Category Archives: Professional Development

Work Smarter, Not Harder: Setting Objectives

by Annie Palmer of Breaking Education Barriers

One of the challenges with professional development and improved instruction is there is an ever-present environment of new ideas.  While most teaching accept the fact that education is ever-changing, and it should for the most part, it does make it hard to focus in on high-yield instructional strategies when there is always the “latest and greatest” strategy. So, what’s the answer to this challenge; it is simple, work smarter, not harder.

A few years ago I took part in a consortium with Debra Pickering, who is a part of the Marzano Research Laboratory.  As a  part of this consortium, we had to conduct an action research on one of Robert Marzano’s nine high-leverage instructional strategies. I chose the strategy of setting objectives, because this one caused the most doubt in my mind about how much it could really improve student achievement. Prior to this action research, I obviously set objectives for my class—while writing my lesson plans, but I do not think I effectively shared those objectives with the class.  They were shared, just not in a clear and focused manner.  After conducting the action research with a fifth-grade unit on early American settlements, my doubt of the effectiveness of this strategy was diminished.  I was pleasantly surprised about how much more focused the students were.  There are so many tangents one can go off on when teaching American history (especially when you have a passion for it as I do), but setting objectives at the beginning of each lesson and re-visiting them at the end of each lesson not only made learning intentions clear to students, it helped me keep my instruction focused where it needed to be.  There was a clear difference in test scores with my experimental group as compared to my control group.

It is now a few years later and I am reading John Hattie’s Visible Learning.  First of all, I highly recommend this book for any teacher who is wanting to step up their game.  Hattie’s book is a meta-analyses of meta-analyses, which basically means he compared results of thousands of studies.  He expands on the importance of learning intentions (ie setting objectives).  Teacher clarity is tenth on his list of top strategies/approach to education that has the highest affect on student achievement. While reading this book, I realized that I had lost sight of this since doing my action research. So, I have refocused my efforts on making learning intentions clear to my students (and myself!) and, it is no surprise, that our learning is once again more focused and students seem more appreciative that they are not overwhelmed with trying to master every bit of information I throw at them.

The bigger lesson learned for me and the lesson I hope you take away from this: the key to professional development is not always learning more (aka doing more), it is working smarter.  Education is, and should be constantly changing, but there are research-based strategies that have been proven time and again to be effective.  Focus on those strategies as opposed to the newest latest and greatest strategies that promise to transform your teaching.

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Augmented Reality In The Classroom: Aurasma

Submission by Charles Cooper and Jill Compher

The simplest and most fundamental of elements in any sphere of knowledge seem to be the most difficult to explain.  The fundamental may be basic, but it is also the foundation upon which more complex things rest upon.  The atomic is difficult to qualify or quantify because qualities and quantities are based on those essentials.  Most of us can’t imagine, for example, our classrooms without certain crucial tools like electricity, our computers, or that bottle of Tylenol taped to the bottom of our desks. We would like to introduce you to your next crucial tool…Enter: Aurasma (key dramatic music).

Aurasma BB

Aurasma is a game changing app for Apple and Droid products that we absolutely LOVE.  Once you see it in action, ideas will fly out of you so quickly you may want to stop reading now and get something to write with.  The complexity of its application is completely up to how much you want to integrate this app in your lessons.  It is simple to use, but adds so much to your classroom experience.

Originally, Aurasma was developed as an advertising app to add POP to boring paper media advertisements.  If you go to their “campaign” site you’ll see the various companies involved with this project.  Because it was developed first in England, Aurasma is hitting its stride in Europe.  Organizations like the Tottenham Hotspur and Mercedes are using this app to really hook customers.   It has slowly been making its way into the United States.  Recently, Marvel Comics, GQ, HP, and the Rolling Stones have incorporated this augmented reality app into their arsenal of marketing efforts.

Aurasma is a free app that allows the user to tag an image with additional layers of information.  These additional layers can consist of audio, video, or image files. Just like the advertising efforts mentioned above, this app can really draw students into any upcoming or current lesson.  For example, a poster of Abraham Lincoln can be brought to life by layering audio of the reading of the Gettysburg Address, a scene from a Civil War documentary, or a still image related to the Lincoln Presidency.  At this point you may be thinking isn’t that what a “QR Code” does?  Nope!

QR codes are disembodied portals to a destination.  A QR code usually distracts from the image it is layered upon.  Aurasma, however, IS the image.  It allows the operator to use a picture, already useful and full of information, as the portal itself.  This picture then leads to additional information, examples, or interactive documents (via Google Docs, to name one source) that continue the lesson or open it up to higher level prompts or assignments.  A QR code is essentially limited to a single destination point.  With an Aurasma “studio” account (free) you can layer a video on top of ol’ Honest Abe.  Double tap the screen of your device while the video is playing to make it full screen.  Then, with a single tap to the screen the app can send you to a second destination like another video, a website, or an educational platform like Moodle, Angel, or Blackboard (or your very own blog).

Watch this video to see the process in action.

There is only one minor limitation to this app from our experience.  You must establish a “channel” and have other users follow you in order for outsider to have access to your “auras”.  If you tag a political party’s logo with a video of how off-base their political views are, Aurasma will pull up only the tagged video you uploaded.  This delivery system is similar to Twitter in the sense that you only get the messages from people you follow on Twitter.  If multiple people or companies layer a video on that same image, only the videos of the channels you are following will appear.  We’re not sure what happens when multiple channels tag a single image with their own videos, but up to this point, this has not been an issue.

We have incorporated the many uses of Aurasma into a bulletin board that demonstrates its power.  We used Bloom’s Taxonomy as our frame and attached multiple examples from various disciplines.  So, if you are a newcomer to technology in the classroom use Aurasma on Bloom’s Knowledge Level, but if you’re a pro looking to put some pop in your lessons you may want to use Aurasma to target Bloom’s Synthesis Level.

There are two options when creating auras via Aurasma.  You can create and store them in the “private” section or the “public” section.  You will find below instructions for making a “public” aura.  Auras must be public and connected to a channel students are subscribed to for classroom use.

  1. Once you download Aurasma (for free) and register it.  You will press the “A” icon at the bottom of the screen.
  2. You will see a “+” icon at the bottom of this screen.  Press this to create a new aura.
  3. There is a library of preloaded 3-d images and videos you can use or you can create your own.  Let’s assume you want to create your own.  So, next press “device”.
  4. In the upper left hand corner you’ll see a large purple “+”.  Press that.
  5. You can take a new video or image by choosing “Camera”, you can upload a previously taken image or video by choosing “photo album”, or you can upload images or videos from the internet by choosing “blinkx”.  Just for brevities sake, let’s choose a still image you already have on your device.  Press “photo album”.
  6. Once you pick your image or video, you will be given the option to name it.
  7. You will then be prompted with the question “Would you like to create an Aura?”  Choose “ok”.
  8. The “Aura” screen will appear.  The next image you capture will be your “trigger image”.  When Aurasma sees this image, your overlay will appear.  So find something around you that has enough detail for the spectrum indicator at the bottom to move to the “green” side.  This lets you know that Aurasma can “see” it.
  9. Take the picture and Aurasma will give you a preview of your final product.  Push the “>” button to move on.
  10. Name your project.  You have the choice to make it public or private here as well as whether you want to add it to a channel or not.  Remember, channels are how your followers will access your “Auras”, otherwise these are accessible only to you on your device.  For classroom use, choose “public” and add to your classroom channel.
  11. Finally, Aurasma will let you know when your “Aura” is ready to go!  All that is left is to try out your new Aura.
  12. Follow our pre-established channels to see some examples of this in action.  First, in Aurasma, search for and follow Northwest High School, #CoopGovt, and Compher Social Sciences channels.  Next, follow this link to our list of images that will then trigger the overlays (don’t forget; double tap the screen to make the video larger and single tap to go to the next part of the assignment).

http://thrasymakos.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/aurasma-trigger-images/

Aurasma Trigger Images

  1. Or, if you already have Aurasma loaded onto your device, focus on the above “Aurasma Trigger Images” to immediately be sent directly to the multiple other Aurasma examples.

*Charles Cooper (@Thrasymachus) works at Northwest High School in Justin, Texas.  He teaches college and regular ed. government and was awarded the 2012 Humanities Texas Teacher of the Year Award.

*Jill Compher (@JillCompher) works at Northwest High School in Justin, Texas.  She teaches AP Psychology and Sociology.  Jill is an AP Psychology reader for College Board.

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#Teachers, It’s Time to Spark a #Literacy Revolution in America!

This is a guest post by Annie Palmer. She is a reading interventionist and literacy coach in a suburban Kansas City school district. At the time of original publication of this article, she was a classroom teacher. You can follow her on Twitter @palmeram. She blogs over at Breaking Education Barriers.

It is time for teachers across the nation to join a literacy revolution.   Many of us have heard the alarming statistics about reading and literacy in America.  Among the numbers to worry about are the facts that two-thirds of eighth-grade students do not read on grade level (NEAP, 2009) and students with below grade level reading skills are twice as likely to drop out of school as those who read on or above grade level (Adolescent Literacy: A National Reading Crisis). Are you convinced yet that we need a literacy revolution?

The components of this revolution are not in a basal program.  The answer is not more book reports, more ditto sheets, and more whole-class novels.  The answers lies in the fact that our kids are severely lacking in a motivation to read when we drown them with these traditional ways of teaching. We must first ask ourselves what will motivate our students to read.  According to Krashen (2004), 51 studies prove that students in free-reading programs perform better than or equal to students in any other type of reading program. Not only does research back this claim up, so does evidence-based research conducted by Donalyn Miller, a sixth-grade Texas teacher and author of The Book Whisperer.   Miller’s students are passing the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test with flying colors, and more importantly, they are motivated and inspired to read. I have to admit, after reading The Book Whisperer three years ago, I doubted that free voluntary reading (FVR) could make such an impact. I was proven wrong.  After implementing FVR through an 18-book challenge in fifth grade and a 40- book challenge in third grade, I am convinced this is the key to our literacy revolution.

My classroom was transformed from mundane skills-only instruction to a classroom where students took part in daily conversations about higher-level questions about their reading, excitement about what they were going to read next, and a sense of pride simply from the sheer amount and depth of reading.  And yes, that was without any extrinsic incentives!  The reward was the reading itself. (Yes, kids do read without extrinsic rewards). 

There was definitely an adjustment period for the students, parents and for me as we underwent this new approach.  Questions from the students included “You mean I have to do 18 book reports?!”  No, was the answer to that; they did not do book reports.  One does not need a book report to know whether students are comprehending text or even to know whether they can summarize.  Suggestions from parents included making the kids take an Accelerated Reader test.  Again, one does not need a test to know whether a child comprehends or even to figure whether they actually read the book.  The point of free voluntary reading is to get students excited about reading, to make them life-long readers and to facilitate intrinsic motivation to read.  I used my classroom lessons and assessments to gauge their ability to comprehend text.  Free voluntary reading was about creating the love of books, which is way more likely to encourage someone to read the rest of their life than a book report, an Accelerated Reader test or any classroom lesson.  Lessons, assessments, and comprehension checks need to be a part of a communication arts classroom, but without free voluntary reading, a classroom teacher is only helping students pass their class, not helping them be a life-long reader and thinker.

The first year I took this approach was the first year I started receiving notes from parents, saying “thank you, my child now loves to read.”  One of the most impactful responses I received from a parent and her child was as follows:

“My son and I we were discussing his day at school and if he had homework this evening. He mentioned that he needed to read, which lead me to tell him that I have noticed an increased interest in him wanting to read. His response was enlightening! He said, “Oh yes, mom, Mrs. Palmer has changed my life”. It was a very sincere statement and just wasn’t quite what I was expecting in reply. He continued to say that he likes to read and when he gets a good book, he just can’t put it down. Jake has always read books because he needed to and because we’ve encouraged him to; however, he has never enjoyed reading or picked up books at the spur of the moment until this year. Thank you!”

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