Monday, April 23, 2018

Living Tableaux: kinesthetic lessons in empathy and digital citizenship

Whether you are a library media specialist, a teacher of social studies or art history or ELA or any other discipline that incorporates art and photography as a teaching tool or element of content, building living tableaux -- people posing to replicate a 2D image -- is a classroom exercise that has so many learning benefits for students! It is a kinesthetic experience that challenges students to develop empathy with the figures being depicted and even fosters conversations about digital citizenship.

To form a tableau, I allow students time to scan the painting, then ask them to choose a person on whom they want to focus. Alternately, you can group the students and assign each group one character from the painting to consider. Then I ask students to stare at just that person and to think and wonder about that person while looking at him/her. I give them a moment to jot down what thoughts, feelings, and questions they have before moving to the next step. For this exercise, let’s imagine that we are studying Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump by Joseph Wright.

Once students have collected their thoughts, I ask for a student from each group to volunteer to become the person s/he scrutinized from the painting. These students then assemble themselves in the middle of the classroom in a re-creation of the painting. Once they are set, the rest of the class can adjust “the posers” by re-positioning them for accuracy, directing their body language and facial expressions. They may apply props from the classroom to enhance the living replication of the original. 

Students will have to break the tableau to participate in the discussion so, if possible, take a picture of the students in their arrangement and post it for them to see alongside the image of the original work. When analyzing and discussing paintings, I always remind my students that every element of a painting is the conscious choice of the artist. Even happy accidents that remain in the final work do so because the artist decided they should stay. Every color, brushstroke, facial expression, object is there by choice and design. Therefore, as viewers of the painting, in order to fully engage in the artist’s message, purpose or intent, we must ask “Why?”

Before discussing, I ask students to engage in some reflective writing. I give them a few minutes to collect their thoughts about what their person: thinks, feels, wonders, fears, hopes, sees, believes. I prompt students to consider gender and gender identity, age, attire, body language, facial expression, relationship to the group, etc. as they collect their thoughts. Before we discuss the painting as a class, the students share these reflections with their small group.

I transition to whole class discussion by asking those students who posed in the tableau to share how it felt to be the person? What were they thinking about as they held the facial expression and posture of their person?

Then, I ask other students to share their observations of the person they examined. Once they have explored the figures individually, I prompt them to consider the relationships between the people in the painting and finally, I ask what they think this painting is about. For an artwork like Joseph Wright’s Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, I prompt them to push past the literal… it is a painting about an experiment (which it is), because it is also a painting of risk-taking, of questioning or inquiry, of seeking answers, of fear. In fact, I have used this painting as an introduction to a unit on the Enlightenment and students have come to the conclusion that this is a painting of the moment of becoming Enlightened. At that point, I draw their attention the man in red. Why is he (and the bird) the only person looking at us, the viewer? What is our role in the experiment? Why did the artist make us complicit in the secret proceedings?

Once you know something, you can never un-know it. Once people start to question and seek answers and learn new realities, the world can never be the same. Welcome to the Enlightenment!

This exercise can be applied to a photo as well as a painting or other work of art. Consider photos that capture emotionally dramatic events like the iconic 1957 image of Elizabeth Eckford, pursued by Hazel Bryan, as she navigates the mob on her way to Central High School in Little Rock. Begin by selecting two students to reproduce the central figures, Eckford and Bryan. Then slowly add class members to the composition one at a time.

Ask students to closely consider the facial expressions of each person. What does the expression tell us about the emotions the person is experiencing in the moment this photograph was made? Push students to consider feelings beyond “mad” or “angry”. Ask them to consider what is motivating the emotions they think they see.

Ask students to discuss how well they think they think understand the people whose faces are not showing a lot of emotion. How can we understand people we can not visually read? Why are some people stoic and others agitated? How does someone maintain composure in such a circumstance?

Finally, ask students to consider who these people are today. Could they ever in their lives be recognized as anything other than who they were at this moment? No one in this photo posed for its making, yet the widespread and ongoing distribution of this photo has defined these people for generations. Ask the students: “How are you defining yourself and being defined by others in social media and other contexts?”

Big Takeaway
Visual texts in any media are powerful primary sources. Exercises like this equip students to examine and unpack these sources when they are doing independent research and help students build the reflective capacity for understanding their own image creation and distribution.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

How might we... engage in Gatsby?

I am preparing to embark on a new collaborations with a colleague in the English department. It will be a unit-long project-based exercise so we will work together for about four weeks. I have tested the methodology on a small scale with a social studies teacher while helping to introduce a project-based assessment. While extended collaboration between a library media specialist and a discipline teacher is not uncommon, in my experience it generally happens around research units, so it is exciting to be co-facilitating in a new capacity!

In English
For the English unit, the class will be reading The Great Gatsby. The teacher's literary priorities are for the students to explore:
  • private vs. public theme
  • unreliability of the narrator
  • the malleable nature of memory
  • conscious and unconscious creation of self
Because this is not an inter- or trans-disciplinary curriculum or course, the English teacher as invited a history teacher to direct a couple of lessons at the beginning of the unit to contextualize Fitzgerald and the novel.

With these teachers serving as the discipline or content experts, my role is to guide the students through the creation of a project in which they explore the intersection of the literary themes and history. In order to maximize student ownership of the project design, I am returning to the lessons of the Innovator Academy and introducing the students to  the "How might me...?" questions. This stem is the gateway to diverse and powerful ways of understanding and beginning to solve a problem. By viewing the communication of their insights as a problem to be solved, "how might we..." will push students to harness their strengths and talents as creators in order to tap into nuances of the text and its resonance across decades.

For example, there are so many possibilities for what a student could do in response to this question: "How might we expose the layers of self that Jay Gatz created?" This question could be asked in other ways such as, "How might we explain Jay Gatz’s compulsion to be someone else?" A student who chooses to turn his/her focus to the narration of the novel could ask: "How might we compensate for Nick’s unreliability as a narrator?" Students will have agency over the question that guides their inquiry and determines what they create.

Also important is that the question can be completed in so many ways for students to access any of the literary elements and rhetorical devices they will be studying. Consider these uses of "how might we..."
  • Amp up the good (Doesn’t Nick grow?)
  • Remove the bad (We are onto Nick, so it is OK)
  • Question assumptions (Who says he is unreliable?)
  • Use unexpected resources (Are there other characters offering their versions of events?)
  • Challenge the status quo (It’s not the narrator’s job to relate to us)
  • Address PoV (Would Jordan tell the story better? Which character barely speaks and how can we give him/her voice?)
  • Go after adjectives (like “unreliable;” maybe he is uninformed or naive?)
  • Play against the challenge (If Fitzgerald wanted us to compensate for Nick, he would have written a different narrator)
  • Explore opposites (How might we remove the need for a narrator?)
  • Employ analogies (Nick, as a narrator, is like, chocolate as a…)

Once each student chooses the How Might We problem s/he wants to pursue, we will provide brainstorming tools to help them explore the possible solutions. (Crazy 8’s is one example of a tool or protocol).

Students will partner with critical friends in the class and discuss the merits of each idea and choose the one they will prototype and ultimately create.

In Social Studies
With the students in 9th grade World History, I introduced "How might we..." in a very different context. This is a class of 55 students divided into two sections. Each section must work as a unit for this project. Here are the questions the teacher has outlined for the students:
  • What is progress?  (craft a definition of what progress means for a society)
  • Examine the 14th-17th century in Western Europe and determine if (and if so how) the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation were a time of progress.
  • Conclusion:  Why does this matter?  What drives progress?  What keeps society from progressing, perfection of institutions or individual challenge of institutions?

The only other criteria is that they may not deliver an oral presentation. Each section must devise a way to convince the other section of their thesis without a formal debate or stand-and-deliver talk. That's where "How might we..." comes in.

I guided the students through an exercise to determine the best means of conveying their argument and evidence beginning with: how might we best convey our findings and conclusion without talking directly to the other group? Exploring this prompt required them to consider the scope of their findings and the various media they contain. It also necessitated understanding their audience and the mode or modes of delivery most likely to sustain their interest and be accessible to all of them.

Let's say that one group decided what is most important is for the other group hear the music, public debates, and other sounds happening during these centuries. They could produce a podcast or radio show. They could create a music video by quoting and re-contextualizing music and words of the era. Lots of possibilities if they start to think aurally.

Maybe the other group decided what is important is touch. You have to hold the artifacts in your hand to understand how they worked and why they matter. They will be very busy in The Garage (our makerspace) then!

Sight can be the students' default mode. In this instance maybe they will decide to curate a museum exhibit using Google Arts and Culture. Or create a virtual reality simulation using a our 360 degree camera to take a photo or video of a scene or scenes they create. Or a living scavenger hunt where they find class members dressed in period costumes. Given how image rich these centuries were, yet another possibility is that they might build a mosaic using many images to combine and form a dominant image which they can then annotate.

What's really exciting to me, is that these students are owning the means by which they explore the content and by which they convey their learning. When their creative thinking and varied skill sets and experiences combine for this exercise I am confident the results will be amazing.

More, soon...

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Hacking Assessments with AR: a podcast interview

One of my students (Ben) and I recently chatted with David Hotler (@dhotler) about the extraordinary work Ben is doing in his independent study as a member of our student help desk team. Our conversation was a follow up to a blog post I wrote about Ben's exploration of virtual reality and his application of his learning to his classroom assessment.

You can listen to the edtechteam podcast via David's blog. Updates on Ben's work will be on-going. He has completed his math project in Metaverse and below is a video in which he reflects on what he learned:

Ben is now in the planning stages for an English project. After that he plans to tackle to periodic table. Stay tuned... more soon! 

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Social Media Infused Classroom: Mediated Messages 2.0

I have written a few times about my experiences as a member of the Certified Google Innovator #SWE17 cohort and the ongoing learning as part of #GoogleEI . The focus of my application to the Innovator Academy (and the ongoing thread of my work with students and my colleagues) is the development of media literacy. The importance of media literacy can not be understated. Nor can the value of social media as a teaching, learning, and publishing tool.

In the latest iteration of my Innovator project, Mediated Messages, I have added a section on lesson ideas and launched a Facebook group for building a collaborative community dedicated to expanding our capacities for media literacy instruction. Social media is a multi-faceted education tool; it can be used for personalizing instruction, as a research resource, to foster global engagement, and to provide authentic digital citizenship practice. Here are examples of it being used or practiced in each of these contexts.

For Personalizing
In this previous blog post I wrote about my collaboration with an English teacher creating The Selfie Project. Ultimately, as a corollary to their study of Transcendentalism, the students used the makerspace to create 3D representations of self (we called it, "Yourself, in tangible relief"). The project started with an examination of all of the ways a student's identity can be explored, including through playlists, social media, school pictures, the contents of their bedrooms, and their school data. The lesson steps are here and this is a gallery of pictures of the students and their work

For Research
Understanding "Journalistic Truth" and the impact of digital media on our sources of information is essential to student development of savvy research skills. The journalistic truth slides outline a two-period lesson I co-delivered with an English teacher to the students in the non-fiction writing class.

Finding experts and research or non-profit foundations on social media is another excellent way for students to collect valuable insight and potential interview subjects to inform their inquiry.

For Global Engagement
An educator with a global PLN has the resources to connect students with adults and other students around the world for a sharing of culture and point-of-view. Exposure and interaction builds empathy and collaboration. My favorite experience using social media as a teaching tool happened when I was a social studies teacher working with a group of American Studies students. We were studying the cold war and I happened to have a Tweep who is an educator living in eastern Germany. She joined my class for a twitter chat about life in eastern Germany behind the wall and after the wall came down. We were scheduled to chat for 30 minutes and ended up chatting for the entirety of a 70 minute block period. During that time a few of her teacher colleagues joined the conversation as did her daughter who was a student at university. Now my students had both adults and a peer with whom to share perspectives. Several of my students and Ines' daughter began following each other on Instagram, too. The conversation began as a discussion of cold war life and evolved into a discussion of how do we each learn about the other. It was a rich exchange that far exceeded my expectations when Ines and I were planning it!

Teachers at my school haven't yet warmed to Twitter but they are enjoying Flipgrid in closed, classroom-based exercises. Expanding their grids to include participation outside of our school will be a first step building PLNs.

As anyone in the Google Innovator program knows, my cohort, my coach, and my mentor are unparalleled in their support of my work and the counsel they provide. And it's all happening via social media and Google Hangouts.

For Digital Citizenship Practice
I have an on-going collaboration with the teacher of our school's Digital Literacy course. Together we have launched a class Twitter account that the students use to post reflections on lessons and units and provide insights and guidance about good habits of online conduct. To launch this account we had students use Canva to design channel art. We loaded each of their submissions into a Google Form which we pushed to them in Classroom. Students then voted for their favorite design and that was uploaded to Twitter. Then I taught a brief lesson on Hashtags & the Anatomy of a Tweet. The conclusion of the lesson was each student drafting what the first class tweet should be. Again, we shared the submissions with the class and they chose which would be used as our introduction to the Twitterverse.

Social Media Think Tank for your students is another way to engage them with social media in the context of your course material; here is an elevator pitch you can use with your students.

And that's not all!
My interest in educational use of social media preceded my acceptance into the Innovator Program and new opportunities to continue my learning in this realm have emerged because of the connections I made there. Here are some of the other irons I have in the fire at the moment:

At ISTE18 I will be co-presenting on using social media in the college search and application processes. From building a brand to researching schools to writing the college essay, there are so many ways students can powerfully use social media.

Public libraries in my area are interested in hosting seminars about media savvy and I have a couple happening this month.

My book is about to be released! I co-authored News Literacy: the keys to combating fake news with my friend and fellow librarian, Michelle Luhtala. It will hit the stands in May 2018! I am very excited about the companion video workshops that are being released in conjunction with the book. Those lessons include outreach into social media communities so that the learning is ongoing.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

If it isn't personalized, can it really be inquiry?

When given the opportunity to write a research paper about any topic that interests them, many students become overwhelmed by the task of deciding what to research. Many librarians recommendation is to survey topic collections in the databases and pick something interesting. I say this because a member of our state's librarian listserv asked for suggestions about getting started with topic selection and I was the only participant who didn't recommend the databases. Maybe this is because I am new to librarianship. But I just don't start there. Ever.

When out to dinner with a group of people from librarian world while attending the AASL conference back in November, an interesting question arose that none of us could answer. Several people grabbed their phones to start searching for the information and I offhandedly commented that I was fairly certain none of them were searching their databases. And they weren't.

Databases are fabulous resources. Access to them is not universal or forever. And, until a student knows how to manipulate a search, databases are horribly impersonal and sterile. Students should learn how useful databases are and how to use them well, but unless they are a future librarian, starting there is a big turnoff. If we want students to enthusiastically -- or at least willingly -- engage in the hard work that is research then we need to meet them where they are, embrace it, and use it to hook them. This isn't pandering; it's personalizing.

Start with their playlists, their favorite books, their video streams, their social media feeds. Look for the threads that show possible lines of inquiry. Whom do they follow who isn't an actual acquaintance? Why do they follow? What about that person, group, or organization intrigues them? Choose a topic or idea. It will be broad. Too big for a typical research project, and now we start to narrow it.

To give them practice I choose a current event with long roots for them to work as a class to narrow. Recently, I used "protest movements" and I explain how recent protests have captured my attention and in some I have been a participant so I am using my experiences as an opportunity to select a topic. The class divides into four groups. I then do a Google image search for protest movements and ask them to just look at the images and, by themselves, consider what looks familiar and what is new. While they are looking and thinking, I give each group a large piece of chart paper or a white board. Across the top I have written one of these categories: events and issues, time periods and dates, people and organizations, places and landmarks. I give them 90 seconds to work as a group and list as much as they can about protest movements that fits the category they have been assigned. At the end of 90 minutes, they put their markers down and rotate. Same group, new topic, 90 seconds on the clock, GO! We do this until each group works on brainstorming for each category.

When they finish -- which means they return to their original table -- they compile all of the ideas on the chart paper into a Google Doc that looks like this:
Then I highlight looking for threads. In this example the thread I was using was "students" and this large topic allows for many different threads. In fact, in one class they realized that even if every student in the class started with protest movements as their original topic, once they narrowed their focus, they would still be researching 25 discrete topics. I wouldn't suggest dictating to a class that they all research about protest movements because it removes student agency from the process and therefore undermines personalization. That being said, I do work with teachers who do assign the umbrella topic.

The thread provides the first narrowing of the topic. From "protest movements" we derived a more focused topic: How schools and colleges responded to student activism in the 1960s. Then we examined that topic for points that were still general and the students were able to ask questions such as: Activism about what? And, which schools? So our final topic became:

This exercise was just the model. We completed the exercise as a class in about 25 minutes. That meant they had another 25 minutes to try this protocol with their proposed topics so I provided them an organizer in a Google Doc pushed to them through Classroom.

As they worked, the classroom teacher and I circulated helping them expand their thinking and answering questions about the images that emerged from their Google search. Ten minutes into working, I stopped the class to share my observations. I told them that I noticed some students were plowing through lists and generating lots of ideas to consider. Other students were stuck, their organizers mostly blank. I hypothesized for them that the reason some were blank was because they weren't really interested in the topic, and that if that was the case, this research paper was going to be a painful experience. Some of them snickered and nodded in ascent. I told them now was the time to choose something that really mattered and that if they really didn't have any ideas they should take out their phones, get on Instagram, and raise their hand so one of us could chat with them. And they got back to work.

By the end of class, each student had chosen a topic -- each student had agency over that topic and how it was focused. Real inquiry can now happen because they will be exploring something that matters to them, not something a teacher told them matters. This week, among other things, we will work on generating a research question, another element of personalizing the research process, so that each student is seeking the insight s/he craves about his/her unique topic. They do this by listing everything they think they know about their topic and then turn each of those statements into a question. For example:

What I already think I know:
Phrased as a question:
Upheaval on college campuses during Vietnam War
How did universities respond to student activism?
Do universities tolerate student activism?
Did students organize across universities?
Did employers hold students’ activism against them?

It is key that they be coached to ask authentic questions, not questions that lead to a predetermined answer. In other words, stay open to ideas and avoid seeking bias confirmation. As they turn what they think they know into questions, they begin to realize two things: 1) they may not be sure about everything they think (or not know as much as they think they do), and 2) some of their questions will be easily answered (closed) and others are open to interpretation (open). They can then group closed questions with the open questions they help to answer. They are starting to organize their thinking and plot a line of inquiry. Of course they will revise and update this plan as they go, but with a starting point and a plan they can be more purposeful in their searching.

Finally, we get to the databases! We will also learn how to search Google like a database by using advanced search and how to search social media for field experts.

Thanks for reading. If you have other strategies and tips for personalizing inquiry I would love to hear them!