Saturday, September 29, 2012

Adding a bookmark feature to the movie clips?

Yesterday I was chatting with a close friend about the movie clip data base concept and he gave me some great advice and asked some important questions. From our conversation I feel a sense of importance in building this site/program in a manner that can involve teachers in as many ways as possible. Similar to this amazing site, my friend encouraged me to consider making it more social and interactive. Rather than just teachers sharing clips to the site and crowdsourcing the database - teachers can share ideas via a forum or comments section about how to use different clips and other ideas. Like YouTube or Vimeo it would be neat to create a kind of "view list" in which a teacher could drag clips into a backpack or folder for lessons they plan on doing in the future.

These ideas reminded me of social bookmarking and the power in sites like Diigo and Delicious. If teachers could bookmark movie clips within the site, they won't have to go and look for a particular clip when it comes time to prepare the lesson. Rather, teachers can build their "to-view" list as they run across clips that look like they may be helpful down the line.

I really like the idea of making things more interactive and social. Teachers ought to be able to not only share information and ask each other questions, but the site should also lend itself to quick and easy access - especially if we integrated a "student view" at some point for teachers who are flipping their classrooms.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Making Progress

I am currently in a class titled Digital Culture in the English Department of my university, and the professor of the course advised us to make our thought process transparent as we think through things and look for social proof on our ideas. This post runs along that vein.

The semester for me is full of nodes, media, and discussions of digital technology and culture. I am taking 3 courses that directly address these issues: a film course with an emphasis on documentary, an education seminar focused on educational technology and social media, and the English class I mentioned earlier. Being immersed in these courses has fueled my desire to act on the idea for a teacher-crowdsourced database of movie clips that I had about 2 years ago. It is exciting to finally start acting on the idea in the form of this blog, my Diigo group, on Twitter, and a variety of other ways. Hopefully I can start moving the idea in a more concrete way - and I have some confidence that there may be some open doors out there as I have been receiving very positive responses from folks I consider to be experts in the field.

Here are two sketches of possible interface designs. I am heavily influenced by, Youtube, theteachingchannel, and a bit of Vimeo. These artifacts of modern art are probably incomprehensible.

So right now I am trying to flesh out my "database idea" (I need to find a better name for it!) as I continue learning about digital literacy, transmedia storytelling, and listen to a host of interesting podcasts about the current political situation and movements in education. I am really getting stuck on the seeming fact that everyone may have a different understanding of what the purpose of school actually is. It makes sense to me that there is so much controversy about our system - because the variety of what people think schools should be doing for kids and young adults is varied. I feel like this is a key issue.

I plan on graduating with my film and English degree in April 2013, and from there I am not sure what will become of me. Teach For America is a hopeful option right now, and I am also looking at a few instructional design programs (BYU, USU, ISU, and maybe Georgia) I could start next fall. There are so many things I care about and want to dip my toe in, but I am trying to just take deep breaths and ease into the waters of post-graduation life.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mindset and "non-cognitive skills" - some roots of good education

Education has been full of many different kinds of debates, one being the basic and broad question: what is the purpose of our education system? The problem with this question is that not only does our answers influence the way we approach instruction, but this perspective greatly hampers (or strengthens) the learner themselves.

It is clear that there are some significant problems with education in America. So, who should we blame? The teachers who "just don't care"? What about those bad parents that don't push their kids to excel? Maybe it is the new generation of learners, the digital natives who are watching thousands of hours of TV or other media?

Asking who is at blame is a waste of time. Rather, we should be asking what can we do about it? Fortunately, many professionals are asking this question. Surprisingly experts are finding that students excel not necessarily by longer class hours or better media tools, but by developing what Carol Dweck calls a "growth mindset". Below is a short video of some of the views and findings she wrote about in her influential book.

 Dweck is not discussing effective ways to use Twitter in teaching, or really anything new when it comes to good teaching. What she is doing, is focusing us on the fact that children - and students in general - must come to understand that they can do better and continue to improve themselves. Failure is not the end.

Beyond these discussions of how to give feedback, and the influence of constructive feedback and learning by failing, is the subject of the most recent This American Life broadcast. I quote below from the program's website which gives a short summary of some of the content on the 1 hour show (I recommend listening to the whole thing of course!).
"Ira talks with Paul Tough, author of the new book How Children Succeed, about the traditional ways we measure ability and intelligence in American schools. They talk about the focus on cognitive abilities, conventional "book smarts." They discuss the current emphasis on these kinds of skills in American education, and the emphasis standardized testing, and then turn our attention to a growing body of research that suggests we may be on the verge of a new approach to some of the biggest challenges facing American schools today. Paul Tough discusses how “non-cognitive skills” — qualities like tenacity, resilience, impulse control — are being viewed as increasingly vital in education, and Ira speaks with economist James Heckman, who’s been at the center of this research and this shift."

I think by using the media that students are consuming, we can help "coach" them in a way they can identify with and gain motivation by. Obviously just exposing them to the content won't do, but sincere and meaningful discussion about things they care about is what will make a difference. Is it possible that by giving students such attention and leveling with their understanding we might help give them the sort of non-cognitive skills needed? Maybe not, but I think there is an argument here that is worth voicing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Flipping the Classroom

So I have talked about how there is potential for teachers to come together, share movie clip ideas, and ultimately bring the wisdom of crowds together to increase relevancy and engagement in the classroom. As I ran this idea by some people, I was asked a thought provoking question: are these video clips only to be shown in class? Or is there another way that teachers can use pop culture clips to bring students' interest and attention to material? This question immediately led me to thinking about flipped classrooms.

Salman Khan's TED talk is probably one of the most influential "documents" we have on the power and impact of flipping the classroom. While there has been some debate about whether Khan and his hugely popular site is truly a worthy source of good education - it is hard to deny the fact that a movement (or at least a very prominent fad) has resulted in thousands of teachers changing the way they work with students in the classroom.

Katie, and 8th grade teacher, has taken the time to upload many videos about how she is using the concept of flipping the classroom. If the term is new or unfamiliar to you - she explains it pretty well.

So what if teachers not only used clips of movies in their classroom to ignite meaningful discussions or prompts for analysis - but made watching such clips a part of their outside learning? Even better, what if  teachers had students look for their own samples of pop culture in the movies, games, and media they encounter outside of school? 

I may be kicking a dead horse here, but kids want to learn when they see the relevance of what they are learning. When they start to see that what they are learning in school is all around them in their every day life then meaningful connections are made. 

So, what do you think? Can this new trend or learning method - call it what you will - be a strong asset to using pop culture in education? 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Teachers Crowdsourcing?

From what I have read, heard, and experienced, teaching students who are not paying attention or engaged in the material is extremely ineffective. I agree with writer MarkPhillips when he wrote: “Film can be used as a culminating experience to summarize a unit or lesson. It can be studied as an art form. Short films designed to teach a concept or skill, especially in a subject like physical education, can be very useful. Developing students' critical consciousness of visual media should be a major part of every school's curriculum and is important enough a subject to be the focus of a forthcoming column.” Many teachers have turned to movie clips to use as glimpses into a subject, discussion instigators, and as opportunities to teach.

So my question is why isn’t there a place for teachers to share ideas of movie or song clips from popular culture with one another? What if there were a site or curated area on the web where teachers could work together to build a crowd-sourced database of popular culture clips to be used in the classroom? It could be organized by subject, topic, and/or discipline, and then meta-tagged with specific lessons (like PEMDAS in math or the signing of the Declaration of Independence in history).  This could be an open source site, used specifically by teachers to increase student engagement and motivation.

What do you think? Would this be a better tool for flipped classrooms? Is there a big enough need and passion in the teacher community to make something like this happen?

Check out my "beta site" on the tab above - and let me know what you think. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Is it worth it?

As a young student, a frequent question I asked was "why do I have to do this?" The question that usually followed in my mind was "But is it worth it?" Interestingly enough, not only suffering middle school students in math class are asking these questions - but professional adults ponder these very topics every day at work.

Today, in the Harvard Business Review Blog, a small article talks about how some individuals are able to find meaning in their work. What is it that makes these people so unique? I think it is their ability to think deeply about what they are doing, and apply a growth mindset to their situation. This article reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. :
If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can't be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be be the best little shrub on the side of the hill. Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.
So what does this have to do with the Relevant Classroom? In schools student often wonder why they must do things, and what the worth of these activities really is. Even if the answer is something as vague as "it will help you think more critically" at least there is an answer. Kids need to know that even if they are doing small activities that feel mundane or useless, these projects and drills have a purpose. Like Dr King said, we can be the best of whatever we are. Think if every child understood a deeper purpose for doing things, and developed a strong desire to be the best speller then could be, the best writer, mathematician, scientist, artist, thinker, debater, or musician.

Perhaps if we can help children find meaning in their educational experience, they will have become like those featured in the HBR article who have learned to find joy in their seemingly mundane occupations.