Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Does inquiry based learning work?

A little personal anecdotal aside here.  I'm drowning in an assignment where while I know and understand all the individual parts I feel incapable of putting it all together in a coherent whole, so instead I'll write a little story about inquiry based learning.  It is one of the topics in my course, where it is written about as if it were something new and interesting whereas it's been around a long long time in the IB / PYP world and therefor has been part of our lives for the last 8 years.

Scene - the dermatologist's office.  After a friend of mine had some basal cancer cells removed last month I went into "living in the tropics / sunshine all these years" alert and had myself checked out, and yesterday, being school holidays, hauled the kids in for their examination.

The receptionist handed me some intake forms to fill in, and the kids automatically reached for them to fill them in themselves.  With hilarious results.  Besides the obvious of name and date of birth, they wanted to know why all the other details were necessary.  Marital status? "If I write single," said my son, "are they going to stalk me because they think I'm available?  Can't I write "taken" instead? Is that why they want my home address?"  "What does caucasian mean? Why do they need to know my race?"  And then a further discussion into what information would be relevant for identification, for insurance purposes, for medical use (in this cause - dermatologically speaking - caucasian would be relevant) or just because no one has ever questioned what goes onto the forms and what is necessary.  Certainly Singapore is very big on forms and lots and lots of details. And race is always included, and so too is religion.  It makes my kids squirm when people insist on putting them in a belief box and people tend to persist until they're satisfied - it took me a while to understand that the term here that shuts them up is "free thinker". OK if you insist.

So perhaps that's what is at the heart of inquiry based learning. Always questioning. What you're doing, what's being done to you, what you're being asked for, what you're being asked to do.  It is exhausting to parent at times, and must be even more so to teach.  But hopefully the lack of blind obedience and following the crowd will have some benefit in the long run.

To turn it all around then, the inquiry would be what should be on an intake form for a dermatologist and how you'd design one that was relevant but not personally invasive.  Or perhaps the inquiry is how much privacy we out to give away each time we fill something in and to what purpose.   There are big questions lurking behind innocent little forms to be completed.  I'm glad my kids are starting to get a glimpse of that.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

360 degree whiteboards

Reflecting back on the past week, I actually had an abundance of opportunities for professional development beyond the "daily grind" of my studies.  It's not really a daily grind, by my polymath brain does need a bit of light, or not so light or at least completely diverse and out of the box relief from the straight and narrow - (which isn't really that straight and narrow I'm fortunate to say) of librarianship and teacher-librarianship.

Anyway, on Wednesday I stumbled on some PD on 360 degrees Math, thanks to my librarian edge boss who had chosen this as one of the topics to follow.

I'll be upfront - of course I had a hidden agenda in attending.  I have a child who is struggling in math. Or let me put it otherwise, he alternates between coping really well and enjoying, nay loving the subject and his teacher, and failing every test or assessment placed in front of him. Between independently doing the homework assigned and falling way behind.  Basically I suspect he just does not "get" numbers. Something my more creative and design and interesting friends with well established creative careers tell me is totally acceptable and fine. Were it not for the coming 6 years of schooling he has to do math in.  So any tricks or wizardry or clues as how to make this process a little more palatable to the both of us is much appreciated.

The concept of 360 degree math was apparently launched by Sean Kavanaugh as a way to engage students. By having the students stand and solve problems at white-boards that surround the classroom, teachers see "evidence of the students' thought processes as they unfold".  In the old model of students hunched over their workbooks, "mistakes are usually caught long after they're made and instructors may have trouble pinpointing where a student first went off the rails."

The five steps of the structure includes:
  • "The Exchange: As each student enters the classroom, they're personally greeted by the teacher—a sign of respect and welcome.
  • The Rewind: Students solve three relatively simple problems at the whiteboard to build their confidence.
  • The Micro-Lecture: The teacher gives a short lecture that's kept between eight to 10 minutes in order to go over new concepts. 
  • The Practice: Students return to the whiteboard, where they spend the bulk of the class, to solve more challenging problems, facilitated by group discussions and collaboration.
  • The Proof: Work is done individually on the boards and reviewed by the teacher to help her plan the next lesson and understand where each student is in his or her mastery of skills.  " (Antoniades, 2013, para. 10)
First we were the guinea pigs - trying to solve a range of problems pinned up on the board. Then we heard a little about the background to the idea of 360 degree math, and it's variations - like writing problems or solutions on windows and then putting down the window blinds and gradually opening them to reveal the answers.   We considered the positive elements - having children stand and walk around rather than sit glued to their desks all day, the possibility of erasing mistakes and false logic easily and without leaving a trace or marks in a school notebook, the idea of making thought visible and mapped and seeing the process and strategy evolve.  The luxury of an expanse of whiteboard rather than a few lines in a book.   A few of the cons were the fact there wasn't a permanent record unless the solutions and workings were copied down.  The chance that some students would copy answers rather than collaborate or work on the problem themselves.

As a mixed bunch of educators ranging from Maths and Science, to English and second language and of course the library we were immediately enthused with ideas as to how this could be translated to our environments.  

For the library, we are already using one table with a writeable surface, and have noticed that students use it a lot for collaborative learning, funnily enough, particularly in math, and the small portable whiteboard in the office behind the main desk gets a regular workout when we brainstorm as a library team.  If the library is to continue in its function as a collaborative learning space, designed as much for consumption as creation of information, of course we should be encouraging writing on the walls and windows. 

And I went home, cleared my son's desk and took it out of his room, measured the walls where his desk had been and ordered a large whiteboard. I also cleared all the surfaces in his room, took out all the boxes of lego and blocks and bricks that he hadn't been using for a while and put them into the storeroom.  It's amazing the difference that less clutter makes. He wasn't using the desk anyway - it was far to full of clutter, and he can never sit still at the table to do his homework anyway, so the loss of a chair doesn't matter.  I put a tiny little table against one wall which he can use for his assignment if necessary.  It's now Christmas break, so we'll be using this method for revision of the  content areas that he failed his most recent tests on, and then use it for "real" once term starts again.  I'm feeling strangely hopeful.  We'll see how it goes.


360 Degree Math - Home. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2014, from http://www.360degreemath.com/

Antoniades, A. (2013, October 1). Get Up, Stand Up! 360 Degree Math Revolutionizes Classrooms. Retrieved December 14, 2014, from http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/10/01/math-is-fun-360-degree-math

Teach (2013) 360 Math Whiteboards and Khan Academy Excerpt. (n.d.). [You Tube]. Retrieved December 14, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FQlXN9YZAI

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Gamification in the library

I attended a great talk organised by ISLN yesterday evening.  Scott Nicholson from Syracuse University came to talk about gaming in the library context.

Firstly he disabused us of the notion of gamers as teen or older blokes transfixed to screens in a smelly hormonal environment and introduced the vast array of games that exist in the physical and digital world ranging from Pac-man to monopoly to cosplay to interactive fiction and everything in-between.

The idea is that games are an entry point for engagement and a way of formalising play.

In the case of libraries a number of things need to be taken into account

  • Time available (including set up, play and clean up)
  • number of players
  • space availability
  • how it fits in the library mission
  • format - formal program / informal / games to check out etc.

One of the aspects highlighted was the use of games in teaching students information literacy or familiarity with the library. Unfortunately, despite a considerable amount of effort in this area, particularly in library scavenger hunts (which he was somewhat dismissive of) he did not have much positive to report.   A few of the projects mentioned included BiblioBouts (successful but no longer supported), Find Chesia (alternate reality game to encourage summer reading) Blood on the stacks (mystery game).

He then mentioned some important concerns around motivation and the use of awards, rewards and badges and pointed us to some books and research:

Another problem he pointed out with gamification was the issue of privacy, and he game the example of LemonTree.

Games can be incorporated in the curriculum, not only by having students play games (Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? and Civilization V was mentioned) but also a by allowing students to create their own games whereby they have to think very carefully about the most important aspects of a topic, writing a backstory, using physical materials or programming.

Finally the RECIPE for success and meaningful gamification is:
reflection, exposition, choice, information, play and engagement (this is explained in the video on his website).

A few of the resources he mentioned:

Because Play Matters - his website with a blog and information on all aspects of play and gaming and his book "Everyone plays in the library - creating great game experiences for all ages".
And his video series: Board Games with Scott

Carla Casilli - writes and researches about the use (and abuse) of badges as a reward system or pathway illuminator in education and elsewhere.

Crossed Paths -  a free multi-player improvisational storytelling game he developed.  For 5+ players with no maximum.

Twine - a way of exploring interactive fiction with a range of outcomes and learn some coding at the same time.

Playnation - a game cafe in Singapore with 200 designer board and card games and 100 console games

Settlers Cafe - a game cafe with over 600 game titles - and a special ladies night!

Just Press Play - a very innovate way to get students at Rochester Institute of Technology to interact and socialise and play with each other and engage in their environment.  This would be one of the things that schools could consider for incoming students and teachers.

National museum of play Rochester NY - play museum with library embedded!  Books in each section that visitors to the library could take and check out when leaving.

GVLibraries - how cool is this: "As a part of the Game Library's services, you can schedule time with Brian Mayer (bmayer@gvboces.org) to come work with you and your class to provide successful learning and growth experiences with the various game resources within our library. Examples include: in class project and unit support through the use of game resources, game design programs demonstrating practical applications of curricular skills and concepts, life skills and curricular support, and extra-curricular or activities." 

The rest of us will have to make do with his book: Libraries got Game

Find the Future - an overnight adventure game and an ongoing online game, inspired by 100 works from the collections of The New York Public Library designed by Jane McGonigal.

Here is Jane McGonigal at her TED talk

And here is the talk by Scott Nicholson at TEDx.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Meanwhile back at my other blog...

For my current course ETL401 Introduction to Teacher Librarianship I'm required to keep a blog on Wordpress in their "thinkspace".   After a couple of months of Wordpress I must say I'm still not terribly good at it, nor convinced of its superiority (at least not for someone who isn't doing this professionally) but anyway, if you don't find anything here, I'll be there.  They're named the same so as to avoid any confusion. I've just not worked out how to double post there and here, without having administrator rights "there" so as a compromise I'll just link the lastest posts from either blog to the other.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Digital Storytelling tools worth looking at (1)

There is a plethora of tools in the virgin outback of digital storytelling.  This does not make one's life any easier, plus there is the chorus of cellos in the background warning you that most of these tools that you invest time and effort into learning and using may not be around forever, or even for very long.  So what's one to do?  Certainly it shouldn't stop one from playing around and experimenting - particularly with the more common tools that are handy to know anyway (think iMovie / window's movie maker etc.) I'd love to hear comments of what you've used and what has worked for you or your students

Here are a few of the tools I've experimented with personally, or have seen well used during my INF533 Literature in Digital Environments course at CSU (if you're looking for a great course to upskill yourself, I can thoroughly recommend it - you can take it as a single course "just for fun" and it is fun).

Creativist is an example of "scrollitelling".  It's a really low-barrier tool where you can combine pictures and video with a story.  The free version limits the size of your files (150 MB).  DW Academie gives a rather nice guide here which is worth reading through before you try.


Inklewriter by Inklestudios is a platform for interactive choice based stories.  It is really easy to get started on and in its simplest version one can just add text.  Photos can be added relatively easily but there is no video option, which is a pity.  I can see great possibilities for use with students who are exploring options for example of subject choice or university or study choices - they could explore options and alternatives in a "safe" and personal environment imagining "what if..."


Popcorn Webmaker by Mozilla is another easy "plug and play" tool. It uses some of the basic conventions of video editing with various layers (sound, video, picture) and allows one to embed elements in a story.  One of the interesting variations on this is that the interactive element allows the audience to remix the original and make their own stories.


More ideas and lists:

Finally Storygami - something that is unfortunately still in Beta and where one can hire the team to realise your storytelling dreams, but where I see great potential for use in educational settings.

Digital Storytelling - The role of the library - presentation for School Librarian Connection Conference Hong Kong November 2014

Digital Literature on Flipboard

Here is a Flipboard of recent articles and news around the area of digital literature and digital storytelling.