Apollo 13 Follow Up

Silver Franklin Mint Apollo 13 (reverse) 1970

Yesterday I tried the Apollo 13 activity in my Ed Tech and Design course. It didn’t go exactly as planned, but this was extra so it wasn’t really my priority. After reviewing the expectations and deadlines for all the final projects for the course, only two students had everything done and we able to participate. So Anna and Kelli were my guinea pigs. With only one group doing this I’m not able to see how they applied their knowledge and skills differently, which would have been interesting, but I was able to glean some insights from their final product.

Setting the Stage:

I first wanted to know if they knew anything about Apollo 13 either the movie or real life and neither were super familiar with it so after quickly and briefly reviewing what happened to set the context, we watched this short clip to set the stage for what they had to do. Then I gave them the task.

The Task:

  • Teach me how to use social media with children using PowerPoint
  • You have the rest of this class period to get it done (About 40 minutes)
  • Caveat: It has to be standalone once it starts

The Result:

After they had their task, I sent them on their way and didn’t talk to them until the end of class. You can view their final product here. (Shared with their permission)

My Thoughts:

What I liked about this activity separate from how I implemented it was that it allows the learner to have control of what they cover and how they cover it. For example, I wanted them to teach about using social media, yet I didn’t define what that meant. They came up with Twitter and using it in a 3rd grade context. Specifically to their project, I liked how they took a process approach to using Twitter. I also liked how they used other websites in their instruction. Rather than creating a lot of different slides to explain how to sign up for Twitter, they send the viewer to other resources to get that information. I also liked the cybercitizenry aspect to their product. There were numerous references to how to stay safe, what information to keep private, and how it will be used.

What I wished we could have done is have multiple groups try this. I’m interested how students would take different directions with the task. I do have one more day so perhaps I’ll give this a try tomorrow, but I’m still trying to decide. I also wish we could have had a discussion around what they came up with. I’d have the students in the class try to determine what Anna and Kelli were trying to do.

As I conclude my reflection, what I like about this project is that it’s simple and so is the product. Sure it could have been more complicated, but it didn’t need to be and given the time constraints it couldn’t be. As I think about the knowledge and skills teachers, especially new ones, need when it comes to the use of educational technologies, having the skill to generate products like these are critical to making larger, more impactful projects happen. Perhaps the goal of something like this is to be a self-paced resource for students to use as they connect with people from around the world to discuss and improve the lives of others in their local communities. This isn’t the main event, but it’s helpful getting there.


Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc


PBL, TPACK, and the Doctoral Class

Yesterday I “presented” on Shulman’s Pedagogical Content Knowledge, or PCK (1986), and Mishra and Koehler’s Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge, or TPACK (2006), in my doctoral class.  Every student in the course picks a scholar and does a 75 minute presentation on that scholar’s work.  My scholar was Lee Shulman and my focus was on PCK, which by proxy allows me to focus on TPACK which is where my interests really lie.  Many of the presentations thus far have been very teacher-centric where one of my peers does a nice PowerPoint on their scholar and we ask them questions.  However, that is the opposite of what I believe good teaching should be so I went with a different approach.  I opted for project based learning, or PBL.

It’s important for me that everyone is engaged during a lesson, which is what I view these presentations.  We are teaching each other about our scholar.  So doing a PowerPoint just wasn’t in the cards for my presentation.  I had the license to do whatever I wanted so I went down the PBL route.  I used the Buck Institute’s Project Planning Form to complete the lesson plan for my presentation and here’s what I’ve learned after going through this for the first time in a higher education setting.

First, preparation is no less important given the higher education setting.  One thing I know I could have done better was to prepare more for my lesson.  I had my peers creating a professional development plan for schools that I work with to improve the quality of their teaching with technology.  PCK and TPACK were to serve as the foundation of the PD plan.  Beyond that, I gave them free license to do whatever they wanted.  This is where my mistake was.  I should have provided them with key areas they needed to address or the basic structure of a PD plan.  I’m working with both full time educators and full time grad students who aren’t necessarily focusing on K12 education.  Initially, there was confusion of what they needed to do and how they should do it.

Autonomy is a good thing, if you have the time to do it.  I forgot this concept and it ate up a lot of the time I had planned for my peers to work on their project.  However, what I did learn is that giving students autonomy does require them to think and engage.  There were times last night when it was so quiet that it hurt.  I resisted talking to the point that I was beginning to worry my performance was suffering and then self preservation kicked in.  But once they got brainstorming ideas and getting the main components of the framework out on the table, there was a clear enough path to start moving forward.

I also learned that when doc students are asked to do group work, you might have to walk around the room and pick their jaws up from the floor!  I had a feeling that they wouldn’t be prepared to do something this intense, but I wanted to push them to think differently about what constitutes effective teaching.  Too often we are stuck listening to the professor for three hours, and only occasionally do we as the individual get the chance to talk.  I think to an extent that is the case in both of the courses I’m in right now, but the great part is that if we want to say something, we simply speak up.  While I like this about my classes, and to an extent I’m glad they are that way, I am usually left craving more interaction with my peers.  What does the superintendent in my class think about this, or what about the non-K12 educators in the room?  I want to hear their perspectives and how they see what we are learning about in their contexts.

But I also learned that as doc students, we rise to the occasion!  I was happy with how well the conversations played out in my presentation.  I wish I could have been a larger player in those conversations, but I recognize that isn’t my role when I’m the teacher.  Every group was having rich discussion and I tried to guide them best I could to where I wanted to end up.  I’m not sure if I got there last night, at least maybe not completely, but I think I made great strides as an instructor in letting my “students” take control of their own learning.  Then at the end of the class when we came together to discuss their ideas, I was able to add my own two cents.

Finally, I learned that PBL is a great way to have your students help you tackle a problem.  My problem is bad teaching with technology.  Last night I was able to use the collective knowledge of everyone in the room to create the beginning of a PD plan that I can use.  At a more practical level, they essentially gave me the outline for writing my final paper for the course, which will likely take another spin as I look to publishing in the future.  This is the beauty of PBL.  It’s authentic.  That one simple feature is what makes the difference.  There is something tangible that is achieved through PBL.  My example is at the highest level of education, but that doesn’t mean PBL doesn’t work at the lower ends as well.  It all depends on your context.

I’ll close with one final reflection.  As I was walking out of the building, I was thinking to myself, that probably could have gone better.  I wasn’t sure if I really accomplished what I wanted to, but then as I was making my way to my car, one of my classmates stopped me and said that he really enjoyed what we did tonight.  His school will be providing every student an iPad next year and figuring out how they are going to handle the presence of this new technology in the classroom is something they’ve been struggling with.  He said that creating a PD plan was precisely the kind of thing that his school needed to do to really get a handle on the issues of TPACK that will be facing them in the coming years.  This left me feeling a sense of vindication.  It gave me a new outlook on my performance, and even though there were things I would certainly change for next time, I believe I was still effective.  I failed, but it is through that failure that I succeed.  This is why being a reflective educator is so important.  We need to think about the actions we’ve taken and be critical or ourselves.  Sometimes this will be painful, but that’s a good thing, because then we can improve.

ePortfolios: What’s the point?

frustrated man

The other day I came across an article in my Twitter feed about ePortfolios and how they can be done using Google Sites (for the life of me I can’t find it anymore).  I immediately thought of how many of the teachers I used to work with loathed the inevitable process they would have to go through every three years.  Their biggest complaint was that regardless of what they did, they would need to change maybe one or two things and that was it.  There was little formative feedback for them to improve their practice.  What’s more, some teachers didn’t want to receive feedback of any kind, because they were happy with how they were teaching.  I can only assume (yes, I know, very dangerous) this is the process many schools go through, but I fail to see the benefit of doing so.  This leads me to ask, does the platform a teacher submits their portfolio through really make much of a difference?  Isn’t it what’s inside the portfolio that matters most?  Wouldn’t it be more useful to spend time discussing with teachers how to reflect on their practice and how to improve their teaching, rather than on changing the way they submit evidence of the teaching?

I have had some experiences with portfolios and eportfolios in my previous position as a technology director for a K12 school district.  I was the person calling for more electronic portfolios, even though an electronic portfolio doesn’t get to the heart of what makes a good teacher good.  I did what many have done before me and countless more will continue to do after me, I taught the how without putting in a context for why we should be doing this.  I assumed that it was inherently good to do an eportfolio because it was new and used technology.  While since then I feel as I have grown to be able to say we need to talk about what good teaching looks like and how we can make teaching and education stronger as a whole, I feel, and fear, many have not.

An eportfolio may be the new way of showing how well we teach (I actually think it is due to the types of media that we can and do use in the classroom), but it is the same busy work only in a different platform.  The attitudes many feel are the same and the results are almost assuredly the same.  I think reflection is the most important thing an educator can do, because it makes us think.  It makes us think about what we do everyday and whether or not we are making a difference.  However, too many people don’t reflect and we find ourselves looking for ways to improve a broken system (RTTT, Superman, etc.).  I think having the large, overarching conversations at the state or the national level is important, but maybe it’s time we take some time to think about what we are doing so we can figure out where we need to go.

It all starts with reflection.  Take some time, whether it be every day, week, or month, and think about what you’ve been doing.  Have you been making a difference?