Beth Holland

Food for thought…


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My Technology Workshops NOT about Technology

Are you a teacher? Do you know a teacher? Have you ever spoken to a teacher? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, please keep reading…

This summer, I’m teaching eight DIFFERENT workshops with EdTechTeacher in Atlanta, Chicago, and Boston. Some of them are very obviously technology based: The iPad Classroom, The Chromebook Classroom, iPads in the Elementary Classroom, and Google & Chromebooks in the Classroom. During these workshops, we will be hands-on with all sorts of devices, tools, apps, extensions, and other digital features. However, I have been doing considerable research for three of my other workshops that are more focused on process and pedagogy and less on the tools themselves.

Project-Based Learning, June 25-26 in Chicago

Project-Based Learning (PBL) encourages students to engage in inquiry, explore real-world contexts, and share their learning with others. Now, there is a huge difference between teachers asking students to complete projects (think exploding volcano, giant posters, and short videos) and incorporating PBL as an instructional strategy. Though many teachers may feel as though it’s difficult to fit in PBL given the constraints imposed by state curricular requirements, standardized tests, in these two days, we are going to prove otherwise.

Sure, we will use some digital technology. In fact, participants are encouraged to bring anything that their students may be able to access in the next school year. However, the focus will be more on the pedagogy and how to ignite student curiosity in order to encourage them to engage in deeper thinking about a particular subject. Don’t believe me? Sign up and come find out!

Digital Portfolios, July 9-10, in Boston

Digital portfolios have almost reached buzzword status. Students are using Google Sites, Blogger, Weebly, KidBlog, Evernote, and a whole host of other online sites to create these compilations of their work. However, in my workshops, we may spend the entire first day using paper.

Alvin Toffler, the futurist, wrote “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” If truly literate people will be those who can easily adapt and evolve as emerging technologies change the ways in which we communicate, create, and think, we need to provide students with an opportunity to keep track of not only what they learn but why and how.

I have a post about all of this coming out on Edutopia in June. In the meantime, here’s some of the background information that won’t be published and what we will be doing on Day 1 of this workshop. First, we are going to look at Understanding by Design by Wiggins & McTighe. Rather than focus on portfolios as the final step in a learning activity, we are going to examine curriculum with the idea of beginning every unit, project, and even school year with the concept of reflection in mind. Here’s what that may look like.

Original Learning Objective New Learning Objective
I want my students to demonstrate their understanding of the relationship between ecosystems, habitats, and animal traits. I want my students to document their discovery of the relationship between ecosystems, habitats, and animal traits.
I want my students to make  a personal connection to the characters in the book/story/novel. I want my students to share how and why they made connections to the characters in the book/story/novel.
I want my students to understand how US involvement in WWII set a precedent for responses to future conflict. I want my students to identify “lessons-learned” from WWII and explain how those lessons could be applicable to how they personally respond to future conflicts.

In all of our EdTechTeacher Summer Workshops, we stress the importance of beginning with clearly defined learning objectives. During this Digital Portfolios Workshop, we are going to do the same thing. Once we have identified our objectives, then we will explore what may be possible with regards to the actual digital component.

Reading, Writing, & Research, July 16-17 in Boston

There has been considerable research published in the last 18 months about the effectiveness of reading and writing with digital tools. As I’ve written on several occasions, I strongly disagree with much of this research as it focuses on the device rather than the process.

Whether your students have access to iPads, Chromebooks, laptops, or smart phones, digital tools can have an enormous impact on how students access and analyze content as well as how they then communicate their understanding through written text. Yes, we will explore a number of tools. However, our primary focus will be on how we teach reading, writing, and research strategies given the functional improvements afforded by technology – whether it be Google Docs or pen & paper. Seriously, come find out!

Differentiating with Technology, July 23-24 in Boston

I think we can all agree that students learn in different ways and at different speeds. When in the classroom, I had students who constantly needed a challenge as well as those who needed considerable support given their specific learning needs. From text-to-speech and speech-to-text to alternative assessments, we are going to take a deep dive into the concept of Universal Design for Learning in order to develop tools and strategies that both support and enrich.

This will be the third year time that I have taught this workshop and every year it evolves to address new capabilities as well as meet the needs of my participants. I think differentiating for students is a challenge for all teachers and this workshop is a great place to start.

Come Play!

I work with an amazing set of instructors. We have workshops in 5 cities this summer on a whole host of topics. Again, if you are a teacher, know a teacher, or just want to learn for yourself (you don’t have to be a teacher), please pass the word along and come play!

ETTSummer


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Supporting Struggling Readers with Technology

I apologize. This post was inspired by Twitter conversation with a thoughtful high school educator. I remember that much. However, I don’t remember who I was talking to when I engaged in the conversation. If you read this, please refresh my memory. I apologize – particularly since I promised that I would share this post as soon as I wrote it.

Anyways, from what I remember of the conversation, it went something like this:

  • Thoughtful Educator – “What is the impact of digital texts for struggling readers at the high school level?”
  • Me – “I think that there is tremendous power in providing digital texts as an option. For some students, it allows them greater access to content in that they can focus on comprehension vs decoding. I’ll write more…”

Well, I did keep my promise to write more!

The Value of Reading Digitally

I submitted this post to the wonderful educators with Diversa in Brazil. It has been published in English and Portuguese.

Over the past few months, in a number of different contexts, an interesting question has presented itself. When teaching about the power of text-to-speech, several teachers have asked whether or not it could have a long-term, detrimental impact. These thoughtful educators question if being able to hear words could actually decrease literacy skills and remove the need for students to learn to read.

However, a 2013 report indicates that eReaders are More Effective than Paper for Some with Dyslexia. Researchers found that the “use of the device significantly improved speed and comprehension, when compared with traditional presentations on paper for specific subsets of these individuals,” particularly those who struggled with decoding specific sounds and identifying high-frequency, commonly used words – aka. sight words. Furthermore, in a recent EdSurge article, Valerie Chernek (@valeriechernek) wrote that “For students with dyslexia, the multi-modal sensory experience of seeing and hearing text read aloud may be a smart way to reconnect their minds to decode more words and comprehend information.”

While the two statements above refer specifically to students with dyslexia, let’s consider the impact of providing a multi-modal reading experience to all students. If we approach the process of reading with “Universal Design for Learning” as an instructional blueprint, then all students could benefit from accessibility features and not just those who may have a language-based or print-based learning disorder.

Scenario #1  – Touch & Know

One of the great features of using Text-to-Speech is the power of being able to touch any word and have it read out loud. Consider the student who struggles to identify specific words and yet can synthesize the content. If the learning objective is comprehension of the material, and not decoding of the text, then this feature provides an additional pathway to access the material.

Scenario #2 – Multi-Sensory Supports

With a number of screen readers, such as the Speak Screen that is native to iOS8, Easy Text to Speech for Android, as well as ChromeVox in the Chrome browser, not only is text read back to students, but the words are highlighted as they are read. This can support eye tracking as well as guide students in order to facilitate the process of comprehension by allowing them to hear words that they otherwise may not be able to decipher.

Scenario #3 – Enrichment

While we often think about using text-to-speech to support struggling readers, what about those who are working to synthesize and analyze texts that are either above reading level or beyond their language skills. By encouraging students to take advantage of the technology, they can engage with content that challenges them and pushes them to make deeper connections.

I think that it’s important to remember that the value of digital reading is in the Accessibility Features, meaning the tools that allow students greater access to the content and the learning experience. These tools do not replace the need to read, but add functionality to the process. While this in no way undermines the value of close reading, it does provide supporting tools to allow students to more independently engage in reading as well as have multiple pathways to accessing the content.

Want to learn more? Shameless Self-Promotion!

I will be leading workshops this summer in Atlanta, Boston, & Chicago with EdTechTeacher. Come work with me!

ETTSummer


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Book Creator + Tellagami = eBooks with UDL Supports!

Strange things keep me awake sometimes, and last night it was Tellagami. Some of my EdTechTeacher colleagues love Tellagami. Sure, I can create a talking avatar. It can speak with my own voice if I record audio or via text-to-speech. However, I just found it sort of flat. I get that I could use it for App Smashing and have a mini-virtual me travel in and out of screencasts. In fact, Greg Kulowiec (@GregKulowiec) wrote an amazing post this week about Green Screen App Smashing with it.  But honestly, until about 4am, I just didn’t get it.

I get it!

When teaching, one of my favorite web tools was the CAST Book Builder. Teachers could create their own custom content and then employ animated coaches to ask thought provoking questions, support prediction making, and scaffold concepts. What if I could do the same thing by combining Tellagami and Book Creator?!

Imagine writing a story and then using Tellagami to ask thought provoking questions to guide students through comprehension, or creating an interactive math book that includes characters to remind students of steps and processes. What if social studies teachers included characters with digital artifacts to read excerpts of speeches or documents that may be above reading level. Science teachers could have Tellagami coaches ask questions about the content to encourage students to make hypotheses. Foreign Language teachers may provide translation support or additional information about cultural references.

While voice-over narration is possible – and could be another way to provide differentiated content – incorporating these talking avatars could be more for learning support as well as enrichment.

Ok, I get it now…..


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KISS Take #2 – iSolveIt Apps

A few weeks ago, I wrote about having a “no duh” moment. On Thursday, at the MassCUE conference, I had another one…..

Though I had previously glanced at the FREE iSolveIt apps for iPad – MathSquared and MathCubed – I did not fully appreciate the beauty of them until I attended the session presented by  Mindy JohnsonBoo Murray, and Garron Hillaire.

Keeping It Shockingly Simple – why these apps are amazing

Mindy, Boo, and Garron explained the thinking behind these two apps. Since algebraic reasoning is one of the best indicators of future success in college, and since Algebra is often a defining moment in a student’s math career, they decided to create two apps to address the processes of the reasoning with built in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) supports. Given that “5% of the goal of math instruction is content, and 95% is reasoning,” CAST created two apps to encourage problem solving and persistence.

MathSquared is a game that combines KenKen and Sudoko. Students solve increasingly complex, numeric puzzles. “MathSquared puzzles are grid-based puzzles that use the basic math operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division and require logic and problem-solving skills.” Initially, I questioned what I would have students DO beyond play a game. However, what if….

  • Students took a screen capture of a blank board at the culmination of a level, imported it into a screencasting app such as ExplainEverything or Educreations, and then recorded their problem solving process to demonstrate their thinking.
  • One student took a picture of another working on a problem, and then used Fotobabble to record a “play by play” of their classmate’s problem solving to then offer recommendations later.
  • Students collaborated on an ExplainEverything project where they compared and contrasted problem solving strategies and then determined who used the most effective approach.

MathScaled offers a different set of challenges. Students solve balanced equation challenges without numbers. The CAST researchers recognized that some students’ aversion to math is rooted in their “fear of numbers.” With MathScaled, shapes have relative weights and students work through puzzles in order to create balance. Chris Harrow (@Chris_Harrow) and Paul Salomon (@lostinrecursion) recently blogged about shifting students thinking about balance. Not only does this app support that challenge, but it could also…

  • Provide a visual representation for complex equation balancing in both Algebra and Chemistry (imagine teaching the concept of atomic weight with shapes)
  • Provide a visual representation for history/social studies teachers to illustrate the complexity of “the balance of power.” What if students created a series of math equations to tell a story about historical or political events!

Again, the beauty of these apps is also in how they can be incorporated into other apps through screen captures. In fact, a student could develop a series of math stories that include screen captures brought into Book Creator. Students could include typed narrations as well as audio recording of their problem solving.

I don’t often get this excited about content-specific apps. However, these two are definitely worth mentioning – particularly because of the simplicity! I definitely had a “no duh” moment as it is now feels so obvious about how these simple tools could lead to amazingly complex thinking.