Grade Inflation or Something Else?

Here’s a graphic from Edudemic about how students are studying less but getting better grades.  Is this grade inflation or something else?


“Outsourcing Our Memories?”

Here’s a nice little blog post by a guest author, Rabbi Aaron Ross, over at Free Technology for Teachers.  He addresses the issue of whether teachers should be disseminators of information or facilitators of critical thinking or both.  It reminded me of a previous post I wrote, so I thought I’d share.

Monday Morning Roundup #7

Here’s a few educational resources I’ve learned about (or relearned about :)) over the last week.  Enjoy!

1. Stipple – Stipple is similar to Szoter, which I wrote about in a previous post.  With Stipple, you can upload images and add tags.  Tags can link to videos, other images, text, websites, other documents, etc.  I can imagine students using Stipple to report on and create multimedia presentations on a work of art, a historical photograph, or a mathematical or scientific model.  Stipple is in its BETA phase, and you can sign up for FREE with an email address.

2. Socrative – Socrative is a student response system that can be used with smartphones, laptops, or tablets.  Teachers can set up an account in minutes and receive a classroom code.  Students then put the classroom code into their own device.  When a teacher asks a question, the students answer the questions on their devices, with feedback immediately generated.  Teachers can also quiz students and play review games with the students using Socrative.  The site is FREE.

3.  U.S. Political Conventions and Campaigns – Northeastern University has created a website devoted to political conventions and campaigns.  There are sections on campaign history, campaign finance, conventions, and policy and platform.  The site also has lesson plans that could be adapted and used for different grade levels.  The site is FREE.

4.  Street View of Mesoamerica – If you teach world history, you may want to check out the new images of Mesoamerican archeological sites that Google just released.  30 street views of historical sites from Mexico and Brazil are included, providing a kind of virtual field trip for your students.  The site is FREE.

5.  Flipsnack – Flipsnack allows you and your students to create digital books from PDFs.  Students convert a Pages or Word Document or other file to PDF.  Then, they upload their file to the website, choose the style of their book, and the website does the rest.  A link is generated that can easily be shared.  Digital books are great for independent or group projects.  Check out this book on Renaissance artists that my AP Euro students did.  It took one 50-minute class period.  The site is FREE.

Monday Morning Roundup #6

Okay…I know I said I’d have more resources this week than last week, but I just didn’t come across much this week, I’m afraid. Here’s what I did find. Hopefully, someone will find one or more of these useful.

1. Irregular Verb Wheel Game – This is a game on the MacMillan Dictionary website that helps students practice different verb forms. Simple and easy and FREE!

2. Szoter – I use a lot of images in my classes, and my AP history students have to learn how to analyze images for the AP exam. Szoter is an online tool that allows for easy annotation of images. Upload a photo or other image, add some text and arrows, and draw on the image. Then, save your work. Students could identify different parts of organisms, analyze paintings, explain political cartoons, etc. The site is FREE.

3. Taking Sides – In my last post, I wrote about Socratic seminars. McGraw-Hill has a series called Taking Sides, which offers great questions and articles for Socratic seminars at the upper school level. The series has dozens of titles that cover nearly every topic you can imagine. A question is posed, and then two excerpted academic articles offer opposing viewpoints on the issue. You can find most of the books online, used or new, and they are relatively inexpensive.

Socrates, Thou Wast a Genius!

I’ve been using Socratic seminars since I started teaching upper school five years ago, and while some seminars have gone better than others, generally I’ve had great success with this method of instruction.  I wanted to write a post about Socratic seminars in hopes of encouraging others to give them a try as well. Unsure what exactly a Socratic seminar is?  Read on.

Socratic seminars are text-based discussions that are centered around one overarching question that does not have a single correct answer.  Students, through their discussion, create meaning out of the text and pose possible answers to the question.  The teacher acts both as the leader of the discussion but also as a participant, modeling how to read a text, ask questions of the text, and pose possible responses to the text.  It may seem like Socratic seminars work best with the humanities, but the truth is they can work in any discipline, including mathematics and science.  Likewise, they can work with ANY grade level, even elementary students.  If you don’t believe me, see this video which includes groups of third graders, eighth graders, and twelfth graders participating in Socratic seminars.  I, myself, have used this technique with both advanced and regular college prep students.

This past Friday, my Advanced Placement United States history class participated in a Socratic seminar.  Because this particular group of students has participated in such seminars in the past, I actually tasked two students with leading the discussion instead of leading the seminar myself.  I sat outside the discussion, taking notes on who said what and what was said.  The students discussed two articles dealing with the question Was conflict between Native Americans and European settlers inevitable?  I could tell the students felt a bit awkward in the beginning, especially not having me there to guide them, but they ended up doing a great job pulling the articles apart, coming up with their own questions, and posing possible responses to those questions.  They referred to the specifics in the articles, responded respectfully towards each other, and communicated their ideas clearly and effectively.  I couldn’t have been more pleased with how the first seminar of the year went.

Wanna give this technique a try?  Here’s some things to keep in mind when using Socratic seminars.

  • Pick meaty, controversial texts with lots of food for thought.
  • Give students plenty of time to read the text ahead of time and require a “ticket” in order to participate in the seminar – a short, written response to the text that students bring on the day of the seminar; No ticket – no entry to the discussion, and the student receives a 0 on the assignment.
  • Have students sit in a circle so they can see one another, and allow them to have the annotated text with them.
  • Number the lines of the text (I mark every five lines), and encourage students to refer to specifics in the text.  Ex. “In line 45, the author says…”
  • Do not require students to raise their hands, but require them to speak one at a time.
  • Require students to respond to the last comment or question before moving the conversation forward with a new thought.
  • Encourage students to converse with and question each other rather than the teacher.  Once the discussion is going, take yourself out of the equation as much as possible and let the conversation flow naturally among the students.
  • Grade students on the quality (and to a lesser extent the quantity) of their participation.
  • Do not feel like students have to walk away from the discussion with clear answers.  It’s okay for them to walk away still thinking.  In fact, that’s what we want!

Monday Morning Roundup #5

Here’s a few educational resources you might find useful. Sorry the list is so short. I was a little busy this past week getting the school year underway.  There will be more to come next week.

1.  Powtoon – Last year, I had my students create graphic novel-esque posters that told the story of 19th-century imperialism. This year, I want to continue to use the graphic novel style with one unit or another, but I will most likely be doing this digitally with Powtoon.  Powtoon is currently in its BETA phase, but you can sign up to use the site with an email address.  Using various templates you drop in and move around figures and images, add some text and music (mp3 only), and magic – students have created their own cartoon movie or presentation.  It’s a nice alternative to iMovies, and it can be used in a variety of disciplines and grade levels, from mathematics to history.  I did this presentation in less than 5 minutes just to test it out.  I didn’t even tap the surface in terms of the images and choices available on the site nor did I add music, so don’t judge me too much.  Still, it was very easy and intuitive. Students can save their work on the site, and share it easily when finished. The site is FREE.

2.  The Lower East Side Tenement Museum – This is a fun, simple game for older elementary students and possibly middle school students.  Students take on the role of an immigrant coming to America in 1916.  They choose their character, travel across the Atlantic, go through Ellis Island, and begin a new life living in the tenements of the lower east side.  The site is FREE.

3.  Museum of Science + Technology in Chicago – This website allows teachers to search for hands-on activities by grade level and subject area.  Obviously, the focus is on science and technology.  I gave it a brief glance, and I imagine it’s best used with elementary and middle school students, although they include high school grade levels on the site.

Repeat After Me: Why? Why? Why?

“I like this class,” said one student to another at the end of my 7th period government class on Friday afternoon.  And here is the great part: he didn’t know I heard him say it, therefore, I know it wasn’t just a sycophantic remark.  While I’ve heard statements like this before, believe me when I say, I’ve also heard quite the opposite opinion.  So please don’t think this post is about me patting myself on the back.  If I am remembering correctly, however, I’ve never heard a student say this about my government class at the end of week one.  It’s not that all my students in the past have disliked the class.  They just haven’t always fully enjoyed the course either.  Needless to say, it was the perfect thing to hear at the end of a long first week of school.

I have to believe that he said this in large part because I’m teaching the class so very differently than I’ve done in the past, as explained in this previous post. Apparently, at least so far, those changes are proving appealing to at least some of my students.  Hearing that little bit of affirmation is encouraging and motivating.

I did something else that I think might have been a contributing factor in terms of this student’s comment – I explained to my students WHY I made the changes I did to the course, WHY we are going to do the things we are going to do this semester, and WHY it is important.  In explaining this to them, I tried to be as open and honest as possible, even acknowledging mistakes I’d made in the past in teaching the course.  Therefore, this is going to be my new mantra: “Why?  Why? Why?”

I think too often I forget to explain to my students why I am doing what I’m doing and why I am asking them to do certain things in return.  I guess I’ve always known (or at least assumed I’ve known) why I did this lesson or that assignment, and as long as I knew, that was enough.  It shouldn’t surprise me then that for the students it becomes about nothing more than completing the assignment, making the grade, and passing the course.  Explaining why doesn’t have to take more than a couple of minutes, but I think it might be time well spent, and not just for the students.  If you have to explain it to your students, you are forced to think about it yourself.  And if you can’t come up with a good enough explanation, maybe you shouldn’t do that assignment or activity, or maybe you need to make some changes to make it more purposeful. (Note: “Because it’s on the test,” or vague comments such as, “You’ll need this for college,” are usually not the best answers. ;))

So in the future, when I’m creating a unit of study, planning an activity, or writing an assessment, I’ll try to remember to ask myself, “Why?  Why?  Why?”  Just as importantly, if not more so, I’ll do my best to explain the answers to those questions to my students.