Category: Activities

Digital Portfolio Challenge Posts

As regular Radical readers know, I’ve started a Digital Portfolio Pilot Project on my learning team (see here and here).  My goal is to encourage my students to become more reflective about their own learning.  After all, feedback GATHERED BY learners is ALWAYS more valuable than feedback GIVEN TO learners.

One of the things that I’ve noticed, though, is that my students really struggle with the language of reflection.  

The vast majority of the early posts that they are adding to their digital portfolios have been simple summaries of classroom activities.  They’ve written about books that they are reading or questions that they are wondering about or movies that they’ve watched.  They’ve written about concepts that they’ve studied and formulas they’ve learned and cultures they’ve explored.

But they haven’t told me much about their strengths or their weaknesses or the progress that they are making as learners.  They haven’t shared much evidence of their learning or set new goals for themselves or celebrated successes that they’ve had.

I think that’s because we rarely ask students to think reflectively about their own learning.

Stew in that for a minute.  How often do you set time aside for students to think about what they know and what they don’t know?  Do the kids in your classroom have a chance to think about who they are as learners on a regular basis?  More importantly, are you regularly asking them to draw conclusions and set direction based on their OWN analysis of what they know and can do?  Stated more simply, do the kids in your room act like passive students or active learners?

To facilitate active reflection in my students, I’ve created a series of Digital Portfolio Challenge Tasks.

You can find them posted here in my Teachers Pay Teachers shop.

Each challenge task asks students to reflect in a different way.  Some ask students to rank order the study strategies that work the best for them.  Others ask students to compare learning experiences IN school to learning experiences BEYOND school.  Some involve creating written reflections about academic successes and others involve creating video tutorials and/or How To guides to demonstrate mastery of a particular skill or concept.

Here are a few examples of those challenge tasks:

Share a YouTube video that OTHER people can learn from.  

Whether you realize it or not, you are an expert on a ton of topics.  Choose one of those areas of expertise.  Then, find and share a YouTube video that novices can learn from.  Write about the reasons that you think the video makes for a good tutorial for rookies.  What should they expect to learn by watching the video?  What should they do AFTER watching the video?

Share a learning tip for a younger student.  

What one bit of advice would you make to a younger student about succeeding as a learner?  Why does that tip matter so much?  How do you know that tip will work?  Has that tip helped you as a learner?  How?

Share an example of work that you improved through revision.

The best learners are always revising their work.  Share an example of something that YOU have improved through revision.  Show us your first draft or explain to us your original thoughts.  Then, show us your final draft or explain to us your final thoughts.  Point out specific places where you made your work better.  Tell us HOW those changes made your work better.  Tell us what you would do if you were to revise this work again.  

My plan is to assign a new challenge task to students each week.

Not only will that give students a chance to experiment with reflecting in a TON of different ways, it will also generate a TON of different examples of just what reflection looks and sounds like in action as kids read the content being created by their peers.  Over time, my hope is that students won’t need challenge posts in order to create new content for their portfolio — but at least for the time being, their lack of experience with in-depth reflection is holding them back.

So whaddya’ think of all of this?  Do your students struggle with the language of reflection, too?  

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Related Radical Reads:

My Digital Portfolio Project Planning

More on My Digital Portfolio Project

 

 

Anatomy of a SMiShing Text Message.

An interesting text message landed in my inbox the other day.

Here’s what it looked like:

(click to enlarge)

My first reaction was to panic a bit.  I do a ton of work on public wireless networks — and even though I use a VPN to protect my deets from snooping eyes, I’m always worried that I’m going to give away enough information to get myself hacked.  Maybe it’s paranoia — but in today’s world, paranoia is probably a good thing.

But then my bunk detectors kicked in.  Can you spot the three reasons that this text message raised alarms?

Here’s what caught my eye:

The sender of the message is trying to make me panic:  Probably the most important step to detecting whether a text or email message is up to no good is to ask yourself a simple question – “Is this person trying to make me panic?”  Fear is the best friend of a phisherman, after all.  If I’m convinced that my account has been hacked or my money has been stolen, I’m more likely to take immediate action — read: hit that link and enter my most important details — than I am to stop and think.

So whenever I spot an attempt to generate fear, I force myself to slow down and look a little more carefully at the message that I’ve received.

The web address in the link is wonky:  Seriously.  Read it.  Why would a major company point me to any address as weird as http://bankofamerica.caseid-2078.com?  That’s a cheap trick that phishermen (and other shady folks like the leaders of the Fake News brigades) are resorting to.  Their hope is that as I’m panicking over my breached account, I’m going to see the first half of the web address without questioning the second half.

The harried, urgent, worried me might see “Bank of America” and click.  The thoughtful, skeptical, refuse-to-be-tricked me read the whole address and said, “Nope.  Not falling for that.”  And the Interwebs loving me typed the address into my Google Machine and found about a thousand references to a phishing scam.

#anotherwinforthegoodguys

Banks don’t usually send text messages — particularly asking users to update their personal information:  In a world where phishing — and in this case, SMiShing — has become an all too common method for evil creeps to fleece the innocents, banks have taken a pretty hard-line approach to contacting customers.  They pretty much NEVER send out email or text messages when there is a problem.  That protects everyone.

I don’t know if that is Bank of America’s policy.  I’ve never bothered to look, to be honest.  But I DO know that it is the policy of most major banks.  That means I never take emails and texts from banks seriously.

So how did you do?  Did you pick up on all three of the things that raised alarm bells in my mind?  If so, huzzah for you!

Now for a more important question:  Could your STUDENTS spot all of that sketchiness?  

If not, you’ve got some teaching to do!

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Related Radical Reads:

What are YOU Doing to Teach Students to Spot Fake News Stories?

The Anatomy of a Hoax Website

Curating Sources on Controversial Topics

 

 

 

 

 

What Are You Doing to Teach Students to Spot Fake News Stories?

One of the most interesting conversations currently taking place around Donald Trump’s surprise victory in our Presidential election has been the role that fake news peddled and promoted in Facebook news streams may have played in swaying voters.  Mark Zuckerberg — Facebook’s charismatic founder — has called the notion that fake news is a problem on his site “a pretty crazy idea” and argued that a clear process is in place that allows users to flag suspicious or hateful content for further review.

But that position was openly challenged over and over again all week long.

Buzzfeed, a popular online source covering digital media and technology, opened the criticism by publishing the frightening results of an analysis of the election stories generating the most engagement — think likes, shares and comments — on Facebook in the final three months of the election.  Here’s what they found:

NPR went on to interview Facebook executives and employees to gain insight into just what happens when suspicious or hateful content is flagged for review on the site.  

Turns out, the process isn’t consistent, thorough or reliable.  It’s true that every piece of content is reviewed by a human being, but those human beings are mostly working in other countries simply because Facebook has subcontracted the work to save money.  Worse yet, while every decision is supposed to take the complete context of a situation into consideration before decisions are made, employees are evaluated based on the number of pieces of content that they review in a single day.

From the NPR article:

“Current and former employees of Facebook say that they’ve observed these subcontractors in action; that they are told to go fast — very fast; that they’re evaluated on speed; and that on average, a worker makes a decision about a piece of flagged content once every 10 seconds.

Let’s do a back-of-the-envelope calculation. Say a worker is doing an eight-hour shift, at the rate of one post per 10 seconds. That means they’re clearing 2,880 posts a day per person. When NPR ran these numbers by current and former employees, they said that sounds reasonable.”

Perhaps the most interesting article was this Washington Post interview with Paul Horner, who writes fake news stories for a living.  Horner reports making close to $10,000 a MONTH off of the clicks on advertisements included on the fake news sites that he maintains.  Every post that he writes on his slick looking ABC News ripoff website, for example, can make him rich, as long as it goes viral on Facebook.  And what does Horner think of the people sharing his content over and over again?

It’s not pretty:

“Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Scrutiny of Facebook’s treatment of fake news and the hefty rewards paid to peddlers of lies by companies like Google who rely on advertising revenue have pressured both services into much-needed action:  They are working to develop policies that will effectively ban fake news sources like Horner’s from access to corporate advertising programs in an attempt to dry up the revenue streams that provide the motivation to pollute the web with hoaxes and lies.

But I think that’s the wrong solution to Facebook’s fake news problem.

We don’t need new policies and tools from tech companies to identify sketchy content on the web.  Instead, we need to develop citizens who take careful steps to verify that the information they are reading anywhere on the web is reliable.  That’s a new literacy in today’s complicated media ecology — and it is a new literacy that we give too little attention to in schools.

The good news is that teaching students to identify sketchy content isn’t all that hard to do.  

There are simple questions that kids can ask when evaluating the reliability of a web source that can turn them into top-notch bunk filters without needing any help from Facebook or Google.  Here are three:

How believable is this story to me?  

The first lesson that I try to teach my students when spotting sketchy news stories is that their common sense is the most powerful tool that they have for fighting back against misinformation on the web.  If a story just doesn’t seem plausible, it’s probably fake — and the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of fake news stories really ARE that easy to spot.  People with good common sense don’t get fooled very often — as long as they are willing to trust their intuition.

Try that with two recent headlines on Horner’s fake ABC News website:  Obama Signs Executive Order Banning National Anthem at All Sporting Events  and Obama Signs Executive Order Banning Pledge of Allegience from All Schools Nationwide.  Do either of those headlines seem even a little bit believable?  Would a person who served as President of our country REALLY want to ban things like the National Anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance?  No matter what you think about the people or parties leading our nation, chances are that they care enough about our country to protect our national symbols.  That’s just common sense.

And double-checking your common sense is super easy:  Just take questionable headlines and drop them into Google.  In most cases — including the notion that Obama is banning the Pledge of Allegiance — you’ll see that reliable sites like Snopes and FactCheck.Org that are committed to debunking lies on the Internet have already reviewed the claims in question.

What do I know about this news source?

I also try to teach my students that spending a few minutes researching the author and the website of every piece of news that they are exploring can help them to spot sketchy news stories.  Does the web address look reliable?  What can you learn from the “About Us” or “Contact” links found on the page?  What kind of search results are returned when you Google the name of the author of the article that you are reading?

Asking those questions about Dan Horner’s ABC News website would identify it as a fraud in no time.

The web address — http://abcnews.com.co/ — is the first giveaway.  Why would a major news network add a “.co’ to the end of its web address?  What’s more, the contact information on the site shows that the headquarters of ABC News is a Tudor style home in Topeka, Kansas — and just a few minutes of digging into the background of Dr. Jimmy Rustling, one of the lead authors on the site, brings up this tongue-in-cheek bio of the author and this set of Google Search Results explaining that “Jimmy Rustling” and “Rustle my Jimmies” are slang terms for evoking strong emotions.

Can I spot any loaded words in the piece I am reading?

The final lesson that I try to teach my students is that loaded words and phrases — descriptions that imply a strong emotion and/or position — are signs indicating that the author or source is trying to push readers to feel a certain way about a topic instead of simply reporting the news in an unbiased way.  They are an easy way to spot opinions instead of facts — and while opinions aren’t automatically wrong, they need to be questioned by readers instead of accepted at face value.

What’s interesting is that Dan Horner’s fake news site avoids loaded words for the most part — which is one of the reasons that it is so successful at generating attention.  Each piece sounds like an unbiased reporting of fact — even if those facts are impossible to believe.

But you don’t have to go far to find loaded words in news sources.  Can you spot the loaded words in these headlines from Fox News and the Huffington Post:  Arizona Presidental Electors Being Harrassed, This is What it Means to Imprison a Whole Category of People.

In the first headline, I’d want my students to notice that “being harassed” is a loaded phrase that could mean a heck of a lot of things.  Good readers would want to know what that harassment looked like before making a decision about the importance of the event.  In the second headline, I’d want my students to notice that “imprison a whole category of people” is a phrase designed to elicit fear.  Good readers would want to unpack that.  Are newly elected officials REALLY trying to imprison entire categories of Americans?  Or is “imprison” a metaphor?

In many ways, this is my favorite lesson to teach because kids LOVE looking for loaded words and phrases.  Spotting the sneaky ways that authors are trying to influence readers — and then trying to decide if the evidence in the article actually supports the author’s opinions — is like a scavenger hunt to them.

I’ve pulled all this content together into a handout that you can use if you are interested in teaching your students how to spot fake news sources.  You can find it posted online here on my Teachers Pay Teachers website.  

Does any of this make sense to you?  More importantly, are you taking active steps to teach your kids the skills necessary to spot sketchy news stories?

#youshouldbe

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If teaching students about managing information, thinking critically and engaging in collaborative dialogue resonates with you, check out Teaching the iGeneration — Bill’s book on using digital tools to introduce students to essential skills like information management, collaborative dialogue and critical thinking.  

 

Tool Review: Quizlet Live

So here’s an interesting confession:  I am NOT a huge fan of teaching vocabulary.  I get that it is important — particularly in a content specific field like science where understanding individual terms is essential for fluent communication.  I just don’t like doing it.

Which is one of the reasons that I’ve tinkered with Quizlet over the years.  Quizlet has always made it easy to give kids multiple opportunities to practice their vocabulary.  Teachers create word sets by entering terms and adding — or selecting — definitions.  Quizlet does the rest, creating four or five different kinds of activities for student users that range from working with digital flashcards to playing a speed based matching game called Scatter.

Need an example of what this all looks like in action?

Check out this word set that my students are currently practicing with and tinker with the tools available to learners:

https://quizlet.com/_2f8q39

Quizlet upped its game recently by releasing a new activity called Quizlet Live that is pretty darn amazing.

Quizlet Live makes it possible for students to participate in a competitive vocabulary review game against their classmates from any device.

What makes Quizlet Live unique is that students compete on randomly assigned teams of three or four students.  Even better:  The correct answer for each question asked during the game appears on only ONE group member’s screen.  The result:  When a question is asked, teams need to first figure out what the correct answer is and then figure out which partner has the correct answer on their screen.

Here’s a short video introducing Quizlet Live:

We played it for the first time in class on Thursday and I’m sold.

Not only did my students enjoy practicing with their vocabulary words — something that middle schoolers rarely look forward to — but they enjoyed practicing with their classmates.  They worked with students they normally wouldn’t choose to work with, recognized that there were other experts in the room who could help them learn, came to rely on one another because they had no other choice, and celebrated victories together.

In many ways, Quizlet Live is a perfect blend of two other tools that I’ve experimented with over the years:  Kahoot and Socrative.

Like Kahoot — which I review here — my kids LOVED the competitive element of Quizlet Live.  They loved racing against other teams, trying to be the first to answer every question and to get bragging rights over their peers.

And like Socrative — which I review here — Quizlet Live encourages students to find the RIGHT answers to questions instead of rewarding random guessing by forcing teams that get wrong answers to start the entire game over AND to spend five seconds reviewing both the missed definition and the definition of the incorrect answer given.  My kids figured out quickly that there’s some truth to the notion that you have to go slow to go fast.  Thinking through answers together and being right — even if it took a little longer — was often the difference between finishing first and finishing last.

Are there limitations to Quizlet Live?  

Sure.  Probably the biggest limitation is that it is REALLY difficult to play the game productively if you don’t have a ton of devices in your classroom.  Even when students share devices with one partner, teams of three or four quickly swell to teams of six to eight.  That’s unproductive simply because it leads to some students doing a ton of work and some students sitting quietly, hitchhiking instead of participating.  I’m also not convinced that Quizlet Live can handle questions that move beyond simple recall and review of core facts or vocabulary words.

But my kids were JAZZED the entire time we were playing and BUMMED when our class period ended.  For a lesson designed to review essential vocabulary, that’s a pretty darn good outcome.

__________________

Related Radical Reads:

Tool Review: Kahoot

Three #edtech Tools Worth Exploring Right Now

Blaming and Shaming Teachers for Low Level #edtech Practices

Tool Review: Blendspace by TES Teach

One of the challenges of teaching science to sixth graders is that many of the most common lab procedures and processes are new to them.  Everything from identifying constants and variables to using lab equipment properly can lead to a slew of questions and slow groups to a steady crawl.

That’s why I started tinkering with Blendspace — a digital tool that makes it possible for users to create a landing page filled with content that users can consume.  I figured that if I could point students to one site that could answer all of their questions, lab time would be more manageable for me and more productive for my kids.

Need to see a sample of Blendspace in action?  Check out this one, covering important information for a lab we are currently completing:

http://bit.ly/6sciptlab

Each tile on the Blendspace represents a piece of content that will help students to successfully complete their lab.  Students can work through the space in order from beginning to end by hitting the “Play” button at the top of the screen OR they can click on the icons in the bottom right hand corner of each tile to explore individual resources answering specific questions.

Creating my Blendspace was a breeze.

After planning out all the content that I thought my students would need in order to successfully complete our lab, I sat behind my cell phone camera to record and upload my videos directly to YouTube.  Adding those same videos to Blendspace tiles was a one-click process.  The other content — links to online tutorials or videos, links to individual Google Docs, text-based slides sharing directions and/or information — were just as easy to add.

Putting this Blendspace together — recording videos, organizing content, adding tiles, making a short link with Bitly — probably took about 90 minutes from start to finish.  That’s TOTALLY worth it if it helps students to answer their own questions during our labs AND if I plan to use the same lab in future years.  Better yet, my Blendspace will help other teachers on my learning team who are teaching the same lab — saving everyone a ton of time and energy.

I see potential in Blendspace because it’s a tool that solves a specific problem for me.

Providing students with recorded directions and organized sets of materials for every lab promotes independence and frees me up to interact more meaningfully with the kids in my classroom.

Whaddya’ think?

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Related Radical Reads:

Tool Review: Screencastify

Tool Review:  Google Expeditions

Tool Review: Edpuzzle