Meeting My Heroes

Meeting my edugeek heroes this week. Yesterday I spent two hours listening to Chris Dede’s panel of Edtech superpowers talk about Augmented Reality. Today I shook hands with Henry Jenkins and Craig Watkins while listening to James Paul Gee deride propensities for ignoring evidence in favor of assumptions.

If I collapse it is not due to lack of happiness and hero worship.

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Google Apps for Education

Google Apps for Education Tutorials

As I work to move my “qualified” status into certified I plan to embed tutorials and lessons for the educational community to use as reference for developing their apps proficiency and try out new ideas. Please be patient as this is one project where I plan to move thoughtfully. (slowly).

Educational Theorists

In researching my doctoral core paper and eventually my dissertation I need to spend some time examining the various education, psychology, and motivation theorists out there. To give myself a forum for, and synthesis of these theories I have started this project page. Posts relating to this topic will be added here on a regular basis as I become more familiar with the original theories.

Current list of theorists I plan to examine: (links lead outside the blog – eventually I will add links to posts relating to each theorist.

Bandura

Bloom

Bronfenbrenner

Dewey

Erikson

Freire

Freud

Gardner

Kohlberg

Maslow

Montessori

Piaget

Skinner

Vygotsky

Online Learning: Class Size Matters

  In regular classrooms teachers and administrators have long struggled with issues of class size. Teachers feel they can provide better instruction and individualization in smaller class environments and administrators appreciate the efficiency of resource use that occurs in larger classes. Both groups can draw on a variety of research studies to back themselves up but generally smaller class sizes win out in face to face instruction as the preferred learning environment. Feel free to find your own research studies to support your position – my position is this – a class between 10 and 23 students tends to work really well for me.

Recently I posted concerning my view that online learning needs some serious revamping in some cases. Today I picked up the September issue of the International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning and found a study that supports one of the things I argue for in online learning – smaller class sizes.

Check out Mingshu Qiu, Jim Hewitt, and Clare Brett’s research study, “Online class size, note reading, note writing, and collaborative discourse” for more information. This group from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto provides evidence of how class size impact learning online. Their findings suggest 13 to 15 students as the optimal class size for graduate level course work.

While I do not know how this correlates with K12 learning environments I find the numbers extremely appealing as a constructivist online educator. If I worked with even 15 to 20 students per section in a course I can see many opportunities to increase student interactions that would allow for greater social construction of knowledge. As with any group collaborative experience the greater the number the more likely you are to have students who become overwhelmed and quietly hide themselves from participating. On the other hand, 15 students can construct a courteous community of learners much more easily.

Contrast this with courses where I had upwards of 50 students assigned to one section. In one course the quality of student writing and my own responses devolved dramatically from those courses where I worked with twenty students or less. I actually had one course of 160 students, another of 60+ students and four courses of between 25 and 45 students as well as four courses of 18 or fewer students. I should have taken better data on my larger classes but their size alone led to a dramatic reduction in my ability to quantify, even subjectively, their progress.

The study suggested minimizing overload effects by dividing students into small groups for larger classes. This works fairly well but exists as a function of the learning environment (LMS) and whether or not this tool supports discussion groups of this type. Often I found the user-interface confused students and led to even less success though this is a topic for another post. Still – when it worked it really helped positive student outcomes.

The best thing about this study was the pedagogical recommendations at the end. I use many of the items discussed in all my online classes but I feel that a teacher new to online learning would benefit from reviewing these items before planning their course. Of course teachers already teaching online would benefit as well – probably even more than the new-to-online instructors.

Check out the full article: http://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11412-012-9151-2

Online class size, note reading, note writing and collaborative discourse

Classroom Management Series: Use Humor to Diffuse a Conflict

Kids building a fantastic contraption.

Working with students we occasionally encounter defensiveness for one reason or another. Perhaps they did not realize that their behavior was disruptive and now they are denying their involvement. Maybe they think the failed a quiz. If a teacher was unwise enough (or tired – honestly this is the only time it happens to me) to become involved in a power struggle with a student this sort of deconstructive behavior can set in.

What do we do?

First off we avoid the aforementioned power struggle. The discussions of who is right and in control does nothing to help and focus students on their learning. Sometimes we can talk to students privately but with larger and larger class sizes and more requirements for out time this can sometimes be prohibitive. Often we send the student to the hall to gain some privacy but that action has its own onus. I always try to be ready to apologize – sometimes I inadvertently wrong or offend a student. Often times other students provoke the incident and I can impose consequences for uncivilized behavior on them which results in lowered defensiveness in the student I am working with. All these work well including planned ignoring but my favorite – the silver bullet to tense stressfull situations in my class room – is humor.

 

Intervening Through Humor

Using humor gives the teacher a powerful and positive tool to change disruptive behaviors. Getting a student (or class) to laugh during a tense situation breaks the cycle of the behavior and helps reset the stage of the classroom as a safe, fun place to learn. My one caveat for using humor as an intervention is that it should NEVER be directed at a student. Never use humor at the expense of a student. This not only fails to build a positive climate and destroys any chance of an effective intervention – using humor at a students expense  means the teacher bullied that student. The biggest bully in a classroom could easily become the teacher.

How does humor work? I interviewed a colleague, Mrs Sarha, who use humor to diffuse almost all ill-behavior in her classroom. Each use built upon other structures for managing her classroom.

She, like many teachers, uses a sound prompt to get her students attention. In her case she own a beautifully cartoonish bell in the shape of a turtle. She calls her bell Myrtle the Turtle. Early in the year she starts her high school students off by explaining to them that they must “Respect the Turtle!” What results from this is a bit of hilarity and anytime someone goes off task during a discussion another classmate with yell out, “Hey! Respect the turtle.” By turning her attention prompt into something entertaining and easily remembered she removed the focus from herself as the person desiring respect and, through Myrtle, turned the focus back onto the learning regardless of the source for an activity or information.

She also deals with disruptive student behavior in an entertaining fashion. Every teacher has a pet peeve. Sometimes it is the tapping of a pencil during discussion (something that immediately tells me I have a kinesthetic or  possibly auditory learner in the room) or something else that disrupts the teacher. Mrs Sarha had a screamer this year. Yes – a student who felt compelled to scream. To distract from the tension that built due to these behaviors she announced one day that, “Each scream means a multiple choice questions becomes an essay question.” By this time she had already established a caring environment and impressed upon her students that it was important that they all help each other overcome difficulties in class. They also knew her well enough to realize that she was unlikely to carry out this threat. What it did was show that the behavior was not acceptable and induced the entire classroom – including the screamer – to laugh. Occasionally the screamer will still blurt out but now the class groans and someone says, “Not another essay question.”

She also has a stock of directional phrases she uses that keep directions light-hearted but serious:

“Be nice or leave.”

“Respect the turtle.”

“Make a mess – clean it up.” – she uses this when feelings are hurt as well. Making a mess of someone’s feelings requires clean up as well.

Some of what she does may seem like sarcasm and she admits that she had a difficult time with that at first. Sarcasm does not help; especially if students do not understand the intent. I find that students respond best when I use humor where I make fun of my own actions or perform a bit of physical humor.

How do you intervene through humor? Feel free to comment.