Gaming with Grades

March 14th, 2011 llcowell Posted in game theory, observations No Comments »

Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen high school students obsess about their scores via our online records systems, often checking grades 2 and 3 times a period.  The behavior have often seemed more “game-like” than constructive (particularly when instruction is going on!).  Came across this interesting quote yesterday.  Speaks volumes in favor of more formative assessment that is constructive rather than cumulative.  This educational practice would mirror the “practice” venue in video games where students participate (voluntarily and enthusiastically) without the promise of points.   Interesting stuff.

In school, the grading system has created the moral hazard of game play. It has replaced the real reward – learning for learning’s sake – with artificial rewards, these arbitrary letters. And when you replace the real with the artificial, you invite people to game the system and take the actions that would earn them these artificial rewards. — Seth Prierbatsch Keynote @ SXSW 2011

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Reclaiming Sleeping Beauty

October 4th, 2010 llcowell Posted in observations No Comments »

My sleep habits have suffered over the last few years.  I’ve chalked it up to a lifetime of late night habits, along with age.  Now the research is telling me something more.  Nighttime Computer Users May Lose Sleep.  This makes too much sense to me.  While, yes, I have aged, my computer skills and habits (not to mention my bandwidth access) have expanded too.  I find myself online more often, particularly engaged in social media.  If I’m not online, I’m editing photos (love my digital SLR).  I stumbled across a great blog post–How Light Affects Our Sleep– by Mark Sisson on the topic, and while I can’t speak to the other concepts Mark champions, I can really relate to this.  I downloaded the free f.lux software Mark suggested, and the almost “immediate” results are astonishing.  My nagging headache…almost gone, just thirty minutes into actively using the software.  And I’m thinking it might just be time for bed (before midnight, no less).

My personal experiment in reclaiming sleep leaves this question:  Are educators (and parents) paying ENOUGH attention to the effects computer (and other screen) use have on the natural health of students.  In driving more and more of our curriculum to an online setting, are we also offering students tips on how and when to best use these tools.  I can’t help thinking about those student athletes who stumble home after a late afternoon practice (or evening game) to sit in front of the screen completing homework for the coming school day.  What are we doing to help students achieve the natural balance that they need to be MORE productive without burning out?

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Pondering the Personal Plundering

July 20th, 2010 llcowell Posted in learning spaces, observations, uncategorized No Comments »

I enjoyed participating in an online interactive interview with author James Bach on Self-Education and Passion held this evening and hosted by FutureofEducation.com.  Bach is the son of author Richard Bach who penned Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the first book I read that encouraged independent and critical thinking.  James dropped out of high school and has gone on to build an impressive career in the software world, self-education.  He supported his own son’s decision to leave formal education at the age of twelve, choosing to facilitate his son’s learning as interests in subjects and topics arise.

Bach’s ideas are radical, to be sure.  Many educators will cringe at the ideas of unschooling heralded by self-made individuals such as Bach.  As a librarian, I don’t find it such a stretch.  I strive to provide students  with an IDEA lab…a place where they can explore and learn what and through those subjects/ideas that draw them.  There are lots of people who agree.  Check out SelfMadeScholar, a blog dedicated to these concepts.

Two puzzles are continuing to rattle around…things I’ll need to think more about.

1.  Many of the individuals who associate themselves with unschooling actually promote it through the institutionalized concept of “home-schooling.”  It seems to me that doing so not only appears a bit converse to their own concept (why use the work schooling at all?) but also pairs these learning revolutionaries with others whose opposition to public schools is founded in very different ideals…fear that public schools are not strict, not structured enough.  Strange marriage.

2.  I’ve noticed that in schools that opportunitites to participate in the most motivating alternative learning environments (conferences, field trips, extra-curriculars activities) is generally limited to those students who are successful in formal school.  Those students who would most benefit from these opportunitites are either restricted or left unaware of their availability.  I wonder, are “unschooled” students presented with opportunitites for immersive learning.  As a professional, these are the places where one networks with like-minded people.  Should students who are self-educated be introduced to these opportunities, at the very least.

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Disruptive Thinking: Not the Standard

July 4th, 2010 llcowell Posted in literacy, multiple literacies, observations, teaching & learning No Comments »

“You can’t write an essential question about Pokemon,” one English teacher told her 9th grade students. What fun we had learning otherwise. “Wow…how do you think like that,” one student asked after we settled on the provoking question: What social skills does playing Pokemon teach? She had that certain light a kid gets in his eyes when he realizes that he can ask deeper questions…critically consider…those things he’s truly interested in.

I had this discussion with my own teen daughter today. She is feeling less than thrilled about her own ACT scores at the moment. Being ranked 9th in a class of around 400 she’s simply convinced herself that her standardized scores should fall in a more impressive range. “I get so mad at a world that tests me and says that there is only one right answer,” she cried. “I think differently. I’m not a robot.”

Since her first foray into standardized tests in the 4th grade, my daughter has performed proficiently, though generally not as advanced as her sister or those peers with whom she shares high honors in the classroom. It is ironic, then, that she absolutely LOVED her AP Stats class last year…the very back bone of the data-driven world that demands standardized testing. She explained, “When Mrs. D asked us to identify research flaws…Mom, I could list 10 factors the researchers hadn’t taken into account. I love doing that…rethinking about each question DIFFERENTLY.”

As an educator, this would be the defining moment…the aha…when I knew my student could not only formulate an essential question, but that they had begun to think in this way as a matter of course.

Each year we are challenged with rethinking education. I have to wonder how we can possibly succeed in changing how we teach if we ONLY reconsider how students learn and never explore the many ways in which students express how they think, what they know, and when they imagine new ideas.

All I could do for my daughter was to help her identify the essential question…has she been a successful learner?…and then remind her to apply her thinking…this gift she has for seeing problems in a different way and imagining unique answers…to her assessment of herself.

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Change is NOT optional!

March 9th, 2010 llcowell Posted in design theory, observations, transtextuality No Comments »

The graphic, from the James Irvine Foundation’s Convergence Report says it all!

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Appeal for Change

March 7th, 2010 llcowell Posted in learning spaces, observations, social media, teaching & learning 1 Comment »

Michael Stephen’s Tame the Web features a reprint of the article: The hyperlinked school library: engage, explore, celebrate, originally published by the Australian School Library Association. Arguing that the financial crisis compels us to move towards the needed changes (when we need those changes anyway) may be an effective lever for those reluctant media specialists who still resist moving into a 21st century already a decade old.  Let’s hope so.  Stephen’s appeal is well-informed and nicely put.  For those of us who have embraced the change, the article provides some nice reinforcement to share with colleagues who question the changes we’ve implemented.  If you’d like to share,  you can download a PDF of the article here.  The article was based on a presentation at ASLA which you can view here.

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Reaching for the 21st Century Flux

February 23rd, 2010 llcowell Posted in observations, uncategorized 1 Comment »


…with classroom support materials at MacMillian Dictionary Online (here).

In a time where the dialogue centers around the ACQUISITION of languages (as a means towards globalization), it’s mind-bending (and inspiring) when we turn the conversation towards language BUILDING.  It may be politically incorrect to applaud the use of English as a global language today, but it’s hard to deny the flexibility of form we enjoy, as English speakers.  I’d never argue that we quit the quest to learn and use other languages–there’s much cultural respect in the practice, and certainly beauty in learning to express ourselves in new ways–but I say HURRAH! for celebrating the dynamic nature of language itself…and of English, in particular.

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The Dawn of Learning…

February 18th, 2010 llcowell Posted in observations No Comments »

Absolutely powerful message!  While administrators may be relying on the loss of revenue as the impetus for change, this is the REAL reason we should be restructuring the places and the ways in which we teach students.  I hope other teachers feel excited/empowered by the possibilities rather than frightened.  There is a role for us…and we’ll are reborn into it

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Newspapers 2.0

November 12th, 2009 llcowell Posted in literacy, micro blog, observations No Comments »

Sharing “Newspapers 2.0 … where we should be going in high school journalism,” blog entry addressing the future of journalism from the point-of-view of a 16 year old high school journalist …  http://kenleilenae.com/?p=18 (via @kenleilenae / Twitter).

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Cliff Notes…REMIXED!

November 7th, 2009 llcowell Posted in multiple literacies, observations, social media 2 Comments »

Literary summaries and analyses.  In developing a library collection, teacher can’t agree.

For some, there is a double standard with regards to literary guides such as Blooms Literary Themes or the Understanding Literature series published by Lucent. One school where I taught shelved every volume (every edition) of MasterPlots “for teacher use only” because…a plot summary and analytical overview is a “refresher” for teachers and “cheating” for students!?  Cliffnotes, SparkNotes…the cheap way out of reading required materials.

Others teachers welcome the guides and the fresh, updated takes they offer.  They generally believe that any student willing to read the guide is probably immersed in the literary experience.  It’s for these teachers that I share the 60 Second Recap, a great site, whose mission is to “make the great works of literature accessible, relevant, and, frankly, irresistible to today’s teens…to help teens engage with the best books out there … not just to help them get better grades, but to help them build better lives.”  This is how the site introduces it’s mission:

“Eat your lima beans,” Mom used to say.

And now that you’re out on your own, honestly, are lima beans a staple of your culinary repertoire?

There, in a lima bean, lies the problem confronting the great works of literature. We’re all forced to read them in school so we can get good grades so we can go to a good college so we can get a good job so we can forget all about that literature they used to force us to read so we could get good grades.

The 60second Recap™ aims to break this cycle of canonical irrelevance. We want to help teens (yes, teens of all ages!) engage with literature. We want to help them see it not as some chore to be endured, but as — dare we say it? — the gift of a lifetime. How? Through the language of our time — the language of video. Video that’s focused, engaging, informative … and short enough to hold just about anyone’s attention.

Smirk if you must. Consider this yet another mile-marker on civilization’s road to perdition. But here’s the fact: You won’t get non-readers to read by forcing them to read more. You’ll get them to read by opening their eyes to the marvels awaiting them between the covers of that homework assignment.

With the 60second Recap™, teens finally have an alternative to the boring, text-based study guides that have burdened them for generations. And — who knows? — maybe that’s just what they’ll need to begin a love affair with literature, one that will last a lifetime.

The site offers teens an opportunity to join ClubRecap, where they can get quick instructional videos that clarify literary concepts and terminology, as well as comment on the recaps offered through the site and request additional recaps.  The opportunity to participate in community is irresistible to a generation of young people hooked on the power of social networking!

One thing I’d like to see here…the opportunity for teachers to post video segments into a blog or website…for guided, manageable instruction.

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