Sunday, January 24, 2010

Human Organ Systems Web Pages--The Project

We recently finished our first 'Web Page" project.   It was a useful project to capitalize on student interests, learn useful interpersonal and computer and research skills along with the biology content knowledge.  It is of course not a 'silver bullet' to learning human organ systems and had it's ups and downs.
Important features of this project include:
  1. Students worked (ideally) in groups of 3 or 4--that is, 'table groups'.  For various reasons there was a 'group' of one and a couple with two students.
  2. We all had studied the respiratory system together, thus, I was able to use this system to:
    1. create a Sample Web Page to serve as a model for the project. 
    2. I also created a page in the same plone folder called, "Web Page Description" which described the information that needed to be included in each part.
  3. The web page was on the human organ system of their choice.
  4. The page was divided by 7 headers into sections, each requiring certain info.  The headers used some color as a background providing color and structure to the page.
  5. Upon choosing their system, each team got 7 sheets of 'scrap' paper, and at the top of each wrote the PxTy (Period x, Table y) identifying info and then wrote the name of each of the 7 headers from the web page.  All group members then spent 2 days looking for information to put on those pages.
    1. As information sources (besides the teacher and each other) they had 2 computers per table, and Biology text books, either in Spanish and also in English.
    2. I provided the class with a page full of links, divided up into sections based on the particular organ system.  I encouraged students to start with the links which involved more visual, engaging web pages.  I needed to better label these links, though.
    3. For the students with lower reading skills, I taught them to find an, 'introductory' text, read a paragraph, then re-read it and work to decide on which page that information could go, write it down in their own words (needed to emphasize this more!), read the next paragraph and repeat...
    4. I needed to emphasize the page for collecting 'vocabulary words' for the concept map, more than I did to provide the concept mapper with the words needed.  Maybe adding on a definition and page number/web address would have been great, too, yeah.
  6. After the 2 days when all had researched and recorded info, the team divided itself into the following roles:
    1. One student was the web-master
    2. One student was the Concept Mapper
    3. One or 2 students, as available, were the 'book researchers'.
  7. Students spent the next 5 days doing their job, the web master creating the web page, the concept mapper creating the concept map which was then to be dragged into the web page by the web master; the book researcher continued to find info as needed to further fill out the 7 sheets, and help the other two team mates to do their job.  At the end of each day, the team would collect the papers and I would stack the paper so they were easy to store and hand out the next day.
  8. The web masters had several helper pages (flow map-ish looking page of stages and steps) showing them how to create, edit, share and tag their page.  I had made a folder on our plone site: Home/Teams/Px/Table Projects/Organ System Web Pages/Tx.  In other words each table had it's own folder in which to put their stuff.
  9. The concept mappers had a helper page  to get them started.  They pretty much knew their job.
  10. The book researcher had access to the text book, either in English or Spanish.  Of course it would have been nice to also have it in Oromo and Somali as well :)  The text book had a section on each organ system.
  11. At the start of class I would often have a mini-meeting of all the web masters, for example, showing them some resource or some skill.  I would do this with each group of people who shared a particular role.  This worked quite well.
  12. I spent much of the rest of the time helping people do their job, understand some concept, helping students resolve interpersonal issues, redirecting students, helping solve technological issues and always cracking jokes and encouraging!
  13. Effort was assessed by:
    1. individual and team rating of each person on the team.  I should have made an '8th sheet' where a table containing individual and team ratings of individual effort was recorded daily.
    2. I assessed individual effort by looking at the product each student created: Web page, concept map and team set of notes.  The weakest assessment was of the book researcher role.  I checked their contributions on the 7 note pages--I pretty easily recognize handwriting at this point of the year, but they also had a key role in helping the concept mapper and web master.  Maybe I should have their individual effort grade been more based on the above-mentioned (13-1) daily evaluations?
    3. A measurement of team success was represented by their grade on the web page.  I graded each team's web page on meeting required criteria of complete and clear information provided in students' own words,
Overall, how did it work?
  1. Kids thought this was a cool project, it was motivating and students pretty much had the system of their choice and that was important.
  2. There was ample space for formative assessment each day.  This informed my 'mini work-group' meetings at the start of the following days (and classes later on in the day!).
  3. A technological issue cropped up in the middle where some student accounts became corrupted during their work (never found out why) and so they were able to work but if they had to use the menu to save their work they were hosed.  It took me a few days to recognize this growing problem in the end there were about 10 affected students. I had a work around with some temporary student accounts.  Thanks to the help of alkisg at #edubuntu I was able to solve it (after 4-6 hours of my time) by re-initiating all students gconf by putting a script in students xdg/autostart (I think it was) folder.  Also, some web masters didn't get that to save the page they had to scroll to the bottom and click on the save button, not go to the file menu and select 'save' or 'save as'.
  4. I needed to emphasize task completion.  People and teams got really spread out and this was confusing and seemed to exacerbate this problem.  A technique I figured out years ago for doing big team/class project (but seem to have forgotten in all the school-closing in which I've had the bad luck of being involved) addresses this problem.  The idea is, work for 2 or 3 days in the week, maybe Wed. Thurs. Fri. on the project.  Then, students need to do the work to catch up if they 'fell behind' over the weekend or if they didn't then they are required to stay after school on Mon and/or on Tues. to catch up to where they are supposed to be.  This way (ideally) all students start together at the same place again on Wed.  On Monday and Tuesday, students learn content/skills that further capacitates and motivates them to continue on with their project.  This isn't a silver bullet either, but it helps and this accountability causes more serious effort on Wed-Fri!
  5. I would have liked to have included a summative assessment on content specific to each Organ System studied by the team.  This would require a lot of set up time but once all of the assessments were constructed, it would be great.
  6. Overall, I feel like this project had a lot of room for improvement and am looking forward to teaching it next year.  Also, I will build off the successes and lessons learned on this experience for our next project!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Role of teachers in the Edubuntu Community, and more...

I'm not sure who I'm quoting from the Edubuntu list, but in some heated discussion, someone said, "Edubuntu is not software, it's a Community!". That stuck with me. Sure, it is also software and it has been the focus of the community, but still the best thing about Edubuntu is the community. Programmers, advocates in education, and advocates outside of education are key groups that make up this community. And, what a nice community: a community of volunteers and intellects and people who choose to work with children! All groups play separate and also extensively interwoven roles; each group is critical for the success of the whole.

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be complete!  It doesn't focus on the critical roles of the students, of the supporters of the technology environment, of the evangelists, of the family-based users of Edubuntu, of the philanthropic supporters of open source software nor of the district-level technology leadership.  Nonetheless, it addresses a part of the puzzle.

First and foremost, there are programmers who may also be part of an educational enterprise. Some programmers get paid to develop but most don't; all seem to be volunteers to some degree as all develop the software beyond their work day. These programmers create the software and the documentation and often the wiki 'help pages'. Also, they are a backbone of support via the user list serve and irc for those who are the implementers of the software in the classroom. They are often the visionaries who know the software-context (ie the larger code environment and established social network) and lead the way to the future products. In conclusion, programmers are the producers of products, the producers of knowledge, the providers of help.

Teachers and other implementers of the software are the 'front-line' members of the community. They are often employed in this role though some are not. They all seem to be volunteers in the sense that successfully using Edubuntu requires work beyond their regular work day. These people provider meaning for the community--they are the ones who create the environment where students actually use the fruit of the labor of the programmers. In the communication channels of the community, the list-serves and the irc, these people (especially those most-novice users of the software) are mainly present when seeking help with software and hardware problems. Occasionally, these implementers of the software (I'll call them 'teachers' though it is broader than that group) give ideas for greater functionality and identify bugs in the software, providing a service to the programmers, however they usually represent themselves as consumers of the products provided by the programmers.

I'm seeing 2 issues and some possible solutions. 
  1. The first issue is that teachers are mainly present in the community as consumers of resources in the current communication channels of the community. in other words, it is rare that programmers 'see' the hundreds, the thousands of students in the classes who benefit from what they have made!  In other words, programmers miss out on seeing the great things that their labors make possible.
  2. Additionally, the professional knowledge of teachers is not shared, not developed in our community. How often do you see in the irc or list-serves questions about how to focus students attention on learning the main functionality of tuxtype, for example?
I'm NOT proposing that these questions enter into our current communication channels! What we have currently seem especially well suited for exactly what they are doing at this time. I'm proposing that teachers use 3 new channels of communication:
  1. a new irc eg "#edubuntu-in-action",
  2. a list-serve for teaching in Edubuntu-empowered classrooms where teaching challenges can be addressed,
  3. and an already existent community resource where lesson ideas can be created, co-developed, and reused ie
It is obvious how these additional channels would benefit the implementers of Edubuntu software, the 'teachers'. And, by improving the use of Edubuntu in the classroom it would indirectly benefit the community as a whole but it could also provide direct utility to the programmers by providing a window into the often invisible and private environment where the fruits of their labors are actually realized, where the resultant joys and needs can be more directly seen.

I'm also proposing a new 'member' that is, a new group of members in our community.  I think our community would be more powerful, exciting and diverse if we also had educational researchers here, providing their interests and resources.  The Finnish educational research team that created the LeMill software which powers the site mentioned above and other awesome open source software also produced this quote: "In educational research, software is the hypothesis".  In other words, software plays a critical role in their work.  We could use their (any interested ed researcher) ideas and knowledge and possible financial resources, they could use our ideas, knowledge and implementation of their ideas.  And again, together we would be stronger.

I recently saw a comment on #edubuntu: "I love publicly funded [software] development!"  I've also seen it said on the list-serves that, when major leadership of the Edubuntu community was provided by a financially-based enterprise (Canonical), the leadership and participation by volunteers atrophied.  So, I've really got no idea how public software development monies could be positively infused into our community but at least the possibility is there.  As a teacher who is not more than 2 years away from also becoming an educational researcher, I see much possible synergy between researchers and the current Edubuntu community.

What do you think?  Should we expand our community with additional channels of communication specifically designed for 'teachers'?  Should we seek to invite educational researchers into our community?  Any proposal such as this is fraught with the dangers and benefits of change.  What are the risks and what are the benefits as you see them?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

GCoS Classroom using FLE4: reproduce or transform?

How do the unique opportunities provided in a Growing Community of Scientists classroom affect relationships? For example, with seamless computer access (old, new) students can use specialized knowledge building software such as FLE4.

In using FLE4, for example, in what ways are traditional relationships simply reproduced (supported/kept-the-same) and in what ways are traditional relationships transformed (changed/destabilized)?  Let's try a table, albeit a skinny one, on my blog :)  In this post, I'll be examining the relationships between 'askers' and 'answerers' of questions.  Further posts will examine other classroom relationships.

RelationshipIn what ways ReproducedIn what ways Transformed
student answers...
  • Teacher still creates questions that are directed towards students.  Students are expected to attempt to answer this question.  Teacher generally knows an answer to this question and the students are expected to stretch to answer it.
  • In these situations, the teacher is the expert, the knowledge authority.  The student is the seeker, the novice.  The teacher has power, the student less.
  • Primarily, the big questions a teacher asks with software such as FLE4 will be to initiate a knowledge-building conversation.  It's goal is to provide a focus question, an essential that provides a direction and thus some bounds to it.
  • Assuming that the teacher has laid proper groundwork and carefully and sensitively created the question, it is intrinsically motivating to students.  Also, the authority a content expert has in a community whose mission is to explore and grow in that topic is more natural.  An open-ended question promotes exploration.  This software allows other students to ask the smaller questions...
asks and teacher answers.
  • Students still ask questions of the teacher.  Students don't know the answer to the question, teacher usually does.
  • In a FLE4 discussion, when a student asks a teacher a question, they aren't JUST asking for their own satisfaction or curiosity, they are on an information-seeking mission for their community.
  • Thus students now not only ask questions of which they don't know the answer, they also become answerers of questions that the asker (a peer) does NOT know the answer.  Also quite important here is that the student's role is as an interpreter of what the authority (teacher) says.
asks and student answers.
  • In classes where students work in pairs or small groups this peer to peer interaction happens.  Using FLE4, this small group interaction still happens as student groups choose or are assigned to specialize on specific peer-generated questions.
  • Since GCoS is able to use software that allows students to discuss topics with each other, to create new knowledge within themselves and their community, this peer to peer interaction is common, not only in smaller groups, but as a whole, diverse, full class sized group.
  • This is a significant change--would you rather answer a question to which the person asking it already knows the answer such as a teacher asking a traditional, 'confirmation' or 'narrow' question, or seek to answer a question to which the asker doesn't yet know but truly wants to know?  Instead of a lackey (this is perhaps a bit degrading if you are an adolescent?) you are a producer of knowledge, a helpful person.
  • This is required in a traditional classroom you can't have everyone 'talking at once' (though expert teachers allow it when appropriate but really these are many 'side conversations' happening at one time, but students can't really access any conversation throughout the classroom that they want).
  • In a FLE4-using GCoS classroom, this mandatory, "few people active and everyone else passive" does not happen except for the unmotivated or unable to read students--two situations that still require attention.
  • This is a key advantage to a FLE4-using, GCoS environment.  Students can browse others' questions and answers and build on them to the degree that they are motivated.  They don't have to 'wait their turn' which often translates to disengaging with the conversation, especially for 'visual learners' and 'kinesthetic learners'.
  • FLE4 allows for "parallel processing" in community knowledge building.  It allows ALL students to be active at all times, and not only with their small group, but also with the whole class.
  • This affordance of a GCoS classroom is quite unique and highly motivating to students.
Student 'asks' and
  • Students still use books to find information.
  • Often, students use the books in a more active, 'mission-fulfilling' manner.  They are looking for the answer to a specific question that they feel a responsibility to their knowledge-building community, to answer.
  • Students have many more sources at their command, not just 'the textbook'.  They have access to fairly authoritative knowledge such as at wikipedia, they have computer simulations such as at the phet website.
  • In the event that the teacher has set up relationships with experts outside of the classroom via e-mail, blogging, twitter, wikis, skype, irc's etc., 'Authoritative information sources' are further expanded.

Now trying scribefire AKA Learning to work with indented lists and html

My Deepest Sender blog editor test just went flat--didn't work with blogger--that was a waste of my time :(

Now trying scribefire.  First impressions:
  1. I like the look of the editor and has nice wysiwyg editor BUT
    1. I need to be able to do multiple levels of indent and a table would be great too.  Wait...
  2. What's that bar at top left...  better save before I try it...
  3. OK that didn't give more editing options.
  4. Do I have to learn that piece of html?  alas...
    1. Add this level
  5. Remove this level

What level is this at? OK, none
  • Is this level indented?
    • I didn't end the above with an end tag to the ul.

back to beginning?
  1. start of ul--just indent, no markers

ended the above indent w ul endtag
  1. first line
    1. second line
  2. third line

Still Normal?
  1. first line
  2. second line
  3. third line, same indent
    1. forth line, increase indent
  4. fifth line, decrease indent
sixth line, no indent.
  • I
    • get
      • it
        • now.

Also, Much more efficient way to work with/edit posts.
Good, clear, detailed, broad info from: