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58 posts categorized "Strategies"

June 12, 2011

Solve This Problem, You'll Learn the Skills Along the Way

Wisconsin STEM Summit I'm in the Wisconsin Dells today to deliver a four-hour training session for CESA 6. It's entitled "21st Century Skills in Action: Project Based Learning in the STEM Classroom."  We'll be using a Turning Point ARS and lots of activities so that participants experience the why, what, and how of PBL in the STEM curriculum.

Students explore their world with an expectation of choice and control that redefines traditional notions of learning and literacy. Educators are discovering that they can motivate students with a PBL approach that engages their students with the opportunity to behave like STEM professionals while solving real-world problems.

I was pleased to read an interesting piece in the NY Times on yesterday's flight. "Computer Studies Made Cool, on Film and Now on Campus" (6/11/11). While the focus is on the growing popularity of computer science, it make a strong case for the project based approach to learning. 

The new curriculums emphasize the breadth of careers that use computer science, as diverse as finance and linguistics, and the practical results of engineering, like iPhone apps, Pixar films and robots, a world away from the more theory-oriented curriculums of the past.

The old-fashioned way of computer science is, ‘We’re going to teach you a bunch of stuff that is fundamental and will be long-lasting but we won’t tell you how it’s applied,’ ” said Michael Zyda, director of the University of Southern California’s GamePipe Laboratory, a new games program in the computer science major. With the rejuvenated classes, freshman enrollment in computer science at the university grew to 120 last year, from 25 in 2006. ...

To hook students, Yale computer science professors are offering freshman seminars with no prerequisites, like one on computer graphics, in which students learn the technical underpinnings of a Pixar movie.
“Historically this department has been very theory-oriented, but in the last few years, we’re broadening the curriculum,” said Julie Dorsey, a professor.

She also started a new major, computing and the arts, which combines computer science with art, theater or music to teach students how to scan and restore paintings or design theater sets.

Professors stress that concentrating on the practical applications of computer science does not mean teaching vocational skills like programming languages, which change rapidly. Instead, it means guiding students to tackle real-world problems and learn skills and theorems along the way.

“Once people are kind of subversively exposed to it, it’s not someone telling you, ‘You should program because you can be an engineer and do this in the future,’ ” said Ms. Fong, the Yale student. “It’s, ‘Solve this problem, build this thing and make this robot go from Point A to Point B,’ and you gain the skill set associated with it.” With other students, she has already founded a Web start-up, the Closer Grocer, which delivers groceries to dorms.

June 07, 2011

Don't Teach Them Facts - Let Student Discover Patterns

4794114114_dd895561bf Develop a classification system - analyze patterns, create a schema, evaluate where specific elements belong. Sounds like a very sophisticated exercise. Not really, young toddlers do it all the time - sorting out their toys and household stuff into groups of their own design. They may not be able to explain their thinking, but hand them another item and watch them purposely place it into one of their groups. They have designed a system.

Humans experience the world in patterns, continually trying to answer the question - what is this? Remembering where we've encountered things before and assessing new items for their similarities and differences. Someone once asked Picasso if it was difficult to draw a face. His reply, "it's difficult not to draw one." We see "faces" everywhere. 

It's unfortunate that student don't get to use their innate perceptual skills more often in the classroom. Instead of discovering patterns on their own, student are "taught" to memorize patterns developed by someone else. Rather than do the messy work of having to figure out what's going on and how to group what they see - students are saddled with graphic organizers which take all the thinking out of the exercise. Filling out a Venn diagram isn't analysis - it's information filing. Instead of being given a variety of math problems to solve that require different problem-solving strategies, students are taught a specific  process then given ten versions of the same problem to solve for homework. No pattern recognition required here - all they have to do is simply keep applying the same procedures to new data sets. Isn't that what spreadsheets are for?

A recent article in the NY Times "Brain Calisthenics Help Break Down Abstract Ideas, Researchers Say" (June 7, 2011) suggest that teachers could benefit from harnessing student pattern recognition powers to deepen their understanding of more abstract principles. 

For years school curriculums have emphasized top-down instruction, especially for topics like math and science. Learn the rules first — the theorems, the order of operations, Newton’s laws — then make a run at the problem list at the end of the chapter. Yet recent research has found that true experts have something at least as valuable as a mastery of the rules: gut instinct, an instantaneous grasp of the type of problem they’re up against. Like the ballplayer who can “read” pitches early, or the chess master who “sees” the best move, they’ve developed a great eye.

Now, a small group of cognitive scientists is arguing that schools and students could take far more advantage of this same bottom-up ability, called perceptual learning. The brain is a pattern-recognition machine, after all, and when focused properly, it can quickly deepen a person’s grasp of a principle, new studies suggest. Better yet, perceptual knowledge builds automatically: There’s no reason someone with a good eye for fashion or wordplay cannot develop an intuition for classifying rocks or mammals or algebraic equations, given a little interest or motivation.

Educators - it's time to stop all the modeling. Get rid of all the canned graphic organizers. Have the courage to be less helpful. Be patient and let students recognize their own patterns. It's messy work, but its where the learning will take place. 

Image  Flickr/ doug88888

April 27, 2011

Prisoner's Dilemma - A Game Theory Simulation

Prisoners-Dilemma

Back in the 1970's I taught a high school social studies course called "War and Peace Studies." 

A recent email exchange reminded me of a simplified version of the Prisoner's Dilemma that I created for use in the classroom. 

The Prisoner's Dilemma is a fundamental exercise in game theory and serves as a great catalyst for discussions about decision making, communications, ethics and responsibility. 

 

First, the classic example of the Prisoner's Dilemma from Wikipedia: 

Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated the prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies for the prosecution against the other (defects) and the other remains silent (cooperates), the defector goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?  

How I adapted for classroom use

Students were divided into two separate locations. (Group A and Group B). Once divided, I managed the game - shuttling between the two rooms. Both groups were given the same goal - "To accumulate as many points as possible without helping or hindering the other group." In practice, I found that the point incentive generally faded away as groups just focused on their perception of "winning."

I ran a series of 10 decision rounds. During each 5 minute round both groups were told make a group decision about the choice one of two colors - red or blue. See results chart below. I did not specify how they were to arrive at the decision within their groups. When each group has completed their decision, I shared results back to each group. As the decision rounds accumulated,  players faced the results of cooperation and betrayal. 

To add another dimension to the dilemma, periodically (after decision rounds 3 and 6) I invited each group to send a negotiator to a neutral location (usually just the hallway). This was the only communication allowed between the groups. Generally each group was divided over both the instruction to give their negotiator ("bluff 'em" vs "make a deal") and how to interpret the negotiator's "report." Sometimes groups even became mistrustful of their own negotiator.

It usually took about 45-50 minutes to set the game up and go through a series of 7-10 rounds with some negotiation breaks. The homework assignment was to write a reflection "What did I learn about myself during the game?" Loads of great discussion the next day with many great applications to history, current events, group process and ethics.  

For great prompts to foster student reflection, see my post "The Reflective Student: The Taxonomy of Reflection.

 

Prisoners-results



April 11, 2011

Putting the Problem First Can Create the Knowledge

Dan-meyer-math As I blogged in my Apollo 13 video post,  Watch Problem Based Learning in Action  "While our students have been conditioned to 'learn the basics - then solve the problem,' that's not how life always works." 

Here's a great 4-minute video by Dan Meyer that gives three examples of how to bring real-life problem scenarios into the math classroom.  To paraphrase Dan, "In these examples student have to first ask the question - what information do I need to solve this problem? The textbook usually gives you that information. But here students build the problem and decide what matters. The question that's usually buried at the bottom - it's the last thing in the textbook problem - now becomes the first thing in the student's mind. I want to make that question "irresistible" to the student, so they have to know the answer."  For more great ideas on how "math makes sense of the world" - go to Dan's blog dy/dan

March 09, 2011

Kids Explain 4 Strategies for Making Math Come Alive

During this summer program students entering eighth grade were coached by an intern in ways to investigate and talk about the math in their lives.  Here's the 4 strategies the students used: 

Math-alive 1. Look for math in real life - Nic ponders the permutations in picking out his clothes. 
2. Frame your experiences as word problems - Shanice eagerly monitors price changes in a coat she wants to buy. (Spoiler alert: she gets it!)
3. Try out different ways to solve problems. Nik crafts a way to determine his baseball batting average.
4. Explain and share your thinking. Shaniece describes what they do when one them gets stuck on a problem.

Watch the video to hear what they discovered in their own words. "I see math when I'm walking down the street.... I see math in myself."

For more information on the project click here.

Hat tip to Matt Karlsen

March 03, 2011

How to Use Web 2.0 to Teach Literacy Strategies to Struggling Readers

Young-blogger

This week I'm heading out to work with intermediate (grade 4-6) teachers on strategies to assist struggling readers. We'll focus on three core skill area - defining, summarizing and comparing using my guide to "18 Strategies for Struggling Readers." Plus I'll introduce some great websites that they can use with the strategies - the new digital literacy meets the old text literacy. 

 

There are two key elements in each skill area that can help students construct meaning and build background knowledge. 

Defining

  • Before the formal definition has been introduced, students should be asked to make connections between their prior knowledge and the term.
  • After the term has been defined, students need activities to more deeply process the term. The focus should be on descriptions, not definitions

Summarizing

  • Students should be asked to make their own judgments about what’s important to them (instead of just repeating the details the teacher highlights).
  • Students will be able to more readily summarize, if they are asked to share what they’ve learned with an audience other than the teacher. They need use a text structure to organize their thinking. 

Comparing

  • Students should develop the comparison, not simply repeat the model that we present to them.
  • Student should be asked to share what they learned from the comparison. They need use a text structure to organize their thinking.

I've selected some Web 2.0 sites that will enable students to use the strategies in a variety online settings. I've picked free sites that have easy learning curves.  For example, we will use One Word to negotiate meaning through images, explore summarizing text structures with Five Card Flickr and design comparisons with Wordle and Books nGram Viewer.

Working with words

  1. Explore word frequency with Wordle
  2. Search published works with Google Books Ngram Viewer
  3. Foster writing skills with One Word writing prompts
  4. Expand vocabulary and word choice with TelescopicText 

Working with words and images

  1. Create mindmaps and graphic organizers with Bubbl.us  
  2. Drag and drop words to create poem based on a photo with Pic-Lits
  3. Foster visual thinking and creative writing with Five Card Flickr 

Kid-friendly search sites

  1. SweetSites
  2. Ask Kids

 

For more ways to use Web 2.0 sites in the classroom
download a free PDF at my post
"87 Free Web 2.0 Projects For the K-12 Classroom"

 

Image credit flickr/Mike Licht

 

February 06, 2011

Eight Look 4s When Observing a Classroom: What the Teacher Teaches - What the Students Learn

School desk I rarely quote at length from a blog or news article, but I think this time I'll break my rule. I first met Mel Riddile a few years ago when we co-presented at a conference. Since then we stay in touch via Twitter and by following each others' blogs. Mel blogs on policy and practice for NAASP at The Principal Difference and tweets at @PrincipalDiff

His recent blog post "Tests: Will they improve learning?" is a thoughtful response to the recent Science Journal study that concluded that "practicing retrieval produces greater gains in meaningful learning than elaborative studying."

 

Mel does a good job of putting the research into the context of the classroom, but the segment I wanted to quote is his closing section -  "Look 4s for School Leaders." It's a succinct guide for principals, instructional leaders and can be used as reflective prompts by teachers.  Put these in your toolkit! 

(Note: They're also a great companion to my post "Observing a Classroom? Watch the Students, Not the Teacher") 

Look 4s for School Leaders

  1. Closure and Learning - The focus of instruction is not what teacher teaches but what the students learn. The close of every lesson should focus on what the learner has learned not what the teacher has taught. The question is how does the teacher know that the students have learned and mastered the lesson unless there is some type of formative assessment--quiz, test, or activity.
  2. Remembering - The only evidence of learning is remembering. When observing a lesson ask yourself how does the teacher know that students will remember what they just learned?
  3. Checks for Understanding - Teachers should pause frequently during a lesson to check for understanding. How frequently? As a rule of thumb, teachers should check students understanding approximately every fifteen minutes, which approximates the attention span of the average adolescent. According to the Science study, one of the most effective checks for understanding is the quiz used as a formative assessment. Teachers can pause and ask students to write a summary or take a brief quiz on what they just learned. Immediately re-teaching a concept to a classmate may also be used to test practice retrieval.
  4. Timing is critical - When it comes to recall, tomorrow is too late. Teachers need to check for student understanding before students leave the classroom each day.
  5. Feedback - "Feedback is the breakfast of champions." Unless students practice recall (retrieval) and get immediate feedback they will not remember.
  6. Defined Instructional Practices - Some students absolutely need a highly structured classroom room environment characterized by identifiable instructional practices, smaller units of instruction, more frequent assessments, coupled with frequent and immediate feedback. However, students who can function equally as well in low or highly structured classrooms are not penalized in any way by the use of structure. In other words, when in doubt, use a more structured approach.
  7. Formative Assessments - How often should students be assessed? How frequently students are assessed or asked to practice retrieval depends on their familiarity with the content and the student's level of mastery. When students are introduced to new content or when they are struggling with a particular concept, they should be assessed more frequently. For example, the skills of proficient and advanced readers need only be assessed annually, while students reading at the basic level or below basic need to be assessed regularly. Frequent assessments mean more feedback. A quiz or summary essay at the close of a lesson will do more for student recall than extensive homework assignments.
  8. Mapping - Instructional strategies like "concept mapping" are effective, but they work better if they are used as part of "practice retrieval." The act of creating a "concept map" in and of itself does not improve learning unless the student makes use of the map as a part of the "practice retrieval" process. Teachers should show students how to use the concept maps to review for a test and not assume that the students know how to do so.

Image credit flickr/mecredis

 

January 20, 2011

Forget the Graphic Organizers, Does Taking Tests Help You Learn?

Learning-through-testing This should stir things up!

A New York Times story "Test-Taking Cements Knowledge Better Than Studying, Researchers Say" (January 21, 2011) reports...

 

Graph: NY Times

 

"Taking a test is not just a passive mechanism for assessing how much people know, according to new research. It actually helps people learn, and it works better than a number of other studying techniques.

The research, published online Thursday in the journal Science, found that students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods.

One of those methods - repeatedly studying the material - is familiar to legions of students who cram before exams. The other - having students draw detailed diagrams documenting what they are learning - is prized by many teachers because it forces students to make connections among facts.

These other methods not only are popular, the researchers reported; they also seem to give students the illusion that they know material better than they do."  More

January 07, 2011

The Student As Historian - DBQ Resources and Strategies

New woman-wash day Over the last few weeks I've been guiding teams of teachers on reflective classroom walkthroughs. During the course of one of our "hallway discussions" I asked a social studies teacher, "who's the historian in your classroom?" After a bit of give and take, we concluded that in the traditional classroom, the students get to watch (and listen) to the teacher be historian. 

That's certainly what you would have seen early in my teaching career. I was the one doing most of the reading, reflecting and synthesizing of historic material. I thought my job was to distill it all and simplify for consumption by my students. It took me a few years to realize my job was to get the students to do the thinking.  I have spent my career developing teaching strategies and assembling resources that foster the student as historian. 

This downloadable SlideShare accompanies my workshop in “Teaching with Documents.” Don't think of it as a presentation. It's a online guide to resources and includes strategy illustrations from my workshop.

Link to presentation at SlideShare The Student As Historian

Image "The new woman - wash day"(1901) 
Library of Congress  cph 3b22851

January 05, 2011

Work, Culture and Society in Industrial America: Teaching History With DBQs

Election-day

Questions feature a selection of primary and secondary documents, graphics, cartoons, tables, and graphs. Each is keyed to a historic theme and focused on an essential question of enduring relevance. They provide students with the exciting opportunity to move beyond the passive absorption of facts and enter knowledgeably into a managed archive where they can bring sound historic perspectives and analysis to bear on the challenges of the past and opportunities for the future.

More DBQ blog posts
My site Teaching with Documents.  

The Industrial Revolution began in Western Europe and eventually spread across much of the world. It transformed humanity's age-old struggle with material scarcity by using capital, technology, resources, and management to expand the production of goods and services dramatically. In the United States, the period between the Civil War and the end of the nineteenth century was one of tremendous industrial and commer cial expansion. Americans have long had faith in the idea of progress, and many people viewed this dramatic economic growth as evidence of the superiority of the American system.

But while increased production did improve the American standard of living, industrialization concentrated great wealth and power in the hands of a few captains of industry. For the thousands of Americans who actually worked in the new factories, however, this economic revo lution often meant long hours, low wages, and dangerous working conditions. As economic growth increasingly touched every aspect of American society, then, it created both new opportunities and new social problems. 

Cream separator

Rural Americans Move to the Cities: explore the world of the rural men and women who moved to the cities in search of a better life. (pdf format)

Progress and Poverty in Industrial America:  explore the impact of an economic revolution on rich and poor Americans. (pdf format)

Re-Defining the Role of Women in Industrial America: explore the ways social and economic progress impacted the role of women. (pdf format)

Images:
Election Day by CW Guslin, 1909
Sears Catalogue 1908 

January 04, 2011

17 Document Based and Constructed Response Questions For Elementary Students (DBQ CRQ)

These questions are designed to give elementary students guided practice in working with primary and secondary source material. They target grades 2 - 6 and address a variety of common social studies topics. DBQ's and CRQs help prepare students to do the work of historians and social scientists. For more of my posts for using DBQs in the elementary and secondary classroom click here. Hat tip to Kate Gillan, former K-8 Social Studies Director at East Irondequoit CSD and all the district teachers who produced this fine series of DBQ's and CRQ's.

Dbq-crq

Document Based Questions

Gr 2 Local History
Gr 3 Communities
Gr 3 Transportation
Gr 4 Colonial Period
Gr 4 Roles of Women
Gr 5 Civil War
Gr 5 The Iroquois
Gr 5 Government
Gr 5 Immigration
Gr 6 Classical Period
Gr 6 Eastern Religion

Constructed Response Questions

Grade 3 World Communities-1 
Grade 3 World Communities-2
Grade 3 Maps
Grade 4 New York State History
Grade 5 Rainforests
Grade 6 Series

Image credit: Peter Pappas

December 17, 2010

How To Quantify Culture? Explore 500 Billion Published Words With Google's Books Ngram Viewer

By now you must be aware that Google has been busy digitizing books - over 5 million are now available for free download and search. Recently Google Labs has made public a giant database of of names, words and phrases found in those books (along with the years they appeared). It consists of the 500 billion words contained in scanned books published between 1500 and 2008 in English, French, Spanish, German, Chinese and Russian. 

Google Labs has just posted the "Books Ngram Viewer" - a free online research tool that allows you to quickly analyze the frequency of names, words and phrases -and when they appeared in the digitized books. You type in words and / or phrases (separated by comma), set the date range, and click "Search lots of books" - instantly you get the results. Note: when "smoothing" is set to "0" the results will show raw data. Using a higher number produces an average - example "4" will give you four year running averages that will more readily display trends. 

In this graph I searched "horse, carriage, canal, train, steamship, bicycle, car, airplane" and set the date range to 1800 - 2000.  Link to this transport graph at Books Ngram Viewer The results offer some insights into when these new transportation terms found their way into print. 

Transport-1

I think Books Ngram Viewer has many interesting applications in the classroom. The first that comes to mind, is as tool to introduce the research method - form hypothesis, gather and analyze data, revise hypothesis (as needed), draw conclusions, assess research methods. Working in teams students can easily pose research questions, run the data, revise and assess their research strategy. Students can quickly make and test predictions. They can then present and defend their conclusions to other classroom groups. 

Using the Ngram viewer, will enable students to discover many insights which will require revisions to their research strategies - a great way to explore word usage, social context and statistics. Words have multiple meanings. In my transport example "car" appears in the graph long before the advent of the automobile. Was it used as railroad car? In contrast to newspapers, events and trends take time to find their way into books. "Pearl Harbor" does not reach a peak until 1945.

The frequency of occurrence scale is important (vertical Y-axis.) If you graph a high frequency word against a low frequency word(s), the low is reduced to a flat line at the base of the scale. (Abraham Lincoln and Marilyn Monroe) Remove the high frequency (Abraham Lincoln) and re-run the graph - the low frequency (Marilyn Monroe) will appear with more detail. For more specifics on how to search, click here.

[nGram even includes a "Rickrolling" Easter Egg.
Search for "
never gonna give you up"]

Update: Hat tip to Jean-Baptiste Michel of the nGram team who emailed me "In English, the data is good in 1800-2000, but not really before or after. Past that date, it looks like the composition of the corpus is changing; trends would indicate a shift in the corpus, not a shift in the underlying culture. So really, one shouldn't look at data past 2000 in English."

There are so many new free online tools that allow students to visualize and present information in new ways. For example,  see my post "Build Literacy Skills with Wordle." Let's start to collect classroom ideas for Books Ngram Viewer. If you find some interesting uses in the classroom, please post them as comment (with links). Here's a few more graphs to get you thinking.  Need ideas for nGrams? Click here.

Analyze societal values: "ex wife, ex husband"  
 Changing laws and social values?
Watch the change in the Y-axis scale - add "my ex" to the original graph.

Ex-1

Track trends: "latte, sushi, taco"
Link to graph 
Are these new food fads?

Latte-1

November 01, 2010

Need an Election Lesson? Let Student Gerrymander Like a Politician

The_GerryMander Most history and government students learn about Gerrymandering - the re-drawing to legislative districts to favor a specific political party. Gerrymandering at Wikipedia.

The 2010 elections will have a major impact on the shape of congressional and state legislative district across the country. Instead of simply telling your students about the impact of the elections - why not give them the chance to gerrymander their own district. 

Link to Gerrymandering lesson

I used this lesson for years with my students and they came up with some remarkable legislative districts that varied greatly based on which party they   were trying to promote. And of course they developed their own understanding of the process, political implications and meaning of gerrymandering.

For more of my history and social studies lessons click here. Let your students be the historian with document based questions

Image from Wikipedia  -  First printed in March 1812, this political cartoon was drawn in reaction to the state senate electoral districts drawn by the Massachusetts legislature to favor the Democratic-Republican Party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists. 

October 28, 2010

Watch Problem Based Learning in Action: Apollo 13

This fall I've had the opportunity to lead many teachers on classroom walkthroughs in schools across the country. My approach is a "roving Socratic seminar" that uses brief glimpses of learning as a discussion starter for educators to reflect on their craft. For more on my walk through technique see my blog post  "Teacher-Led Professional Development: Using Classroom Walk Throughs"

One topic that always comes up on walkthroughs is something to the effect "... but don't you have to teach the basics first,  before you can expect students to be able to think at higher levels?" There's a persistent assumption that Bloom's taxonomy is a one-way street. Analysis, evaluation and creation can only take place after a solid foundation of basics have been "installed" into the student's knowledge base.

While our students have been conditioned to "learn the basics - then solve the problem," that's not how life always works. Most often we are confronted with problems that force us to go back and discover underlying foundational elements. Car won't start... now what? 

Watch an infant getting into everything in the kitchen and you'll realize that  kids are flexible learners, capable of moving fluidly between the basics and the problem. Every time our students play a new video game they confront a new environment with a unique set of interactions constrained by rules. Most often they have to discover how the game is played in a manner that mimics the scientific method - developing and testing hypothesis against their growing understanding of rules, functions, obstacles, rewards that underly the process of the game. Problem first, then basics.

When designing a lesson, teachers need remember that Bloom's taxonomy is not a one-way street. It has multiple pathways and entry points - knowledge can be put into practice in a problem and a problem can be used to generate a body of knowledge. 

Need a good example of problem-based learning in action? Use this scene from "Apollo 13" as your walkthrough discussion starter. As you watch the clip think about the interaction of the problem and the basics.

  • Situation: An explosion forced the crew to shut down the command module and use the lunar module as a "lifeboat." 
  • Problem: They needed to jury-rig a carbon dioxide filtering system for the lunar module.
  • Understanding the basics: What's available aboard the space craft and how can it be used to modify the filtering system? 

September 29, 2010

Analyzing the History of the Bicycle: A Prezi DBQ

Prezi-DBQ

Click here to go the Prezi.
Then click “More” to view full screen. Use arrows at base of Prezi to navigate forward and back through a predefined path. Or use your mouse to explore and zoom the Prezi. Click on hyperlinks in the Prezi to more information about the historic bicycles.
For a PDF version of the Prezi click here.

I'm pleased to have been invited by the educators at the Smithsonian Institution to do a guest blog post using museum resources. It's a great opportunity to illustrate a question that I often pose to educators – when do we stop modeling for students and free them to take responsibility for their learning? For example, the document-based approach (DBQ) can be a great way for students to “be the historian,” but too often we “over curate” the historic material we share with students. When that happens, the teacher is the active historian and the student is merely a passive recipient of information. For more on that subject see my post: Essential Question: Who is the Teacher in Your Classroom? All across the curriculum, students are told to “analyze” material, but their thinking is constrained by the mandated Venn diagram or T-chart. Developing a comparative schema is messy work – but that's where the learning takes place. When the student fills out the teacher's Venn diagram, they aren't analyzing, their filing information into predefined locations. 

Of course, students do need proper scaffolding. Opportunities to learn different analytic models – cause / effect, problem / solution, sequencing, continuity / change. It makes sense to provide them some graphic organizers to help master the models. But at some point, you must turn them loose and give them the chance to explore, discover, create. Put another way, if your entire class comes back with the same comparative analysis – you did the thinking, they didn't.

Zoe with Electra I was attracted to the Smithsonian Bicycle collection for two reasons. From an academic perspective, the images of historic bicycles could be analyzed by students without a great deal of background knowledge. My lesson provides a minimum of explanation and gives students more opportunities to develop their own model of how bicycles and bicycle culture evolved over time. On the personal side, much of the year, I live in Portland Oregon –  heartland of the urban bike culture. We don't own a car, but rely on our bikes, walking and public transport. (That's me with granddaughter Zoe on my Electra Townie bike). 

Some of my photographs of contemporary bikes are from Portland, where creative types continue to evolve new designs. I've been using Prezi on my blog and in my presentations since it was launched. For many years I've been an advocate of the DBQ. This is my first attempt to combine the two. 

Step 1: Choosing the Analytic Approach Students need experience using a variety of analytic approaches. Continuity and change is a perspective that has a central role in historic/chronological thinking and it can be used in other disciplines across the curriculum. In this lesson, students are given images of historic bicycles with a minimal amount of supporting text. Starting with concrete observations, students look for patterns of change and continuity (elements that changed, e.g., size / number of wheels, speed, stability and those that remained relatively constant , e.g., human powered, seated posture, need for brakes).  Finally, they are asked develop a way to express what they’ve learned. This gives them an audience other than their teacher.

7 dad-son Step 2: Making It Relevant To make learning relevant and set the stage for self-reflection, students need the opportunity to explore their own approaches. For this reason, I don’t provide a graphic organizer. That would mean that I, not the students, did the analysis. This opened-ended assignment invites students to develop their own graphic or narrative model to express what they’ve learned. Another aspect of relevance is authentic audience and purpose. Therefore I recommend that students be asked to think of how they would share their continuity/change model with younger students.

 

At left: Man astride "1882 Columbia Expert" with son?

 

Step 3: Making It Rigorous Students should begin by focusing on the lower level comprehension skills (What am I looking at? What materials were used? How were bicycles propelled and steered?) Next they can move to higher level skills.

  • Analysis – What patterns do I see in the bicycles – construction, design, features, uses? What elements do they share in common? How do they differ?
  • Evaluation – In my own judgment, what elements are changing? Which are staying the same? 
  • Creating – What have I learned about continuity and change in the history of the bicycle? How can I represent what I’ve learned to share with others? Should I use a graphic organizer? Flow chart? Time line? Diagram? Narrative?

Step 4: Encouraging Students to Reflect On Their Learning Students that have the opportunity to explore their own approaches have a learning experience that can be a basis for reflection. Since they will likely develop different analytic models than their classmates, they have a chance to compare and learn from each others’ conclusions. When asked to develop a way to explain their model to younger peers, students can reflect on how their model suits their audience and purpose. For reflective prompts you can use with your students see my Taxonomy of Reflection.

Step 5: Taking It Further These possible activity extensions can encourage students to think more about bicycles continuity, and change.

  • Consider how contemporary bicycles fit your continuity / change model, e.g., recumbent, mountain, fixed gear.
  • Design a bicycle
  • Apply the continuity / change model in another subject or discipline – fashion, architecture, musical styles, advertising, fictional characters… I could go on, but I hope you see the potential for learning.
  • Technology extension – Student could also be invited to view the world’s public photography archives at the Flickr Commons with a search by bicycle.They could help describe the photographs they discover by adding tags or leaving comments. The collection includes works from the Smithsonian and other leading international photographic archives.