Looking Back

After reading Dean, Ewan and John I've decided to assemble my own 2006 retrospective. I went through the monthly archives and pulled out one post from each month that, looking back, I still like. Since I tend to write sporadically some months were easier than others to identify a single favourite post.

This was an interesting exercise, interesting (to me) to see how my interests have evolved over the past year. I am writing more this year than I did last year. The past two years have seen quantum leaps in my thinking and pedagogy. I'm starting to feel like I've passed the inflection point though ... I feel like it's slowing down. We'll see what 2007 has in store.

Anyway, here's my personal list of favourites from 2006:

Why did you start blogging with your classes ....
The title says it all.

Paying it Forward
A student graduates from my Grade 11 (blogging) class and takes it upon himself to mentor younger students at one of our feeder schools. Chris Harbeck and Dave Reece had just started blogging with their grades 8 and 7 classes.

Resonance and Dissonance
Some kids in my classes love the blog, others don't. Different learners have different learning modalties and needs.

Wiki Solution Manuals
I always tell my classes; "Learning is a conversation. If you're not talking to somebody about it, you're not learning it." I seeded a wiki with problems from every unit in the course. Then built an assignment around it to accomplish several learning goals.

Talking to Student Teachers in Virgina
Sheryl and I were talking about having one or more of her student teachers mentor my classes via the class blogs. The conversation took something of a different tack -- they asked really good questions. I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to the student teachers.

The Next Movement
A reflection on how my use of online tools in the classroom has evolved over three semesters. I have found it really beneficial, for my own growth, to do this sort of reflection at the end of every semester. It's this sort of reflection that first drew me towards writing my own blog. I'll probably do another one of these in February 2007.

Marco Torres Keynote @ BLC 2006
My first time ever at Alan November's Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston. (I've been invited back for 2007.) I had planned to write three posts like this, one for each keynote presentation, but the summer got away from me -- my daughter was born (#3) and we were having renovations done on the house. Marco's presentation was one of the best. I still think about it a lot. I keep coming back to the same question. Is this pedagogy transferable, scalable and sustainable or is it possible only for someone with Marco's talent and skill set?

Won't Be Fooled Again ...
My first post about exercising digital literacy and verifying sources on the net. My most recent post on this issue seems to have stirred up a bit of a hornets nest.

Did you know? - The Winnipeg Remix
Thanks to Karl Fisch for creating such a powerful presentation and putting such a liberal copyright on it. This allowed me to remix and personalize it a bit for my students. I began all my classes this year by showing them this video. I have also shown it to teachers in workshops I have given that have anything to do with teaching and learning in the 21st century.

What Does Success Look Like?
My wife and I took issue with the way our son was assessed on a major project in his class. This led to me reflecting on how to improve the learning for students in my classes.

Flickr Assignment Rubric - in progress
The second to last in a series of posts about the use of linking, tagging, RSS, Google Docs and flickr to create a meaningful assignment for my math classes. What I liked best about this post in the series is the way it illustrates the students thinking and contributions to creating the criteria by which they will be assessed.

Stealing a line from Ewan: "Feel free to go back and read these, leave some comments months on or simply just let me indulge myself as I reflect on a year gone by." ;-)

Happy new year!


Change is inevitable.

I'm switching over to the new blogger just out of beta. I've learned that if I don't do this myself "in a few weeks" (no one really knows how long that is) they will do it for me; whether I like it or not. I've backed up my template. I've backed up all my posts and commments. I've made several copies of each. Now I'm going to click the button that says switch to the new version. I've learned from reading up on it in the google groups support for blogger that once I do this I can't go back if it does something nasty to my blog. My index finger is shaking as it hovers above the button ....

Wish me luck. ;-)

7 hours later all my blogs have been switched over to the new blogger. If you're reading this I guess it was a success. Time will tell if the switch was smooth or not. A few of my other blogs need some template editing but overall, it went off without a hitch.

Flickr Assignment Rubric v1.0 - We're Out of Beta!

Here is the rubric we've settled on together.

It's been an exhilarating experience watching the kids develop this. There were several points where Lani and I asked pointed questions about things that needed to be considered. Not everyone participated online. A few more participated in the class discussions we had. We never really got 100% of the students involved but those that did participate made excellent contributions to the document and the thinking behind it. It took me about an hour today to finally bring together everyone's ideas and edit the final version of the document below.

Looking back at the process and the thinking that went into it I find it interesting how the Hot Spot category earned the greatest attention and discussion. While there was some discussion about the mechanics of using hot spots (they shouldn't cover each other up) the better part of the conversations we had, and thinking we did, centered around how they can best be used to capitialize on their functionality. How the hot spots can best be used to connect with the mathematics these pictures are supposed to summarize.

The introduction to the rubric below was added last night as a footnote by one of the students summarizing their input on the document. Today the students in all my classes felt that it should be preserved. I suggested it become the overview of the assignment. We all agreed.

Anyway, here it is, version 1.0 fresh out of beta. ;-)

Flickr Assignment Rubric
It is paramount that the picture be in tune with the purpose of the assignment. It should show, first of all, the student's understanding of how the photo is related to mathematics. The hot spots are important too, because that's essentially your way of teaching other people. Creativity is a factor, because keeping one's interest in the photo contributes to the learning process. Finally, the picture quality should be kept in mind too. If we can't see the picture, it's going to be hard achieving all the other requirements.


The picture must be tagged properly with the course tag and assignment tag. If tags are misspelled or no tags are present the photo cannot be graded and will receive a grade of ZERO. Not tagging your photo properly and accurately is analogous to not handing in your work or not putting your name on it.

Mathematical Content (50%) Hot Spots (35%) Photograph (15%)
Level 4
Packed with mathematical concepts/facts. (Minimum 7 concepts/facts.) All hot spots accessible; i.e. "smaller" hot spots are "on top" of larger ones, they do not obscure each other. All hot spots are actually labels and relate to parts of the photo (not on blank space with filled in notes). One or more hot spots include a link to a relevant supporting resource on the internet. Minimum 7 hot spots. In focus or appropriately focused for effect. The subject of the picture occurs "naturally," it is not a contrived shot. Really makes the viewer "see" math in a place they hadn't realized it existed. (Example: trigonometry)
Level 3
Significant number of concepts/facts included. (Minimum 5 concepts/facts.) All hot spots accessible. Most hot spots are actually labels and relate to parts of the photo. Not more than one hot spot on blank space. One or more hot spots may include a link to a relevant supporting resource on the internet. Minimum 5 hot spots. In focus or appropriately focused for effect. The subject of the photo has been "set up" or contrived yet still illustrates math found in "the real world." (Example: derivative)
Level 2
Some effort to include content evident. (Minimum 3 concepts/facts.) Most hot spots accessible. Most hot spots are actually labels and relate to parts of the photo. More than one hot spot is on "blank" space. May or may not include links to relevant supporting resource on the internet. Minimum 3 hot spots. In focus or appropriately focused for effect. Although it is a "real world" picture, objects have been used to "draw" the math. An obviously contrived shot. (Example: trigonometry)
Level 1
Very scarce content related to assignment. Less than three hot spots are visible or have information related to the theme of the assignment. It is evident that little effort went into finding and shooting a picture that reflects the theme of the assignment.
Level 0
Content unrelated to theme of assignment. No hot spots or mostly unrelated to the theme of the assignment. Out of focus and/or otherwise difficult to look at.

Creativity (up to 5% bonus)

The maximum possible mark for this assignment is 105%. You can earn up to 5% bonus marks for being creative in the way you approach this assignment. This is not a rigidly defined category and is open to interpretation. You can earn this bonus if your work can be described in one or more of these ways:

  • unique and creative way of looking at the world, not something you'd usually think of;
  • original and expressive;
  • imaginative;
  • fresh and unusual;
  • a truly original approach.

Flickr Assignment Rubric - in progress

I wanted to capture our "work in progress" as we develop the flickr assignment rubric. Many of the comments that have been made are still contained in this doc. Reading it from top to bottom is not the order in which the comments were made; it's been done asynchronously over the last week. There have been significant changes to the document over this time that are not captured in this 11th hour snap shot of the collaboration. Students (and Lani and I) have been adding comments in different colours to distinguish different authours although this hasn't always been consistent. It may be hard to make out some of the coloured text against the background of the blog. I'm fascinated by the discussions the students have been having as they work through this. They have until tomorrow morning to finalize everything. I will republish the final rubric tomorrow when it's done.

Flickr Assignment Rubric

To All My Students
I've started putting together a rubric to grade your future flickr assignments. I'm opening this document to all of you to help build the rubric. So far I've included only 3 categories:
Tags (no or incorrect tags, no marks)
Mathematical Content (50% of total mark five point scale 0 to 4)
Photograph (what percent of the mark should it be worth? What are the descriptors for each level?)

Questions: What other categories should we have?
Should it be marked on a 5 point scale (0 to 4) or just "done" or "not done."
(Do you think having a category for photograph, and a separate one for hot spots would be of value? -Lani)

Feel free to add to this document and make whatever changes you like. Together we'll build a better assignment. ;-)

The Goals (Feel free to add to this.)

  • Learn to look at the world through mathematical eyes and see the math in everything, everywhere.
  • In the course of looking for the pictures and creating the annotated hot spots think about old material in a new way. Strengthen the mental links you have to concepts already learned. Make learning sticky.
  • Creating digital mind maps of old material. Each student contributes one to the pool. At exam time you can review all the annotated pictures in the pool made by yourselves and your classmates. Teach and learn from each other.
  • Build a permanent resource collection by creating a course specific set of real world "clip art." You can use the pictures in projects, assignments and blog posts. I will also be able to use them the next time I teach the course to benefit the next group of students. You will be teaching people you have never met.
  • Feel free to add more pictures that you think will benefit everybody in their studies.
  • Have fun with this! Maybe involve your families and friends in your learning like getting them to add their own pictures. You could post the pictures for them.

Tags (1%) (Mr. K. says:
OK, you only want this to be worth 1%. But if the photo isn't properly tagged I can't find it and therefore cannot mark it. That's why I had this as "Improperly tagged = -100%" and no marks for proper tags. We need to have something here about proper tagging and me finding/marking the photo.) (Angry Chipmunk agrees)(Jefferson says: have it worth 5% so it wouldn't cost as much but significant enough to motivate the student to tag it properly) ( Oliver says: I agree with Jefferson, how about 4% though :) .. ) (i think that tags should be worth 10% so that students will really make sure that their tags are the correct tag for that assignment~ruschev)(we still have the same problem, if they are not tagged they can't be marked because they can't be found.)
-100% Tags are misspelled or no tags are present so therefore photo cannot be graded and will be given a ZERO. (i agree, if its not there or misspelled its impossible to find, and therefore is not handed in... this should be -100% ... sorry guys :P ~Lisa)

-tennyson 12/21/06 : well anyone can make a mistake on tags., so i think tag worth 1 percent is ok, but tag are pretty eazy,can u say easy mark, so it should be like alil bit more.

Tags should be worth 5- 10 percent. Why? For those who can't make a simple tag for their work, they should lose on this section. What is a piece of work if you don't tag it. An example,creating a theory and you do not put your name or credit yourself. It only takes about 10 seconds to label your work. anything below 5 percent is too low. Anything higher than 10 percentis too much for tag marks. ~Mark

[i think that a photo with an incorrect tag OR with no tag at all should be awarded ZERO and i think we should keep it that way. Why would someone want a -100%? Is it really necessary to give a negative mark to someone who did not label their flickr assignment? ~ zeph]

(I think you're right zeph, actually, what you said is what I meant. - Mr. K)

Mathematical Content (50%)
4- Packed with mathematical concepts/facts. (Lani wonders should there be a stated minimum number of mathematical concepts/facts?) (Jefferson says: half of me says yes because it will give students a required minimum to think of facts and concepts, the other half says no because one concept can relate to the entire photo "quality over quantity") ( Oliver says: I believe we should have a minimum mathematical concept/facts. )(Jefferson: if we were to minimal concepts, where would it fit in the rubric?) ( Oliver says: I believe there already is marks for minimal hot spots ) (this one looks good to me, I like how you've outlined how many are required for an ok mark.. that way we can all make sure we've got extra so that we can all get exceptional marks like i know we can :D)
3- Significant number of concepts/facts included.
2- Some effort to include content evident. (minimum of 3 hot spots with mathematical concepts/facts)
1- Very scarce content related to assignment.
0- Content unrelated to theme of assignment.

Hot Spots (30%)

4- , all hot spots accessible (not covered by other hot spots), all hot spots are actually labels and relate to parts of the photo (not on blank space to just fill in notes). (Lani wonders about "(not covered by other hot spots)"; I viewed one assignment which was exceptional where the hot spots overlapped. Is that the same as covered?) (no, I meant where hot spots "cover" each other in such a way so that the spot underneath cannot be accessed -- imagine a large square on top of, covering, a small one. -- Mr. K. ;-) )
3- Hot spots work to a certain degree, and less information in each hot spot. Most of the hot spots are visible and are easily accessed.
2- At least 50% of hot spots are working and are fairly easily seen.
1- Some hot spots are visible and only some of the hot spots have unrelated info (Ben:is this good?)The hot spots always work, the real question is are they ... appropriate(?)/accessible(?)/relevant(?) or not.
0- No hot spots or mostly unrelated to the theme of the assignment. ( Oliver says: Photograph section is good to go. =).. )

[yes, i agree with oliver. the hot spots section is ready to go... ~zeph]

-tennyson 12/21/06 : what if it was a mistake on one of the hotspot that you forgot to put, or it was too late to put it. at least get some marks.

[i'm sorry but according to mr.k, "LATENESS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE!!!" so if they forgot to put a hot spot or forgot to finish it, or wanted to make a late change, well TOO BAD! it cannot be part of the mark. mr.k gives ppl a reasonable amount of time (a huge chunk of time) to finish a certain assignment. if they cant finish in time, then they have to manage their time more wisely. they have to learn to manage their time more wisely cuz they'll be needing that skilll when they are adults. well they can re-edit their flickr assignment but it wont be part of their mark. after all, this assignment is also intended to review for the exam. ~zeph]

Maybe we should have a "hot spot" category? One student included a link to other resources on the net in one of their hot spots. I thought that was a "higher level" use of hot spots. The link was to a song to help remember the quadratic formula so it was mathematically relevant as well as a creative use of the hot spot. - dkuropatwa 12/18/06, 8:47am

Photograph (10%)I'm wondering here if this should be about technical aspects of the photo or content of the photo or both? Is one more important? -Lanihall 12/20/06, 10:09pm

4- In focus or appropriately focused for effect. Really makes the viewer "see" math in a place they hadn't realized it existed ...( I agree with this. There should be a purpose with the effect of the picture

3- -tennyson 12/21/06 : Well The picture quality shouldn't be alot of marks because some of us only have camera phones.And some people dont carry their camrea 24-7. Like example ,i found a picture in the class , at the time i didnt have a camrea around , but i only had my camera phone.But i agree with the in focus effect tho.



0- Out of focus and/or otherwise difficult to look at(?) ...

[maybe the photograph section should be more of a "done" or "not done" kind of thing cuz: how can you grade a photo? the photo all depends on what the student is thinking and their creativity. ~zeph]

Creativity (10%)I like the thinking behind this category but it still needs some fleshing out. Should the category have levels (0-4, I'll calculate the appropriate "percentage") or should it be the way it's begun to take shape below? I also thought Ruschev's comment about the weighting was an important one. Anyone else want to weigh in on this? -dkuropatwa 12/18/06, 8:50am

10%- Highly creative (photo used was unique) (how about making Creativity 5% and put 5% more in Photograph or in Mathematical Content..because some of us aren't that creative..just to be fair ^_^ hehe~ruschev) (I think that there should be something special about the homework to get a full mark. I think that adding a link or a song will help solidify someones homework-----m@rk) I AGREE ...Natnael The whole point of the assignment was to look at everything in a new way... you don't have to be "creative" to find a good picture, you just have to be willing to have an open mind and see the math in everyday life!! If the person has taken the time to find something that is actually relevant, and unique (as in no other person has seen that math in that object) than their creativity mark should be good.. you see this mark is more about trying than putting pressure on yourself to be "creative"... and who knows maybe when you're just trying to look at things differently you'll end up being creative. I say keep creativity at 10% it gives people a reason to try to find something unique and interesting-- and we all know that that is where the fun is :D

[i agree with the purple-worded guy cuz the point of this assignment is to have fun AND to review for the exam. maybe creativity should just be like a mark out of 2 or 3? or something that's worth a small amount of our flickr assignment cuz being creative is a gift and for sum ppl, their level of creativity is... well..not as great as compared to other ppl. maybe awarding the person some bonus marks for an outstanding creativity is a good idea. THIS IS A MATH CLASS NOT A CREATIVE ART CLASS!!! ~zeph]

[i believe creativity should be on a scale that Mr.K suggested, such as from 0 to 3 whereas 1 is awared to the ppl who has a flickr assignment that obviously states "I dont care about this assignment"; 2 for ppl who are in the "middle" that m@rk suggested, and 3 for the "top-notch" ppl and who are creative with their assignment. awarding someone a 4 or 5 in this portion of the assignment (bonus marks) are for ppl who have an awesome "over the top" flickr assignment and make the whole class say "wow! i would've never thought of that!" ~zeph]

5%- Some degree of creativeness.( i think that this for a homework that is not so special. What i mean is a homework that is just usual to see)
0%- Unrelated Content and photo. (i think that this is for a homework that has no link or content whatsoever with the picture)

-tennyson 12/21/06 : what if other people see the photo that it does related. Like at least get some marks from it.

+2%- unique and creative ways of looking at a photo, concept wise, nothing obvious) ( not one you'd usually think of.. etc)

Top 100?

I just received this email:

Hello Darren,

OEDb: Online Education Database has just named its Top 100 Education Blogs, and I'm pleased to inform you that A Difference has made the list. The full list is available at http://oedb.org/library/features/top-100-education-blogs for your perusal. Congratulations!

Jimmy Atkinson
OEDb: Online Education Database

On the face of it this sounds like great news! It sounds like I've won some sort of award. At the very least a significant badge of distinction ... but I don't know Jimmy Atkinson. I've never heard of the Online Education Database. So, I did some digging ...

First, off to the site to see what it looks like. No Ads. Seems to be a clearinghouse for information about online university degrees. The about page links to three articles on the net written about the site. Actually, two of them are link lists. The third references OEDb as a resource for learning about online education programmes. It also says on this page that OEDb was launched in September of this year. The link provided is to a site called PR Leap. It has ads and describes itself as: "PR Leap is an online press release service that offers both free and paid distribution to search engines, newswires and websites since 2003." All other links on the pages that I looked at linked to other pages on the site. No external references.

Next, off to Google to see who is linking to the site using the "link" search command (link:http://oedb.org). According to Google no one is linking to this site (Dec. 20, 2006). Over to AltaVista to try the same search. 821 results (Dec. 20, 2006). The first 20 results seem to point to sites publicizing OEDb. One link caught my eye, hit #14, dotmarketer properties (see below). This is their homepage.

Now off to easywhois.com; I entered the domain: oedb.org. The results:

I zeroed in on:

Created On:05-Apr-2006 17:33:16 UTC
Last Updated On:09-Oct-2006 22:58:35 UTC
Expiration Date:05-Apr-2008 17:33:16 UTC 

as well as the Registrant Name, City, State, Country and the email addresses.

Next a Google search for "Jimmy Atkinson." Some self promotion sites but there could be more than one Jimmy Atkinson in the world. The sixth hit was to the Six Sigma Blog which also appeared on a list of sites sourced back to dotmarketer.com. The fourth and fifth hit were to a recent Stephen Downes post at OLDaily where he gives a positive but reserved review of a "post" by Jimmy Atkinson at OEDb called Hacking Knowledge: 77 Ways to Learn Faster, Deeper, and Better. (I only skimmed the article but it did catch my interest and I plan to go back and read it sometime next week.)

Last stop on this tour was to the Internet Archive to use the Wayback Machine (I searched for http://oedb.org). This showed the url http://oedb.org first went live in August of 2000. It was about the Oahu Economic Development Board (OEDB) in Hawaii. In July of 2002 the site undergoes a major redesign and name change to Enterprise Honolulu which is still active at http://www.enterprisehonolulu.com. The next major change is when the domain switches ownership and becomes the Outdoor Education Database (OEDB) on August 6, 2004. The last record of the domain is April 28, 2005. It is still the url for the Outdoor Education Database. From what I learned above it looks like Jimmy acquired the domain for the Online Education Database (OEDb) in April of this year and went public with it three months ago, in September.

I looked at the top 100 list of education blogs. There are a lot of folks I know there. It's a pretty good list although I'm glad I didn't write it. I really wouldn't know where to begin, or end, such a list.

Jimmy seems to like my blog. I'm gratified that he feels my work belongs in his top 100; but is it "big news" that A Difference has made this Top 100 list? Well, no, not really. It looks like it's just one person's opinion. The site and email made it look like it was a significant accomplishment. I think the Eddies were a much bigger deal.

Why would Jimmy do this? Go to all the trouble to find, organize and link to 100 different edublogs? That's a lot of work! He might just be trying to generate some traffic on his site or he might just want to share his personal favourites list. Either way, there's some opacity here that should be made transparent.

I hope my students are reading this.

Exemplary Mathematics Writing

This really is exemplary mathematics writing. The graphics are minimal. The effectiveness of the writing is what makes it Hall of Fame worthy.
The thing is, all my classes have decided that scribe posts need to be voted into the Hall of Fame. A minimum of 5 votes are required, 8 in the grade 11 class. And tonight, the grade 11 and the grade 12 pre-calculus classes have also outdone themselves. Take a look and see what I mean. ;-)

The Recognition of Your Peers

Yesterday morning (in Winnipeg) EdTechTalk hosted the awards ceremonies for the 2006 EduBlog Awards. K12 Online 2006 won in the category of Best Post, Resource or Presentation. Sheryl, Wes and I have said to each other many times: "This is really a win for the broad cross section of the edublogging community that came together to make it such a success." -- Congratulations, and thank you.

I neglected to mention one person who worked tirelessly and quietly behind the scenes. Without her poise, charm, sensitivity and class, K12 Online would have been less than it was: Lani Ritter-Hall. Thanks Lani, this is as much your win as anyone else's; both as a presenter and a volunteer who gave unselfishly of your time and energy for the benefit of us all.

On another note I just finished reading Graham Wegner's reflection of the results of this year's Eddies. He's got mixed feelings after looking through the stats published on the Awards site.

Personally, I don't attach too much significance to these stats. The percentages would be a little more interesting if we also knew the total number of votes cast, but even then, I don't think it would be terribly relevant. The fact of a blog's nomination is the most significant datum here.

In order to be nominated your site must be blindly and consistently chosen by many different people as one of the best in a category. One email address, one nomination per category (I think). For me, the whole exercise could be concluded when the nominees are announced. The annual list of nominees is a significant contribution to my personal learning network.

The voting process is such that one person can vote many, many times as long as they do so from different computers. (How many computer labs are in your school?) As a matter of fact, a knowledgeable computer user could vote many times from the same computer. (What do you know about "cookies?")

Now it's possible that someone might use many different email addresses to skew the nominations in their favour but given the amount of time and effort required to do that I think it unlikely. The ease with which one person can cast multiple votes makes that a far more likely practice.

Are people actually doing these things? I don't know. And I don't really care. Look, it's nice to win. I would have been happy to win in my category but that I didn't doesn't really bother me. In my view, the fact of my nomination carries far greater significance. I think the same is true for all the nominees. I wish nothing but the best to all the winners ... and congratulations to everyone who was nominated! You've earned the recognition of your peers. Peers who really understand what it is you've been doing. Bravo!

The winners and nominees are, or rather, my reading list for next little while is:

Best Audio and/or Visual Blog
absolutely intercultural! Anne Fox (Denmark), Laurent Borgmann (Germany)

Best Group Blog:
Polar Science 2006 YES I Can! Science team, McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada Diane Hammond, Susan Stiff, and Dr. Tom Stiff (Canada)

Best Individual Blog:
Christopher D. Sessums :: Blog Christopher D. Sessums (USA)

Most Influential Post, Resource or Presentation:
K12 Online Conference 2006 Darren Kuropatwa (Canada), Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach (USA), Wes Fryer (USA)

Best Library/ Librarian Blog:
Hey Jude Judy O’Connell (Australia)

Best Newcomer: (joint winners)
Ed Tech Journeys Pete Reilly (USA)
tilt! Paz Peña (Chile)

Best Research Paper:
Nancy White: Blogs and Community Nancy White (USA)

Best Teacher Blog:
Have Fun with English! 2 Teresa Almeida d’Eça (Portugal)

Best Undergraduate Blog:
CILASS Student Blog University of Sheffield Student Ambassadors of the Centre for Inquiry-based Learning In the Arts and Social Sciences (England)

Best Wiki:
Flat Classroom Project Vicki Davis (USA), Julie Lindsay (Bangladesh)

Edublog Star Award (Convenors choice):
Duck Diaries Barbara Cohen (USA)

Just So Cool! (Rubric Revisions)

This is just so cool I had to share it!

I just got a comment from Bud on my previous post asking if he could see the rubric my students are working on. I said yes and invited anyone else who wants to see what's going on to email me and let me know if you want to watch. I can invite you as an observer or collaborator. I'm pretty free with letting folks observe as the students craft their assessment rubric. (It's such a fascinating process to watch!) Collaborators are welcome as well in the context of mentors. (I'm using the same criteria here as I do for mentors to my class blogs.)

Right after replying to Bud's comment I decided to drop in and see if the doc has seen any action ... boy! Has it ever! TIME really hit the nail on the head ... if only they'd do a focus issue on the new context of education, I think my students should be on the cover ... but then, I'm biased. ;-)

Look at the revision log ...

Flickring Assessment

I'm not entirely happy with the results of my students flickr assignments. Some of them are simply breathtaking, others, well ... not so much.

Over the last week or so we've been talking about the need to have a rubric to guide the students in their work and to fairly recognize when someone does really great work and when they don't. I was thinking that I'd put together an outline of a rubric and then we could discuss it in my classes; try to come to some sort of consensus that provides a "picture" of success and rewards effort appropriately.

As I was marking some the assignments tonight I created a new google doc and started taking notes on what I would like to include in the rubric. Then I saw the [Collaborate] button ... hmmm ... (Google Docs allows you to invite people to your documents/spreadsheets and make changes together in real time, online, through your web browser.)

I decided that sharing the doc with every one of my students would be a better way to do it. I started it, now I'm going to let my students take the lead. I've included Lani in the group because I feel she's an important part of our class community (she's been mentoring all my classes since September). I told her she should feel free to sit back and watch or chime in with her own 2 cents. Whatever she's most comfortable with.

There are approximately 50 people working on this document as of 20 minutes ago.

This is going to be fun to watch. ;-)

The Two Sides of the Story

Anne Davis has long been one of my favourite people. Actually, she was one of my first blog teachers. I continue to learn from her all the time.

This is the story of how we met. (Listen to the mp3 file. 9.1 Mb 9 min. 56 sec.) I hadn't ever really heard the details from her perspective nor had she heard them from mine. It all came out, incidentally, when I skyped in to a workshop she was giving at the GaETC conference in November.

Thanks again Anne ... for the kind words and ongoing encouragement. ;-)

Stop the Presses! Numeracy Across the Curriculum

I had the hardest time preparing for the workshop I gave at Elmwood High School last Friday. It was about numeracy across the curriculum. The questions I asked myself were: "How do I talk to a bunch on non-math teachers about weaving numeracy into their daily teaching? Not as something extra or an add-on; they already have enough to do. How can I make a "scary" subject like math accessible and palatable to a bunch of non-math folks? And, how can busy teachers integrate numeracy into their regular curriculum?"

Oy! How do I get into these things? (A friend asked and I said yes.)

About two weeks ago I posted about it and asked if anyone had any suggestions, or examples to share, of how they had integrated numeracy into the teaching of non-math subjects. Six people contributed some content to the numeracy wiki or shared resources with me. I want to thank Sarah Chauncey (Library Media Specialist, Grandview Elementary School), Kelly Christopherson (administrator, Eston composite School), Chris Harbeck (Teacher, Sargent Park School), Terry Freedman (ICT Consultant, UK) and Ian Dixon (Mathematics and Psychology teacher) and Laurie May (English teacher, Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute).

Here is the presentation I gave as a series of videos ... some of the content comes from YouTube. I've remixed the audio recording of the workshop with my PowerPoint slides into videos I hosted at google video. YouTube has a 10 minute time limit for videos that are uploaded unless you are a "Director." I'm not sure I would have been accepted as a YouTube director and google video doesn't have the same restrictions. The quality of the video is best viewed at google video. Select "original size" from the pop-up menu that you will find there in the bottom right hand corner of the video window.

I've already got a number of ideas about how to make this a better workshop next time around. Nonetheless, as always, your comments, questions, compliments, complaints, confusions, anxieties and other inquiries are welcomed and encouraged ...

The Introduction ... (4 min 28 sec)

You Need Math ... (3 min 9 sec)

First half of workshop (50 min 50 sec) ....

We took a 15 minute break ... then ... (2 min 41 sec)

1 Billion is Big ... (3 min 13 sec)

This is the end ... (22 min 20 sec)

Update December 13, 2006
PowerPoint Slides
Audio: Part 1 (30.6 Mb, 63 min. 43 sec.) Part 2 (15.2 Mb, 31 min. 42 sec.)

Edublog Awards Nominations

This was a shocker.

I've been nominated for an Edublog Award 2006 in the category of Best Teacher Blog. The other teacher blogs in this category are simply outstanding. I'm privileged to be counted among them.

K12 Online 2006 was also nominated in the category of Most Influential Post, Resource or Presentation. Sheryl, Wes and I said to each other many times as we were planning the conference that the success of the conference is a function of the time, energy and effort contributed by the presenters and participants and many, many people like Lani-Ritter Hall and all the moderators for When Night Falls who worked behind the scenes to make it all happen. Although the nomination notification was sent to three of us, this is really a nomination for a whole lot of folks. Congratulations to everyone who helped make K12 Online such an overwhelming success. ;-)

K12 Online shares this nomination with other exceptionally high quality "Posts, Resources or Presentations." One of which is the collaboratively authoured ebook, edited by Terry Freedman, Coming of Age. I did not contribute to the first edition but I do have an article being published in the second edition coming out in January 2007.

Looking back, 2006 has been a blogging good year!

I'm grateful to everyone who nominated me in any category. My friend Ron used to always say to me: "Darr, you just never know who's looking at you." He was right. I really didn't expect any of this. Thanks.

Flat Classrooms in Dhaka and Camilla

I'm a little late blogging about this: Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay started an exciting and ambitious collaboration between Vicki's grade 10 class in Camilla, Georgia and Julie's grade 11 class in Dhaka, Bangladesh -- the Flat Classroom Wiki Project. The students from each class are paired, one to one, with each other and together are researching and exploring one of six topics selected by their teachers from Thomas Freedman's book The World is Flat.

The students have until Tuesday December 12 to complete their work and archive it on the project wiki. Julie and Vicki have asked four educators from around the world to act as judges to decide on which groups' work is the best in each of several categories. They asked me to be the Canadian judge. I was happy to accept. This is such a ground breaking, innovative project!

Vicki and Julie are being careful to have the kids document their collaboration in the discussion tab associated with each wiki page they create. They've made doing so part of the assessment rubric. They are also asking us, the judges, to do the same with an eye towards creating a reference that others can use to replicate the nature of their work.

I've recently been exploring the use of web 2.0 tools in the context of assessment as learning. I'm also exploring the new pedagogies made possible by web 2.0. Vicki and Julie are too and they are doing so concretely in their classrooms every day. They are also documenting and sharing their work with all of us on the project wiki. Projects like this really underscore the changing pedagogy required of all of us in the 21st century. Teachers and students collaborating across continents, learning and exploring current issues in a meaningful and concrete way, sharing the entire process transparently with the world, encouraging others to build upon their experiences and modeling best practices with the new tools available to all of us for free on the web.

I was talking with a friend of mine who teaches at the University of Manitoba. I was sharing with him Julie and Vicki's model of learning and collaboration. He thought it would be a great idea for his fourth year undergraduate students. I told him Julie and Vicki teach high school. ;-)

Julie and Vicki have been getting some recognition for their work. It seems that Thomas Friedman reads Julie's blog. He left her a message. One of Julie's students was interviewed by the BBC and they have also been nominated for an Edublog Award in the Best Wiki category. They are in some very auspicious company. Read about the other nominees and vote for your favourite wiki of 2006 here.

Flickring Mind Maps ... making learning sticky

Four ideas came together:

  • (1) A month ago, over at The Fischbowl, I read a post called A Math Teacher's Experience about using cell phones to motivate a lesson in mathematics.
  • (2) Alan Levine's flickr section of his K12 Online keynote presentation.
  • (3) I've been rereading Coming of Age and read Terry Freedman's using flickr as clip art article.
  • (4) One of the posts that I have been trying to write and struggling with the words is about the idea that new tools should foster new pedagogies: What can I do now with web 2.0 tools that I couldn't do before?

All my classes are making custom clip art collections ... actually, it's grown into a sort of flickr mind map and review of material that has already been taught. Here's what we're up to ...

Two weeks ago I introduced all my classes to flickr and asked them to sign up for (free) accounts.

Assignment 1 (acclimatisation), Time Frame - one week: Take a picture of your favourite number using your cell phone or digital camera. Upload it to flickr and tag it with a unique tag for each class. Also tag it with the assignment tag: interesting. You cannot copy pictures off the internet but you can "set up the shot" in any way you like. Include a description of why the number you chose is interesting to you. Be creative and have fun with this.

The purpose of this assignment was just to get them used to the mechanics of using flickr. During the week they were working on their first photo assignments I posted this to each of the class blogs (illustrating what success looks like):

This picture shows that 7 x 7 = 49 ... click on it to find out how. ;-)

Don't forget about your flickr assignment.

Mr. K.

This was to expose them to the idea of creating "hot spots" on their pictures. As pictures began to come up in public searches on flickr for each of the unique course tags, I created a flickr badge (you'll have to "sign in" to follow that link) for each class. I put it in each blog's sidebar under the heading "Our Math Photo Gallery." The engine behind the badges is the RSS feed associated with each unique course tag. Flickr generates these RSS feeds automatically.

Assignment 2 (concise digital review and content creation), Time Frame - one week: We're about halfway through the semester. Each class was given a topic or unit we had studied together; Pre-Cal 30S: quadratic functions; Pre-Cal 40S: trigonometry; AP Calculus AB: derivatives. They have to take a picture of something in the real world that is connected to these ideas. The picture can be "set up", but it has to be a real photograph taken by the students themselves. Screen shots and pictures of something written down don't count ... it has to be a "real world" picture. Once they have taken and uploaded the picture they have to fill in as many hot spots on the picture as they can illustrating concepts related to the topic they were given.

The Goals: They will have at least two more assignments like this last one ...

  • »They are learning to look at the world through mathematical eyes and see the math in everything, everywhere. Those with cell phone cameras are walking around thinking about and looking for math everywhere they go.
  • »In the course of looking for the pictures and creating the annotated hot spots they will be thinking about the material covered in a new way and strengthening the mental links to the concepts they have learned. I hope to make their learning sticky.
  • »They are creating digital mind maps of the material we learned way back at the beginning of the semester. Each student contributes one to the pool. At exam time they can review all the annotated pictures in the pool made by themselves and their classmates. They will be teaching and learning from each other.
  • »They are creating a course specific set of real world "clip art." They can use the pictures in projects, assignments and blog posts. I will also be able to use them the next time I teach the course to benefit the next group of students. They will be teaching people they have never met. They are also building a permanent resource collection.
  • »They are having fun with this. So am I watching it unfold. They are talking to other students and teachers in the building about this. A buzz is growing. Can you imagine the conversations they are having at home? They are involving their families and friends in their learning.

Some Snags
There were two snags.

First, most kids just uploaded a single picture to flickr. It didn't show up in the tag search. When a new account is created on flickr a real live human being examines the pictures in the account to ensure that they are real photos and not clip art, screen captures, etc. If they are real pictures, the public photos in the account are added to the pool of pictures in flickr searches and RSS feeds. However, there must be a minimum of 5 public pictures in the account in order to start this review process.

Second, they found my flickr account and saw pictures of me. I had told them to never upload pictures of themselves to the internet. When they saw that I have pictures of myself online a couple of them figured it would be alright to upload pictures of themselves as well. (That really drove home a lesson to me about modeling.) In some cases, the inclusion of pictures of themselves was an honest oversight. We discussed the fact that teachers and students are different. I also explained how I came to have pictures of myself online: the photos are used in publications or conference announcements that I am a part of; they are part of my professional life. In our student-teacher relationship I am very careful to protect their identities. As we have discussed in class many times, their anonymity as students is important. We do not do anything that connects their images to their names. This was an important lesson for them (and me). Because of the school division's proxy server filter we cannot do this sort of assignment at school. In a computer lab I can monitor my students closely. We could have addressed this issue when it came up immediately. If the school division didn't have a filter this project could have started more safely. All students that had uploaded pictures of themselves have removed them. We are only taking pictures of things, not people. If a picture is of a person, their face is obscured. Most students are using aliases as their flickr user names, others are using first names only.

A very close, granular assessment of this sort of assignment would undermine the pedagogical goals. I expect a lot of deep learning to come out of this. This assignment is being marked for completion only; if it's done they get 100%, if not they get 0%. In thinking about using new tools effectively I also do not want to make mine or my students workload heavier. I characterize this as assessment for learning. This includes the time and effort required for assessment. The badge on each class blog picks up the pictures as they are uploaded. Also, a quick search in flickr, by course tags (pc30sf06, pc40sf06, apcalc06), brings up all the related students work instantly. Marking is a breeze.

The Results
The "real" assignments (the mind maps) are due on Monday, December 4. The Pre-Cal 30S class assignments are due on Wednesday, December 6 (they have a large project due on Monday). I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

Check out the flickr badges in the side bar of each class blog:
Pre-Cal 30S (Fall '06)
Pre-Cal 40S (Fall '06)
AP Calculus AB (2006-07)

I couldn't do any of this before RSS, tagging, linking and of course, flickr. ;-)

Living in Whoville

My AP Calculus class has started publishing their digital story. I'm always taken aback by the quantity and quality of writing students generate in my math classes when they write online. Some of what they say is profound. This years class has taken this project to a new level. Every year someone creates a graphic of our hero. Last year we had the Prince of Calculand. This year we have Pedro the Pi-Rate Panda ... with a graphic and a song (although part of the song is familiar. ;-))

Equally profound is the impact that a comment from another person can have on a student's motivation to learn. I'm blessed to have Lani Ritter-Hall as a mentor for my class blogs. Her presentation, Second Nature - Extending dialogue in the blogosphere, at K12 Online really showcased her brilliance in this area. She does stuff like this almost every day for the kids in my class, for which I'm very grateful ...

Lani said...

    Hi Christian,

    This is absolutely excellent!

    Your writing is riveting; I couldn't stop until I
reached the end. You are extraordinarily creative and 

    I love the references to today's world: "Queen Hopra
Winfrey, Hugwarts,McStarrybucks." I'm sure there are 
others I did not catch.

    These two sentences really stopped me in my tracks
for a moment:

    "He was one of those few who knew for a fact that
thoughts, valuable as they are, aren't worth much unless
coupled with action."

    "There were those who tried to be wise, and those
who just were, and one can never be taken for the other.
Hisoka was a prime example of the latter."

    I applaud you for your seamless integration of the
calculus challenge!

    What a tremendous beginning to a grand project!!

    11/29/2006 11:35 AM   

christian said...

    Hi Lani!

    I honestly can't tell you with words how I felt when
I read your comment. It felt...great! Thanks for the 
kindness! Haha, that's all for now.. I'm starting to use
exclamation points too much -_-
    11/29/2006 6:31 PM

I think Christian is referring to the random acts of kindness (comments; at home and abroad) we were talking about in all my classes today. (Chris Harbeck is another regular perpetrator of these random acts of kindness in all my classes ... thanks Chris!)

We've been getting visitors (about 12 or 13 years old ... I think) from Mr. Jones class in Scotland. My kids (about 16 to 18+ years old) have started returning the favour. This might turn into a little side trip where we exchange podcasts.

I'm not sure if the world is flat. But it's starting to feel like we all live in Whoville.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

Busy days, late nights and a couple of blog posts I've been trying to write for days but the words aren't coming easily.

Stumbled across this tonight at Chris Betcher's blog. Steve Jobs 2005 commencement address at Stanford. I guess I'm a little late to the party. ;-) He talks about three things: connecting the dots, love and loss, and death. Made me think ... of me ... Will's kids ... and my own. ;-)

(14 minutes, 33 seconds)

Teaching Numeracy

In two weeks I'm doing a workshop about teaching mathematical literacy across the curriculum. It's an interesting topic: How do you teach mathematical literacy to non-math teachers in a way that they can immediately apply in their daily pedagogy?

If you've got any ideas or suggestions to share I'd love to hear about it; particularly if you don't teach math. (Although math teachers' ideas would be very welcome too.) What sort of information, ideas or skills would help you help your students improve their numeracy? I've built a numeracy wiki where you can drop in and share your ideas. I plan to record the session and publish it as a podcast when I'm done. That same wiki will also serve as the presentation space on December 8.

Kathy Cassidy (grade 1 teacher from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan) has been honoured by the Province of Saskatchewan with an award for using computers in education. More recently she was in Philadelphia as one of five teachers honoured with a Microsoft Innovative Teacher Award. Thanks to Dean for sharing the good news. ;-)

Two links I'm definitely going to share in my talk are Kathy's brilliant assessment practices (listen to the podcast) and pedagogy for teaching number sense. Way to go Kathy!

Distributed Teaching and Learning

Terry Freedman asked me to contribute an article the the second edition of Coming of Age: An introduction to the NEW world wide web. It was originally scheduled to be released this month but due to circumstances beyond Terry's control publication has been pushed back to January 2007. Terry recently emailed all the contributors to the new edition to say we should feel free to publish our articles on our blogs in the meantime. The second edition has over 50 articles; I'm really looking forward to reading it.
In the past few months a number of people have emailed me asking how I orchestrate the use of scribe posts in my classes. This article is a step-by-step guide to using scribe posts with your students ... and then, how to take it to the next level. ;-)

Distributed Teaching and Learning
The Power of Pedagogy and Audience

by Darren Kuropatwa

All my classes are hybrid classes. They have both a face-to-face component and an online component. Each class is supported by a blog. The class blog is used in a number of different ways but in this article I will focus on two ideas, Scribe Posts and Feed Windows, pedagogy and audience; the first leads into the second.

Harnessing the Power of Pedagogy: The Scribe Post

This straightforward idea has incredibly powerful consequences.

Each day, except for test days, a different student is responsible for the daily scribe post. This is worth 5%-10% of their class mark (see below), everyone who writes a scribe post gets their marks -- non-blogging students don't (it's their choice). They end their post by choosing the next scribe. Over the length of the course these scribe posts grow into the textbook for the course, collectively authored by the students; one student at a time, one day at a time.

The first scribe is a volunteer. The teacher's daily involvement is limited to updating a post called The Scribe List which is at the top of the links list in the sidebar of each class blog (sample class blog). The Scribe List is an easy way for scribes to see who has already scribed and who they can choose next. Once the whole class has been scribe once we cycle through the class again. I teach in a semester system (full courses are taught in 4-5 month blocks). In my classes, every student will be scribe a minimum of three times; some will write four scribe posts. In this way, the responsibility for teaching and learning is distributed both across the class and the semester.

The assignment is simply to post a brief summary of what happened in class each day. The instructions given to students look something like this:

Write a brief summary of what we learned in class today. Include enough detail so that someone who was away sick, or missed class for any other reason, can catch up on what they missed. Over the course of the semester, the scribe posts will grow into the textbook for the course; written by students for students. Remember that as each of you write your scribe posts. Ask yourself: "Is this good enough for our textbook? Would a graphic or other example(s) help illustrate what we learned?" And remember, you have a global audience, impress them.

The mechanics for teachers, aside from updating The Scribe List, also requires the occasional reminder to students to stay on top of their scribe posts. Occasionally, if the day's scribe is sick or away for any other reason give the class a few minutes, perhaps while taking attendance, to decide among themselves how they are going to deal with this issue. (One of the ideas behind the scribe post is to make students responsible for their own learning.) This essentially requires that a student volunteer to "cover" for the scribe who should pick up the routine again the next day.

This simple idea has lead to some incredible student work. Early scribe posts tend to be entirely text based (example). As the class progresses, successive scribes begin to try to outdo each other and their scribe posts begin to incorporate text, images and colour used in meaningful ways (example).

When scribes reach this level of excellence they are inducted into The Scribe Post Hall Of Fame. The students first name only (to protect their identity), grade, subject, link to their post, post date, inductor and reason for induction are all recorded on a wiki. This is a further motivator for outstanding student work as different classes compete to be the Consecutive Hall Of Fame Scribe Post Record Holder.

Anyone can induct a scribe post into The Hall Of Fame. As a matter of fact, it's more powerfully motivating and has a greater impact when the inductor is not the student's own teacher. You can find a list of class blogs that use scribes in The Hall Of Fame. Feel free to add yourself and your classes to the list. (The password for the wiki is: iscribe) You'll notice that all the 2005-2006 School Year participants are math classes. That's because I began this project and I teach math. Nonetheless the pedagogy is easily transferable to other domains. Anne Smith, an English teacher in Colorado, has started using scribes in her English World Literature class. Alison Elkins, a grade 5 teacher in Winnipeg, has also had some success using scribes in her class (Alison's blog has moved, the new blog is here). This year, 2006-2007, we also have a badge that teachers can put (copy and paste) on posts that get inducted into the Hall Of Fame. Some of the benefits brought on by the Scribe Post Hall Of Fame are:

  • Recognition of outstanding student work.
  • Additional motivation for students to produce their best work.
  • Encouragement for other students to excel.
  • Build students self-esteem by using this forum to generate widespread public recognition.

Of course the question arises, what does it take to get inducted into the Hall Of Fame? In a post to my class blogs called "Create a Scriber's Guide to Scribing", I asked two of my classes these questions:

  • How do you go about writing a scribe post? Do you do anything differently in class when it is your turn to scribe? If so, can you describe what you do differently in class when you are scribe?
  • What makes a scribe post worthy of entry into The Scribe Post Hall Of Fame? Specifically, what should be included in the post for it to achieve this recognition?
  • Compare the first scribe post you wrote to the most recent one. What, if anything, did you do differently?

I'm going to patch together three different students answers but all their answers are worth reading. They answered here and here.

Manny: "When I write my scribe posts, I try to make it as so my classmates go, "ohh!" and "yeah that's it right on." That is my first priority because I want everyone in the class to do well, "we're all in it together" (at least that's how I feel anyway). During class, if it's my turn to scribe, I feel pressure that if I don't do well in helping my peers I'll let everyone down. So in class, I open both my eyes and ears wider than normal, and my pencil taking notes on just about everything related to the topic."

Corrie: "I think to be able to make a scribe post worthy to be in The Scribe Hall Of Fame, is the content. I think that's no. 1. But you also have to look at it differently. You have to be creative with your scribe. I think you should try to be different, do something that no one has done before. You should try to stick out from the group. To be recognized content and creativity is most important ... well that's what I think."

Teddie: "When comparing my first scribe and my very recent scribe I can see the quality of the scribes improve greatly mostly because of the competitiveness of the other scribers to make the hall of fame."

If you've already looked at the examples I've linked to you'll see the quality of work this pedagogy fosters in students. If not, you may be asking "Why should I do this?"

Having a daily scribe has improved both the student's learning and my teaching -- since I insist that they summarize their learning each day I had certainly better provide the content for them to work with. On my professional blog, A Difference I wrote about the impact of having daily scribes on my students and my teaching. I encourage you to read it. In the meantime consider this: Medical school is often considered one of the most academically demanding educational experiences a student can have, and so it should be. The paradigm in medical school that leads to deep learning is "watch it, do it, teach it." Scribe posts will bring that paradigm into your classroom, regardless of what you teach or how old your students are. As a teacher you know that there is nothing like having to teach something that leads to learning it well. Scribe posts make your students teachers ... with a global audience.

Harnessing the Power of Audience: Feed Windows

Once you have created a class blog where students are publishing what they are learning then we can open Feed Windows to each other's classes. Feed Windows are dynamically updated (via RSS) windows into other class blogs. If you can't regularly publish new content to your blog then as long as someone is publishing on a blog to which you have a feed window open new content is added automatically, all the time. This results in really distributing the work of teaching and learning across the globe.

Every blog has an RSS feed (see the article earlier in "Coming of Age" by John Evans, What Are RSS Feeds And Why Haven't I Heard About It?). Using one of the (free) services outlined below you can add feed windows to the sidebars of your classroom blog(s).

It’s too early to identify all the ramifications, good and bad, of using feed windows, but one thing is clear; there are benefits for both students and teachers. Students benefit by getting access to other students and teachers around the world who are learning the same or similar content. Teachers benefit by keeping the class blog a dynamic environment for students and getting pedagogical inspiration from other teachers. For example, my idea for wiki solution manuals came about because of something I saw happening in another class in the feed window on one of my class blogs.

It may be objected that feed windows lead to information overload. Also, what if objectionable content comes through the feed window? The information is there for students who need it or wish to make use of it. They are not obliged to access it. As regards inappropriate content, while possible, it is highly unlikely to occur as students work to outshine each other in their educational efforts. Also, feed windows are only opened to the classes of blogging teachers; the edublogging community is a safe self-monitoring community. Will mistakes happen? Yes, but they really just provide an educational moment for everyone involved. (see my blog post Safe Blogging Resources under the headings Podcasts and Stories From the Classroom).

These two ideas, Scribe Posts and Feed Windows, lead naturally from one to the other. Using Scribe Posts encourages student creation of outstanding content. Using Feed Windows distributes that teaching and learning across the globe. This provides fertile soil for more creative teaching and learning with web 2.0 tools.

How To Install A Feed Window On Your Blog

At the time of writing (September 2006) I am aware of five different ways you can get a feed window for your blog. All these tools are free of charge although one will give more design choices for a small fee.

These first four sites will generate html code that you just copy and paste into your blog template, the last is entirely automated. You may have to experiment a little until you have the Feed Window placed exactly where you would like it. Keeping it in the side bar makes it always accessible from the front page of the blog.

The Grandaddy of them all. Alan Levine really originated the idea of using RSS feeds to redistribute content in the form of del.icio.us links. He not only had the original idea, he created the first tool to make it work. And it's free. This is the tool I use on my professional blog, A Difference, but I also use a little html coding.

Grazr is a web 2.0 site that automatically generates the code to produce a Feed Window on your blog. You select an RSS feed and a few formatting parameters with a few clicks of the mouse and the html code is created on the spot. Copy and paste. With Grazr you can actually wrap several feeds into a single Feed Window and graze the content from several classes.

FeedoStyle is a similar web 2.0 service to Grazr but each feed will have its own window. Also, formatting options are limited unless you upgrade to a paid account. Prices vary from $5.00 US to $15.00 US. The basic service is free.

RSS to Javascript
This is a completely free service. Click on a few buttons to customize the look of the Feed Window. You can preview how it will look before you click the [Generate JavaScript] button. When you do just copy and paste.

Blogger in Beta
Blogger (by Google) has recently updated their software. It's currently in beta but has a host of new features that make it superior to the original service. One of those features is the ability to just paste an RSS feed into a form and Blogger will automatically create a Feed Window for you. Then you can drag it to wherever you want it to appear in the sidebar of your blog. It really doesn't get easier than this. Blogger is a completely free blog hosting service. This is the one that I use with my classes.

Question: 5 marks just for writing a blog?!? If I wrote, "I really can't be bothered to blog about this, but I need the 5 marks", would that get me 5 marks?

No; that wouldn’t be a summary of what was learned in class. Also, it’s not 5 marks, it’s 5 percent of their entire class grade (final marks in Manitoba high schools are composed of 70% of the class grade + 30% of the final exam grade). To the kids this makes it sound as though it is a significant part of their final grade. (I use the terms "grade" and "mark" interchangeably. Depending on the context it means either individual points on an assessment or the sum total numeric grade used to indicate a student's achievement.) Last year, as a result of the outstanding amount of time, energy and effort students put into their scribe posts their grade value was increased to 10% of the class mark.

What Does Success Look Like?

On the one hand ...
My grade 12 Pre-Cal 40S class handed in their first project today. Tomorrow my grade 11 Pre-Cal 30S will get their first project assignment. My AP Calculus class has begun work on their digital story; this year's project is called Pedro the Pi-Rate Panda (nothing there yet; the first problem will be published next week).

On the other hand ...
My son (grade 5) spent the better part of the last month working hard on a project about porcupines. He uncovered lots of interesting facts and taught my wife and I a few things as well. He even shared some of his learning with the folks at Ed Tech Brainstorm on October 19 (both my kids come in at the 25 min 45 sec mark -- yeah; I'm a proud papa ;-)). He received the graded assignment back last week. His mark was not what he was hoping for. We were surprised by the assessment criteria. The original sheet of instructions did not detail some of the characteristics that were part of the final assessment scheme. We also thought it would have been helpful for our son to know the weighting of the different factors that were being assessed.

So ...
In the course of my recent research and learning about assessment, the idea of making success criteria transparent is emphasized again and again. I want my students to succeed. As a class our goal is for everyone to achieve between 80% and 100%. I have structured my assessments (above) so that students can achieve, with a reasonable amount of effort, marks in the high 80s.

This is the rubric I use for projects in all my classes. It is an adaptation of a rubric I found at the SMARD site (Secondary Mathematics Assessment and Resource Database -- founded by Rex Boggs, the site has gone under ... another blow to the international secondary mathematics community. Thankfully Rex's Exploring Data site is still up; I hope it stays up for a long, long time.)

I spent a lot of time discussing with the students what excellence looks like. I showed examples of past students work. 50% of their grade is for the math content. I told them up front, "If you come talk to me about it I will walk you through it until you understand and get it perfect. That means you'll be guaranteed a perfect score for the mathematics which automatically means a grade of 50%. If you write a careful description of how you solved the problem and what all the numbers mean, coupled with a neat presentation including a cover page in a duo-tang folder your Communication and Presentation marks will fall at least in the second highest category -- you'll get 88%."

We also talked about how a flashy presentation isn't what I'm looking for unless it adds to the clarity of the mathematics. Students have turned in "webs sites" and failed this assignment. Flash and glitter don't earn the high marks; high quality content does.

This is the rubric I'm using with the AP Calculus kids for their digital story:

I found myself questioning the validity of grading the student's "Creativity." How do you mark creativity? Sir Ken Robinson's presentation from Ted Talks was a strong motivator for including and encouraging student creativity in my student's work. I have spent more time developing this rubric (above) than any other. I used RubiStar to help get ideas for building the rubric. I mixed and matched rubric classifications from mathematics, writing, art and more. Then I reworked those basic ideas into what appears above.

In class we talked about rewriting some of the descriptors and redistributing the weighting of the various categories. I was particularly concerned that they would have a good grasp of what excellence would look like and what they had to do to achieve it.

After a very close look at all aspects of the rubric the final decision by the class was to keep the rubric the way it was. I asked the students over and over again: "Does this give you a clear enough guideline to do well? Do you know what you have to do to achieve excellence?" They said yes ... one student has made a graphic image of Pedro (click on the rubric above, then click on it again to zoom in). The same student has composed some theme music for Pedro that will be added to the project blog by tomorrow ... now we'll see what they do with it ...