New Facebook Page

I’ve decided recently to start a Facebook page linked with this website and my instagram. The main reason for this is to provide another place where students and parents can get updates on what’s happening in Socials at GC and in my classes in particular. I’ve been posting pictures and updates there so far, but announcements and assignment information will follow, as will additional information linked to content covered in Social Studies courses. Feel free to follow or like the page to get these updates, and spread the word around.

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Trevor Mackenzie on Inquiry-Based Learning

If you’ve poked around my website, you’ve probably noticed a section dedicated to Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL) that was linked to a major paper I wrote while completing my M. Ed. in education. The details of IBL are presented there, but in short this approach to teaching is about formulating driving or “essential” questions and building research and analytical skills through student investigation of knowledge. This is very different from the teacher at the front of the room lecturing all class long while students take notes. IBL has students actively engaged in uncovering or discovering information and using it for a specified purpose. The key point here is that students are not passive, but very much present and participate in the learning they do.

Trevor Mackenzie has been a recent lead teacher in this area, promoting greater use of IBL in classrooms. I recently read an article of his posted on the Edutopia website (the link is here if you want to check it out). A common issue that he tries to address is that students and teachers, especially from more traditional education backgrounds, are not used to this switch in teaching and learning. Teachers who attempt to jump in head first and give their students full freedom to conduct their own inquiries from start to finish are likely to be met with a lot of uncertainty and stress. Trevor advocates for scaffolding (starting at an entry level and building IBL gradually gradually to eventually gain greater independence), which he believes is necessary for the teacher and the student if IBL is to work. This is the same approach I suggest in the paper mentioned above.

Trevor has written a book about just this topic, called Dive into Inquiry: amplify learning and empower student voice, which I’ve picked up and and working my way through at present. It’s definitely worth a read if you think this kind of instructional approach could be for you. Inquiry is becoming a central part of the Social Studies curriculum in Newfoundland and Labrador, so it’s something I’ve already been bringing into my classroom, a little bit at a time.

Inquiry is most successful when strongly scaffolded. The Types of Student Inquiry act as a scope and sequence to support learners in their journey toward Free Inquiry. In my classroom, we begin in a Structured Inquiry model, transition to a Controlled Inquiry unit, move on to Guided Inquiry, and if all goes well, conclude in Free Inquiry. These four types of inquiry make up our time together in the course.

This structure allows us to successfully address the curriculum and the “must know” content and skills of each discipline, grade level, and course. In the Structured, Controlled, and Guided units, I plan to achieve specific learning objectives and unpack particular resources in order to best prepare my learners for whatever summative assessment they will see at the end of our time together. Whether it’s a provincial, state, or governing body exam or the SAT, I ensure that this material is learned during the types of student inquiry I have more control over.

Students should feel connected to their learning, certain about how to plan their inquiry, and comfortable with its responsibility. The Types of Student Inquiry structure our coursework and learning in a gradual release of control model, one where students learn essential inquiry skills throughout the year rather than being thrown into the deep end of the inquiry pool right away.

Here’s a quick video from Trevor’s website that introduces some of these concepts.

 

Using Apps to Empower Girls in Mumbai

There is always talk of new technology being useful in the classroom for the benefit of student learning, but it’s quite something else when it’s being used in one of the world’s most densely populated areas that happens to be a slum.

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Dharavi, Mumbai. Source: mapsofindia.com

Quartz India has an article about an educator, Ranjan, who has developed an after-school program, called Dharavi Diary, that seeks to teach youth, especially girls, about language, math, and app development. It may be easy to question such a project in an area where poverty is a serious issue, but it has had benefits for girls’ attendance in school. The children are also trying to develop apps that are socially and community conscious (e.g., an app that can sound a distress alarm and send emergency texts, and one that notifies the municipality of waste build-up in given areas).

It’s a positive example of how creative and dedicated educators and students can make a difference in improving people’s lives.

These girls went on to give talks on platforms like TED, building up their confidence. “There’s a happiness quotient and a sense of ownership in the girls,” Ranjan said proudly. “Over a period of three years, they have understood the value of the personal voice and acquired the skills to say no when they mean no, like in the case of domestic violence or eve-teasing (roadside harassment).”

Not only do the children take their knowledge back home, reading letters and working phones for family members, they also hold special workshops to propel social change among the older generations. A mother-daughter workshop was held to “break the taboo of menstruation,” Devashri Vagholkar, who started off volunteering as a science teacher and is now a core team member at Dharavi Diary, told Quartz. “We also did street plays about it.”

A City of the World

I thought I’d share this video, which was posted on YouTube by reallifelore, that answers the question how big would a city have to be to fit the entire human population? It’s a really quite fascinating discussion, which uses examples of large scale population densities that exist in the world today and use these as possible average densities for the human city. It helps put into perspective just how many people are on the planet.

Recommended Teaching Tech: Remind

1200x630In my last post, I discussed a teacher planning app that I enjoy called Planboard (which I highly recommend). In this post I will briefly introduce another app I use regularly called Remind.

Remind is an easy to use messaging app that teachers can employ to contact students, parents, or colleagues individually or in groups and makes use of one piece of technology that most people are more than familiar with: text messaging.

The basic idea is this: the teacher creates a group (called a “class”) and students sign up to become a part of it. Anyone who is a part of the class can be contacted directly or receive group announcements from the teacher, making it a wonderful resource for reminding students of upcoming events or deadlines (hence the name of the app). Now, before you get worried about the issue of having students know your cell phone number, the app works based on a proxy number set up by Remind that students text, meaning that they never know your number and you never know theirs. The app merely provides students a proxy number, which they can add to their contacts under a name such as “Mr. Rowe” or “Geography Class”. By responding through text to a couple of quick commands from this number (such as whether they are a student or parent, and entering a classcode provided by the teacher), students sign up with their name, which is all the teacher will see. Without this feature of Remind, I would be very unlikely to use it, as otherwise it could create significant privacy issues.

For those who do not use texting or would be more comfortable using email, the same setup procedure can accommodate this. The difference is that rather than texting a number to sign up for a class, an email is sent. This is probably more useful when contacting parents. But whether using email or text messaging, the teacher can operate Remind from the app on iphone or android devices, or from a website adding to its usefulness.

Besides class announcements, a student can privately send a message to the teacher (e.g., a question about an assignment or homework) and the teacher can respond without the whole class seeing, which is great for students who may be self-conscious about asking questions in a larger group.

remind-2-1024x538A feature that I really enjoy is the ability to send photos, files, or audio clips as part of a message. I’ve used this to send out additional resources to students that help with review or relevant images that supplement discussion that had occurred during class.

Any announcements sent are instant and are a wonderful way to keep students or parents up to date on what is going on in class or with the school as a whole. A number of my colleagues use Remind at Gander Collegiate and, as such, students have become quite aware of how it works, which makes setup and use so much easier. Setting up a class can be done in a few minutes: a few easy instructions can be put on a whiteboard or printed, which students and parents can follow.

Like any app, there are other features one can discover when exploring how functional the software may be (e.g., there are options for organizing events among group members, like field trips), but I will leave these for you to try, if you feel Remind is something that may be useful in your classroom.