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Posts tagged with "teaching and learnign"

Drs Smith and Crawford discuss digital textbooks and the EPISD project. Awesome!

Apr 7

Just some of the many uses for mind mapping software.

Dec 3

The Ultimate in Education Reform: Messy Learning

This article of mine first appeared on the “Voices from the Learning Revolution” website It is a long read, but I liked how it was edited. It made me look smarter than I actually am.—-TBH

Have you ever gone to the doctor with a rather vague problem? The kind of problem that has no obvious solution?

“Doctor, my elbow hurts.”
“Doctor, I have a runny nose.”
“Doctor, look at this rash.”

From that ambiguity, we expect our physicians to narrow down something that could have a thousand origins to the one specific cause, then make it all better with one specific treatment. It is not just physicians that we expect to have uber-problem solving skills either. Many of the people we run into in life are asked by us to solve our hazy dilemmas.
We tell the mechanic: “My car is making a funny noise, can you fix it?”
A quarterback asks: “What’s the best play to run, coach?”
We might ask a decorator: “I need help redoing this room. What can be done with it?”

We might ask friends: “What do you think is the best car for me to buy?”
Some of our ambiguous problems are mundane: “What toothpaste should I use?” or “What should I have for dinner?” On the other hand, some of our conundrums are much more life changing: “Should I get married?” which leads to “Whom should I marry?” which leads to “Should we have children?” which leads to all kinds of other ponderables. Mundane or life changing, they are all problems to be solved.

From our first activity in the morning until the last thing we do before we visit dreamland each night, we are constantly engaged in a series of problems to solve — some easy, some hard. Problem after problem after problem. Question after question after question. Simply put, life is a series of ambiguous questions to be answered. The better we are at problem solving, the better chance we have at making a proper decision when the time comes and being successful in both our personal and career pursuits.
Some of the questions we have pretty much solved long ago and have placed them into our routine of daily life: The best route to drive to work each morning, the team we should root for, even the types of food we like to eat and how much time we watch TV. But even the most routine of things that we do each day were at one time, problems to be solved. That route to work that you drove this morning was at one time a question for you to answer. Should you drive this way or that? What were the advantages of each route? This route may be shorter, but there is always a morning back-up. This route is longer, but traffic flows more smoothly. I think I will go this way. Problem solved.

So what’s this got to do with school?

tree-of-knowledge-560Problems like these are not like problems we give our students to solve. Problems we traditionally give to students have a single correct answer (think multiple choice, true and false, and fill in the blank). We spend, an inordinate amount of time teaching students how to find the the “single-answer-that-is-the-correct-answer.” While that might be good in the short term, and easy to grade, in the long term I believe we are doing them a terrible disservice.

As one of my colleagues once stated, we might be practicing educational malpractice. By not teaching and pushing our students to develop problem solving skills, we fail to prepare them adequately for life outside of school. We are “preparing” them, in fact, for a world where the questions and answers are pre-packaged and easy to bubble in. And that world does not exist
Problems like the ones I’ve mentioned above are called “messy problem” by some educators and “ill-structured problems” by others. Messy problems have no single, certifiably correct answer. There is no “one right way” to solve a problem like “should I get married” or “what should I study in college?” The answer is the goal, but the answer can manifest itself in many correct ways and lead to a lot of unexpected learning along the way. Ambiguity envelopes us. It begins at birth and follows us through to the last days of our lives. Start to finish, life is messy.

I love ill-structured problems. When offered in a classroom setting, they present students with real life situations and devilish dilemmas. Problem based learning, a methodology begun in the late 1960’s in medical schools in Canada (and expanded into K12 education in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s) was developed after medical experts in teaching hospitals could not understand why otherwise excellent interns froze up when real life humans were placed in front of them with real life problems (there might even be panic and bleeding).

After long investigation, if became clear to instructors that while the students were “book smart” and could recite page after page of diagnostic information from memory, most patients did not present their symptoms in a way that matched the book: “You know Doc, my elbow hurts just like the description on page 354 of the Jensen Ortho text,” said no patient ever.
We need to move away from the pedagogy of the single answer and move towards teaching the messy problems of Problem Based Learning. This is different than Project Based Learning (as I wrote about here), where the end goal is already known (and thus a single correct answer is reached in many cases). Life does not work so much like a project; human development is pretty much Problem Based Learning. The best outcome or solution is usually not known when the problem is presented. Sometimes it is, but not often.

Moving towards messy answers to messy problems is not just a matter of shifting the way we test (although that’s a messy problem in itself). It’s first and foremost a shift in the way we expect our teachers to teach and our students to learn. We cannot in all honesty think that students can possibly be prepared to solve life’s messy problems when for years all they have been taught to do was look for the single best answer on the standardized test. (Watch out for those distractors!)
Consider these current very messy problems now facing the nation:
How should education be reformed?
What is the best way to handle gun violence?
What should be done about how the government spends money?
What should be our response to global climate change?
And on and on and on…

We have seen what happens when groups of people have little or no problem solving skills: Nations go to war. Religions fight. Congress cannot talk to the President. Gun owners cannot talk to gun control advocates. Husbands cannot talk to wives. Students bully each other. All of these snarls and snafus are directly the result of a pervasive lack of problem solving skills among the populace.

When problem solving (and its twin sister critical thinking) isn’t business as usual, then charlatans and conmen can easily manipulate a situation. If you don’t believe that this is true, consider the current highest rated show on cable’s History Channel, “Ancient Aliens,” a program that is neither historically accurate nor even close to being scientifically factual. Yet millions watch this show which, somehow, every week, links obscure cave drawings, religious texts, nut job theories and tin foil conspiracies into stories of how our ancestors were the spawn of human/alien mating. (Great-great grandma was a Klingon. Get used to it.)

As our students grow up and enter adult life and work, those with a lack of problem solving skills will be at a distinct disadvantage to those who can solve problems and detect flimflam and flummery. And those who realize there are many “correct” ways to solve problems will have a great advantage over those who believe there’s a single answer for each and every question.

Education reform — a topic that we have now been discussing since forever, according to education-historian-turned-reform-skeptic Diane Ravitch — must actually begin somewhere. I suggest this: Let us take a good hard look at the curricula and standards that are now out there. Let us agree on a common set of goals, and let us at least consider the idea of making true problem-based learning part of the standard curricula for grades K to 12 and beyond.

Yes, it’s messy and harder to teach. Yes it takes more time. But if you truly believe that clichéd phrase hanging on the wall in your school somewhere about preparing students for the future, and how they will be future leaders, then you have to know, deep down, that just teaching kids to take tests is not preparing them for anything other than just taking tests. Nobody will pay you for that for too long.

If we can teach kids to solve messy problems before they graduate, they might not have such a hard time solving messy problems when they start running the world. Or trying to figure out what is wrong with my elbow.
(And they will start running the world, you know. That’s one question we can be pretty sure has a single answer.)

More on Problem Based Learning

Jun 7

My Growing Collection of Problem Based Learning Articles


I have been adding to a small collection of PBL articles. Here are the ones I have gotten to so far. 

So here they are in no order of importance:

Your Brain Abhors a Cliffhanger


Why Problem Based Learning is Better


Remembering the Kiss


Intro to my Book: The iPad and PBL


Using Bad TV Shows to foster Critical Thinking Skills


My Lack of Critical Thinking: Medieval Desert Mystery


Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem Based Learning


LIfepractice PBL


Education’s Naughty List for 2012


How to Visually Record Ideas Using iPad ~ Educational Technology and Mobile Learning

Visual recording is similar to audio recording: they both use the same concept that is : recording. One uses voice and the other uses visual cues like diagrams, charts, lines, arrows…etc. Think about visual recording as visual mind mapping.

 Visual recording  using your iPad is something you can best do via the help of some powerful apps. The video below will walk you through the process of how to capture your ideas visually on your iPad. It will also show you how to use each of the four apps suggested. These apps are :

Squishy Circuits: Teaching Circuits with Conductive Dough

Squishy circuits are a project from the Thomas Lab at the University of St. Thomas.  The goal of the project is to design tools and activities which allow kids of all ages to create circuits and explore electronics using play dough. 

conductive dough, insulating dough and building circuits model

Thank you to the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering, the University of St. Thomas Young Scholars Program, and the 3M Foundation for supporting the undergraduate students working on this project.

Apr 2

iTeach Pad for iPad

For Teachers by Teachers !!!!!!! Supports iOS 5.0 and above only. We are committed to turning this app into a useful tool for teachers.

A Complete Organizer for Teachers. Includes Calendaring, Scheduling, Class Management, Lesson Plans and To Do Lists

Calendar:  An easy way to add events to their calendar.  These events are school related and the list of events is completely customizable for each user of the app.  So adding things like PTA meetings, Conferences, IEP Meetings, Recess Duty and anything else school related is a simple drag n drop.  Then these events are now part of your calendar and you can easily track them on all their devices.

Schedule:  A drag and drop weekly schedule screen that lets you create a class period, name it, assign a color and drag it to the appropriate day of the week and time of the day.  Then with a simple copy of the event to the other 4 days of the week the user can setup the entire week full of all classes for each day.  

Students:  A full list manager for Classes and then Students inside each class.  Then with each Class you can take attendance and if you have an incoming Sub teacher the following day you can easily email out all of the student notes that are special to each student.  For each student you can setup contacts with both phone and email to make it easy to contact them.  And there is a free form Note entry for each student.

Lesson Plans:  Again a full list manager for Lesson plans.  You can create lesson plans and email them.  Then you can sort them by Title, Class and Date

ToDo Lists:  A full Folder/List manager so that you can more accurately keep track of your todo items.  This lets you setup lists per class or function or organization.

Feb 4

Part of my book: 180 Questions: Sage on the Stage

How do your students view the way you deliver information to them? Are you in front of the classroom giving them lectures, asking them to read papers and texts, and running the class like a conductor in front of an orchestra? 

If you answered yes, then congratulations! You are a sage on the stage and can draw your teaching lineage back thousands of years to the like Aristotle and Socrates. 

You have a fine, long tradition behind you.

Unfortunately, “behind you” is the operative term here. Study after study finds that students that are actively engaged in the learning process learn more, are more apt to score better on tests, and can recall items much longer than those that simply act as knowledge radio receivers.

You can use your own experience to see if being actively engaged is better than lecture style learning: 

Think about the one science lab that really sticks out in your mind from all of your school years…go ahead, I’ll wait, 

I bet it was the frog dissection wasn’t it? That icky, stinky, gooey lab where you cut open a poor preserved frog still is in your mind years later! That is because you were actively engaged in that learning. 

So, don’t just stand in front of your students and tell them everything you know. Let them discover things on their own. After all, school is about their learning, not yours.

ASCD was talking about this way back in 1993:


What will it take to move you off the stage?

Google Lit Trips!

From the site:

So What exactly are Google Lit Trips?

The short version is simple. Google Lit Trips are free downloadable files that mark the journeys of characters from famous literature on the surface of Google Earth. At each location along the journey there are placemarks with pop-up windows containing a variety of resources including relevant media, thought provoking discussion starters, and links to supplementary information about “real world” references made in that particular portion of the story. 

The focus is on creating engaging and relevant literary experiences for students. I like to say Google Lit Trips “3-dimensionalize” the reading experience by placing readers “inside the story” traveling alongside the characters; looking through the windshield of that old jalopy in The Grapes of Wrath or waddling alongside Mr. and Mrs. Mallard’s duckling family in Make Way for Ducklings.”

Sep 4

American Schools in Crisis?


If you read the news magazines or watch TV, you might get the impression that American education is deep in a crisis of historic proportions. The media tell you that other nations have higher test scores than ours and that they are shooting past us in the race for global competitiveness. The pundits say it’s because our public schools are overrun with incompetent, lazy teachers who can’t be fired and have a soft job for life.

Don’t believe it. It’s not true.