Monthly Archives: November 2014

No synchronous session!

Hey Folks,

I’m sensing you guys are feeling stretched pretty thinly here as we round the corner on mid-November. I’m here to encourage you to keep up your good work! We’ve only got a few more weeks and you’re home free!

I think we’ll let this week and next week go as far as a synchronous meetings. Use that time for whatever you need, and I wish you all well.



A preliminary look at new tools: Weekly writing 10

For this week’s writing I spent some time looking at Edudemic’s Best Free Education Web Tools Of 2013 and Steven’s (2013) Teachers’ Favored Web 2.0 Tools and I felt that the majority of the top tools focused on active learning through student project creation, rather than passive teacher presentation. While there were tools dedicated to helping teachers manage and organize educational materials, most tools that were teacher centric included ways for teachers to improve interaction with and engagement of their students. Tools such as GlogsterEDU, KidBlog and Thinglink are all tools that can be used by both teachers and students to present and share learning in a fun and easy to use way. These tools appear to be highly engaging and could help students build positive eportfolios.    Other tools that featured active learning were Storybird, an tool that allows students to create and share books and Scratch, a tool from MIT that allows students to create animations, video games and other products. Scratch also has the added bonus of teaching coding, which is of great interest to many of my students. All of these tools can be used in both individual and group projects and would lend themselves to the community of inquiry idea. I believe these tools have a lot of potential, particularly at the secondary level.

Part of the challenges in teaching at the K-12 level (and in an alternative high school as I do), is the issue of motivation and behavior tracking. Steven’s (2013) list of tools included quite a few classroom management and behavior tracking tools, that I was unfamiliar with. ClassDojo is a free behavior tracking tool that allows teachers to assign points to student avatars for the desired behaviors in a game-type program. As student’s earn points they can redeem points for incentives. Another motivation tool, that has possibilities in the badge earning tools. Students can earn badges through Khan Academy and Open Badges. Here students can track their learning and earn badges for new skills of concepts. I know that my students are highly motivated by online “badges’ and this would be a way to increase engagement.

One tool that I was very excited about was called Nearpod. This tool is a way for teachers to present new material to students while embedding interactive activities into the material. This tool requires all students to have access to a mobile device or laptop, but allows for engaged synchronous learning.  The program allows you to insert polls, quizzes, drawings and other types of formative assessment into your presentation and prompts all students to participate. It then generates feedback for the instructor and instantly gives you an assessment of student understanding. I can envision using this in my face to face classroom, with all students in a circle interacting together, but it can also be used to actively engage distance learners in synchronous discussions.

I am excited to further explore many of these tools, as I think they could improve the overall quality of my course and the work produced by my students. It is important, of course, to lay a solid foundation of content to maximize the use of these tools, but they have the potential to greatly improve engagement and motivation overall.

Work’s Cited

Lepi, K. (2013). The Best Free Education Web Tools Of 2013 | Edudemic. Retrieved from

Stevens, K. (2013). Teachers’ Favored Web 2.0 Tools. Retrieved from



Emerging Tools Spreadsheet

Howdy Folks,

I cleverly forgot to publish this link to the emerging tools spreadsheet. I apologize for not getting this out earlier. I had a couple of things come up that sent my week sort of screeching toward the guard rails.

Here’s more info on this assignment from Unit 6.1: (note I changed the due date for spreadsheet contributions to Friday)

“Please contribute actively to this brainstorm list by Friday  evening. Review any items on the brainstorm list that you’re unfamiliar with. Fill in your name in the reviewer list for tools you’d like to review personally (you may make this a group project if you want to work collaboratively with someone else–just fill in both names in the column). I would like you to review three different tools. You’ll want to begin tool reviews this week to ensure that you have plenty of time; reports aren’t due until next week.”

Best wishes, Owen

Digital Reputations and Posting Classwork Online

When it comes to the issue of students posting things publicly online, my focus (as a student AND a teacher) is how it will affect the online “self” we are all curating. Is the classwork attached to our full real name? Will it show up on the first page of search results because it is recent?

Many people likely think it’s paranoid to worry about one’s class choice and discussion contributions showing up in an online search. I agree that there are few scenarios that jump to mind where the risk is high. But I still like to think critically about any digital footprint I leave.

If I am a non-degree student and I enroll in an ECE class about infants, or a special topics class on a certain religion, that may lead people to make certain assumptions about me. Normally no one would find out what classes I’m taking in a given semester. But a publicly available class forum does mean a potential employer or nosy acquaintance could run across that information if the class requires public posting online.

I think the other posts this week have already pointed out many of the pros and cons of public posting. On the “cons” side, some folks discussed intellectual property concerns (my name is attached, but it’s a class blog not a journal article; does that mean anyone can “steal” my curriculum now?) Others mentioned the knowledge and maturity gap of grade and high school students compared to grad students (how do we encourage free flow of ideas and discourage bullying?)

On the “pros” side, the “public” label of my posts encourages me to think a little more carefully about my arguments and dig deeper for evidence I can link to. Being able to have hyperlinks and tags is nice for when I want to revisit content later. I think this blog archive could come in handy in the future, so it’s nice that it is searchable and I could easily share it with colleagues if I wanted to.

As people we are all evolving; a student’s opinion going into a discussion may change by the end after he or she has heard the stories and evidence others provide. So, I’d rather they have the opportunity to revise things. I have a friend that teaches critical race theory, and has some very tough and productive discussions in class. But they are non-recorded discussions, and students are asked to keep things “inside” of class. Am I just not giving students enough credit in thinking they won’t speak as freely if they know their words will be posted publicly? I guess I come from a community where, if you’re going to blast your opinion on the internet, it’s because you are comfortable being an “outspoken activist.”

The question was posed, in which circumstances do the advantages supersede the concerns? I would really like my answer to be “whenever the circumstances will allow true learning to occur.” But I am still wary of having any discussions that would relate to religion or politics in a digital public forum, because screenshots make everything permanent. I guess I’m still working on what is and isn’t “hype.”

Weekly Writing, 5:2 Bob

I apologize for posting late.   This weekend needed to be about deer hunting, and about fall chores, sweeping the chimney, clearing out the shed and the cellar, putting up a new mailbox before the ground freezes and the snow falls.

The idea of requiring students to present their work via the internet is often met with trepidation by educators. Which concerns are valid? Which are hype? What are the merits of having students present in a public space? In which circumstances do the advantages supersede the concerns? For your writing post this week, weigh the value against the danger of public homework and online student participation.

I wonder what we mean by “public posting’.     In this course, I suppose someone somewhere in the world with too much time on his or her hands could “Google’ and turn up our blog site.   Within a LMS “public’ has a much smaller definition.   There is also the assignment itself to consider.

My first thought is a reminder of Eliot Wiggington’s self-reflection as he “discovered’ his pedagogic practice.   In his chapter “So What Did I Learn in School Anyway?’ one of his answers has to do with making real stuff and hence the Foxfire magazine and books.   Publishing whether to a blog or in a print publication ups the ante considerably both in terms of accountability and responsibility.   Certainly, the learner may receive a grade but the potential exists for real world feedback too.   On the accountability side, we see personal benefits from real motivations, for example, not missing deadlines and not looking the fool. On the responsibility side, we see team benefits through self-consciousness in participating in a larger discourse and developing teamwork on the project.   Therefore, school begins to mirror real life, real work and in that way becomes truly preparatory.   The anxiety at the moment one clicks the “publish’ button is real.   Learning to manage that feeling is real life.   What if the first time a person really has to take it seriously is their first job — are not the stakes already high enough?

Pause; is it really the work of schools to expose students to real feedback from the wider world?   On the other hand, should not schools be the safe practice arena where development is encouraged and progress celebrated not just outcomes?

This course blog is co-authored by adults, by folks well into their careers, practiced in the workplace and in the graduate school class.   The quasi-public nature or the blog is just part of the games we already play, so to speak.   That is very different from the experience of K-12 age learners.   Yet I wonder if there is a place in their learning for tastes of this experience?   We see so much boredom in K-12 age learners in the classroom, and yet, we see them engaged online in many ways.   In addition, getting the feedback that such involvement guarantees, gender, age, and ethnic origin are invisible online.   Rather, the product, video, tweet, forum or blog post has to stand the acid test of scrutiny.   Let us recall our surfers posting videos of their process developing new techniques.   The comments on any online forum can be harsh.   If the young people themselves are already engaged in this rough and tumble by choice then what are we kidding ourselves about?   Pause; not all young people are so engaged, and the rough and tumble of the internet can decay into name calling and bullying.   Therefore, we have responsibilities too particularly for younger learners.

Returning to the assignments it seems as well that what we are talking about are final projects.   If however, we mean every worksheet and problem set along the way then absolutely we have gotten things twisted about.   A final project should be definition stand up to some scrutiny.   However, being nibbled to death over a problem set is just wrong.   This course is fully public our comments, our work is all visible, we do not have an official back channel, or back stage.   Yet, we are free to create such supports if we need them.   So perhaps, we invert that ratio for younger, less practiced learners, more work done in protected online spaces and less done publicly, yet still some public responsibility.

In addition, that turns us to the matter of scholarships responsibility to the advancement of knowledge.   Unequally yoked with that is the scrutiny of politicians and taxpayers.   Yet both can be addressed in the public display of academic pursuits.   A permanent, and public blog, is a way to engage critics of the schools with hard evidence of process and outcomes in our schools, a shareholders report of sorts.   For scholars engaged in online instruction our course blog might well be interesting and inspiring.   Lurking might well be part of creating a learning community or informing one.  Indeed, I have a dear friend who has taught face to face business classes for many years.  He is currently teaching in the online environment for the first time.  In a very real sense he has been thrown into the deep end.  As we started this semester I thought about sharing the url to the blog with him — letting him shoulder surf, lurk.  I am still pondering the ethical qualities of such an act.  What are my responsibilities to my fellow students, to the instructor, to UAF?

In the end I am certain I have offered no profound or innovative insights into the question.  Obviously I think there are enough merits, enough benefits for learners of various ages and experiences in posting scholarship to the internet, to engaging in a process of peer review to justify such requirements.  On the other hand not everything has to be done in the “deep end” and not always for everyone — we are professionals and as such have the responsibility and artistry to judge appropriate boundaries for the learners we have accountability to.

Wigginton, E. (1985). Sometimes a Shining Moment: The Foxfire Experience. Garden City, New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday.

Posting Online: Are you “lurking”?

Weekly Writing 9 – Lori Sowa

While posting online may cause some apprehension and uneasiness, at least initially, there are numerous benefits to this practice.    The potential for an  increase in the quality of student work is well documented, and something I’ve experienced first hand as both a student and an instructor.      However, this first-hand experience comes at the undergraduate and graduate level.   As with many aspects of online learning – I wonder about the implications for elementary, middle and high school students, where social pressures are more intense.

Browsing through articles and literature on this subject, I came across the somewhat unfortunate term “pedagogical lurking”.   Dennen (2008) describes lurking as non-posting discussion behavior, basically reading posts in an online discussion forum related to a course without commenting.   She  argues that students may do this with positive intent, similar to listening in  a face-to-face course.   And her study, although limited and based upon self-reporting by students, correlated frequent non-posting behavior with a perception  that the discussion board was worthwhile.    This poses an interesting challenge for assessment.   We can easily assess actual postings, but perhaps that doesn’t provide a full picture of the ways in which students use the discussion boards to meet their pedagogical needs. I  find myself reading more posts than I actually respond to, and certainly find benefit in doing so.   I’ve watched many of the video links provided in weekly writings, and have passed them on to colleagues and used them in classes.    But then,  is there a detriment in not responding – to the author or the class as a whole?

The most important negative aspect of student posting online, perhaps related to the desire by students for privacy of their work,  is concern about  intellectual property.   Putting your work out there for all to see also makes it more readily available for others to use in an unethical way.    Safeguards, such as providing a closed forum for discussion boards, can help limit access to material to course participants.   But the actual  threat this  poses is likely small.   Some students will be more sensitive to this issue than others, and instructors will need to be ready to defend their course requirements while taking into account the concerns of their students.

One logistical aspect of posting online is archiving and saving your own work.   While I maintain notebooks from many of the courses I’ve taken in the past, I have not continued this practice with the online courses I’ve taken.   For this course in particular – will we continue to have access to course website after the course is over?   While I keep electronic files of the writing that I do, it’s just not the same as having a compilation of all of the information in one binder.   I may have to gather up the  various articles that I’ve printed for this course (as much as I’d prefer to  save the paper and read the articles online, I still prefer print for comprehension) and start the archival process.   However, the lack of paper-based materials for archiving is likely considered a benefit by many.

The benefits of posting online outweigh the negative aspects which can, in most cases, be easily managed.   Requiring students to post their work online using various tools and in innovative ways can be a forum to teach 21st century skills.   In addition to posting to a discussion board, students can organize and present material by creating a  website, a Prezi presentation, a  Thinglink, or any of the myriad of  modern options available.   This does not mean, however, that  every assignment in an online or blended course should automatically be required to be  posted online.   There may still be a place for private submissions.   As always, the method of presentation of an assignment should be linked to the learning objective and desired assessment.

Dennen, V. P. (2008). Pedagogical lurking: Student engagement in non-posting discussion behavior. Computers In Human Behavior, 24(4), 1624-1633.

Engineering for Educators – Draft Curriculum Plan

Unit 4: The Engineering Design Cycle

The goal of this unit will be to provide an overview of the engineering design cycle that will allow teachers to facilitate  authentic engineering design activities  in their classrooms, and to relate these activities to the role of engineers in society.

Context: This unit will follow introductory units focused on perceptions and misconceptions of engineers,  motivation for inclusion of engineering in the K12 classroom, real world problem solving skills, and model-eliciting activities. The audience will be in-service K-12 teachers pursuing a Master’s Degree in STEM Education, but may also include pre-service teachers.  The course will be delivered online through BlackBoard Collaborate, and supported by a course blog.   Students will have some level of math and science proficiency, but it will be highly varied.

Learning Objective 1. Identify and understand the components of the engineering design cycle (EDC)

Learning Activities and Assessments:

    1. Students will learn about the EDC components by watching a narrated PowerPoint lecture on the EDC (content similar to )
    2. Students will post reflections to the blog about the components of the EDC, comparing them to other processes (such as composing an essay, solving ethical problems, developing a hypothesis). Feedback will be provided by peers and instructors.
    3. Synchronous Collaborate session (2 hours): Tower of Straws. Background content on basic tower design will be provided by the instructor, followed by a hands-on tower building challenge. Students will use their tower building kits (previously mailed to each student) to construct a tower with an equation given to calculate their scores. Students will have 30 minutes to build their towers, and will document the towers by photographs. At the end of the time, students will post pictures on their towers during the Collaborate session. Then, students will be instructed to load the towers with marbles, and document this by video. Towers should be loaded until failure, with students documenting the type of failure. Group discussion about implications of the scoring equation.
    4. Students will post photos and videos of their towers to the blog, and will document their score, failure mode of the tower, and what they would do differently next time. Feedback provided by peers and instructor.

Learning Objective 2: Apply the engineering design cycle to create active learning opportunities in their classrooms that are age-appropriate, engaging, linked to content knowledge, and that address state and national standards

Learning Activities and Assessments:

  1. Students will review available resources for K12 engineering curriculum (,, etc.) , along with recent literature on a framework for evaluating engineering projects in the classroom (Guzey, S., Tank, K., Hui-Hui, W., Roehrig, G., & Moore, T. (2014). A High-Quality Professional Development for Teachers of Grades 3-6 for Implementing Engineering into Classrooms. School Science & Mathematics, 114(3), 139-149.)
  2.  Students will identify two EDC activities that would be age and content-appropriate for their classrooms, describe each on the course blog, and reflect on:
    • how they would adapt the activities for their classrooms
    • what challenges they would anticipate (are materials easy to come by? would the activities work in the timeframe they have available?)
    • what benefits they anticipate, and
    • what standards the activity would address.
  3. Students will choose one of the activities to implement in their classroom. Students will document the successes and challenges on the course blog, and describe how they might prepare for or implement the activity differently in the future.

Learning Objective 3: Understand the engineer’s role in society, and inspire a desire in students to use engineering to solve problems that matter to people.

Learning Activities and Assessments

    1. Students will review the Grand Challenges for Engineering website ( and selected link and videos related to engineering and society such as and
    2. Students will take (or find on the web) three pictures that depict problems or challenges for society (at least one must be a local issue), post them to the blog, and describe both the engineer’s and society’s role in developing and implementing a solution to each problem.    
    3. A synchronous Collaborate session (1-2 hours) will be held to facilitate discussion of this unit. Students will each  discuss  how (and if) they envision using engineering in their classrooms in the future.

Ecology Unit Curriculum Draft

Unit  Title: Introduction to  Ecology

Unit  Summary:

This unit is part of a 10th grade Biology core and is designed for use with an online class. I designed this as a hypothetical unit. This is assuming that classes would be taught 2 times a week for a 6 week session. Students will be required to conduct an experiment at home and maintain a blog journal with regular updates on the progress of their experiment.

Utah State Office of Education  Biology Core Curriculum

Science Benchmark:  Ecosystems are shaped by interactions among living organisms and their physical environment.     Ecosystems change constantly, either staying in a state of dynamic balance or shifting to a new state of balance. Matter cycles in ecosystems, and energy flows from outside sources through the system. Humans are part of ecosystems and can deliberately or inadvertently alter an ecosystem.

 STANDARD I:  Students will understand that living organisms interact with one another and their environment.

USOE Intended Learning Outcomes Addressed:  

  1. Use Science Process and Thinking Skills
  2. Manifest Scientific Attitudes and Interests
  3. Demonstrate Understanding of Science Concepts, Principles and Systems
  4. Communicate Effectively Using Science Language and Reasoning
  5. Demonstrate Understanding of the Nature of Science

Unit  Objectives

  1. Objective 1: Students will be able to summarize how energy flows through an ecosystem.

  1. Objective 2:  Students will be able to explain relationships between matter cycles and organisms and infer human impact on cycles.

  1. Objective 3:  Students will be able to interpret interactions among biotic and abiotic factors within an ecosystem.

The detailed curricula draft can be found here on my webpage

There are a few assignments that have not been fully developed, but they are noted as such. I look forward to any feedback on my project.

Student work in the public space-ww9

Students presenting in the public space presents both challenges and benefits. The potential benefits to having students produce public work are immense. By having students publish work in the public domain, students are “pushed’ to produce better products. They get practice with new ways of interacting and communicating and build their online portfolio.  As a public school teacher, I have also heard a lot of skepticism on the benefits of having students produce work for the public space. Most of the concern centers on issues of student safety and a potential time drain for both students and teachers when entering the online environment. While these drawbacks are real, most of the risks can be greatly reduced through better planning and preparation of students. I believe that the advantage of having students produce work in the online space outweighs the potential risks.

One of the primary drawbacks to online student work is the idea of the negative digital footprint. Will students leave behind digital footprints that may hurt them in the future? Is student information more available to people or companies that would exploit that information? Both of these questions are valid, if perhaps somewhat exaggerated. One of the critical pieces to creating a safe and productive space for students to engage in online work is to provide the necessary education on understanding digital citizenship before students make work public. For K-12 students it is imperative to build the skills and awareness necessary to protect their digital identity and understand the responsibility that comes with a digital footprint. I would suggest that having a deliberate digital citizenship curriculum and expectations are critical. Any type of public presentation will add to the student’s digital footprint, however, the creation of a positive digital footprint is possible and desirable in today’s environment.

The other major concern is that online work may result in a time drain. Many students will experience frustration with online work, because of technical difficulties and lack of understanding. There is also the problem of access. Many students do not have access to internet outside of class and this limits what they can do. Monitoring classroom discussions and activities outside of class can also add a significant burden to teachers. These potential problems can be lessened through good planning and do not outweigh the benefits of public work. Once again, by practicing with students the process of using online tools to make work public and setting clear expectations can lesson time costs dealing with these issues later on. I have experienced this set of issues first hand with students, in my one-to-one high school classroom. While offering students a vast pool of knowledge, access to the internet also has the potential for distraction. This is where it is critical to monitor and redirect student work when possible. Creating high expectations for online work by providing positive examples and nonexamples for students to critique are ways to scaffold the products you would like to have students create.

The greatest benefit that publicizing student work may have is to improve the level of work produced by the student. The theory behind this is that students will feel the pressure of peer review and public comment and spend more time or energy to put forth their best work. According to Drenan (2012) “Students realise how high the bar of public domain writing is. This can be initially intimidating, but that removes all apathy or sense of the humdrum.’ While I believe this can be true for many students , there are also some that will not feel the pressure of public presentation and produce work that is weak or undeveloped. This should be seen as an opportunity for growth. The online portfolio for student work is a good opportunity to document student growth. With many universities looking at online work in determining acceptance, it is necessary for many students to begin to develop their positive online portfolio in high school.  Another  benefit to online work, is that it opens a new method of communication and interaction up for students that may not participate in a traditional face-to-face environment. It allows introverted students and those that typically like to think through their responses more time and opportunity to contribute. By setting response expectations, the teacher can level the discussion, so no one student can dominate it and the teacher has a better formative assessment of what the whole class understands.

Student online work in the public space can propel students to produce their best work and give them a venue to observe personal growth. Public presentation can create opportunities for students to share ideas with other students and the greater public in ways that were previously impossible. Drawbacks to public presentation are overstated and with careful planning and high expectations can be minimized.

Works Cited

Drennan, M. (2012). Blogging in the classroom: why your students should write online. Retrieved November 8, 2014, from