Webb of Thoughts

personal blog of kyle webb

Tag: learning

Down the Rabbit Hole

When I embarked on my learning project for ECI 831, I figured the research portion would be the easiest part of the entire process.

Little did I know, there are endless resources online from DIYers. I spent hours upon hours clicking through websites, finding myself opening up anything that looked somewhat interesting. The websites that I found most useful were Instructables, Makezine, and videos on YouTube. Soon, my browser looked like this (this is even after I closed 20 or so tabs). Note the mess of tabs I had open.

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Every where I turned online I was finding something that I could take and apply to my project. I was finding inspiration everywhere and valuable resources galore. I couldn’t stop myself.  If it looked like there was even the tiniest chance there might be something useful I Ctrl+clicked the link (shortcut to open in a new tab, for those that don’t know!).

It was clear that I needed a better way to manage this. Most links had something I could benefit from, but not all of them were going to be essential for my project. I considered using Diigo (my preferred social bookmarking tool), Google Docs, and PearlTrees as spaces to collect the link I found most useful. Ultimately, I settled on the tried-and-tested Pinterest to house those links most valuable to this project. This decision was based largely on the fact that so many educators swear by Pinterest, but I have been reluctant to fully engage with the tool.  This project will prove to be an opportunity to put it to the test with a meaningful project.

Here is the current state of my Learning Project pin board, which I will continue to trim down and add to as I work through the project.

Follow Kyle’s board Learning Project on Pinterest.

I think it’s safe to say that at some point or another, we’ve all sat down to watch a quick YouTube video, and looked to the clock 2 hours later and wonder what happened. We’ve all fell down this rabbit hole.  This is a very real part of trying to research and learn online. If I were to repeat this part of my learning project again, I would limit myself to a certain amount of time to search aimlessly online for resources that may be useful. Following this broad, open-ended search period, it would be important to focus your researching to very specific things that you want to learn. Aimlessly searching, hoping for the “answer” to fall into your lap, will not get you very far.

The next step for me is to do some much more focused research. I’ll be looking at options for the top of my coffee table, legs, and what sorts of tools I’ll need.

Photo credit: Down the rabbit hole! (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Learning for the Sake of Learning

For my EC&I 831 course, I have been given a gift: Learn anything you want.

There’s a little more to it than just learning something: we need to use open, online resources and, most importantly, share our progress as we go. Being an advocate for Genius Hour in the classroom, this sounded like an amazing opportunity and finally an excuse to justify the time it would take me to explore something on my own time. I’ve been thinking about doing my own personal genius hour ever since I read John Spencer’s blog post Teachers need genius hour, too. In his post, John suggests that we become stronger teachers, and gain a better appreciation for the struggle of failures and learning – something that I think many of us advocate for in our classrooms, but have a difficult time sharing with our students.

My initial excitement for this learning project opportunity soon turned into panic. Five days passed and I was further than ever at deciding what I wanted to explore. Every time I sat down to try to narrow down my ideas for my project, my list seemed to grow by a few more items. Before I knew it, I had a list of just over 50 ideas. Luckily, I’ve seen this problem before. I finally understood why my students had such a difficult time picking their Genius Hour topics. And, even though I had never been in this position, I knew I needed to outline some rules to narrow down the search.

My rules:

Make something.
Something I have never made the time to do.
Unplug. No screens.

My list of about 50, quickly cut down to three. Ultimately, none of those three were enough to get me excited to learn and write a blog post about it (hence the delayed start to this process). I settled on an idea that is simple, challenging, and meets all of my rules.

I’m going to build a coffee table from scratch.

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A quick Google search showed me that there are plenty of websites and videos already out there. As far as social media goes, it looks like there are plenty of communities and forums ready to share and welcome a rookie. I’ll be checking out Make and Instructables as I try to figure out sort of shape my coffee table will take. Reddit has a large community of DIYers sharing projects and tips quite often, r/DIY. I also know some people who are willing to share tools and space with me as I try to figure this out.

My very rough plan for this learning project will be:

Research, research, research. Find out as much as I can about different designs, tools, and materials that could be used. I’ll find an open tool that I can collect and share ideas and resources that I find.
Make my own design. Hopefully, I can use a free tool like Google Sketchup to make a digital plan, but I’ll explore other options here as well.
Learn the tools. Spend some time practicing different cuts, drills, and whatever other skills I’ll need.
Start building. This will be interesting. I just hope to keep all my fingers.
Fail. Fix. Repeat. This is optional, but I fully expect that I will make a bunch of mistakes in the building process or things won’t go quite as planned.

Needless to say I’m looking forward to diving in and am thankful for the opportunity to learn for the sake of learning. Stay tuned for more!

Photos from Unsplash: Mikesh Kaos and Mathieu Nicolet

Meaningful Assessment is Hard

One thing I’ve learned in my first year of teaching is that real, meaningful assessment is not easy.

It’s easy for me to make multiple choice tests, maybe with some true/false or matching questions.  I could probably grade more than one a minute once I got going with them.  I may even be faster if I had a scantron type machine.

But when I assess this way, I don’t actually find out what my students know.  I get a number, a meaningless number.  One that’s supposed to tell me and my students what they know and learned.  But, it doesn’t tell me anything.

To be able to find out what my students have learned and if they actually understand anything we have done, it takes a lot more time.  The questions take time and responses are unique to each student.  It’s a difficult process and takes up the most limited and valuable resource teachers have: time.

Real assessments produce more than a number, they give the students feedback on what they can improve on and what they were strong at.  They should guide students in where to take their learning next.  It should show students where they can improve, in very specific, detailed ways.  Good assessments should give me, the teacher, a peek into my students mind and see how and why they’re doing/saying what they are.

Consequently, they should do the same for me.  They should show me where I need to improve as a teacher and guide me in differentiating for my students.

I’m yet to find a multiple choice test that can do this.  I’m not sure they exist.

Having struggled with my own time management lately, I understand the appeal to use easy-to-grade assessments.  But, we need to continue to find meaningful, valuable assessments that actually matter to our students learning (more than just to give them a number for their grade).  I don’t know when or if I’ll ever find an assessment I’m happy with, but that’s my goal.

Photo Credit: COCOEN daily photos via Compfight cc

This is not learning.

It’s currently the end of trimester and time for finals at my school.

Suddenly, all of the calm and motivated students I have taught this year have become something completely different.  Learning is out the window.  All they care about right now is what is going to be on their tests or final assessments.  The peace and order in my classroom has turned into near chaos with the looming final assessments.

I even have students in my classes where I’m not giving a final exam stressing out.  I’m not going to pretend to understand that one, but I can only imagine it stems from the stress overflowing from other courses.

They openly admit that all they care about is getting their desired grade.  They tell me they won’t sleep for the next week and they are clearly completely miserable.

It kills me to see my students being driven to this.

I don’t know why anyone would want to put this sort of unhealthy stress on a teenager.  If this isn’t a strong enough reason to reconsider whether we should be giving final exams to assess our students learning, I don’t know what will be.

This is not learning.

Photo Credit: thekevinchang via Compfight cc

Maybe Skateboarding Can Save Our Schools

Now that I’m getting into the full swing of being a real teacher, I have decided it’s time to get back to blogging (wish me luck and watch for more to come!).

I have always been a fan of TED talks and the thinking that always occurs when I watch them.  A few days ago, I watched the following talk by Dr. Tae at TEDxEastsidePrep.

 

 

Dr. Tae brilliantly illustrates many of the thoughts I’ve had floating in my head ever since I entered the field of education four years ago.  I have never skateboarded, but I can honestly tell you that some of the best learning I have ever done was on my own outside of a school, for many of the same reasons he mentioned.

In skateboarding, failure is normal and expected.  In our schools, perhaps it’s sometimes normal, but it is never expected. And when it happens, it is always such a disappointment.  A disappointment to the student, to the teacher, to the school, to the family supporting the student outside of the school.  Our schools are so anti-failure, it is no wonder kids don’t want to be there.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think any student wants to fail.  But I think every kid, in some way or another, wants to learn and succeed.  Part of that process is and must be failure.  Dr. Tae says he tried the trick 58 times before he got it, meaning he failed 57 times before he got it.   And get this, after he perseveres and succeeds, he can repeat it consistently.   When was the last time you heard of anyone failing that many times in a school and then being successful?  We don’t let it happen.  In many cases if you fail once, that’s it.  Failing is essential to learning, and we don’t let it happen in our schools. Why not?

The failing I’m talking about here is not the less-than-50% or 60% we’re used to in our schools.  When I say failing here, I mean attempting something and not accomplishing your desired result to complete satisfaction.  When he shared his experience of learning the trick, I would say that he failed each and every time until he got it. The almosts, not-quites, and not-even-closes were considered the same.  They were an opportunity to learn something new each time until he was able to perfect it.  Why isn’t a learning process like practically non-existent in our schools?

As soon as we start slapping grades on meaningful learning, it becomes insulting.  When real learning is occurring, grades don’t fit.  They don’t make sense.  Real-time meaningful feedback is about the best teachers can do.  And it’s something I’m not sure enough of our teachers are encouraged or even allowed to do with the current emphasis on generating a grade for our students.  If we can steer our teachers efforts away from trying to give a grade that makes some sense and towards feedback that allows our students to learn, I think we’ll be heading in the right direction.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great things going on in a lot of great schools.  But, like Dr. Tae, I think if we start looking at real learning outside of schools, we can start looking at how to bring that learning into our schools. Or maybe we take our schools out to where real learning occurs.

 

Photo Credit: Rev Dan Catt via Compfight cc

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