Bringing Outsiders Into the Learning Process

Bringing Outsiders Into the Learning Process

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This past Friday, during a workshop I was giving in New York City, I was teaching participants how to podcast using Aviary. One of the district trainers noticed that the company is based in NY and not far from where we were that day. Everyone was so thrilled with the tool we were using that we thought it might be a great opportunity to bring someone in from Aviary to talk to us a bit about their product and the background of its development.

Using the support form on their site, we sent a quick email and asked if someone might be able to Skype with us the next day. Within hours, we were contacted by the CEO and Founder of Aviary, Avi Muchnick. He said he would be happy to join us.

Avi and his colleague Michael Galpert joined us the following morning and spent about 20 minutes with us talking about how their fantastic toolset was born. But then, when we were about done, they took the time to talk to the group of teachers in the room and ask them about their thoughts and what features were important to them as educators. They have real interest in the education community and in making their tool a good one for students. I really think that gave the participants a bit of a sense of ownership that they didn’t have prior to the call.

Now, the conversation was great, but during the process, I was able to emphasize an important point that I had been trying to get across during the 3-day workshop. We have the ability to talk to interesting people anywhere in the world. It’s easy, it’s inexpensive and it brings so much more interest into the teaching and learning process.

Click here for a related post about Aviary.

The Learning Spiral, Scratch and Global Community

The Learning Spiral, Scratch and Global Community

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This is our first of two episodes with Mitchel Resnick, LEGO Professor of Learning Research, head of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Laboratory and BLC10 opening keynoter. In this episode, Mitch discusses the origin of the visual programming tool, Scratch. Additionally, he explains how the “creative thinking spiral” and this engaging tool have inspired students and teachers around the world to create fantastic interactive creations at a break-neck pace.

You will learn about a young student and her new online team who are developing their entrepreneurial skills as they develop and share new characters within the Scratch interface.

Finally, Mitch will emphasize how teachers must feel free to be creative, be open to losing a bit of control and help students reflect and make sense of what they are learning.

For more background on Scratch and the “creative thinking spiral,” click here.


Choice: Time, Technique, Team

Choice: Time, Technique, Team

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I am fascinated by Daniel Pink’s new book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates  Us. The book is about what motivates people to improve the quality and quantity of their work. I won’t do justice to the concepts and the big picture that Pink paints in his book, but  I would encourage you to read the book.

When we give students choices we will obtain better results. Daniel Pink gives several business examples where choice of time, technique and team has motivated employees to be more creative and to do better work. However, I would like to focus on how choice empowers and motivates students.  Choice in technique is the easiest of the three to implement in the classroom.

In very basic terms, technique is how students do their work or assignments. Technique is the action the student performs to demonstrate their understanding and mastery of the objective or standard. The goal/standard remains the same but how you reach the goal may be very different. In a typical classroom the teacher defines the goal (objective), the time in which it will be done and assigns the task to be accomplished. For example, after reading a novel an English teacher might give their students the assignment of writing an essay (task) analyzing the two major characters in the book (goal/objective). The assignment might be due in a week from the day it was given (time).

The goal/objective is based on state or national standards. The time may fit within the grading cycle and the amount of time the teacher has to work on that objective or standard. The ultimate goal is for the student to show he/she can analyze how and why the characters act in a certain way and how that relates to the real world and real people.

One way of motivating students to be more creative and to meet the objective is to allow students a choice in how they demonstrate they know how to analyze characters. One choice might still be to write an essay. Some students love to write and are excellent at writing essays. However, other students may not be as proficient in writing or enjoy writing as much as the other student. This is where choice of technique comes into play. Remember the goal was character analysis, not writing proficiency.

Students might be able to analyze the characters in one of several ways:

  • Creating a skit that exaggerates the traits of the characters. (Satire)
  • Build a web site that the characters might create about themselves.
  • Write a resume the characters might submit to an employer.
  • Create a movie about the characters’ lives.
  • Using the Twitter format of a 140 character message, create Tweets covering the major events in the story.
  • Create a simulated Facebook page for the characters. What would be posted on their wall? Who would be their friends? What images would they post etc.
  • Use Prezi to develop a time line showing the major actions and decisions made by the characters.
  • Create a podcast with a classmate. One person would be the host and the other the characters. The host would interview the characters and bring out the traits and values of the characters.

These are a few random ideas of ways I think students might accomplish the goal. The motivation is that they can now choose how they wish to express themselves. The teacher’s task would be to evaluate how well they met that goal. Evaluation might be based on a rubric that would be applied to all of these assignments. Involving students in the development of the rubric may also help motivate their desire to do the assignment.

Readers may think this sounds good, but would it work in a real classroom? My answer is yes it will. First, I have given assignments like those described above to my students when I was teaching. Second, I just finished a visit to one of the most highly rated private schools in Canada. The students had just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird. The teacher had given them some typical writing assignments, and then concluded the section on character analysis by allowing her students to make choices as to how they could show their understanding and analysis of the characters. I wasn’t able to stay for all of the presentations, but I was able to see three groups present..

Group One: created a “Coke” commercial with the characters being analyzed as the featured characters in the commercial.

Group Two: created a “Jeopardy” game that engaged the entire class in determining which character was the answer to each question. They learned as did the entire class!

Group Three: made a movie of the “Ellen Degenerus” show with Ellen interviewing the characters in the story. I had to leave before I saw if she had them get up and dance.

The amazing thing about this example is that the teacher didn’t know how to use any of the technologies that the students used to create their projects. Her role was to set the goal and objectives and to evaluate the results. I’d like to also note that this was a teacher with numerous years of experience in teaching. She was still willing to both challenge, trust, and allow her students to use technology to demonstrate their learning. Bravo!

To me, this is an excellent illustration of what Daniel Pink means when he writes about motivation based on choice of technique.

This is crossed posted from my blog:



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