#dda27 Book Spine Alchemy Spell

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Back to blogging ...
Back to making stuff again ...
Back to sharing ...
If you want to follow me this is what I look like from behind ...

#12kindacts Today I built someone up "behind their back". They'll never know.

Jumping through the Labyrinth of Networked Narratives fearlessly lead by my buddy and lifelong friend Alan Levine aka @cogdog. Naturally, I'm beginning with Day 27 of the Daily Digital Alchemy ...

#dda27 Book Spine Alchemy Spell
In a variation of book spine poetry, see what kind of magic spells you can cast by stacking books and taking a photo of their spines.

And it changed me ... 
These books have changed my thinking in profound ways, or, riffing off an old Van Morrison tune, "And they changed me to my soul ..."

And it changed me ... #netnarr #dda27

You, Your Kids, and Your Phones

A while back I shared some ideas for talking about Digital Citizenship using visual metaphors. It's important to continue these conversations in school amongst educators and with our students. We have to involve parents too.

Digital Citizenship isn't an expression often heard outside of school. The ways in which it's discussed in main stream media are quite different from how it's discussed in schools. Most often the popular press shares sensational negative stories how kids use the internet and their phones to hurt each other.

We have to have open and honest conversations about how things can and have gone wrong and what we can do to make things better in the aftermath of things like cyber bullying, online harassment, or sexting. That said, it's a far more powerful message to talk to kids and parents about how engendering empathy helps us understand each other so we choose not to hurt each other. It's also important to share stories and ideas how our modern mobile technologies empower us to effect positive change in the world around us in ways that weren't possible 10 or 15 years ago.

We have to move beyond stranger danger and scare tactics. Sharing frightening stories (often overstated) does nothing to model positive outcomes or move the conversation to discussions of how to deal with something gone wrong.

Kids need more models of empathy and empowerment. Parents do too.

Below is an interactive "stand alone" presentation I made specifically to start these kind of conversations with parents. Many of the slides are "clickable"; clicking on the centre of a slide will take you to the online article or resource displayed. There are also several short videos embedded throughout. It should take about 20 minutes to work through it all, including the videos. I hope the conversations it starts last much longer.

If you use anything I've shared here let me know how it goes.

photo credit: creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by photoloni

From Rap Music to Deep Learning Across the Curriculum

Why is rap artist Eminem considered to be such an impressive lyricist? And how does that help my students learn literature, history, current events, science, or mathematics?

Here's why Eminem is an outstanding lyricist:

So how does that help my students learn literature, history, current events, science, or mathematics?

Would it be fair to say that deep learning in your classroom includes students who:

  • closely read the texts you assign?
  • reflect on what they read while they read?
  • make connections between assigned texts and other sources, including multimedia from across the web?
  • actively participate in class discussions that continue beyond the time and space of the class?
  • get formative feedback from you and their peers; perhaps even from other learners beyond the walls of your classroom?

Genius.com (originally rapgenius.com) started with a passion for sharing how different people understand rap lyrics by adding personal digital annotations. It grew into an effort to collaboratively share and interrogate any web based content using text, images, videos, and links. While it began as an effort of rap lovers to better understand the meaning behind rap lyrics it wasn't long before the community grew to include the artists themselves and expanded into other forms of music, poetry, literature, news, history, law, sports, and any other web based content.

Genius is less of a website destination for people to collaboratively annotate web based text and more of a portable web based tool building a shared understanding of the meaning of any content at all. For example, the animation below shows Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky annotated and analyzed over time on genius.com. Below that, you'll find the embedded article to which you can contribute your own analysis.

Here's the live embedded page you can add to if you like; click on any of the highlighted text:

A number of educators (K-12 and Higher Ed.) have taken to hacking what was once a venue only for rap lovers and making it a dynamic learning platform called Education Genius.

I like the inclusion of game mechanics such as Achievement, Micro-Leader Boards, Progression Dynamic, and Status baked into the system. (People often confuse "gamification in education" with the simple playing of games. Gamification is really about using the compelling dynamics of game play in a educational setting.)

Genius includes modern novels such as: Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (who added his own annotations to the discussion), the Seven Ages of Man monologue from Shakespeare's As You Like It, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and  the complete works of Charles Dickens.

There are special genius.com education accounts for educators.

I'd love to see how a math teacher might hack this system to have students engage deeply with mathematics texts. Imagine if you had your students solve and annotate solutions to exam level questions as a review of your course leading up to a test or final exam. What if you then had the class as a whole engage with these student generated mathematical texts in the way people have done with the literature examples shared above? If you're looking for some online examples of this sort of work feel free to start with these wiki examples (Student Created Wiki Solutions Manuals) from my own classes:

Those links to my class wiki solution manuals may be a little dated; if I was doing this today I'd deliberately weave in more of the game mechanics I mentioned above.

You can apply the process described here, and on my class wikis, with pretty much any level of math from at least grade 7 upward.

If you do, let me know how it goes.

photo credit: creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by - EMR -

How Much Homework Is Enough?

The short answer is: It depends?

The Council of Ministers of Education Canada started publishing Assessment Matters! in 2013. These are a series of short summaries of specific educational issues that emerge from four different national or international assessment tests:

     • The Pan-Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP)
     • The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
     • The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS)
     • The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)

The value of homework for learning is a much debated issue. (See Rethinking Homework by Alfie Kohn and The Case For and Against Homework by Robert J. Marzano and Debra J. Pickering.) Recently, Assessment Matters! published a summary of findings from PCAP, PISA, and PIRLS(pdf) that summarizes what we've learned about how much homework is enough. This is what they learned:

Grade 4 Reading - PIRLS 
It turns out that spending more than 15 minutes a day doing "reading homework" negatively impacts reading achievement for students in grade 4. The blue bars in the graph below show what proportion of students typically do reading homework for various lengths of time. The broken line graph shows the same students reading achievement scores. The report quotes Canadian teachers: "more does not necessarily mean better."

Grade 8 Math - PCAP
Students who don't do any math homework have the poorest results on the PCAP test. After about 30 minutes of homework per week, students experience diminishing gains in terms of their results on the PCAP test.

Numeracy Note 1: Look closely at this graph. The scale goes from 440 to 540. The differences between the bars would appear much smaller if the graph started from 0 on the left and went to 540 on the right. This suggests that while there may be some gains to be had from homework in the middle years those gains may be rather smaller than implied visually by this graph. The same is true for the graph above (it goes from 520 to 570 rather than 0 to 570).

15 year olds & Math - PISA
Again, like grade 8 students on the PCAP test, 15 year olds who do no homework have the poorest achievement scores on the PISA test. And similarly, after about an hour a day homework offers diminishing returns on student achievement scores. With that said these results echo much of the research results on homework: modest gains for older students.

Numeracy Note 2: This graph shares the same issues with the scale represented (it displays values from 470 to 550 rather than 0 to 550) as those above. The left hand scale is measuring PISA test scores. The percentage scale on the right goes from 0 to 70; it measures the percentage of students who do different amounts of homework each day. The scales measure different things. Had the right hand scale started from 0, the right hand percentage scale, also starting from 0, would leave a rather different visual impression on the reader.

This graphs shows the same information using a common scale:

This is the same information again with different relative scales (600 max test score and 100 max percentage) both starting from 0:

These last three graphs represent the same information. They have quite different visual impacts. Go back and take another look at the first graph above; notice anything?

Further Reading
There are many nuances that go into determining the effectiveness of homework. "Having Homework" as opposed to well designed purposeful practice that students can reasonably accomplish independently aren't necessarily the same thing. The Canadian Council on Learning, having done a systematic review of the research on homework concludes: Homework helps, but not always.(pdf)

See also: Homework: What the Research Says(pdf) by Harris Cooper and Rethinking Homework(pdf) by Cathy Vatterott.

Further results from the tests mentioned above are available online: 

How much homework did your teachers assign when you were in school? How much of that homework did you do? How much homework do you typically assign to your students? How much of it do they typically do? How do you think homework best supports student learning?

photo credit: creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by MarkGuitarPhoto

Digital Citizenship Using Visual Metaphors

While Digital Citizenship Week has come and gone it's important to keep the conversations going. If you missed Digital Citizenship week it's never too late to get started.
Here's a practical hands on tool kit shared on Craig Bandura's blog he calls The Digital Citizenship Survival Kit. It's an excellent way to use physical prompts and metaphorical thinking to help kids understand how to behave ethically online. While Craig uses this kit with students in kindergarten through Grade 8 it'll work well with students of any age.

I've included Craig's original list of items and a few other suggested by people who commented on his blog. I've also added a few of my own nuances and additional resources for teachers to use with their students.

The Digital Citizenship Survival Kit


Padlock: Padlocks are used to secure the stuff kids keep in their lockers. It's also a reminder to keep your online passwords secure and private to protect your online stuff.

Toothbrush: In the same way you wouldn't share your toothbrush with someone else, don't share your passwords.

House Key: Younger students can be reminded that their passwords are like their house keys; only to be shared with trusted family members like their Mom and Dad.


Permanent Marker: Remember that what you "write" online stays online. Even SnapChats aren't really deleted when you know that apps like SnapHack exist.

Toothpaste: In the same way you can't get toothpaste back in the tube once it's out, you can't always unpublish what you've shared online. Think before you post:

Bar of Soap: Try to keep it "clean" online. You can check your social media footprint using free sites like Reppler; try it now.


Picture of Grandma: It’s not really about only publishing stuff you’d be happy for your grandmother to see; it’s more personal than that:

Coffee Filter: Don’t believe everything you find online, apply a critical thinking filter to everything you see. For schools, remember the best internet filters are the one’s we help students install in their own heads.

Bandaid: Don’t use words that hurt; use words that heal. Do One Good Thing. Better yet, have your kids discuss what one good thing they might do and have them share it like the kids in the videos below. Start planning now for Safer Internet Day; the second Tuesday in February. This year that will be 10 Feb 2015. (The first video in the playlist below might be a good conversation starter around the idea of doing one good thing.)

There are many more good ideas for visual metaphors in Craig’s update to his original blog post: The "New and Improved" Digital Citizenship Survival Kit. (The crumpled paper is my favourite.)

Let me know how it goes if you use any of these ideas in your classes.

photo credits: creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Dan Callahan, creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by dkuropatwa, creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by Sh4rp_i, creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Dave Lanovaz, creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by walknboston, creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by LuluP, creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by gorgeoux, creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by mauren veras, creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Monimix, creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by tonx, creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by jugbo

Assessment Rocks and Sucks!

I recently facilitated a conversation with new teachers on Assessment. I very much wanted to model what active learning can look like in the classroom and I simply refuse to just talk at people for an hour without involving them in the conversation in some way (as you can tell from slide 2 below).

The format was a riff on an EdCamp classic activity called Things That Suck.

Clear the tables and chairs away. Everyone stands up in the middle of the room, me at the front. My right hand is the "Rocks" side; people stand there if they agree with the statement on the slide. They stand on my left if they disagree; the "Sucks" side. They can also stand anywhere in the middle and change their mind at any time by "voting with their feet."

Each slide is followed by a 5 minute timer. Once the timer starts anyone can call out (I facilitate this part a little bit, making sure people get a chance to speak and be heard) and say why they've chosen to stand where they are. It's always fascinating to watch people walk across the room while listening to someone else because they've changed their mind.

Pro Tip: Get a "collaborator" to play devil's advocate; preferably one of the participants rather than someone seen as a leader. Very Machiavellian, but it works. And it's fun. ;-)

Feel free to use these slides or just replicate the format to foster some interesting conversations with folks where you are. Let me know how it goes.