Category Archives: Teachers Know the Content that They Teach

Three Reasons YOU Should Be Hashtagging Your Curriculum.

Late last school year, I jumped feet first into a project called #hashtag180.

First proposed by Kyle Hamstra, #hashtag180 encourages teachers to grab and share images and video of either the work they are doing in their classrooms or the real world application of content that they are expected to teach.  The key, however, is to then add a hashtag representing the specific curriculum standard that the content being shared represents.

Here’s a sample:

Do you see the #sci6p31 hashtag at the end of the message?

THAT’s what makes #hashtag180 work different from the sharing we have always done in social spaces.  It represents the specific curriculum objective that my Tweet was designed to teach — and by adding it, I’ve made this content searchable by standard.

That means when I’m teaching this same content next year, I can easily find the strategies that I used to engage my kids.  Just as importantly, that means OTHER TEACHERS who are teaching the same content can easily find the strategies that I’m using to engage my kids.

So why should other teachers consider hashtagging their curriculum?  

Here’s three reasons:

You will learn your curriculum inside out:  If you are anything like me, you probably don’t spend a ton of time in your standards documents.  You know what units you are expected to teach. You have a good sense for what topics need to be addressed in those units.  And if you’ve been at it for a while, you even know the activities that you use to teach each of those topics.

But here’s the thing:  If you aren’t regularly reviewing your curriculum, you may be making a whole ton of faulty assumptions about just what it is that your kids are expected to know and be able to do.

Just because you’ve taught a unit or a topic for years doesn’t mean that unit or topic is an essential part of the required curriculum for the kids in your care.

When you start hashtagging your curriculum, however, you are automatically forced to revisit your curriculum documents to ensure that you are adding the right tag to the messages that you are sharing.  That constant revisiting means you will always be fully aware of whether or not the content you are teaching is actually in your curriculum — and that’s a really good thing.

 

You can build a digital portfolio detailing your mastery of your content area:  Regardless of the state, province or country that you work in, there’s a good chance that your teacher evaluation protocols require you to demonstrate a deep and meaningful understanding of the content that you teach.  You are also probably expected to have a strong sense of content specific pedagogy — or the best ways to teach the concepts in your curriculum to your students.

Every time that you hashtag your curriculum, you are creating evidence — sorted by standard — of just what YOU know and can do with your curriculum.

Imagine walking into your next teacher evaluation meeting with your supervisor or your next interview with a new school and being able to quickly search for specific examples of your teaching strategies by each individual standard in your required curriculum.

Or imagine how impressive you would be if you created a digital portfolio like mine that included every #hashtag180 post you’ve ever made — and they were all sorted by the standards you are required to teach.

Talk about an impressive professional behavior, right?

 

You can begin sharing engaging academic content to your school’s social media profiles:  Go take a look at your school’s Facebook page or Twitterstream.  Now, check out what pops up when you use your school’s dedicated hashtag.

If your school is anything like most schools, there are probably a TON of calendar updates and/or generic celebrations.  Your band guy has probably posted a picture of his jazz ensemble at a competition.  Your athletic director has probably posted the final score of the most recent basketball game.  Your principal has probably posted a picture of a smiling kid walking in from carpool.

But can you find anything that is directly and explicitly tied to the way that teachers are delivering the required curriculum?

That’s interesting, isn’t it?

And that’s one of the reasons that I share every one of my #hashtag180 posts to our schools #salemproud stream.  The way that I see it, if parents are able to see me thinking about and explaining my curriculum in our social spaces, they will begin to see our school as a place where curriculum is just as important as the jazz band competitions or the final scores of our basketball games.

Sharing academic content that is directly connected to the required curriculum sends the message that (1). academics matter here and (2). our teachers are geeked about their curriculum.  Those are important messages to share.

Long story short: There are a thousand reasons why hashtagging your curriculum make sense.  It’s a practice that every teacher ought to think about embracing.

#thanksKyle


Related Radical Reads:

Will You Join Me in the Hashtag 180 Challenge?

More on My #Hashtag180 Work.

Turning #hashtag180 Posts into a Digital Portfolio

 

Are Your Science Standards Producing Scientifically Literate Citizens?

Blogger’s Note:  This post is long and nerdy.  But it’s essential.  I double-dog dare you to read the entire thing. 

As many of you know, I’ve been working hard over the last several months (see here, here and here) to get to know my curriculum better by creating a digital portfolio full of short, standard-specific videos that I record a few times a week and post to the web.

The effort — inspired by Kyle Hamstra’s #hashtag180 work — has really been rewarding.  Not only am I creating content that many of my students dig viewing, I’m also creating instructionally centered content for our school’s social media feeds and creating a searchable archive of my instructional practices all while studying my standards in a more systematic way than ever before.

This week, I was teaching students about experimental design.  Specifically, we were talking about the role that dependent and independent variables play in creating reliable results and in drawing reliable conclusions.

But when I went to post my final videos to Twitter and hashtag them with the standards that those lessons represented, I discovered that the North Carolina Standard Course of Study for sixth grade science doesn’t articulate the core elements of good experimental design at all.

Instead, the standards make general reference to the importance of teaching experimental design in “seamless integration” with scientific content knowledge.

Now I know what you are thinking:  What’s the big deal, Bill?  So content is emphasized in your standards.  Sounds pretty typical for a science curriculum.  

Let me show you just how big a deal this is.  Start by checking out a few standards from the North Carolina Science Curriculum:

Recognize that all matter is made up of atoms and atoms of the same element are all alike, but are different from the atoms of other elements.

Explain the effect of heat on the motion of atoms through a description of what happens to particles during a change in phase.

Compare the physical properties of pure substances that areindependent of the amount of matter present including density, melting point, boiling point, and solubility to properties that are dependent on the amount of matter present to include volume, mass and weight.

Now, look at similar standards from the Next Generation Science Standards:

Develop models to describe the atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.

Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.

Develop a model that predicts and describes changes in particle motion, temperature, and state of a pure substance when thermal energy is added or removed.

You see the difference, right?  

Every one of the Next Gen Science Standards REQUIRES students to engage in good experimental design.  In fact, the emphasis of the standard is on the process of science instead of the scientific content that kids are supposed to learn.

More importantly, the specific element of experimental design that students are supposed to learn is mentioned explicitly by name in each and every standard.  Students should be developing models and analyzing and interpreting data.  Is content important?  Sure.  But scientific and engineering practice is just as — if not more — important.

All kids in North Carolina are expected to do is “recognize,” “explain,” and “compare” — lower level thinking skills that have nothing to do with designing reliable experiments.

Now, think through the impact that one seemingly small difference has on the instructional choices of classroom teachers.

Teachers working in states that have adopted the Next Gen Science Standards know, without a doubt, that they need to be creating lessons that allow students to DO science.  Not only that, they know exactly which scientific process skills their kids are supposed to master unit by unit.  To successfully teach their standards, they have to do more than just deliver content.  They need to develop practicing scientists.

And principals working in states that have adopted the Next Gen Science Standards know, without a doubt, that for a teacher to be successful in the science classroom, they need to be doing more than just delivering content to kids.  Instead of observing science teachers through the lens of, “Are they teaching kids the right concepts?” they are observing science teachers through the lens of, “Are they teaching kids to act like practicing scientists?”

In North Carolina, on the other hand, science teachers are told to “seamlessly integrate” science process skills into their instruction, but they are left to figure out what those process skills are.  Worse yet, if they skip over the opening statement in their standards document — something I’m betting most teachers probably do — they would never see a single reference to experimental design or process skills.  Instead, they’d see a list of facts that they were supposed to teach their kids over the course of a school year.

And principals in North Carolina might have no real cause to question science teachers who spend most of their time delivering content instead of engaging students in experimentation.  After all, specific experimentation skills aren’t explicitly mentioned anywhere in the curriculum anyway.  If a principal has no background in science, they’d have no reason to question “content-first” pedagogy — and no way to support something different.

Which classroom do you want to have your kids in?

But here’s an even MORE IMPORTANT question:  Which classroom is going to result in scientifically literate citizens that can make sense of the research being used by politicians to make decisions that will have an impact on our planet for generations?

Take climate change, for example:  Our current president has called climate change a hoax perpetuated by China to hurt U.S. manufacturing efforts.  The current director of the EPA has argued that the science around the impact that carbon is having on our environment is unsettled.

Our current Energy Secretary thinks that the oceans — not humans — are the “primary control knob” of our planet’s increasingly rising temperatures.  Organizations funded by the oil industry are generating their own “research” calling climate change into question — and then systematically sending that research directly to K-12 science teachers in an attempt to influence the message being delivered to elementary, middle and high school students.

In the meantime, there are NO professional scientific organizations — groups representing practicing scientists — that doubt the impact that man is having on our planet’s increasing temperatures.

None.

Not one.

So someone’s lying, right?

Whether it is the political leaders currently making policy or the scientists generating research to document our changing planet, someone isn’t telling us the whole truth about the conclusions they are drawing or the positions that they are taking.

There’s simply no way that climate change can simultaneously be a hoax and a position supported by carefully conducted scientific research.

THAT’s why it’s so important that students in every school — regardless of state — learn about experimental design, y’all.

Even if they never become practicing scientists — and most of them won’t — the kids in your classrooms will be faced with a thousand moments where decisions that will affect their lives are made based on science.  Some of those decisions will be supported with reliable research and evidence-based conclusions.

Others won’t.

If our kids grow up in classrooms where they are learning about the characteristics of quality experiments, they will be better prepared to draw their own conclusions about those decisions because they will be able to identify research worth believing in and research worth questioning because of flawed experimental design.

If our kids grow up in classrooms where content is prioritized and the elements of good experimental design are left to chance because they are buried in the opening paragraphs of standards documents and identified only as “essential” and important for “seamless integration”, I’m not sure they will ever have the skills necessary to make literate judgments about the research being used to shape their lives.

Go take a look at your state’s science standards now.  They really are a helluva lot more important than you think.  

———————

 

Related Radical Reads:

When Did Teaching Science Become Political Bloodsport?

More on Teaching Science and Political Bloodsport.

Climate Deniers Sending Sketchy Science to Every K-12 Public School Teacher in America.

More on My #Hashtag180 Work.

Regular Radical Readers know (see here and here) that I’ve accepted Kyle Hamstra’s #hashtag180 challenge.  That means I’ve been sharing regular content in my Twitterstream highlighting the work that I’m doing in my classroom with specific curriculum standards.

I’m a month into the challenge, so I figured some reflection is in order.  Here are four lessons that I’ve learned so far:

I really HAVE looked at my curriculum more this month than I have in years.

One of Kyle’s central arguments is that #hashtag180 work matters because it makes teachers more familiar with their required curriculum.  That’s definitely been true for me.  Because I know that I am going to make new posts each day and that each of those posts needs to be tagged with a standard from my curriculum, I’ve opened my state standards and unpacking document every work day for almost a month.

And that’s had a huge impact on my instruction.  Specifically, I’ve discovered things that I’ve taught for the better part of a decade that aren’t really emphasized in my curriculum AND things that ARE in my required curriculum that I didn’t even realize I was supposed to be teaching.

I guess I should be embarrassed about that confession — but my guess is that MOST teachers don’t spend a ton of time revisiting their standards after they’ve taught them for a few years.  Participating in #hashtag180 has changed that for me.

Recording video posts and aiming them at my students and parents was a great decision.

Many of the people who are sharing content in the #hashtag180 stream share still shots of students working on projects or evidence of their standards in action spotted in their day-to-day activities.  While I respect those posts and recognize that those teachers are learning just as much about their required curriculum as I am, I decided early on that my #hashtag180 contributions were going to be short (less than two minute) videos aimed at my students.

My reasons were simple:  I knew that if my #hashtag180 efforts were going to be sustainable, I had to get as much value from the time, energy and effort that I was investing in making posts as possible.  By creating videos, I knew that I was also creating interesting content that my students and parents might be interested in watching, too.  That turned each #hashtag180 post into more than just a learning opportunity for me.  Each post is now a learning opportunity for me AND a review tool for my students AND a communication tool for my parents.

And I know it’s making a difference:  First, more than one student has come up to me to share that they are always excited to see the newest video that I post.  In fact, one complained after I missed a day last week.  Then, a parent at our rising sixth grade open house Tuesday night approached me and said, “I follow you on Twitter.  Love your videos.  Made my kid watch every one of them already!”

That’s totally worth the time that I spend working up #hashtag180 posts each day — and my bet is that video content is the reason that my posts are gaining attention.  If I was sharing still shots, I’m not sure that parents or kids would be all that interested.

Adding our school’s hashtag to each #hashtag180 post adds vibrancy to our school’s social presence.

As I mentioned in an earlier bit here on the Radical, I’m working hard to market our school to interested parents in our local community.  To help with those efforts, I’ve started adding our school’s dedicated hashtag (#SalemProud) to each of my #hashtag180 Tweets.

Here’s why that matters:  Now, any parents who follow our school’s hashtag will see MORE than just scheduling information or celebrations of school happenings.  They will ALSO see teachers sharing academic content in an approachable and engaging way.

That SHOULD leave them better prepared to understand just what it is that kids are learning in our school.  More importantly, that SHOULD leave them with the feeling that teachers in our building are passionate about communicating their content to kids — and that’s a feeling I want everyone in our community to have about our school.

And what does it cost me?  Nothing.  I’m making #hashtag180 posts anyway.

That gives me yet another stack of added value for every post that I make.

#notbadright

I love (like seriously LOVE) my growing digital portfolio.

Another great decision that I made was to figure out how to use IFTTT to automatically cross-post each #hashtag180 Tweet to a dedicated blog sorted by standard.

The result:  I’ve got the beginnings of an AWESOME digital portfolio that I can use to PROVE that I know both my content and the kids that I teach.

Check it out here.

Notice how each video is neatly embedded in new posts?  See how every post that I’ve made is sorted by standard in the sidebar?  ALL of that happens automatically every time that I make a new post in Twitter.  IFTTT searches my Tweets, finds posts with standards-based hashtags, and adds them as a new blog entry WITH the correct labels.  The entire process is automated.  It takes me no time at all.

Like zero.  None.  Nada. Absolutely zippo.

Think about how valuable that all is.  Not only can I go back next year and review the questions that I asked and demonstrations that I did, I can prove to my principal — or to anyone that I interview with in the future — that I understand my standards and have developed effective ways to teach those standards to my students.

And better yet, I’m not the only one that benefits from my digital portfolio.  I’ve shared the link with the parents and students of my team again — figuring that most are unlikely to follow me in Twitter or to spot the posts that I’m sharing their regularly.  Now, they don’t have to worry about joining a social space they may not be interested in (or old enough to join) to see the content that I’m creating.  They can bookmark my blog — or subscribe to get new posts delivered to their email inbox — and see everything that I share.

Other teachers who are responsible for teaching similar standards or concepts can also learn from my digital portfolio.  Maybe they will see a demo that they hadn’t considered before.  Maybe they will hear language that they hadn’t considered using to explain individual concepts before.

Either way, by using IFTTT to cross-post content on an outward facing blog, I’ve created opportunities for sharing that cost me absolutely nothing because that sharing is done automatically.

So let’s summarize:  By accepting Kyle’s #hashtag180 challenge, I’ve committed myself to five minutes of extra work every day.  That’s it.  

I am always on the lookout for something that I am doing with students in the classroom that I can turn into a video.  After recording — which I do directly from my phone in the Twitter app — I have to open my standards (which are also downloaded to my phone) to be sure that I am adding the right standard hashtag to my Tweet.

That’s it.  That’s all I do.

The hardest part of the entire process is holding the “record” button on my phone with one hand while trying to conduct a demonstration with my other hand.

#notkidding

#Ineedlongerarms

And in return, I get:

  • A stronger awareness of my required curriculum.
  • Final products that students can use to review important concepts covered in class.
  • Final products that parents can use to better understand what their kids are learning.
  • Final products that add a sense of vibrancy to our school’s social presence.
  • A digital portfolio that demonstrates my mastery of my required curriculum
  • A collection of resources that other teachers can learn from.

Not bad for five extra minutes of work each day, huh?

So when will YOU accept the #hashtag180 challenge?

#doubledogdare

_____________________

Related Radical Reads:

Will You Join Me in the #hashtag180 Challenge?

Turning #hashtag180 Posts into a Digital Portfolio

I’ve Started Using a Dedicated Hashtag to Market My School

Turning #hashtag180 Posts into a Digital Portfolio.

Regular Radical readers know that I’ve jumped on Kyle Hamstra’s #hashtag180 project — which is an effort designed to get teachers to understand their curricula on a deeper level by regularly Tweeting pictures, videos and/or lessons that are hashtagged with the specific essential standard that they are designed to support.

After two weeks of doing my best to share out examples of what I am doing with specific standards in my classroom, I’ve decided that I’m hooked.

I think what I love the best about the project is that it has forced me to think more carefully about my curriculum than ever before.  In fact, I’ve opened our state’s essential standards document more in the last two weeks than I have in the past two  years.

I’ve also decided to turn my daily posts into short video wonder questions for my students.

Need a sample?  Then check this one out:

 

The way I see it, by turning my #hashtag180 posts into short video wonder questions or learning moments for my kids, I’m maximizing the value of the time that I spend creating each new post because it can be used as a parent/student communication tool, too.  I’m more likely to continue creating new #hashtag180 posts if each post serves multiple purposes and helps me to tackle multiple responsibilities.

Finally, I’ve found a way to turn my #hashtag180 posts into a real live digital portfolio that would make George Couros proud.

Here’s how:  I’ve created an applet using IFTT — a cool service designed to automate certain parts of our online lives — that searches for my new #hashtag180 Tweets and then posts them on this dedicated Blogger blog sorted by standard.

All that I had to do was create a “formula” in IFTT — which stands for If This, Then That — asking the service to search for Tweets with my curriculum specific hashtag and then to embed those Tweets as new posts in Blogger.

Here’s what the formula looks like:

It took a bit of tinkering to figure out the right “formula” for my applet, but now that I’ve got it figured out, I just have to duplicate it for each of the standard hashtags that I plan to use during the school year and my digital portfolio will build itself over time.  For example, here’s the formula for the next standard that I’ll be teaching — and Tweeting about — #sci6p31:

 

Remember:  I’m not doing ANYTHING to create the posts that you see in my digital portfolio.  Literally nothing.  Once I point IFTT to the right posts in Twitter and to the right Blogger blog, the service does the rest.  It searches for the Tweets, grabs the “embed code,” and generates a new entry on my blog automatically.  And it will KEEP doing that forever — or at least until I tell it to stop.

Think about all of this for a second, will you?

Now, the two minutes that I spend each morning creating a short video asking a wonder question or sharing a demonstration or linking to an activity is serving THREE essential purposes:  It’s helping me to better understand my required curricula, it’s giving me an engaging bit of digital content that communicates classroom happenings to parents and students, AND it is automatically becoming a part of a digital portfolio that I can use as evidence of the work that I am doing with specific curricular outcomes.

That’s a helluva’ lot of value out of one simple Tweet, don’t you reckon?

So whaddya’ think?  Is this worth doing?  How would you improve on the steps that I have already taken?  Are there any steps that you would leave out?


Related Radical Reads:

Will You Join Me in the #hashtag180 Challenge?

Using a Dedicated Hashtag to Market my School.

 

Will You Join Me in the #Hashtag180 Challenge?

Have you guys met Kyle Hamstra yet?  

He’s truly one of the most genuine educators that I know.  Passionate about teaching and learning and driving improvement no matter the circumstance, I love connecting with him every chance that I get.

For the past several years, Kyle has been nudging teachers to use hashtags on Twitter to document their practice.  

His thinking is simple:  If teachers start to grab videos and pictures of the work that they are doing with specific curricular objectives — or of examples of their curricular objectives spotted in “the real world” — we can all start learning from one another.  More importantly, we create complex “digital portfolios” that we can return to when we are looking for evidence of our “practice in action” AND we can become more aware of exactly what it is that we are supposed to be teaching to our students.

Recently, Kyle has started what he calls the #Hashtag180 challenge.  

Here’s how he describes it:

HOW:  Tweet one experience on each of the 180 school days of the year, and hashtag it with your learning objective and #hashtag180.

WHO: ALL Educators

WHAT: The #Hashtag180 Challenge was originally designed for educators to access and share learning resources very specifically by tweeting life and classroom experiences, hashtagged with learning objectives and #Hashtag180. Where does it go from here? The possibilities are endless…

I totally dig Kyle’s idea — and I’ve started posting regular Tweets designed to spotlight the work that I’m doing with specific curricular objectives.

Here are a few examples:

 

Now, if I’m being completely honest, I’m NOT posting these examples because I’m super interested in helping other teachers to find ideas for introducing the required curriculum to their kids.

Sure — that IS a likely outcome.  Other North Carolina teachers COULD follow my hashtags and spot ideas for teaching concepts that they hadn’t considered — and if other teachers in our state begin using the same tagging language, I COULD learn from the ideas that they are sharing, too.

#notabadthing

But my primary reason for participating in Kyle’s challenge is selfish.

I want to force myself to think more deliberately about the questions that I am asking and the activities that I am creating.  I want to make sure that each task is actually connected to the specific objectives that I am required to teach.  I figure that by forcing myself to post each day, I’ll also force myself to look carefully at my curriculum each day, too.  That has value in and of itself.  I’ll become more knowledgeable about just what it is that the state expects my students to know and be able to do.

And I want to create an easily searchable library of the somewhat spontaneous ideas and questions that often come up during the course of an instructional unit that I can refer to in later years when I’m looking for a new way to introduce concepts to my kids.  If I’m persistent about my tagging language, I SHOULD be able to do some simple searching in Twitter next year to track down strategies that have slipped my mind.

Does any of this make sense to you?  Is taking the #hashtag180 challenge something you’d ever consider?


Related Radical Reads:

Simple Truth:  Hashtags can SAVE You Time.

Five Twitter Hashtags that can Save School Leaders Time

Who Wants to Play Hashtag Bracketology?