Thursday, May 28, 2015

Using Public Data Explorer to show the significance of historical events

Online data visualizations can show things that are interesting.  Watching the life expectancy or fertility rate over time in different countries can bring students to question what was happening in that period of time.

Why introduce students to a topic with a story?  Have students look at the data with public data explorer.  By watching the visualizations of the data you can guide students to ask questions about why data points are moving, then have students find the answers to these questions through the wonder of the internet.

Today, I had students looking at wealth distribution versus GDP over time.  I just wanted students to come up with trends.  Students started by following a country and noting when something interesting occurred on the graph.  They then noted the year and search the internet for events occurring in or around that country.

After all students collected historical and graphical data, students looked for trends across all information submitted by other students, regarding other countries.  Students looked for general correlations.  Nothing that we found would be considered ground-breaking, but through the process students learned about many countries and seemed to understand the idea of distribution of wealth as it refers to the economic health of a country.

It was a fun lesson and a great way to reinforce reading graphs of complex information and data in context.  It was interesting to see that the students following Japan felt that every economic disaster correlated to an earthquake.  They later found out that every event in Japan correlates to an earthquake.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

My Maps

So I have been playing around with My Maps lately.  Kind of a forgotten Google thing.  I know there are those that use it, but I think it is a fun tool.  If you haven't tried it, here are some things you can do with it.  If you have no idea what it is, My Maps is a place where you can personalize maps with locations, details, names, and pictures.  You can also share your maps with others.

If you have never been there, Google "My Maps" and it should show up near the top.

Things to do on My Maps
  • Add Layers - had a teacher add a layer for each of the European Explorers, so the points would be colored differently.
  • Share the map with students - Rather than color and draw the route, allow students to plot a voyage on the map using points and lines.
  • Add Points - click the point, then place it on the map.  You can name the point, add pictures from the internet, type in information, add links to other information, etc.
  • Add Lines - Connect points to show a route.  Connect multiple points (like the Indiana Jones maps if you remember those).  Name the route and add details about it.
You could use My Maps to trace the routes of explorers, military movements during wars of the past, travels of literary characters, and I am sure there are many more.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Professional Development to Professional Learning Network

Fairly recently I became involved in the twitter community of educators.  Hashtag chats and networking with others has been fun and I have learned quite a bit from 140 character blurbs.  Beyond Twitter, I have read blogs and watched video.  In each of these, I feel a lack of connection to those I work with.  Being a teacher who consistently works with others, the pseudo-interaction with others is not necessarily enough to make the interaction personal.

I have taught PD, worked with others to create learning walks, continued discussions with teachers about best practice and applications in their class.  I have built connections that allow me to see the transformation in another class and also to learn how teachers evolve in their learning journey.  Where twitter and blog reading lacks the personal connection, this time of deep professional development lacks the number of teachers.

What is the missing link?  How can professional development remain personal, but also impact a larger number of teachers?  How can it incorporate the fun of gamification, the focus of content groups, and innovative best practice?

I am currently working on a professional development network.  One in which teachers traverse a series of levels.  From learning technology skills, to observing teachers at their school, discussing practice with teachers at other sites, and then inviting others into their class and discussing practice and sharing techniques.

The idea is to start by first learning, then slowly expanding the professional learning network (PLN) to the school site and beyond.  Discussing with teachers using video conferencing.  Sometimes a PLN withing your department or school is large enough.  Other times, you need to move beyond that network to find those who are willing to push the boundaries too.  That is what I am hoping to create.  If you are a teacher who wishes to to know more about this or are interested in hearing more about this, leave a comment on the blog or pm me on twitter, @thedrmorgan and I will let you know how to get involved and will probably ask you what you think.

I have a lot built out now, but as I work through this, I would enjoy feedback from others.  Thanks.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Tools for digging into Text

There are many tools out there for digging into text in the classroom.  Here are my 4 favorites for getting into text with students.

4. NewsELA - I have had some fun with NewsELA, but I feel, as a high school teacher, that this is geared toward elementary school classes.  The content is great and I like the idea that you can differentiate by allowing students to choose different levels of difficulty for articles.  This site has a class feature where teachers can create classes and students can join the class with a code, this allows teachers to assign readings to classes.

3. ThinkCerca - A great tool that has current content, class creation features, and text separated by subject.  One nice feature is the ability to choose assignments and also view them as the students will view them.  Many of the articles have 3 components that offer support for weaker readers, ELL's,  those without extensive vocabularies, and comprehension/critical thinking assessment.  The components attached to the readings gear students and classes to not only take the readings at face value, but also dig deeper and think about impacts, themes, and relationships to the article.  I really enjoy this cite, but almost wish that teachers could customize the vocabulary section.  With internet connectivity, students could find and define more difficult words.  ThinkCerca is great, but the lack of customization makes it number 3.

2. ListenCurrent - Ever hear a discussion on NPR and think, "that would be great in class." is where you find those things.  Although it does not have the assessment piece that ThinkCerca has, I like that students can listen to the stories and read them as well.  That choice marks this up as something the assists and develops language learning and bridges to the acquisition of academic language learning.  The articles and audio are great resources to catapult discussions, lead into themes discussed in literature, and relate content to current issues.  Teachers can create classes and students can join the class to receive assignments.

1. DocentEDU - Although I think this is the newest/youngest product of the 4 I am reviewing, DocentEDU does offer one thing that the others lack.  Customizability.  Each of the other products is limited to the content curated on the websites.  DocentEDU allows you to go to any source of text and turn it into an assignment.  There are so many sources of text that curating all of them is not a feasible request for any one product to do.  With DocentEDU you can go to a website and turn it into a docent (text assignment).  You can use to find articles from other areas and add discussions, questions, notes, and highlighting to the articles and assign them to the class for students to read and use.  Generate discussions in the middle of a document, highlight evidence in support of a point and ask a thought provoking question.  Highlight difficult words and define them or ask students to define them.  I have had more fun with this tool and have seen it grow so much over the last month.  If you haven't, give it a try.  One big downfall, at the moment you can only be a student or a teacher.  When I test these things out, I like to be able to be a teacher and a student to get an idea of what both see, but I have been told that may come soon.