On the way to drop my kids off at band camp yesterday morning, Obadiah Parker's cover of Outkast's "Hey Ya" came on Sirius radio. My sixteen year old daughter was amused by the stripped down version of this song and googled the singer from her phone. She learned that he was a songwriter from Arizona, he didn't use his real name, and his open mic night performance of this song had gone viral on YouTube several years ago.
Last night I was surfing around on YouTube and discovered the video below:
Apparently other people are obsessed with Hamilton too! What really excited me about this video was that a kid was so intrigued with the musical that he researched to find errors in the history of the story. He even quoted the playwright and linked the original interview.
These two events made me think about how our students use information to answer their own questions. When I was growing up we did not have instant access to the volume of information available now from any web-connected device. We had to go to a library to find answers to these questions. I think it is amazing that in 2016 my curiosity can be quenched with a simple Google search. However, I think this ready availability of information has made student lazy in the research process. Teachers and students need to consider more when planning and completing research units.
1. Complexity of questions - If a research project can be completed with a simple Google search, the complexity of that research is not good. A decade ago, David Loertscher wrote a book named Ban the Bird Units. He argued that students were not learning quality research skills when they are asked to find simple facts about any given thing, like birds or woodland animals. Of course, for elementary students to learn simple techniques, these units are important. However, if high school students are doing such research, they will not be prepared to answer the complex questions needed in higher education and the workforce.
2. Copyright - If a student is only trying to answer their curiosity, they are not concerned with copyright. If I see a person's name and want to know what they look like, a quick image search that finds copyrighted photos isn't hurting anyone. I wondered, I searched, I learned. But if those images are supposed to be used for a project and I do not check usage rights, there is a concern. Everything on the internet is not free to use and reuse even in an educational setting. Students either ignore or lack instruction on this fact. They need teaching and guidance on copyright issues. Even teachers have questions about copyright. Collaborate on lessons with your librarian to educate yourself and your students before starting that research project.
3. Quality of resources - Although my curiosity can be satisfied with Wikipedia, my AP English Research paper cannot be written from this resource. The internet is full of great information, but very little of it is vetted or reliable in an academic capacity. Students need to look deeper for answers to academic questions than Wikipedia or Answers.com. Teacher should require specific sources and work with their librarians to get access and training for the best research tools available for their content area.
Last night I spent two hours Pokemon hunting on the campus of Texas State University with my children. We were not the only ones. Students were everywhere!
My son was a first generation Pokemon fan having played the video games, collected the cards, and watched the cartoon when he was young. He knew everything about the app Pokemon Go and added a few interesting thoughts. Despite the crazy things you see reported online about the game, Pokemon Go has done some great things:
People are going outside and walking/riding/running to collect Pokemon, visit PokeStops, battle, and incubate eggs, etc. Case in point, my high school age daughters walked more than two miles hunting for Pokemon while they usually don't want to get out of bed.
People are exploring their surroundings. I had no idea there were so many significant features to Texas State University. Each one was a PokeStop where I collected things, but also explored areas of campus I had not visited before.
Pokemon is connecting generations. Many first generation players are now parents. Those parents are introducing the game to their children through this app.
Pokemon is connecting families. My only experience with Pokemon was as the mom of a player until now. I was surprised to find that all three of my kids (21, 16, & 14) were playing the game and wanted to spend two hours in the heat walking around a college campus. Together!
So the idea of gamifying education is not a new one. And neither is gamifying exercise.
Just last year, Laura Hearnsberger (@hearnsberger), who is the Coordinator of Innovative Programs for San Marcos CISD, presented a session for PE teachers in New Braunfels ISD on creating scavenger hunts with the Klikaklu app on the student iPads. While a teacher created scavenger hunt might be less sophisticated than an app like Pokemon Go, it would allow teachers to customize the exercise or route they want the students to use.
Or why not create a PBL that combines local History with exercise and make a walking scavenger hunt with certain mileage that takes the user past local historical sites with added information created by student historians. (I thought about this during a trip to New Orleans this summer. What a cool way to explore the French Quarter!) The possibilities are endless!
Several tragedies have happened this summer in our nation. As I read the media coverage of these events, I have noticed that many news outlets are going to social media for their stories. Whether they are printing the tweets of users with strong opinions or passing judgements on victims based on their posts (and posts of those connected to them), Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have become the primary sources for information.
I have spent quite a few hours in the car this summer. My soundtrack on these road trips has been the musical Hamilton. Listening to the powerful words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, I am reminded of a pivotal time in the founding of our nation when words had amazing power. Alexander Hamilton was known for his writings and sharing of ideas. However, if you really listen to the lyrics of the songs from Hamilton, you can learn a few things about how to use social media today.
1. "Talk less, smile more." - Although this line is attributed to Aaron Burr in the musical, it is a great lesson for all of us. Oversharing is not always a good thing. People are entitled to their opinions, but those opinions do not have to be published for the world to see. Many times it is best to keep things to yourself.
2. "I'm erasing myself from the narrative." - Eliza Hamilton sings these words after the revelation of the Maria Reynolds affair. She is referring to historians not deserving to know her feelings. Some things should be kept private. And many times you need to check your social media narrative and erase things that send the wrong message.
3. "Who tells your story?" - Throughout the show, Hamilton is obsessed with his contribution and the legacy he leaves behind. In the closing song, the company asks "Who tells your story?" And you have to wonder the legacy you are leaving behind. If your story is based solely on what you post on social media, is it a true picture of who you are, what you believe, and what you have accomplished. Does it tell your story in a truthful and honest way?
Ask yourself, "If I died today, what legacy am I leaving through my social media posts?"
At the end of the school year, a student came to the library asking for a book on John Laurens. She told me she had been listening to the music from Hamilton and was interested in this historical figure. We couldn't find a book, but used the Gale databases to find some information about him.
This week I have been road tripping and decided to listen to the soundtrack from Hamilton for myself. I was amazed! On my first trip stop, I spent hours researching the facts revealed in the songs. The opening song alone, "Alexander Hamilton", offers a succinct summary of the life of Hamilton in a mix of rap and hip-hop style. Below is a video of the show's creator Lin-Manuel Miranda performing an early version of the song:
A famous person project is a classic research project assigned by many teachers. The research is usually turned in via a poster, report, or PowerPoint. How boring! And old-school!!
Have those students create a rap like Lin-Manuel Miranda. Or a spoken word poem. Or a monologue. Collaborate with your English teachers to write the text. Plan a "Bringing History to Life" night and have the students perform and share their work. Invite the local newspaper or television station. Video these performances and share them on YouTube for others to see. Transform your students' learning from a paper project of regurgitated facts to a living testament to a person who contributed to the story of humanity.
Get inspired by Hamilton and make history live and breathe in your classroom.
So I just attended a workshop at Region 13 ESC led by Leslie Barrett (@lesliebarrett13) called Change Agent: Leading PD from the Library.
I am excited about adding Professional Development (PD) to the library next year. I used to do PD for a living, and loved that aspect of my career. And there is so much I want to share with my teachers.
The research that Leslie has done and my own experience reminds me how useless "drive-by" PD typically is. If you are a teacher, you have been required to attend a day long workshop at your school that was selected by your principal with no voice in what it was about. Many times, that session just checked the box for the admin that offered training whether or not it was relevant to the teachers or not. And I have been one of the PD providers that gets the call a month in advance asking me to throw something together so the admin can check that box. Totally not fun!! Not for the teacher forced to attend or the presenter who knows their audience had rather be anywhere else.
Effective PD must be ongoing and relevant. It cannot be a single 6 hour workshop on a topic of non-interest. We, as educators, need to rethink PD and look for ways to change traditional practices.
Where do you learn new things? Do you watch YouTube videos? Do you follow experts or relevant hashtags on Twitter? Do you read blogs or online articles? Do you read books? Do you create boards on Pinterest?
Personally, I do all of those things! I am an avid furniture refinisher. YouTube and Pinterest are my first spots for learning new methods and looking for project ideas. Many professionals use those same avenues to find resources for their careers. Why aren't we awarding credit for those PD activities? Why must we sit in a full day of face-to-face "sit and get" for it to "count"?
My ideas for offering PD in the library for the next school year are as follows:
1. Weekly Newsletter - I started sending a Smore every Monday to my staff and students. It included new books, great apps, and just cool online stuff. I will continue this practice but make it more structured based on Technology standards.
2. Tech Playgrounds - We have started a Makerspace in the library and would love for teachers to get some hands-on experience with these tools. I also think these afterschool sessions would be a great way to extend the learning from the ideas shared in the weekly newsletter.
3. Video tutorials - I will continue to make and share video tutorials. Whether it is a cool app, a new digital procedure, or a reminder of how things work, providing these resources for teachers is important.
4. Blended learning opportunities - Since we are a Google Apps for Education district, I would love to use Google Classroom to facilitate a PLC on campus. Maybe we do face-to-face sessions with the online discussions. Maybe we collaborate online. Maybe I flip the sessions and teachers submit projects through the tools Google provides. I think this can organically evolve as we give it a try.
The most important thing is that we get started offering powerful PD. Where will you start?