Archive for the ‘K12’ Category




7 Clicker Tips for K12 Teachers

posted: April 19, 2012 by

How can a teacher use clickers to maximize student learning?  What are some of the “best practices” that lead to success?  While there is no magic bullet or recipe for making clickers work for you, there are a few things that will probably help maximize the impact of clickers in the classroom.  I recently wrote up a short tip-sheet, geared at K12 teachers.  You can download the PDF Tip-Sheet and share it with your colleagues, and the text of that handout is below.


7 Clicker Tips for Teachers

Effective Use of Classroom Response Systems (“Clickers”)

“Clickers” are electronic devices that allow for real-time polling—often with multiple choice questions. They offer you and your students an instant display of the students’ responses. Use of clickers can help your students to learn key concepts, improve their enjoyment of class time, and let you (the teacher) better gauge what they are ready to learn.

But clickers are not a magic bullet!

The following factors hugely impact how clickers play out in your classroom: the way that you use clickers, the kinds of questions you pose, and the type of classroom structure you use. Listed below are some key strategies—based on research and experience—on how to make sure students get the most out of your use of clickers.

Go beyond quizzes.

While it’s tempting to use clickers as a quick fact-check of student learning, this is just one potential use. As you gain expertise, you’ll find that sprinkling clicker questions throughout class can:

-        Motivate and drive student learning

-        Develop students’ ability to communicate and explain their thinking

-        Help students become more aware of what is difficult for them

-        Help you adjust your teaching according to student feedback

Think of the wide range of questions you already ask your students on the fly (e.g., to get them to draw on their personal experience or get them to connect what they’re learning to the bigger picture). With some careful thought, most of your existing questions can be used with clickers.

Get your students talking.

Students learn more from clicker questions when they have a chance to discuss and debate the questions with one another, before casting their final vote and participating in a whole-class discussion. This method of teaching, called “peer instruction”, helps students to clarify their thinking, and allow students with a stronger grasp of the material to explain the material at a level more easily understood by their peers. Even if students do not arrive at the “right” answer, this discussion is valuable to students to help them to articulate and clarify their thinking. Of course, in order for peer instruction to be successful, the questions must be both challenging and interesting – if students aren’t curious about the answer to the question, or have no trouble answering it on their own, then why discuss it?

Use questions that challenge student thinking.

The limitations of understanding are revealed only when it is applied. Questions that are too simple, or just ask students to recall basic facts, are less useful than questions which challenge students’ ability to explain key ideas. Carefully chosen questions, including distracters based on common misconceptions, can call students’ attention to gaps in their understanding. Questions about which even well-prepared students can disagree, and generate discussion about the reasoning behind the answers (rather than “you know it or you don’t” questions), or even questions without a clear right answer, can yield a stronger understanding of the material.

Mix up your questions.

It’s important to use clickers frequently and to ask a wide variety of types of questions.  Simple questions give students a chance to feel successful; challenging questions push them to stretch their thinking (and help target the top-level of the class).  Consider a wide variety of question strategies to assess what students know about a topic, provoke thinking about something new, predict an outcome, stimulate discussion with a disputable question, or survey your students about their beliefs or experience.  Looking at existing question banks or working with colleagues is helpful as you learn to write questions.

The technology is not the pedagogy.

Nothing about this pedagogy requires the use of a clicker and low-tech options exist.  However, there are several benefits to the use of technology, including:  Anonymity, accountability, all students must commit to an answer, being able to hear from all students, accurate data on student responses that can be displayed to the class and archived for the future, and increased engagement and participation.  There is a definite benefit of students making an answer choice, in that they are more interested in the conversation in order to see how “their” answer holds up.  (We recom- mend giving little or no credit for correctness in order to encourage open discussion.)

Keep the mystery.

After students have voted, you hold a powerful tool in your hands; the results of the class voting.  Be savvy about when to show the histogram of student responses. Displaying these results often cuts short student thinking about the question (since they now feel they know the answer).  Use their curiosity to drive a rich whole-class discussion about the question, focusing on the reasoning behind the different answer choices. Then, once you are satisfied with student understanding of the question content, you can whip back the digital curtain to show how the class voted overall.

Start small.

Incorporating  clickers into your class is a process and does require some preparation.  Start with a few questions per class and gradually increase your use. Don’t be hard on yourself (or your students!) if things don’t work as you expect immediately.  Typically, teachers first concentrate on getting the technology working for them, then on creating good questions. Then they are able to work on more effectively facilitating the whole-class discussion and finally on using student responses to direct their teaching.  Experiment and discuss with other users. Talk to your students. Learn from them what they find helpful, and what they don’t like.  With time you can learn to flexibly integrate clickers into your teaching in a way that stimulates student learning and is an enjoyable part of class – for the students and for you.



While most formal studies have been done in the college setting, many of the best-practices in clicker use are drawn from the broad literature of what helps people learn, regardless of level.  Additionally, Penuel et al. have shown that K-12 teachers and college teachers approach clicker use in a similar manner.

1. The Peer Instruction Network can connect you to other new or experienced users:

2. Literature on best-practices, videos, and question banks available at

3. D. Duncan, “Tips for Successful ‘Clicker’ Use”, University of Colorado (2008).

4. Teacher Learning of Technology-Enhanced Formative Assessment Project (PI:  Ian Beatty), and associated publications:

5. E. Mazur, Peer Instruction, a user’s manual. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall (1997).

6. W. Penuel et al., “Teaching with student response systems in elementary and secondary education settings:  A survey study,” Ed. Tech. Research Dev. (2006).


You can download the PDF Tip-Sheet and share it with your colleagues.


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Webinar, “Make Clickers Work for You”: A powerful tool for instruction & formative assessment in K12 classrooms

posted: March 14, 2012 by

hand-on-clickerOn Thursday, the Transforming Education through Technology (THE) Journal is hosting a webinar (supported by i>clicker) on the effective use of clickers in K12 classrooms.

  • When:  12:00 pm Pacific Time / 3pm Eastern Time
  • Date:  Thursday, March 15th
  • Registration:  Link here

Classroom response systems (“clickers”) offer a powerful way to increase student engagement by going beyond simple quizzes. They provide an opportunity for peer instruction as students discuss challenging conceptual questions with their classmates, giving teachers and students an opportunity to get real-time feedback on student understanding through these conversations and the histogram created by student voting.

Clickers enable more interaction between students and faculty in classroom learning situations. Instructors use this type of response system to present questions interspersed throughout a presentation, receiving immediate feedback about student skills and knowledge. Clickers may also be used for attendance, quizzes, labs, group activities, and more.

Join this webinar on March 15th to hear how the University of Colorado at Boulder utilized i>clicker remotes to:

  • quickly and easily collect instant feedback
  • encourage interactive classroom engagement to increase understanding
  • differentiate instruction to address diverse needs


Handouts and slides

For those of you joining the webinar, you may want to download the:

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Upcoming webinar: Use of clickers in K12 classrooms

posted: February 5, 2012 by

hand-on-clickerI will be giving a webinar geared to K12 teachers next week, on Weds Feb 15th.  See details below for registration.

Make Clickers Work For You:  A powerful tool for instruction and formative assessment in K12 classrooms

Dr.Stephanie Chasteen
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
6:30 PM EST

We’ll show you how classroom response systems (“clickers”) offer a powerful way to increase student engagement by going beyond simple quizzes.  Challenging conceptual questions provide an opportunity for peer instruction as students discuss answers with their classmates, giving teachers a chance to hear student ideas and misconceptions by listening to their conversations.  The real-time histogram of students responses to these multiple-choice questions also provide instant feedback to both teachers and students as to the precise level of student understanding on that particular topic.  Clicker questions can also be posed before and after instruction, giving quantitative information about the effectiveness of a variety of types of instruction.  We’ll share ideas for question writing, give you practice to write your own questions and receive feedback, and provide a wealth of tips for facilitating class discussion and getting students to buy in to this teaching technique.

Register for the webinar


I have a few handouts for the webinar, which may be useful.

  1. Webinar handout packet
  2. Tips for successful use of clickers
  3. Bloom’s Taxonomy: List of verbs



Below are the slides from the presentation for your reference.

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Using clickers with experiments and demos

posted: January 30, 2012 by

Clickers are great ways to involve your class in what they’re learning.  I want to write about one type of clicker question that is particularly adept at enabling whole-class inquiry:  Clicker questions that engage students in an experiment or demonstration.  There are a few ways to do this, some which I find extraordinarily clever.

1.  Using clickers to predict the outcome of a demonstration.

This is pretty easy to do, and lots of research shows that students recall and understand demonstrations better if they’re first asked to consider what they think will happen.  This works particularly well with demonstrations that are intended to show “discrepant events” — something surprising or counter to intuition.   Many classroom teachers use a cycle called “predict-observe-explain” with such demonstrations, where students predict the outcome, observe the demonstration, and then work together to construct an explanation.    Clickers are especially well-suited to the “predict” portion of this cycle.

For example, here is a nice set of demos from Rhett Allain at Dot Physics many of which could be done using clickers.  One common demonstration is that of the Cartesian Diver, where an object that has some small air cavity in it is placed in a bottle.  When the bottle is squeezed, what will happen to the “diver”?  Will it go up, down, or not move?  That would be a great clicker question, especially if you embedded some reasoning into those answers.   Ie., “It goes up because XXX”, “It goes up because YYY,” “It goes down because ZZZ”, etc.

The answer?  It goes down, because, as Rhett explains, “When you squeeze the bottle, you increase the pressure in the liquid AND in the air in the diver. This makes the air bubble get smaller so that the diver displaces less water. The buoyancy force on the diver is equal to the weight of the water it displaces.”

Or, here’s an example from Eric Mazur, which could be easily tested using real equipment (left) and another one from Chemistry (origin unknown; right).


2.  Using clickers as an interactive lecture demonstration

A somewhat more structured way to use clickers with a demonstration is with interactive lecture demonstrations.  ILD’s are a more structured version of the predict-observe-explain cycle, and perhaps the only way that I really distinguish the two is that ILD’s are not always “surprising,” but often structured to help students see and apply particular concepts, usually in physics.  Below is an example.

Slide5Question via Shane Hutson, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University.

3.  Clicker questions based off simulations / clicker questions where students generate graphs or other predictions

But you can get creative with this type of question, too.  For one not all demonstrations need to be with real equipment.  Demonstration can be done with virtual equipment — the PhET Interactive Simulations are perfectly suited for this.

Second, you can have students generate their own answers, and then show the multiple choice version.

Here is an example from Kathy Perkins and Carl Wieman of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

First, they show students the Moving Man simulation, where a man will move in response to the input of initial position, velocity and acceleration.  Then, they have students generate their own graphs for a specific situation:


Then, they use common graphs to turn the students’ free-responses into a clicker question:


4.  Use clickers for real-time experiments on the students.

This works best in psychology classes, or some course where you want to demonstrate some fundamental aspect of human behavior.  One of the best ones that I’ve seen in this genre is listed below, which demonstrates our innate tendency to prefer immediate rewards.


5.  Use clickers to gather real-time data that students perform.

Sometimes having a few students performing a quick little experiment isn’t necessarily that compelling, but if you can aggregate data from the whole class then you have a powerful tool for demonstrating a principle or an outcome.  For example, if you want to demonstrate that flipping two coins results in a greater probability of getting a head and a tail than two heads or two tails, it’s pretty boring to have students sit there and do 50 coin flips to get a robust result.  But, if instead, you have each student do their own coin flip, and then click in with their results, you can get a real-time histogram that shows authentic data demonstrating that idea.

A fabulous article on using this technique with students to demonstrate the Monty Hall Problem (a nice statistics problem) was just published in The Physics Teacher. Students were able to perfectly replicate the theoretical prediction as a whole class, running the experiment in pairs.  It’s a free download, so check it out.

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Taking the content out of class: Some strategies for “flipping” your classroom

posted: November 28, 2011 by

I’ve written before on the idea of the “Flipped Classroom” for science instruction, where some of class content is moved outside of class time.  Video lessons are recorded in advance, and assigned as homework, freeing the in-person instructional time for working to apply and master that content with the guidance of the instructor.  This is not that radical of an idea — after all, in English class, students read the book before class, and then discuss it in class.  Science is somewhat anomalous in that we think that content delivery has to happen during instruction because students can’t wrestle with the ideas on their own.

I just had the opportunity to take a workshop on the flipped classroom from one of its’ active proponents, Aaron Sams, and wanted to share a few of the ideas I got there.

First, here’s a short YouTube video where Aaron Sams describes his Flipped Classroom, which I think gives a good overview of what it looks like in practice.


Aaron Sams – The Flipped Classroom

You can read more about the Flipped Classroom at several places:

First, Aaron emphasizes, there is no such thing as “the” flipped classroom.  Every educator can take a different approach that matches his or her goals and classroom setting.  The way that he does his classroom is that he spends 5 minutes on a warmup activity, 10 minutes of Q&A time on the video, and then the rest of the class is spend in guided independent practice and/or labs. Of course, he’s in a high school setting, so his class size allows for such an approach, but stay tuned for some ideas that I got for use in the college setting.

In order to flip your classroom, you need three things:

  1. Quality instructional videos (made by you or someone else)
  2. Engaging class activities
  3. Assessment to see if it worked.

Engaging class activities

Let’s start here.  What are you going to have your students do during class?  Worksheets?  Group work?  Labs?  The key is that the activity allows you to get in among the students, interacting with them so that that class time is better used to help guide them and allow them to achieve mastery of the content you want them to grasp.   The videos are meant to get at the lower levels of understanding (e.g., “remembering”).  The class time is meant to get into the higher levels of understanding (“application,” “synthesis,” etc.).


“We don’t use a tool for the sake of using a tool,” says Dan Spencer, “we use a tool when it is appropriate for the job at hand.”  Similarly, you shouldn’t make a video for the sake of making a video.  The pedagogy must drive the technology, not the other way around.  So, what do you want your students to learn?  Consider:  What do my students need me physically present for htat I currently assign out of class, and what I can I remove from class time that my students do not need me present for?  Direct instruction / problem sets / and lab reports, are common answers.

Consider a single lesson to start.  If you want to have students work on problem-solving skills, perhaps model problem-solving in your screencasts.    If you want to guide them through the book reading, perhaps create an online version of the lecture to help cue their attention to the important ideas (this has been done and studied some at UIUC).

Here are some example types of videos:

  • A lecture (can use pre-recorded ones, like MIT Open Courseware)
  • Video of you demonstrating how something works in real life
  • Video of a lab procedure
  • Guided problem-solving
  • Homework solutions
  • Prelab activity
  • Exam review

So, in the college setting, you could imagine using this sort of approach perhaps once a week, to go over homework, to help students get started on homework, to get them ready for an in-class activity.  If the videos are useful and help students either do better in the course, or get a good grade more efficiently, that motivation may be enough for them to watch them.  And you can then use the in-class time for tutorials, small group work, or other activities.  Sure there’s some up-front work to be done, but once the videos are done, you can use them over and over.

You can see a wide variety of example videos on the Learning4Mastery YouTube channel. I highly recommend checking it out — just a few minutes will give you a better sense of what can be done.

What kind of equipment might you need to do this?

An iPad makes it very easy.  Use ReplayNote to import a PDF, or ShowMe is a free app.  ScreenChomp allows you to download the result as a video.  And you can make your own stylus for an iPad for more precise drawings using these instructions here.

An annotated Powerpoint is also very easy.   Use screen capture software to record your screen (Camtasia is nice but pricey, Jing has a 5-minute limit, and Screencastomatic is all web-based).  To annotate the powerpoint you can use:

  • A tablet (like the $60 Bamboo tablet), though I found this to be a bit clunky
  • Activeslate on your Promethean or Smartboard, if you have one
  • A document camera (like Ipevo for $69) to focus on paper.  This seemed to be the easiest to do equations.

A webcam is helpful, to capture video of yourself.

It’s nice to have pop-up boxes (“callouts”) to point out certain items on your screen.  You can do this automatically in Camtasia, but you could do it in other software with manually created callouts.

A calculator emulator is very helpful, so you can model how students would calculate some of these quantities.  Just google Calculator Emulator to find a wide variety of emulators.  Here’s one.

Aaron had some tips to consider:

  • Aim for about 5 minutes
  • Use one video per topic, rather than cramming everything into one video
  • It takes about 30 minutes to record and edit a 10-minute video (at least, once you get good at it)
  • Do we need it perfect, or do we need it Tuesday?  Be satisfied with imperfection rather than obsessively editing.  You can correct your mistakes with callouts.
  • Create PPT’s that have blank spots for the webcam image and the calculator emulator, as well as spaces for working out example problems.
  • Think about how you want the final lesson to look when creating those PPTs.


If you’re going to challenge students to learn at a higher level, you have to test them at that higher level too.  Use continuous formative assessment to see if they’re achieving your standards.   Have them make a Prezi to indicate how ideas in the class are connected.   Have them work together on a group research project.  Whatever it is, have it match your instruction, so that your goals, instruction, and assessment are all aligned.

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Adaptive questioning: Homework targeted to students’ individual needs

posted: August 8, 2011 by

Ashs-teacher-and-studentsHomework is a key learning opportunity for students — it’s where they spend most of their time on your course out of class, and it’s typically the only place where they spend time on their own, puzzling out the ideas presented in lecture.

So, how do you create homework that helps bring students to a deeper understanding of the material, targeting their specific needs?

Some techniques are pedagogical — such as Just in Time Teaching, where you frequently quiz students on their understanding of the topics, adjusting your instruction and gaining deep insight into their common difficulties.  This can help you properly target the homework to the class.

But some solutions could be technological.  I’ve been really excited about ALEKS (Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces) since one of our chemistry instructors enthusiastically told me how much she likes it.  ALEKS provides individualized learning through “adaptive questioning” — or, questions that change as you go along.  If you’ve taken the computerized GRE, you know what this is like — if the questions start getting really easy, you know you’re in trouble, because that means it’s trying to adapt the questions to your level.

But unlike the GRE, ALEKS isn’t trying to assess student understanding to assign a grade or a score — rather, ALEKS offers targeted instruction to the student on the topics that he/she is ready for.  For those learning theorists among you, those would be the topics in that student’s zone of proximal development. And what’s most interesting is that it doesn’t use multiple choice very much — it uses open-ended tools, such as input into graphs.  The teacher gets a report indicating the students’ aptitude in a variety of topics.

Here is a very nice outline of ALEKS, complete with screenshots.

ALEKS can help both with placement and with learning — in learning mode, the student gets practice problems and explanations.  Once the student has demonstrated mastery of the topic, then ALEKS moves on to new material.  It seems that this would be very appropriate to use with the standards based grading that I wrote about in my last post.

Ways I’ve seen ALEKS used:

  • By institutions, to place students in the appropriate course
  • By homeschoolers, as an instructional tool
  • By students, as a tutor
  • By instructors, for homework and formative assessment

They have a variety of course offerings, many in K12, but in higher ed they have many different products in math (e.g., pre-algebra, trigonometry, and various prep courses), business, statistics for the behavioral sciences, and science (mainly chemistry, plus math prep for college physics).  It’s not free — last I saw it cost $20 per student per month, though there are some bulk discounts.  Though, as ALEKS points out, it’s cheaper than a human tutor, and does provide individualized feedback.  I’m particularly  happy to see that it’s research based, though I admit I’m not familiar with the theory that supports it, and I don’t see information on whether it’s research tested (i.e., does it do what it purports to do) rather than just based on reasonable theory — though this article suggests that they are doing good work in that regard.

For those of you needing a free solution — there is Diagnoser, which isn’t quite the same, but offers research-based testing to help teachers determine their students difficulties and misconceptions and offer suggestions on addressing those difficulties in class.

Image by Mosborne01 on Wikimedia Commons.

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Sizzle or Steak? iPads in Education

posted: April 18, 2011 by

IMG_4285By guest blogger Ben Van Dusen of the University of Colorado at Boulder

By now everyone has heard the sizzle of Apple’s new “magical” device, the iPad, but many are left wondering if there is any steak behind the sizzle. Is this a device that is going to revolutionize our K-12 classrooms or will it wither on the vine like it’s beleaguered ancestor the Newton?

If the iPad is going to shake-up our classrooms it won’t be on its own. The strength of the iPad is its ability to easily integrate a wide variety of digital resources into a single intuitive package. Imagine a classroom where the students are engaged in small groups working collaboratively on a single document. The students are simultaneously using the  google doc app while the teacher is monitoring their progress both visually and digitally. Students walk home with light backpacks now that they’ve turned in their out-of-date static textbook for dynamic digital textbooks. When they get home they access their homework, the day’s lecture notes, and an enrichment video all through their Blackboard app. The homework is submitted digitally through WebAssign where students receive real-time feedback on their answers. The educational applications for the iPad are too numerous to list here, but teachers have the opportunity to create a suite of applications specially tailored to fit their students’ needs. While many of these uses for the iPad have been tried before on other devices, the iPad has the potential to create a tipping point with its portability, price, power and intuitive user interface. There are also specific applications that take advantage of the iPad’s unique hardware, such as the Star Chart application that allows a student to see the names of the stars and constellations by pointing their iPad in any quadrant of the sky.

Digital textbooks are shaping up to be a killer application for the iPad by providing dramatic improvements over standard textbooks on several fronts. Most students are stuck using textbooks that were over-written to cover any material a course could possible review while also being generic enough to be accepted by any audience in any state. Because of the significant expense of buying new textbooks, students are often saddled with worn textbooks full of outdated material, especially in subjects that frequently change, like the sciences. Digital textbooks allow teachers to produce dynamic books that cover the exact materials for the course, in the order they are taught, include problem sets specifically tailored for the course, and provide interactive simulations directly in the reading. The best part is organizations, such as cK-12, are creating digital “flexbooks” and allowing schools to use them for free. Schools can enhance student learning and save hundreds of thousand of dollars in the process.

Among my fellow Physics Education Researchers the biggest call for concern over the iPad is its lack of support for Flash and Java. The majority of the science simulators, such as the PhET simulations, are written in java and have yet to be converted to HTML5. That barrier to access, however, is coming down. This winter,  Adobe announced their release of a new compiler that can convert Flash animations into HTML5. There are also third party applications, such as Skyfire, that will play Flash video on iOS devices (actually Skyfire’s servers download the Flash video, convert it to HTML5, and then pass it along to the phone). The release has been such a hit that Skyfire has temporarily marked the product as “sold-out” because their servers couldn’t handle the stress of the traffic. Neither of these products are perfect solutions nor do they address the issues with Java, but they signal a new direction. It is only a matter of time before all of your current Flash and Java content will be iPad compatible.

With the iPad on the market for only seven months it is too early to know exactly what impact it will have on education. There is research being done on a range of applications of the iPad in K-12 education but the results from these studies are still a ways off. But with the expanding app store, the continually updated iOS, and the inevitable evolution of the iPad the future looks promising. Over the last decade no one has shown more foresight or caused more creative destruction then Steve Jobs. There is no better technology company to bet on to bring our classrooms into the 21st century.

Image:  Glenn Fleishmann on Flickr

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Teachers and Digital Dirt

posted: January 10, 2011 by

image by OnTask“If you are a great teacher in the classroom, then you have a drink at a local bar, yes, that’s your own time and it’s your private life. But if someone sees pictures of it or reads about it online…”~ Dale Slagle, superintendent of schools at Frontenac, Kansas.

Cheers to the social web and being an educator without an “off switch.” No broadcasting blackout dates for teachers it seems, instead we are the quintessential “always-on” types, posting our “digital dirt” (for example, having a drink?!) 24/7 online for friends, family, parents, administrators and students.

“Teachers are role models…public image is important,” rightly observes Slagle. But should educators be allowed some privacy on Facebook?

Privacy and Lifecasting

Wait, there’s no privacy on Facebook! There are profile privacy settings which are notoriously complicated (as one teacher who lost her job found out the hard way). So much so that today the safest route is probably to assume that data posted on social networks (or emailed, or transmitted online in any way) is never secure, never deleteable, and certainly not private.

And as we all know, tagged photos and videos also grow legs. Always be vigilant, Googling, deleting, and untagging self-representations of anything that would not be appropriate in an interview setting, advises David Hogard, assistant director of career services at Pittsburg Kansas State University. His comments are directed to students and faculty.

Google Thyself is certainly great advice, even though it’s not always possible to get information removed from the web. But wouldn’t it be safer to avoid participating in Facebook, Twitter, and the like, altogether? Seems logical when any hint teachers might have a life outside the classroom (such as visiting a local bar) can potentially derail a career trajectory. But in fact not making a digital impression can also negatively impact your professional development. No one trusts a blank slate, as they say.

Digital Whitewashing vs. Digital Literacy

Instead of mass deletions in an ill-fated attempt to erase yourself from the web, educators could model for students (and peers) how to craft a well-rounded, work-life balanced e-persona online. Having some evidence of your hobbies and habits (booklists, video and music playlists, Facebook page “likes”), and social proof indicating your cultural, community, and professional connectivity (blogrolls, Twitter listings, Facebook group memberships, sports info and event photos), can be an advantage in light of “HR 2.0″ and all kinds of social recruiting. Consider that “you’re always sort of job searching, in a way,” said Hogard. Fair enough. Even for the tenured it’s worth considering how having a rich and relevant online persona enables network building, collaboration, and communication too.

While no one would argue against removing truly compromising/generally unflattering photos and other online data, totally whitewashing your e-presence as an educator can send the message that you don’t “get” the social web, and are lacking in digital fluency. I’d point to the ever-growing heap of research about socialnomics, social proof, the rise of the trust economy, and the importance of personal brand audits to back up that statement.

However the article I quoted above citing Hogard and Slagle indicates that it may be the administrators who are most likely to adopt an über-conservative approach (delete everything! post nothing!) to the social web. Instead, they should be demonstrating thought leadership on this issue and encouraging responsible, creative, and professional lifecasting. Is it time to organize/lobby for a workshop on your campus about professionalizing your digital footprint? If you’ve already had one and if any of the materials are online please consider sharing them in the comments. Thank you.

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Google tools for collaboration and learning

posted: December 7, 2010 by

I’ve gotten more and more excited about some of the tools that Google offers (for free!) that can help in collaboration and class discussion.  I want to highlight a few that I’ve recently become more familiar with, and how they might be used in the classroom.  The wonderful thing about most of these applications is that they inherently support social learning and student discussion.  Many of these applications are more obviously geared to K12, but with some creativity they can be applied to a wide variety of academic settings.

First, do you get confused signing into Google?  You don’t have to have a Gmail account.  Any email will do to create a Google account.  And if you have the problem where people invite you to share a Google Document but use the wrong email address, you can associate multiple email addresses with your Google account:  From within Google, click “settings” in the upper right.  Under “personal settings” look for “email addresses” and click “edit”.  Add an additional email address.

200px-Clipboard.svg1.  Google Documents

If you haven’t yet discovered Google Docs, you are missing out.  I was first told about Google Docs in, of all places, the Apple store by a random passerby.  Google Docs is a suite of online word-processing, spreadsheet, and presentation tools (think MS-office goes online and free).  They can be made private, shared with a set of individuals, or made public for viewing or editing.  Students could collaboratively fill in data into a Google Spreadsheet, or an agenda for a meeting can be embedded in the site and collaboratively edited.  Several helpful tips about Google Docs are on this article which talks about applications such as using a Google Doc for a student speakout, collaborative student presentations, and peer-edited essays.

738px-Boelge_stor2.  Google Wave and Google Groups

If what you want is really want is a discussion board, Google has a few nice options.  Google Groups basically creates an email listserv, with an online archived discussion thread.  An option that could have some more power is Google Wave, which was temporarily suspended but now it’s back.  This provides a rich real-time discussion forum, but it’s so much more than that.  You can collaboratively edit a document or create an agenda or brainstorm.  To get an idea of what a wave looks like, see this Wave on Using Google Wave in the Classroom.   Waves could be used for student discussions, but also for professional discussions like this — like a beefed up version of Twitter or blogs for enhancing your professional learning.  More on Google Waves in the classroom here.

3.  Google Sites

If you need an easy website, especially one that multiple people can edit, Google Sites is pretty handy.  Google Sites is sort of a webpage builder for dummies; choose a template and fill in your content just like you would on a website, and hey-presto, you’re published.  They have templates for creating wikis, class websites, and more.  This can be a great way to build a course website, especially if you’re making use of a lot of other Google tools because here’s the wonderful thing:  You can easily embed a bunch of other Google applications into a Google Site, such as documents, spreadsheets, or discussion boards.  Any Google Doc can be embedded (and made open for editing, if you wish).  Videos can be embedded, with an accompanying public document where students can provide commentary on the video.  A class calendar can be created on Google Calendar and embedded on the site.  There are just a ton of “gadgets” that can be embedded; just choose “insert” and choose “more gadgets”.  Many of these gadgets are customized for education.

My colleague Ed Johnsen has compiled a helpful site detailing some of the different things that can be done with a Google site at an example site here .

Some other ideas 800px-Daisy1web

(many courtesy of Edudemic)

  • Google Earth, Google Sky and Google Maps all have potentially useful applications in Geology education.  Geo Education has more.
  • Use Google News to include current events in the classroom
  • Make an iGoogle personalized homepage (similar to My Yahoo) to provide a one-stop shop for resources related to your course
  • One that I’m going to try right away is Google Notebook. Sort of like a web-based scrapbook, you can organize information from the web in a single location.  Helpful for researching a topic or collecting teaching ideas.
  • Google Sketchup is a super powerful tool for making 3D drawings; helpful for geometry and drafting.

Helpful resources:

Wave image from Malene Thyssen on Wikimedia; others in the public domain

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Categories: 21st Century Teaching, Engagement, K12
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Common challenges in using clickers (#aaptsm10)

posted: July 21, 2010 by

hand-on-clicker-100pxAnother post from AAPT Ian Beatty gave a very nice presentation  on common challenges in using classroom response systems, based on the last five years of his work with middle school and high school teachers, helping them to start to use this tool in their class.  Here is more information about that project (called TEFA) — check it out for publications and reports on the project.  Ian also has some wonderful short 3-4 page newsletters he’s created for the teachers in the project – here is my bid for him to post those online somewhere, they’re very useful.

Anyway.  Here are the main struggles he’s seen teachers encounter when they start to use clickers:

1.  Insufficient time to prepare questions.

When you unpack that, teachers are really saying that inventing good questions is hard, and that they’re busy.    He saw that teachers who don’t stress as much about creating questions are those who don’t see the question itself as the be-all-end-all of learning, but rather as a springboard for discussion.  They’re happy to take a question from the textbook, and use it to generate discussion, rather than to work hard to create the “perfect” question.   This is interesting to me, since at CU-Boulder we’re always trying to get people to ask higher-order questions.  Perhaps this causes unnecessary stress for a beginning user?

2.  Insufficient class time.

Again, unpacking this,  what a teacher is really saying is “I have a lot of material to cover” and “discussion takes time.”  A teacher who stresses about this aspect is likely to be seeing class as the place where content gets covered, as opposed to a time to digest that content.

3.  Poor participation.

Are students bored, or are they afraid to speak?   If they’re bored, is content being covered too slowly?  If they’re afraid to speak, is it because they feel that they’re being assessed?  If they’re trying to figure out what the instructor wants to hear (an “answermaking” mode) they’re going to be more reluctant to speak than if they’re focused on exploring their thinking (“sensemaking” mode).  According to Ian, students should not be given any credit for the right answer to a clicker question unless the question will be on a test.  To give an example of how a clicker question can be an exploration tool rather than an assessment tool, he shared one of his favorite question:

   If you were a superhero, would you rather be able to change:
  1. The mass of things
  2. The charge of things
  3. The magnetization of things

This question created some great discussion — and of course, there’s no right answer!

Teachers also faced challenges in the following areas:

  1. Clash with teaching style

  2. Incompatible with subject

  3. Technical difficulties

  4. Behavior problems

He didn’t get a chance to talk about those, but he has a great Prezi presentation that you can look at directly here, and I’ve embedded below.

ADDENDUM:  You can see a thoughtful post about Ian Beatty’s talk over on Derek Bruff’s blog. I think the three of us are becoming a clicker-clique.

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Categories: Classroom Response Systems, K12
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