Friday, January 29, 2016

Building On A Solid Foundation

Pejorative comments are driven by emotion. Every day I hear students say outlandish statements, filled with half truths and intent on inflicting emotional pain. Why do students relegate to such base tactics? Often it is an emotional response, designed to elevate themselves in a relativistic and survivalist culture.

At its heart, fundamentalism is a return to basic tenants, a a grounding on a foundation of original ideas. It is an intentional distancing from an emotional response to a temporary situation. Fads come and go, but a bedrock of beliefs weathers any storm.

I believe this is true both in my approach to education and my personal religious beliefs. As a fundamentalist Baptist, I heartily agree with the original five fundamental tenants from the Doctrinal Deliverance of 1910:
Notice there is nothing mentioned about sexual preference, alcohol consumption, entertainment or any number of stances that Fundamentalists are commonly accused of posessing. Those who hurl the epithet "fundamentalist" as if it were a vulgar designation are sadly ill informed or viciously twisting words. Instead, Fundamentalism is the rooting of beliefs and actions upon an unchanging foundation of doctrine despite cultural whims or passions.

But a similar pattern has emerged in education. With every new research comes another "better" way for students to learn. We craft increasingly more elaborate methods to entertain and teach students. Teachers frequently update how they plan, assess, and monitor the molding of minds, wills and emotions. And yet we stand with slack jaws, dumbfounded as to how Finland can produce better test results while only focusing on the basics in almost half the instruction time.

It's time we stop the childish mud slinging and verbal sparring. I agree that many who claim to be fundamentalists have championed causes and acted in ways that are grossly inappropriate. But that is no reason to decry those who ardently adhere to a foundational belief system. Only by going back to building on the basics, can we make sense of the emotional clambering, in both our nation's religious circles and educational community.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

How to Prepare Students for Online Standardized Testing

Whether we like it or not, online standardized testing is a hurdle all students will need to cross. Here are some ways to help prepare them.

Develop good organizational skills.
Students need to know where things are, even if they can't see them. Visual learners may need to map information locations. Habitually messy students need to know how to use good file names and search features. "Out of sight, out of mind" often applies to that minimized window hiding in the task bar or the file somewhere on a flash drive.

Develop screen transfer skills.
Help students understand that it is OK to write physical notes from screen content. It's not one or the other, but a collection of tools that help them. Students need to understand that plagiarism does NOT mean digital content can ONLY be viewed. Help students dig deep into screen content and draw connections to physical documentation. The inverse is also true. Students need to learn how to transfer physical documentation and transfer it onto a screen through typing, illustrations and outlines.

Develop troubleshooting skills. ​
As students (and adults) get older, we find it convenient to blame technology for perceived shortcomings. Help students understand how to analyze a problem and look for a solution. This article gives a five part model of how to incorporate problem solving into the curriculum.

Develop the ability to think with a keyboard.
This is different than typing speed, it's the ability to "get thoughts on paper" quickly through the keyboard tool. Until a student is comfortable and proficient with the recording tool they cannot record their thoughts with any speed or accuracy. This is often why students are forgiving of typos and prefer shortened texting codes.
  • Lower grades should increasingly require students to compose using various keyboards: PC and iPad in both landscape and portrait mode.
  • Upper grades should increasingly require more documentation in typed format. This includes the polished, finished product and the immediate thought capture such as note taking and brainstorming.
  • A suggested tool to use is Google Forms. Start with short responses and increase to longer written responses. In the computer lab, my middle school students balk at a 140 character requirement (the same max size for a twitter post).

Develop the ability to comprehend audible instruction without reading the text.
Some online tests have audio instructions without video or accompanying text. Give students audio recordings to interact and follow. Students often have lazy listening skills because they rely more on video and written text.

Require screen reading.
Reading text on a screen is very different from a book. If it's the Internet, students have trouble discerning important text from advertising. Because they cannot physically annotate without copying, teach students how to mentally break apart visual text. Begin by printing visual instructions, then demonstrate how to deconstruct and organize the concepts. Also have students practice reading instructions and content from screens of varying sizes.

Use online calculators.
Math look completely different when using the ten key number pad and a giant on-screen calculator. Have students practice working out problems on instead of paper and pencil.

The goal should be to develop students who are calm and confident with the digital tools modern standardized testing requires. This gives them the best opportunity to engage the content without stumbling over the testing mechanism. If you would like help implementing any of these items, please contact me. With a little tweaking of our current practices, we can give students another edge in meeting the challenges of the future.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Typing Resources Parents Can Use At Home

Touch typing tools parents can use at home.
This morning a colleague asked for recommendations on typing drills she could have her kids do at home. I suggested starting with Typing Club. Kids can type the lessons without tracking or create a free account to keep personal score.

I also suggested Scripture Typer  as a way for her kids to work on memorizing their weekly Bible verses. They have mobile apps and the website. They also have the option to type entire words or just the first letter. Remember to use the correct version if studying for a test!

Another trick to help children become more confident in touch typing includes placing a shirt or shorts over the keyboard so their hands are covered. Like so many things in life, it's the consistent reinforcement of correct technique every time students use a keyboard.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Civil Rights' Foundation of Faith

Rediscovering Lost Values from Sweet Speeches on Vimeo.

While Martin Luther King Jr. was pivotal to the civil rights movement, we often forget that he was first and foremost a Baptist minister. As King himself once explained, "In the quiet recesses of my heart, I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher."[1]

Some of King's greatest messages did not occur before huge crowds. Instead his dependence on the Bible and an unshakable reliance on God formed the bedrock for all his civil rights work. King saw an unbroken connection between faith and action, that they intertwined into a single life.

The King Center archive has made many documents accessible, including notes, letters and sermons. The Internet can also provide original audio and transcriptions of King's sermons and speeches. This holiday, while the nation salutes King's work for civil rights, get to know his heart and faith.

A transcript of the sermon audio above can be found online here.  In this sermon, King asserts that we must go back and rediscover precious values lost to materialism and technology. He reminds us that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control. And because Biblical truth is timeless, his words are equally applicable today.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

On A Mission to 1770 Boston

Students explore 1770 Boston as a young apprentice navigating turbulent political tensions while learning their trade.

Today our 5th grade history students augmented their lessons on colonial America with the first challenge in Mission US is produced by the public broadcast organization WNET Thirteen.

A nice feature is the ability to download and run a local Flash copy of the game. This provides a smoother experience if you have a sketchy Internet connection. Students will need to register on the main website if they want to save their progress.

There is also an iPad app that contains a follow up quiz to the mission. However, there is no longer any tracking mechanism for teachers to monitor student progress. As such, it makes a great supplement to curriculum and a fun way to reinforce key ideas.

There are three additional missions: the underground railroad, Cheyenne survival on the plains and a Russian immigrant. Educator guides and classroom videos help round out the materials available to teachers.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Table Management Through Correct Cell Reference

With new classes starting this week, I've discovered a few flaws in my game style class management system. Particularly when students drop or add the class.

Overall the reference formulas are pretty complex. Only because of my familiarity with them, am I able to locate all the unique data points and how they impact the visible results. By keeping redundant points identical and pulling data from a central location, I am able to keep the whole system manageable. 

Data inside the same workbook is found through HLOOKUP and VLOOKUP formulas. For those tables to function best, the data should be sorted alphabetically. At other times, I needed data from a separate workbook where the lookup formulas do not function. In those instances I referenced the specific column using IMPORTRANGE.

The problem occurred when changing, adding or dropping a name thus moving the data to a new column. The IMPORTRANGE function continued to work, but now referenced the wrong column data. Fortunately, I had used a consistent naming system across all sheets and tables. This kept all the data in the same sequence. It was easy to work through each individual student data sheet, in sequence and adjust the target column.

Another feature that paid off well was the use of an absolute cell reference for all IMPORTRANGE functions. This meant that changing a single cell (the reference point) changed all the resulting values across the sheet.