Posts Tagged ‘social media’

How Social Media Can Develop 21st Century Skills

March 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Saturday from 5:15 pm – 6:15 pm, Moscone Centre, Room 113

Bring Your Laptops!

In a few more than 24 hours, I will be presenting at the 2011 ASCD Annual Conference with my colleague, Susana Gerndt. The title of the session is “Written Conversations Develop Minds for the Future”, with reference to Howard Gardner‘s recent work. The session might have been called “How Social Media Can Develop 21st Century Skills”. The session description we submitted a year ago doesn’t do justice the importance of technology and social media in modern learning environments, but, the session will. Here is a taste of our introduction:

Looking specifically at the meaning of the word social and then the meaning of the word media allows us to come up with our own understanding of what social media is and can be in our classrooms.  Social media can be cordial, gracious, informative, popular and neighborly. It is created by people for people. Individuals become active participants in a communal understanding that is not limited to their own thoughts, or the thoughts of a select few individual ‘experts’. Individuals are linked to the understandings of the world.  Social media is therefore the information of the community.  Would you rather leverage one person or dozens, hundreds, thousands, even millions of people?  Social media engages students because it gives them a platform to leverage many individuals as opposed to just the teacher.

If all works out, we will run a backchannel using twitter hashtags #ascd11 and #1437 (session number). Tweets will be aggregated on todays meet, here:  So, if you plan to come (and we hope you do), bring your mobile device!


7 Reasons, 6 Tips and 3 Uses: Wikis In The Classroom

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s been a while since I’ve used wikis in a class (last May I believe), so I thought I needed to remind myself why I liked using them and how I made it work by writing a blog post. If you find this useful, please share  and comment below!
Reasons For Using Wikis
  1. Honor Each Student Using social media such as wikis helps you honor the ideas of each student. Engage your students and let them know that their ideas are valued – give them a platform to share their understandings, and they will.
  2. Make Understanding Transparent When using a wiki that is accessible with any web browser all students can access the knowledge of their classmates even if they are too shy to talk in class or those who miss a day or even weeks.
  3. Teach Your Students To Reference Ideas Wikis are a very easy way for students to begin referencing other work because they can easily put in links to other web based sources
  4. Learn Digital Citizenship Getting your students working on social media gives you an opportunity to teach digital citizen, and allow students to learn how to become effective ‘knowers’ in the 21st century
  5. Use Multimedia Students can add multimedia to their notes/work; links, video, pictures, interactive web applets, cartoons, etc.
  6. Engage Students similar to #1, but specifically focus on the fact that students will be doing work instead of teacher.
  7. Track Student Work Wikis are one of the few tools that allows you to see exactly which user has done what. Use the history function to track student work and edits to know who has been engaged.
Tips For Making Wikis Work In The Classroom
  1. Set Clear Expectations√ The best way to deal with problem behavior is to avoid it with clear expectations. Talk to your students about being good citizens online, and have clear expectations. Students respond well to candid discussions on this topic.
  2. Provide Descriptive Feedback 🙂 Take a few minutes early in the use of wikis to show students the type of ‘posts’ that are productive and effective, and tell them why. Point out ‘posts’ that are less effective, and tell them why.
  3. Structures Help! Using wikis will be very different, so think carefully about how you structure such a lesson in advance. Usually only one user can edit at once. I brought 25 people online to work on 13 wikis (representing 13 concepts). The first time I did this I made 13 bright yellow sheets of paper with the title of each wiki page on one yellow sheet. In pairs, users were told to only edit a wiki if they had the corresponding sheet. Every 5 minutes we switched sheets, until each group had the chance to add to each wiki/idea.
  4. Scaffold Skills If you want students to do research to find media or information, you need to show them how. You may also need to show them how to reference information, use a wiki, take turns, collaborate, share, respond to classmates, etc. If you don’t teach it, don’t expect them to know how!
  5. Provide Frameworks consider providing structures such as questions for them to answer (please don’t turn a wiki into a worksheet!), graphic organizers for sorting research findings, etc. – anything to help students organize their thoughts and get them started.
  6. Be Present The most important thing you can do for your students is be present while they are working. Circle around the classroom frequently, ask students to show you what they have so far. Question them, and have them question you. If you’re not a part of the learning process than why are you getting paid?
Suggested Uses of Wikis During Learning
  1. As a KWL Chart (what I Know, what I Want to know, and what I Learned) The first time I used wikis in class, small groups shared a wiki throughout a two-week unit of study. I posted over-arching questions on the wiki, and the individuals in the group added and updated it. At the end they had a nice document with pictures, text, links, videos and interactive applets that helped them understand the content.
  2. As A Unit Review I’ve seen a few teachers using wikis at the end of a unit to put together interactive multi-media based notes and questions. In these cases the community knowledge had been less of a focus but the simplicity of a wiki expedited student work.
  3. As The Knowledge of the Classroom It is important to honor the ideas and understandings of every student in your classroom. By using wikis you can give each student an opportunity to share their understanding on a topic; a picture, graph, video, experience, applet or other website/resource that helps them represent their understanding. I seen a math teacher once have students use wikis to explain a data set – at the end there were various types of graphs, links images and explanations which became a valuable way for students to gain the perspective of their peers.

I hope I’ve given you some fresh ideas for using wikis in school. These ideas have developed out of work I have done with my district and with my colleague, Susana Gerndt. I would be interested in hearing your feedback in the comments below! 🙂

This post is the third in a series of posts I call “Reasons and Tips”

Getting High School Kids To Talk “Math”

November 24, 2010 3 comments


Today I had the pleasure of working with a dedicated and gifted first year teacher. Tim is doing an impressive job teaching pre-calculus grade 11 and 12 math; he has well prepared lessons and examples, clear explanations and solid answers to student questions. Tim invited me into his classroom to work with him and his students to develop some mathematical discourse with the kids.

The unit of study for todays grade 11’s was circle geometry; students had to learn, prove and apply both the Tangent Radius Theorem and Equal Tangents Theorem

Equal Tangents Theorem: PA = PB

Tangent Radius Theorem: Angle OPQ = 90 degrees

The lesson played out as shown below. Keep in mind the focus is on student talk.

Part 1 – Modelling Teachers (Tim and I) stated the Equal tangents theorem for the students, and walked them through the logic of the proof

Part 2 – We Do Together Teachers stated the Tangent Radius Theorem and elicited ideas from the whole class regarding their understanding of the theorem, the diagram, assumptions, and conjectures. Students were encouraged to use relevant math terms and were probed with open ended questions to guide their thinking.

Part 3 – You Do Together (whole class) a) Students solved a problem that most students could easily prove. b) Then, as a class (this is the “do together” part) students brainstormed relevant terminology and theorems used to do the example proof.

Part 4 – You Do Together (Pairs) Students had 60 seconds to use a diagram and the terms from part 3 to explain/prove the problem to a partner – after 60 seconds they switched roles from listened to speaker.

During part one of the lesson no students used the language of mathematics verbally. During part two, students struggled to use the language (either they weren’t comfortable doing so or they didn’t know how). By part four of the lesson students were very talkative and on topic. The sentences formed by students seemed to be perfectly logical and mathematically correct. It was quite exciting for both Tim and I to see how quickly students became engaged in mathematical discourse when given clear structures and expectations. Tomorrow we will be trying out a write-around (recently called paper-blogging in the blogosphere) and I am quite excited to see the results. My personal agenda is to get students using social media to engage in discourse by the third lesson (approximately 160 minutes of lead up instruction time).

If you’ve been wanting to get students to talk more in your math classes – just give it a try. A couple of simple structures and a few minutes of planning seems to go a long way!

How Prezi Can Change Your World (or keep you boring)

November 21, 2010 4 comments

When I first was introduced to Prezi ‘way back when’ I thought it was so awesome, as most of you I’m sure can understand. It’s clean, simple to use, it looks great, and it’s pretty solid regarding performance. But after a few interactions it got boring – fast. In the end if all you do is move your PowerPoint presentations onto prezi you haven’t really changed your pedagogy or advanced your teaching. All you would have done is made it a little prettier. So how can it change your world of teaching?

A few months ago prezi announced a new feature – prezi meeting. Up to ten users (last I checked) can collaborate in real time on a presentation, watching each other type, edit, upload media, and work on layouts. It works incredibly well and other users are represented in the 2D space by little avatar dudes. Think about how this can be used in your classroom (or outside of it for that matter).

Now your students can be the creators of information, relying on the knowledge of the group/community to develop a common understanding. Visualize having groups of students creating thought webs, brainstorming together – but everyone is responsible for writing and coming up with ideas. Things happen faster on prezi because everyone can work on the same document at once, and all students are engaged. Students can see each other work as it happens, and still be working themselves.

My avatar along with Susana's avatar depicting both of our places while editing a prezi document

Even as a teacher/consultant this changes the way I work. While preparing for a recent presentation on social media my co-presenter, Susana, and I were able to collaborate online ‘side by side’ while working from our respective homes over 100 km’s apart. It was a faster process than e-mailing each other a document back and forth, or logging in and out of a drop box, worrying about over-writing the others work. It also allowed us to share ideas, chat, and truely collaborate to make the presentation a product of both of our thinkings.

With the proliferation of so many synchronous tools online the learning environm ent has a real opportunity to change. I hope we can embrace these tools to genuinely better the education of our students, not just to dress up the same old classroom.

A few things that would make prezi (or a similar tool) even better

  • apps for ipad/iphone/android
  • chat feature – so far i’ve just been typing randomly in the prezi to talk to people, and sometimes have forgotten to delete a few comments before using the presentation
  • tracking to know who has done what work
  • comments such as that on MS word for reviewing with peers

Presentation: Developing Academic Rigour with Social Media

November 19, 2010 1 comment

As presented at the 2010 ATA Science Council Conference at the Fantasy Land Hotel (Edmonton, Alberta). Below is an overview of the presentation that will be updated in more detail after the presentation is complete. Additionally, you can view the prezi here.

Part A:Social Media?

What Is Social Media?

First we analyzed the meanings of these two words, and then teachers put those meanings together. Susana Gerndt (my co-presenter) and I offered this definition for social media.

Social Media is the information of the community. It is cordial. Gracious. Informative, popular, and neighborly. It is created by people for people. Individuals become active participants in a communal understanding that is not limited to their own thoughts, or the thoughts of a select few individual ‘experts’, but they are linked to the understandings of the world – would you rather leverage one person or dozens, hundreds, thousands, even millions of people?

Archimedes is credited for saying “Give me a place to stand, and I will move the earth” referring to his understanding of mechanical systems such as levers. I think this idea can be true for social media. Every individual is given a platform up which to stand. The earths population (or at least it’s english speaking ‘connected’ population) is the audience that we are trying to engage as bloggers, video-sharers, etc). An effective social media user can influence thousands, even millions of users.

What Is the typical Social Media experience?

People of all ages are using social media to connect with their friends and family. We find out when new babies are born, look at photos from someones graduation or wedding, and receive invitations to baptisms, birthdays and halloween parties. We find out about the latest election information and international news by reading blogs or through status updates on facebook and twitter. We are entertained and educated on youtube, flickr, vimeo and other video sharing sites. We also take part in conversations, edit wiki’s to share our understanding, and post tutorials and questions on youtube. Social media is an every day part of the life of many people in western society.

Part B: Learning

What is the Traditional Classroom experience?

Sitting in rows, students listen, teachers talk. Once the ‘teaching’ or ‘learning’ is over, students may get a chance to ‘practice’. Sometimes there are conversations in class, which really consists of teacher asking many questions and a few students participating.

How do we Learn in every day life?

We touch, manipulate, see, hear, smell and taste. We analyze. We inquire, formulating various questions to guide our learning. Today we will often do an online search rather than ask an individual. Connected people, instead of asking individuals, may ask thousands of people online by posting a question on youtube or to wiki answers. We also apprentice, practice, apply, communicate, explain, and collaborate.

Part C: Rigour

What does it mean for learning to be Rigorous?

  • The foundation of our Science Curriculum (at least in Alberta) has four components: Science Technology and Society, Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes
  • Learning is Rigorous when students ‘get it’. ‘It’ doesn’t refer to all of the facts that we expect students to know for our standards based tests (Think provincial exams/diploma exams). ‘It’ refers to the purpose of teaching and learning about science. We want our students to
    • 1) think critically, problem solve, analyze, communicate, collaborate, create and innovate. The purpose of science education is to foster these skills as well as to;
    • 2) develop an understanding for the interactions of science, technology, society, environment as well as for the nature of science (theory, experimentation, observation, theory revising/replacement)
    • 3) develop positive attitudes and appreciation for science as a discipline.

Can Students complete tasks, do ‘well’ and still not get it?

One observation that Susana and I have made is that sometimes students can complete social-media based assignments, meet the requirements, get a good mark, but still not really understand the underlying concepts. Many of us have seen beautiful posters that describes all of the ‘content’ (maybe the biotic and abiotic factors of an ecosystem), but the student still doesn’t understand. Has that student done well on the assignment?

How do we make Social Media Projects Rigorous such that they have to get it?

This graphic organizer has been developed based off of the experience of many teachers and consultants. We think that there are some key components within it that get teachers asking the right questions that will lead to rigorous projects, assignments, and tasks in the classroom.

We start on the left hand side of the graphic organizer, looking at student learning outcomes. This has to include not only the knowledge outcomes but the skill and attitude outcomes as well. We need to consider what vocabulary is important for students to use, where the students might make mistakes, and then a look at content literacy strategies (you can interpret this to mean learning strategies). These types of strategies include things like KWL charts, venn diagrams, discussions, questioning strategies, reading strategies etc.

On the right hand side of the sheet are four questions that we think get at the heart of making learning rigorous for students (with social media or without).

  1. How can we powerfully activate students ‘need to know’ content?
    • we want to make learning experiences relevant to our students. If all I do is talk about biotic and abiotic factors with my grade 7 students some will be interested but most will just be learning because they are supposed to. But if I can talk about an issue in an ecosystem that they are curious about and know about I will have them hooked into the learning. A few years ago talking about the coral reef and the movie Finding Nemo may have had this affect. This can happen simply by having a story at the beginning of the unit and a framing question to refer back to throughout the unit.
  2. What strategies and activities will be used to build 21st century skills (Collaboration, communication, critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovation, inquiry and questioning)
    • If you want students to communicate in various ways (using pictures, sound, video, text, spoken word, etc) and you want them to do so effectively you will probably have to talk to them about communication. If you are going to include a song on a digital poster (like the ones you can build on the Glogster website), how is that song going to be relevant? How are students going to choose the text, font, colors etc. This is something that should be addressed, and it doesn’t require much time.
    • If you want students to guide their own learning in an inquiry project and develop their own questions to guide their learning you should be teaching your students about levels of questions using some sort of questioning guide (three level questioning is shown in the prezi; another good tool set are Barrets questioning guides)
    • If you want students to collaborate, we need to teach them how to honor the ideas of others and how to structure their groups such that everyone is responsible for their own learning yet they are also able to learn from each other and develop common understandings. Common understandings can be developed through collaborative brainstorming sites such as popplet, edistorm and mindomo
  3. How will students justify their choices/explain their products
    • students need to be engaged in some sort of dialogue (be it written or verbal), and required to explain what they have done. If they have created a cartoon on a site like toondoo. To learn more about using cartoons in class, check out this older post on cartooning in class
    • When students are having an online discussion, and they express an opinion, they should be required to back up what they are saying. Find a quote in the novel they are reading from a character they are analyzing. They can find a source (online or print) that backs up their comments on global warming and carbon sequestering. Find an example of something happening in the world from a news article or video from (as an example) to support their comments and beliefs about technology and its influence on science.
  4. What are the expectations of students and how will they receive feedback from teacher and classmates?
    • If you want students to do a good job you need to communicate to them what ‘doing a good job’ looks like. Expectations need to be clear, and students should be given an opportunity to receive feedback from both teachers and students.
    • This is when we can start talking about the need to do things during class time. If you can’t honour the students work by giving them the time in class to do it and to take that time to give them feedback, you send a strong message about the importance of a task. Online discussion, wikis, digital posters; all of these things should be started during class time so that you as the teacher have the opportunity to see where students are and guide them to where they need to be.

Part D: Social Media: Developing The Foundations of Science

What Skills Can Online Discussions Develop?

If you are interested in using online discussions, you can learn a lot more about them here on a previous blog post

  • Online discussions give students an opportunity to participate in important disciplinary discourse. They learn to use the language of the discipline – to think like a scientist (in the case of a science class). Discourse is also a form of collaboration, not only should students be talking about their own ideas but they should also be responding to the ideas of each others in an effort to further develop the understanding of the community (in this case the community would be the participating students)
  • develop class communities for online discussions on Ning or Edmodo.

What Skills Can Wikis Develop?

Depending on how you implement their use wikis can develop skills including: writing, information fluency, collaboration, questioning and critical thinking

  • How does a wiki work? (wikispaces, pbworks)
    • A wiki is a collaborative website that is usually very text heavy but can include videos, pictures, and links to other sites. Users can edit the content of these sites easily without knowing anything about web programming; it is almost as simple as typing in Microsoft word.
    • Wikis generally host extensive history of the page, so that you can see who made changes, when they made changes, and what changes they have made
  • An example of when to use a wiki and why.
    • a wiki can be great to use throughout a unit of study. You can begin a unit of study with an empty wiki (assigned to a group of maybe 3-5 students) that would just have some titles or questions (students may be required to come up with the questions or add to the questions), but very little information.
      • Students could start off by editing the wiki on an individual basis, putting in what they already know about the topic (this is called front loading, activating student prior knowledge).
      • after each learning experience (some notes, a video, a reading, a lecture, etc) students can go back into the wiki and add more information. They can also fine tune info or delete info that they figure out to be incorrect.
      • at the end of the unit you would have a huge document with text, pictures, links and videos that represents the understandings that students developed throughout the unit. To keep all students accountable throughout the unit of study you can simply look at the wiki history to see who did edits and when they did them

How Can Synchronized Collaborative Work Change Everything?

There are some websites that allow multiple users to live edit and collaborate, watching each others every move and being able to respond to each other without every refreshing the page. A few of these sites that I like are:

Imagine having 36 students, all brainstorming/mindmapping and just use as the teacher trying to keep up with everybody writing on the board. It could take most of a class and each student will be limited to a few short interactions. Get every student on edistorm or mindomo and you can have the whole class brainstorming at once, contributing to ideas, making connections, organizing each others thoughts, voting on thoughts, and responding to thoughts. It becomes a very different experience when every student for just 10 minutes is fully engaged in such an activity.


If you want to use these tools effectively in your classroom and ensure that the activities are academically rigorous, you can use the Project Planning Page and it should help you consider the following:

  1. What expectations should I have for my students regarding behavior, and how will I communicate these to students
  2. What skills will be developed and how will I scaffold these for the students to ensure success?
  3. How will students justify their thinking/choices/ideas
  4. How will students receive feedback from me as the teacher and from their peers?

Story Telling In Science Class

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

I would like to quickly share with you this video on biomagnification. I believe is a pretty good example of how someone has taken facts and created an interesting story.  The video is fun to watch, and I bet it was fun to make.  A lot more interesting and far more valuable than a traditional report on biomagnification.

8 Reasons, 7 Tips and A Rubric: The Digital Literature Circle

October 20, 2010 1 comment

Maybe you’ve heard of a literature circle before – the idea is that students sit in small groups (maybe 4/5, depending on the needs of students), and talk about a piece of literature they’ve been reading.  It could be a long novel or a short article, but I think that longer pieces are more common.  These circles have the great benefit of students speaking out loud about their own interpretations/understandings, and gaining ideas from other students.  The draw back is that as a teacher, you can’t hear every idea when there are 4 groups speaking all at once about different topics/books.  There is also no record to assess (usually formatively) and get information for feedback and monitoring progress/growth.  But now with the technology of the last 15 years, we can easily have literature circles in a virtual environment, easing some of these issues.

Reasons to Use Digital Literature Circles

1 – Students Get Feedback Students voice their opinions and then can get feedback from their peers.

2 – Community Knowledge As others share ideas, students gain new perspectives and ideas.  The community knowledge grows, and therefore the individuals knowledge grows.

3 – There Is Something to Assess Because there is a digital record of the conversations, the teacher can monitor student progress and provide feedback.  If a proper rubric is created, you could even start considering formative assessment, as I have done sometimes.

4 – All Students Can Participate Often, in a class discussion, only a handful of students get the opportunity to speak. Online, every students can converse and share their opinions

5 – All Students Will Participate Even in a setting where students use real names, they are more likely to participate.  Students are more comfortable online.

6 – The Level of Responses is Amazaing! Students have time to think about their ideas and formulate their responses.  Keep high expectations and you will be surprised and overjoyed with what students say, and how they say it.

7 – Develop Disciplinary Discourse In a science or social students class (maybe even in math), students can discuss non-fiction that they have read, and begin to use the language of the discipline.

8 – Great Essay Prep At the end of a Literature circle, if students need to write a response or essay they have lots of ideas to build on and a record of it all to assist in their writing.  If done properly, the conversations should even include references to quotations or external sources to back up their opinions/thoughts

How To Use Digital Literature Circles

I usually treat digital (virtual) literature circles as something that happens synchronously between students and teachers during class time, but it doesn’t have to be.  On a discussion board, 5 groups of students discuss within 5 different discussion threads about something they’ve ready, and I will often use if for just short pieces of reading, both fiction and non-fiction in the content areas.  A few tips from an experienced (I’ve probably done this in over 100 classrooms) Digital Conversationalist

1 – Have Expectations and Talk About Them The very first thing you need to do is talk to your students about your expectations of them online.  Have discussions regarding digital citizenship, and what it might mean to be a good digital citizen.  Give respect to students and tell them they need to do the same to their peers.  It’s not ok to call someone stupid, or their ideas stupid.  We want to challenge each other to think about thoughts, but it’s not about the person, it is about their ideas, and we will all grow our understandings by learning from each other.

2 – Provide A Rubric You must know what you expect of students, and how you want them to respond.  Show them how you will decide if they are doing a good job, so they know what to strive for

3 – Monitor Student Conversations Just as you would monitor a class conversation that is verbal, monitor online behavior.  Correct inappropriate behaviour and talk to students, be part of the conversations and guide them

4 – Reflect on Student Work Out Loud After the first 15ish minutes of students posting online, stop them, and ask them to look up at the projector (hopefully you have one).  Read some students posts out loud, and have discussions about what is great about each post, and how they add to the conversation.  If there are inappropriate comments, call students on it (without using their names), be stern, and tell them you don’t ever want to see that again.

5- Model Be a part of student conversations (as mentioned), and model what types of comments you expect of students.

6 – Backing Up Ideas If your kids are conversing online, they have internet access so take advantage.  If appropriate, get students to look for online resources and references to back up their ideas.  Challenge students to find examples in the novel or text that they are reading to back up what they are saying.

7 – Scaffold Sometimes students lack basic skills (I’ve seen this even in IB and AP classes at the high school level). You will probably need to teach them how to ask questions and make references (See tip 6).

Example Rubric For Science Class

Very quickly, here is the science discussion rubric. It comes with teacher notes and a brief little assignment at the top.  It also comes with teacher notes on how I linked it to curriculum in Alberta.  I used it for a current events discussion I used to have my grade 10 and 11 science students take part in.  Please feel free to use and modify, but I would appreciate being credited.  If you would like to publish/present this in part or whole please contact me.

Keep in mind, as with all new ways of learning, this might be a bit of a challenge.  It usually takes me two 45 minutes blocks to get students proficient with this strategy, but it is worth the time.  Just think deeply be reflective and I’m sure you’ll figure it out.  In the future I plan to make a post about some different websites you could use to set up a discussion board for digital literature circles.

I hope I’ve given you lots to think about.  If you have any questions whatsoever, please ask in the comments below.  I would be happy to help and you with your implementation.


A great resource for scaffolding strategies is Inquiring Minds Learn to Read and Write by Wilhelm Wilhelm and Boas (2009)

A great resource on how to develop discourse in the classroom comes from Fisher, Frey and Rothenberg called  Content-Area Conversations.

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