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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bringing the World into Your Classroom-Connecting through twitter

With the advent of free video conferencing software (Skype) it is amazing how easy it is to get experts into your classroom. One of my goals this year was to bring experts in who can discuss what they do. Today I had the privilege of having Lillie Croft, a volcanologist skype into my freshmen classes. She shared with us a powerpoint about why volcanoes are important to the health of the world. She talked about how volcanoes are both destructive and constructive. It was a great experience for my students to hear from a “real” scientist who did research on the things that we have been learning about.

So how do you get world-class speakers “into” your classroom. For me I have begun to use twitter to connect with people all over the world. If you are unfamiliar with twitter, it is a micro blogging site that allows people to post small (limit 140 characters) micro-blogs. You might wonder how anything important can be shared in 140 characters. Usually what people post is a small teaser and then have a link to a website that gets you more information.

The other thing you can do is use what are called hashtags. Hashtags were developed as a means to create "groupings" on Twitter, without having to change the basic service. Essentially you put the “#” symbol in front of a string of text, do a search for that hashtag and then even people who don’t “follow” you, but who are interested in the same types of things you are will see your post. They then may respond to your post. Several hashtags that I use are: #edchat, #scichat, #scido. When you search these people will talk about education, science, or how to do science in the classroom.

So how did I connect with Dr. Croft? I simply put out on my twitter feed that I was looking for a volcanologist to skype into my classroom. I put it out on the #scichat search list and voila, I got a response from somebody who knew her. I then emailed her and she graciously agreed to talk to my kids.

Truly in today’s connected world, we have the opportunity, and dare I say responsibility, to bring the world into our classroom. So get with it and connect to people who can connect to our kids.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Assessing in Mastery Learning: What we Have Learned

Assessing in Mastery Learning: What we Have Learned

This is my third year of doing mastery learning and the more I teach this way the more I like it. Many of our followers have asked for advice from Aaron and I. What have we learned so that they don’t have to make the same mistakes that we have made. Today I want to talk about how we have changed up our assessment s.

This year in our Chemistry classes we have changed a bit how we assess our students. In the past we would check every single assignment that students assigned. We would then put that in the grade book. This year we looked at objectives and instead of a student trying to “get work” done they are now focused in on the objectives that might have several learning activities. This chunking of our activities into objectives.

Below are the old and the new checklists: Note how the old system is very busy and the new one is not very busy.

Clearly: the second chart makes it easier for students to see what it is they need to know and be able to do. Thus far this has fostered a greater amount of learning.

We have even changed the way that we talk to students. Instead of: did you get that assignment done? It is now, “What objective are you struggling with today and how can I help.” This has created a more collaborative learning environment for all students and I am seeing greater gains in learning already.