CEP 813: Self Assessment Blog Post – Sandbox for Professional Growth

Since I began the Master ‘s in Educational Technology (MAET) program at Michigan State University about two years ago, I have been using my WordPress blog as a way to submit work, reflect on my learning, and collaborate with colleagues. In CEP 813: Electronic Assessment for Teaching & Learning, I have had the opportunity to explore, examine, and learn how digital portfolios can be used as an assessment tool in educational settings. In fact, many of the benefits we learned about for using digital portfolios in classrooms mirror the benefits that WordPress offers to professionals utilizing it as a digital medium in the educational community. In this post, I will reflect on how the features of electronic portfolios, like this WordPress blog, afford opportunities for learning and professional growth.

Digital portfolios are easily used for self-assessment. Throughout the past few years, I have utilized this blog as a digital platform to organize, document, share, represent and reflect on my professional work. The digital format allows me to easily access my creations and provides a thorough documentation of my progress and performance throughout time. Being able to see where I started and where my learning experiences have taken me is rewarding and encouraging.

Unlike the paper portfolio, the digital medium makes it incredibly easy to compile, organize, tag, link, and revise work. I can easily locate work by searching tags, categories, courses, or even a specific time frame, making a digital portfolio an ideal option for multi-part work. In addition to serving as a platform for document and reflecting on personal progress and growth, digital portfolios make it easy for colleagues and other professionals to collaborate and provide/receive real-time feedback. As we have learned both indirectly and directly in CEP 813, feedback is an essential component in the growth process of any individual. We learn not only from receiving feedback, but also from reviewing our colleagues’ work and providing feedback.

Moreover, by publishing content on the web, I am not only establishing a digital profile and presence within my network of collaborators, I am also opening the door to a global network and audience, allowing for richer, more diverse feedback. By using digital portfolios, educators (and students) are able to make connections with other professionals on the web, establishing a sense of community in a digital context. This has been feature of WordPress that I have truly enjoyed since starting this blog.

Perhaps one of the most impressive affordances of using a digital portfolio for learning and professional growth is that it is both useful AND useable. Not only do digital portfolios allow users to publish text, images, files, etc., they are also accessible. Most Content Management Systems (CMSs) can be accessed on almost any networked device, such as but not limited to: cell phones, tablets, laptops, netbooks, and desktop computers. The ability to access and share information anytime, anywhere takes learning beyond the confines of the classroom walls and turns it into a life-wide experience, reconnecting learning and life. Likewise, the accessibility also extends to viewers who can see new postings in real-time, allowing them to post comments quickly and easily. This is a game-changer for giving and receiving feedback.

In addition to being useable, content management systems offer various tools and supports making them very useful. For example, the review comments feature that allows users to view, accept, or decline public feedback on posts prior to them being viewable to the public is very useful for shy users or users who lack confidence. This way they can still receive feedback without fearing what others may think when they see it. Actually, I prefer this tool so I can manage spam and unrelated posts, but from an instructors perspective, it is a great support to ensure students are not giving or receiving inappropriate feedback. Another useful tool is automatic email notifications whenever there is activity on your site or on the site of those you follow. This way users can manage their online presence and decide how active they want to be with other bloggers they follow.

While my digital portfolio could use some fine tuning and organization, I genuinely appreciate having a medium that allows me to record my thoughts and share my work. There are so many features and supports that digital portfolios offer that often go unnoticed. Before, I don’t think I truly appreciated the global audience and connections I have made with other professionals through this WordPress blog because I didn’t understand the importance of community and feedback. Currently, I value and appreciate the connections and dialogue much more than I had and from a new perspective, too now that I know how to use the feedback given. Before this course, I wasn’t entirely sure how to use a digital portfolio as an assessment tool, but as we bring this course to a close, I have a much better understanding of how utilize digital portfolios in my content area as well as how to assess student learning and provide effective feedback.

Passion and Creativity > Intelligence

I can’t believe CEP 812 is coming to a close. Sometimes it feels like the past 8 weeks flew by, and other times it feels like they were the slowest 8 weeks of my life. This course has been the most challenging thus far….although it is only my third course in the program. In the other two classes my learning was much more physical- i learned to play the guitar and make circuits out of play-dough. The first two courses presented me with problems to solve, or so it seems, but this course really made me identify the problem.

Reflecting back on the past year, I am reminded of the course of events that led me to the MAET program. Almost a year ago now, I emailed past professors asking for their suggestions on master’s programs focusing on educational technology. At the time, my passion for implementing modern tech tools in my classroom was conflicting with my school’s technology policy. I hated telling my students to use resources and tools, and then have to punish them if they got out their cell phone to look something up on the Internet, snap a picture of the whiteboard work, or video something they heard and want to remember…especially because I felt like a hypocrite for telling them not to use a tool I regularly use: my cellphone. I was looking for a program to help me reconnect learning and life. I was curious as to why my learners were highly adaptive to rapidly evolving technology outside of school, but struggled to use technology in the classroom. Now, finishing up CEP 812, I am still reaching out to professors and others within my growing PLN (professional learning network).  It seems that everything I do regarding teaching and learning is driven by my passion and curiosity and remediated by reaching out to individuals in my PLN or searching for the answer on the web, which are appropriate closing thoughts considering our final learning task.

For our final task in CEP 812 we were asked to read the article It’s P.Q. and C.Q. as Much as I.Q. written by Thomas Freidman.  In the article, Friedman (2013), says that in our hyper-connected, technology-driven world, the individuals who will succeed “won’t just be those with more I.Q. It will also be those with more P.Q. (passion quotient) and C.Q. (curiosity quotient) to leverage all the new digital tools to not just find a job, but to invent one or reinvent one, and to not just learn but to relearn for a lifetime.”  That is, intelligence alone will not prepare individuals for an unknown future with unknown problems and jobs, but rather a combination of passion, curiosity and intelligence is necessary for success in a rapidly changing economy. After reading and reflecting on this article we had to create a representation of how we embody and envision PQ and CQ in both our present and future work as educator. I created a video remix using YouTube and iMovie to hopefully help views see that passion and creativity go hand in hand in my instructional practices and learning experiences. Enjoy.

Friedman, T. L. (2013). It’s p.q. and c.q. as much as i.q. The new york times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/30/opinion/friedman-its-pq-and-cq-as-much-as-iq.html

“The times, they are a-changing”…CEP 811 Reflecting Thoughts

WOW!! The past 8 weeks have flown by…As this week marks the end of CEP 811 (adapting innovative technology to education), I will conclude my work in this course with a reflective blog post that addresses my experiences in this course, my work with Squishy Circuits, my plan for incorporating design, creativity, and Maker Education into my curriculum, and my growth both personally and professionally since starting the MAET program.

When I concluded the CEP 810 course, I felt like I had a handle on how to effectively use technology to support learning but I wasn’t quite sure how to do so effectively. Now, as I reflect on CEP 811, I am aware of an abundant amount of tools and resources that I can use in my classroom to effectively support learning and understanding; this course addressed and answered the questions I left CEP 810 with. This course forced me to consider the resources and the purpose they serve in my classroom.

After deeply engaging with Maker Education & Squishy Circuits the past few weeks, I feel like I have been exposed to a whole new approach to teaching and learning…well not entirely, creative learning by doing is not a new concept nor is it new to me as a teacher; however, somewhere along the way, I lost track of my purpose for becoming a math teacher: to take learning from a noun to a verb by providing authentic, creative tasks that spark learners’ curiosity and make learning math worthwhile and meaningful and got caught up in the logistics and politics of public education. And lets be honest, sometimes I’m just trying to keep my head above water, but still, it’s kind of sad how a kid who hated math became a teacher who so easily lost site of her teaching goals. This course was kind of a reality check for me. It really made me consider the teacher I want to be and the teacher that I am.  It forced me to consider the purpose for my choices- every step of the way. Did I plan according to my purpose? Do my goals match my purpose? Does my blog post match the purpose of the assignment? Can people that read my blog see the purpose of my post? Do my learners see the purpose of the task? Does the purpose intrinsically motivate? Does that tool serve a purpose? And so on… everything in this course seemed to boil down to the purpose for the choices I was making, whether they were choices I made as a MAET student or as a geometry teacher… and I really had to think hard about those choices! Reflection really helped me understand everything I was reconsidering about teaching and learning.

In terms of our maker kit, Squishy Circuits turned out to be a fairly easy kit to set up and use. The website included instructions that were easy to follow and video tutorials that explained how and why squishy circuits work. The “play” stage was exciting. I was so excited when I got the first LED to light up. However, once I began to create my first Maker Experiment using a repurposed thrift shop item, the excitement faded and the frustration set in. I felt like my students often look when I introduce a new concept: a deer in headlights. The idea of using a dough circuit in Geometry class was not ideal. I had no idea where to begin. I started several activities using Squishy Circuits only to find that the task I planned was not authentic and could be more effectively completed without the maker kit. It wasn’t until I spent time reflecting on my commitment to relentlessly creating a worthwhile task for my geometry class using Squishy Circuits that I realized the value of the maker kit and repurposing assignment was actually in the learning process itself.  You can read about this in my maker experiment lesson plan blog post as I explain how my students could use Squishy Circuits to support their understanding and development of writing proofs as a logical process, not a final product. If my teaching goal is to help learners understand the learning process or get them have a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset, then I would consider Squishy Circuits. However, in terms of “making” and “doing” in geometry, I believe there are far more creative and effective methods of approaching the content, which I will elaborate more on towards the end. I often felt like I was forcing Squishy Circuits into my curriculum…it only seemed to work as a way to understand logical thought processes, which, again, could be explained using a scenario or more timely activity.

Although I don’t plan to use Squishy Circuits in my classroom, playing and designing with the Squishy Circuits kit, at minimum, gave me a greater appreciation for the learning process and forced me to reevaluate my teaching practices. As I progressed and designed using my kit, I was reminded of the importance of experimentation and play while developing new understanding. Using the kits forced me to be a creative thinker, approach learning from new angles, and use tools that I would not typically use. For these reasons, and several listed above, I plan to refocus my teaching and curriculum to include design thinking and “making” through creative experimentation. Actually, it was through this creative process that I learned to love math. I learned math by writing…and never erasing. Through writing I was able to see a purpose for learning math that was more than the mundane. I was able to identify patterns, reflect on mistakes and connections along the way. However, this course helped me realize that not everyone will appreciate the creativity and freedom I found through writing in math class. The assignments, especially the maker kit, forced me to learn from angles I wouldn’t typically choose using tools that made me uncomfortable. It helped me value choice and individual approaches to learning, but it also helped me value the new learning that is achieved by considering different methods of learning. Throughout CEP 811, it was the diverse learning approaches and tools that helped me realize the importance of providing a variety of tools and choices that serve a purpose and make learning worthwhile. Through these experiences, I learned how to assess learning goals and present problems that force students to think and reflect; problems that are designed to change their way of thinking, spark their curiosity, encourage them to try new things, and encourage them to grow as learners and doers of math… just as Squishy Circuits did for me.

“The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill.”
Albert Einstein  

In the future, I hope to better embrace my learners’ curiosity. Unfortunately, Grant Wiggins (2012) an assessment expert found that mathematics teachers are prime offenders in encouraging creative thinking in the subject-despite the fact that real mathematicians create all the time. Mathematicians have worked for years to create formulas and theorems that make complicated ideas simple. Consider Euclid, he created a beautiful, axiomatic system for writing geometric proofs, a system that all high school geometry students have experience using. Harsh truth: I’ve become one of those offenders. I don’t know if I’ve become a realist or a tiny bit jaded, but this year I seem to find my self thinking and saying, “wouldn’t that be nice?” regarding my students’ creative thoughts and dreams. But, like JT said: “the old me is dead and gone.” This course has inspired me to reinvent myself as the creative math teacher I once was. To constantly question, “how can I do this better,” and while I don’t believe Squishy Circuits is the most effective method of embracing curiosity in geometry, I do know of several other experiments, problem scenarios or activities that support creative thinking and problem solving. Last year my math support classes and geometry classes created math music videos. Groups of students picked songs and rewrote the lyrics to teach a math concept. It was through their writing that they were forced to reflect on their understanding of the concept and whether or not their lyrics made sense. I had students consider whether they were being deceived as shoppers by evaluating the surface area, volume and unit pricing of grocery products. Through this learning activity students began to question whether there was a way they could design packages better. We also created tetrahedral kits and flew them. In small groups, students identified algebraic patterns in the kite’s structure and naturally began to wonder about how they could re-create a kite with a better structure. Through these activities, my students wondered about things in terms of their goal as a designer. They questioned the weight of the kite, the materials of a product, the words and their meaning, etc. Better yet, I didn’t have to prompt them. They were intrinsically motivated.  I was teaching with a purpose, which is kind of like when you read a really good book or watch a great movie and feel changed; you are transformed. Teaching this way allows you to watch your students transform into learners… and better yet, I (the teacher) am transformed watching them transform. There’s nothing better than watching someone cease to hate math and begin to love it…besides maybe feeling that way yourself. Like I said previously, the creative process of “making” and “doing” in math class isn’t new to me. Based on my experiences I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that these are effective learning practices…this course helped re-inspire me. I was able to see the value of this learning first-hand. Through my reflection, I was reminded the effectiveness of reflection and writing as a way to evaluate understanding. And while Wiggins (2012) provided a great rubric for assessing creativity, I believe the bulleted points on his rubric occur naturally in the classroom when students are given the chance to creative problem solvers…a rubric isn’t really necessary. The interactions in the classroom allow me to formatively assess understanding and inform my instructional decisions. Like I discussed in my post, the curiosity and discussion that occurs as students create, play, and try new things allows me to assess their understanding. Through formative assessments I will be able to assess the effectiveness of the task in terms of the learning goal and purpose. My students’ ability to take a tetrahedral kite activity to the next level by wondering how they can recreate a more effective kite structure, whether they consider the materials or lift, shows me that they are learning, understanding, and ready to make something great.

Overall, this course was much more of a challenge for me than CEP810. Squishy Circuits wasn’t as enjoyable as the task I completed in CEP 810: learning to play the guitar using only help forums online. I was uncomfortable using circuits and often wondered if there were other maker kits that would better support math curriculum. After learning about the Maker Faire I began to consider the “maker kits” I could potentially create for my classroom. Since geometry literally means the measurement of the earth, I began to wonder about maker kits that would support geometric learning outside of the traditional classroom. Comparing the Maker Kit project in CEP811 to the Network Learning Project in CEP 810 helped me value choice in learning and assessment methods. We really had no limitations on what we chose to learn. At times I felt limited by the Squishy Circuits Maker Kit, but like I reflected on above, I did learn a lot from working outside of my comfort zone. Moreover, this course was especially beneficial in terms of putting ideas into practice. I learned a TON about resources available to me as an educator and how to assess whether the resources are effective tools in my classroom. Within that realm, I learned the importance of providing diverse learning experiences that remove barriers. I considered small details, such as text-t0-speech, that I had never considered before and I learned where to find them FOR FREE online. Most importantly, this course helped me realize that I need to focus on my purpose as an educator and reflect on that as I plan learning activities for my students.

References

Wiggins, G. (2012, February 3). On assessing for creativity: Yes you can, and yes you should. [Web log comment]. Retreived from http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/on-assessing-for-creativity-yes-you-can-and-yes-you-should/