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Posts tagged ‘21st century skills’

Tip of the Week: 5 Easy Dropbox Tips for Social Studies

I’m sure many of you have heard of Dropbox. The file-synchronization tool lets you access your digital files from anywhere – seriously anywhere. On your phone, tablet, laptop, desktop. Anywhere. It’s also perfect for easy cloud-based backup. And if you haven’t joined the Dropbox bandwagon, well . . . you need to. Because it’s free. Because it’s easy. Because it helps you solve 21st century problems.

But if you’re new to Dropbox, you may not be aware of some of the cool things Dropbox can do. And even if you’ve had an account for a while, I think we sometimes forget some of the tips and tricks. So . . . today? Five of my favorite ways to use it. Read more

Unsolicited WordPress propoganda

Hi. My name is Glenn and I am a WordPress junkie.

It started about six years ago. A friend hooked me up and I’ve been using it ever since. So should you.

If you don’t already know, WordPress is a CMS or content management system. In normal people language? WordPress is a free tool that helps you create quick and easy web sites. And not just quick and easy. Quick and easy with some very cool features.

I use free WordPress software to create the site you’re reading now. I used WordPress to create the Podstock 2013 web site. I use WordPress to host our iPad conference web site. I use it to connect with family and to discuss books. My wife uses it for her classroom and to occasionally maintain a site for posting food and restaurant reviews.

Yeah. So what?

Read more

25 great sites for teaching and learning

Okay. I couldn’t make it this year. But the American Association of School Librarians went ahead and held their annual conference without me.

I know.

They didn’t even seem very upset that I wasn’t there. I’m sure it was great. It had to be great because while I was absent, one of the things they did was to unveil their fourth annual Best Websites for Teaching and Learning.

The selection committee reviewed more than 100 sites to identify those that foster innovation, creativity, active participation, and collaboration, whittling them down to 25 that they consider the “best of the best.” The sites offer tools and resources in media sharing, digital storytelling, managing and organizing, social networking and communication, curriculum collaboration, and content resources with lesson plans.

“These are strong sites, and the committee hopes users find them useful for library, classroom, and personal use,” says Heather Moorefield-Lang, the committee’s chair. “This year, the committee will be recognizing the 100th site. This is quite a milestone.”

All of the sites are aligned to one or more of the four strands of AASL’s Standards for the 21st-Century Learner: skills, dispositions in action, responsibilities, and self-assessment strategies.

I found a few familiar sites such as DocsTeach and HistoryPin. But I also ran across some new ones that look interesting like Vialogues and Projeqt. I’ll spend some time this week sharing more about my favorites. But for now, head over and start playing with some pretty cool tools.

Thanks AASL library peoples!

Open source history, Wikipedia, and Encyclopedia Britannica

It’s the end of an era.

The print version of Encyclopedia Britannica is no longer. And just when I was getting psyched up to pay $1,395 for the 32 volume set.

It’s not really a surprise, is it? Owning a four figure set of books that are out-of-date as soon as you crack them open in the age of instant information just doesn’t make sense.

But the question many still have is

Can we trust instant, online information?

What people are really asking is

Can we trust Wikipedia? Should we let our students use it for historical research?

The simple answer?


For all you social studies teachers out there who aren’t letting your students use Wikipedia as one of their research tools . . . I’ll try and say this as gently as possible

For general research and gathering of foundational knowledge, Wikipedia is as good or better than other forms of encyclopedias. So it’s gonna be okay. Turn the kids loose.

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia with thousands of contributors, hundreds of paid editors, almost four million articles, automatic daily deletions of textual additions by anyone without a verified account, multiple languages, on-going fact checking, and live updates of current events. With such as a tool, one might expect problems,  mistakes, and inaccuracies.

But the interesting thing is that it seems as if Wikipedia’s problems with accuracy aren’t any bigger than more traditional tools.  More and more research is being done on the reliability of Wikipedia information:

And, of course, Wikipedia has its own article on the Reliability of Wikipedia. (Feel free to discuss that irony in the comments.)

In 2004, IBM researchers suggested that one strength of Wikipedia is that “vandalism is usually repaired extremely quickly — so quickly that most users will never see its effects” and that it had “surprisingly effective self-healing capabilities.”

Need some history research on the use of Wikipedia?

In June 2006, Roy Rosenzweig, a professor who specialized in American history and was the founding director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, published a comparison of the Wikipedia biographies of 25 Americans to the corresponding biographies found on Encarta and American National Biography Online. He wrote that Wikipedia

is surprisingly accurate in reporting names, dates, and events in U.S. history.

In the 25 biographies I read closely, I found clear-cut factual errors in only four. Most were small and inconsequential.

Rosenzwig continues:

To find four entries with errors in 25 biographies may seem a source for concern, but in fact it is exceptionally difficult to get every fact correct in reference works. “People don’t realize how hard it is to nail the simplest things,” noted Lars Mahinske, a senior researcher for Britannica. I checked 10 Encarta biographies for figures that also appear in Wikipedia, and in the commercial product I found at least three biographies with factual mistakes. Even the carefully edited American National Biography Online, whose biographies are written by experts, contains at least one factual error in the 25 entries I examined closely.

He did make the same observation that other research has made – Wikipedia is as accurate as other sources but perhaps not as well written:

If the unpaid amateurs at Wikipedia have managed to outstrip an expensively produced reference work such as Encarta and provide a surprisingly comprehensive and largely accurate portrait of major and minor figures in U.S. history, professional historians need not fear that Wikipedians will quickly put them out of business. Good historical writing requires not just factual accuracy but also a command of the scholarly literature, persuasive analysis and interpretations, and clear and engaging prose.

Our job has changed from what it was when I started teaching way back in 1987. Our job in the 21st century is not to deliver foundational knowledge.

Training kids to think critically, to persuade effectively, and to communicate well. That’s what we need to be doing. Grant Wiggins asks us

So, suppose knowledge is not the goal of education. Rather, suppose today’s content knowledge is an offshoot of successful ongoing learning in a changing world – in which ‘learning’ means ‘learning to perform in the world.’

So what’s the point of all of this?

Wikipedia is not perfect. No encyclopedia is. It is as “perfect” as any other basic research tool.

But you and your students should be using Wikipedia because of its cost, its anywhere/anytime access, its ease of use, its ability to update quickly, and because it offers rich citations and references to other print and online material.

Should students cite Wikipedia in their bibliographies? Probably not. Same with  the online version of Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedias aren’t designed to be primary or even secondary sources. They list basic, foundational knowledge and are best used as a starting point for research, rather than an end.

Nothing more, nothing less.

So go ahead and let your kids loose on Wikipedia. It’s gonna be okay. The end of one era means the start of another.

History at the varsity level

It’s ironic, and just a little bit sad, but I thought twice about posting the following article.

It’s too long. No one will read it all the way through.

But I have faith. And you’ll thank me when you’re done. Jim does a great job of articulating the problem and consequence of history without reading but also suggests solutions. Including several that may surprise you.

History without Reading
By Jim Cullen

Imagine, if you will, the study of history without reading. No primary source documents to ground a discussion. No monographic studies to situate a discourse. Not even a textbook for background information. How much a sense of the past could you possibly have?

This is not a rhetorical question. Nor is it solely an invitation to consider the ongoing deprivations and inequities that riddle our educational system. Actually, the situation I’m describing is probably the de facto reality for the majority of students enrolled in history courses in secondary and higher education. Every day, of course, teachers are assigning reading, historians are writing books, and sales reps are writing promotional copy or buttonholing faculty members. Parents and taxpayers are writing checks to pay for miles of aisles in libraries. Instructors walk to the front of rooms, large and small, assuming that their charges have come to class “prepared,” i.e. having done the reading that’s been assigned to them — occasionally online, but usually in hard copy of some kind. Some may actually have done that reading. And some may actually do it, after a fashion, before the next paper or exam (even though, as often as not, they will attempt to get by without having done so fully or at all). But the majority? On any given day?

No. Science and math students might cling to a textbook for dear life in trying to make sense of a new topic during or after class. But few of us who have been in the history business for any length of time deceive ourselves that reading is seen as an indispensable prerequisite for bluffing one’s way through a class or even a course, insofar as we think about it. Usually we don’t, because, well, it wouldn’t make much such sense. We have jobs to do.

And what is that job? For many of us, it’s to teach students to think like historians. We want them to see the relevance of history in their own lives, even as we want them to understand and respect the pastness of the past. We want them to evaluate sources in terms of the information they reveal, the credibility they have or lack, or the questions they prompt. We want them to become independent-minded people capable of striking out on their own. In essence, we want for them what all teachers want: citizens who know how to read, write, and think.

But we don’t think hard enough about what it actually means to read for a young person in the 21st century. We act as if simply assigning a chapter will result in a student reading it. Assuming that student does, we have little sense of how long that might take. Nor do we typically consider how increasingly apart the experience of reading cold type in any form is from the rivers of hot type a student may consume online in formats that include instant messaging, websites, blogs, or social networks. Or the kinds of visual literacy that are in many ways replacing the literacy of traditional reading.

Again: we know this is going on. But we go about our work as if we don’t — or we define our work in terms of resisting or overcoming the world in which our students live. We think it’s our job to ask students to think like historians (historians, who, for the moment, were all born and trained in the twentieth century). We don’t really consider it our job to think like students as a means of showing them why someone would want to think like a historian. We take that for granted because it’s the choice we made. Big mistake.

What would it actually mean to teach a course that presumed ignorance or indifference rather than one of preparation and engagement? Insofar as this question ever gets seriously addressed — actually it’s a subject of obsessive interest to educational publishers, who are often much better informed and thoughtful about the students who (don’t) read their wares than the faculty who adopt them — the answer is typically cast in terms of technology. Websites, video, audio. Individualized test simulations. Ever improving graphical user interfaces, real and virtual. Ironically, this is an approach as likely to scare off technophobic traditionalists glad for any excuse for sticking with what works and what’s easy (not necessarily in that order). But as the publishers, administrators, and at least some teachers know, ducking heads in the sand is becoming too expensive an option. In an age of shrinking budgets and production cost-cutting, the imperative for cheap, fast information delivery becomes ever more pressing. Again, the publishers understand this in ways that their customers don’t. Or, perhaps more to the point, the way their non-customers don’t, whether because their business is distorted by used book sales that push the brunt of costs onto the first buyers of a text, or students who simply decline to acquire a text at all.

But technology is a partial answer at best. A Power Point presentation can be every bit as vacuous and boring as a teacher standing in front of a room and talking at people for 50 minutes. The problem is not one of information or a means of delivery. It’s one that’s been missing from too much history for too long: imagination.

In part, that means a history not of telling, but of showing, in the broadest sense of that term. It might involve visual media (what is Martin Scorsese actually doing with that camera that pivots from immigrants disembarking to coffins being hoisted onto ships in Gangs of New York?) It might also mean embodying voices from the past the way the brilliant interlocutors at Colonial Williamsburg bring Thomas Jefferson or Patrick Henry to life. Or, better yet, it might mean a process of improvised simulation in which a teacher tells someone that she’s a nineteenth century broker who insures slaves and then asking her about how good an idea a new fugitive slave law might be. Or a Tammany Hall pol confronted with the possibility of Civil Service exams. Or a Negro deciding whether to testify in favor of Emmett Till.

Let’s be clear: none of these are terribly remarkable teaching techniques. Gambits like them are deployed every day. But insofar as they are, they’re not typically seen as what the core of what a history course could be about on an everyday basis. For one thing, there’s too much “material” to “cover” (as if history must — can — be taught sequentially, or as if what’s covered in a lecture or a night’s reading is likely to be remembered beyond those eight magic words a student always longs to to be told: “what we need to know for the test”). For another, few teachers are trained and/or given time to develop curriculum beyond a specific departmental, school, or government mandate. The idea that educators would break with a core model of information delivery that dates back beyond the time of Horace Mann, and that the stuff of history would consist of improvisation, group work, and telling stories with sounds or pictures: we’ve entered a realm of fantasy (or, as far as some traditionalists may be concerned, a nightmare). College teachers in particular may well think of such an approach as beneath them: they’re scholars, not performers.

And, of course, we are in the realm of fantasy. But — and this is one of two key points to be made here — what may be the greater fantasy is believing that we can simply march further into the 21st century and believe that we can go on doing what we’ve always done. Whether or not that’s possible from an economic standpoint — does it make sense to pay someone to talk, live, in front of a room, if that’s all he’s doing? — it’s not from an intellectual one. Already, so much of history education, from middle school through college, is a matter of going through the motions. (On the whole, elementary school educators have a better grasp of the emotional, interdisciplinary, and collaborative dimensions of teaching. Instead of constantly looking “up” to what the next step in the chain will be, we should be looking “down” to how learning is done at the grass roots.)

But the other point here is that a new model of history teaching could also make possible a new rationale, and new possibilities, for student reading. To suddenly have to decide whether to stick out your neck for Emmett Till, it would sure help to know what’s really involved in doing so. There would be reason to be informed. There would be a point in gathering information other than regurgitation for a standardized assessment. The odds are, however, that the way you’d go about this is not necessarily the way your mother or grandfather did. You’d do it online — and if you had good resources, like a high-quality subscription database provided by an educational publisher — you’d know where to look and be inclined to go there. Rather than expecting students to come to class prepared, the goal of a history class would be to prepare students for the challenge and joy of reading.

Can you be a student of history without reading? Yes, because it happens every day. Can you be a serious student of history, can you do history at the varsity level, without it? Probably not. But you can’t get from one to the other without recognizing, and acting, on the reality of student life as it is currently lived. That means imagining a world without books — broadly construed — as a means toward preventing their disappearance.


Mr. Cullen teaches at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York. His most recent book is Essaying the Past: How to Read, Write and Think about History. He blogs at American History Now.

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Google Search tools that you may have never heard of


Yes. It’s a noun. But more and more often, we use the word as a verb.

The problem? We really don’t know how to use it very well. A recent study claims that

students might have grown up with the language of the information age, but they do not necessarily know the grammar.

They can use Google but they seldom find the best results because they fail to understand how to structure their searches. And . . . us old people? Not much better.

So a few tips:

1. Use the advanced search feature at Find the Advanced Search options by clicking the Gear symbol in the very top right hand corner of the screen.

After clicking Advanced Search, you’ll find a screen that lets you be very specific about what you are looking for. You and your kids need to start using this screen to add specific phrases, eliminate keywords that might appear in the results that you don’t want, search by date, search for a specific file type like PowerPoint or PDF, search in a specific domain such as and in a specific areas of a web site such as the title.

2. And once you get your results back, be sure to use the filters and tools along the left-hand side of the screen. A default Google search looks for everything but you can also narrow the search to images, videos, books, blogs, places and discussions.

You can also use a variety of tools to filter your results even further. I especially like the Sites with Images, Timeline, Dictionary and Reading Level. This one is especially helpful as you differentiate your instruction. You and students need to also take advantage of the Time filter, allowing you to be very specific about the age of your results.

3. Want to search with your voice rather than typing into a search box? Try Voice Search. Right now it works just with the Google Chrome browser but once you get used to it, it can save some serious time.

4. The Google Image search has similar filters to the left. Search by file size, type of image and time.

5. Search for images with an actual image rather by text. This allows you to search Google’s database by inserting a photo of the battle of Gettysburg, for example, and getting results based on that image. While at the Google Images search page, click the camera icon within the search box. You’ll can find information about the photographer, data about the image, online sites that incorporate that image and links to other relevant information. This new search works with landmarks, pieces of art, logos and more.

6. Need some review? How about a great big classroom poster with tons of search tips? Google’s got ’em.

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