Social Media Experiment: Life-Long Learning

An excerpt from our Best Practices document states

“As lifelong learners, we collaborate with students and colleagues to further knowledge and understanding.  We demonstrate a willingness to take risks and an openness to engage new ideas.  We stay current with evolving teaching strategies and methodologies, model reflective practices, and seek opportunities to grow.”

Our social media experiment investigating formative assessment as well as Dr. Sousa’s primacy-recency research brought this statement to life for me last week.  There are many stories from the #20minwms experiment that give evidence that we are committed to the statement above. 

The most visual evidence (and most talked about on Friday) was the ad campaign for the Lunch and Learn opportunity on Wednesday to discuss Twitter as an educational tool.  One of our friends and colleagues, @DeepSouth300, loaned us (Quantum Progress and me) his image for our poster.  Don’t you think this is a great visualization of a willingness to take risks and an openness to engage in new ideas?  Isn’t @DeepSouth300 demonstrating  the effort to stay current with evolving teaching strategies and methodologies as well as seeking opportunities to grow?

Kudos to Quantum Progress for his creativity and photoshop work on this ad.  And more kudos to @DeepSouth300 for his learning!

If you follow the timeline for our #20minwms hashtag, you will see many examples of collaboration between students and faculty that further knowledge and understanding.  Just being willing to participate in this experiment to tweet summaries of learning and questions demonstrates a willingness to take risks and engage in new ideas.  Applying the 2o minute learning episode and then break models staying current with teaching strategies and methodologies.  The event of having students complete a mid-class reflection helps all learners, young and old, to see opportunities to grow.

Isn’t it great that the questions and support continue over the weekend?

Our Best Practices statement goes on to say that we strive to

  • seize teachable moments
  • communicate effectively and skillfully
  • be empathetic, accessible, and approachable
  • understand and address various learning styles
  • keep sight of educational objectives while being flexible

I have often wondered about seizing the teachable moments.  Don’t you think hearing what our learners think they are learning and listening to their questions at the 20 minute mark offers many opportunities to seize teachable moments?  Aren’t we modeling effective communication?  Doesn’t this break helps us become more empathetic, accessible, and approachable? Isn’t it fun to have our learners improve and coach our learning? Aren’t some of those teachable moments directed at us too?

We say

“As lifelong learners, we collaborate with students and colleagues to further knowledge and understanding.  We demonstrate a willingness to take risks and an openness to engage new ideas.  We stay current with evolving teaching strategies and methodologies, model reflective practices, and seek opportunities to grow.”

Roland Barth says

“Teachers and students go hand in hand as learners, or they don’t go at all.”

Will you come go with us this week?

Teachnology Musings and Questions

The comments between me and Quantum Progress on my post Maybe we need to think of it as teachnology rather than technology still have me thinking.  Here is the he-said-she-said that I continue to think about:

Quantum Progress

“I want us to teach out students to develop a sense of when technology will help them, and then the ability to learn how to use that technology with minimal guidance from a teacher. ”

Me too.  This caused me to reply

“Our students want their teachers to develop a sense of when technology will help them as well as the ability to learn how to use that technology.”

This applies to many areas of our teaching and learning.  How often do we assume that our learners won’t use technology appropriately and deny them the opportunity to try? 

We really have to ask ourselves how much do we know about technology and when it is appropriate to use it to learn.  Are we learning alongside our colleagues and learners?  Or, are we making decisions without doing our homework?  Have we stopped to ask our learners why they choose to use technology when they do?  Maybe, just maybe, they could teach us a thing or two.

Let’s take the #20minwms Social Media Experiment: Brain & Learning; Formative Assessment we have happening on campus.  Almost as many students have joined the experiment as faculty.  More would join if only we would allow them to have their Smart devices out in class.  Why is it, again, that we deny them the opportunity to use this type of technology?

At the Parent Parley with the Principal, @boadams1 spoke about teaching young learners to use technology appropriately.  Too often we tell the children what not to do with technology.  When do we help them learn what to do?  If we are frustrated with how they use technology, then maybe we should ask ourselves a couple of questions as their teachers.

  1. Have I shown my learners the appropriate use of technology to think and learn? 
  2. Have I modeled learning with technology as one of their leaders?
  3. Have I coached them when they use technology inappropriately or do I just fuss?
  4. Have I stopped to consider that they are using technology the only way that they know how? 
  5. Have I asked is this really essential to learn in the absence of technology?  Am I just teaching this out of habit and history?  Do I know if there is another, better, different way?

In his post, Developing Technology Vision Statements, Bill Ferriter asks principals if they can answer the several important questions. I want classroom teachers to answer one of them. 

“Describe the kinds of things you’d like to see students doing with technology—and more importantly, how those actions and behaviors will ensure that your students and your school are more successful than they currently are?”

I have an answer.  Do you?  If yes, would you write it in the comment of this blog for others to read? Please?

My answer:

I want my learners to use technology to think and learn collaboratively.  My learners should use technology to

  • ask questions, investigate, make predictions, test hypotheses.
  • fail and try again and again while learning to learn.
  • connect to others to share and increase knowledge and understanding.
  • stay connected to me so that I can coach, intervene and support when needed.
  • have fun and find success while learning.

I am shocked with my answer; there is no math in it.  I wrote my answer as a teacher of young learners studying algebra.  I am shocked because this is also what I want when I use technology to write.

For the visual learner, I think the video shows my learners using teachnology.  Watching is one thing; listening is another.  There is information about learning in both.

Do you see learners using technology as teachnology?  Are they aksing questions investigating, making predictions and testing?  Are they willing to fail and try again and again until they’ve got it?  Are they connected to each sharing what they know to increase learning?  Am I connected to them to coach, intervene and support learning when needed? Are they having fun and finding success?

Can we

“Describe the kinds of things you’d like to see students doing with technology—and more importantly, how those actions and behaviors will ensure that your students and your school are more successful than they currently are?”

I shared my answer.  Will you?  If yes, will you write it in the comment of this blog for others to read? If you are willing to write, won’t you be doing the things in the above bullet points?

Social Media Experiment: Day 7 – Communication!

Our goals were simple when we started this social media, formative assessment, learning and the brain experiment.  There were four.

  1. Apply what we are learning as we study about learning and the brain.  Our learning in the faculty cohort program should not stop with us.  The Center for Teaching and our schools, Drew Charter School and Westminster, have invested time and resources to provide us with this learning experience.  We want to share what we are learning with our colleagues.
  2. Learn about and model appropriate use of social media.  School should be a place of learning for all.  We are adult learners leading young learners to find their interests and passions.  We should model lifelong learning, risk taking, and collaboration.  We want to show our young learners that it is perfectly fine to struggle to learn.  Our learners need to consider appropriate use of all technology including how to use technology to learn and influence others for positive growth. 
  3. Find connections between our disciplines to integrate our content.  We are teaching in relative isolation.  While we have PLCs for some departments, we rarely find common ground for teaching and learning with our colleagues in other fields.  If we communicate (tweet) about what is being learned and what questions are being asked, will we find that our “curriculum bleeds together” with others?
  4. Increase the amount of formative assessment in our classes to promote learning.  How many times do we say or think “I can’t believe they don’t know this!  I taught it; why didn’t they learn it?”  We are done with this question!  We want to use assessment to help learners understand where they are and where they need to be prior to a graded test.  We want to know what our learners don’t know so that we can prevent failure and promote learning.  We need a window into their thinking.

Ok, there were 5 goals.  We wanted to have fun while learning together.  Learning is fun; even when we have to struggle.  When we work and learn together, we create a strong community…a community of learners.

I’m struggling to choose what tweets to highlight today. 

Do I document the conversations between learners?  The conversation between students and teachers is about what you are thinking and why you are asking.  Isn’t that great?

You should know that I took images of these tweets at 8:30 pm.  @senor206’s tweet and @Runningwitty’s reply were both tweeted around 6:30, well after the end of the traditional school day.  The learning, thinking, and conversation do not turn off with the bell.

We talk a lot about differentiation and individualizing learning.  Aren’t these four learners, @BeauMartin7, @epdobbs, @RunningWitty, and @senor206, individualizing the learning for these two young learners? Isn’t it great that your teacher is interested in helping you think about things that are important to you?

Do I document that it was reported that taking a 5 minute break between homework tasks makes the learning “sticky”?

Do I document students finding connections between classes?

Do I document how great the questions are in response to “My question is…”? 

Do I document how our adult learners wish they could take each other’s class?

In the Parent Parley with the Principal today, I was asked how we were going to measure the 20% increase in retention, the outcome discussed in How the Brain Learns.  The honest answer is I don’t know how to measure an increase in retention. 

I can say that we feel confident that we are meeting the five original goals.  We have data, in the form of tweets, that formative assessment has increased, social media for learning is being modeled, and connections between classes are being made. 

Remember what our friend Grant Lichtman says: “Questions are waypoints on the path of wisdom.”

We would love to hear from you. 

What do you think? 

We invite your questions.

Maybe we need to think of it as teachnology rather than technology.

The time with our learners is limited.  We have to make some very important decisions about how to use this time.  We must consider the economics of our decisions based on the resources we have.  Is it cost effective, cognitively, to spend multiple days on a learning target to master something that a machine will do for us?   

 Is what we label as problem-solving and critical thinking really problem-solving and critical thinking or is it just harder stuff to deal with?  Can we teach problem-solving and critical thinking in the absence of context?

Do we have a common understanding of what good problem solvers and critical thinkers look like, sound like, and think like?  If we are teaching problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity, shouldn’t we know what that means to us?  Shouldn’t we be able to describe it?

Does technology hamper or enhance a learner’s ability to problem solve and think critically?  I think I might be back to the struggle of using calculators to compute and a spell checker to write.  Do we even know enough to make a decision about technology until we experiment and learn by doing? 

If you have not read Can Texting Help Teens with Writing and Spelling? by Bill Ferriter, stop reading this right now to read Bill’s post.  It is a great example of leveraging technology to promote creativity and critical thinking using technology.  Read about having students write 25 word stories.  This is teachnology, not technology.  Tweet, text, type, write on paper – it doesn’t matter – unless you want to publish your work.  The technology, Twitter in this case, aids in the critical thinking; you are restricted to 140 characters.  The technology offers the learner a way to publish and see other published work. 

My ability to transport myself from place to place is actually enhanced and improved because of my truck.  I have no idea how my truck works other than gas goes in, step on the brake to stop, R means we are going to go in reverse, etc.  I do not need to understand the mechanics; I can have that done.  

I do not need to understand the mechanics; I can have that done.   I don’t need to know how to change the oil in my car.  I need to know that I need to have the oil changed in my car.  And, very important, I don’t need to learn this lesson by experience.  It is too expensive to learn experientially why I must have the oil changed in my car.

Isn’t it too expensive to spend 2-3 days on some topics that we traditionally teach?  Are we getting the biggest bang for our cognitive buck?  Often our learners can’t see the forest for the trees.  They never get to the why because of the how.  Don’t we need to learn when and how to use technology not only to engage our learners, but to increase our cognitive capital?

How can we learn to ask

  • Why are we learning this?  Is this essential?
  • Will technology do this for us so that we can learn more, deeper?
  • Does this have endurance, leverage, and relevance?
  • Shouldn’t we use technology to grapple with the mechanics so the learner shifts focus to the application, the why, the meaning?

Social Media Experiment: Day 6 – Student Interest

I spent my day with the Faculty Cohort working on understanding more about learning and the brain.  Part of the work of this experiment was developed from one of the practitioners corners from How the Brain Learnings by Dr. David Sousa.

Today there were over 45 tweets from more than 15 faculty and 7 students.

My favorite series of tweets involve faculty and students. 

Series 1 is from 8th grade French:

#20minwms@boadams1@jgough could the pilot be extended to one grade for a day? teachers can try a more integrated classroom+#of students up @TaraWestminster.

#20minwms@professeurb2 said yesterday she wished students could use phones in class but mentioned that going to lckr for them is a drag? @TaraWestminster.

This is my favorite for two reasons.  @TaraWestminster is a learner involved in Synergy 8 that @boadams1 and I facilitated first semester.  While our course is over and @TaraWestminster is now taking Writing Workshop, she is still engaged and invested in the community problem-solving issue her team addressed first semester.  These two tweets were launched at approximately 7:00 am before school.  She is invested in larger data collection for her team and advocating for @professeurb2’s wishes.  Learning continues beyond the classroom and the calendar.

Series 2 is from Calculus Concepts:

#20minwms Mram and trap better, width not always same, generic trap formula @sgough

@swgough #20minwms trapezoids rule, lrams drool. maritzas back #chewonki? @chrisreagn

#20minwms @swgough how do indefinite integrals actually calculate area under a curve? @mcaeser

This this may look like a foreign language, I know that @sgough is teaching Riemann sums and trapezoidal approximations for finding area under a curve.  Today, he is beginning to connect this idea to integrals.  @chrisreagn acknowledges that the trapezoidal approximation is more accurate than the left rectangular sum approximation while mcaeser asks how these approximations connect to the indefinite integral.  @mcaeser is asking how the theory connects to the context.  Isn’t this what we want?  We want our learners to ask us to help them get to the next level.  Outstanding!  It appears that the intended curriculum is being learned. 

Series 3 is a connect between the Faculty Cohort and @abaconmoore.

#20minwms A Stroke of Insight Jill Bolte Taylor TED talk human brain function @jgough

#20minwms Cohort learning: interest in stroke recovery process. Did background knowledge help recovery? @jgough

#20minwms How can we help Ss find their nirvana? How can we help them find their we inside of them and choose? See A Stroke of Insight @jgough

#20minwms Can we teach Ss to drop fear to analyze the learning experience? How important is emotional support to recovery and success? @jgough

@jgough cohort talk on stroke sounds very cool. what kind of knowledge and recovery are you discussing? brain plasticity is amazing. @abaconmoore

@abaconmoore @jgough Role R & L Hemi. in Recovery of Function, Treat of Intention in Aphasia, ABM co-authored study, could she help cohort? @centerteach

@centerteach @jgough I would love to work with the cohort and talk about these brain-based issues. That stroke paper was a fun 1 2 write. @abaconmoore

This cohort of teachers got to experience how to connect their learning to the expertise and learning of another W faculty member.  They found a purpose of social medial for learning.

As always, you call follow our tweets on Twitter.  Here is a sample of todays learning.

Social Media Experiment: Day 5 – True Formative Assessment Begins!

Today’s update is all about formative assessment.  If you recall, when we started this experiment we wanted to integrate Dr. Sousa’s research about primacy-recency, formative assessment, and social media for learning.

Over the weekend @fnoschese tweeted:

We take this a positive formative assessment.  We have others, @Deacs84 and @mmhoward, tweeting encouragement and interest.  I don’t know @fnoschese other than he is a friend and colleague of @burkphysics1. We are learning together; playing together; communicating together.

From The Falconer: What we wish we had learned in schools, by our friend Grant Lichtman, we know that “Questions are waypoints on the path of wisdom.” (p. 35)

This week we hope to gain more information with our formative assessment.  We added a prompt to the quick write for our learners.  We now ask our learners to respond to

  • I have learned…
  • My question is…

My learners made me tweet twice at the 20 minute mark in Algebra I.  They were consistent as a whole group about what they learned, but their questions were split into to categories.

“We have learned to use spreadsheets and formulas for exponential growth. Our questions: Where does the exponent come from?”

“Learned to use spreadsheets and formulas for exponential growth. Our questions: Which is more efficient, spreadsheet or formula?”

I did not anticipate these questions.  Isn’t it great to know and answer our learners questions in real time rather than the next day or never?

Later in the day @epdobbs tweeted with her learners

“How do you find the mood more easily? What are subbordinating conjunctions? Are these all the uses of commas?”

 “I am going to answer these questions rather than move on, tomorrow. Yikes! My best laid plans aft gang aglay!”

In Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment Black and Wiliam say

For assessment to function formatively, the results have to be used to adjust teaching and learning; thus a significant aspect of any program will be the ways in which teachers make these adjustments.”

True formative assessment informs and causes shifts in planning, teaching, learning, and experiences.  I immediately answered all of my learners questions; I had their undivided attention, and they asked more questions.  @epdobbs had the same experience in English as I had in algebra.  We cannot move on if they have questions, if they have not learned.  Progress!

Learners working with @sgough are now tweeting with him.   How great for a teacher to read during the learning experience a tweet like the ones from @chrisreagan and @andrewwebb

“quick poll works! mass confusion ends with 100% accuracy” @chrisreagan

“everyone in the class might finally understand what a function is” @andrewwebb25

How great for our learners to read that their teacher sees their improvement.

“still trouble with tns file, better at diff ram methods, function notation improved”  @swgough

You can also read about the 4th Period PLC’s learning about social media in the series of tweets below.  As we learn together, we become more confident using the technology, implementing the primacy-recency practitioner’s corner, and trying a different type of formative assessment.

Today, there were over 80 tweets from 19 faculty members and 7 students that we know of.  Some of our students have protected their tweets and two of our colleagues are still struggling to have their tweets appear when we search on our hashtag.

About my goals for the week:

  • Our numbers are increasing so I can check that goal off my list.
  • @joeschmo81 has tweeted twice now, one more either @bcgymdad and @DownSouth300.  I have high hopes for more, but I’m not checking it as a success… yet.
  • Formative assessment of learning in a non-graded setting will impact classroom activities, planning, communication, confidence, and learning.  @epdobbs and I have crossed this mark.  Have others? Will others soon?
  • We want to have more tweets from our current team as well as tweets from others. I think we are making progress here too, but I’m greedy.  I want more.
  • There will be more pictures and less “eggs” (the default Twitter gravatar). There are more pictures and more eggs.  More new users are arriving; we’ve got to get rid of all those eggs!
  • More of our tweeters will understand the language of twitter. We are having a mini-lesson tomorrow before school on how and when to use @, #, RT, and HT.

It’s only Monday.  I thought my goals for this week were lofty.  I think my success now hangs on how many more of my colleagues will actually read the chapter on primacy-recency.  We’ll see…

As always, you can follow our work on Twitter.  Here is a sample of the tweets from today.


Is Efficiency Without Understanding Efficient?

Time and meaning.

How often do we hear the following? “I don’t have time to _____.”  “I can’t take the time to _____.” “If I do this, I won’t have time to _____.”  “I can’t believe they don’t understand _____.”  “It’s like they’ve never seen or heard _____.”

Time and meaning?

Time and meaning.  How often do we hear the following? “I don’t have time to spend 3 days on this section.”  “I can’t take the time to do a project.” “If I do this, I won’t have time to teach them everything they have to learn.”  “I can’t believe they don’t understand _____.”  “It’s like they’ve never seen or heard _____.”

Time and meaning…

How often do we hear the following? “I don’t have time to spend 3 days on exponential growth (slope, poetry, reconstruction).”  “I can’t take the time to do a project.” “If I do this, I won’t have time to teach them everything they have to learn.”  “I can’t believe they don’t understand exponential growth (slope, poetry, reconstruction).”  “It’s like they’ve never seen or heard of exponential growth (slope, poetry, reconstruction).”

Time and meaning!!!

We want our learners to be efficient.  We teach shortcuts, right?  I’ve been wondering about shortcuts for a while.  Is it a shortcut if I don’t know the long way?  We teach King Henry Died Monday Drinking Chocolate Milk to help learners become efficient about the order of prefixes in the metric system.  We teach Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally to help learners remember the order of operations.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE mnemonic devices!  In How the Brain Learns Mathematics, How the Gifted Brain Learns, and How the Special-Needs brain learns Dr. Sousa gives evidence that process mnemonic devices are powerful for learners, particularly those with dyscalculia.

“Process mnemonics are so effective with students who have trouble with mathematics difficulties because they are powerful memory devices that actively engage the brain in processes fundamental to learning and memory.  They incorporate meaning through metaphors that are relevant to today’s students, they are attention-getting and motivating, and they use visualization techniques that help student link concrete associations with abstract symbols.”
How the Brain Learns Mathematics, David Sousa

How am I, how are we, helping students link concrete associations with abstract symbols?

Our current learning target in Algebra I involves exponential functions – exponential growth and decay.  We can just teach them the formula, but are we really teaching them if we do that?  Haven’t they been given the formula before?  How do we link concrete meaning to the abstract symbols in the formula?

My teammate, @bcgymdad, taught me how to do this a couple of years ago.  It takes more time to teach it – several days.  I’d like to describe it to you; you can decide about time and meaning and efficiency.  I’d LOVE to know what you think! Oh, and sorry for the pseudo-context. We had a sense of play; we had fun, and we learned. 

Question 1:

I need to hire two of you. You can pick up some quick spending money.  Volunteers?  Great!  The job is to clean windows for 20 days.  DG, I want to hire you and I’ll pay you $40 per day; does that sound fair? <Yes, ma’am>  GW, I also want to hire you, but your payment plan is different, okay?  I will pay you $0.01 today, tomorrow $0.02, $0.04 the next day, and so on. Not a new problem to me, but apparently a new problem for the learners.  I took a quick poll of the class.  Whose payment plan would be best for your if you intend to complete all 20 days?  The vote was great; it split right down the middle.

Big questions:  If both workers complete the 20 days, how much will they each be paid?  Instantly, everyone knew DG would be paid $800.  <Yeah, baby!>  How much would GW be paid?  They just sat there.  Really!  Waiting for me to tell them; they are so conditioned that even after 4+ months with me, they waited.  I had to say “Don’t you have a calculator? Figure it out?”  Then my favorite question “is it okay if we work together?”  AHHRRRGGGG!!!!!!!  Are you kidding me?  YES!

Not one learner, not one, thought to use a spreadsheet.  Never occurred to them; they didn’t know how.  We stopped; we took the time to learn. 

Stage 1:  Simple spreadsheet formulas – make the spreadsheet work and why to use a spreadsheet.


 DG is feeling “ripped-off”.  So let’s change his daily rate to $100.  BOOM! The power of spreadsheets.


The question…will the time taken to do this work numerically connect meaning to the abstract symbols?  The first meaningful connection popped up immediately.  Again the question…How much was GW paid for her 20 days of window washing? 

My learners who speak before they think belted out “$5242.88!”  KC, profoundly quiet reserved KC, said loudly with a great frustrated voice: “No she did not!  That’s how much she was paid on day 20!”  Meaning!  This led them to ask me how to find the total.  I love it, love, love, love it when they ask me to teach them something. 


We graphed the data.  Look how much can be learned graphically. Now we can visualize the difference in constant rate and exponential rate.  Then we wrote equations.  It made sense to them that the equation for GW was y = 0.01(2)^x.  Interestingly, they had a little trouble getting to DG’s equation y = 40.  Sigh…so much work to do to connect ideas.   


While my learners could not solve for the day DG and GW would be paid the same wage algebraically, they can all tell me when looking at the graph.  Are we letting the analytic algebra, the efficient way, hamper learning and understanding?

Question 2:

ES has $1500 and invests it at 8.5% interest compounded yearly.  In 10 years, he will be 24 and, hopefully, graduating with his masters degree. How much money will he have at the end of 10 years if he just makes this initial deposit?

Can you apply what we just did with spreadsheets to answer this question? Oh, if you know the formula, just use it.  It is more efficient.  Does anyone know the formula?  Nope.  They know there is a formula, but they don’t know it.  And that is OK. 

Without direct instruction from the adult in the room, one learner realized that you had to have a year zero.  This rumor then spread throughout the community very quickly.  Oh sure, there were questions about getting the spreadsheet to work, but they were confident about their math/arithmetic.  Well, oops, some had to remember that 8.5% is not 8.5; it is 0.085.  But they learned it experientially and from each other; they were not told.  They learned from the data; it did not make sense. 


Again, the power of the spreadsheet.  8.5% is not at all realistic for 2011.  What happens if we change the interest rate to 1.5%? 


How long will it take ES’s money to double?  The spreadsheet is not efficient.  Using a graph is much more efficient.  This is why we need to understand the formula, but not before we understand the problem.


Do you think the spreadsheet work will help learners understand?  Does taking the time to work with the numbers help students understand the problem?  Will it help students interpret the graph?

Time and meaning…If we take the time to teach multiple representations of the same idea will we increase the opportunities for students to find meaning and understanding?