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Tag: constructivism

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Student-Centered Learning: Meaningful Work

Project-based learning that is student-centered works if it is meaningful work. According to the article "Seven Essentials for Project-Based learning" on Education Leadership:

A project is meaningful if it fulfills two criteria. First, students must perceive the work as personally meaningful, as a task that matters and that they want to do well. Second, a meaningful project fulfills an educational purpose. Well-designed and well-implemented project-based learning is meaningful in both ways.
It doesn't matter the age of the learner, every learner gets more involved in the process if the task at hand means something to them and there is a purpose for their work. Let's look at purpose.

  • Teacher one gives an assignment for their students to write a paper. Usually, the student hands the finished paper in to the teacher who then spends the evening reading and grading the papers.
  • Teacher two shares a topic or asks students to find a topic that is meaningful to them and write why it is meaningful. Students generate questions about their topic, come up with an opinion piece, and then share their writing with their peers who provided feedback. They use a rubric to grade each other and themselves.


Which do you find more meaningful and engaging?

Wanting to know more
Students come to school curious about the world. They want to know more. If the teacher can let students pursue their interests and what they are curious about, then the classroom changes. How about the teacher bringing in a photo or local topic like a polluted nearby creek and letting students discuss it? Then they could go to the creek, take pictures, do research about the creek, interview water experts, etc. What they could find out is that they can make a difference somehow. They can research the problem, find out how a polluted creek like this one could impact the environment and life in the creek, get the right people involved to clean up the creek, and even pick up trash around the creek themselves.

What about the standards?
When I work with teachers they are told to meet the standards, follow the pacing guide, and use the textbook. When you are moving to a student-centered classroom, you are slowly changing the way you teach. You can still meet the standards and cover most of the curriculum. Instead of trying to "cover" everything, there may be another way to involve your students as co-designers of their learning.
  • Show your students the standards -- right from the beginning. Explain that they will need to meet these standards with the project. Projects also cover multiple disciplines. If you focus on creeks for 4th grade (CA Science - Earth Science - Water), then you are also meeting Investigation and Experimentation, Language Arts > Writing Strategies > Research and Technology) and probably more.
  • Tell them that you need their input as co-designers so their learning is more meaningful to them. Mention that you normally teach the lesson like this but would like to have more of a student voice. Have them review the topic, the standards, and come up with questions based on this information.

    Good driving questions help focus the project
    We are all born curious. Most children want to learn something by first asking a question. "Where does rain come from?" "Why does a hummingbird flap its wings so fast?" The questions lead to more questions. If you think about the creek and pollution, maybe some of the questions might be "how did the creek get polluted?" or "why do people throw their trash in the creek?" or "how does the pollution affect the fish and other life in the creek?"

    A good driving question gets to the heart of the topic or problem. The creek is polluted. Life in the creek is impacted. The environment is affected by the pollution. Sometimes a good driving question is a call to action. "What can we do to stop the pollution in the creek?" The other questions asked before supported this question.

    Students working in groups
    This is the piece that teachers find difficult to manage or coordinate. Do you let students choose their groups or group by topic or do you choose the groups for them?

    The first time you ever do a project-based learning activity, be kind to yourself. First time, you choose the groups. Each group will have roles for each person but you decide on the roles. Let them choose who will do what. Some students will take on multiple roles and help each other. Some may not.

    I'm going to go into more detail in later posts about how to set up groups, designing questions, etc. The main thing I wanted to get across in this post was to focus on meaningful work and purposeful projects. If your students, no matter what age, feel they can make a difference, they are more motivated to learn, to share, to write, and to present.
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The 4Cs Gives Students Wings


There are two lasting bequests we can give our children.
One is roots. The other is wings.
Holding Carter Jr.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) and FableVision just released the animated film "Above & Beyond" created by Peter Reynolds to emphasize the value of 21st century skills in education. This original animated film is designed to spark conversations about the essential innovation skills needed for students to be successful – and the U.S. to remain economically viable -- in an increasingly challenging global economy.

P21’s nationwide coalition of business and education leaders have spent years creating a framework for integrating 21st Century Skills into education, and are now promoting a bundled subset of skills called the “4Cs”:

  • communication
  • collaboration
  • critical thinking
  • creativity

These skills are cited by industry as the keys to innovation and invention and essential skills for all employees. P21 will use the film, along with an online digital toolkit that includes a downloadable poster and support resources, in a nationwide campaign to make the 4Cs a household term and promote the integration of 4Cs across all subject areas.

New York Times best-selling children’s book author, illustrator and FableVision founder Peter H. Reynolds (The Dot, Ish, The North Star) created Above & Beyond to tell an allegorical story of how the 4Cs help students move beyond foundational “3Rs” to acquire the 21st Century Skills that industry demands.

This animated film tells the story of two school children who compete in the school’s engineering contest – one of whom can’t move beyond the boxed kit – and the other who is an “out of the box” dreamer and visionary. The students join forces – and use communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity to win the race. The allegorical fable helps show that content mastery without the 4Cs skills won’t give students the “wings” required to meet the demands of higher education, career and life in a global society and world economy.

To download a free 4Cs poster, go to www.p21.org/4Cs

For more information on:

Partnership for 21st Century Skills, visit http://www.p21.org/ and connect with P21 on Twitter @P21CentSkills.

FableVision Studios and FableVision Learning, visit www.fablevision.com and connect with FableVision on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn
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Online Learning Challenges

Designing Online Learning Environments that Engage Learners
(first published on OnCUE Summer 2010 Vol. 32 No. 2 p. 10-11)

Teaching online is fundamentally different than teaching face-to-face. The design of effective online learning environments requires rethinking teaching practices. The rapid advances of educational technology encourages the growth of collaborative online learning experiences unconstrained by time and space. Even so, students may not learn from technology alone; they learn with the support of competent facilitators who design learning strategies that support learning goals and objectives.

Online learning technologies were first used to digitize existing instructional materials for easier distribution, to enhance consistency, and reduce costs. Unfortunately, this use of technology did not actually improve instruction. Now there is a shift to more theory-based online learning strategies that use technology to enhance an instructionally sound learning experience that meets the needs of all learners.

"Technology can play an important role in the achievement of learning outcomes but it is not necessary to explain this enhancement with a special account of learning. Rather, the challenge is to describe how the technology allows underlying processes common to all learning to function effectively (Mayes and de Freitas in Beetham and Sharpe, 2007, pg 13)."

With funding cuts, districts are looking at creative ways to provide courses not offered at their site. Students are becoming more proactive along with their parents on what they need to meet their learning goals so they graduate with appropriate credits. The number of K-12 students taking online classes is growing exponentially.  University students take it a step further. They not only search for learning opportunities at their school and online, they know a good online class. These students are picky about which classes they sign up for and will drop a class if the teacher is not effective. They are the new, savvy consumers of online education. In response to their higher expectations, designers of online education are incorporating increasingly sophisticated instructional approaches such as animations and simulations that address the challenges of presenting dynamic content to learners.
I asked online learning providers from my PLN (Personal Learning Network) how they design an environment that engages and motivates the learner to actively participate in the learning process. The top answers included:

  • Posting syllabus with due dates
  • Providing timely feedback
  • Individual support and coaching
  • Face-to-face meetings

All of these answers work to nudge the learner to logon, participate, and complete an assignment. Yet, even experienced curriculum designers are rethinking how to deliver instruction online so students want to be engaged in the learning process. Survey respondents also shared that about 10% drop out. Top three reasons presented were technology issues, not able to do assignments, and motivation. As educators with limited budgets and resources, we may be trailing the world of instructional design. Today’s students are different than five years ago. They are used to instant information, cell phones, games, and simulations. It is going to be difficult to keep them engaged with traditional education.

Virtual University Class

Dr. Scott McLeod

Teaching online class

Scott McLeod, Ph.D., associate professor in educational leadership and policy studies at Iowa State University, communicates with his students via web cam. McLeod is teaching two sections of Educational Law and Ethics wholly online for the first time this February. Each of his students were given a webcam to allow face-to-face interaction without having to leave their homes.

“The technology side of distance education is an add-on to the instructional content,” McLeod said. “...when students have lived in this online community for a semester, they start making connections back to their schools and translate these educational practices to their students and staff...”

Google Reader, Adobe Connect, and Moodle are also integrated into the course. Students are able to use Google Reader to keep abreast of new developments in their field, even after the class is complete.

“This enables them to continue learning, far beyond the classroom,” McLeod stated.

Professors who find they need to promote their courses are experimenting with social media and new technologies. Universities around the world are building virtual classrooms with Second Life, designing interactive programs and games, and posting free online courses.

Experience History as it Happens

Apollo 11

Launch of Apollo 11

Maybe we need to find content that lets our students experience how historical events really happened such as the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum’s We Choose the Moon (http://wechoosethemoon.org). At this site, users listen to the actual commentaries from Houston as Apollo 11 is launched. Users can watch and hear what happened on their own time by clicking through the stages and on different galleries.

Virtual Museums and Galleries
Schools are cutting back on field trips because of limited funds. Students now can navigate around exhibits right from their desktop with videoconferencing and links such as:

Learn by Doing
There are numerous online activities where learners of all ages can learn by involving themselves in hands-on activities.

Virtual Dinosaur Dig

Go on a virtual dinosaur dig www.bbc.co.uk/history/interactive/games/#archeology/

Play while Learning
Most students play games, so why not introduce games into your learning repertoire?

Interact with Videos and Audio
Reach those students that are auditory and kinesthetic learners with multimedia.

You as the teacher can be the instructional designer creating a learning environment that is engaging and challenging. You can set the pace and rhythm, vary the format of the instruction you deliver, give the learner control, and make learning fun: fun for your students and fun for you.

I recommend teachers building their own PLN with other teachers and instructional designers where everyone collects rich curriculum and learning activities to share with each other. Use social media and your network to learn about new resources, bookmark and tag them in del.icio.us or Diigo, and then share them with your students in an organized way that enhances your instruction. There is no reason to reinvent learning activities if they are already available.

Cited Sources
Beetham, H. & Sharpe, R., 2007. Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age: Designing and Delivering E-Learning 1st ed., Routledge.

Rydell, M. Online learning environments enhance education for Cohorts. Iowa State University news, February 11, 2010
http://www.hs.iastate.edu/news/inside/view/300/

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You can be a Constructivist

I am at ISTE 2010 and attended The Constructivist Consortium with Tech4Learning, Fablevision, GenYes, LCSI, Ispiration, and Schoolkit.com. I had so much fun I wish I could share the excitement I felt. Well, maybe I can by sharing what I created with Frames by Tech4Learning. barbara-constructivist
Constructivist Consortium

Constructivist Consortium

I'm still new at WordPress and cannot figure out how to play the video right from this post - I hope you click on the link to check it out. What I learned from Gary Stager is that making things is the best way to learn. More and more we will see books, TV shows, craft events, websites about making stuff. When you do something learning is not passive. Gary showed us a video from Imaginit.com that was inspirational - please check it out and share. Talked about books we have to read. I'm buying Making Learning Whole by David Perkins for our book club. Never heard of Howtoons.com before. Will be sharing more and adding more to this when I learn more.