The incredible abundance of information available to us today comes with an important caveat. For all the helpful and accurate information that exists, there is at least that much that is less accurate or even purposefully misleading. It’s not just the internet, either. The media, politicians, unions, even schools make heavy use of data and information that supports their goals and ideals. A critical skill is the ability to look carefully at the reams of data and information that comes our way and be able to see biases, misinformation, correlations that don’t make sense, etc. In other words, to be information literate. There are a number of well-established internet resources that are helpful tools for teaching information literacy. The Pacific Tree Octopus, with it’s convincing testimonials and archival images, is a great conversation starter. All About Explorers poses as a legitimate page about world explorers of the past, but it is filled with often hilarious bits of information such as the statement that William Clark “…when he was 9, Clark was in fact reprimanded by Lewis’s father regarding a suspicious pile of watermelon seeds near the Lewis’s yard gnome.” Students can spend hours dissecting the site’s “facts” and figures.
Add the new site, Spurious Correlations to the toolbox. A law student at Harvard designed the site to teach people about statistics. Specifically, it is a lesson in the concept, “Correlation does not equal causation.” The graph from the site below shows the shocking correlation between cheese and engineering PhDs.
I was also surprised to know that precipitation in Texas is linked to the number of female editors at the Harvard Law Review. Note to Harvard: Hire more women editors–we need the rain!
This type of data could be used as a part of a series of mini-lessons on information literacy. Students could argue the validity of any correlations, then conduct tests or research to determine whether or not the two are related events. It could also be a part of a writing activity on persuasive writing.
What are your thoughts? Are there other resources you are using to promote this type of critical thinking? Love to hear from you!
Many folks still don’t realize that the browser they are using at this very moment is designed to be customized. Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, even Internet Explorer–all have some really cool and powerful add-ons (called extensions) that do countless things, from blocking annoying popups to checking spelling to making sites more easily readable for people with visual impairments. You name it, there is probably an extension for it. As a way of an introduction, I thought I’d share a screenshot of my own Chrome toolbar and the extensions that reside there currently (It’s a fluid list.). More Chrome extensions can be found here, and Firefox extensions here.
In the latest edition of the Moss-Free Show, I decided to show off some local talent. Ric Camacho is a great teacher at Mercer-Bloomberg Learning Center, our district’s alternative high school. Ric decided to give digital storytelling a try with his students this year, many of whom are kids who might struggle with a traditional high school setting. He was kind enough to talk about his experience and the kids’ responses to publishing their writing in such a rich, creative way.
After an inexcusably long delay, I am back with another, fresh 2-Minute Tech Challenge. Before I am called out publicly, I openly acknowledge that this “2-Minute Tech Challenge” is, in fact, 2:43 seconds. I apologize for the false advertising. I do hope it is worth the extra investment, though. This Challenge focuses on an “old” tool that I’ve been using for several years: Slideshare.net. Slideshare is a great tool for hosting and sharing your PowerPoints. It makes them available to kids, parents, anyone in the world 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can share links to your individual shows or profile page, shows can be embedded in places like your existing class page, discussions can be held through the comments feature, and more. Watch the Challenge, then post your response in the comments below to get your credit. Enjoy!
As the 2010-2011 school year comes to a close, I wanted to reflect on the technologies that have had the biggest impact on teaching and learning this year in our district. Some are primarily teaching tools, while others have had a huge impact on the way kids learn and demonstrate their learning. In no particular order…
iPad & iPod Touch. I’ve owned an iPod Touch for sometime now (1st generation), and I love the device. Still, the first time I got my hands on aniPad, I was somewhat, but not overly impressed. It was shiny and from Apple, something I am admittedly susceptible to as an official cult member. However, the earliest apps I tried were somewhat less than dazzling. What turned my opinion quickly 180° was what I observed when I took the iPad home and put it in the hands of my then 6- and 9-year old children. The little digital natives snatched it eagerly and set off to exploring, needing no instructions from their digital immigrant father. They navigated, opened, and mastered apps with incredible ease and enthusiasm. A similar experience has occurred in an increasing number of classrooms in Birdville, and schools are using Title 1 and grant funds to add the powerful tools as viable solutions in an economic climate that makes traditional computers (and their pricy software, especially) less so. As an elementary computer, especially, there is nothing out there as perfectly suited. As an example, my first grade teacher wife uses 2 iPads in her literacy program. Students read along with interactive Dr. Suess books (and others), practice writing words and constructing sentences, test their spelling knowledge, and create stories. Her only lament is that she has just the two, and she has plans to add more as soon as possible. Oh, and I should mention that the apps have become more amazing, as developers have figured out the best ways to take advantage of the iDevices’ capabilities.
Interactive Whiteboards. Some in the educational technology world lament (even loath) the use of IWBs as being too teacher-centric, proposing that money would be better spent on student devices. While they make strong points in support of their case, such an argument stems from the misguided belief that the teacher should never be the central focal point of the classroom. Reality is quite different, and there is a vital role for teachers to play, at times, as the “expert” sharing knowledge. It also fails to recognize the ways IWBs can be used by students as active participants in lessons, simulations, games, etc. In Birdville, the numbers of IWBs is currently fairly small but growing, with at least 4 elementary schools now having them in every classroom, and numerous other campuses making plans for similar implementation. Teachers frequently say that the boards have increased attention and engagement, and that they have become critical tools used every school day.
Cellphones. This technology continues to be controversial, but it’s impact in many classrooms is beyond debate. Teachers are taking advantage of the ever-increasing numbers of students coming to school equipped with pocket-sized computers more powerful than what was on our desktops just a few years ago. They are already Internet-capable and have text-messaging abilities, offering another tool for communication. And, as an added benefit, today’s phones have still and video cameras that exceed most of the available cameras from only a few years back. These features make cellphones useful for information gathering, communication, collaboration, and creativity. The knock on cellphones in our district continues to be their role as a disruptive force, as students in many cases have yet to discern what appropriate, educational use looks like. Because of that, many teachers still ban their appearance in their classrooms. Still, the numbers of teachers embracing their use is steadily growing. For more information on our efforts, visit our mobile devices blog.
Blended Classrooms/Online Learning. Birdville has had online courses for several years now. These were typically the traditional, 100% online type, however. More recently, we are experiencing a steady growth in the numbers of teachers who are finding ways to take traditional, campus-based courses into the online world. Tools being used range from district-hosted Moodle servers to online resources such as Edmodo and Facebook. Students engage in discussions, download notes and assignments, view teacher-created videos or playlists, and more.
Web 2.0. This overlaps a little with the category above, but it is much broader. The biggest distinction here is the way that our students’ use of Web 2.0 has enabled them to created endless amounts of content on the Internet. Students are telling stories, using tools like Storybird, VoiceThread, and Animoto. They are collaborating using tools such as Wallwisher, Todaysmeet, and Google Docs. Wikis and blogs are giving students the opportunity to share their knowledge and their writing skills with an authentic audience, adding meaningfulness and motivation to their learning. YouTube is being embraced as a tool for creativity, sharing classroom/campus events, and knowledge-gathering. What is truly exciting is that such tools are really no longer seen as novelties. Rather, they are becoming as commonplace as pencils or textbooks in many of our classrooms.
Several recent opportunities to work with groups of teachers in the past couple of weeks has prompted this post. An issue that is important for teachers and students to understand is copyright law. This is particularly true as they engage their students in creating so many marvelous digital products, many of which will be shared online. I’ve heard a couple of common statements/questions repeatedly:
If something isn’t marked as copyrighted, is it copyrighted?
Can I use something if I bought it (e.g. music from a purchased CD or download)?
The answer to the first question is “yes”. Original published works don’t have to have a copyright statement to be copyrighted. The answer to the second is “maybe”, depended upon several factors and multiple legal opinions. It is fairly clear, though, that using a large part or all of a song, even if purchased, is not acceptable without permission from its publisher or creator.
Fortunately, there are so many resources that are acceptable, teachers and students don’t have to consult with lawyers in order to find usable resources. Many are available online, and, by simply using the advanced search features of Google and other search engines, it is easy to determine which ones are okay to use. Let’s use a Google search for images of “the Alamo” as an example. This search returned a whopping 2.7 MILLION images, the majority of which have copyrights that protect them from reuse. Now, click on the Advanced Search link. Scroll down the page and find the line labelled Usage Rights. Click the dropdown menu and select Labelled for Reuse.
Google Advanced Search
Click the Google Search button in the upper right. The results now are reduced to 154, but all have been specifically licensed by their creators for use by others. Each source may have specific limitations, which can usually be found listed on their respective pages. Most often, they simply require a citation. The same process can provide useable results from a general Google web search. Yahoo! offers a similar search feature.
In addition to advanced search tools, there are numerous sites that offer a range of media that is permissible for use in student projects. I’ve listed just a tiny sampling below, to get things started. Many more can be found by simply searching for public domain or Creative Commons sources online. The critical thing is to raise our students’ awareness of the importance of obeying the laws and to equip them with the tools to do so easily.