Using Evernote in DP2 English A1: part 2, use it!

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In a previous blog entry, I outlined my investigation into, and some of the steps to using, Evernote for a specific oral task with my DP2 English A1 students. After investigating the pieces of Evernote that I needed to make this process a reality, I directed students to the places where they could begin setting up Evernote. I sent out the following email:

Please go to the class Moodle site. Near the top of the page you will find a video and some information about the Evernote app. This is something that you need to set up on your mobile (preferably) or a laptop that you could bring to school (at a date in the not so distant future). This will be key to an upcoming summative assessment. (WHAT?! Did I really just say “summative”? Yes, I did!)

See what you can accomplish with the Evernote setup and we will talk further about this tomorrow in class.

The first response was this:

Mrs. B,

I don’t know how to say this, but is it normal to fall in love with an application on your laptop? I don’t know how I ever lived without Evernote… THANK YOU SO MUCH!

WoW! I felt so validated by this response. Gradually I began receiving emails like the one below, providing a link to a shared Evernote notebook within the body of an email:

The link led to Evernote where my I could easily view my growing list of “Linked Notebooks”

The day of the scheduled IOC practice arrived. I was nervous about the various pieces that could prevent this from being a successful BYOD lesson. I had verified that Evernote could be used without internet access since my school is not yet a wireless environment. I had offered students endless opportunities to speak to me about not having a portable device (Smartphone, laptop, etc.). I had offered to help with the set-up process. What could I have overlooked to prevent success?!

Students arrived in class and everyone had their device! A significant obstacle totally averted! (YESSS!) However, some students had not completed the prep work required of them. This meant that Evernote was not loaded onto their devices. (I wasn’t totally surprised by this. After all, these are teenagers I am working with.) In most cases it was students with Smartphones powered by internet data plans. Loading the app onto their phones was quick and easy.

We joined another class in the outdoor canteen area for the actual recording. (I forgot to mention that I totally drug a new teacher along on this experimental ride.) The canteen allowed students an open area to put distance between themselves and their classmates during the recording process that a classroom space would not have allowed. Students began recording their oral commentaries using the audio option within an Evernote notebook. I was able to circulate to offer assistance and answer questions. One student was unable to use his phone to record, so I loaned him my iPhone for the activity. A simple tap on the “Audio” icon initiated the recording.

Once students were done recording and their audio notes were saved, a slight panic ensued when their notebooks weren’t immediately showing up in my list of Evernote Linked Notebooks. I assured them that when they had an internet connection and they synced their Evernote account, I would have access to their recordings. Luckily my guess was correct!

I breathed a sigh of relief when this class period was over. The next step would be listening to and scoring the oral commentaries and asking students to reflect on the process. Their initial reactions immediately following the recording were all positive. I’ll cover student feedback and reflection in a future blog entry.

Using Evernote in DP2 English A1, part 1: set-up

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The Individual Oral Commentary (IOC), as defined in the International Baccalaureate’s Language A1 subject guide, is a “commentary on an extract, chosen by the teacher, from one of the Part 2 works studied.” The IOC counts as 15% of a student’s overall raw score for English A1. That said, it is a significant component of the final score earned for a Diploma Programme course. Students really need to know what to expect and how to approach the IOC for maximum success. In addition to the various preparatory activities that go into developing the literary analysis skills required (annotation, close reading, effects of diction, etc.), the process of talking about literature in an academic manner during a continuous 15 minute recording period (with only 20 minutes of prep time directly preceding the recording) is nothing less than intimidating for the majority of students. The question for me has been how to provide the important practice of recording sessions in order to help students to develop the necessary skill set for success.

As an avid user of Evernote, it occurred to me that the ability to record provided within this application was exactly what I was looking for. The next step was to investigate the logistics of getting this endeavor up and running. I don’t teach in a 1:1 technology environment, so this would have to be a B.Y.O.D. (Bring Your Own Device) production. I began the discussion with students two weeks prior to the date that I had scheduled for the first foray into a recorded IOC. Students confirmed my suspicions that they all own, or have access to, a portable computing device: Smartphone (iPhone, Blackberry, Android), iPad, iPod Touch, Netbook, or laptop.

In order to help students to get Evernote loaded onto their devices, I provided links on our class Moodle site to the app compatible with a variety of platforms. A reminder to create an Evernote account was also necessary.

I then needed to figure out how students would share their recordings with me. Even though I know that Evernote is an amazing tool, I really wasn’t convinced that the sharing part was going to be all that easy. Thankfully, I was terribly wrong about this. Again, I used the Moodle course site to disseminate the steps that students needed to follow.

The embedded video explains sharing, but directions are out of date.

The slideshow of screenshots below shows the simplicity of sharing Evernote notebooks and the steps my students used to share their notebooks with me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Evernote is a great app to compliment any course in a plethora of ways.

 

“Upgrading the Curriculum: 21st Century Assessment Types and Skills” (C21, ch. 2)

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how about a curriculum upgrade to the 21st century?

Who would ever say, “No, thank you” to an upgrade to the first class cabin? to a jacuzzi suite at a conference hotel? The upgrade has positive connotations indicating a step-up, an improvement, a new version.  If logic follows, suggesting a curricular upgrade to teachers should elicit numerous thumbs up, smiles from ear to ear, and an overall feeling of elation.

In the second chapter of Curriculum 21, Heidi Hayes Jacobs presents the idea of upgrading the curriculum.  I heard her talk about this idea at the NESA Spring Educators Conference 2010 in Bangkok.  Rather than suggest changing the curriculum (which indicates a total overhaul), the upgrade model offers educators smaller manageable steps (read: safe, non-threatening) that have greater potential to lead to a significant 21st century infused curriculum.  Assessments are the initial focus of this upgrading process.  Teachers begin with the familiar – the curriculum, rather than what is too often the unfamiliar world of software, hardware, and web 2.0.

Curriculum mapping software (such as the Atlas curriculum mapping system) provides teachers with a tool to view and assess curriculum.  Rather than looking for a place to “integrate technology,” teachers can begin in teams (department, grade level) by examining curriculum maps in order to find an entry point for an upgrade. Once assessments are considered the focus will later make a natural shift to content and skills.

Hayes Jacobs has “found that starting with assessments has proven to be the most successful portal to moving school faculty and administrators into 21st century teaching and learning” (20).  What one assessment could be replaced with a new, 21st century assessment? A seemingly non-threatening way to encourage teachers to look deeply into their units of study.  Teachers can actively work with the assignments that students are expected to perform to demonstrate their learning, a safer entry point than looking at, and changing, practice.

Upgrading assessment types refers to the “actual form of the product or performance selected to demonstrate student learning” (21).  Assessments provide educators with insights into what students are learning, the progress they are making, and even student regress.  What is it that students will produce to demonstrate their learning and new understandings?

Four Steps to Short Term Revision of Assessments are outlined:

  1. Develop a pool of assessment replacements. Brainstorm, research, and list the numerous types of products and performances contemporary professionals use in the real world of each subject area (i.e. 21st century social scientists, writers, mathematicians, artists, musicians, business people).  These products/performances might include the following:  documentaries, podcasts, screenplays, blogs, CAD projections.
  2. Teachers, working with IT members, identify the existing types of software, hardware, and Internet-based capabilities in their school, district, or regional service center.  Once these tools are identified, educators can focus their energy on creating 21st century assessments within their existing parameters (many of which are free via the web).  In addition, it is very important for educators to commit to learning one new tool per semester or school year.  A differentiated staff development model is important to reach the comfort and ability levels of everyone involved.
  3. Replace a dated assessment with a modern one.  Here each teacher commits to “replace and deliberately upgrade one assessment type per semester” (25).  As educators we must search for ways in which students can demonstrate their learning with products and performances that mirror the current century.
  4. Share the assessment upgrades formally with colleagues and students.  Sharing is done electronically in maps and formally in planning sessions.  Offering the original map as a point of comparison with the new 21st century map is highly recommended.
  5. Insert ongoing sessions for skill and assessment upgrades into the school calendar.  A key piece of this process is the consideration of how professional development is administered within a school district.  The process of reviewing and upgrading the curriculum is vital and merits dedicated time.

This particular chapter offers teachers, administrators, and school districts a precise starting point for curricular upgrades along with a five step process to success.  Changing assessments is a much different proposal than that of altering content, which requires (and will, no doubt, elicit) much debate and discussion.  Upgrading content is the topic of the next chapter.  Stay tuned…

“A New Essential Curriculum for a New Time”: a look at the obstacles (C21, ch. 1)

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The first chapter of Curriculum 21 by Heidi Hayes Jacobs begins by providing some brief background information about the obstacles that too often stand in the way of the creation and delivery of 21st century curriculum. These obstacles have the potential to create an educational setting that may leave students feeling “like they are time traveling as they walk through the school door each morning…entering a simulation of life in the 1980s” (7).

So, what is it that we, as educators, want students to be able to do? (Probably something beyond functioning in the world of 1987.)  This question is one that should be asked well before the planning of a lesson or a cooperative learning activity. In other words, we must begin with the end in mind in order to be “deliberate and forward-thinking” (7). The key is looking forward, understanding the direction the 21st century will take the youth of today.

What is it that prevents so many educators, administrators, and school districts from looking forward? Many of the obstacles are historical in nature and date back to the 19th century and The Committee of Ten, circa 1892.  The report of The Committee of Ten recommended a standardized curriculum for the increasing numbers of children who were attending school as the United States transitioned from an agricultural-based society to one influenced by the factory-based assembly line.  This model became the base for American education rather than one that considered the developmental needs of children.  As a result, this model of education persists as an artifact of the 19th century that exists with little, if any, evidence of innovation and new ideas that have occurred since.

Another obstacle is the standards movement.  On the surface, establishing standards and high standards for learning is a great idea.  As the various layers beneath the surface are explored, the weaknesses of the standards movement are revealed.  Standards themselves are often dated, inferior, and inflexible.  There are also numerous standards movements, at least 50 (one for each state).  Each state establishes its own standards, graduation requirements, and assessments.  For various reasons all state standards are not created equal.  Some states have lower standards than others.   Results of testing from one state to another expose extreme disparities.  In the end which students in which states are being best-prepared for the 21st century? It is highly unlikely that any of the results provided by standardized state testing can provide a clear answer.

However, there are numerous pockets of progress.  States and districts are rethinking curriculum and its design.  Some signs of progress include:

  • The development of a set of global competencies for potential adoption by states (11)
  • In New Jersey, three specific goals have been set to ensure that new standards address global perspectives, employ 21st century digital and networking tools, and identify salient interdisciplinary linkages for real-world applications (12)
  • The state of Rhode Island’s digital portfolio requirement for graduation (12)
  • The Hawaii State Education Department’s Internet-based program for communication, creating video modules for professional development, and videoconferencing (12)

The proposal is a model for growth rather than change.  The argument being that growth is “positive and deep,” whereas change can be perceived as “trendy and superficial” (13).  Structural areas to be addressed in order to facilitate growth of a “new and essential” curriculum include:  scheduling, learner grouping, configuring personnel, and using physical and virtual space.

We are creatures of habit entrenched in monotony (i.e. shelves of curriculum binders filled with papers despite access to online curriculum maps at any time, in any place).  The challenge lies in growing the attitudes of those who shape, develop, and deliver curriculum to move beyond what has always been done, to move beyond the myths that shape how we view education.

You’re going to be the Curriculum Coordinator? What’s that?

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I am at a transitional professional juncture this summer. I am transitioning from full-time high school English teacher to full-time Curriculum Coordinator (well, I did request that I be allowed to teach one course).  This is a career step that was part of my 10 year career goals that I set 15 years ago. I have been comfortably entrenched in teaching teenagers in my classes of MYP Language A English and DP English A1/A2.  As I began telling students that I would be moving to the office wing next school year they, of course, asked what I would be doing. My answer was matter-of-factly,”Curriculum Coordinator.” I was not exactly prepared for their responses that were 100% the same, “What’s that? What does the Curriculum Coordinator do?” I repeatedly balked at these questions quickly realizing that I was going to need to develop my “elevator pitch.” I began by asking myself the same question, “What is a Curriculum Coordinator? What will I be doing in this position?” At that moment it was clear to me that I had my summer study plan staring me in the face.  So, here I go on my summer mission to define for myself (and others, eventually) what a Curriculum Coordinator is and to better understand what I will be doing in this position.

I do know what I do NOT want this position to be:  one where I become an office rat compiling binders of papers that sit on a shelf leaving my colleagues to whisper in the staff lounge, “What does she do in there all day?”

During the summer months, I am working on my answer to these questions with a self-directed and self-created curriculum for myself, the Curriculum Coordinator.

  • I am beginning by reading Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World by Heidi Hayes Jacobs.  I have attended a Hayes Jacobs workshop in the past and know that her philosophy is one to which I can easily subscribe.  “…almost 10 percent of the 21st century has already passed…” so why are we still delivering curriculum that was intended to prepare students for 1973? 1987? 1995? (Hayes Jacobs, 2010).
  • I am attending Curriculum Mapping Institute 2011 where I am hoping to gain a comprehensive understanding of curriculum mapping:  the role of Understanding by Design, monitoring assessment, professional development, mapping the IB programmes, integrating 21st century technologies.
  • I am attending a training workshop offered at the Atlas Eduction Centre since my school uses the online Atlas Curriculum Management system.  The workshop is entitled “Discoveries of Curricular Analysis.”  The focus seems to be developing quality curriculum maps, analyzing the quality of existing maps, map making process all with the end goal of furthering student achievement.

I obviously need more than the above-mentioned readings and experiences.  This is only the initial stage of my journey, my jumping off point.  I am now looking for any suggestions about what to read, who to reference, questions to ask, people to follow, etc.  I would greatly appreciate your thoughts and recommendations.  I will be chronicling this journey here throughout the summer and beyond.

Cobbling Together a 21st Century Classroom

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I love the whole 21st century classroom concept.  However, trying to make it happen in my current venue makes me feel like a cross between Phileas Fogg and MacGyver.  (With a ball of twine, a stick of gum, some rubber bands, and a handful of paper clips I just might be able to jimmy-rig my classroom for this 21st century thing.)  Here’s a short list of what I don’t have and how I try to make it work…
  • We’re not a 1:1 school. Heck, we’re not even a 20:1 school! There’s one computer per classroom (not including tech labs and library) and teachers are rather proprietary when it comes to that one machine.  Computer labs are monopolized by tech classes with no access for other subject areas.  However, our clientele tends to own many of the latest gadgets.  So, I have what I call “Laptop Days.”  Students bring in their laptops or fire up their Blackberries and iPhones in an attempt to move forward from last century.
  • We’re not a wireless school. This makes collaborating on projects with schools around the globe next to impossible.  Luckily, most students with smartphones have internet access as part of their plans.  I also have a couple of students who are happy to bring their wireless routers from home.  Presto! The simple act of plugging it into the wall turns my classroom into a wifi café!
  • We’re not a 21st century school. We have a great mission statement and I’m always relieved when I read it that no one has tried to sneak in the words “preparing students for the 21st century.”  This slaps me in the face every time I offer a ‘tech tip’ at the beginning of a class, assign a digital project, and watch students pull out their spiral-bound paper agendas to record due dates.
  • We don’t have a student body that is 21st century ready. I know my way around more technology than the majority of my students combined.  Those digital natives who sit in my class every day are pushed outside of their comfort zones every time I ask them to do something beyond texting, emailing, and facebooking.  When trying to teach students to use Google docs, I have heard students ask, “Whatever happened to using pencil and paper?” Change isn’t always easy…even for teenagers.
  • We don’t have 21st century support. There is no individual in a position that even resembles a 21st century literacy resource specialist.  I, and a few others, are islands unto ourselves.  Doing all kinds of crazy things like allowing students to take out their cell phones, turn them on, and (gasp!) use them during class time.  Most of my ideas come from reading numerous blogs of practitioners on the front-lines of this century.  Those who have not just watched the first decade of the 2000s pass them by.  It’s probably time to start a support group…
  • We don’t have a 21st century curriculum. I’m following the advice of Heidi Hayes Jacobs by replacing 19th century assessments one at a time…and talking to colleagues about doing the same.

Despite the obstacles and limited resources, the 21st century is the here and now.  It’s an exciting time to be a teacher! I embrace the challenge of conquering the hurdles, but I definitely look forward to a day when those hurdles are no longer trying to keep my students, my colleagues, and me from joining the 21st century.

Changing roles in 21st century learning

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In her NESA keynote speech entitled “Becoming a 21st Century International
School—Curriculum 21: Provocation, Invigoration, and Replacement,” Heidi Hayes Jacobs suggested that educators begin updating curriculum by replacing one assessment per year/semester. This idea really resonated with me. I began the exercise immediately. The Romeo and Juliet unit would be an excellent place to begin. I (and my students) was becoming weary of every summative assessment being the predictable five paragraph essay. This was a great opportunity to create a summative assessment for the 21st century.

This journey of change is one that I embraced without hesitation. Presenting the idea to my team highlighted the challenge in education of moving people outside of their comfort zones. However, I emphasized the shared weariness with essays to emphasize the need to make this change. I suggested a digital media mash-up of sorts. Discussion ensued examining our unit question and outcomes, creating a task-based rubric, and finding examples of digital projects to help students to understand our expectations.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the lack of 21st century skills of the alleged
digital natives” in my 9th grade classes. Most of them claimed they had never been asked to create such a project. Some admitted that they had no clue how to even go about executing such a project. I found myself leading brainstorming sessions to help students discover the plethora of options that they could use: their mobile phones have digital cameras (still and video), Movie Maker is likely to be installed on their laptops, video game software such as The Sims, and PowerPoint.  Any guesses what century curriculum/teaching these students have been exposed to?

The next challenge was student submission of digital assignments. Most
brought a usb drive to me which allowed me to save student work to designated folders on my hard drive. Needless to say, many students could have used a lesson on file conversion as numerous files were not compatible and wouldn’t play. I suggested that students upload videos to YouTube in order to avoid figuring out file conversion. Much to my surprise, only a small minority knew how to do this and only a few more were willing to figure it out.

The move to a 21st century curriculum must begin somewhere. The methodical and purposeful modernization of summative assessments is a sensible starting point for change. There is a learning curve as educators make progress in the building of a 21st century curriculum. However, I’m not convinced that the learning curve only exists for these so-called “digital immigrants.” Sure, the “digital natives” in our classrooms are quick to pick up technology, but without proper guidance and development they will never develop the skills to make the 21st work for them. I see my role as a teacher evolving into that of a learning resource mentor who will help learners to harness the power of the 21st century so that they will be in control of how
they use technology and not the other way around.