Using Multiple Tools for Content Creation in the Classroom

We’re wrapping up the 2022-2023 school year, and several teachers in my district are continuing their journeys into deeper learning.

Rather than freaking out and focusing on end-of-year testing that means nothing (you know I’m right), I’m working with several 8th-grade classes on worthwhile projects.

One class is designing tourism resources for Bardstown. If you’re not familiar, the tourism industry is HUGE in this area thanks to two things: history and bourbon. Kentucky tourists spent $5.9 billion in 2020, and many of those dollars can be traced to bourbon tourism.

Students are working in groups to create materials for different tourist destinations in Bardstown. They got to choose the location, the format for their materials, and how they will ultimately present them.

Let’s connect this work back to the 4 Shifts and how we’re using it to foster deeper learning in classrooms:

Deeper Thinking and Learning

  • Students are researching famous local places. Some of them are taking tours after school hours, conducting interviews, and doing independent research
  • Students are discussing what information needs to be included in their information. What should be in a brochure? What do we need to mention in a video?

Authentic Work

  • Students are using design tools that are used in the real world to create and publish their work: Canva, YouTube, CapCut, etc.
  • Could these projects be used as part of a tourism promotion? Perhaps. This work will likely be a “first draft” of a potential business or tourism department collaboration.

Student Agency & Personalization

  • Students chose the format and tools.
  • Students chose the topic

Technology Infusion

  • Any technology usage is secondary to the research and information presented. Technology is merely the tool conveying the message, not the message itself.

I could go on, but I’ll save a further discussion for the project completion. Suffice it to say the kids are very interested in these projects and what they are learning about their hometown.

Student working on a brochure for a local restaurant
Student work on a brochure for a local restaurant

I came in to assist in the combination of technology with content. Students are creating on different platforms and need to tie the information together. Several have made videos that we’ve uploaded to YouTube. We created QR codes and added them to the brochures. We’ve used royalty-free music for the videos. Some students even used AI (yep) to help write the script before recording voiceovers.

My point for sharing this work is this: diving into deeper learning can be fun for you and your students. Will some resist? Yes. Will some still find ways to disengage and not really accomplish anything? Yes.

But it’s all part of the adventure of learning. For them, and for us.

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Would AIs make better professionals than humans?

Doug Johnson posits:

One quality that AI may put to extremely positive use would be objectivity – a lack of personal biases or prejudices. Properly programmed, my financial advisor AI should not be advising me to invest in areas where the advisor would get the biggest fee, but where I would stand to make the biggest return at the lowest risk. Would my AI dentist or doctor only recommend those procedures and medications that have proven rate of effectiveness not the most kickback from pharmaceutical companies? Would an AI intelligence agent be more likely to uncover double-agents in the office?

Of course, the burning question in education is “Would AIs make better teachers than humans?”

We Need Easier EdTech Integrations

I won’t spend my time here griping about the overuse of technology for standardized testing and other “necessary” tests. That fight is for another day.

Today, let’s talk about how frustrating it is to use many testing services. I’ve spent most of the past two weeks getting two grade levels into two different online testing systems.

One system required an SFTP upload of a CSV file. I kept getting errors even using the company’s template and data tool. After trying a few dozen times, I gave up and sent the file to the company. The next day, the data was uploaded and corrected. I still have no clue what was wrong.

The second company uses Clever to sync students and teachers. But not to log students in for the test. No, no, they require a lockdown browser for their exam. Conveniently, they autogenerate usernames and passwords for the students.

Did I mention these elements are 11 characters or so each? And the students using them are in kindergarten?

Yep. Smiles all around.

Mind you, I have a decent amount of experience with all the tools I used to make these data uploads happen. I would venture to say that the person at most schools responsible for this process is NOT as experienced. Just a hunch.

There has to be a better way.

I Hate Lecturing, but I Love Lectures

I am no fan of a traditional lecture. Whether I’m presenting at a conference or teaching a class of students, my goal is never to stand there and talk without interaction from the audience for a long time.

But I love listening to lectures. I love watching them. I love podcasts that are essentially lectures. I love listening to an expert dive deep into their favorite topic.

Yes, there is a place for lectures inside and outside of our schools.

So, again, what is a lecture?  In a discussion I participated in on twitter recently, it was posed that a lecture is “one-way instruction that is at least 5 minutes in time.”  That is certainly one definition…but there are countless other definitions. My question is, so what should we call one-way instruction lasting 4 minutes, 59 seconds?  Like most aspects of education, it is quite difficult to reach consensus on a term as universal as ‘lecture’. Maybe my interpretation of the lecture is too liberal, but it is difficult for me to comprehend the disdain for this method of instruction.  I simply don’t understand how it is passive or simply creates an environment of rote-learning and memorization (By the way, what is so wrong with memorization and knowledge?). Again, this could simply come down to a misunderstanding of the basic definition.  

In Defense of Lecture in the Classroom

I don’t think anyone would argue that forcing students to focus on a single person for 45 minutes as they drone on about a topic that holds no interest for students is a bad idea.

But are there specific purposes a lecture can serve? Yep.

When considering whether a lecture might be the right choice for a particular lesson, this resource from the University of Tennessee offers some guidelines. It advises that lecture is a good fit when:

  • The background information is not available or accessible to students
  • The content may be confusing (and therefore need explanation)
  • The teacher’s expertise will help make the material more clear
  • The material needs to be delivered quickly 
10 Ways to Give a Better Lecture

How do you use lectures in your class? Or do you avoid them at all costs?

Respecting Solitude and How Students Work

I finished Susan Cain’s Quiet this week and came away with several notes. Of course, my interest in this book on all things introverts was personal. I’m the introvert’s introvert. Yes, I stand in front of students and teachers every day. And I have given more in-person talks than I can remember, but I pay a price for that work.

I’m more comfortable at home. I curl up with a good book or build something in Minecraft. Both are more comfortable for me than being in front of people. I’m more expressive in my writing than I am while talking. I have time to collect my thoughts, and even now, I still worry about sounding like an idiot when I’m in front of people.

I’m much better in public now than when I was a kid, but I still have to put on my super-suit to make it through the day. And I often come home and collapse from the weight of being around people.

Reacting to the World

Turns out, there’s a reason why introverts like me respond to the world in the way we do. Cain presents research on people who have low- and high-reactive nervous systems. At first glance, you’d think that introverts are low-reactive and extroverts are high-reactive.

My friend, it’s the opposite. Introverts have high-reactive nervous systems. We have visceral reactions to the smallest events. Extroverts are extroverts because they’re looking for external stimulation. They need the excitement.

Introverts? We have plenty of excitement walking out the door in the morning, thank you very much. We don’t need anything else.

Now, put yourself in the place of one of your introverted students. How often do we do things in our schools that will throw this student’s nervous system into chaos?

I often think about why we do so many things in education the same way for every student. Yes, we provide interventions when students aren’t meeting achievement standards. But why do we make them sit in overfilled classrooms when we know some of them would rather be alone or in a small group?

We’re stifling great students by putting them in situations that wreck their world. And sometimes, we keep them from learning all they can.

Photo by Robynne Hu on Unsplash

Group Work isn’t Always the Right Choice

Teachers ask students to collaborate all the time. We’re trained that collaboration makes for great student experiences. And that “we’re better together than we are apart.” I’m the first to admit that I follow that motto when working with students and teachers. Many times we’re right to put folks in groups.

But sometimes we’re not.

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Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, Inc., created the first Apple computer alone. He worked early mornings and late evenings around his job at HP. No workgroup, team, or other souls to talk with about his ideas. But he created the computer that began a revolution.

Musicians, especially professional musicians, know what makes or breaks their careers. It’s not the time they spend practicing with their ensemble. It’s how much time they spend in solitary practice. Great musicians practice around 4 hours a day alone, then practice more with their group.

Students sometimes don’t want to work in groups because they don’t want to do the work. Sometimes, it’s because they know they work well alone.

Flexible Collaboration

What if we allowed students to collaborate as they see the need? How could we design our classrooms and schools to facilitate this option?

We can use tools like instant messaging or chat tools. These tools create spaces where students can share ideas as needed. Jason Fried from 37Signals tells his employees to practice “passive collaboration.” Don’t meet unless you have to do so.

As a matter of fact, Jason tells people to cancel meetings. If you attend the same meetings I do as an educator; you know this is a good idea.

Microsoft has offices that offer sliding doors and removable walls. When appropriate, people can chat with their peers on a project. But then, they have the control to retreat into solitude and work.

closeup photo of body of water in timelapse photo
Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

Getting Into a Flow

Cain speaks about the “flow state” that people enter when they can concentrate and work. I experience this myself often when I’m working. It isn’t easy to get there without planning to do so, but when I can, oh my.

For me, I put on my headphones and crank up a playlist of techno, lo-fi, or some other repetitive music. It’s always in the background but never in the front of my mind. Sometimes I’m like Tim Ferris, and I’ll repeat a movie or TV episode repeatedly.

When do we allow students to get into a flow state? Do we ever? Introverts love to get into this flow state of uninterrupted work. They hate distractions.

Yet, we break it up every 50-60 minutes of every school day. Imagine how frustrating this is for some of your students.

Finding Your Restorative Niche

Your restorative niche is the place you go to rebuild your strength. This holds true for introverts and extroverts alike; their restorative niches look different. It doesn’t have to be a physical place; it can be a mental state of being.

Regardless of what it looks like, our students have restorative niches they need to visit. Many times per day. Likely, you have a restorative niche yourself that you need to visit.

What Now?

I don’t have answers for what I’ve talked about, but I know that we need to be more aware of how we take care of our introverts. Because I’m one of them, I know how terrible my school experience was all those years ago.

Is there a place for collaboration and group work among students and teachers? Yes. Is there also a place for solitude and quiet focus? Yes, and yes.

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