Tag Archives: teachers

Adaptive Learning for “Soft” Subjects: Can Technology Encourage Creativity?

DSCN5354It’s easy to see how online adaptive learning can be used to improve the teaching of quantitative subjects such as math, a subject we perceive to be defined by drilling, discipline, “right/wrong” answers, and skills which build neatly upon one another. Subjects such as English, art history, and music seem to lend themselves less naturally to adaptive technology, whether it’s the “expressive” nature of the subject or the complexity of assessment (i.e. paper-grading) that lies at the heart of our discomfort with the idea.

The requirements for successful powering of “soft” subjects are there if you take a careful look: “soft” subjects, like hard, can be broken into component skills, the mastery of which can be easily assessed. And because the very nature of many “soft” subjects (take Writing for example) is that the technical aspect (grammar, for instance) is inherently linked to the expressive, adaptive technology can ultimately be harnessed in the service of creativity and expression as well as mere efficiency.

Adaptive learning in English composition

Let’s take as an example English composition, a required course at most universities. Most teachers want their students to walk away having mastered the revision and research process. What often prevents the achievement of these goals is the burden of administrative responsibilities and the stresses of classroom management (hand-grading 20 student papers, keeping meticulous score of absences, ushering 20 students through a mandated revision cycle). Also consider that most university comp instructors are paid by the course at as low as $1700 for a 15 week class with 20 students. In such a setting, high-minded goals such as “enabling each student to craft his own style of expression” seem disconnected from reality.

Imagine, however, a blended learning solution: an online segment guides students through a lesson on sentence fragments and run-on’s, serving up targeted exercises afterwards, and leaving class time available for, say, a discussion of Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One. Such a solution would combine the rigor of drilling with activities that take full advantage of the classroom environment—and ultimately strengthen the connection between technical mastery (the “work” of writing) and creativity of expression.

Improvements in assessment

Let’s take a closer look at a sample composition grading rubric, at the areas which dictate instructor evaluation of student papers: “style,” “clarity of purpose,” “organization,” “grammar,” etc. Adaptive learning can provide personalized instruction for students across all these areas. All that’s required is a logical breakdown of the subject at hand and a method of evaluating proficiency. An area such as “grammar” breaks down into component areas (parts of speech, sentence fragments, verbs, etc), the knowledge of which can easily be evaluated through multiple choice questions. Even “style,” a more nebulous area, breaks down if you think about it: emphasis, parallelism, periodic sentences, etc.

As a former composition professor, I identified hundreds of areas of weakness across student papers (“lack of support,” “wordiness,” “tone shift”). Frustrated that I was repeating nuggets of advice, I started to code certain comments “A,” “B,” “C,” and so on, so that each letter corresponded with academic content related to the identified weakness. Adaptive learning can facilitate this sort of grading on a much larger and more efficient scale, allowing teachers to generate quality feedback that links to personalized programs for each student.

New opportunities for enrichment and assessment

The opportunities for enrichment are endless. A student who is gifted at composing sentences, for instance, might be exposed to content on Proust or Nabokov. He or she could navigate deeply, unlocking worlds of content and instruction, and developing a sense of pride in his/her mastery (much in the way video game players are galvanized with each new level they attain). As students gain confidence, they could assume online “mentorships” where they are encouraged to “teach” others (through peer review and other exercises), increasing the instructional “surface area” of the classroom, building a sense of community, and multiplying the effects of every learning moment.

In the process of all this, online adaptive learning can also neutralize elements of school that detract from learning. Shy and disadvantaged students can gain confidence and experiment with language, without the stresses of face-to-face interaction. In this way, adaptive learning encourages a spirit of risk and facilitates honesty in intellectual exchange.

Revealing the connection between discipline and creativity

The hard work of teaching is showing students how to transform themselves, how, ultimately, to teach themselves. Getting students to the point where they experience the first self-transformation is often difficult; adaptive learning can speed up this process, generating a whole series of transformations within a semester. In composition, for example, students need to see, to feel the connection between discipline and creativity. They need to grasp how the “nitty gritty” and often uncomfortable aspect of mastering grammar and tinkering with sentences will allow them to communicate more freely and even experience thoughts they were unable to before. The targeted practice and quality feedback facilitated by adaptive learning – accompanied by spirited class discussion – will make the class experience richer and generate transformations more efficiently.

And so it is not merely that students will improve their grammar and organization skills, at the same time becoming more comfortable with creative expression – it’s that they will begin to see how deeply connected the technical and the expressive are (which, of course, is the whole point of writing).

Transforming the classroom

Adaptive learning has the potential to make “soft” subject learning not just faster but better. Ultimately, it’s not just about “efficiency,” “comprehensiveness,” “atomic granularity,” or “leveling the playing field”; it’s about powering and transforming the classroom altogether:

  1. By providing precise and individualized instruction in skills areas for which there are “right/wrong” answers
  2. By providing precise and individualized instruction in more subjective areas of “expression”
  3. By strengthening the connection between #1 and #2
  4. By fostering a more inclusive environment
  5. By reducing administrative burden
  6. By encouraging a framework of constant improvement
  7. By affording classroom activities greater flexibility, leaving more time for creative assignments, debate and discussion, group work, and research projects


The Flipped Classroom [INFOGRAPHIC]

Go to school, listen to your teacher lecture, go home, do your homework.

For centuries, this has been the way that school’s been done.

But now, a new model of teaching is turning the traditional classroom on its head. Under the flipped classroom model, students watch lectures at home, online. Class time is reserved for collaborative activities that help reinforce concepts and increase engagement.

In this infographic, learn about the history of the flipped classroom model, and how it’s improving learning outcomes for today’s students.

Click the image below to go to the full infographic – The Flipped Classroom Infographic

View All Education Infographics ›


The State of Digital Education [INFOGRAPHIC]

Fifteen years ago, “Amazon” was just a rainforest and “Kindle” was something to do with a flame. We fought traffic to go buy CDs, books, and movies. When we needed information, we lugged the encyclopedias out of storage.

Now, we get our entertainment through the Internet. We can download an eBook in a minute and Google any fact under the sun in a second. The Internet has revolutionized consumer culture — and it’s on the verge of doing the same with education.

With 30% of students in the U.S. failing out of high school, our education system is in dire need of change. Check out this infographic to learn how digital education is poised to transform the way our students learn.

Click on the image to view the full infographic — The State of Digital Education

View All Education Infographics ›

10 Inspirational Quotes for EdTech-Friendly Teachers

Mt ShastaIf you’re a teacher — especially one trying to integrate educational technology into your classroom — you’re probably aware of the challenges of the job. Tight budgets, inflexible administration, overcrowded classrooms… the list goes on. Even with all the day-to-day struggles, it’s important to keep the big picture in mind. Here are 10 quotes that we will hope will inspire you and remind you of the importance of your job.

Leave your own favorite inspirational quotes in the comments!

If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.

-John Dewey

As educators we should help facilitate goals and help cast a vision for students that will, not only, stretch their imaginations, but also their beliefs regarding what is possible…

-Sam Pabon

After teaching all day, if you didn’t learn anything, you probably didn’t teach anything.

-Don Taylor

The time has never been more ready for systemic change than right now, and we’ve never had better tools to achieve this level of creative disobedience, to successfully prepare our children for the big challenges that lie ahead. It might be uncomfortable and take a bit of work, but our future depends on this radical change in order to survive.

-Andrea Kuszewski

Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.

-Alan Kay

We need to prepare students for their future, not our past.

-Ian Jukes

Practice is the best of all instructors.

-Publilius Syrus

Since we live in an age of innovation, a practical education must prepare a man for work that does not yet exist and cannot yet be clearly defined.

-Peter F. Drucker

When you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts.

-Larry Ellison

The world we have created is a product of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.

-Albert Einstein


4 Ways to Use Storify in the Classroom

Put down the dioramas; file away that mimeographed book report assignment. Why not give students an assignment that not only hones their writing skills, but also provides plenty of opportunity for creativity and critical thinking, helps develop communication skills, and requires an understanding of social media? Try Storify, a free tool that allows users to tell stories using social media. Students can pull tweets, videos, pictures and more into a story on a subject of their choosing.

Here’s a quick video on how Storify works:


Storify Overview from Storify on Vimeo.

Ready to get started with Storify in the classroom? The possibilities are almost endless! Here are five sample assignments to get those curriculum ideas flowing. Scroll down or click on the links to see a sample Storify story for the assignment.

1. Current Events: Compile a story about a recent event or phenomenon.

Want to help students engage with the world around them? You might assign them to craft a story from a certain point of view (e.g., to create a story from a Republican senator’s perspective about the ongoing budget crisis) or ask students to pick out tweets, pictures, and videos that cover a variety of perspectives.

Scroll down or click here to go through the step-by-step process of creating a story on Libyan rebels.

2. Literature Class: Create a multimedia “book report”

If students are reading a non-fiction book, they can comb the web for YouTube videos, links, pictures and more related to the subject matter. If students are reading a novel, they might choose to create a Storify story on the author’s biography or about the time period in which the novel is set.

Scroll down or click here to see a sample story about Louisa May Alcott’s popular novel, Little Women.

3. History: “Reenact” a Historical Narrative

Teaching students about the Civil Rights movement, the French Revolution, or the War of 1812? Have students create a Storify narrative that focuses on one aspect of the lesson. For example, a one student might choose to create a story about art at the time of the French Revolution, using Flickr images and historical websites to flesh out a narrative of the neo-classical art movement.

Scroll down or click here to see a sample story about Rosa Parks.

4. Science: Put together photos, videos, and other information about a scientific concept.

Use Storify to chronicle a scientific phenomenon or discovery, or have students collect photos from a particular type of ecosystem.

Scroll down or click here to see a sample story about some of the characteristics of the tundra biome.

Bonus: Add a public speaking component!

Encourage students to present their Storify stories to the class. If you have assigned students a current events story, students could even use their stories in the context of a debate – have two students create stories about opposing viewpoints, and use them to back up their respective arguments.


1. Libyan Rebels Storify Story

Here’s a run-through of the basic process of creating a story. Let’s say I want to include a relevant tweet in a story about Libyan rebels. I just select the Twitter icon and enter “Libya” into the search bar in the right column:

Then, once I find a tweet I want to use, I can just drag it into the right column, along with a bit of explanation if necessary. In this case, I dragged in a tweet by Glenn Greenwald about a recent New York Times article. I added a bit of background information above the tweet by clicking on the small “T” at the side of the right hand column to add text.

What next? Well, it might make sense to add a video from YouTube to give the story some visual appeal:

Here’s what the beginnings of my story look like:

Once you’ve added all your content, you can title the story and “publish” it, which will allow you to embed it and/or link to it from other places.

2. Little Women Storify Story

3. Rosa Parks Storify Story

3. Tundra Biome Storify Story


Is Blended Learning the Future of Education? [INFOGRAPHIC]

The factory model of education is the wrong model for the 21st century. Today, our schools must prepare all students for college and careers–and do far more to personalize instruction and employ the smart use of technology.
-Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education

Education is primed for a revolution — and blended learning might just be it.

Blended learning refers to any time a student learns in part at a brick-and-mortar facility and in part online. It’s a disruptive innovation in education, and one that many schools are employing to increase student learning and engagement while dealing with the realities of public funding.

In this infographic, learn about blended learning’s history and potential, the different ways in which today’s schools are employing online courses, and specific research needs for the future.

Click on the image to view the full infographic — Blended Learning: A Disruptive Innovation

Middle Schoolers Demand Educational Change: "We Live in the Problem"

A class of gifted and talented middle-school students is speaking out against outdated educational practices with the help of — what else? — a Youtube video. The North Texas public school students conceived their blog and video as a way to draw attention to the need for educational reform. Watch the video above, then read their manifesto:

“As the world moves forward in technology, there are very few places to be found that don’t utilize the plethora of available tools. Chief among those blasts to the past is the classroom. Desks in rows and lectures on a chalkboard have been happening since our grandparents were in school and it’s time for change. As mentioned on our home page, we’re only middle schoolers in north Texas. Above average and mentally gifted middle schoolers, but still 4 years from the “real world” and the ability to be treated like our voice is worth listening to. We live in the problem – the best ideas for change are going to come from us. We don’t blame the teachers or the schools themselves for this outdated method – we blame the system. As a group of students stuck in public school long due for an upgrade, we demand change.”

According to the students, “Technology equals involvement. Involvement equals a more efficient classroom.”  This motivated class has, it seems, proved themselves right. Their teacher, J. Fletcher, notes in a blog post: “I’ve seen kids show more dedication in the past three months than I’ve seen in ten years of education.”

Fletcher goes on to write, “These students really are right. Educational needs aren’t the same as… twenty years ago. The modern educator is a facilitator, an organizer, and a guide… A good teacher learns. These kids have taught me.”

(Thanks to this post on Mindshift for the heads up about this video!)

5 Free Online Resources for Writing Lessons

Are you a K-12 teacher looking for ways to increase engagement and incorporate technology into your writing lessons? Check out these 5 fun, easy ideas!

1. bubbl.us

As any writer knows, brainstorming is a key part of the writing process. For young writers in particular, visually mapping out ideas can help them understand their own thought processes and the best way in which to structure and connect their points. bubbl.us is a free, easy to use brainstorming tool that allows users to embed your final product in a website or blog. Students can brainstorm independently or collectively with bubbl.us, and use it while planning out essays, presentations, creative writing stories, or history papers.

2. Wikispaces for Educators

Wikis — web sites that can created or edited by any user — have a number of classroom applications. Wikispaces, a popular provider of wikis, gives away “Plus” wiki accounts to any educator, and also has a number of awesome ideas about how to use wikis in the classroom. Check out this tutorial for ideas on how to use wikis to teach writing and many other subjects. A few ideas? Create a collaborative story, using new vocab words, or use the wiki to host an online writers’ workshop with comments and critiques added by other students. Wikis are perfect for any activity that emphasizes knowledge sharing and collaborative work.

3. Mixed Ink

Mixed Ink bills itself as a wiki, but better. The free platform does have some awesome features and allows teachers to make writing assignments collaborative and social. Mixed Ink automatically tracks authorship — each students’ individual work will be color-coded to ensure that proper credit is given. Like wikis, Mixed Ink is a great option for collaborative writing projects and for supporting skills in critical reading, writing, and analysis.

4. Blogs

Free sites like WordPress, Blogger, and Edublogs make creating student or class blogs easy to create. Allowing students to showcase their work on a blog is a great way to encourage them to take ownership of their work, and develop a sense of pride in their writing. You can post creative writing prompts on a classroom blog, or create a blog solely for your students to write book reviews. You could even create a literary magazine on your classroom blog. Blogs are a great way to encourage students to read and comment on their classmates’ work, and/or to share their work with their parents, friends, and family .  For more ideas, check out our 7 Step Plan for using Blogs in English Classes.

5. Read Write Think’s Classroom Resources

ReadWriteThink has a wide variety of classroom resources that can be used to help support writing lessons. Check out tools like:



6 Free Tools for Current Events Lessons

As any teacher knows, educating students involves more than having them memorize the Pythagorean Theorem or Gettysburg Address. Teaching current events — and what’s more, giving students the opportunity to reflect on, debate, and think critically about them — is essential to helping students become well-informed world citizens.

There are a number of awesome resources teachers can draw upon to help supplement current events lessons. Here are 6 ideas:

1. Explore Google Maps and Google Earth

Knowledge of geography goes hand in hand with knowledge of current events. There are tons of ways that educators can use Google Maps to supplement lessons. The most obvious use is to show students the location of the event being discussed — you can even map out how far it is from the school. But that’s not all: there are plenty of opportunities to get creative. For example, you can use this Google Earth mashup to give students a visual perspective of recent earthquakes around the world, or go on “virtual field trips” around the world by going to the “Street View” or “Photos” option on Google Maps. There’s even a whole Google Earth for Educators forum, with tons of ideas and sample lesson plans.

2. Check out student versions of mainstream media sites

Many mainstream media sources have special “student” areas of their websites — one of the best is the New York Times’ Learning Network, which provides quizzes, discussion questions, and lesson plans based on current events. Lessons help students stay informed while developing critical thinking skills.  Be sure to check out this great post on how to “teach any day’s Times,” featuring games, discussion starters, word play, and maps. Getting students in the routine of reading the news daily will help cultivate an interest and appreciation in current events that will hopefully last a lifetime.

Other student news sites include:

3. Use VoiceThread to help students understand diverse perspectives

VoiceThread allows users to create collaborative, multimedia slide shows using images, documents, and video. The service offers free accounts for educators. Students can create their own slide shows and comment on others’ using voice, text, or video.

There are a ton of applications for VoiceThread — one option is to assign students to adopt the perspective of a figure in the news and create a presentation on an assigned issue from that figure’s perspective. Put students into groups and have them comment on their classmates’ VoiceThread. For example, in a lesson about the recent U.S. budget crisis, one student might have been assigned to create a VoiceThread from the perspective of President Obama, another from Speaker John A. Boehner’s perspective, and another from Senator Harry Reid’s point of view. Have them research their assigned figure’s stance, background, and stake in the issue before creating the VoiceThread. (Another option is to have students create VoiceThreads detailing their own perspective on the issues!)

You can find a helpful VoiceThread tutorial here.

4. Tweet about it

There are a variety of ways to use Twitter in your current events lessons. Create a class account and follow relevant current events hashtags to give students real-time updates and a variety of perspectives on the news. Or, have each student create individual Twitter handles for use in class; you can then create specialized hashtags to facilitate real-time discussions that can take place in and out of class. Is Twitter blocked at your school, or are you worried about the implications of giving students access to the site? Check out edmodo, a school-friend “Twitter with training wheels.”

5. Help students make a difference

Sometimes it’s not enough to teach students about crises. Sites like Students Rebuild can help show them that there are easy ways to make a difference, too! Students Rebuild mobilizes students to take action on global issues. Students can create teams for various initiatives (their most recent project involved making paper cranes to raise money for Japan), fundraise, learn, and connect with other students.

6. Teach the science behind the news

The Why Files is a great site that helps contextualize complicated news stories (the site’s motto is “bringing you the science behind the news”). Teaching students about the natural disasters in Japan? Articles about the Warnings of Tsunamis and Understanding Quakes, written specifically with current events in mind, will help students understand the broader context of these natural disasters. The site also has a Teacher Activity page to help educators plan lessons around their content.


7 Social Media Tools to Use in the Classroom

Looking for a way to incorporate social media into your classroom without unleashing your students into the free-for-all that is Facebook and Twitter? Check out these 7 social media tools created specifically with students in mind.

1. Edmodo



As a Twitter in “training wheels,” Edmodo allows teachers to connect with students in a safe, self-contained environment. Here are a few possible uses:

  • Have students collect and report snippets of data about a scientific phenomena (weather, rainfall, wax and waning of the moon, growth of plants, etc) they witness in their environment.
  • For social studies, have students send snippet-reports about current events and share links to relevant blogs and websites.
  • Create “reading” groups where students can tweet their questions and reactions to classics like Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye.

2. SchoolTube



This is basically YouTube with bumpers. Here are a few reasons to get in on this community:

  • All videos on SchoolTube have been approved by a moderator or SchoolTube staff to ensure appropriateness. Videos are sorted by both category and channel for easy browsing.
  • Everyone can share their videos on SchoolTube. Students can view the creations of students from across the nation.
  • Students and teachers can create their own free channels for classrooms, clubs, sports teams, or after-school programs.
  • SchoolTube hosts a number of educational contests with prizes that include electronics, t-shirts, and cash!
  • Staff-picked ”videos-of-the-day” help teachers discover and share noteworthy channels.

3. Glogster



Forget construction paper and glitter – Glogster.edu lets students feel like professional designers as they create “interactive online posters.” Whether they’re reporting on the rainforest, the Civil War, or the Boston Tea Party, students can use Glogster to showcase their knowledge and express their views. Current features include sound and image/video upload. Tagging, file-sharing, and a new webcam recording feature are coming soon!

Here’s an idea:

  • Create a “Grand Exhibition” using Edmodo and Glogster. Tweet out the links to 10 student glogs and let students admire each other’s creations and comment.

4. Prezi




With its zooming, rotating, and swiveling features and thrilling variety of fonts and textures, presentations on Prezi are guaranteed to rivet audiences. As one reviewer describes it, “think of Prezi as a 3D infinite canvas.” Just “write,” “zoom,” and “arrange” your way to wow-dom.

Some dazzling examples:

5. Diigo



What if you could highlight, underline and write in the margins of websites – just like you do in print books? Well, you can with Diigo, the new social “bookmarking” tool which allows you to annotate the web, superimpose your notes on web pages, and share your scribblings with others!
“Educator” accounts include the following special features:

  • You can create student accounts for an entire class with just a few clicks (and your students don’t even need email addresses!).
  • You can create “groups” – with group bookmarks, annotations, and forums.
  • Diigo offers privacy settings, so that teachers and classmates can communicate only with each other in a self-contained environment.
  • Special accounts make it possible to limit student exposure to ads.

6. Quizlet


Here’s a tool that will allow you to make flashcards quickly and share them with everyone in your learning community. Great for biology, foreign languages, and vocabulary!

Check out a sample creation here.

7. Wordle


Want your students to experiment with language and see words in a whole new light? Try Wordle–one of many online word-cloud generators. Students can paste in a URL or a block of text; the word-cloud gives greater prominence to the more frequently occurring words. Students can change the font, layout, and color scheme of their clouds, and share it with their friends.

Here’s a word-cloud made from the text of this blog post:




Ready to make your own? Check out a short video on 50 ways to use Wordle. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Create word clouds of synonyms and antonyms
  • Explore rhetorical devices such as alliteration, rhyme, and onomatopoeia
  • Create a Wordle “author quiz” by making a series of clouds which represent the diction used by different authors. Have students guess which clouds correspond with which authors.
  • Have students “brand” themselves by creating clouds of their favorite words or the words which best describe themselves.
  • Have students keep a “cloud-a-day” weekly word diaries (students create clouds with new vocabulary words or words that strike them which they hope to incorporate into their own vocabularies).
  • Have students make up neologisms and nonsense words and display them in clouds to share with each other.