Group work doesn't have to suck

Editor's note: Group work can suck because teachers sometimes do a poor job of giving credit where credit is due.  Innovative educator Diana Laufenberg has some thoughts on how to make group work better.  
I will be working with a group of roughly 65 professors at West Chester University.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to the about PBL and the pedagogical foundations that support such learning.  The organizers of the event did a survey and asked if the attendees had any requests or questions.  One consistent theme ran throughout the submissions:  How do we create functioning, collaborative groups?  So I did a little thinking about the pieces of the puzzle the I consider when to facilitate effective collaboration and searched for some reputable sources for more ideas.
My thoughts on group work and collaboration:
  1. Group work is tricky.  For me there are two goals with group work: individually assess student capabilities and fostering more effective collaboration skills.  In order to accomplish this goal I grade a portion of the group work as individual and the other portion as group.  For instance, at SLA we use a common rubric.  There are 5 categories and for most group projects I assess the students individually on Research, Knowledge and Process while assessing the group grade through Design and Presentation.  This allows for students to evidence individual learning while also collaborating on a group endeavor.  I find that this lessens the… I’ll do everything myself syndrome that plagues group work.
  2. Another idea is to contract for the work…  I create a work contract that identifies the different roles/products the group members are responsible for completing.  All members of the group sign the contract.  When there are concerns or questions, the contract is referenced and used to settle confusion or disputes.
  3. Allow students to identify one person in the room they would like to work with and then pair up the partners.  Choosing to work with at least one person they know or trust goes a long way to moving the collaborative process along.
  4. Allow for mid-project reflection.  Ask them how it is going.  Let them tell you when it is going successfully or poorly and you should have some suggestions for course correction.
  5. Let students self-assess work.  This gives you an interesting insight into how the student views their accomplishments while also providing some context to the whole learning endeavor.
  6. Use a project management tool to keep track of the progress.  There are any number of project management tools out there to pick from – or or or… google it, the list goes on.  having the work process out in the open provides a level of transparency between group members and the instructor to communicate what is happening in the day to day working of the group.
  7. Call out the free rider.  It is incumbent upon the instructor to address issues of the ‘free rider’.  I have often severed them from a group and given them an adjusted (and hefty) individual version of the work if they persistently underperformed after multiple conversations about improving the working relationship.
  8. Don’t make every project group work.  It is completely possible to have meaningful collaboration with your class while creating an independent project.  Class time can be used to workshop ideas, assist in thinking, run scenarios, etc.  Just because someone is working independently, doesn’t mean the classmates can’t collaborate on their work.
  9. Try to work on a group project yourself.  Own the fact that it is challenging, and have some compassion for the difficulty that comes from working with others.
  10. Be prepared to keep tweaking your approach, talk to your colleagues, adjust the parameters… tinker.  This is a process much like anything else and there is no list with all the special tricks that if you complete, you will have the perfect groups.  This is learning as much for the instructor as the students.
 What ideas do you have in the way of suggestions for effective collaboration and group work?
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Free digital citizenship materials for innovative educators

Students interact with music, video, apps, social media and other digital content each day, but do they understand the rules that govern this content? To help teachers with this increasingly relevant topic, Microsoft has released a free curriculum that addresses digital citizenship, intellectual property rights, and creative content rights. 

The Digital Citizenship and Creative Content program is aimed at secondary students and offers cross-curricular classroom activities that align with the American Association of School Librarians and National Education Technology Standards. The program is designed to work to support students in becoming respectful digital citizens and provides insights and advice from other students.

The program is broken down into four comprehensive units that can be used together or independently:
  1. “Creative What?”
  2. “By Rule of Law”
  3. “Calling All Digital Citizens”
  4. “Protect Your Work, Respect Your Work”
You can check out an overview of the curriculum here and the program is free to download after registering here.  
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4 things you need to know to help your students manage their online reputation

We often hear complaints about what students say and do online, but we often neglect to look into educators helping them manage their online reputation. This infographic is geared toward adults, but it can serve as a great starting point for conversations and activities that educators can engage in with students to help them to establish an active digital footprint that represents who they want to be perceived as online.
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Mobile devices can help us take the necessary steps to keep kids healthy

Pedometer Steps for ChildrenHere a step, there a step, everywhere a step step. You may have noticed that today, steps matter.

So, how many steps have you taken today:

If you haven't caught on, the latest data tells us adults need at least 10,000 steps a day to remain healthy and steps they are a taking.  From walking the stairs, to parking further away to taking a few laps around the block while reading the latest research paper.
Pedometers are on the rise and considering that they're built into many of the mobile devices teachers and students own and love, it's no surprise that this healthy and affordable trend has taken off.

So, how are our students doing?



Well, no one cares about our child obesity. Life/death-Peh!  We measure student achievement not by how healthy young people are, but on how well they've mastered the finger exercise of drill, kill and bubblefill on standardized tests.

Interestingly, if we allowed children to get up and move as nature intended we'd find that activity, movement and play is not only crucial for boosting brain power, it also is a great way to alleviate ADD/ADHD symptoms.

Parents, teachers, and young people would agree that health and movement is important. Let's refocus priorities from memorization and regurgitation to ensuring our students reach their optimal daily movement of  about 12,000 steps a day for young people. Let's restore a move to the endangered practice of free time or recess and let our children get out and do, run, play.

Let's close down schools who keep our students sedentary and don't respect their personal fitness.

If you are an educator who is concerned about the health of yourself, your colleagues, and your students, start a knowledge movement.  Track steps. Chart steps.  Take a step in the right direction so that adults and young people can beat this obesity epidemic and move toward the road to a healthy life.
You can find even more ideas for using mobile devices in the classroom by reading Teaching Generation Text: Using Cell Phones to Enhance Learning. 
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The hottest posts that everyone's reading!

Here’s the roundup of what's been popular on The Innovative Educator blog this week. Below you’ll see the top weekly posts along with the number of pageviews. I hope there's something that looks of interest to you.  If it does, check it out. If you’re inspired, share it with others and/or leave a comment.
May 12, 2010, 67 comments

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Common core ignores the power of the interests and ideas that come from our students and teachers - Deborah Meier

Editor’s note:  I feel fortunate to be living during a period in our history where for the first time we can easily form social learning circles that bring together from around the world, experts, authors, and others that share passions and can engage in rich and meaningful dialogue. The power of the technology to connect in ways never before possible is a game changer when it comes to learning. I have brought together one such amazing network of people who come together to think about and grapple with issues of ed reform and alternatives to the status quo with The Innovative Educator group.  Here is a piece of that learning where education icon Deborah Meier shares some of her thoughts on the common core.

Deborah Meier - Shares

Its a nice thought--that it [Common Core] is offering a "common language". I wish it were. But common core as presently understood is a 13 year mandatory curriculum (developed largely by experts in testing, not the subject matter being tested) of what is to be taught--and in what sequence. It ignores the power of the interests and ideas that come from students and teachers as the basis for forming curriculum"--or of picking up from the world around us our "curriculum". Starting "where we are" intellectually and moving out from there--a common approach to thematic studies, for example. Or spending months on one "small" part of history or science, in order to be able to ask deeper questions and make deeper sense--rather than covering" a lot in order to be prepared for shallow tests. (Uncovering vs covering as we sometimes say.) etc, etc.
In the schools I’ve worked in we were able to spend months on the Constitution (if we chose to) and thus less on other aspects of American history. We could focus long enough and deeply enough to engage in projects, to question the evidence, to weigh one source over another, to imagine other possibilities, to look for patterns, to acknowledge disagreements, etc, etc. We could return to last year's themes and subject matter as it cropped up gain in the context of this year. It enabled Mission Hill to study the same topics in all grades, Kgtn to 8th grade at the same time and thus turn the whole school community into a shared learning experience, and to lie out the idea that we're never "done", there is always more to learn about the same subject in new and different ways.

It also enabled us to give younger students the experience of watching older students and vice versa as they observed each other's work. It turned our hallways into lively places for common study, made it easier to have a wide range of books on the same topics, bring in experts from outside, and on and on. In all the schools I've worked in and with we've also been able to set aside time from the exploration of our private, personal passions and see where they took us individually or as a group. It meant, of course, a different way of assessing young people's work. What we developed instead was a "common" set of questions, habits of mind we called them, for getting at what we were trying to make sense of. It also meant that we spent two years covering "less" than one year's high school physics course. And on and on.

Reading The Power of Their Ideas or In Schools We Trust may give you some sense of what such a curriculum might look like. Or read an old book--36 Children by Herb Kohl. Suggestions, from others?


Our conversations never die.  You can join in anytime here.  
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Call for Innovative Educators to become Common Sense Media reviewers

Common Sense Media is embarking on a new learning ratings initiative to rate and review apps, games, and websites for learning potential. They're seeking 50 of the nation's most innovative educators to help rate and review!Expert reviewers will be named a Common Sense Expert Reviewer, honored at our annual awards in March 2013, and much more!

Applicants should have:
  • Strong education and pedagogy experience
  • Excellent web writing and editing skills
  • Experience writing reviews or blogging about kids' educational products
  • Deep knowledge of apps, video games, and/or websites for education
Interested? Apply today! Deadline is October 26Not sure you want to apply? You can get early access to the ratings and reviews by taking this short survey.
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Parents consider the value of Twitter during the presidential #debates

Moms Party and Random Court Photos 023.jpg
Editor's note: Social media has changed how many innovative educators have watched important current events such as the presidential debates. What about their parents?

Guest post by Jennifer Bond @teambond

As I watched the Presidential Debate at my parent’s house with my iPad as a companion I opened up TweetCaster and started reading the tweets from my personal learning network (PLN) as well as from those tweeting with the hashtag #debate.  

As the debate began I shared some Tweets with my parents who acknowledged them but didn’t really say much.  As the debate progressed I shared some more tweets. My mom seemed intrigued and took my iPad.  She read through the feed and was excited to find a commonality with my Tweeps sharing, “I said that same thing a couple minutes ago!”  “Yes mom,” I replied. “Twitter allows you to validate your thoughts.”

Her interest piqued, she started asking me questions.  I gave her the general tour and started with something close to home, my younger sister’s tweets.  

As we continued watching there were many tweets we found interesting as well as those not appropriate that were trending on #debate. We discussed the value of the ability of people to freely share their thoughts on social media as well as how that should be balanced with a level of civility and respect.  That led us to discuss the importance of digital identity.  

As the final debate came upon us, I asked my mom what she thought about following Tweets during the debate.  She responded, “I think you should pay attention to the debate and not twitter.”  “But,” I reminded her, “we are paying attention to both.”  She said, “That’s how you do kids do it now, but it is not for me.  I am old-fashioned that way.”  

So, as much as my mom was curious and was able to experience a different twist to watching the debates, as of now she says the twitter interaction is not her thing.  Perhaps I need to bring my iPad more often and expose her to the interactions that take place, whether it be for a debate, a sport’s game, or even a favorite sitcom.  

I did see a speck of curiosity, which is where it all begins.  Who knows…maybe I can make a Tweeter out of her someday!

Jennifer Bond is a 3rd grade teacher, innovative teaching and learning cheerleader, and advocate for teaching to and from the heart! She regularly presents at tech conferences around Michigan, and will be one of the teachers in the upcoming educational documentary, Look I'm Learning, which will focus on technology in elementary classrooms.
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9 Ideas for Using Twitter & Storify to analyze the presidential #debates in your classroom

If you’re an innovative educator who cares about addressing issues that are relevant in the world, you're talking to your students about the debate. Analyzing the #debates tweets is one great way to take a look at the presidential candidates and utilizing the free Storify tool is a great way to tell the story they want to share.

Storify lets you turn what people post on social media into compelling stories. With Storify, you collect the best photos, video, Tweets and more to publish them as simple, beautiful stories that can be shared anywhere. Storify is a great way to make meaning of and remember important events.  

Here are ideas for doing that.
  1. If you or your students have Tweeted during the debate, create a Storify of student, teacher or class Tweets.
  2. Storify #debates Tweets of someone (or more) they know and tell the story of this person’s political views.
  3. Storify the #debates Tweets of a celebrity they admire and discuss that person’s political views.
  4. Storify each candidate and discuss what each stands for.
  5. Storify #debates along with an area of interest i.e. #edreform, #prolife, #immigration, #gayrights and see what the candidates are saying about that topic.
  6. Storify accounts like @factcheckdotorg and @politifact to see whose facts are right and wrong. 
  7. Storify student education reform author @Nikhil Goyal and #debates to get a young person's take on the best candidate for our students.
  8. Storify reporter @Joy_Resmovits and #debates to get an education reporter's take on our candidates.
  9. Storify your favorite quotes from a debate like Valerie Strauss did about education for the Washington Post
A lesson such as this is not only a terrific way to analyze current events, it is also a real and relevant way to empower your students to understand how the power of social media in conveying a message, creating a brand, and winning or losing an election.
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Should the new math be financial literacy?

Regardless of which side you fall on when it comes to the math wars, most will agree that many students leave high school, and even college, unprepared to handle their own finances. Some would agree that we have become distracted with the potential ability of math to predict future academic success or support critical thinking? In the meantime, we have lost focus on preparing young people for what will matter in their real lives. If the education system were to provide some financial literacy classes for kids, it could make a tremendous difference in the economic success of society.

Why it Would Help
If the educational system provided financial literacy classes, it could change the way that people operate later in life. People would be know how to save money, how to invest, and how to avoid debt. If more people were able to hold onto their money, society would be much wealthier overall, which would lead to fewer problems.

Helpful lessons
Financial literacy courses that provide background on simple financial matters would make a positive difference in the lives of students. Here are some important areas of focus:

  • Investing
    Provide a basic understanding of investing and how it works. They don't necessarily have to know how to pick stocks or mutual funds yet, but having a basic overview would be helpful. For example, show them the power of compound interest, and how regular investing can help them take advantage of it.
  • Credit Cards
    Educate young people on how to use credit cards responsibly. For example, they should understand how to find the lowest interest credit cards, so that they don't have to pay that much for interest charges. They should also understand the average credit card debt of each household. This way, they can avoid getting into debt problems when they get a little older.
  • Financial games
    Traditional games like Monopoly, Pay Day and video games like RollerCoaster Tycoon allow students to role play possible real-life financial scenarios. Embeded in this can be lively discussions and lessons on what decisions make the most sense.
  • Entrepreneurship
    When we help young people tap into their passions and provide them with entrepreneurship opportunities, many financial literacy lessons fall into place.  For example they can consider how much to charge for services, where and how to invest money, profit/loss, etc.  

Providing students with a financial literacy education prepares young people to be more secure and when they get older. While money isn't everything, having a grasp of basic financial matters can make a world of difference in the lives of students.
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The hottest posts that everyone is talking about

Here’s the roundup of what's been popular on The Innovative Educator blog this week. Below you’ll see the top weekly posts along with the number of pageviews. I hope there's something that looks of interest to you.  If it does, check it out. If you’re inspired, share it with others and/or leave a comment.

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Get Down and start flipping with videos for primary school students

Guest post by Shawn Rubin

Whether you're flipping your classroom, or enhancing learning, there’s no denying that instructional video can be a powerful tool in the classroom.  With older students video has the ability to stimulate conversation or elucidate a complex concept, but with younger children we don’t “sit down” to watch video. We use video to “get down” or more appropriately to get up, move around the room, sing, dance, and act. In grades k-2 video is more than a digital method of conveying information it’s an engaging catalyst for learning that is used to grab attention. This allows for repetition or practice, which leads to retention of information as well as the expansion of ideas, thoughts, and conversations.

There are many skills that are valuable for early readers and mathematicians. Focused attention is important in order for that initial concept acquisition to begin. When channeled properly this focused engagement allows children who may be struggling on pencil and paper the ability to flourish through visual stimulus. Whether it’s vocabulary acquisition, concept memorization, item sequencing, story retelling, or simply learning a song, video has the power to imprint visual cues and mental bookmarks onto teacher lessons.

Unlike most teacher-centered introductions of skills and content, video has a clearly defined start and end point. Students understand that they must bring their attention forward at the time the play button is clicked and for the next few minutes they know exactly where their focus should be.

There are some great videos, like this children’s song or this nature clip that have the ability to imprint themselves in students minds the first or second time they watch them. But teachers who let the video do all the work while the children just sit and watch will ultimately limit how often video can go be used in their classrooms because eventually the new “fantastic videos” will replace the learning that was derived from the previous clips the students watched.

However, when teachers combine the power of digital media with the kinesthetic reinforcement of movement, dance, acting, sign language and finger play they double the video’s impact and give it stand-alone capability.

By creating unique movement based features for each video that enters the classroom the teacher allows the child a greater chance at recalling the content, process, or skill, while increasing the student’s ability to apply and own this learning for later application.

Shawn Rubin serves as the Director of Technology Integration at the Highlander Institute in Providence, RI. Shawn oversees the Institute’s blended learning and technology integration professional development programming. Shawn is also the CEO of Metryx, a start-up mobile software company that is building flexible assessment tools for educators to use on tablets and smartphones. Shawn began his education career as a founding faculty member of the Highlander Charter School teaching a range of grades including four years of kindergarten during his 11 years in the classroom. Shawn lives in Providence with his wife and two sons. You can find Shawn @shawncrubin or
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Mobile Learning Summit for NY / NJ Educators

On November 2 innovative educators will gather at the STEM Building at Kean University in New Jersey for the inaugural Mobile Learning Summit to share their experiences using mobile devices and BYOD initiatives.

Keynote Sp
eaker,  Lisa Dawley, Ph.D., will be presenting "Creating a Successful Mobile Adoption in the Classroom and Beyond!" and then attendees will select sessions of their choosing.  I will present The 7 Building Blocks for Success with Your Mobile Devices for Learning.

The Mobile Learning Summit is offered through the School for Global Education and Innovation (SGEI) and is designed for the K-20 education community to discuss, learn and share best practices in regards to Mobile Learning.

Visit the Summit website for more information. You can register here. The conference fee is $139. Contact Lisa Thumann, Assistant Director, SGEI with any questions.
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