YouTube Kind of Love

YouTube is huge, powerful, and not always beautiful…kind of like love. We simply cannot avoid it. Educators may be skeptical about its content, but they use it in lessons anyway. Many teachers love YouTube, but kids live it. They have accounts, subscribe to channels they love, comment on others’ work, and  publish their own videos. I observe students going directly to YouTube, not Google, to search an answer to a how-to question. When asked why, they say: “I want to see it.” And they are right – most of us are visual learners, and a good YouTube video will teach more than a thousand words of a well-prepared lecture ever will.   

Right now, I am working on building a unit on explorers with our fourth grade team. I took a chance and YouTube-ed the topic. With a click of a button, more than thirteen thousand videos were at my fingertips. Yes, it took me time to find what I wanted: a video with relevant and reliable content. I discovered Colonial America, a great resource, but not necessary a video production. It’s lengthy and includes names of explorers that, according the Social Studies Georgia Performance Standards, fourth graders do not need to know. I think it would be beneficial to break down the video into smaller segments using TubeChop and show them throughout the unit. I also found Discoverin’ America, a song written by students and presented in a video format. The content is relevant, and kids who love music would definitely make a connection with this resource. I have to say that videos suggested at the end were not necessary for the eyes of elementary students; therefore, I would suggest usingSafeShare.TV to create a safe link to the video, leaving out any advertisements, comments, or suggested videos. 

YouTube resources for professional learning can be easily accessed by teachers at any time anywhere. Just like other social media tools, YouTube can be a powerful place to build a personal professional network in which teachers can subscribe to channels, read and post comments, and connect with professionals around the world. About three years ago, I met Meg Ormistong, a presenter at GaETC. She had a YouTube channel, and we were invited to subscribe to it. This was my first encounter with connections on YouTube. Now I have a whole list of educators whose YouTube presentations I follow. It helps me stay connected and learn from great instructional technology leaders like Jamie Vandergrift. She has her channel directed towards professional development for her teachers. Social Media for Professional Development is a great example of her work.  

One of my favorite how-to channels is ExcellsFun. I’ve never had a formal training on Excel, and it is challenging for me to create forms with formulas needed to track and analyze data in the Data Team process. This channel has helped me learn how to create sophisticated formulas, link data, and create graphs. 

Sometimes, we all need a good laugh. We often go to YouTube to find and share funny videos via emails, Twitter, or Facebook. To stay focused on academics, I thought it’s a perfect time to watch State Scores Arrive at the Bunker and smile…


It’s All About Learning

Successful teaching of an objective requires two things: a deep understanding of the content and the ability to choose the most effective strategy to deliver it. Today, teachers are challenged to address twenty-first century skills and prepare students for the future, but unfortunately, not many succeed in doing so. If we ask teachers to define or list twenty-first century skills, how many will struggle with the task? And those who are able to name them, most likely, will scramble with deep explanations and specific examples of what each looks like in a classroom. Even if teachers know and clearly understand what these skills are, how many of them are successful in choosing effective strategies to teach them? Such methods were not introduced in their college pedagogy classes. Certainly, they did not experience this type of learning when they were in school and, most likely, did not observe it during their internship. I cannot agree more with Will Richardson (2010) that teachers “cannot honestly discuss twenty-first century learning skills for our students until we [teachers] make sense of them for ourselves” (p. x). 

Teachers must initiate personal professional development in order to be able to serve students of today. They need to connect with other educators, investigate new possibilities and ideas, try them out, reflect, and do whatever it takes to polish the craft of teaching. Technology is the tool that allows teachers to develop personal learning network full of learners invested in their passion. From blogs to Twitter, online communities are buzzing with new ideas and strategies for educators. The only obstacle teachers encounter is themselves! It is not mandatory to be a part of an online learning community, but it is a sign of a passionate educator who walks the talk of 21-century schooling, experiences new ways of learning, and does so along with students. Before they can educate, teachers must experience what it feels like to be a part of a learning community in which people share ideas, provide specific feedback to improve own work, collaborate, and create content that matters to others. For instance, most teachers allow student to publish their work online, but not many realize that the real learning takes place after the publishing. Richardson (2010) calls it the real power of “The Read/Write Web.” Through communication and collaboration with others, a published piece continues to be a “working draft.” It is revised, reflected on, and questioned by multiple readers. With real audience, student are invested in their work and want to continuously clarify own thinking and revise writing. Learning is not about product, it’s about the process: engaging, collaborative, challenging, and relevant. 

Submerging in the world of instructional technology while working on my Master’s six years ago enable me to learn more about Web 2.0 tools and develop powerful strategies to implement them. I fell in love with wikis, Voice Thread, Wixie, Storybird, Voki, and many other tools. They helped me turn my class into a “buzzing” community of students who began work harder than I did. Collaboration and communication gradually replaced lectures and flipchart presentations, and I watched my students’ creativity and individualities bloom. Of course, it was not a smooth transition for me! I made many mistakes, changed lesson plans every few hours, listened to my students, assessed their progress, and continuously researched. Even the physical appearance of my classroom changed: round tables and clusters of seating areas supplanted the rows of desks and “teacher’s area.” It was a painful growth for me, and I could not have done it without connecting with educators passionate about the same things. Because of them, I was brave enough to “tap into the potential that these [Web2.0] tools give us for learning” (Richardson, p. 9). 

This year our district is integrating itsLearning, a new online learning platform. From the start, I want my teachers to view this tool as a place for students, not teachers. Teachers need to avoid uploading files and study guides with answer keys for kids to print out because an online learning environment should not be a static place! I encourage them to let students take control of learning, collaborate, engage, and communicate with each other. Teachers should become facilitators and co-learners instead of being gatekeepers of the content. Every imaginable Web 2.0 tool can be easily integrated in each course to help students connect with peers and professionals around the world. And more than anything I want teachers to be practice weaving strong pedagogy into “The Read/Write Web.”

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. California: Corwin A SAGE Company.

Don’t Let Gorillas Live in Mountains!

 When teachers plan projects, where do they start? In my experience, they are often in a hurry to label the final product. Too many times, I heard teachers say, “I want them to do something in Wixie”, or “I want them create a Photostory on something”. Is that what projects are about – the product? What exactly is that “something”?

Recently, a teacher asked me to help her students record their voices for Georgia Regions projects. Both, the teacher and her students, seemed to be extremely proud of them, so I instantly got that “gotta see it” feeling. Then I opened a project. It was named “Blue Ridge of Georgia.” The very first slide had a gorgeous image of mountains with a huge, black… gorilla, sitting on the top of it! When I asked the student why he chose the gorilla, he proudly announced, “Because it lives in mountains.” “In Georgia?” I was still hoping he would catch his mistake. “Yes, in Blue Ridge, I found it in the stickers folder,” was his answer.

Well, even though I think a third grader should have done a better research than looking in a sticker folder, but what bothered me the most was the teacher’s response to my concern about the poorly executed research.  She simply said, “This is just their first project; I just wanted them to learn Wixie.”

This class spent about five hours in the computer lab, but what did the students learn? Was the process effective and worth the time? What was the purpose of the lesson? Learn Wixie tools?

Many teachers declare they integrate technology nowadays, but what they really do is use it to replace their favorite worksheets – “here is the task, go do it” kind of instruction. 

A product and project-based learning are two different things. The process of creating a product is project-based learning, and teachers’ role in this process is crucial. This is the time to plan thoroughly, coach diligently, monitor constantly, inspire, and teach students think, deeply and independently. This is the time when we don’t let gorillas settle in mountains…