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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Finding the Right Level of Frustration

It is said that in order to innovate, one needs to be taken out of their comfort zone. I find this to be consistently true with my students, with the people around me, and with myself. But there is not much wiggle room between the realms of frustration and boredom. If the task is too difficult and it will create frustration. On the other hand, if it's too easy, then motivation level drops significantly. So how can teachers find the right challenge level for their students? How to find that exact point where students are taken outside their comfort zone, yet making them feel like the outcome is rewarding and achievable? And more importantly: how to do this without having to write a completely different lesson plan for each student?

Where creativity blooms
Now, before I set any false expectations, I'd like to say that I don't have the answer to these questions. BUT I do have an example of a final project I gave my students where creativity IS blooming, so it might serve as a guideline for others. I believe that the following helped for it to happen:

  1. I set clear expectations using a rubric
  2. If they met expectations, they got 90% credit
  3. I encourage a healthy bit of competition
  4. There was a good balance between what they knew and what they had to figure out
  5. Planning of the final project
  6. There was also a good balance between the project limitations and its potential for innovation

Allow me to explain the previous points. First of all, setting clear expectations helped my students know what I was looking for. This might sound simple, but ambiguity can make them lose their focus and cause frustration. I also went through the rubric with them, clarifying any doubts they might have had.
The second point has to do with grades. Let me first confess that I don't care much about grades. I care about their learning, and that is often hard to measure and label with a number or letter. Nevertheless, most students DO care about grades because they have a direct impact on their higher education future. So I think that my students perceive a 90 (A-) as a good grade to get if they meet the expectations. And meeting expectations reflects that they learned what I intended them to. Going beyond would earn them an even higher grade.
Another strategy I use is encouraging what I consider to be a healthy bit of competition. Whenever I see somebody raise the bar, I casually (but publicly) recognize that person. Though this can be a double-edged sword, if used effectively it will motivate others to try harder and raise the bar themselves.
The fourth point is just good constructivism practice. Build on previous knowledge and guide students into discovering what they need to learn and do in order to complete the task. It gives them some security realizing that they can get started because they have the knowledge and skills necessary, even though they might not have all the pieces right away. And whatever else they need to figure out should sound reachable. Plus, I promote that they share their findings.
My final point is about having a balance between limitations and the potential for innovation. Students needed to respect certain parameters in the project (i.e. dimensions, covering all classrooms, environmentally friendly elements), but had plenty of room for playing with design, spaces and materials. I have noticed time and time again that students feel more secure if working within a certain structure. Not limits, but structure.

Please enjoy the following video made by one of my students:

Below you will find a short blurb of what the project is about.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Visualiza Información con Hojas de Cálculo de Google

En mi segundo Google Edu on Air, presenté sobre gráficos que se pueden generar dentro de las Hojas de Cálculo de Google. Hablé sobre cómo fácilmente hacer gráficos interactivos, y en qué tipo de proyectos se pueden usar dentro del salón de clases. Abajo podrán ver el video y la presentación. Muchas gracias a todos los que participaron en vivo.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Crea un Portafolio Electrónico en Google Sites

Hoy presenté el primer Google Edu Hangout on Air en español. Platiqué sobre la importancia de crear portafolios electrónicos dentro de la enseñanza, además de un pequeño tutorial sobre cómo crear una plantilla en Google Sites. Abajo pueden encontrar el video y la presentación. Me encantó el hecho de que pudimos conectar 3 países latinoamericanos en el Hangout: México, Ecuador y Venezuela. ¡Ojalá que la encuentren útil!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Edu on Air - Visualize Google Sheets

Yesterday I had a great time presenting my fist solo Google Edu on Air Hangout on Visualizing Google Sheets. If you missed it, you can watch the video and presentation below!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Thinking Critically About Media

Yesterday, my Master's students did an assignment that turned out to be quite fun. Based on TED Ed's The Key to Media's Hidden Codes lesson, they looked for 2 print ads in Google Images, 2 TV ads in YouTube, and 2 movie title sequences in Art of the Title.

After that, they had to identify and analize the codes they found in the different kinds of media. (click on the codes to see them change color)

Based on their subject and grade level, they wrote a lesson plan to teach their students to be critical media viewers. Here are some examples: (in Spanish)

Information, visual, and media literacies often don't have a specific subject area where they are covered. I believe it is important for educators to find "teachable moments" and help students acquire those crucial skills. In this case, to become critical media thinkers.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tips for Walkthrough Observations

As an administrator, I have to do formal and informal observations. But a third way of gathering information of what is happening in classrooms is through walkthrough observations. These quick, unannounced visits usually last from 5 to 15 minutes. But watching is not enough; there are certain specific indicators you should be looking for:

  • Students attitude towards the learning. Look for student engagement, their attention and their behavior. Analyze the interaction between teacher and students, and amongst students.
  • Curriculum connection. Review if the lesson is following objective and standards previously established.
  • Instructional method. Evaluate the teaching repertoire.
  • Evidence of previous work. Look for student work hanging on the walls and bulletin boards.
  • Safety and health. Examine if the teaching and learning environment is a secure place for students.
  • Areas of learning opportunity. Think of a time during the lesson where the teacher missed a learning moment.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Targeted Professional Development for Teachers

There have been studies that show there is very little correlation between educational degrees and teacher effectiveness in the classroom. To me, part of the problem is teachers pursuing generic training or graduate degrees. Nevertheless, I believe there is a way that performance evaluation, with the help of self, peer and supervisor evaluation can achieve targeted professional development that could improve key skills in the teacher.
For example, if a peer observes your class and sees many students off-task because of behavior, he/she can suggest class-management books, courses, articles or webinars. In terms of a self evaluation, a teacher might realize that his/her technology skills are not on par to what the students requiere. At this point, the teacher might recognize the importance of those skills and decide to take some graduate courses on educational technology.
There is some controversy if administrators should be both coaches and policemen. When a supervisor coaches a teacher, he/she needs to be careful and analyze if the teacher should be "coached up" or "coached out". When a teacher is clearly unhappy, unmotivated and struggling beyond what professional development can help with, then the administrator should coach them out. In most cases though, administrators should positively give advice on what resources or classes a teacher should take a look at. There is a thin line between what a teacher could consider genuine positive advice, and threatening criticism.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Adapting School Accreditation Methods to Teacher Evaluations?

Today, I was reviewing different accreditation organizations during my master's class on Measurement and Evaluation: SACS, WACS, CIS, NEASC, NWCCU and others. Though they have some differences, most agree on certain core premises. I found a few that could be translated to teacher evaluations to make those a more personal and effective process: self-study, mission alignment and a continuos improvement plan.
In my experience, most teacher evaluations consist of one or several visits by the evaluating administrator taking notes on what he/she perceives in a lesson. The evaluator looks for specific indicators and marks findings in rating scales.
An obvious flaw with this method is the lack of input from the teacher. The evaluation is completely generic for every teacher, and he/she is not identified with it. That is why I believe that bringing some aspects of evaluation from school accreditation agencies to teacher evaluations could be very valuable. First of all, the self-study undergoes a series of reflective exercises from the teacher to identify strengths and opportunities for growth. The points the teacher decides to target should be aligned to the school's mission or overarching goals. Finally, a plan for continuos improvement will set a process cycle of identifying the teacher's goals, putting them into place, reviewing their effectiveness and adjusting accordingly. With the use of peer evaluations and administrator feedback, teacher evaluations can be a more friendly and effective way of improving the quality of teaching.

Who is the Client in Education?

There is no definite answer everybody agrees as to who is the client in education. All these could be considered clients: students, parents and society. But I believe that our main client should be the student.
Maybe it comes from my marketing undergraduate degree, but the client to me means "the target". If we are targeting the student, we are on the right track. 
Targeting the parents is not always a good idea. Their interests could be focused on their children's grades, schedules, money, and other aspects that don't necessarily have to to with student learning. It is also very different if we are dealing with a public or a priviate school. That is why I think understanding the student as the client is the silver bullet.
My main goal is to make students better learners. Life-long, responsible, critical-thinking, self-motivated learners. That is why it is it so important to teach competencies integrated in the curriculum, such as environmental and social responsibility. If I succeed, then students are going to give back to the community and create a ripple effect. So at the end, you are contributing to society as a whole. 

Position on Performance Evaluation

All institutions and organizations, no matter how small they may be, should be doing some kind of Performance Evaluation. To me, it's a reflection exercise that is based on real data in order to make changes that will benefit the organization. Of course, large corporations are the ones in the lead of this discipline. Educational institutions try to adopt best practices from the business world to evaluate students, teachers, administrators, and the school as a whole. In terms of performance evaluation in education, what I believe is:

  • There is no perfect "one size fits all" method. Institutions are better off looking at their current method and comparing it to others, making the necessary adjustments to their reality: size, culture, language, mission, budget, etc.
  • Performance Evaluation is an ongoing process. It shouldn't be looked as a project with a beginning and end, but as a continuos cycle with an improvement component.
  • Stakeholders should be aware of its value. Teachers, administrators, parents, and the community as a whole must be communicated of the process.
  • The message should answer what, why, how, and when. And I find especially important to communicate what that data is being used for.
Performance Evaluation provides organizations with information to make knowledgeable changes at different levels. It is not easy to come up with a system that works and is not too time-consuming, but having it in place will help institutions make informed decisions.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

BYOD + Google = BFF

I recently hosted a Google Edu on Air Hangout about using Google as the main pillar to support a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) environment. It was truly a great experience, where I got to have my guest panel interact, and other people watching the live stream and asking questions. Below you can find the video and Google Presentation I did for the Hangout.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Google Teacher Academy UK 2012 - A Magical Experience

Team Biro
So... one week after the Google Teacher Academy in London, I can finally sit down and write about my experience. And what an experience it was!

I flew from Mexico a couple days before the Academy. I had severe jetlag. I had a cold. I slept about 8 hours in total between Sunday and Wednesday, the day of the Academy. But when I got to the Google offices, I suddenly started feeling a lot better. And as the day passed, I felt more and more energized.

All 50 participants were divided in different teams with strange names. I was part of Team Biro, lead by the incredible Zoe Ross. Our team was definitely diverse and international, with teachers from the UK, US, Ukraine and Mexico.

Google Canapés
We started with a fabulous breakfast. I have to mention the food because it was out of this world throughout the Academy. After that, we had a general welcome and overview. Then we had some required sessions and some optional ones. I have to say there was a very healthy balance of both, and all our time was well spent.

The general pace of the GTA was incredibly fast. But everyone was keeping up absorbing every bit of wisdom that was being shared. This showed me that this group of educators is really outstanding and they deserve to be Google Certified Teachers.

I have to recognize that the organization in this event was fantastic. Every person who was involved from CUE, EdTechTeam and Google did an incredible job creating a magical experience for the participants. All I heard were positive comments from all the teachers who attended. And I agree with all of them.

After the GTA, we all got back to our real life jobs. I think I can speak for every participant when I say that we came back energized, hyped and inspired. It was motivating to see so many passionate educators that are working to make a change in their school and their communities. I feel proud to be part of this group, and I look forward to collaborating with this new network of educators.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Thoughts on Going to the Google Teacher Academy UK

Well, it's official. I was selected to go to the Google Teacher Academy in London this April!

As the day of February 24, 2012 came closer, the expectation rose. I was feeling anxious, nervous, uneasy. I knew I was competing against outstanding educators from all over the world. Even though my chances were slim, I always felt I had a chance.

What does this mean? That I am teacher who's passionate about technology in education? Definitely. That I know a lot about Google Apps and other Google services? Probably. That I was really lucky? You bet!

I'm not even going to try to understand the criteria, both quantitative and qualitative, undergone in selecting the candidates. It must have been quite a tough endeavor.

OK, now that I'm going, I can think of two major questions.
  • What am I taking from the Academy?
  • How can I best represent my school and my country?
I hope I can come back and have a new network of educators I can collaborate with. That is probably the most important aspect I'm looking forward to. When I went to the first Mexico Apple Distinguished Educators Institute in 2011, that was definitely the most exciting part of it. Even in just a few days, I think the other Google Certified Teachers and I can create a bond that extends well beyond the GTA dates, and find ourselves collaborating in worldwide projects in years to come.

About representing my school and my country, I find that to be a little stressing. It looks like I'm the only educator from Mexico, and there is only one more from Latin America (Argentina). For me, it's important to portray that there are passionate and knowledgeable educators in The American School Foundation Mexico City (my school) and my region. Ideally, I would make some people think "hey, I didn't know there was such innovation and enthusiasm for educational technology in Mexico".

Anyways, I'm looking forward to this life-changing experience, and will keep you posted!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A handy Gmail tool: Sending scheduled emails

There is a free extension for Firefox and Chrome that lets you send emails at a specific time in Gmail: "Right Inbox".

I'm using it in Chrome with multiple Gmail accounts and it integrates seamlessly and smoothly. I can schedule to send an email in 1, 2, or 4 hours, or at a specific date and time. This is particularly helpful when sending reminders and newsletters.

Just go to the Chrome Web Store or to the Right Inbox website and install the extension. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Measuring informal learning

There are many ways you can learn. Some are considered formal, usually the ones related to being enrolled in a class. It is expected that these award you with some kind of certification that validates you have acquired certain knowledge or skills. Basically, these are the bullet points that go under "Education" in your resume.

Nevertheless, I have come to realize that I have learned so much more informally than formally in the past years. The reason: Personal Learning Networks (PLN). First, I belong to closed groups of incredibly talented educators, such as the Apple Distinguished Educators and Google Apps for Education Certified Trainers. They always have valuable discussions going on. With the use of Twitter, I see what thousands of people are doing in education. I find incredible technology integration projects going on all the time, all over the world. And the best of all: it's FREE!

Now, how to measure informal learning? How can you demonstrate what you have learned if you don't have a diploma for it? My suggestion: create content and share it. Videos, blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc.

Smart employers will take a look at your contributions. They might even find out about you based on what you are sharing.

What you do you think? Do you have other suggestions on measuring informal learning?