Friday, February 26, 2010

Google-Proof Questioning: A New Use for Bloom's Taxonomy

One of my professional goals this year was to provide free online resources to you. I have spent much of my free-time reading, learning, and trying many of these resources. I have also subscribed to a number of blogs that I find interesting and intellectually stimulating. (I have kept track of these many blogs with my iGoogle page, which I showed you during February’s Faculty Meeting.) The Friday Focus for today is actually from a blog called, The Electric Educator. It is written by John Sowash, a Google certified teacher from Michigan. I hope you find this information useful to your teaching and provide some fodder for discussion.

Enjoy the weekend,

Google-Proof Questioning: A New Use for Bloom's Taxonomy

The internet has revolutionized information collection. The answer to virtually any question or problem is at our fingertips. Google has made this possible.

While I am a great admirer of Google and an avid user of its products, in a way, Google has made my life as a teacher a LOT more difficult. Let me explain. In the "old days" (that would be pre-internet) when a teacher assigned a worksheet with a series of questions on it students had a few options to get the answers.

1. Ask mom.
2. If mom doesn't know, ask Dad.
3. If Dad doesn't know look it up in the textbook.
4. If the answer isn't in the textbook, give up.

Now I am a teacher. When I give worksheets with questions on them my students immediately type the entire question into the omniscient search box on Google and in an instant, they have their answer. They have expended absolutely zero energy or effort to find the answer and as a result will not remember the question or the answer.

There are two solutions to this problem:

1. Ban the use of Google by all school-aged children.
2. Learn to write "Google-proof" questions.

Through extensive research and investigation I have come to the conclusion that option number one will prove to be an ineffective strategy. Therefore, we will proceed with option number two.

So, what is a "Google-proof question?" It is a question that cannot be directly answered via Google (or any other search engine) because it requires analysis, interpretation, and investigation. Writing such questions can be challenging. A helpful tool is Bloom's Taxonomy.

Bloom's is arranged into six different levels of questioning ranging from knowledge (the simplest) to evaluation (the most complex). It is only the top two levels, synthesis and evaluation that can be considered Google-proof. The verbs associated with these two levels include "compose, create, construct, rate, evaluation, design, appraise, argue, and assemble." Here are some sample questions that would fall into the analysis and evaluation levels of Blooms:

1. Rate the importance of the parts of the cell from least to most important.
2. Construct a graph to display the cost-benefit data of three types of biofuels.
3. Design an experiment to test the consumption of oxygen by germinating seeds.

These questions cannot be Googled. The web will be a very helpful resource in collecting information related to these questions, but search engines will not lead to easy answers.

We are in an age of information. Storing facts in our brains is a pointless exercise (unless you plan on being on Jeopardy!). In the era of the iPhone, any fact, statistic, or desirable piece of information is only a few clicks away. The skill of the 21st century that will set people apart is what they can do with the information that is available to them. What new products, services, or procedures can be improved, created or derived from the information that we have? Knowing is not as important as using.

Google has made my job as a teacher a lot harder, but I'm glad. Now I have to think of new ways to challenge my students to evaluate and synthesize information.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

RESPECT others, yourself, and your school

This mantra is posted in every classroom of AAK. What does it mean? I attempted to briefly address this question for the parents in a description of AAK’s Student Expectations. This is what I pithily stated in an August newsletter.

Respect. To respect oneself is the first step in being able to respect others. Being a good friend, showing empathy and concern for others, and treating others with fairness lead to better cooperation and deep, long-lasting friendships. A loyal friend is often thought of as a true friend. These attributes affect the climate and culture of the school as well. Having “Potsdam Pride” comes from having a healthy respect for Potsdam.

While this undershot the importance of respect, as well as ignored most rules of grammar, I did state that respect began with self, and then developed to friendship and empathy, finishing with regard for community. I will attempt to expand my thoughts about respect, in reverse order, beginning with community.

During my first year of teaching, I went to a boys’ basketball game and was struck by an impassioned chant from the cheerleaders, who were coached by former 8th grade ELA teacher, Sally Donah. (Yup, that’s Chris’ mom for those who didn’t know.) The cheer was a slow cadence, building in volume and tension with intermittent claps from the fans as they shouted, “We are” [clap clap] “Potsdam” [clap clap] “And we” [clap clap] “Are great!” [clap clap]. This was repeated over and over, not getting faster, but getting louder until there was a frenzied state in the gymnasium that forced opponents to become unnerved. Now I can picture everyone at AAK, reading this and practicing this cheer – so before this mental picture draws my attention away from the point, I’ll quickly get to it. I was proud. I was proud to be a fan of Potsdam and I was proud to be a teacher at Potsdam. I cheered along with the rest of the gym and felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I often think of this Potsdam Pride as I discuss a sports team with a fellow coach, talk to a teacher about our good students, relay to the Board a middle-level initiative, talk to families that are moving into the North Country about choosing the right school, and high five a student in the hallway. I also feel the Potsdam Pride when I’m sitting with a group of professionals trying to find a plan for a student who isn’t being successful. It’s my belief that we’re all doing that because we want the best for that child and their experience at AAK. Potsdam Pride is a palpable feeling of respect toward our school community.

When I am chairing a hiring committee, I recognize the established criteria; however I always look for a characteristic a bit less tangible, but just as important. I want prospective employees to, “be a good fit for AAK.” This goes to the heart of why I believe that Potsdam Pride is so pervasive among the people of this community. The people at AAK are able to work together and form positive relationships. Being able to develop cooperative, working relationships with coworkers leads us to a “can do” atmosphere. I think it’s Randy Burlingame who first mentioned to me his “work family.” It’s all tied together. My Potsdam Pride comes from the people who I work with, who I work for, and who work for me – it’s about the relationships with others. And just like any real family, AAK really places the “fun” in dysfunctional. Our respect for each other and our communal ideals is born from who we are as individuals. We work hard, long hours to do the job that we know must be done. We do this because of who we are. We take on the tough tasks because we want our students to be successful, because that makes our school and community successful, and it makes us successful.

My father always told me that a job worth doing was worth doing well. These words were spoken by the youngest son of a farming family. Many of you probably realize that the youngest son didn’t traditionally get the family farm. So why was it so important for my father to do an admirable job, knowing that his hard work would be handed to the eldest brother? I would like to think it was because he respected the outcome of his work. He put his name behind his work and this was important to him. My father did his best to instill this respect of work in me. I know that many of you had similar backgrounds and stories as this. I see it every day in the mark that you place on your work.

To answer my original question about the meaning of this all-too important component of AAK’s Student Expectations. Respect for self is diligence, hard-work, and a conscientious attitude. Respect for others is a tolerance of ideas that are different from our own and that the sum of the whole is greater than any one part. Respect for the school is singular in purpose and comes from the relationships of its people and intention of its mission. I believe in myself to do the best job that I am capable of doing. I believe that the people of AAK will do what is necessary to provide a top education for the children. I believe that this community is served well by the people of this building. I believe that Respect for others, yourself, and your school is one of the most important lessons we can provide for the next generation. I thank you for your hard-work and dedication to the children, the school, and to yourself.

Enjoy a great vacation!