Archive for December 2013

Choosing to be Bothered

My first answer didn’t quite get at the heart of Mark’s question, but it was the best I could do in 140 characters:

A true answer is much longer than Twitter allows.  Read more

Do We Have Different Paths “Up?”

Hugh MacLeod - @gapingvoid
Hugh MacLeod - @gapingvoid

Hugh MacLeod – @gapingvoid

Saw this picture in Hugh MacLeod’s Cartoon of the Day this morning. This seems self-evident: there are many paths to a fulfilling, successful and meaningful process or project. At the same time, there are basic traps of failure that we see our students fall in repeatedly, or certain behaviors that we know “lead down.” Is it true, though, that “All paths up are different” in our classrooms? How many different paths can a student have to success in your classroom? It seems to me that this question has many facets:

  • Does your grading policy allow different paths to success, or does the goal of accumulating points force students into certain tracks and processes?
  • Do your assessments allow students to take different paths, whether through exploring different content or by demonstrating their learning in different methods?
  • Are all students differentiated so that they are each working on their necessary strengths, weaknesses and goals?
  • MacLeod says in his accompanying message that “It’s far harder to copy success than to copy failure.” How do we use models, rubrics and exemplars in ways that encourage finding unique paths up instead of trying to “copy success?”

What do you think? Please comment below!

How Do We Put Digital Learning on the Wall?

I love the Internet... searched: "fridge computer."

(image from “Reincarnating an Old Laptop as a Fridge Computer,” Samidh Chakrabarti)

An open question for you…

Visualize a school hallway. Better yet, peek out of your door and look at your school’s hallways. I’m willing to bet that you wouldn’t have to walk far to see your first piece of student work on a wall somewhere. In classrooms, libraries, hallways and common spaces, we post student work everywhere that we can. There are several reasons why we do this– off the top of my head:

  • Celebrating student success
  • Making learning visible
  • Creating interest in visitors and other students
  • Demonstrating what happens in classrooms
  • It’s fun!
  • Making useful resources (timelines, reference posters, etc.)

All of these are important, because they honor and validate student work. Just as families put good work up on the fridge or wall at home, we value students’ learning artifacts.

When those artifacts are visual, though, how do we value them? How do we honor them and give them a place of importance in our learning spaces? We can’t stick a website on the fridge, nor can we hang a movie in the library. If we want our students and teachers to value digital learning artifacts, don’t we have to be able to afford them the same role and (relative) permanence in our school as the physical posters, art projects, photographs, graphs and charts that we can use to line our halls? I’ve had very open-minded teachers say to me that they would love to make their project products more digital, but they want them to be on the walls so that everyone can see them.  On the flip side, I’ve had great student work that I’d love to hold up as great examples of learning– except they can’t be held.

How can we turn a school from a display vehicle for physical learning artifacts into one for all learning? How do we share high-quality digital products with our community in a way that honors and values their work? What are our “digital fridges” upon which we can display great work?

ChoralTech: Google Sites Host your Choir’s Resources

We’ve talked in the past about setting up websites for sharing your choir’s information with the world, but you might want a website for a different purpose: sharing information internally with your choir. There are some immediate benefits to having a central place where all of your musicians can access materials, see the practice calendar, and communicate with each other. While it has limited “visual appeal,” using Google Sites can get you up and running with an internal website in a manner of minutes. The Internet is loaded with tutorials on how to create a Google Site, so rather than take you through the steps to set-up, I’d like to point out some features that I think make this an extremely useful choir homebase.

Do We Still Need to Double-Space?


An open question for you…

Assume that we’re looking at electronic papers, submitted electronically. For the average paper (i.e. not a formal research paper), do we still need to double-space? Why do we require double-spacing? Is it different for electronic papers versus physically-printed and -submitted papers?

Please comment below to help us tease this out.

Middle School Students Speak

Our Middle School student government gathered some information from the students and brought it to the faculty for consideration. As this is the first year of both our 1:1 iPad program and using Schoology as an LMS, there’s been a steep learning curve for students and teachers alike. It’s interesting to me to see the student feedback and notice that some of their suggestions are along the lines of what I’d advise to teachers (and hopefully practice in the classroom as well).

Here’s the summation as delivered to the faculty without further commentary:

Read more

Just Add Singers: iPad Recipes for Recording

(cross-posted at ChoralNet
So far in discussing iOS, we’ve talked about some of the microphone options, as well as some of the apps available. Many people using the iPad, though, get limited in the possibilities of iOS by working only within one app space. We talked about this a bit when we discussed apps in our last post, but the key to truly using the power of the iPad is assembling hardware and software into workflows which combine multiple apps. Some call this process “app smashing.” Again, where we’re used to working within one comprehensive application on Macs or PCs, iOS apps are designed to perform more limited tasks but make it easier to share data between apps. With that said, let’s look at 5 processes to combine resources and power between different apps. The key to all of these processes is the share button, which looks like  in iOS 6 and some older apps, and  in iOS 7. This is the universal “get me somewhere else!” button in iOS, and is pretty common to most apps.
With all of these examples, please remember that these are only samples of possible workflows– these apps are not “chosen to work together.” Any of these apps and myriad more can be used to combine forces.

I want to… Share Audio with my Choir Today (Right now, no setup involved)

Let’s use a basic but common sharing example: you record an example and want to share it with your ensemble. How would we approach this?
  1. Contacts (already installed): Pass around before rehearsal or during breaks and collect and ask each member to enter their name and e-mail.
  2. Camera (already installed): Record a video example.
  3. Camera: After rehearsal, press the share icon, and choose “Mail.” This will open up…
  4. Mail: enter the names of your ensemble members and hit Send.
This works really well for short examples, but mail has a size limit, which will bite us if we want to send larger examples. Let’s step up a level.

I want to… Record Larger Audio Examples and Share them with my Choir (A little more setup)

Larger audio examples require a storage solution. For more information on some of these options, see “Storage and Sharing” from earlier this year.
  1. Notes (already installed): Create a blank note and pass around the device for people to enter their e-mail addresses.
  2. Google Drive: Create an account, or use an existing account. Create a folder and share it with the e-mail addresses that you’ve collected. They’ll automatically receive a link in their e-mails, so you don’t have to worry about sending it to them.
  3. Camera (already installed): Record your video example.
  4. Google Drive: Upload the video from Google Drive. This is an example where the workflow that normally works doesn’t (pushing the share button from the originating app), but Google Drive can access the Camera Roll and all of your videos to upload. By uploading the file into the shared folder, it will now be accessible to anyone that you invited to the group.

I want to… Record Audio and Clean it up for Conference or Festival Submission

This is a general guideline– check with your specific submission criteria
Most submission committees want MP3’s, which are pretty standard. They’re lightweight and easy to upload, and nearly any device now is capable of playing them back.
  1. TwistedWave: Record your audio. Edit the beginning and end of the track to be able to cut out extraneous noise. Copy the audio.
  2. GarageBand: Create a blank audio track and paste the audio from TwistedWave into GarageBand. GarageBand will let you e-mail the file as an MP3. Depending on your submission protocol, you might be able to e-mail it directly, or you may have to use a web uploader to submit it. Unfortunately, web uploaders are very iffy on the iPad– this is the exception where I’ll suggest e-mailing it to:
  3. Your computer: Open the e-mail and download the MP3 file. You can then upload it to the web uploader from there.

I want to… Record a Music Video of My Group

You can import music from GarageBand into iMovie, so our process looks a lot like the last recipe, with only the last step changed.
  1. TwistedWave: Record the audio. Copy it to…
  2. GarageBand: Paste it into an audio track and save it. Import it into…
  3. iMovie: Record your video tracks and put them together. Export it via:
  4. Vimeo or YouTube. Be mindful that copyrighted music could be flagged for removal (although choral group recordings don’t usually get caught).

I want to… Make all of this Faster!

Remember the multi-touch gestures which make navigating between multiple apps easier and faster: four fingers on the screen, then swiped up will expose icons for the most recently used apps. Four fingers swiped left or right navigates directly between the most recent apps, and saves a lot of time when bouncing between two apps in particular.

What About You?

This is just a sample of how to use apps in combination for basic audio tasks– this doesn’t begin to consider options like integrating Keynote or Prezi to create presentations for School Boards, Department Meetings or potential Donors/Sponsors, nor integrating straight into social media apps like Facebook or Twitter. What are your favorite combinations? How do you find yourself “app smashing” with different apps in your toolbox?

Push Through “It’s Done”

My wife’s late Grandfather made cabinets for a living, and he was extremely well-regarded for his craft. When my mother- and father-in-law were cleaning out his shop, they made sure to keep the very large sign in his shop that read: “Good Enough Just Isn’t Good Enough.” I am reminded of that by Tim Holt, who shared this amazing video of artist Kyle Lambert creating a photo-realistic finger painting of Morgan Freeman. Tim writes:

Have you ever wondered just how far one could go with an iPad? This guy did. Check out his incredible Morgan Freeman finger drawing. makes [sic] you wonder how much our students could do if given the right device huh?

–Tim Holt,

When watching this, a whole different line of questions came to mind for me: when is it done? It looks like Morgan Freeman pretty early on in the video. It gets incredibly detailed even halfway through. Look at the tiny edits that Lambert makes towards the end– watch his work on the eyes alone. When would our students have stopped and “turned it in?” When would it have been “good enough?”

Artists, athletes and creative-class people internalize that “Good Enough Just Isn’t Good Enough.” For these people, the heartache sometimes isn’t putting in the 285,000 brush strokes and 200 hours– it’s sending it out the door without putting in the next 3,000 strokes that really could have made the nose even better. I don’t know Kyle Lambert, but I’m willing to bet that there’s at least one part of that painting that he looks at and thinks it needs a touch more polish.

The message for me out of this video is to push through “it’s done” into “it’s great.” We’ll be talking about that in class tomorrow morning.

What do you see in this? How do you coach students (or yourself!) to put in the time necessary to make work not just complete, but great?


Update Dec.6: Just after I posted this, I learned that Nelson Mandela had passed. With this post still fresh in mind, it seemed only appropriate to post this from Mandela’s autobiography:

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter. I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered that after climbing a great hill one only finds there are many more hills to climb.

–Nelson Mandela, “Long Walk to Freedom”

Breaking One-sided Conversations: Reflective Journals and Discussion Forums

Reflective writing (both long-form and informal) has always been a staple of my courses. From an early mentor, I appropriated a weekly “What Did You Learn This Week?” Friday prompt. A third teacher in the same school modified that to “What Did You Learn This Week, and How Did You Learn It?” This is the form that I’ve been using most recently, but with a discussion forum instead of the little scraps of paper I used to collect. The goal of using a discussion forum is to move from a “reporting tool” to one for conversation. That process isn’t natural for my students, though, so I’m taking a different approach tomorrow…

The How-To

I used to collect these brief reflections from students on the way out the door on Fridays. Collecting them on paper posed some advantages:

  • It was very easy to see that everyone was doing the same thing at the same time,
  • It was a quick transition from any activity into writing during the last five minutes of the period, and
  • It was easy for me to quickly rifle through and scan them (although was this really an advantage?).

Mindful of these advantages, I wanted to move it to an online discussion forum model to take advantage of some additional possibilities:

  • Using an online tool preserves a student’s weekly reflections so that they can zoom out and look back at several weeks at a time. I need to explore this capability more.
  • Using a discussion forum allows me to reply to a student’s reflection to ask follow-up questions or validate good points. This is what I’m currently tinkering with.
  • Students can attach links or files to share as part of their reflection. As of yet, I haven’t built this out in class.

We use Schoology as our LMS, which allows for discussion forums which can be individually assigned to students. I create a discussion forum for each student, title it with their name, and assign it to them only. This ensures that no one else can see the forum (or, obviously, what’s in it). The reflections are now between the student and myself. I put all of these discussions in a separate folder within the course to keep myself organized. This also lets me use the “next” button within the Schoology interface to quickly navigate through lots of them in order.

I originally did this within Moodle, and many other LMS’s have the same capability one way or another.

Is Anyone Listening?

I am pleased with the quality of reflection that I get from students initially. Their posts fulfill my initial goal of getting them to think about how they learn their material and what sources were useful for them, as well as having them identify and focus on some of their achievements throughout the week. But what I get is often something like this (fictionalized response):

Student: This week, I spent most of my time working on using Masks in Photoshop. I found some great tutorials online.

Me: I’m glad that you found some useful resources! Are there any that you think would be useful for the class? Can you post them in the Updates section for everyone? Tell me more about the Masks that you used this week– what did you use them for? What did they help you do?

The thread ends, and gets repeated next Friday. I am asking unanswered (and potentially unread) questions.

Is it Grading, or Conversing?

I was wondering why I never got any replies to these questions. It’s certainly not that my responses are invisible– Schoology includes them in the notifications feed, which students check fairly often. They’re also all displayed inline when a student submits their next submission. So why are students not answering the questions sent to them? I think the answer lies in what they think they’re receiving: I think that we’re having a conversation, and they think that it’s feedback. Before we, as adults and professionals, say that “They’re the same thing!,” think about how the feedback process traditionally runs:

30 GOTO 10

For this to be a meaningful conversation, we have to break the association with grading/feedback so that students internalize that it is a conversation. As all of the students in the class are starting to blog, we’ve been talking about what makes a good blog comment, so it’s time to drive home the importance of using commenting as a way to continue a conversation, not just let feedback die on the vine. As authors of a blog, students should respond to the people wishing to have a conversation with them about their ideas.

Conversation Fail

I’m going to open class tomorrow with a short and utterly ridiculous dramatic reading with a couple of volunteers from the class. After we have (hopefully!) a few laughs, I’ll ask them to take a minute and discuss why blogs have comments. We’ve talked about what kinds of comments they’re hoping for in their blogs, so I hope that conversation comes back and we can use it to tie back to the idea of the reflective journals as conversations like the blogs, and not just feedback to be tossed and ignored.

(Google Doc Link – Share per license at bottom of post)

Speaking of Comments…

Do you use discussion forums or anything similar for your students? Do you find a similar lack of threaded conversation? How do you address this? Comment below!