Better Assessment

365: day 141 by Nick in exsilio
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

In keeping with this blog’s philosophy, I thought I’d post something short and sweet about change, but not necessarily having to do with tech, per se. It comes from the ASCD blog. What caught my eye today was about how we can change assessment practices. This post (and the book it is about) is primarily directed at new teachers, but I think the suggestions apply to all teachers, regardless of experience level — I have seen some super-innovative teachers who have been in the game for 20+ years, and I have seen some very complacent and — dareIsayit? — lazy teachers who have been in the game for 20+ years, too, so I think this advice is pretty much in the Across The Board category.

Three important priorities guide Grdino’s resolution to these assessment challenges. How do you answer these challenges at your school?

  1. Coaching: Identify teachers’ strengths and weakness and provide individualized support. Grdino explains, “An experienced teacher who does not see a reason to change the way he or she has always graded students will need different guidance than the new teacher who has been trained in designing rubrics but lacks the organizational skills to do so efficiently.”
  2. Questions: Use professional inquiry to guide growth. For example, ask teachers to include sample assessments with their weekly lesson plans. Or ask teachers to highlight the verbs used in lesson objectives or national and state standards. Highlighting the verbs used in the lesson objectives will help both new and seasoned teachers focus on goals that are higher than mere knowledge acquisition. Give teachers a forum to ask each other questions and share best practices about assessment.
  3. Balance: Ask teachers to diagram the types of assessments they use over a year. “While preparing the diagrams, the teachers must quantitatively examine the importance they give to each type of assessment, and the final visual product gives the evaluator a clear graphic that shows patterns and changes in the way a teacher evaluates students,” Grdino advises.

You can read the whole post over here. What I’m wondering is if we can make these simple changes in assessment, small, gradual, and do so mindfully? To take it a step further — What would start to happen if all teachers did this, and embedded technology into their assessment tools?

It’s just a thought…

Round Two and Version 4: Diigo

The first time ’round, I wasn’t convinced. I tried Diigo more than whole-heartedly, for an entire month. I felt very much like it was good, but not really good enough — poor interface (not intuitive), clunky on the Flash / Javascript it relied on, a toolbar that got in my way, etc. I just generally felt that it wasn’t as slick and simple as other tools. I really wanted to like it, as I saw tremendous potential in its application — particularly being able to annotate and “mark up” the web. Its collaborative tools — groups, discussions, and more — also caught my eye. But it just felt too clunky; learning how to use it took time, and some things just didn’t work for me. Eventually, I grew to use Delicious much more and stopped using Diigo pretty much completely in June of this year.

However, now that Diigo’s been re-vamped — version 4.0, y’all — I may have to reconsider.

Start with Diigo’s very clear Tour. Here’s part 1, Research:

Diigo V4: Research ~ annotate, archive, organize from diigobuzz on Vimeo.

What do you think? Is Diigo changing the landscape of tools for collaboration, research, and archiving? How will its shiny-new version impact your teaching and learning? I look forward to your comments and suggestions. ūüôā

Note: There are two other parts of the tour available respectively: Share and Collaborate (which sound similar to me, but I didn’t come up with the labels!).

The 1:1 Tablet Program Rolls On!

Last night we held an overview session for parents of next year’s grade 8, 9 and 10 students, all of whom will be receiving tablets on Day One of the 2009 – 2010 school year. That means all students in grades 8 – 12, around 300 students, and over 100 staff toting around instant access to information and the chance to transform teaching and learning.

As part of the presentation, our MSHS Principal showed the clip “Learning to Change – Changing to Learn” from the Consortium for School Networking. I hadn’t seen the clip since we showed it to our first group of parents last year. After a year of teaching in 1:1 classrooms, it was amazing to realize the reflective nature of the internal monologue inside my head as I watched this clip. Some quotes that were particularly noteworthy:

  • The student is at the center and school is just one of the places where they learn. (1:53)
  • We’ve got a classroom system when we could have a community system. (2:23)
  • Start with teachers. If I want my students to be making global connections, then I’m going to start with my teachers first. (2:48)
  • The coin of the realm will be: do you know how to find information, do you know how to validate it, do you know how to synthesize it, do you know how to leverage it, do you know how to communicate it, do you know how to collaborate with it, do you know how to problem solve with it? (4:11)
  • It’s the death of education, but the dawn of learning. (4:55)
It’s easy to watch the video or read the quotes and agree with them in principle. Only after experiencing the beginning of what’s possible does this truly resonate with me. In my position of Technology Facilitator next year, it will be important that these five points remain at the forefront of my work.

K12 Learning 2.0

A couple of weeks ago, I started the K12 Learning 2.0 online course.

The goal of the course is to help everyone become familiar with some of the exciting, emerging Web technologies available to support professional, personal and classroom learning in the 21st Century! The course is, intentionally, about play and possibility, rather than pedagogy; about exploration, rather than classroom application; about discovery and experimentation, rather than “doing it right.” We hope participants make connections and become inspired along the way. Learning is messy, and “mistakes” often lead to new understandings!

After completing the course, I’m hoping to convince others at my school to enrol and then I can act as their local coach. I think this will be a great way to use a successful, already-existing solution in order to introduce my colleagues to the Wonder World of Web 2.0.

Easy Blogging 101

It’s not really new, per se, but it certainly fits into the theme of things here at Pockets of Change: an ultra-lite blogging platform. What could be simpler than click-and-post? Yep, I am definitely talking about a small amount of change that can make a big difference.

I’m referring to a new blogging sharing platform called Posterous. Yes, I realize I called it “blogging” in the title of the post, but on 2nd thought, I’m not sure that it’s “true” blogging. It’s really just a place to post and share things, without all the bells and whistles. If you are an educator who has been thinking about blogging but not sure where to start, or maybe you’re intimidated by all the “techie” stuff associated with blogging, Posterous is for you. Heck, even if you’re not an educator and you just want a quick-and-dirty way to share stuff with friends or family, it’s worth checking out.Who\'s it for?

If I were new to all this Web2.0 tech stuff for learning (which I’m clearly not, but play along, now), I think that Posterous would be the hands-down simplest place to start. I mean, seriously — you don’t even need an ACCOUNT. All you need to do is send stuff to them from your email address and suddenly you’ve created a page.¬† I don’t think it gets any easier than this! They say on their site it’s dead simple, and they’re not kidding.

Here’s what I did to try it out:

  1. Went to their website.
  2. Clicked the link where it says Step 2: email anything to
  3. My GMail account opened, from which I sent a very simple message to
  4. Within seconds, I received an email telling me that my post had been created.
  5. Clicking on the links brought me to my new post in my new and ultra-sleek blog.

The lovely and simple email message from Posterous:

the email from posterous

And here is the actual new post:

Now if that ain’t a pocket o’change, I dunno what is. Seriously — try it. You have nothing to lose but 30 seconds. It really couldn’t be easier.

Why Twitter?

I have a friend (a live in-the-flesh kind of friend) who recently signed up for a Twitter account. What was his first Tweet?

combutible_t\'s tweet

And then another one of my Twitter friends asked a very pertinent question:

To keep with a recent trend here at PoC, here’s my quick list to answer the question: Why Twitter?

  • Twitter allows me to search and find people who share my same interests: the MYP, the Los Angeles Clippers, or ramen. I can then follow these people and see if there is more that we have in common. I can also use Twitter Search to follow current events as they happen.
  • Twitter is an open mic to my PLN. People have actively chosen to follow my updates so they think I have something of value to say. While it is a public proclamation, only those who are really interested are listening.
  • Twitter is a pro-active resource. People I follow are sending out things that interest them which in turn interests me. Some think Twitter is the new RSS feed reader.

And another quick list on how to get the most out of Twitter:

  • Use a third party app like Twhirl, TweetDeck, or TwitterFox instead of the web interface. It’s easier to keep track of all your tweets that way.
  • Use Twitter Search to find people who are discussing things you are interested in.
  • Use Mr. Tweet to help you find people to follow.
  • Once you find somebody who you want to follow, check out who that person is following. Is there anybody in that list you’d like to follow as well?
  • When somebody starts following you, check out their recent tweets to get an idea if they are somebody you’d like to follow in return.

When I first started using Twitter (I’m @chamada), I was more than a bit skeptical. But now I don’t think I could live without it. It takes a while for your Twitter network to reach that critical mass and, like everything else, you get out only what you put in. You can lurk and observe the conversation, or you can particpate and become part of the conversation.

As for my answer to why use Facebook and Twitter? To me, Facebook is for friends and family. Twitter is my Personal Learning Network; it’s a tool that I use to connect with people all around the world who share common interests. Both are becoming increasingly indispensable in how I communicate, but for completely separate reasons.

Concept Maps, Brainstorming, and Visual Tools

And then the magic happens by Mark McLaughlin
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

I’ve always been an experimenter in the classroom. And luckily, I’ve always had pretty easy-going and willing-to-be-experimented-on students. So when I recently asked my Grade 8 students to try out different ways of creating a sociogram, they said, “Sure!”*

Here was the task: a sociogram of sorts to show the relationships between characters in Twelfth Night, part of our unit titled “For the Fun of It: Merry-making in Society.” ¬†As you can see if you visit the post, I gave my students several choices with which to try out their graphic-organizer creation skills. Here were the general results:

  • Inspiration was by far the most popular initial choice. You’ll note that I’ve emphasized the word “initial.”
  • Gliffy was the second most popular initial choice (the risk-takers).¬†
  • Few students tried any of the other options listed. I’ll come back to this issue later.
  • Those students who tried Inspiration first were each met with a problem as soon as they finished their lovely diagram: the difficulty of exporting into a useable file for posting on their blog.
Now, I must assume that most students chose Inspiration first because it is so widely used in our school — I believe even our younger ES students use Kidspiration. So, by the time they get to me in Grade 8, they are pretty comfortable with the ins and outs of the program. But I am guessing they have never had to do much with their fancy graphics before, other than perhaps print them out.
The best we could do — and this really was a band-aid job — was to take a screen clipping of the diagram. But using old technology like WindowsXP, which only allows the Print Screen command, meant that all the clippings were saved as BMP files, which are unsupported by Edublogs (and most blogs, I’ve since been told).** ¬†Big problem. A few students tried converting using Zamzar, but that took an exceptionally long time on our Vietnamese internet connection, and those who were patient enough to wait for it discovered that¬†once converted,¬†the quality was definitely compromised. Once uploaded, they were barely visible. Students felt they had done a lot of work that could not be properly published.¬†
However, those who used Gliffy found this step an absolute cinch. They finished the task in about one-third the time of those who used Inspiration and were then figuring out ways to export their images. While the “Gliffy group” spent a wee bit more time at the start learning how to use the tool — and, btw, they did teach themselves, as I confessed right off the bat that I had not used it before — once they finished, their images were uploaded lickety-split onto their blogs. In fact, the tool’s effectiveness even, I daresay, inspired a few members of the Inspiration Group to go back and start over again, using Gliffy instead.¬†
As a point of comparison — look at these two sociograms: One using Gliffy, and one using Inspiration. Which one is more functional? Which one is “prettier”? And wouldn’t it be nice if we could combine those two elements? As it stands now, Gliffy got the job done better. (You can check out the other ones by going here and then clicking on a few student blogs in the left sidebar under EngA08.)
My takeaways from all this?
  1. Inspiration, while definitely a preferred learning tool for both me and my students, has limitations that previously were not revealed, as we had been using the software for internal purposes, rather than for digital publishing. Perhaps there is something we are missing that the Inspiration team will let me know about… ? We’d be happy to find a way to make this work better.
  2. Online tools and applications are becoming easier and easier to use all the time, even with an internet connection as slow as ours!
  3. I’m definitely more inspired now (sorry, Inspiration!) to use some of the other online concept-mapping tools available, some of which I listed in the original post. I am already thinking about which one I might ask my students to experiment with next!
  4. I’ve yet to be fired for experimenting with my students. I think that’s probably because I teach some fabulous kids who are more than willing to be guinea pigs!


*Well, okay. They didn’t actually say that. But they didn’t complain either. They jumped-in without whining too much. I teach great students!

**Special thanks to both Sue Waters and Bill Genereux for counselling me through the logistics!

Start Small

Last week, a colleague lamented to me about how overwhelmed he was with trying to integrate tech into his classroom. More specifically, he said, was how overwhelmed he felt trying to “keep up.” He wanted to start a blog, but didn’t know how. He wanted to update his wiki (which had begun beautifully) but was having difficulty embedding items into it and his attempts at finding a solution had left him frustrated because he didn’t know where to turn. He expressed an overall fatigue about how difficult it was to “do all these things” and teach his regular classes; yet he genuinely wanted to use all these tools because he sincerely felt they were useful for his students and their parents.

He is not alone.

Within 5 minutes, another colleague (from a different department) joined our conversation and before I knew it, questions were pouring out all over the table. Generally, both teachers felt they wanted to “do all this stuff” but didn’t know where to start. My response: Start small.*

“But what is ‘small’?” they asked.

“How do I know where to start?” they continued.

I spent 20 minutes with them, during which I showed them a couple of different blog platforms, a few “key” edutech bloggers they might want to follow, and some great wiki examples. I (hopefully) calmed their fears a bit and allayed concerns about being so far behind in the edutech world. It was a great little mini-session, and not an unusual one, I might add. However, the conversation was a genesis for this very blog post because I hope very much that educators in their position don’t¬†get overwhelmed and stop altogether!

My 5 Tips for Starting Small:

  1. Remember: you can’t¬†do it all. You just can’t.¬†
  2. Choose one thing to do differently. When you feel comfortable with that one thing, choose one more thing. (Give each “thing” at least 2 weeks, incidentally. Psychologists already know that it takes 21 days for the brain to be rewired into thinking something is a habit.)
  3. Read 3 or 4 blogs / websites of other educators you admire who are using tech in ways you want to. Note: I actually advise against¬†reading some of those “big names” regularly when you are just starting your edutech journey. Why? Because they can be overwhelming! Remember, those Big Guys (and Gals) have been doing this for a while, and they often generally assume that their audience is up-to-date on the latest and greatest trends. Beginners usually aren’t. I instead advise finding someone to regularly follow who seems just ahead of you, not miles ahead. Success will feel more attainable that way. (Personal example: I am still continually overwhelmed and amazed by Wes Fryer – though I love what he does I often feel like I’ll never get there. However, I began my journey following people whose names are perhaps not as well known, but were doing things I thought were pretty dang cool. And I daresay their names are becoming “bigger”!)
  4. Choose a platform to reflect and share on your process. A blog, Twitter, Plurk, the Classroom 2.0 Ning ¬†— these are all easy places to start.
  5. Keep doing it! And when you get discouraged, read Tip #1 again!
*Not forgetting, of course, that the whole philosophy of this blog is about starting small. See blog sidebar.
Image Credits:
Matrice de services 2.0 adapted from Ioic_hay and re-licenced here under same CC.
Web 2.0 landscape adapted from vincos and re-licensed here under same CC.

The Internet President

Nobody will argue that Barack Obama is the first Internet President of the United States, much like JFK was the first television president. But now that the donations have been collected and the election has been won, how will he and his administration continue to harness the power of the Internet?

Not long after McCain conceded the race, this site was up and running. The Administration-Elect has a blog. The Presiden-Elect is asking me, you, anybody, everybody to

“share your vision for what America can be, where President-Elect Obama should lead this country. Where should we start together?”

Talk about democracy in action! The Obama Administration is actively seeking input¬Ļ directly from concerned citizens: no Senatorial filters or Congressional messengers. And it’s seeking it in a way that is most likely to appeal to the change-agents of the future: our students. In 8 years, students who are currently in Grade 6 will be given the right to vote. But they no longer have to wait for their voices to be heard. Long before they are granted the power of the ballot, our students have been given the power of the Internet.

Of course, it remains to be seen how this information will be acted upon. I, for one, am grateful for the opportunity to participate.

¬Ļ – People talk debate about technology being transformative. In the ‘old days’ (i.e. before November 4, 2008) students used to send letters (I sent mine to Reagan when I was in 4th grade!) or emails to the White House uninvited, with little hope of them being read and even less hope of a response.

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