Thursday, July 5, 2012

Science Fair... How about a Tech Fair?

As usual, I like to start with a question and present a possible answer for educators, students and parents.  For years districts nation wide have held "Science Fairs" where children explore some area of science by creating an experiment to demonstrate their ability to go through the scientific process.  It's a great way to learn about a specific area of science and to truly live out science.

Now I'm a great believer in this process, in fact I still remember my 6th grade science fair project. Do you?  I focused on fermentation... yes turning yeast into... well alcohol.  While I never used this process again (especially after tasting it under adult supervision, just the smell would turn anyones stomach...) I did use my knowledge for future science endeavors. 

So I was thinking... we should look to expand the Science Fair and include or have an additional Tech Fair.  Computers, after all, are a science and a constantly developing field of which children will need to be skilled at in the future.  So my challenge to you is to start a Tech Fair in your class, grade level, school site or even district.  Follow the same method of the science fair and have kids compete while looking at how technology impacts life all around us.  Have categories, or just have a general fair, but please join me this upcoming year and hold your own.  

We can report back together after we've experimented and share the successes.

Written by Scott Bedley

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Stop the Press

Have you walked your students' through the full writing process?  I'm sure you have and if you are like me you may have spent a great deal of time having them type their final work into the computer to print up.  There is another option.  Popping up all over the net you can find free, web based, e-publishers like .  What's great about this is that students get to utilize a tool that their parents, relatives and friends can all access.  It truly builds in a real life purpose for considering your audience when writing.  Keeping that audience at the forefront of their minds drives them to want to reduce errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar.  It also delivers that internal push to put there best effort into the content.  The kids also like the ability to make their ebooks multimedia style presentations by adding video content, music and photo's which are not possible when you are using the traditional hand written or word processed versions of a final draft writing.  I hope you will join me in flooding the market with are amazing young authors works. What could be more empowering for a child than to start having their stories downloaded by others?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Video Games in My Classroom?

I didn't think I would give in... But I have... Now before you judge me think about this... If you look back through history, many children's toys have been miniature versions of tools children would later use in life. I remember taking my class, when I was teaching 3rd grade, on a field trip to a place called Kelloge House, in California. This Victorian style mansion had been almost fully restored and was meant to give our kids a look into the past... It was there that the docent explained that many of the children's toys used by kids at the turn of the 1900's were items such as little sewing machines, miniature working tools and others such as these tools. This seemed true of today as well... My son already has his own play BBQ that he grills some tasty plastic burgers for mom and dad! I couldn't help but make the connection. Aren't video games employing some of the same skills and problem solving kids may need to use when adults? Fast forward to two months ago... A good friend working for the video game company Valve(maker of a gaming "iTunes" like site called Steam) called and put me in contact with their small but motivated education development team. I was given a beta, or test version, of a one of their top selling games that had been modified to allow students to manipulate and create their own dynamic levels. Using this game, students would need to employ a number of creative and problem solving skills along with math and science. Once done they could play their level on the game called Portal. While I'm still in the "beta teaching version" on using video games in my classroom, this has absolutely opeed my eyes and pushed me off my stance of "video games being the enemy of thinking, reading, and homework." So the question I had to ask myself now and that i pose to you is... What is it that you could turn around to use in your classroom that would push you out of your comfort zone and make kids more excited about learning?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Getting to The Gifted

Recently I received an amazing gift from my wife.  She had noticed that with each new advertisement, I became more and more interested in the Kindle Fire.  I would often deny I wanted one when she would ask, giving all sorts of reasons why I could live without one.  Now before I lose focus and turn this into a review for the Kindle Fire let me make the connection.  Although I had missed the signs that I wanted this gift, her sensitive observation had seen my desire (although maybe it was my more obvious signs, for example I would stop forwarding the DVR through the commercials when I notice that a Fire advertisement was on...) In reality, it was that sensitive observation by my wife on the gift that I wanted that helped me to realize it was something that was drawing my interest.

Reflecting on this made me wonder about the gifted students I teach on a daily basis.  Were my gifted students frustrated many times because they were focused on the gifts of others and overlooked their own gifts?  Would I be able to identify the gifts  my students had?  And what could I, as an educator, do to help develop the discovery and acceptance of those gifts, not just the management of gifted students? I wanted to  continue to find was to be a  teacher with precision focused lessons.

If you are anything like me, I'm sure that you can easily picture this scenario too; a students chasing after the gifts they see in others and missing their very own talents.  This didn't just seem to apply to my students identified as gifted.  What was I doing and what was the education world doing to help students identify their gifts?  This sent me on my quest. I found an amazing document titled the 12 Traits of Giftedness.  Hopefully you've seen it... but if not, check it out and see if you can find ways to help all students open and understand their gifts and the challenges that may come with that gift. It's empowering for kids, parents and educators alike.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Is Project Based Assessment the Next Logical Returning Wave in Education?

Each summer, I feel blessed to live close to the ocean.   Sitting on the waters edge is such an amazing way to reflect on ones-self and look for ways to improve.  On a recent trip to our local spot (where my wife and I happen to give our nuptials) there were high waves followed by a tremendous backwash.   A backwash is when the waves of the invading tide surge back off the shore towards the incoming wave colliding and launching tremendous sprays of salted, kelp filled water into the sky sometimes 10 feet or more.  Public education has been faced with this same impending tide, but like the ocean, there is a backwash pushing against those crashing waves. 

It was not that long ago that assessing students meant far more then having them chose between four possible answers.  Being in education for the last 17 years, I’ve seen the “politcalization” of education possibly more then any other generation since the growth of public education in the early 1900’s.  As educators, we are driven by the accountability standards created by legislators, yet the assessments used to hold us accountability is one of the lowest forms of evaluation or knowledge demonstration.  Not only that, but the detailed information gained from these assessments is protected and leaves the classroom educator with little or no data to actual use to improve their own teaching or the education process for the students. 

Now, with the move to federalizing standards, the level of competitive growth that can drive innovative schools and districts will only wane even further.  While standards are meant to guarantee equity, they can also stifle innovation.  State standardized curriculum and testing has lead public schools marching down the path of continued mediocrity.  Imagine a sports league that standardized whatever coach could teach their team or plays they could call.  This might lead to parody, but not to the best possible players or teams.  It is competition that has driven innovation throughout history.  Yet legislators can’t seem to find a way to legislate competition within the public education school system accept through financial means.   So, government standardizes the practice to assure equity.  With standards, what could have been a floor for public education quickly became the ceiling, but there seems to be many backwash waves forming, one of which is called “Project Based Learning.”

Project Based Learning, or PBL is not something that was just created in the past few years, but has been around for decades if not longer.  PBL is based on the notion that students/people learn best when put into real world situations by integrating multiple layers of education with multiple modalities being required to succeed.   Sounds a lot like the world outside of current education right?  PBL seems to be currently having a slow moving resurgence that is quickly gaining speed in the backwash to the multiple-choice accountability we’ve been stuck with over the past decades.  This resurgence can be somewhat credited to the book Understanding by Design authored by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.  Modern PBL focuses on creating projects that help students’ initial learning.  Understanding by Design is an excellent source for a “backwards style” planning where an educator looks at the final learning outcome desired and works backwards from there to the actual lesson/project that will allow learners to find their way to the desire learning outcomes.  I like taking this concept one step further to what seems to be the logical next step.  I first asked myself what happens in the business world?  Though many discussions with family, friends, literature and a few people I didn't have an immediate relationship with I gained a greater insight.

In parts of business world, employees are trained and then expected to implement their training in on the job experiences.  They may be trained in several different manners depending on the job of course.  The employee is trained for one core set of duties.  Education though must train all students for all potential learning opportunities/jobs/duties they may have.  The ratio for teachers is not a one set of skills of knowledge to one type of training that is often seen in industry and business when the focus is on the content/information.  If education shifted it’s focus from being content driven to being skills and problem solving driven and used the content as the means to acquire higher level thinking skills, creativity, and problem solving techniques.  Simple put, if a person has a need to write, they will learn that skill.  If they have a need for math, they will seek out a means for gaining that skill.  This is part of our core, survival instincts and can be accessed to motivate learning.

In my upcoming book, I look at how to shift from a PBL focus, one step further to Project Based Assessments.  In this new book, I look at examples educators can implement such as why taking a group of 5th grade students to the local Target store for an afternoon is far better then 3 weeks of classroom direct instruction.  When students get “real world” opportunities to use math to figure out things such as sales tax, average price per item, discount percent taken off, rage of prices and space needed to stack items, and other key areas to assess gives a teacher and the students ways to demonstrate knowledge, problem solving ability, be creative and critical thinking skills.  The most important key is it gives the motivating, driving force, needed to learn the skills necessary to succeed in math.  By putting students in a real world situation that can be recreated in any town at the most minimal of costs and the motivation is powerful.  I not only provides basic direction of developing your own assessment, but also provide numerous math, writing, reading, social studies and science Project Based Assessments that can be easily adapted to a variety of grade levels and content areas.