Saturday, 31 August 2013

Encouraging Students to Interact with New Knowledge

I Think Therefore I Am Dangerous by JohnE777, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  JohnE777 

I have been reading "The Art and Science of Teaching" by Robert J Marzano this year and have found it invaluable as a means of focusing my self reflection.  Much of what I have been reading is not necessarily new to me but serves as a fantastic reminder of the "best practices" supported by the research.  In addition, I have been thoroughly enjoying looking at new ways to combine these best practices to make my pedagogy more effective and thus improving the learning of the students under my care.

Central to this process is the selection of critical learning experiences.  A couple of critical learning experiences per learning goal gives students the opportunity to develop new knowledge and build upon it by creating connections from one learning experience to the next. By clearly identifying which of the learning experiences are critical, students know where to dedicate their time and focus their energies.

Previewing and Cuing

Previewing involves activities which come before the presentation of new content to activate prior knowledge or encourage students to begin thinking about the topic prior to critical instruction events and have been found to be particularly useful for students with limited prior knowledge (Mayer, 1979). One particularly useful type of previewing activity is an advance organiser which is the presentation of content that facilitates the student organising and interpreting new information (Mayer, 2003). Effective previewing can be done in a number of ways including:
  • asking what students think they know; 
  • asking students targeted questions which will focus their attention on specific parts of the content in the critical learning activity; 
  • providing a brief teacher summary; or 
  • providing opportunities for students to skim the content (looking at sections and subheadings and then logically guessing what the content is about). This is a strategy which will probably need to be explicitly taught and it can be beneficial to look at all the students' summary statements to look at similarities and differences in their perceptions. 

Basically, it is the provision of a scaffold on which to hang the new information. When previewing is used in conjunction with cuing, the process of teachers providing direct links between previously learnt content and the new content, students are situated in a great location to begin learning new content. 


Regardless of whether or not one subscribes to cognitive load theory, the benefits of chunking, or breaking new information down into small manageable chunks cannot be disputed.  This is the case regardless of whether or not the new information is visual, a lecture, text or some other method. To aid students in the processing of this information, ask for a variety of thinking around the content such as descriptions, discussions and most importantly predictions.

Some strategies to support chunking include:
  • Reciprocal Teaching: in small groups students make predictions about a text, read a portion, a group leader asks the others questions to discuss and clarify understanding, students make new predictions about the text and the process continues. The group leader can change with each chunk.
  • Jigsaw: in small groups students are assigned a topic and each student has a role to become an expert on a specific subtopic.  The students with the same subtopic meet in groups to become experts then return to their original group to pass on their expert knowledge.

Inferential Questioning

Whilst questioning students to check understanding definitely has a place, inferential questioning which requires students to think beyond the information presented to them is much more powerful. Stretching the thinking of students offers opportunities for cognitive development by forcing students to make connections between pieces of information. For example, why do you think that is true? An interesting perspective I heard recently is to withhold whether or not an answer is correct or not because once students have a confirmed answer they stop thinking about the question.

Some types of inferential questioning include:
  • have students use their background knowledge to fill in implied knowledge (default questions)
  • infering what is likely or not likely to be true (logical reasoning)
  • Why do you believe this is true? (draws out the thinking behind the answer) It can also be useful to restate what the student has said to have them examine their own reasoning
  • What are the typical characteristics you would expect? (generalisation)
  • What do you think would happen if..? (elaboration)

Student Reflection on their Learning

Looking at a learning experience to determine what was simply understood, what caused confusion, how confident the students feel about their understanding, and an evaluation of which of their preconceived ideas were correct or incorrect can be an invaluable tool in consolidating students' understanding about their learning.

Cooperative Learning

Coperative learning gives students the opportunities to view the content from multiple perspectives to enhance their own understanding.  This can happen in a number of ways: by explaining to others; by asking questions and clarifying understanding; by gaining new perspectives and insights into the content.

Putting it All Together

A strategy to combine many of these techniques is detailed below. It provides great opportunities for students to deconstruct and support one another in the acquisition of new information by combining a number of other strategies including cuing, chunking, inquiry questioning, student reflection and cooperative learning.  Before beginning the critical learning activity, have students share any prior knowledge they have about the topic verbally with the emphasis not being on what is right or wrong, but rather what the students think they know.

  1. Divide students into groups of 3 and assign each student with a letter
  2. Show the new content to students eg watch a video of new content for a few minutes (Visual instruction is the preferred method as it results in the highest retention of information one year after instruction at 77%, Nuthall, 1999; Nuthall & Alton-Lee, 1995)
  3. Student A share with the small group their understanding of the new material
  4. Students B and C listen to A and then question and present alternative views - all members have the opportunity to clarify their understanding
  5. Whole class discussion for questions, conflicts in understanding and for the teacher to ensure that each group has correctly understood the critical aspects of the content.
  6. Repeat but this time Student B takes the lead in the small groups; repeat again with Student C
  7. When all the content has been discussed, the whole class comes together again but this time the focus is on the teacher asking questions which require the students to go beyond the information that has been presented to them, to make inferences, or apply the knowledge. 
  8. Each small group then has an opportunity to summarise what they have learnt, perhaps graphically or through notes.
Please feel free to leave comments detailing your strategies to help students interact with new material so we can learn from each other.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The 12 Must-Have Skills Of Modern Learners

via Edudemic via User Generated Education

I consider myself a modern learner.  I participate online, share ideas and resources with both students and teachers (known and unknown) and collaborate with others, working towards a greater good. This infographic made me stop and reflect on how well I am providing opportunities for my students to also develop the skills of a modern learner.  It is a great summary of not only the so called "21st Century Skills" we hear so much about but takes it a bit further in its consideration of values and the characteristics of an independent learner.

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Initiative and entrepreneurialism
  3. Curiousity and imagination
  4. Hope and Optimism
  5. Self-regulation
  6. Vision
  7. Empathy and global stewardship
  8. Resilience
  9. Grit
  10. Agility and adaptability
  11. Collaboration across networks
  12. Effective oral and written communication  

In considering this list I stopped and considered (even looked up) exactly what was meant by grit and resilience.
Grit (psychology) is a positive, non-cognitive trait, based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment and serves as a driving force in achievement realization. (Wikipedia)
Psychological resilience is an individual's tendency to cope with stress and adversity. This coping may result in the individual "bouncing back" to a previous state of normal functioning, or simply not showing negative effects. (Wikipedia)
Thanks Wikipedia for a quick definition of these two terms and a new insight into the huge favour I will be doing my students by ensuring that I intentionally integrate opportunities for them to develop these skills - not that I don't - but I believe that the intentionality is important. I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about ways to more effectively develop my relationships with students and the idea seemed to logically flow that this makes it far easier to tap into their passions and thus provide opportunities for them to develop their perseverance or grit through overcoming difficulties and carrying on. Resilience seems a little more tricky - it's not like I'm going to traumatise my students so that can learn to bounce back.  Providing constructive feedback and opportunities for others to do so in a safe and nurturing environment still seems like my best bet but if you have other ideas please comment at the bottom of the post, I would love to learn from you.

Wouldn't it be great if we could all include all of these skills and attributes into every unit of work. With a little creativity, well crafted essential\inquiry questions and the willingness to "let go and let our students" it is possible. In fact, isn't it just a case of practising what we are preaching.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Think Club's Greatest Hits - Adrian Bruce

Think Club is an afternoon club for school kids to explore a myriad of tech tools to discover the ones which inspire, capture their creativity and help them find their passion.

The guiding principle behind Think Club is Rapid Skill Attribution.  Some resources on this:

The Matrix Guide to Rapid Skill Acquisition

Adrian Bruce's Website

RC Desk Pilot

Flight Gear

Puppet Videos

Encourage students to step out of their comfort zone and begin video production with puppets, bad jokes and any camera (phone\ipod\flip....) Step out of your comfort zone.

Sketch Up

Export from Sketch up to Lumion Free



Virtual DJ

Serious Games


A game for learning about cancer


A game to help teenagers learn about feeling down and depression.


Teach game design

Link to download


Machinima - using screen shots from games to make cartoons

Macbeth in Machinima

Cartoon Dave

Go Teach This

Tools for teaching Reading and Mathematics - nearly ready - still in testing phase

Taking Learning Analytics back to my school from ELH School Tech 13

Friday, 16 August 2013

Khan Academy Crash Course

This blog is in no way a replacement for the full Khan Academy Coach Resources but is designed for a teacher workshop to get secondary school teachers up and running using Khan Academy with their students.

Purple italic text requires you to do what is asked.

Why are we doing this?
An email received by the Head of Maths from a student...

"Oh my god Mr Martin, I used Khan Academy to understand Riemann sums and it is literally the best thing ever. I have never tried it before and I understood it completely (I think) and it has made my assignment so much more clear (I think). You are a genius!! Peace owwt"

Being a Student

Sign into Khan Academy using "Sign Up" and your Google Account
Teacher sign up instructions

A Tour of the Khan Academy Site for Coaches (Student Interface)

Student section goes to 6:15

The Dashboard

On your dashboard (the opening screen) you will be prompted to do the pretest - complete this pretest. Notice when you are finished that the big box at the top will start to fill up with little blue coloured boxes.

Continuing to work on these dashboard tasks provides a lot of background information so that content is accurately pitched at the correct level for students (Start not practice).

Start the next topic you are prompted to perform.

Khan Adacemy has some interactivity.  Scratchpad allows free hand drawing on most questions, manipulative data tables, graphs and diagrams.

This is a great way to learn Maths for fun or to expand your skills generally.

What information can you find out about your skills already:

  • Areas in which you have mastery or a high skill level (the darker the colour of the little box the better you have demonstrated that you are)
  • Areas that you need to work on (the red boxes - obviously Maths teachers won't have too many of them unless you wanted to see what getting questions wrong does)
  • Click through the vital statistics on the left to see how you are going (looks like the picture to the right).

The Knowledge Map

The reality is that students generally study discrete topics for a period of time before moving onto another topic unlike the way the dashboard operates.

It may be appropriate to use the knowledge map to search out the specific topic you want to learn.

Click on Learn in the top left of the dashboard screen, and select Knowledge Map.

Down the left, suggestions are made.  These become more appropriate the more the student interacts with the software as more data is gathered.

On the right is a large image which can be dragged around to find a particular topic of interest or study.

Click on a topic.

Three columns of information are shown:
  • where this topics fits within the big picture
  • a real world context for the mathematics
  • a program of study - the arrow is play for a video; the * is a quiz to see whether the student understands.  When starting, students may wish to jump straight to the test to check their knowledge and only go back to the videos if they lack understanding of the topic.

Navigating to the Topic

You may wish to take the more direct path; click learn at the top left > select maths > select your area of study > and select a subcategory

Once you choose a subtopic on the right you navigate to the same course of videos and quizzes you got to via the knowledge map.

Being a Teacher \ Coach

Click on Coach next to learn to see the options

Below is a selection of the resources in the "Coach Resources" section - if you can find time you may like to look at these more thoroughly in the future.

A Tour of the Khan Academy Site for Coaches (Coach Interface)

Download the Quick Start Guide for Maths Teachers

5 Easy Ways to Start Using Khan Academy

What makes a Khan Academy Classroom?

  • Meet the needs of each learner
  • Create an interactive and engaging learning environment
  • Use data to inform instruction (provides effective feedback)
can be a challenging transition to let go of control over pace of the content, however, teachers who do make the transition enjoy the increased time with each learner
The Role of the Student
Students should be encouraged, at every stage of the learning process, to adopt an active stance toward their education. They shouldn’t just take things in; they should figure things out.
Data Driven Instruction

Log out by clicking the arrow next to your name at the top right and selecting Log Out 
Demo Data - click this link and select "Access Demo"

Download - Navigating Khan Academy Reports

Use the Access Demo and the Navigating Khan Academy Reports Document to identify actions you could take as the coach in this classroom.

Making Your Own Classes
Two options:

  • Create a class and invite all students via their email accounts (a little time consuming out of class for teacher) OR
  • Create a class; have students sign up for an account; have students enter the class code (class time needed) As all our students have google accounts it is best to insist they use these as it makes it easy for you to identify who they are.
We are all going to add Dan as our coach now.

Personally, I would take option 2 as all of our students have a google account so it is fast and easy for students to just add a class code.  The teacher will need to check that all students have joined the group.

Create Your Class Groups now

Some notes regarding the use of iPads

  • The Khan Academy App only shows videos - it does not show this whole website
  • Students need to log in through Safari
  • Work on the screen in landscape so you don't have to horizontally scroll
  • It may seem to take a more time to load on an iPad due to the amount of online information being collated and loaded if you have a large class. I tested most things and didn't have any problems - but I only had one student. If you have problems use your computer rather than iPad.