Encouraging Curiosity

As a Librarian, I am often asked to help with research projects with my high school students.  Some projects are truly great and engaging but too often I wonder just how interested are the students in learning something new or are they “just doing enough” to get the grade.

Creating a culture in your Library, classroom or school that embraces curiosity and celebrates learning can spark the imagination of students — especially when they have CHOICE in choosing what to research.  Teachers can do a lot to establish and model regular curiosity by asking questions, wondering aloud, sharing cool things they have learned, showing videos that are inspiring, etc.  When students see their Librarian and Teacher excited by their new discoveries they, in turn, will want to share what they have learned.

Former Social Studies teacher from Sunset High School and now District TOSA, Matt Hiefield, had every student create their own digital “Curiosity Board”  for 9th grade World History using a website called Linoit (http://en.linoit.com/).  Linoit is similar to Padlet (https://padlet.com/) and is like a digital corkboard where you can post images, text and embed videos. If an interesting question came up during a class discussion, Hiefield would direct his students to add it to their own curiosity board for investigation later on. Occasionally, he would have students research a chosen question and share what they learned during a gallery walk. What a great way to celebrate being curious!

If we want our students to be excellent researchers and be authentic in their interest in learning, we must make every effort to build a culture that acknowledges and celebrates deep learning. How do you create this culture in your classroom?

8 Facets of Learning

A team of teachers and administrators at my school identified 8 FACETS of LEARNING as part of our 1:1 Mobile Learning Initiative where we feel that mobile devices could really impact student learning.  This is not an exhaustive list but represents how we need to really look beyond the iPad as a  consumer device and look for opportunities for content-creation, authentic learning experiences and collaborative projects. Focusing on the learning objective is essential when planning on using devices in your classroom.  The embedded presentation showcases a few of the ways that we plan for this focus.

Library in Your Pocket

The school year has begun and I started a program in my Library called “Library in Your Pocket”.  I was inspired by Shannon McClintock Miller and created small signcards and placed them around the Library encouraging students to download these apps on their mobile devices.  I also embedded the following screencasts on our school Library page.


Library in PocketHelpful video links:




Gone Mobile?  Download these apps on your mobile device and have informational resources at your fingertips all the time.  Get access to Schoology, Destiny Quest – Library Catalog, AML Gale Databases, Google Drive, EasyBib, eBooks or general helpful educational apps.  Click here for the full listing – or – click here to see a Listly list with links to the iTunes App store.

edcamp PDX

A few Portland area educators one evening were discussing on Twitter that we should get together face-to-face and meet each other and share ideas .. and bring a friend. Next thing you know we start brainstorming ideas for an unconference workshop day. What is an unconference? An unconference is a day where teachers / admins/ tech coordinators / Principals / IT folks self-organize their own day of professional development.

edcampPDX was born out of that discussion. Our first annual edcampPDX will be held at La Salle Catholic College Preparatory on Thursday, August 18th from 8:30-3pm. Information can be found at: http://edcamppdx.wikispaces.com/

The edcamp format expects everyone to come ready to learn and share. Sessions are suggested by participants and lead by participants. Its good old fashion do-it-yourself professional development. You learn what you want to learn.

I’m hoping some folks will lead discussions about:

  • Project based learning
  • Moodle 2.0
  • WWG (wonderful world of Google)
  • Collaborating with fellow teachers
  • Bring you own devices
  • Web 2.0 smackdown

HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE!  http://edcamppdx.wikispaces.com/

Using a variety of (non-tech) instructional strategies

I attended an informal professional development session shared by one of our teachers at school yesterday on differentiated instruction.  The session was informative and thought provoking.  We all need to be reminded of ways we can best support the learning of our students.

Recap of my biggest take-aways:

  • Fair isn’t always equal – meaning you don’t need to have a cookie cutter approach to grading and evaluation of your students.
  • Differentiated instruction supports flexibility in the way you teach, the way your students demonstrate their understanding and the way your assess their understanding.
  • Create a student-centered classroom – get away from lecture-test-hope for the best
  • This type of instruction increases student engagement and learning
  • Can be difficult to implement – takes time to plan out activities to meet objectives & classroom management can be an issue too.
  • Teachers expressed a desire to gather together in small groups to share ideas of how to best meet the learning challenges of certain students (ie, after a round table meeting).

The teacher gave us a handout of a list of instructional strategies and methods.  This was very helpful for me to review and see how I can improve my teaching.  

A Listing of Instructional Strategies and Methods http://olc.spsd.sk.ca/de/pd/instr/categ.html

Direct Instruction

Interactive Instruction

Indirect Instruction

Independent Study

Experiential Learning

Instructional Skills

Reflecting about my own learning

Last Saturday during a two hour drive,  my husband and I had a great discussion about learning, failure and success.  We were discussing people’s attitude towards problems in your work environment and failure in general.  Some folks are crushed by failure, beat themselves up, or try to do everything to avoid acknowledging that things didn’t quite go as planned.  Other folks have an easier time brushing themselves off, looking for lessons learned and bouncing back.

We each identified our own attitudes and behaviors.  It was an interesting discussion about fear of failure, what motivates us to finally act after procrastination and our willingness to be transparent with our shortcomings.

Argg ... NCCE pirate themeDuring the drive home later that evening, I finally had a chance to reflect about my experience presenting at NCCE.  My mind wandered through the events of the conference in the quiet of the night.  While I absolutely loved meeting and connecting with the educators in my Personal Learning Network, my mind drifted to my own presentations and I found myself evaluating my “performance” –  what I wished I had said or not said and what I covered.

It’s easy at this point to beat yourself up.  It’s nerve-wracking standing up front of 60+ educators and put yourself out there.  Two of the three presentations were new for me this year and I wanted them to go well.   Questions like, “Did I explain myself clearly” and “Did attendees learn anything new” or “Did I cover the material well” swam through my head.

For the most part I do not beat myself up if everything doesn’t go perfectly.  I tell myself that if I had at least taught some folks to do something new or try a new way of looking at technology tools, or inspired them to learn more — then I did what I set out to accomplish.

Both Jeff Utecht and Richard Kassissieh blogged about the lack of conference sessions that focused on teaching and learning and too much focus on tools.  Richard wrote:

Excessive focus on the technology itself in the absence of an intentional learning environment reinforces unhelpful stereotypes about technologists and technology. 1) You can improve education just by adding technology; 2) Technologists aren’t interested in teaching and learning. Most of the conference attendees are teachers. Let’s upset the usual stereotypes and return to what matters.

Other discussions I had with members of my PLN also centered around how we could make this conference better and help technology-loving educators connect with one another.  I reflected on my experience of teaching the tools vs. focusing on the pedagogy.  How did I do?

I want to see “problems” as learning opportunities — not failure.  I want to be able to review my experiences and be proud of what I accomplished but at the same time be willing to correct mistakes next time — not see them as failures — but just as opportunities to try something else.  It’s called learning.  Realizing it’s not the outcome you wanted and try again.

Jeff ustreamed my Google Apps for Education presentation and I watched the archived video – and I did cringe a few time when reviewing, but for the most part was happy with the presentation.  Watching yourself is great for learning – as long as you can keep the focus positive.

So after a few days to think about my experience and what I “learned” , I noted a few things down.

  • Focus on student learning first and then how the technology tool can improve, help, or encourage learning.
  • Encourage discussion and conversation among the educators in smaller groups, backchannel or discussion board/questions.  Each person needs a chance to reflect, ask questions, and discuss for the idea to be “sticky”.
  • Be clear about your objective at the beginning of the presentation and the skill level  you are covering and stick to it.
  • For hands on workshops, have the participants create authentic material and not just “practice” the skill.
  • Have resource material available but don’t feel like you have to cover everything (especially 1 hr concurrent sessions).
  • Skip the “how I got here” intro and jump right into the presentation.
  • Constantly tweak your Powerpoint presentations (note:  I’m ready to start over on this one!)
  • It’s OK to be nervous – just breath deep — get in touch with  your passion inside – it will help you relax.

What have you learned about yourself lately?

All Students meme

My friend and Google Certified Teacher  Christine Southard tagged me with this All Students meme that was started by Martha Thornburgh in response to a discussion with her teachers about ” Do you believe that all students can meet standard?”.  Martha was shocked to find that a large percentage of educators answered this question “no”.

Here are the rules of the meme:

1. Share three things that you believe about all students.
2. Reflect on your thoughts in your blog. (If you do not have a blog, you can share your ideas in a comment from this post.)
3. Be sure to link to this post and to where you were first tagged.
4. Tag your response with AllStudentsMeme
5. Invite others to join the conversation by tagging them to be a part of the meme.

This I believe …

That ALL students are capable of learning. Students may have situations or personal issues that hinder their learning but ultimately – each one CAN learn.  When we hear in the classroom “this is too hard” or “this is stupid” or “i didn’t understand it” – it doesn’t mean that a student CAN”T learn – it means more about the situation the student is learning in – but not their ability.  Our job as teachers is to determine what is going on and create an environment where the student BELIEVES they can learn too.

That Learners are unique and one cookie cutter approach is not going to be right for everyone. We need to provide opportunities where students can demonstrate their understanding in a variety of methods and in ways that best suit their personality.

That each person is a wonderful gift of our creator. God doesn’t make junk and each person has something about them that is beautiful and precious – maybe we as teachers (or just humans) don’t always see it.

This reminds me of the “This I Believe” website and NPR radio show.

So — I tag the following folks to participate in this meme:

Focus on learning & use tools effectively

Jen at @injenuity shared her concerns in a post entitled, “Web 2.0 is Not the Future of Education”. She states that early tech adopters are focusing on integrating new tools in their teaching instead of focusing on LEARNING. She writes:

“Learning is the future of education. Students need to develop an awareness of how they learn. By student, I mean every human being with whom we come in contact… All people deserve the right to understand how learning happens and the power they have to control their own lifelong learning journey.

Why are we hording these technology tools like some kind of magic trick that can only be performed for those worthy enough to earn our approval? We must embrace a more holistic approach to teaching and learning…

I really just want people to start to build their foundational values as educators, without ‘Web 2.0? as part of those values. The tools can enable engagement, transfer of learning and collaboration and can open the world to the student. Please see the student before the tools and give them the power they need in order to be successful with them.”

As a technology teacher who has transformed her computer classes from skill-based to LEARNING based – I whole heartedly agree with Jen. Its easy to get caught up in the lastest gadget or software tool. I feel my goal is to teach students how to learn.

I think part of this excitement depends on your basic personality. I am a learner. I love learning new things. It excites me and motivates me.

Other people are more cautious. They question the need for change. Change makes them uncomfortable and are slow to adopt.

Is there anything wrong with either one of these approaches? No. They each have their advantages and disadvantages.

But in the classroom our focus MUST be on engaging students as learners. Technology does provide opportunities for students to connect and be creative in ways that are unique and tranformative. But it takes a passionate and educated teacher to know the best way to do that.

I admit that I am guilty of rushing to incorporate a new tool into my classroom and found the experience to be lackluster. Usually it is because I haven’t taken the time to determine how using this piece of software will best meet my instructional goals and demonstrate student understanding.

When I first heard about VoiceThread I immediately saw it’s potential to engage students and give them a voice. But without careful planning, my student’s first attempts were more like narrated powerpoints with a few audio comments that said “Good Job”.

I didn’t give up, though. My frustration with the results made me dig deeper and ask myself what is the unique power of this tool that I can’t recreate in person.

My students love to discuss and debate – but it seems that the only ones who speak up are those with outgoing personalities.

VoiceThread gives each student an opportunity to plan and share their idea or point of view in the medium they are most comfortable in – text, audio or video. The collaborative nature of VoiceThread also allows students to respond back in a way that is appropriate and safe. Eric Brunsell commented, “VoiceThread, just like PowerPoint, is pointless if students are not crafting an argument, creating art (visual, aural or written), somehow communicating authentic thinking.”

Whenever I assign a project, I like to give my students a choice on how they will present the information (video, blog, PowerPoint, VoiceThread, etc..). Students can now choose a tool that fits their personality and learning style and the focus is on the message and not the tool.

Last year I blogged about this concept of focusing on student learning:

Student-centered learning means that the focus is on the learner – not the teacher and how the material is presented. The emphasis is on how the student is learning, the choices they have for expressing their learning, and how the teacher comes to understand that the student is learning.

But at the same time, I also teach these students HOW to use the tools effectively so the project doesn’t become about the flashiness of PowerPoint or the coolness of video.

We need to do both.

Michele Martin’s comment on Jen’s entry summed it up, “It’s about using technology along with the right thinking and collaborative processes.”

Learning and assessment

One of my favorite parts about being connected in the edtech blogosphere is that bloggers freely share their professional development ideas and course goals. I was intrigued when Dean Shareski discussed his practices and his goal for his online students was to experience:

  • Learning is social and connected
  • Learning is personal and self-directed
  • Learning is shared and transparent
  • Learning is rich in content and diversity

He went on to explain how difficult it is to assess and grade these ideas. They don’t fit nicely into an A-F format. Evidence of his student’s learning was demonstrated in their blog posts, weekly assignments and synchronous sessions.

Even though I don’t teach a completely online class, I want to see if I can embrace these type of goals in my high school computer classes this year. I pulled out my Understanding by Design book to review how I could incorporate this type of goal for my classes. Some questions stood out for me:

  1. What would count as evidence of such achievement?
  2. What does it look like to meet these goals?
  3. What are the implied performances that should make up the assessment, toward which all teaching and learning should point?

Another way to say it is “What should the students walk out the door able to understand, regardless of what activites or text we use?” and “What is evendence of such ability” and, therefore, “What texts, activities and methods will best enable such a result?”

I love struggling with these big picture ideas. It helps me to take some time and mull them around for a bit because my tendancy is to jump right in and say … “oh, we’ll use wikispaces for a collaborative document, and we’ll create blogs with 21 Classes, and then we’ll set up a shared bookmark on Del.icio.us …” all before I really know WHY I want to do all those things. My instincts are on the right track but I want to be deliberate with my goals and objectives and make sure the students know WHY they are doing it too!

A great design tip from UbD is to ask a student: What are you doing? Why are you being asked to do it? What will it help you do? How does it fit with what you have previously done? How will you show that you have learned it?

The whole idea behind UbD is to plan using backwards design. First identify your desired results. Then determine acceptable evidence. Then finally plan learning experiences and instruction.

Dean also shares that they have seven principles to guide assessment practices in his school division:

1. Students are the key assessment users.

2. A balance of assessment for and of learning should be used.

3. Assessment should be constructive; it should focus on achievement and progress.

4. Assessment and instruction are interdependent.

5. Good quality assessments must be followed by effective communication.

6. Assessment expectations and curricular outcomes should be communicated clearly to students from the beginning.

7. Meaningful and appropriate assessments should include evidence about student achievement in the areas of content, process and product.

This is good stuff!

I started poking around his division website and found another nugget. I C E – ICE is a framework for assessing learning growth. The framework helps to clarify the characterisitics and markers that indicate where learners are along the learning continuum and, in so doing, enables teachers to make instructional decisions that maximize learning. It’s a simple assessment tool that I can use to evaluate my student’s blogs and other understandings.  Thanks Dean!


  • basic facts
  • vocabulary
  • details
  • concepts
  • the “foundational” stuff


  • Demonstrate connection amoung the basic concepts
  • Demonstrate connection between what was learned and what they already know


  • Students use their learning in new ways
  • Students are able to answer the question: So, what does this mean? How does this shape my view of the world?

Exerpt from Assessment & Learning: the ICE Approach (2000) Sue Fostaty Young and Robert J. Wilson