, money, and waste, put your resources online! Then, instead of carting around lots of stuff, give people a small card or bookmark with the URL address of your project. Place a QR code prominently so participants can capture, store, and retrieve both your contact information and your presentation materials.
If your session refers to commercial tools or resources, be sure to provide product pricing and company contact information. If the company is exhibiting at the conference, share their booth number so people can find out more information.
Be sure to let the company know about your session too! They will refer people to your session and may even be able to provide addition materials.
Once the posters open, be sure to smile, smile, smile. Ellen suggests, “Assume everyone is dying to see what you've got.” They came because they WANT to hear from you, they wouldn’t have shown up otherwise.
Once you are talking, the posters are easy, and the hardest part may be getting people to stop and to start a conversation. A colorful board filled with student work, combined with a slideshow and printed examples they can touch will help to engage them.
If you are having problems connecting with people, starting asking lots questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Turn on your charming and funniest self, but be real. The posters are as much about meeting new people and making connections as they are about learning about new ideas.
Happy postering, Melinda
PS - I'd love to hear how you make attending or giving poster sessions a success. Please share your comments.
Two weeks ago I participated in conversations at FETC and on Facebook about the same topic, the Common Core State Standards. On Facebook the discussion was with a friend of mine who has moved to a new state. She is ready for the Common Core State Standards to be implemented fully because she’s tired of her children constantly having to be either behind or ahead of the curriculum. The topic was the same at FETC, where students have a high mobility rate, whether it’s changing schools within the district, around the state or around the country. However, while the teachers were excited, they were a bit concerned about how the standards were going to be implemented.
Unit plans and curriculum mapping of course come to mind whenever new standards are being introduced. As a teacher who went through unit mapping, I understood the hesitation I heard in their voice. For some, they fear that unit plans mean a prescribed curriculum and lesson plans that the teacher has no input or flexibility with, and they are not able to teach to their style and their student’s individual needs. One teacher even made a comment along the lines of how unit plans are a dead set play with no improv allowed, even when the heckler in the audience demands it.
With the Common Core State Standards being implemented though, the first step to understanding the standards is to map the curriculum. They must be broken down for the teacher to understand what is being taught, where the skills start and how they grow through the year. I don’t know too many people who get in a car and just wander to see where the roads take them with no destination in site. Most plan where they are going, the best route for either time or scenery, and how long it will take to get there.
As you are mapping out the standards to your curriculum, check out the guides from Tech4Learning on how Pixie addresses the Common Core State Standards. Each grade level includes activity ideas, success stories, and lesson plans. Use these activities with your unit maps as suggested ideas for how your students can use Pixie to show mastery. And of course, you can always customize these ideas for your needs.
This past summer another friend of mine in Mississippi was concerned because he had to start teaching these standards and there were no guides to help him get started, and the district wasn’t really providing the time to be trained on the standards. This is where the myth that teachers get all this free time in the summer and on weekends can be debunked. He worked with his grade level peers to map out the standards and to figure out what they were already doing that they liked and to brainstorm new ideas, along with the progression of the standards of the year. All of this was done before contract days were even started.
While the team came up with a few ideas and samples of what could be done to teach a unit, it was not a recipe that had to be followed to a “T”. Instead, the teachers knew that they could add an extra pinch of technology where their skills and available technology allowed, and the teacher that was into “arts and crafts” could have her students build models and displays to go with written reports. Just because the standards are now “common” doesn’t mean the teaching has to be “common”. It’s just as important now that a teacher adds their own touch to the lesson as ever before. Especially if you need to add a twist to the lesson for the gifted student, or extra resources and mini-lessons for the student on IEP or 504. The Common Core Standards did not change our education system to mean “one size fits all.” Instead, it’s giving us a clearer look at the expected destination for all students and the milestones that need to be reached on their education journey.
So while my Facebook friend might be happy that the skills her children are learning at the new school will be on target with the school her family will transfer to in three years (if the pattern holds), my teacher friends should not panic that they will have to lose themselves to teach a scripted curriculum. I hope they open their eyes and really see the wonders of what THEIR teaching will do with the Common Core State Standards.
While there's lots of conversations around about engaging today's digital learners, the solution isn't simply to use technology. I don't think anyone will agree that playing Cow Clicker is the best use of our limited classroom time.
With the pressure of today's classrooms, students use of technology needs to help them progress towards a specific learning goal (content or process), as well as require them to apply what they know to create something new or solve a problem.
So what kinds of work can students do that meets content and process learning goals? Most importantly they need to be CREATEing and making, not just consuming. Here are five of my favorite ideas.
1. Develop a Public Service Announcement
Students today aren't lazy, they are as idealistic and passionate about issues that affect them. Climate change, privacy rights and freedoms, health and safety,the list goes on. If you don't agree, maybe you aren't listening.
A PSA is designed to get people to change their behavior, how much more real world can persuasive writing be? Use PSAs to help students explore content issues in depth as well as practice writing and communication skills.
Created in Frames. Find more videos like this on Connect.
2. Create a book trailer
Students in our classes don't want to use technology with the end result of simply filling out a digital worksheet. Yes, that boring book report isn't any better just because we published with technology. But what kid nowadays goes to the movies without seeing, or looking up, one of the trailers about it? Movie trailers are fast-paced and exciting. They have just a few minutes to share details about a story that will connect the viewer to it.
Created in Frames. Find more videos like this on Connect.
When making a book trailer, not only do students have to know the characters, settings, and events in a story, they have to consider them in light of what someone else might find interesting. To make a great trailer, they may actually have to read the book, not just read about it online.
3. Make your own TV Show
Students today spend more time watching TV each year than they spend in school. While they may not be watching high-quality educational shows, they have most likely seen great storytelling, watched a news broadcast that affected their mood, and see a video biography on a person who interested them, even if it was about an entertainer.
Ask today's digital natives to take their existing knowledge and media literacy to craft unique responses to content they are studying. The better the question you use to frame their work, the better their response will be.
Find more videos like this on Tech4LearningCreated in Frames. Find more videos like this on Connect.
4. Help someone else learn
There is a lot of talk nowadays about the flipped classroom, but consider asking students to create videos that teach others by demonstrating a process or explaining a rule. We all know when you teach something, you learn it better. You also have to think of many different ways to approach and share information so that others can understand it. This multi-faceted approach also helps the "teacher" cement the concept in the brain.
Created in Pixie. Find more videos like this on Connect.
"When I notice someone having a grammar problem, I refer them to a student-created tutorial designed by one of their peers... and when one of my students shows mastery of a concept, I know it’s time for them to create one of their own!” shares Katy Hammack, a teacher in Santee, California.
5. Tell a story
Yes, just tell a story, any story. When students write their own stories, they have a chance to apply everything they have learned about grammar, voice, organization, and audience. A polished digital storytelling product may be a great way to hook learners, but we all know the real learning happens during the process. Producing a digital story requires planning, writing, editing, composing, considering, analyzing, articulating... the list goes on.
Created in Pixie. Find more videos like this on Connect.
The next time you are at a party or family event bored to tears by the long story seemingly without end or point, you can rest assured you are helping to save numerous people from this horrible fate.
The best projects
The best projects aren't the ones targeted to meeting a specific or narrow standard, but ones that move students toward mastery of many different skills.
As I was working with the Tech4Learning team for the past couple of weeks on the English Language Acquisition Resource Kit, I got to spend a lot of time reading, and rereading, up on strategies to support ELL students both core content learning and English language skills.
While it often seems like we keep adding more and more things to our list of expectations for teachers, strategies for supporting ELL's support students of all abilities.
Visual Supports and Nonverbal Response
Using Pixie's visual tools (paint tools and stickers library) with ELL students gives them the opportunity to provide a nonverbal responses to indicate comprehension. This is especially important when learners are at the early beginner or preproduction stage.
But diagrams and pictorial responses to show comprehension also allow our visual learners to show what they know in a way that may work best for them, since they often struggle with text-based or verbal responses. Robert Marzano's team also indicates that nonlinguistic representations (pg 82) of knowledge can help to cement understanding and improve student achievement.
Speaking and Listening Supports
ELL students have much stronger receptive than productive language skills. Using Pixie's Talking interface to listen to instructions or read written text aloud can help them work independently as well as listen for mistakes in their writing. Recording their voice to add to projects also provides practice in a safe and individual environment, since they can record, listen, practice, and rerecord.
These same features also support struggling readers as well as students with speech and language challenges. And when students capture themselves reading their writing and stories, you end up with a wonderful assessment of reading fluency, no matter what their level.
ELL students do not learn enough vocabulary merely by listening or naturally encountering words in the world around them; they need specific vocabulary instruction, especially in the areas of academic language. Again, all students benefit from specific vocabulary instruction since increasing a learner’s vocabulary leads to improved reading comprehension, benefitting performance in all subject areas.
Create vs. Consume
So much of the time, ELLs are tasked with computer programs that require watching and rote response. But to truly grasp a second language, ELL students must spend a significant amount of their time producing authentic language.
But producing media and information, rather than simply consuming it is the hallmark of a 21st century classroom! One of the tenets of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is that students show learning through multiple means of action and expression. Now there are many more ways of doing this, than producing multimedia, but creating with powerful technology tools provides an opportunity for authentic learning in your classroom.
What will your students create today?
In the last post, I talked about the natural partnership of creativity and tinkering. Once again, I am inspired by Dr. Henry Olds and want to expand on the idea of play. In his article, Iconic Pattern Play, he finds, with Dr. Walter Drew, that "unstructured, child-initiated creative play can strongly contribute to children’s growth and development."
With two young children the concept of play is no stranger at our house. Besides what better excuse than an 18 month olds pleading eyes?
But in classrooms? All too often play isn't visible in learning environments designed for students above the age of 5. Play isn't silly, play isn't a waste of time. Play is essential to cementing concepts through application, but only when it is without outside expectations. This kind of intrinsic joy in figuring things out is easily seen in students in the Kinder classes, but with massive time limitations and content expectations, we rarely see open-ended, unstructured free play above this level.
Yes, we might often let students play or even experiment, but even when we do, we often inteject with questions that are leading, such as "Is that a pattern you are creating?" Even when we listen, are we "listening to them, or listening for something" we are hoping to hear? (Thank you ECOO presenter Jonathon Rajalingham)
Even if we try to ask questions that aren't leading, the simple act of asking requires a response and may be more teacher-centered than student-centered. Now what the child is answering us and is no longer doing something they initiated. The asking of a question means we are expecting a response, moving the focus off of the students back to us and our expectations.
I for one have a very, very hard time just listening and not trying to talk about what is happening. To help, I have been trying to label what is happening, rather than asking questions. In Parent Child Interaction Therapy, (PCIT), you describe behavior (only good behavior) and reflect (repeat back student speech). This simple act of stating what you see, not judging or asking questions, lets a child know that you are paying attention and focusing on them in that moment. You are there without judgement and expectations.
Play is most powerful when it doesn't come with expectations. This frees our mind from concerns about outcome and helps us take risks. Unstructured means the learner can be in the moment and better focus on process and see connections. This leads to serendipity - desirable discoveries by accident. Although maybe not quite as much by accident as we think.
I think this is true for everyone's learning journey, not just that of students. Henry reminded me of this again with his beautiful journey. Inspired by watching and supporting student learners, Henry has been doing his own pattern play in "retirement" with dazzling results! One example of his latest play is now the header for the Arlington Open Studio blog! Read the story and visit his web site.
Where will your play take you?