The most successful students are those who feel real “ownership” of their education

The most successful students are those who feel real “ownership” of their education

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Via a blog bost by Joshua Koen:

Thomas Friedman, in his Op Ed post in the New York Times, Can’t We Do Better?, summarizes the results from “. . .the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which compare how well 15-year-olds in 65 cities and countries can apply math, science and reading skills to solve real-world problems” as “. . .the most successful students are those who feel real ‘ownership‘ of their education. In all the best performing school systems, said Schleicher, ‘students feel they personally can make a difference in their own outcomes and that education will make a difference for their future.’”

Alan November has been asking for years, Who Owns the Learning?, and the results of this assessment further confirm that this essential question is right on target.

So to take this to the next step, we as educators and educational leaders must continue to reflect on what we can do to empower students, teachers, and schools to own their learning. This is our challenge, and with access to a global network of subjects, resources, and people, we need to leverage technology to tap into students’ interests, make assignments more authentic, and use tools to create more powerful teaching and learning experiences.

Guest Post by Dáithí Murray – Implementing the First 5 Days

Guest Post by Dáithí Murray – Implementing the First 5 Days

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The following post has been cross posted by permission of author and #BLC12 attendee, Dáithí Murray.

I was introduced to the hashtag #1st5days on the first day of the Building Learning Communities conference in Boston this summer. Host, Alan November, challenged delegates to try something new, something different in their classrooms on their return and to write about it, share it, tweet it, blog it and to use the hashtag #1st5days wherever possible.

The idea is simple, yet profound. Alan was challenging us to make the first five days of term a launchpad for a change in our practice, and more importantly to share this phenomenon with teachers and interested others in the online world.

So what could we do back at St. Paul’s? We had already committed to using The Flipped Classroom approach with our Year 8 students (more about this later), but we wanted a thought provoking lesson to get our returning students moving quite quickly and to challenge them, and inspire them to look at our classrooms in a different way, and act as a catalyst for the change we hope to promote during this new academic year.

My Head of Department, and BLC colleague Ciara McCoy had already posted on BLC Values Exchange website about the usefulness (or not) of Google Translate in the languages classroom, and remarked that “telling my students not to use Google Translate isn’t working”. I’ve found the same in my own classroom. It’s the easy option for students – paste text into the Google Translate search box, and copy and paste the result into an essay, and hey presto, a perfect piece of work. But Ciara was keen to find out if our students recognised the value of Google Translate, and were they aware of its advantages and disadvantages.

We worked on a lesson plan which would throw our Year 9 and Year 10 students into a lesson where there was little teacher direction, and a demand for collaboration and discussion to meet the success criteria.

You can download the whiteboard instructions we displayed below from here: Year 10 2012 Google translate lesson

The lesson was quite simple. As the students arrived into the classrom, the instructions (in the Word document above) were posted on the IWB. We started a visible countdown clock at 15 minutes and we sat at the back of the classroom, or busied ourselves doing other tasks in the room while the students settled down for the lesson. After the initial arrival noise and the ritual ‘getting the books out on the desk’, the classes started to get quiet and wonder why I (or Ciara) wasn’t shouting instructions and beginning the lesson as we always do.

Eventually (after an average of about two and a half minutes) one of the students read the instructions on the IWB and realised that a task had begun and they needed to organise themselves into groups of three (with extra credit being awarded if their group consisted of boys and girls) and begin a discussion on whether they considered Google Translate a useful tool.

It was fun to watch the penny drop in each class, and amusing (and at times disconcerting) to notice how uncomfortable our students were with this approach. Comments directed to me included ‘Sir, do we have to read this on the board?’, or ‘Do we begin now, Sir?’ even though it clearly stated ‘Time has started’ on the instructions, and the countdown clock was rapidly heading towards zero. The students were more comfortable with being told explicitly what to do from me, rather than having to read instructions and organise themselves.

But once this initial hurdle was overcome, it was very interesting to notice how quickly the students got down to task. They were very comfortable with working in groups, and the noise level in the classroom wasn’t much more than normal for a languages room. I was pleased to see how quickly hands went into pockets and mobile phones and other devices were extracted. There was still a hint of nervousness and a few glances in my direction at the back of the room to enquire if they really were allowed to use them in the lesson – but there was always someone in the group who would say in a loud voice, ‘phones are allowed – it says so on the board’. (To help with the lesson, I set up an ad-hoc WiFi network in the room, and set a password, which I shared with the class. This allowed them to get on to our WiFi quite quickly, and bypassed the usual setup routine which I knew would delay the lesson).

The students were asked to give their thoughts on the usefulness of Google Translate, and to use examples to back up their opinion. Some groups spent most of the fifteen minutes playing with Google Translate on their smartphones and entering examples of words and phrases where they knew already Google Translate would fail. Another group found an Irish-English dictionary in the classroom, and used that as point of reference to compare with the online alternative. One observation that interested me was a group who didn’t use their smartphones or the computers in my classroom, but simply had a discussion and put their thoughts based on their own prior experience of Google Translate (and a host of examples of where they had gone wrong) down on paper.

After the fifteen minutes elapsed, I came ‘back to life’ and began engaging with the class. I invited them to feed back their thoughts on Google Translate and its usefulness and I recorded their opinions on a flipchart. The results were overwhelmingly negative, which amazed me. The students didn’t regard Google Translate as an accurate or a useful tool for a languages students. While they recognised the benefits of checking a single word, they quickly worked out that it was pretty unreliable for whole sentences or phrases. I was impressed by how developed their language was and how refined their critical evaluation skills were.

The highlight of one of these lessons for me was when one student (a Year 9 boy) during the feedback said, ‘We don’t think Google Translate is a useful tool at all. In fact our survey backs up this view. 80% of replies found it a poor tool, while only 20% liked it’. I had to do a second take! ‘Their survey’?

I challenged the student on this, and asked how he was able to carry out a survey in such a limited amount of time. He laughed as he and his group explained that as they were discussing the merits of Google Translate, he quickly sent out of BBM message to all the people in his contact list (over 50) asking the question ‘What do u think of Google Translate? Reply asap – need to no for Irish class’ (I know this was the wording, as several students in the class showed me their phones having received this message during their discussion). It transpired that within seconds, this student had received five replies, four negative towards Google Translate, and only a single one praising it. They quickly ‘did the math’ and presented their findings during the feedback session. I was gobsmacked at how effective their research was, and how quickly it had been achieved. The students in the room all looked at me as if I was possessed – this was something so easy and natural to them, that they were amazed that I would even question how it was achieved.

The lesson above is one of three lessons I’m using as part of my #1st5days back at school. The second lesson invites the students to consider the advantages and disadvantages, threats, risks and opportunities afforded by using mobile technology in the classroom, and the third lesson is designed to consider the responses from the previous lesson with the aim of drawing up an ‘appropriate use’ protocol of mobile technology when the students are in the classroom. I’m hoping the students will draw up their own rules having discussed in depth the benefits and risks of using devices like these in the room.

I’ll blog some more later this week about how we get on with our #1st5days at St Paul’s, and how I’m hoping what we do this week will be a launchpad for continued innovation and better learning in my classroom.

PS – I’m conscious the above blog post reads as if using mobile phones in classroom is the norm in my school. It isn’t. This wasn’t the first time I had encouraged my students to use their own devices in a lesson, but it definitely isn’t common practice. My department is piloting the use of mobile technology in the classroom this term, as we begin a ‘conversation’ with students, parents and teachers about how we use devices in the classroom appropriately, and as we update and revise our Acceptable Use Policy. We’ll evaluate the pilot before Christmas, in the anticipation that our new policy will be accepted and implemented in the second term. You can expect lots of updates about how we work out way through all the issues using smartphones in class will throw up. Wish me luck!

Dáithí Murray’s blog can be found at

How Twitter Can Be Used as a Powerful Educational Tool

How Twitter Can Be Used as a Powerful Educational Tool

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In the third part of their three-part series on eSchool News, Alan and Brian demonstrate how Twitter can be used in any classroom to connect students to the world and provide students with immediate, practical, real-world problems.

If you missed part one or part two of the series, we invite you to read them before reading the final installment.

After reading the article, we invite you to come back and share your thoughts.


Connecting Students to Geometry Through Twitter

Connecting Students to Geometry Through Twitter

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Alan and Brian have been working with a cohort in Texas made up of teachers and administrators who are a part of the Texas Association of School Administrators. At a recent event in Austin, high school math teacher, Jessica Caviness, shared a fun implementation of Twitter in her geometry class. We thought it was so great, we simply had to share it. Jessica provided us with a quick write-up explaining her work.

“When will we use this?” It’s the question all teachers hate and motivated me to change my approach to teaching. Being a geometry teacher, it was easy for me to find life applications of my subject. I found myself snapping pictures daily and adding them into my smart board lessons. It wasn’t until I went to Alan November’s conference in Austin that I realized there were easier and faster ways to bring “real life” into my classroom. Why had I never thought of any of this before?

How it started…

Upon my return from Alan November’s conference my students were quick to ask what I had learned. I told them the truth. “I was totally overwhelmed by the amount of information shared at the conference, but I did make a Twitter account.” When they heard this they were so excited and said, “Yay Mrs. Caviness. You’re finally catching up with the times.” That very moment the students pulled out their phones and asked me what my user name was. Completely caught off guard, I wrote it on the board, and by the end of the day I had close to 50 followers.

So now what? I had a Twitter account, but what should I tweet? A few days later I found myself at the Texas Rangers baseball game thinking about a problem we had done in class about finding the location of the perfect bunt a few chapters back. Hey, I wonder if the students really learned anything from that chapter and remember the answer? So I took a picture of the field and tweeted it out asking the students for the answer. I was shocked when only minutes later I had several replies. I was so excited.


A few weeks later, I was again at the Rangers game and holding a diet coke cup in my hand when I had an idea. This time instead of tweeting out a question, I would instead tweet out the picture and ask for questions to go with the picture. We were studying volume so it was perfect. Again, I had several students reply and you should have seen the problems they came up with. I was so impressed I not only asked them how they added those diagrams to my picture but I also used 2 of the questions on the next day’s quiz. This really sparked the student’s interest as they ALL wanted to make a quiz question.


Since then, I have used Twitter for a variety of reasons.  Below is an example of how I used Twitter to foster an attempt at the flipped classroom approach followed by a small sample of student responses. It was highly successful and was used many times thereafter.

Just a few of the many student responses.

  • So, when the radius passes through any chord in the circle, does it always create a right angle?
  • A diameter is just a special kind of chord, right?
  • This seems like a pretty easy chapter. I understand the chords really well!
  • I think this is all really cool because all the definitions connect. For example, a tangent is a line that touches a circle once and then tangent circles are circles that touch only once. That makes it a lot easier to remember everything! One question though, what is a big circle with a smaller circle in the center called if they do not share a center and the smaller circle is not touching the bigger circle? Would that just be an internal circle?
  • I don’t understand how you figure out if a radius is perpendicular to a chord if they do not tell you ahead of time.
  • At first I was kind of confused with the radii intersecting, but I watched it again to understand. (Now I got it!)
  • The video is pretty cool and it was in monotone. I can’t wait to start applying triangles to circles and all sorts of things!
  • How do we find the measure of an Intercepted Arc if we do not know the Central Angle?
  • I find these chords easy… partially because we studied them in algebra.
  • The program she’s using seems a lot like the 1 we used 4 para//elograms. R we commenting so U know we R watching these videos?
  • Based on what I saw in this video, circles seem really easy, SO FAR!! This is kind of like the Khan Academy videos.

These questions/responses really opened my eyes to things I hadn’t really thought of before involving both the content itself AND basic teaching strategies. It makes so much sense having an idea of what the kids know and don’t know before starting a lesson. It also seems to peak student interest knowing what to expect…I also had great feedback from the “slower” students saying they really enjoyed being able to pause and repeat the videos. They could learn at “their” pace.

Here is one more example of a tweet I posted before the school year came to an end. Having Twitter at my fingertips really allowed me to capture moments in my everyday life that could be used to teach my geometry curriculum. It was also an effortless way for me to keep in touch with students and parents as well as teachers around the world.

A few student responses:

  • Sector?
  • Sector of a circle??
  • Sector of a circle 🙂
  • Well, I am not really sure what to make of that. If you are looking at the hamburger, I see three sectors left over.
  • The dark meat stuff plus crust is a sector. The crust is a segment.
  • The missing meet is the sector, but it could also be the segment if you look at the meat present being the “shaded region.”
  • Also, the corn is a tangent.

The uses of Twitter in the classroom are endless. Thank you, Alan, for sharing this wealth of information!

Web Literacy: Where the Common Core Meets Common Sense

Web Literacy: Where the Common Core Meets Common Sense

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In the second of their three-part series revisiting Alan’s earlier article, Teaching Zack to Think, Alan November and Brian Mull dig deeper into their three pillars of Web literacy. They share examples that demonstrate the struggles that the majority of students and adults have effectively researching on the Web. In addition, they share techniques that can be used to boost research effectiveness.

Also, Alan and Brian expand on two driving forces that create an urgency to redefine what it means to be literate in today’s world: common sense and the Common Core.

If you missed part one of the series, we invite you to read it before reading the new article. Stay tuned for part three.


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