Thursday, August 28, 2014

Getting to Know Your Online Students Through Truths and Lies

It’s your first night for your online course.  You meet with your online students through video conferencing (We use so that your distant students will have a feeling of belonging to a group instead of just talking with each other through discussion forums. This is when you have to take attendance, review the syllabus and preview the class so that your students will know what to expect, right?

Wrong.  Involved learning is a social process and if you want your students to feel “part of the class”, it is more important for you to help them connect with you and the class members in the first class session.  This is especially important in an online class where faltering technology and unfamiliarity can get in the way of students feeling part of group.

There are plenty of ice breakers that teachers do in face-to-face classrooms, but they don’t usually translate to  online interaction well.  I teach an online course entitled Using Digital and Social Media in Education for undergrads and graduate students at the University of Northern Iowa. I was looking around for a way to create an easy-to-use interactive ice breaker and I happened upon an idea for the age old game, 2 Truths and a Lie.

Two Truths and a Lie is a great party game where you make three statements about yourself.  Two of the statements are true and one is a lie. This activity allows people to share about themselves at a comfortable level of disclosure. The only problem is that if we just make the statements orally, the interaction with the class can get lost. The trick is to  create an interactive tool.  I did this using an Open Google Spreadsheet.  This was a document where students could type their statements simultaneously and then post judgments about their opinions about each of their colleagues’ disclosures.

Preparation Steps
  1. Begin by creating a Google Spreadsheet like the one in Figure 1.  (You can actually make a copy of my spreadsheet,
  2. Set the “Share” settings so that “Anyone with the Link” “Can edit” the file. This will allow your students to add their Truths and Lies and add their voted in the appropriate columns.  Your students won’t need to sign-in to do this.
  3. Add your name in the “0” row and then add your students’ names in the appropriate rows.
  4. Add your 2 Truths and a Lie in your section.  This is a great way to share something about yourself while demonstrating the process.
Running Truths and Lies
  1. Share the link to your spreadsheet with your students.
  2. Show them their names and the number next to each of their names. 
  3. Point out that there are numbered columns in the table and that each of their columns align with the numbers next to their names.
  4. Have them read each of your statements and cast their votes about whether they are Truths or Lies.
  5. Once they have casted their votes, you can tell the story about each of your statements.
  6. As you tell each story, add a T or L in the Answer column. The column has been set so that letters into this column will be red.
  7. Now it is time for your students to share about themselves. Each of the students will add their statements (2 truths and a lie).
  8. Once they have added their statements, they just need to cast their votes.
  9. The best part comes now when your students explain their statements like you did with your proclamations.   You might want to break it up so that half of your students share now and the others do it towards the end of your session.
Caution: I found that students who were connecting through their ipads had problems completing the table.  This seemed to be fixed by downloading the Sheets App from the Apple Store.

Give this a try.  I would love to get your feedback and hear about how it worked in your class.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

I Can Statements - Can You?
I Can This and I Can That . . .

What does this all mean?  Students saying that they can do things instead of teachers telling them what they need to know using the time-tested ABCD (Audience, Behavior, Condition, Degree) performance objectives that we have been using for year?

What is this all about?

For a long time we have been running a school system where it is all about the Teacher.

The Teacher Teaches and the Students Learn.

If the Teacher Taught and the Students DIDN'T Learn, it was the Students' fault because they weren't trying hard enough.

Observant educators realized that maybe the reason students didn't learn was because they didn't know what they needed to learn.  That meant that the teachers had to share the Learning Objectives that they had hidden in their Lesson Plan books so that the students would know what needed to be learned.

So Teachers were told to write their objectives on the board at the beginning of each day so that the students would know what to learn.

On a written exam, the 4th grade students will be able to multiply two 3-digit numbers together with 80% accuracy.

Unfortunately, the students (and parents) didn't always understand the objectives.  This was a precise definition of the expected outcomes of the lesson, but it didn't necessarily mean anything to the 4th grade students.

Soooooooooo, the key to getting students involved is to make the objectives understandable for the students . . .

Instead of the teacher writing on the board "The students will . . . "
                 the students can assume a personal note with "I can . . . "

The I CAN statement provides a personal proclamation of intent. It is written in Kid-Talk.  I have also read about writing I CAN statements that are written in Parent-Talk, but I haven't found any examples.  Isn't Kid-Talk good enough for both students and parents?

Here is a wonderful video which features Ellie Brunner, 5th Grade Teacher at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar, MInnesota, discusses how to use I CAN statements with students in the classroom as objectives for state standards.   This video is quite useful because she discusses how she creates the I CAN statements and then demonstrates how she uses them in class.

The only question that I have is the level of Measurability (I can make-up words like that because I am a professor =-)    Ellie talks about how important it is for I CAN statements to be Measurable but doesn't define the level of success that is acceptable.  Do her students need to achieve 100% success?  How about 90%?  Is 60% ok?

I spoke with Pam Zeigler, the Director of Elementary Education at the Cedar Falls Community Schools here in Iowa. She said that her teachers use 80% as the level of proficiency.  Since it is assumed that this is the acceptable level throughout the schools, this doesn't need to be included in the I CAN statement because it is assumed.

How do you use I CAN statements?

Additional Resources:

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Alfie Kohn Doesn't Like Open Badges and Gamification - Do You?

Are you using Badges in your classes? 

Alfie Kohn definitely isn't using badges in his classes. He doesn't like them. 
The video above is his discussion of caution about using badges and gamification. 

As you may know, Alfi is an advocate for change in schools.  He has written a number of books about making learning more relevant to students.   In this video, however, he is talking about how using badges and gamification in classrooms are merely manifestations of the behavioralist strategy towards learning. 

Kohn begins the video talking about how badges limit education to mere skill acquisition. He points out that the Kahn Academy  uses badges and that is a limiting factor because it doesn't deal with application of the skills. He says that this is the basis for another modern educational model, the Flipped Classroom. He also questions who is going to validate the criteria that will be used to identify success in knowing and mastering specific skills. 

Later on, Kohn criticizes using gamification in the classroom because we are taking gaming aspects from video games and applying it to the real world.  He also discusses the need to build intrinsic motivation in learners rather than extrinsic motivation where every success is rewarded by points or other external awards. He points out that psychological research actually states that extrinsic rewards will damage the acquisition of internal motivation. (His emphasis on this is understandable based upon his Punished by Rewards book that he wrote in 1993.)

While Mr. Kohn brings to front many good points about things that need to be considered when using badges and gamification in learning, I think that he is missing the boat.  He is presenting this in an either/or format.
  • He presents badging as an uncontrolled system for relegating the learning experience to mastery of skills with no application.
  • He limits his scope on gamification to the use of rewards for learning.
The important thing to remember in either of these situations is that they are NOT the only strategies that need to be used in today's learning environments. Today's students need to have authentic learning situations where what they learn extends beyond master of skills. They need to be organized in a way that will provide a relevant testbed for using the skills that need to be mastered. This can be organized in a fashion where students can earn badges as they master their skills but concurrently, they are applying their skills to create things that are relevant to themselves.

This morning I came across a CNN interview with Salman Kahn where he talks about how his video instruction can be used to provide content for flipped classrooms.  This provides more context for understanding the limits of Kohn's perception of education's opportunities.

Kohn's understanding of gamification is limited by a 20th century perception of learning. Learning is an ongoing process of trying to accomplish something and then receiving feedback on your success. This feedback might be a grade on a test, points in a game, feedback from a colleague or teacher or just having the real world tell you if it worked or not. 
It IS best to have a learning situation where students have an internal need to do well on a project, but learning is a gradated process that has multiple levels of success.  Success on these successive levels needs to include feedback for the learner to gauge his/her level of accomplishment and adjust future activities accordingly.

What is your opinion about Alfie's opinions?  
Are you using badging and gamification in your classrooms?
Is it the only way your students are learning or are you integrating it into your curriculum?
How do you do this?