Monday, July 17, 2017

Almost 3 million people are expected to reach Europe by the end of 2017. This creates a tremendous geo-cultural challenge for refugees, especially at the outset. Being forlorn, destitute, lost in translation – and with a mobile phone, new comers do not have enough local information and are held back by language barriers. As much as they get help, especially in Germany, there is a mismatch between public aides and refugees. The is why Integreat app was developed.


Integreat provides comprehensive local information for refugees, is multilingual, has simple administration, and is connected to local authorities, is linked to job platforms, and is free of charge. Creators of Integreat asked these two simple questions that lead to the creation of the app : Can we provide all the relevant information to incoming people in our city in their own language as quickly as possible – without permanent internet access and without confusing paper chaos?


Integreat is available in the App Store and Google Play.


Posted on Monday, July 17, 2017 by Ammar Merhbi

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

The achievement gap among students is widening, although there are major strides in the educational systems to bridge the gaps. From my experience as an educator and educational leader, one of the chief factors affecting student achievement is learning techniques. I am talking about the learning techniques that can be reasonably taught to students so that they can independently use it in the same or different contexts at a later date. Many students use ineffective learning techniques that if trained with more effective one can improve their achievement. Many teachers help students to use ineffective learning techniques because they do not know about effective techniques due to their ubiquity (Dunlosky et al., 2013).

A comprehensive review of the literature by Duosky et al. (2013) offered  recommendations for the utility of learning techniques to improve educational outcome. The review yielded 10 learning techniques that are labelled as low utility, medium utility, or high utility. The utility level (degree and scope of effectiveness) was based on the generalizability (educational contexts)  and promise for improving student learning.

In this post series, I will be discussing each learning technique in terms of

  1. General description of the technique and why it should work.

  2. How general are the effects of this technique?

  3. Effects in representative educational contexts

  4. ssues for implementation

  5. Overall assessment

The 10 learning techniques are

2017-07-15_14-05-34Dunlosky et al. (2013

The authors identified generalizability of these techniques' impact on four categories of variables:

  1. materials

  2. learning conditions

  3. student characteristics

  4. criterion tasks

The authors also stressed the importance factual knowledge not as an ultimate objective but as a prerequisite for deep learning in a subsequent stage - one thing that the new fad into critical thinking in education has overlooked. Therefore, improving student retention of knowledge is essential for reaching other learning targets. They state that “if one does not remember core ideas, facts, or concepts, applying them may prove difficult, if not impossible”.

So, let's begin with the first learning technique in this post.

Elaborative Interrogation

Explanatory questioning is extremely significant to promote learning, an ample body of evidence suggests. In particular, research has shown that answering “Why?” questions -embedded in elaborative interrogation and self-explanation techniques- can facilitate learning.

Description and Why it should work

Elaborative interrogation , such as asking “Why wasn't action performed?”,  boosts memory recall. The key to elaborative interrogation  is "prompting learners to generate an explanation for an explicitly stated fact."

A typical format was followed in most studies for EI prompting "Why would this fact be true of this [X] and not some other [X]?

The predominant conceptual report of elaborative interrogation effects is that elaborative interrogation enhances learning by supporting the integration of new information with existing prior knowledge.

Generalizability

Learning conditions

Although most studies have involved individual learning, elaborative-interrogation effects have also been shown among students working in dyads or small groups.

Student Characteristics

Elaborative interrogation can be generalized to all learners however the extent to how it affects young learners is not clear. Student prior knowledge has significant impact on the EI strategy.

2017-07-15_13-35-47.png

Effects in Educational Contexts

Mostly,  elaborative interrogation enhance learning in representative educational contexts with few studies conducted outside a laboratory setting. One particular study (Smith et al., 2010) conducted a study on undergraduates enrolled in a Biology course. The study was situated during class meetings in the adjoining lab section. Students completed an assessment of verbal ability and prior-knowledge exam over relational but indistinguishable material to the target one.

In the ensuing weeks, learners were given long and complex texts taken from a chapter in the textbook. For 50% of the learners, 21 EI prompts were "interspersed" throughout the text "roughly one prompt per 150 words" , each incorporating a paraphrased statement from the text followed by "Why is this true?" . The other students were only instructed to study the text on their own pace, without any prompts. El students then completed a T/F questions about the material (none were the same as the EI prompts). Performance was better for EI groups than control groups 76% versus 69%, “even after controlling the prior and verbal ability”.

Implementation Issues

There are two advantages to EI :

1- It requires minimal training for students to learn it. Teachers can start with EI prompts interspersed in the text, or text explanation, and gradually let the students come up with their own EI prompts.

2- The EI is "reasonable with time demands". It does not take a lot of time on part of the teacher to prepare the prompts at the outset nor training the students to derive their own EI.

However, EI is  limited to "discrete factual statements". It is not clear to what one should ask the why questions for more intricate outcomes. It work great with  fact lists but elaborating on facts incorporated in lengthier texts requires teachers to guide students on the kind of content to focus on to be productively executed.

Overall Assessment: Medium Utility

The authors assessed EI as medium utility primarily because of it generalizability issues. Studies suggest that it is most effective with factual knowledge and especially with students who have low domain knowledge. Also, benefits for comprehension and long delays need more research and is not clear in earlier studies.

Next post will discuss Self-explanation learning technique.

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4–58. https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100612453266

Smith, B. L., Holliday, W. G., & Austin, H. W. (2010). Students’ comprehension of science textbooks using a question-based reading strategy.

Posted on Saturday, July 15, 2017 by Ammar Merhbi

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Friday, July 14, 2017

“We personalize learning all the time, we just don’t call it that,” says special education teacher Gina Tesoriero who has been teaching middle schoolers for over a decade. “When you give students open-ended challenges or design prompts, they actually personalize it themselves, bringing in their own interests and coming in at the level that is best for them.” Tesoriero has developed this belief over the past 10 years in the classroom—and she attributes much of it to her involvement with the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI).

“We want to know what you find compelling; what problem you think is worth solving; what you want to do or make. And then provide a space where that can happen.”

Douglas Moore

In 2010, Tesoriero and her colleague Amanda Solarsh, a middle school science teacher, stumbled across an opportunity to write curriculum at NYSCI. They were immediately taken with the museum’s learning model and wanted to incorporate elements of it into their classrooms at Simon Baruch Middle School 104. The following year, the duo participated in the Verizon Design Lab Fellowship, an opportunity for teachers to contribute to the creation of Design Lab, an interactive exhibit spanning two floors with activities that invite visitors to exercise problem-solving skills and develop solutions to engineering and design challenges.

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Design Lab, Image Credit: NYSCI

The fellowship inspired Tesoriero and Solarsh to start an elective STEM course for seventh graders at their school. The course—developed to build 21st century skills like problem solving and innovative thinking—has scaled to two to three classes per grade level. Over the years, the teachers have participated in curriculum development, design labs and field trips, which have influenced the course and their practice.

The museum’s project-based, experiential, learner-centered approach isn’t revolutionary for K-12 education—in fact, many schools integrate elements of these approaches into their instructional model. But without the stresses of assessment and resource constraints, NYSCI is able to experiment and iterate. Douglas Moore, Vice President of Digital Education Strategy & Business Development at NYSCI says teachers visiting the museum with their students frequently make comments like, I’ve never seen those two work together so well or I’ve never seen her focus so much. “That’s because no one ever failed at a science museum,” he says.

According to Moore, getting someone to stop at your exhibit for even three minutes is a big win in the museum world. At NYSCI, visitors often stop to explore an exhibit for 30-45 minutes. Though this may not be optimal for museum flow, it begs the question: what can schools learn about engagement and personalization from this type of informal learning institution?

What can schools and teachers learn from NYSCI?

NYSCI, born at the 1964 World’s Fair in Corona, NY, is on a mission to put its visitors at the center of each hands-on learning experience. Originally exhibiting a collection of galleries sharing the potential of science, technology and space exploration, it is now home to over 450 interactive displays and a number of art and science exhibits rooted in experiential learning and the design, make, play approach.

NYSCI instructor Reid Bingham works with a class in the Maker Space,
Image Credit: David Handschuh/NYSCI

The NYSCI team is constantly asking itself: what is our role in education as an informal learning institution? “Our goal is to offer a very low barrier to learning—like a playful invitation,” says Moore. “We want to know what you find compelling; what problem you think is worth solving; what you want to do or make. And then provide a space where that can happen.”

Educators are part of NYSCI’s intended audience and there are a number of ways they can access the museum. Teachers can bring their classes to visit for open-ended field trips or scaffolded sessions designed around a particular challenge that needs to be solved, and can participate in professional development opportunities.

Field trips offer educators an opportunity to experience human-centered learning first-hand. Tesoriero reflects that some of the most engaged students during field trips were those who struggled the most in class. She notes that the greatest challenge with museum visits is finding a balance of holding students accountable for learning, while giving them space to explore what they are interested in, at their own pace.

For Tesoriero, a key part of that balance are NYSCI’s teenage “explainers,” a community of high school students participating in a youth development program with NYSCI called the Science Career Ladder. Explainers are not only experts on a particular exhibit or display, but are also skillful at supporting visitors to take control of their own learning and discover things on their own. These explainers are peppered throughout the museum and are often found with hands behind their backs asking open-ended probing questions to museum-goers. “They’re well trained and know a lot. I’ve learned a lot about how to help students discover things without telling them anything,” Tesoriero says.

Teenage Explainers, Image Credit: NYSCI

So what does it look like when a teacher adapts pieces of a museum’s learning model into the classroom? It can take shape in a number of ways. A museum might provide inspiration for resources and materials, inform lesson and unit design or influence philosophies of teaching and learning.

  1. Replicate an Activity: During a field trip, Solarsh’s students took part in a challenge to design and build a structure using wooden dowels that could provide shelter to 10 people after a natural disaster. Solarsh later purchased smaller dowels and replicated the activity in her classroom but with mini models, aligning it to her current civil engineering unit called "Scaling Structures."
  2. Real-World Problems: Inspired by the challenge-based activities at NYSCI, Tesoriero developed a lesson back in her classroom that asked students to think about things that bothered them about eating and cooking and to design a utensil that could solve it. Students built prototypes of thermometer-spoons and cups that change color as the temperature of a liquid rises and falls.
  3. Empower Students to Make Meaningful Change: During a “Shark Tank” unit, Solarsh asked students to consider real-world issues they wanted to solve and design and present a solution for feedback. While she encouraged her students to follow their hearts and tackle large-scale problems like global warming, she also worked with students to make sure problems were focused so that students could get a sense of how individuals can affect change. One student designed and pitched an idea for lung-cancer detection and later found out that it aligned with what professionals are researching in the field.

The museum loves when classes come to visit, but Moore cautions against teachers trying to make their classrooms just like a science museum. “It’s not realistic,” he says. “There are resource constraints.” That’s why NYSCI takes PD so seriously, and is working hard to develop resources that teachers and learners can use outside the museum.

Moore explains that NYSCI’s biggest luxury is the ability to ask the question, “How do you make a topic irresistible so kids can’t turn away first, and then figure out all of the other stuff later?”

Expanding reach beyond museum visitors

Getting outside of the classroom can offer the opportunity to explore non-traditional methods of teaching and learning—but not everyone can get to NYSCI. Moore’s team spends a lot of time considering how to support educators, students and families that can’t make the trip to the museum.

“We want to scale access to these learning experiences to reach the folks we assume will never come—the kid in Jakarta, the teacher in Texas,” Moore explains. A major priority is building tools that make it possible for people to participate in some of these learning experiences digitally. “Because we don’t have to be adopted by every teacher, we’re able to make aspirational products that show what is possible—and to work with teachers to make them implementable in a variety of settings.”

In 2015, NYSCI’s first foray into this field was developing Noticing Tools, a set of five apps based on Design Lab that help students tackle math through selfies, video and building 3D models. The apps were prototyped in Tesoriero and Solarsh’s classes. The museum is currently in conceptual stages of its second initiative: a mobile game based on the Connected Worlds exhibit, an immersive ecosystem simulation for learners of all ages located in the Great Hall at the museum. The exhibit puts each learner at the center of a massive environment where even the museum’s youngest visitors can explore complex topics like sustainability, systems thinking and how actions have both short and long-term consequences.

Straddling magic and science, it challenges learners to manage a limited water supply and balance the needs of all living beings in six, interconnected digital biomes: wetlands, reservoir, jungle, grasslands, river valley and desert. Visitors can raise and lower their hands to plant seeds and move a set of physical logs to divert water from a 38-foot-high digital waterfall to an environment that needs it. Every decision made and every action taken impacts the environment.

The game will not try to replicate the exhibit. The goal is to design an open, online simulation game where players can build code and algorithms that have an impact on the ecosystem. With official launch over a year away, there are a lot of decisions to be made, but a core element of the game will definitely be to build upon intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic through gamification.

“‘I want to go deeper but the bell just rang.’ That’s what we want,” Moore says. Users won’t need to take a test to prove they are learning because the evidence will lie in what they have built. This may not fit the traditional instructional model but NYSCI isn’t building a game to fit into schools, they’re building a game to develop motivation through engagement.

The role of informal learning institutions in K-12 education

Society often turns to school leaders, educators, curriculum experts or the world of academia to propose innovative learning models when current practices fall short. But school leaders and educators face systemic pressures and budget challenges that can make it challenging to question the status quo and experiment with new ways to teach and learn. Perhaps informal learning experiences that take place outside of the classroom deserve more attention.

Without the stress of assessment, promotional criteria and the need to constantly provide evidence of progress, informal learning institutions like museums might just be able to make learning even the most complex ideas irresistible.

This blog post was first published on Edsurge

Posted on Friday, July 14, 2017 by Ammar Merhbi

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

voyager

Exploratory learning can be defined as an approach to teaching and learning that encourages learners to examine and investigate new material with the purpose of discovering relationships between existing background knowledge and unfamiliar content and concepts. Many studies show that exploratory learning environments improve student achievement, most often indirectly by tapping into the students’ intrinsic motivation to explore and discover, something that you spot instantly when you observe kids exploring (without prompting) in outdoor activities. However, outdoor exploration is not an option for millions of students around the world, and when exploration is in foreign countries and remote places, it is impossible for students to explore them.

In this capacity, Google is really pushing forward to help students explore the world right where they are, in the classroom and at home.

Last week, Google introduced voyager for education— a “showcase of interactive tours” meant to enhance the latest version of Google Earth. Voyager works on Google Earth mobile App, Google Earth PC and Google Earth Browser.

Google Earth's new Voyager feature brings visualization and geospatial storytelling to the fore in the redesigned application. Fly through landmarks and cities like London, Tokyo and Rome in stunning 3D, then dive in to experience them first hand with Street View. See the world from a new point of view with Voyager, which brings you one-of-a-kind stories and associated classroom activities from partners like National Geographic, PBS, and more.


Voyager scrn1


Voyager includes storytelling expirations. Many stories were added by PBS, National Geographic, BBC etc., and topics range from stories of explores to pristine seas.











     




Voyager scrn2-07-04-17-53-48





Start exploring stories with a click of a button.














Voyager scrn3



In addition to the geospatial aspect, videos on particular areas are displayed as you move from one place to another. You can easily hide and reveal videos.











Voyager scrn4


You can access voyager and other utilities right from Google Earth screen (this screenshot shows the GE Android app).









Voyager Lesson Plans and Classroom Activities

voyager lesson plans

To help teachers plan effective Voyage geospatial storytelling lessons, Google has included well designed lesson plans and activities that can be incorporated in existing lesson plans. You can access all lesson plans, activities, and any additional resources from Google Earth Education website.

Have you ever used Google Earth in its old version in the classroom? Have you got the chance to use Voyager or at least plan a lesson using Voyager? Share with us your experience in the comments below.

Posted on Wednesday, July 05, 2017 by Ammar Merhbi

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Monday, July 3, 2017

During my conversations, interactions, designing, and planning with  teachers and lead teachers in the past decade, one obscure thing stands out in their minds: Bloom’s Taxonomy of cognitive process. This is what they articulate knowledge of. Many may have heard it in the staff room, been exposed to it in  professional development workshops, read it online or in a reference book, or perhaps even studied it during their college years. Many also may have used Bloom’s cognitive nouns and verbs to guide  their lesson planning, instructional practice, and even their assessments. Still, few know that Bloom’s Taxonomy has been updated in 2000. And very few know about Bloom’s knowledge dimensions (factual, conceptual, procedural, and metacognitive). Whatever their level of knowledge of Bloom’s taxonomy, teachers recognize it directly and can even relate their teaching strategies if asked to categorize their practice and assessment.

This is really exciting as it holds real potentials to improve students achievement, but in the education domain one needs to know what works well and what does not work so well, in practice. If teachers want teaching clarity, that is making learning targets and success criteria clear for learners and teachers themselves, if teachers want learners to take more control over their learning,  and if teachers need to systematically use differentiation in their teaching, the taxonomy needs to be clear for both teachers and learners. The teacher, the learner, the tasks, and the assessment should all be clearly informed by the taxonomy.  This clarity is where Bloom’s taxonomy fails. The levels of cognitive processes in Bloom’s taxonomy, and their respective action verbs do not help teachers set clear, measurable learning targets, do no help teachers set learning activities that can meet the learning targets, and do not help learners recognize and articulate the cognitive processes they are involved in. Finally, Bloom’s taxonomy does not provide a whole school framework and common language to systemize instructional routines and assessments, including learner self-assessment. I have rarely, if ever, seen teachers who have designed, planned and delivered lessons with clarity informed by Bloom’s, nor have I seen learners who clearly know what cognitive effort a task entails or success criteria it needs in terms of Bloom’s. Pam Hook  says:

The taxonomy was published in 1956, has sold over a million copies, has been translated into several languages, and has been cited thousands of times.

The Bloom taxonomy has been extensively used in teacher education to suggest learning and teaching strategies, has formed the basis of many tests developed by teachers (at least while they were in teacher training), and has been used to evaluate many tests.

It is thus remarkable that the taxonomy has been subject to so little research or evaluation.

Most of the evaluations are philosophical treatises noting, among other criticisms, that there is no evidence for the invariance of these stages, or claiming that the taxonomy is not based on any known theory of learning or teaching.

The SOLO taxonomy (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes),devised by Collis  Biggs (1982), is divided into several levels  produced by students in terms of their complexity. The name itself reveals its function. The taxonomy is a structure, that is it has a form, and this form permeates throughout all knowledge levels. The taxonomy focuses on clarity since it seeks to make the learning outcomes observable by teachers and learners, unlike Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy which was devised for educational administrators.

The following is taken from Pam Hook’s wiki “The Learning Process – How Do You Know You are Learning?”

  • At the pre-structural level of understanding, the student response shows they have missed the point of the new learning.
  • At the uni-structural level, the learning outcome shows understanding of one aspect of the task, but this understanding is limited. For example, the student can label, name, define, identify or follow a simple procedure.
  • At the multi-structural level, several aspects of the task are understood but their relationship to each other, and the whole is missed. For example the student can list, define, describe, combine, match, or do algorithms.
  • At the relational level, the ideas are linked, and provide a coherent understanding of the whole. Student learning outcomes show evidence of comparison, causal thinking, classification, sequencing, analysis, part whole thinking, analogy, application and the formulation of questions.
  • At the extended abstract level, understanding at the relational level is re-thought at a higher level of abstraction, it is transferred to another context. Student learning outcomes at the extended abstract level show prediction, generalisation, evaluation, theorising, hypothesising, creation, and or reflection.

solo_taxonomy

Here’s a newer representation of SOLO using the house as a metaphor.

solo-houses

SOLO included declarative and functioning learning verbs

image

Source: Hook (2011)

SOLO verbs are easy to align learning targets with an achievement standard

image

SOLO can also be used codified for student self-assessment, linking student cognitive level to the task requirement.

image

source: Hook (2011)

The above are few sample of many, on how SOLO can be easily adopted by teacher and students. IT creates a common school language and framework for instruction, learning, and assessment.

Pam Hook writes a succinct Critique of Bloom’s Taxonomy and details advantages of SOLO model over Bloom’s :

    Advantages of the SOLO model for evaluation of student learning
    • There are several advantages of the SOLO model over the Bloom taxonomy in the evaluation of student learning.
    • These advantages concern not only item construction and scoring, but incorporate features of the process of evaluation that pay attention to how students learn, and how teachers devise instructional procedures to help students use progressively more complex cognitive processes.
    • Unlike the Bloom taxonomy, which tends to be used more by teachers than by students, the SOLO can be taught to students such that they can learn to write progressively more difficult answers or prompts.
    • There is a closer parallel to how teachers teach and how students learn.
    • Both teachers and students often progress from more surface to deeper constructs and this is mirrored in the four levels of the SOLO taxonomy.
    • There is no necessary progression in the manner of teaching or learning in the Bloom taxonomy.
    • The levels can be interpreted relative to the proficiency of the students. Six year old students can be taught to derive general principles and suggest hypotheses, though obviously to a different level of abstraction and detail than their older peers. Using the SOLO method, it is relatively easy to construct items to assess such abstractions.
    • The SOLO taxonomy not only suggests an item writing methodology, but the same taxonomy can be used to score the items. The marker assesses each response to establish either the number of ideas (one = unistructural; _ two = multistructural), or the degree of interrelatedness (directly related or abstracted to more general principles). This can lead to more dependability of scoring.
    • Unlike the experience of some with the Bloom taxonomy it is relatively easy to identify and categorise the SOLO levels.
    • Similarly, teachers could be encouraged to use the 'plus one' principle when choosing appropriate learning material for students. That is, the teacher can aim to move the student one level higher in the taxonomy by appropriate choice of learning material and instructional sequencing.

Want more? Here is a link on  Problems with Bloom's Taxonomy (Invalid, unreliable, impractical)

Want to dive into SOLO model? Check out Pam Hook’s Website. Start with these two introductory books:

Posted on Monday, July 03, 2017 by Ammar Merhbi

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Monday, July 25, 2016

This blog post was first published by Larry Cuban at Schools That Integrate Technology: Silicon Valley | Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice:



As complex as it is for an individual teacher to integrate daily use of high-tech devices into routine classroom practices, technology integration at a school level is even more complex. A classroom teacher with 25-35 students can alter the structures of her classroom and create a culture of learning, achievement and mutual respect. Hard as that is, it is do-able. I and many others have profiled teachers who have created such classrooms.
Imagine, however, schools with 30 to 100 classrooms and getting all of those teachers to work together to create school-wide infrastructure and a learning, achieving, and respectful culture–across scores of classrooms that seamlessly integrates computers to achieve the school-site’s goals. A complex task with many moving parts that is fragile yet strong. It does happen but remains uncommon.
I have observed a few schools in Silicon Valley that have integrated new technologies across the entire school requiring teachers to teach lessons using particular hardware and software. These schools vary from one another but tout that they “personalize learning,” blend instruction, and differentiate their lessons to meet differences among students. Invariably, they say they use project-based instruction.  They have created both an infrastructure and culture that subordinates technology to the larger tasks of preparing children and youth to do well academically and socially, graduate, and enter college (and complete it) or enter a career directly.
Considering what I have observed in Silicon Valley, documented nationally in my studies, and retrieved from the research literature on such schools elsewhere in the U.S., what are the common features of such schools?
Here are eight different yet interacting moving parts that I believe has to go into any reform aimed at creating a high-achieving school using technology to prepare children and youth to enter a career or complete college (or both). Note, please, that what I have garnered from direct observation, interviews, and the literature is not a recipe that can be easily cooked and served. Listing features I have  identified is not an invitation to insert some or all of these into a formula for producing such schools near and far. These schools are rooted in their contexts and context matters.
These features are:
*Recruit and train teachers who have the subject matter knowledge and skills to work with students  before, during, and after the school day.
*Recruit and train school site leaders who have the expertise and skills to lead a school and be a pillow and sandpaper simultaneously with teachers, students, and parents.
*Students have access to non-academic subjects that cultivate the mind, heart, and sensibilities.
*Equip all students with the knowledge and skills not only to enter college,  persist through four years and get a bachelor’s degree but also have the wherewithal to enter a career immediately.
*Organize the school day, week, and month that provides students with sufficient time in and out of class to learn the prescribed material and core cognitive skills to master a subject, acquire the essential skills of planning and assessing their progress in each course they take, receive tutorial help when student skill levels are below and above par, and time for students to receive mentoring from teachers they trust.
*Build a culture of safety, learning, respect, and collaboration for both youth and adults.
*Create a decision-making process that is inclusive, self-critical, and strong enough to make further changes in all of the above.
*Do all of this efficiently within available resources.
Note the absence of new technologies in the features that I have listed. Why is that?
Simply because such schools containing these features have administrators and teacher who figure out when to use software to achieve desired outcomes, create an infrastructure to support staff in using new technologies, determine which new technologies efficiently advance students in reaching these goals, and create the conditions for easy, supported use of the hardware and software. Note, then, that computers and their software are subordinate to the overarching goals for students and adults in the school.
Summit schools, a charter network in Northern California, has been working and re-working a design containing these moving parts for nearly 15 years. Over that period, they have amended, deleted, and added program features as administrators and faculty learned what worked and what didn’t. The time span, the stability in staff, their awareness of context and shifting demographics all came into play as Summit leaders and faculty figured out what to do since 2003.
Over the past two months I have visited two of Summit’s seven charter schools in the Bay area and in those two schools have watched teachers across different academic subjects teach 90-minute lessons during what the schools call “project time.” I have also interviewed administrators.  Each school was part of a different district in Silicon Valley. While one of the schools had a separate building in its district well suited to its mission, scheduling, and space for students, the other school was located on a high school campus in another district where both students and teachers worked in a series of portable classrooms. Also each drew from different populations.*
The network of Summit charter schools has been written about often and positively (see hereherehere, and here). In all instances, these teachers I observed had integrated the software they had loaded onto students’ Chromebooks, the playlists of videos and links to articles for units that teachers created, and students’ self-assessment exercises into daily lessons with varying degrees of student engagement. The charter network claims that through theirPersonalized Learning Plan (also see here) teachers could give each student individual help while students negotiated their ways through academic content and skills. In the two schools, I observed students during 90-minute classes in different academic subjects working on teacher-chosen projects. Students were using their Chromebooks frequently to access PLP voluntarily and at teachers’ direction.
The cliched statement said over and over again by advocates of new technologies in schools: “It is not about technology, it is about learning,” captured what I saw. Overall aims for Summit students to acquire academic content, cognitive skills, “habits of success,” and the know-how allowing students to assess their own progress involved online work  before, during and after lessons. Clearly, the school did not have to use Chromebooks and extensive software to reach the schools’ overall goals and each student’s personal ones. The technology did enable, however, the process of learning to be more efficient, more timely, and  give real-time feedback to students.
The two Summit schools in very different contexts contained these features I listed above. While differences existed between the two schools in context and staffing, both have implemented these features as best they could. Creating and massaging these many features of the Summit Schools is no easy task. It is not done once; it is a process that is constantly monitored, assessed, and altered by site leaders and staff.  Thus, listing the essential features that mark such enterprises is not a blueprint for action; it is an after-the-fact synthesis of what I saw and not easily replicable for those who have dreams of “going to scale.” It is what emerged from such efforts over a long period of time and requires tender, loving care every day. The program is fragile and easily broken by inattention, changes in leadership and staff, and declining resources. May it continue to thrive.
___________________________
*Diane Tavenner, a founding teacher at Summit Prep and director of Summit Schools Network and Chief Academic Officer, Adam Carter–also a founding teacher at Summit Prep–picked the two schools. In both schools, I interviewed the principals (called Executive Directors), and they suggested various teachers I should visit. Because of scheduling difficulties, I could not see all of those recommended to me. So in both schools, I reached out to other teachers, introduced myself and asked them if I could observe their classes.  The nine teachers who permitted me to spend a 90-minute block with them taught English, social studies, science, and math. For readers who wish to see my published observations, see posts for March 13, 2016, March 16, March 21, March 23, March 29, April 1, April 6, April 12, April 18.

Posted on Monday, July 25, 2016 by Ammar Merhbi

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Monday, July 11, 2016

 

science-journal-htc-10-hero

Most tech giants (Google, Microsoft, Intel, Apple, HP…) are racing to contribute to the education domain by providing powerful free, mostly cloud based,  tools and resources, for students, teachers, schools, and universities. Most of them believe in education and the vast economic gains the world will reap when students are taught 21st century skills using technology to facilitate instruction and student created content. One of those leading tech giants is of course Google.

Google has entered the education domain years back but has only staunchly and gradually offered more tools and features when they started offering Google Apps for Education free for all educational institutions. Since then, Google has spent a lot of time and effort in developing tools to help students learn, educators facilitate, and schools lead into the 21st century learning paradigm.

Recently, and specifically in the ISTE 2016 convention, Google has updated and created new Google Tools that perhaps most educators are still not aware of. Here they are with no preference:

1. Google Expeditions

Bring your lessons to life with Google Expeditions. Cannot go on a school bus and explore the coral reef? No problem. Google Expeditions let your students immerse in a 3600  of virtual reality. Just imagine exploring coral reefs or the surface of Mars in an afternoon. With Expeditions, teachers can take students on immersive, virtual journeys. Google expeditions was offered for schools that apply for it in a pioneer program, but now it is available for everyone via its Google Expedition App. Teachers can add points of interest for students to explore during their virtual journey. The Google Expeditions can be 3D only with Google Cardboard however. You can also explore Google Expeditions Kits to further enhance student experiences. Teacher can build inquiry-based activities around Google expeditions before, during, and after the lesson.  Learn more about Google Expeditions and how to get started here.

 

2. Science Journal App

The Science Journal app allows you to gather data from the world around you., what we educators call “augmented reality”.  It uses sensors to measure your environment, like light and sound, so you can graph your data, record your experiments, and organize your questions and ideas. The key is to help students experiment, recreating the same experiment over and over using the same and variable conditions. Students use the app to record data and interpret results. Science Journal App was developed by Google to help students and teachers delve into their surroundings using inquiry-based approach. Teachers can set up driving questions to help students inquire. The app can be used in a lesson as part of a project based learning unit or as a standalone lesson. Google has also provided a Making with Science website that contains the App, activities, materials (if one wants to connect external hardware), and much more for teachers and students.

 

3. Google Arts and Culture

Google’s Arts and Culture Institute (There’s an App now) brings the world’s art to your fingertips. Let students discover artworks, collections and stories from all around the world like never before. Students get explore arts in museums around the world in virtual museum trips. Students can zoom in works of art close, real close, that a person with a naked eye present in the museum cannot. This will allow the teacher to guide students into questioning the techniques used for let’s say constructing a paint or unravel hidden icons. Student will have an all-museum view, inside and outside, they will also curate digital arts and exhibitions. In addition to arts, students can historic moments and world wonders. Go to t Google’s Arts and Culture Website to explore more.

 

 

4. Google Cast

Although not specifically a generic tool used for education, google cast lets you cast your favorite entertainment and apps from your phone, tablet or laptop right to your TV or speakers.For classroom use, the teacher or student can cast his screen to other tablets or phones using the Google Cast App. Go to Google Cast Website to Find out more.

5. Google Forms Quiz

I have published an earlier post on the new Google Forms Quiz here.

Posted on Monday, July 11, 2016 by Ammar Merhbi

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Finally, Google has added the Google Forms Quiz feature to its Google Forms. Now, instead of correcting students’ responses manually or use a script like Flubaroo, the Google Forms Quiz is now built in the Google Forms itself, and has so many great features that will make all teachers happy.

Here’s How to Create the Quiz

  1. Go to forms.google.com . Or go to your Google Drive then click New and then choose Forms
  2. From Google Forms Setting icon, click on Quizzes

settings

3. Change the Form template to a quiz. Then select the options that you prefer. You can have the results directly displayed to students or you can postpone the results after you do a manual review. You can also choose what results students can see (Missed Questions, correct questions, or/and point values). IT is also important to note that you if you need students to have only one response they need to be logged in their google Apps account or Gmail account. You need to select this option from “General Settings”. Also, if you want to shuffle questions, you need to select it under the “Presentation” option.

quiz template

choose preference

4. Add your question and choices. Please note that Google Quiz only works with Multiple choice, checkbox, and list questions.

 

choose question

5. Choose the correct answers and set the point value by clicking on the “Answer Key”. Select the correct answers.

nswer key

 

select ansers

6. Select the Feedback for Correct and Incorrect Answers. You can add links to additional resources to help students modify their thinking.

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Then click “Save”. Do not forget to click “add” once you add a link.

 

7. Click on the Eye icon to check how the form looks like for your students.

 

One thing google needs to add is the personalized answers to the incorrect choices, a feature found in Moodle that I highly appreciate. I think it is not too long before Google gradually turns Google Apps for Education full of LMSs features.

Posted on Thursday, June 30, 2016 by Ammar Merhbi

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Gold fish with shark flipWith Moodle 3.1 release in May, Moodle has really improved in it updates. We all know the myriad of updates Moodle has been with in the past couple of years due to coping with the exponential explosion of new web features and LMSs vendors. The Moodle 3.1 release includes many new features and improvements of earlier features. See below a video list of Moodle 31. overview and video explanation of new as well as improved features.

 

 

New and Updated Feature Include:

For Teachers

 

For Administrators

 

For All Users

 

One particular new feature that Moodle 3.1 has included is the Competency Based Education (CBE) Module. This is a great move from Moodle Headquarters as the current trend of education is for competency based. In addition to  linking courses to Competencies that students need to meet, CBE module includes an educational plan, a great feature the helps personalizing the experiential factor of learning and supporting the learners’ metacognition. In a later post, I will discuss how CBE feature potential can be maximized.

Posted on Monday, June 27, 2016 by Ammar Merhbi

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Saturday, January 16, 2016


"The Rise of Private International Schools" has been the hype phrase in the education "Galaxy" in recent years. Certainly, parents and their kids are opting more for international schools, with the hope that they receive a world class education (if they can afford the tuition fees anyway). However, to ensure these international schools offer what they claim, they are periodically reviewed by accreditation agencies. Typically, a school has to undergo the accreditation process starting with a self study and ending with the official accreditation evaluation team. Eventually, the team submits an exit report after their visit (which typically lasts few days) whether the school is accredited of not.
But there’s on more add-on to the accreditation process that has gradually been in place for the past decade. The school accreditation agencies now, more than ever, focus on technology integration in schools, as they believe that students should use technology to research, solve problems, communicate, and create authentic materials. The future is technology, and the future is here. I do agree that student technology use is instrumental if they wish to live and compete in the workplace. Our lives now revolve more than ever around technology. However, the school accreditation agencies have regrettably focused on the wrong facet of technology integration. This in turn, generally, contributes in the schools' heedless purchase of tech tools and gadgets to impress and lure. 
I've worked with some school accreditation agencies, and all of them (in their review of a traditional brick and mortar school) focus on technology in the classroom, and to a less extent on technology in school, and even much overlooked is out of school technology integration . Some have even developed a standard (with indicators) for technology integration. Below is one criterion of a classroom observation form that all accreditation review team members have to fill out. 





The problem with this view is that the classroom setting is considered as the sole place to use technology, and so they constructed their classroom evaluations on it. In this particular accreditation agency, the average rating of classroom technology integration among 34,000 classrooms visited around the world is 1.21 out of 4, which is extremely low. But should we base the evaluation on tech integration on only classroom, or even school use? In fact, a bulk body of research now confirms that classroom technology has  a negative impact on student learning. The OECD report (the first large scale comparative study) on students, schools, and computers shows that students in tech rich schools perform the worst in reading and mathematics as compared to students in tech-average schools.

Students who use computers moderately at school tend to be somewhat more skilled in online reading than students who rarely use computers. But students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in reading, even after accounting for students’ background.
On average, in the past 10 years there has been no appreciable improvement in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that have invested heavily in information and communication technologies for education.

Three significant interpretations of the findings

The reason is perhaps two-fold : technology setting and technology use.
1- Tech use (in the classroom) minimizes human touch, which improves deep learning. It is really common sense. Why would one be with his peers and his teacher in one room if there is no frequent face-to-face interaction. Communicative tasks and assignments should be done in class.

2- Use of 20th century teaching with technology is obtrusive. This is the perpetual problem in all schools. From teachers to admin, you can only find a couple of teachers in any given school that really uses 21st century teaching practices with technology.

3- Pedagogies for using technology properly for student achievement are fledgling.
 
On the other hand, the US Ministry of Education found out that student use of technology outside of the classroom or school (online and blended learning modes) have resulted in great student improvements.

So, next time the external review team tries to assess your tech integration solely on school or classroom technology, make sure they know that technology integration is not only confined within the classroom walls. In fact, it shouldn’t be ,for one of the key features that technology brings is student personalized learning, which unconfined by time and space. And, next time your school tries to purchase those Interactive Whiteboards, caution them on the reality of tech in schools in terms of student achievement, or at least suggest that they need to be data-informed and know whether there is a real return of investment.







Posted on Saturday, January 16, 2016 by Ammar Merhbi

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