Definition Confusion

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I am a firm believer that definitions to words matter. It matters that we are on the same page when we talk about important topics. It matters that I understand what you are saying to me and to do so I need to understand the vocabulary you are using. What I am realizing as I begin to look at the instructional design world is that the definitions of certain words change ever so slightly in different industries. I am going to give a couple of examples from the past couple of months.

Formative Assessment

In the K-12 teacher world, formative assessments are used to make sure the information you conveyed is being understood by the students in your classroom. The way I have always understood it as a teacher was making sure the students are understanding the lesson. In this case, we are looking at the students learning as the potential issue, so if the message is being lost we look to things like scaffolding activities to help their understanding. If enough students are not comprehending the material, the teacher would look at reteaching material, but the main issue (from my point of view) is the student’s ability to understand the content.

In the instructional design world, formative assessments are looking at the instructional process to understand why the training effective or not. This is a big difference. Instructional designers moving from education might be looking at the learners not the training process as the issue. While that might be true, we should also be looking at the process to see if that is where the problem lies.

“Microlearning”

I have heard this term during my research into instructional design and have heard multiple definitions for the term. What it amounts to is small bits of learning that people can self-select to participate in voluntarily. This also seems to be very fashionable currently in the instructional design world. The technology that seems to be driving this is Twitter. Learning through Twitter chats seems to be a big part of microlearning.

I have been aware and (lightly) participating in Twitter chats for almost a decade. I am not trying to brag, but speak to how long it has been around. I am not sure that microlearning is drastically different than participating in learning through Twitter. Understanding that can help understanding the point of microlearning.

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A Tale of Two Degrees

Education

I enjoy the educational process. I always have. I loved being a student growing up. Don’t get me wrong I loved my summer break, but by the end of it I was ready to get back into school. Some of this was because I prefer routine to true freedom, but some of it was because I really like to learn new things. I have continually sought out new learning opportunities as I have grown up. Public school, college, graduate school…I even saw earning my Eagle Scout growing up as an opportunity to learn new things (do you have a Dentistry merit badge?). In the past few year, my wife attended an online program for a Master’s Degree and I have recently begun an online Master’s Degree and I’m noticing some stark differences.

To ‘module’ or not to ‘module’. One of our programs was more of a pathway you had to follow. Your program was given to you a piece at a time and when you were done with one class you moved on to the next on in a specific order. The other program is more like a traditional college degree tract. You have essential classes everyone must take and you have electives you can choose from that all add up to the number of hours you need to graduate. I don’t know which one I would consider better or worse. The pathway model seems to be more straight forward and has the potential to be well thought out. It does not allow the student to customize their experience should they want to. The traditional model is flexible, but going through a course catalog could be considered confusing and doing so online could be considered either a time saver or doubly confusing.

Specific job or opening doors. My wife’s degree was setting her up to have a very specific job. She met all the requirements at the end of her degree to be able to hold a counselor position at a public school. If she wanted to have a principle position she would need to add more coursework to her degree, anything other than school counselor is not covered. My degree is more general in nature and allows me to open the door to a lot of possibilities. To some degree, educational jobs need any Master’s Degree, but I feel like my particular degree allows me to apply for a variety of jobs. Which is better depends on your point of view. If you know exactly what you want to do you might opt for a degree that points you at that job. If you would prefer to work in an industry rather than a specific job, maybe a more general degree is for you.

My goal here is not to critique university programs (which is why neither program is mentioned by name) but to point out the very different online degrees that have been pursued in my house. I think both have value, but it is definitely something to look at when deciding what program to join should you want to. Continuing education is not always necessary, but it does come in handy depending on your situation.

Responsible Technology

Education

As I was participating in an online discussion during a previous week of graduate school, I got into an interesting conversation with a peer. They thought that in a situation where a district goes 1:1 with technology, the district was under no obligation to make accommodations for students without internet access outside the home. This got me pondering for what solutions might be out there for students without access and whether the district is obligated to help with such a problem.

As far as options for students who do not have access to the internet in their current living situation, I think their options are:

  • Show up to school early or stay late to use their internet access
  • Go to a business that provides internet access for their patrons
  • Go to a friend’s house where they could get their work done
  • Ask for a paper copy of assignments to be completed at home

While students who do not have access do have viable options for the use of the internet outside of the school building I would argue that could be difficult for some students.

My thinking is that if a school or district is going to go 1:1 for their instruction it is also incumbent upon them to work with the community around them to help provide solutions to work on their school work outside of class. One way to do this would be to offer extended library/study hall options for students to use the school internet. Another option would be for the school district to collect the information of local businesses that provide internet access to help families find access when needed and work with other local businesses to extend the number of facilities the students could go to if needed. It is great marketing for local businesses and is a way for the community to poor back into the schools

These are just some quick thoughts on how the community could work to help all students have access to the internet to aid in their education, but I’m sure there are plenty of other models that could work. To me it just makes sense that if school districts are going to put requirements on students that could limit their access to education outside of the school they should also be working on providing fair and equal access for all their students to be on equal footing.

History and AR

Education

I would like to think that I am a tech savvy teacher. Tech knowledge and history do not always go together, but I think they should. When I talk to people about their history teachers growing up, they either loved them or hated them…often for the same reasons. The stories. Some people gravitated to their sage of a history teacher spinning a yarn about times long ago. While others remember the drudgery of listening to lectures about facts they do not care about.

While history still has its fair share of the “sage on the stage” teachers, technology has allowed us to give students a more tangible way to see history. One thing I have struggled with in history is giving students a way to interact with people or objects in history.

With this as my backdrop, I walked into a training this summer about augmented reality. Most of us have at least heard the term ‘virtual reality’ or VR, which is using technology to completely change the setting of the person wearing it. AR is a bit different, it attempts to add something to our current setting to interact with. The game Pokemon Go would be an example of AR at work. The game superimposes pokemon on top of the video feed of your surrounding.

In the training I attended, they showed us how various AR apps change the environment using our phones. From changing the language we saw in a picture to showing what the next step in an assembly line, AR has the ability to change the way we train the learners we are teaching.

I took what I learned at the training and attempted to put it to work using an app called Metaverse. Using their interface, I created a game to help the students in my class learn the differences in the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists in early United States history. Take a look and let me know what you think?

Frontier House

Education

I got introduced to a new video that overlaps with my U.S. History class. I try not to be over video history teacher, although sometimes I feel like I’m one of the few. I will use videos when they are better able to convey the message I’m trying to get across than other means. An example would be the tarring and feathering scenes in John Adams. I can talk about tarring and feathering, but showing the scene is much more powerful (please be aware that you need to use an edited version of this scene…you have been warned).

I have long used resources like Crash Course US History, Hip Hughes History, John Adams, and America: The Story of US. All of these play their roles. With that being said, I’m always on the lookout for something new. In this case, I was introduced to the PBS series Frontier House that ran a few years ago now.

Let me set the scene, PBS gets people to apply to give up their modern life essentials and live like the pioneers of westward expansion. They have to build their own houses, farm their own food, and live like pioneers. They film it and get reactions to what is happening in the form of a reality TV show. I won’t ruin anything in case this sounds like a good watch, but it is hilarious.

I’m using this in my classroom as an end of the year “could you live like the settlers” wind down activity. Most of my students think they could do this, but after watching the videos most are now convinced they cannot.

The only downsides to these videos are that there are a could of scenes that make me uncomfortable showing to my middle school students (like less than a minute and easy to skip) and the fact that I needed to buy them on DVD to show.

Review Blues

Education

It’s that time of year again. We have come to the end of our history content and now we are knee deep in the process of reviewing everything all over again. What about this time of year fills me with such dread? Why is it that I enjoy my job all year to get to the end and feel so differently?

The first thing is that the end is near and everyone is looking ahead. Summer is so much fun. Students and teachers alike are ready to be done and free to do anything but be in school. I wish I could say that this doesn’t apply to me, but it does. My patience is running thin for particular students and I am ready for an extended break to recharge my batteries. I wouldn’t necessarily call this an excuse, but more a reality at the end of the school year. I wouldn’t call it human nature, I would call it a part of the life cycle of the school year. The question is, could this be different next year? I’m not sure.

The second thing is that there is state testing involved in the stress of the season. I do not talk about the test, and I don’t want my students to be stressed about a test. Does that mean there is zero stress? No. I am a duck riding on the surface of the water…everything looks calm, but the duck’s feet are kicking wildly under the water. My caffeine intake tends to skyrocket, I’m shorter with students than I need to be, and I feel like I’m always tired. Could this be different? Sure.

I’m trying to be proactive this year. I’ve started taking evening walks now that the weather is cooperating. I’m reminding myself of a mantra a previous principle had “Choose your attitude.” I cannot control the students in my class, but I can control how I act and how I respond to the students in my classroom. No matter what, I need to be a positive influence on the students in my classroom and continue to push them to the finish line.

Glitter Bombs and Education

Education

I laughed hysterically watching would be thieves getting covered in glitter and fart spray. If you are not sure what I am talking about, there is a Youtube video making the rounds on the internet showing a gentleman taking revenge on some package thieves. He is an engineer and was able to create a package that took video, uploaded it to the cloud, tracked the package via GPS, flung glitter, and sprayed fart spray on a few people who stole packages off of front porches.

While the sinful side of me took joy watching payback unfold right before my eyes, I also reflected on the learning process that took place on the video and whether my students are walking a similar process in my class.

He started with an idea of what he wanted. In science class this would be called “forming a hypothesis” but we usually call it “making an educated guess” in history class. He decided what the goal was for his project. He wanted a package that did very specific things. In my classroom I do not think I use prediction as well as I could. Making an educated guess at events that might happen next is a skill that is developed over time. While not a “testable skill” it is a skill that students will need to develop in their lives to understand the possible consequences for actions.

Next, he used his resources to collect materials that accomplished the goals he set out for. I noticed at this point that while he does play to his strengths as an engineer, he did employ some help to accomplish his goals. He constructed something that looked like it would accomplish the goal of payback.

He used his knowledge in building the product to test his goals. He methodically tested each element (the GPS, the camera, the motor for the spinner, etc.) to make sure it did exactly what he wanted it to. He did not include a lot of this footage in the final video, but I would guess there was a bit of trial an error in a machine this complicated.

Lastly he put his product into the real world to see what it could do…and it was spectacular.

My reflections on this process are:

  • Do I allow my students to come up with good ideas and put them to the test? This would be difficult in a history classroom, but I think it would be good for my kids
  • Do I use real world application enough? Again, difficult in a history classroom, but I think it is possible during certain units of study.

Summer Session

Education

The best laid plans for summer are created during the winter.  The summer is a time that teacher’s covet because of the passion they put into their profession during the school year.  It is a time to recharge and be with family and friends.  It is also a time for world-class professional development opportunities that can be attended for little to no cost, so I choose to plan ahead to give myself the best chance at getting them.

Research

The first step to getting great professional development is to know what is out there.  Sure, your district or region probably has some good training opportunities over the summer, but what if you could get better?  There are a variety of ways to find out about opportunities available.  You could ask the curriculum specialist at your district, you can do a basic Google search, you could seek out Facebook pages dedicated to such things, you can check with your favorite college, etc.  I wish there were a place that had those sorts of things listed out for me (and if there is, please shoot me an e-mail and let me know) but there is not so you have to go find them.

This process has lead me to a few outstanding learning opportunities that were either paid for or low cost.  The Texas State Historical Association has a number of training opportunities scattered throughout the state every school year.  Humanities Texas likewise has a number of opportunities that they will pay for subs to attend or pay for travel during the summer.  I have also attended a week long training through Mount Vernon that was completely paid for.  The common theme is that I found the opportunity and applied.

Apply and Learn

The next step is to apply.  Seems simple, but every time I apply for opportunities in the summer I forget some of the applications due to the busyness of a school year.  Make sure you follow up with recommendations if you need to.  Make sure you format things the way they request them.  Make sure it is completed on time.

Sometimes you will get picked and some times you will not.  The key is to ask questions if you are not picked (if you can).  If I am turned down, I will e-mail the organization and ask for feedback on my application.  Use the rejection as a learning opportunity for the following year.  If their response is you are lacking a specific quality, work on it over the next school year.  Sometimes you will get actionable responses and sometimes you will not, but it’s worth an e-mail.

My Current Applications

For the summer of 2019 I am taking some big swings with my professional learning.  I have applied for a number of trainings through Gilder Lehrman.  These are very competitive, so I made sure to get my application in early.  I also applied for a fellowship to help write curriculum for a national historical site.  I am very hopeful for this one, and should I get it I will definitely update my progress.  

School days

Education

As a teacher I have to be in favor of the educational process.  It just so happens that I really like higher education and learning about things I am passionate about.   I realized a few years ago the while I do have a Master’s Degree it is not in a field that is helpful to me in education.  With that in mind, and my family’s full support, I began investigating the possibility of going back to school for a Master’s of Education.

The fundamental question for me was: What degree should I seek?  When I set out, I had one of two ideas in mind, either Educational Leadership or Educational Counseling.  I did a lot of research including talking with counselors at the school I work at and contacting various graduate schools to ask about those two majors.  What I kept coming back to was that I was not passionate about either they just seemed like the next iteration of the education lifestyle.  I was hoping for someone to change my mind, but that never happened.  

At this point I was at a bit of a crossroads.  If not either of these two options, what was I left with?  I began looking at the universities that I had a connection to and I saw a major that intrigued me, a Master’s of Education in Instructional Technology.  I began to research the program and look at the coursework and I liked what I saw.  I was nervous though because the degree did not lead to a specific job in education.  At least with Educational Leadership or Counseling I had a specific job that I was qualified for as soon as I attained my degree.

More difficult discussions lead to a revelation; while this degree does not lead to a specific job it is valuable to a larger audience.  Technology is not going away in education both in a school environment and outside of schools.  With this in mind I submitted my application to Texas A&M’s distance program and I start in the Spring.  I am really looking forward to it.  So much so that I am going to catalog my process here to help with reflection and implementation in my classroom.  

A few other thoughts:

  • I forgot what a pain the financial aid process is.  I have complicated the process by applying for grants, but it is still more than I remember it being when I originally went through the process.
  • Textbooks are expensive, although renting digital textbooks is awesome.
  • I feel so old logging into the online portal.  The had nothing like this “back in my day” but it is nice that everything is all in one place.

First Contact

Family

When last we left my attempt at amateur radio, I had passed my test and ordered a radio.  I was awaiting my license from the FCC and looking forward to moving ahead.  Since then a bit has happened.

Recently I attended my first local radio club meeting.  It was a fascinating experience because I knew almost none of the vocabulary that was being used and I had no experience to use context clues to help me.  I sat next to some very nice people who helped me out when I needed it.  There were also a lot more people than I thought would be there.  Like 90+ people in fact.  Everyone was very friendly and helpful.

At this point my license and radio had come in.  Being nervous of messing something up I had really only listened to hear what I could.  I met a gentleman that was willing to help me program my radio to listen to the local (and not so local) chatter which was awesome.  After helping me, I also got a tour of our local county emergency services building and I was in awe.  I knew we had a lot of resources through the county, but I didn’t think it was so comprehensive.

As I’m writing this, I just finished up my first transmission on my radio to check in with a local net.  Basically, I logged in to a conversation of local radio operators during a training session.  Was I nervous?  Yes.  Was it as nerve racking as I thought it would be?  No.  So far, so good.