The Evolution of an Authentic Activity

The Evolution of an Authentic Activity

Being a teacher can be stressful and time-consuming!  When I was in the classroom teaching 4th-graders through 12th-graders, I wanted to make every lesson important and effective. Doing something new was important to me because I bored easily, and my students did, too.  I was not the type of teacher who could use the same lesson year after year or even period to period.  

Analysis and reflection are important parts of being an effective teacher.  Sometimes our lessons are a huge success; other times, our lessons fall short or are complete failures in our eyes. As I completed lessons, I would reflect on what worked and what could be improved, and I applied what I learned as soon as possible.

Why do teachers put so much pressure on themselves to have the perfect lesson on the first go round?  The following shows the growth of an activity that was good in its first iteration and grew and improved with each iteration into an amazing, powerful, authentic activity.  If you want to grow with the lesson, read on.  If you are really only interested in the final project, jump to the third take.  Either way, be confident that your lessons can grow and improve with each iteration.  As you read along, pay close attention to how real-world involvement and application grow with each iteration.

Authentic Activity: Take 1 

Setting the Scene

The teacher is Ms. Heyward.  The class is English 4: British Literature, and students are mostly seniors with a few juniors sprinkled in. Paradise Lost by John Milton is the literary work of study.  Students will participate in a mock trial to put the characters of Paradise Lost on trial. Students choose which group they want to belong to: 1) characters/actors in the live trial, 2) defense team, 3) prosecution team, and 4) news media.  Each group is responsible for knowing his/her role whether it be developing a character from the story or becoming a lawyer or media blogger.  

The judge listens as the prosecution questions the witness, God.

The judge listens as the prosecution questions the witness, God.

This authentic activity includes the trial of Eve for the fall of man.

Eve is sworn in before being questioned regarding her involvement in the fall of man.

Increasing Collaboration

The concept of a legal team was daunting because only one or two lead lawyers were needed.  To include all members, each team developed a research team responsible for digging into the text and researching things on the spot.  The presence of iPads made using a back channel as a collaboration tool possible; the back channel used was Today’s Meet.  The research teams used it to feed questions and information from the story to their team’s lead lawyers to support the questioning and cross-examination of witnesses.  Everything occurred in real time, on the spot.  You either were prepared or you were not.  There were no re-dos.

This authentic activity revolves around the trial of Satan and his involvement in the fall of man.

Satan is cross-examined by an attorney.

This authentic activity involves defense and prosecuting attorneys in a mock trial.

An attorney for the defense returns to his seat after questioning a witness.

To include more students in the process, there were three media teams tasked with reporting and blogging in the style of three major news outlets: NPR, CNN, and Fox.  Understanding political bias came into play with a review of powerful propaganda words.  A Google Original site was created for each class (see them here: period 1 and period 3) documenting the project.  

Student Engagement

In preparing for the mock trial, students knew they had a responsibility to their team.  The actors had to know their storyline, the legal teams had to know the characters’ stories inside and out, and the media teams had to cover the events in the room while writing in the style of their specific news outlet.  There was not a student in the class whose job did not matter.  Engagement was high, and students left the room talking about the experience.  The use of an authentic activity raised the level of engagement and understanding.

Authentic Activity: Take 2 

Activity Edits

A real judge presides over the authentic mock trial.

A real judge presides over the authentic mock trial.

Fast forward 2 more semesters.  Ms. Heyward saw an opportunity for growth and improvement. In an attempt to make the activity more authentic, she brought in real lawyers to train the students in actual trial proceedings and booked a journalist who recently covered a high-profile trial as a guest speaker to share her insights with the class.  Ms. Heyward also booked a real judge to oversee the trial and had 12 adult jurors from the community serve, deliberate, and assign a verdict.

There was much excitement as the trial date approached.  Students worked on their teams to prepare.  Witness statements were taken, pre-trial hearings were held to determine what will and will not be admissible in court.  Arguments were developed.  Media teams created their own mock news sites and started blogging.

The Big Day

For this authentic mock trial, a 12-person community jury is sworn in.

For this authentic mock trial, a 12-person community jury is sworn in.

The prosecution worked collaboratively to prove guilt.

The prosecution worked collaboratively to prove guilt.

Each attorney is trained in how to properly address a judge in court.

Each attorney is trained in how to properly address a judge in court.

This authentic activity has a bailiff to swear in each witness.

This authentic activity has a bailiff to swear in each witness.

Finally, the big day arrived.  The Media Center was reserved, increasing the feeling of authenticity.  A table at the front was reserved for the bailiff, judge, and witness box.  The jury sat to the right of the judge with the Defense and Prosecution teams sitting opposite the judge and the news outlet teams behind them.  It was very exciting.

Witnesses were sworn in, attorneys stood to address the judge and question witnesses, jury members sat stone-like listening to the proceedings as Eve, Satan, God, the Son of God, and even Sin were called to the stand, sworn in, questioned, and cross-examined. Finally, it was time for the jury to deliberate.

Jury Deliberation

The 12-person jury deliberated in a private room to decide the fates of Satan and Eve.

The 12-person jury deliberated in a private room to decide the fates of Satan and Eve.

As one of the jurors, I can tell you we had a tough time agreeing upon a verdict. Assumptions were made and called out, outside information was brought up and disregarded.  We had to focus only on what was said in the courtroom.  Information we wanted had not been sought by attorneys, so we did not have the information we needed to find both defendants guilty.  Upon returning to the courtroom, the jurors stated the verdict, and the judge took one guilty defendant into custody.  Before wrapping up, the jurors were asked to share their experiences deliberating over the fates of two people.  It was important that  the students see and hear the points that jurors disagreed over, questioned, and finally voted on.

Reflection

In debriefing after the activity, Ms. Heyward and I found the following strengths:

  1. Each student fully took ownership in his/her role.
  2. Students showed mastery of the themes of Paradise Lost.
  3. Students gleaned information about our justice system and the roles different people play within that system.
  4. Students collaborated well on teams working toward a common goal.
  5. Some students had increased creativity in developing the backstories for their characters
  6. Some defense and prosecution members increased their creativity as they built arguments to defend or prosecute characters.
  7. Students thought critically about the parameters of our justice system and tried to manipulate it in their favor whenever possible.

We also found the following weakness:

  1. Students were not able to think quickly on the spot.  Per the jury, the legal teams’ follow-up questions were weak or non-existent.
  2. Some of the characters did not develop their backstories on the stand leaving gaps in understanding for the jury

Upon reflecting, strengths and weaknesses were identified.  In general, the students clearly understood the text and its themes; however, their questioning skills were weak.  We surmised that perhaps the final project was too much all at once.  Perhaps the students needed more scaffolding along the way to prepare for the culminating project. Our new challenge: to find ways to incorporate similar types of activities throughout the entire curriculum.

Authentic Activity: Take 3 

Upon returning from winter break, Ms. Heyward was excited to share with me that she had revamped her entire curriculum to address the issues making “Trial” the theme of her course using British Literature as the content covered.  Each unit provided a guest speaker including lawyers from a local college and court reporters from the local CBS news station.

New Curriculum

  1. Unit 1: Composing an Opening Argument
    • Content: Pursuit of Happiness
    • Students will present themselves to the class in the format of an opening argument
  2. Unit 2: Innocent Until Proven Guilty
    • Content: Canterbury Tales
    • Witness statement
    • Gathering evidence
    • Creation of Google websites with character analyses
    • Regular blogging as a character
  3. Unit 3: The Art of Argument – Building a Case
    • Content: war protests and speeches
    • Voices of Protest
    • Silent discussion on War
    • Socratic Seminar on women’s rights
    • Today’s Meet backchannel analysis of Edwin Starr’s song War
    • Student analysis of song of their choice
  4. Unit 4: Hearings and Motions – Pretrial Hearings and Motions
    • Content: Hamlet
    • Refining witness statements
    • Witness prep
    • Deconstructing trials in teams
    • Pre-trial hearing
  5. Unit 5: Closing Arguments
    • Content: Beowulf
    • Argument of Good vs. Evil
    • How to make a strong appeal – rhetorical triangle
    • Final product: individual paper
  6. Unit 6: Do We Have a Verdict?
    • Content: Paradise Lost
    • Full trial proceedings including all skills in units 1-5.

Culmination

The next class to experience the trial will have completed each step once in advance and will be compiling and returning to all of the lessons learned throughout the course: opening arguments, creating witness statements, collecting and analyzing evidence, building a defense, interviewing witnesses, creating follow-up questions, making objections, and addressing the judge.  

I’ll be back to share the details of the big trial.

Ms. Heyward and I have already decided for the next iteration we need to transport the students to a real hearing room in the county. We’re not sure we can pull that off, but as my mother always says, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Just remember you, too, can develop a lesson like this.  

Don’t expect to do it all on the first try.  Give yourself time and room to grow with the activity.  If you take on too much too early you might be more likely to fail or get burned out.  

Good luck, and please share your ideas, comments, successes and failures here with the rest of us.

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Human Touch In Schools

Human Touch In Schools

How do we interact with students?

Recently, I decided it was time to treat myself to regular yoga classes.  I had been too busy with work and family for too many years and realized that I needed to do it to stay happy and healthy.  While participating in the classes, I experienced three different instructors, and the differences opened my eyes to how we interact with students in our classes.

Currently, there is a movement in education to make connections with students called Capturing Kids’ Hearts.  It works off the premise that “students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” ~John C. Maxwell.  In capturing kids hearts, step one requires teachers to greet students at the classroom door shaking hands or fist pumping or high-fiving their students.  The point is to make physical contact with each student using appropriate human touch as a physical connection and a way to say, “I see you, and you are important to me.”  If human touch is important, why stop at the door?

What’s yoga got to do with it?

Here’s where yoga comes in.  My three instructors all knew their trade and were pros.Teachers care enough to get close enough to touch you while encouraging you. However, only one made a real contact with me and made me feel important.  I’m sure you can guess which one.  It was the one who got close enough to touch me gently on the shoulder or arm or torso while she encouraged me with, “good” or “nice” or some other word of support.  The other instructors gave verbal support, but honestly, I never really knew if each spoke to me.  However, the instructor who touched me on the shoulder and said, “Nice,” affected me 10 fold.  I knew she was speaking to me, and I knew that I was improving.

Why is human touch important?

The power of human touch.The idea of touching a student has gotten so perverse that teachers are afraid to touch students in any way, shape, or form.  Obviously, this can be detrimental because touch is important in so many cultures.  Surely, there are situations when you would not touch students even on the shoulder or arm as in the case of autistic students or children who might have been abused.  Their reaction to touch might be very detrimental.  However, with this restriction in place, think about the many, many students who do not fit these categories and who would benefit from human touch.

 

According to Rick Chillot in a 2013 posting for Psychology TodayThe Power of Touch,” brief social encounters with appropriate human touch is something that is welcomed and even appreciated:

“More recent studies have found that seemingly insignificant touches yield bigger tips for waitresses, that people shop and buy more if they’re touched by a store greeter, and that strangers are more likely to help someone if a touch accompanies the request. Call it the human touch, a brief reminder that we are, at our core, social animals.”

Think about what you can do in your classroom and building to let people around know, “I see you, and you are important to me.”

Resources:

Chillot, Rick. “The Power of Touch.” Blog post. Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 13 Mar. 2013. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

Steward, A. Lee, and Michael Lupfer. “Touching as Teaching: The Effect of Touch on Students’ Perceptions and Performance.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology17.9 (1987): 800-09. Chrome Web Browser. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.

 

Authentic Learning – SharkTank Meets UN Grant

Authentic Learning – SharkTank Meets UN Grant

Improving the World One Grant at a Time

Making English class relevant is not always easy.  Knowing how to read, write, and communicate effectively are important life skills; however, this seems to escape teenagers.  English class can be made relevant through authentic learning activities and authentic assessments.  If you are looking for an authentic learning activity including Sharktank, a United Nations grant, a jury, and a solution to social issues, read on.

Project Structure

Mrs. Collier teaches block scheduled English I classes.  This means that she has 3 classes a day for 90 minutes each.  For a unit on the rhetorical triangle, Mrs. Collier decided to challenge her students with a problem-based scenario; her students were challenged to present to a panel from the United Nations offering a $4,000,000 grant to support the most innovative product to solve the social problem caused by fast food.  Think Shark Tank here.  The students were expected to apply their knowledge of the rhetorical triangle and their skills of research, analysis of information, creative problem-solving, and presentation to convince the panel that their team and their product was the most viable and deserving of the $4 million grant.

Student Research

First, students collaborated in groups of three and were tasked to read one chapter in Fast Food Nation dealing with a specific social problem created by fast food.  After reading the chapter, students had to research the social problem and come up with a Shark Tank-like product to solve the problem.  Next, the students had to create a presentation to try to convince the United Nations Grant Committee that their product most deserves the $4 million grant.

fast_food_safety global_business_effects_on_minorities how_fast_food_affects_earth lower_qualitygreater_profit

Persuasion and the Rhetorical Triangle

The students were tasked with applying the Rhetorical Triangle within their presentation to persuade the United Nations Grant Committee to choose their project idea as the most deserving of the $4 million grant.  Having had training in applying logos, ethos, and pathos students were required to utilize all three in their presentations.

United Nations Grant Committee

Authentic Learning Activity: United Nations Panel juries student presentations on solving social issues created by fast food.Then, to make the activity more authentic, Ms. Collier invited
community and district members to judge the presentations over two days.  Along with Lainie Berry, the District Director of Innovation and Digital Learning; and Caroline Mullis, a representative of the 
Coast Community Foundation of SC;  I had the honor and thrill of serving on the UN Grant Committee to judge 4 of the 8 projects.  The 4 products included a citizen watch-dog project to monitor pollution, a government-led pollution-monitoring system, a machine that detects E.coli in fast food burger meat, and a biodegradable and edible food packaging.

Jury Decision

un_panel_discussion

 

The Google Slides visual presentations were of varying quality as were the live student presentations.  Overall, the 3-person jury was impressed with the level of research and creativity presented by each group.  Mrs. Collier provided each jury member a rubric to judge the product, the presentation, and the rhetorical triangle and invited the jury members to ask questions for clarification before making our final decision.  We three jury members discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each group, narrowed it down to two, and finally settled on one group to receive the grant.  The winner was the biodegradable packaging to slow the pollution in the Arctic Circle.

Authentic Jury Feedback

un_panel_addresses_students

Finally, understanding the power of outside influence, Mrs. Collier invitedun_panel_addresses_students3 the 3 jury members to give constructive feedback to the teams.  This particular team was powerful because one member is a former high school English teacher, one deals with budgets and deciding longevity of a project, and the third deals with grant applications daily and knows what to look for.  The feedback given to the students included standard points about body language, confidence, volume, diction, and eye contact.  After that, the jury explained the strengths of each group’s idea.  Finally, the jury explained how important it is to cover all of the research thoroughly, and that knowledge of the subject matter is what ultimately gave us the confidence to grant one group $4 million.

un_panel_addresses_students4

Authentic Learning Take-Aways

This experience raised the level of engagement for the students because they had an authentic audience.  Mrs. Collier did a fantastic job creating a real-world scenario with a real-world issue.  Kudos to her and her students for their hard work and dedication to learning.

If you are interested in creating more authentic experiences for your students, I recommend heading to YouTube for a basic search.  We found plenty of examples that served as an outline for what we wanted to do.

If you have participated in authentic activities with your students, please leave a comment to start a discussion.  I’d love to hear from you about how things went and what we can learn from one another’s experiences.

Finally, if you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to receive more to your inbox.

Are You Leading by Learning?

Are You Leading by Learning?

It’s early Saturday morning, and I am at the stove, my back to my family.  My husband reads out the quote on the back of my t-shirt: “Inspire learners to lead.”   My 16 year old son, however, immediately sees the irony in the statement and flips the wording: “Inspire leaders to learn.”  He’s right. Are you leading by learning?

Turning It On Its Head

Many of the messages being generated in education are about what students and teachers should be doing, and so LITTLE focuses on what the leaders should be doing.  All too often, building and district leadership are the least trained in technology, personalized pathways, and new innovative practices that are spreading across more progressive classrooms.  Without leadership buy-in, innovation too often goes nowhere.

Many teachers are trying new things, some because they are too young to fear, and others because they are experienced enough to know what they can and cannot get away with.  Sadly, the masses are in the middle, worrying about whether they can try something new or recovering from an observation that did not reflect what was really going on in their classroom.  How can this happen?  Perhaps, the observer was not aware of what to look for.

ISTE Standards are a great place to start.  As an international body, the International Society for Technology in Education has a global reach as well as a global view.  Of course there are technology standards for students, but there are also technology standards for teachers, technology coaches, and administrators.  That’s right!  Standards for admins!

ISTE Standards for Administrators

“So, what are these well-hidden standards for administrators,” you ask.  Well, here they are in a nutshell:

  1. Visionary leadership: Educational Administrators inspire and lead development and implementation of a shared vision for comprehensive integration of technology to promote excellence and support transformation throughout the organization.
  2. Digital age learning culture: Educational Administrators create, promote, and sustain a dynamic, digital-age learning culture that provides a rigorous, relevant, and engaging education for all students.
  3. Excellence in professional practice: Educational Administrators promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators to enhance student learning through the infusion of contemporary technologies and digital resources.
  4. Systemic improvement: Educational Administrators provide digital age leadership and management to continuously improve the organization through the effective use of information and technology resources.
  5. Digital citizenship: Educational Administrators model and facilitate understanding of social, ethical and legal issues and responsibilities related to an evolving digital culture.

ISTE A.3 Excellence in Professional Practice

Standard number 3, Excellence in professional practice is the one I am drawn to.  Here is how it breaks down:

a. Allocate time, resources, and access to ensure ongoing professional growth in technology fluency and integration
b. Facilitate and participate in learning communities that stimulate, nurture and support administrators, faculty, and staff in the study and use of technology
c. Promote and model effective communication and collaboration among stakeholders using digital age tools
d. Stay abreast of educational research and emerging trends regarding effective use of technology and encourage evaluation of new technologies for their potential to improve student learning

Wow!  How powerful!  I have to admit that I have come across a few admins that are succeeding in this standard and its indicators, but all too often, the admins are the last to know about innovation and technology fluency and integration.  Well, it’s not that difficult to stay abreast of the latest educational research.

Recommendations for Staying Abreast of Technology in Education

There are so many sources for technology information, and now it’s easier than ever to receive that information.  No longer do you have to seek out information; it comes right to your inbox, your Facebook page, your Twitter feed, and your Google page.  If you are an admin, and you don’t have one of those four technological connections, it is either time you let your students teach you, or it’s time for you to voluntarily remove yourself from education.  Being connected is a great way to understand and connect with your students and faculty.

Using your email to #connect with educators and #innovate. Email Resources

Many educational websites have newsletters and blogs you can subscribe to.  If you aren’t receiving at least two educational resource emails per week, here are some websites I recommend:

Using Facebook to #connect with educators and #innovate. Facebook Resources

Most people have a personal FB page, so why not let FB send you educational materials to help you become a better educator?  Here are some of my favorites:

Join Twitter to #connect with educators and #innovate. Twitter Resources

While I was not a Tweeter a year ago, I am now getting most of my best educational information through Twitter.  Twitter is not for wordy people or even full messages.  Instead, it is an opportunity to share links to great blogs, tidbits of wisdom, and periodically a funny comment.  When you create a Twitter account, do not leave your profile picture as an egg head.  Immediately add a saying, a meme, or a photo of yourself to your profile. Choose a few key people to follow.  I have given you a few recommendations below.  Choose whom you follow carefully, and don’t overdo it.  You don’t want to get overwhelmed.  Wade in slowly, and if you like it, jump in.

Using Google to #connect with educators to #innovate. Google Plus Communities and Collections

Google 9-square or 3x3.If you have a gmail account, you can create a Google Plus, G , account.  To do this, go to the 9-square in the top right hand corner.  See graphic at right.  Choose the red circle with G on it.  This will take you to your Google Plus account.  Set up your profile, and then go to the menu on the right and choose “Collections.”  Here, you can engage in dialog with educators, administrators, and innovation leaders around the world.  You will receive an email for each posting, and your post will go to every member in that community.  This can get overwhelming very quickly, so only choose one or two communities to join at first.  Click the JOIN button to become a MEMBER.  To leave a group, click the MEMBER button and choose LEAVE.

Here are some recommendations for administrators and educators looking to connect with and learn from innovative educators around the world:

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-6-23-31-pm  screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-6-22-54-pm  PBL Google plus community.  screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-6-22-21-pm

After joining a few Google Communities, check out the Google Collections.  These function more like Facebook business pages, so only the owner(s) can post, and you can reply.  It is still a great place for resources and getting connected.

As an admin, you have a unique power to make change.  Be the voice and catalyst for change.  If a teacher comes to you with ideas, research it, and support the teacher.  Without administrator and building leadership buy-in, most innovation falls to side.

Share Your Experience or Leave a Comment

If you have an opinion that you would like to share, please leave a comment below.  I’d love to get a discussion going.

Moving from Substitution to Modification in SAMR

Moving from Substitution to Modification in SAMR

Previously posted on Monday, May 23, 2016, on Digital Learning Cohorts – CCSD Ed Tech

Today, Señora Stewart’s Spanish I students at West Ashley High School worked on their family naming project on iPads. Without technology it is usually a written project; however, Señora Stewart and I worked to move it from the substitution level of SAMR to modification by including audio recordings, too.

The usual project was to create a poster of their imaginary family tree with photos of their imaginary family members and Spanish naming to go with each one.  For example, a student might choose a picture of Johnny Depp as her father, and his picture would be labeled “Mi padre es Johnny Depp.”  Without technology, this poster project usually takes two 45 minute periods.

As a member of the CCSD Digital Learning Cohort, Señora Stewart shares a cart of iPads with another cohort member.  Wanting to digitize this project, Señora Stewart decided to use the iPads.  Using either Keynote or Google Slides, the students were given requirements to create their family tree with the same titles and pictures AND a 2 descriptive sentences in Spanish.  At this point, the project is purely substitution/augmentation on the SAMR chart, so Señora Stewart and I worked to add something new to the project.

Because foreign language standards require heavy duty communication activities, we wanted to work in a verbal recording of the presentation.  To solve this request, we decided the students could insert their slides into iMovie and then record the words on the slide for each slide.  Now, we are at modification in the SAMR model.

On the day of the project launch, I met with 1/3 of the class in a quiet space to teach them how to use iMovie.  It took approximately 25 minutes to go over how to personalize  a Google Slide show, take and insert a screen shot, add an audio recording, lengthen or shorten the picture to match the recording, add transitions, and more.

Once the training was complete, that first group became the “iMovie Geniuses” for the class.  Upon returning to the class, each Genius took on two trainees and trained them on iMovie.  The students were not told to stand and teach, but some chose to.

In the end, Señora Stewart’s class doubled its skills assessed because it included both written and spoken Spanish.  This type of active assessment moves students from a fun exercise to one that is more challenging because it uses 21st century skills and incorporates the 4 Cs.  I am curious to see how class achievements will change as Señora Stewart becomes more confident and comfortable with the iPads and as she progresses in the Digital Learning Cohort in her district.  It is time to start collecting data from the students about their interest levels and their skill levels when it comes to Spanish.  There is no guarantee that student learning is improving using digital devices, and it is our job to analyze the data and share the results.
If you are interested in collaborating about World Language learning using digital devices, please do not hesitate to contact me directly or leave a comment below.