Friday, 15 August 2014

Academic Literacy-Part 2: Argumentative Literacies

As part 2 of this series, I'm focusing on "Argumentative Literacies" in any educational discipline. Take this video on "Repet" below:

"At Re-Pet, we can also change the color of your pet to match the decor of your house."

I showed this video to my class as a follow up to an article we read on how Japanese scientists have used selective breeding to create a flightless species of ladybug in order to minimize pesticide use. After summarizing, analyzing and interpreting, the article, I asked them if if they thought that this was science taken "too far" and perhaps it crosses the line over which humans should tread. After many heated objections, I noted that much of our food is genetically modified to keep up with an exponentially rising population. After showing how genetic alteration could permeate into the lives of an average citizen with "Repet" the students were shocked and led to enthusiastic interest. Most of the students said they wouldn't clone their pet, but many said that they would a family member if such a tragedy befell them.

Argumentative Literacies Defined
Argumentative literacies are defined as "Enabling students to consider alternate perspectives (Van Amelsvoort, 2006), and make judgements to inform their decision making." (cf. Graff, 2003, neweell, et al., 2011) Although many teachers may argue that they want students to be critical thinkers, most high school students are not prepared for argumentative culture of the university and beyond. (Graff, 2003) We may invite impromptu discussions of such topics but being a critical thinker is of the utmost importance to being a well-rounded, successful adult.

Good questions should promote discussion, be debatable and contestable

Pedagocial Approaches
  • Have "essential" or "guiding" questions posted on a bulletin board in the classroom. Scaffold from more factual questions to conceptual and debatable questions. 
  • Revisit your curriculum. The first two years of teaching my curriculum, I realized that my essential questions were poor and not very interesting. Jay McTighe told me that a good essential question should be like an "itch". Something that is hard to tear ourselves away from. 
  • Skills and Knowledge
    • Provide pros an cons to each arguments along with evaluation of such arguments
    • Convince an audience with claims, warrants, supporting evidence, and counterarguments
    • Differentiate or show the relationship between "opinion" and reasons
    • How to critically evaluate other's arguments including their own
    • Come up with engaging questions. Good debatable questions should have tension, be contested, promote discussion and may be deliberately provocative. My two debatable questions for my first two units this semester are:
      • Has atomic theory been a more beneficial or destructive force for humans?
      • Given that overpopulation is straining earth's resources, should viruses be eradicated? 
    • Give opportunities for students to write (or orally present) on such questions. The IB does a good job of this and actually mandates this through an extended piece. Writing tasks may be structured around taking a position on an issue, incorporating content knowledge and also writing rebuttals to the various points for an against an issue embedded with content knowledge. 
    Criterion A Evaluation Level 5-6 (Courtesy of IB Program)

    Technology Integration
    • Google Docs-Google Docs are a great way of sharing and collaborating over written tasks. Sharing settings allow for students to  collaborate with one another. My students usually draft on Google docs and then blog their final draft with media to share with a larger audience. 
    • Doctopus-Doctopus is one of my favorite tools with Google Docs for a paperless classroom. It allows you not only to share documents with students (For example: a document with a writing prompt) it allows you to embed rubrics into documents and send personalized feedback on assignments. Doctopus can also be set up to share the same document with groups of students for collaborative work and also differentiate mixed ability resources. 
    • Google Research-Google's little known research tool was slipped into Google Docs, Presentations and Drawings just over a year ago. It allows students to link articles with APA or MLA formatting, research scholar, embed and cite creative commons licensed images, and insert quotes too.
    Related Posts 

    1. Academic Literacy-Part 1: Disciplinary Literacy
    1. Van Amelsvoort M. (2006) A space for debate. How diagrams support collaborative argumentation-based learning. 
    2. Graff, G. (2003) Clueless in Academe: How schooling obscures the life of the mind. N

    Sunday, 10 August 2014

    The Power of G Class Folders

    If there are any Google Apps "Add ons" to start the school year, a great one to start within the first week are G Class folders. G Class folders are folders that are automatically created for each student in your class (provided they have a Gmail domain name) and allows you to share documents easily with students and not have to worry if students have correctly named it and shared it with you. Here is the tutorial

    After creating a class spreadsheet, go to the Add-on's tab and install "G Class Folders"
    Notable Features
    • Creates folders for student that you can catalog student work for conferences later. 
    • Eliminates "digital dust" of students having shared filed with you in the "incoming" section of your google drive. 
    • Gives the teachers flexibility in sharing documents with the students. For instance, folders are created for a teacher view only, a folder for teacher and student editing, a whole class editing folder and a "view only mode". 
    • Catalogs what has been shared with students
    G Class folders makes a drop down list of sub folders for your specific sections and students. 

    Saturday, 9 August 2014

    Academic Literacy-Part 1: Disciplinary Literacy

    Laotian girls reading. Image courtesy of CC
    I read a remarkable article this summer entitled "Rethinking Academic Literacies" which outlines a great framework for approaching teaching and learning for any subject area teacher. Rather than just a generic set of literacy strategies, (such as utilising graphic organisers, paraphrasing and summarising) developing academic literacy is realising that "Each discipline has its own culture, evolving unique definitions of, as well as ways of using, text and literacy." (Fang) This broadens what it means to be well educated in any subject area and demands that subject area teachers go beyond content knowledge. 

    "The weaknesses and strengths of a teacher are usually the weaknesses and strengths of their students"

    Making the Case for Academic Literacy 
    Image courtesy of Kiili, Makinen and Coiro

    What does it mean to be well educated? We've all had students that can breeze through multiple choice tests and easily regurgitate information, but who struggle to apply skills and knowledge laterally and solve real world problems. Have these students "gamed" the system or have we not adequately prepared them by not having provided such opportunities on a regular basis? As disciplinary literacy "coverage" seems to be most important in order to keep our jobs, other domains (as pictured to the right) may be merely given lip service as a means to develop content understanding. Digital literacy and citizenship may be spear-headed by the divisional or grade level teachers, collaborative literacies may be done sporadically but not assessed, and argumentative literacies may be done without much structure.

    In this series of 5 blog posts, I will outline pedagogical approaches and how technology integration can both modify and redefine these 5 domains in order to make them simpler and more tangible. First is "Disciplinary Literacy".

    Disciplinary Literacy Defined
    I'm going to get a little IB'ish here, but the theory of knowledge within in the International Baccalaureate program is a great framework to understand how students develop disciplinary literacy by not merely reading and comprehending texts, but questioning the author's bias, comparing conflicting viewpoints, developing cause and effect relationships and gauging reliability of a piece of writing from a constructivist learning style. In this anxious age where people are vehemently opinionated on issues of which they're very uninformed, this is so vital as it examines what do we really know about what we know. If you're anchored to a state curriculum textbook, this can be challenging as they're often sanitised and sterile, but there are a host of free web-based content via articles that can be printed.

    Although some of the following may sound like a chore (ie: providing 3-4 articles of the same content instead of 1) these do allow for understanding and learning from multiple perspectives and also ties into digital literacy which I'll discuss later.

    "Be curious, not judgemental"-Walt Whitman

    Pedagogical Approaches

    • Asking students to rate the reliability of a text. 
    • Jigsaw activity wherein different groups can read different articles on the same topic and report back to what they learned to the whole class. Comparing what the articles had in common and what some of them omitted.
    • Offering different viewpoints of historical events (ie: The Vietnam war through the lens of a US soldier, a South Vietnamese citizen, and North Vietnamese Army fighter)
    • Using a class bulletin board or website to publish blatantly incorrect information and asking students to debunk the claims. 
    • Providing different genres of text (narrative, informational, biography, children's books)
    • Peer reviewing sources. 

    Technology Integration

    • Comparing search results on Google and Google Scholar. 
    • For government and civics lessons, utilising the chrome app "Greenhouse" which (after you install) show how much government officials have been paid by industry lobbies from any web-based article. 
    • Comparing bias and opinion of right and left leaning news agencies (Fox verses MSNBC).
    • Today's Meet-This is a great online discussion tool for blended learning environments which creates a chat room wherein students do not have to log their user names (Like Google Apps) so responses are more open and there is no risk of backlash against outlandish viewpoints. 

    Image courtesy of CC
    Walt Whitman said "Be curious, not judgemental" which is a great note to end on. Some of the literacies that I've promoted above (for example looking at the Vietnamese war through a non-american perspective) some might think of as un-american. Having lived in Vietnam for 9 years I've come to see the Vietnamese people in a very different light as I was taught while growing up in the United States. Isn't that what it means to be well educated?

    Rethinking Academic Literacies
    Preparing Content Area Teachers for Disciplinary Literacy Instruction

    Friday, 1 August 2014

    3 Great Science Apps to Start the School Year

    Ah, summer. I spent June and July browsing fun science apps and taking a much deserved break from blogging. Here are some fun ones to explore this fall and consider using with your classes during the next school year. A number of these were found on "apps gone free" and if you haven't downloaded it, do it and you may find many apps offered for free or discounted prices for a limited time.

    Plague Inc. -Plague incorporated is a fun (albeit disgusting) way of learning about bacterial, viral and fungal transmission. In this game, the user plays the role of the bacteria and tries to decimate the worldwide population before it's cured. Players start the country of origin and learn about transmission through planes, boats, and border to border transmission. Playing the part of the bacteria, you must decide how to "build" your deadliness through livestock transmission, symptomatic spreading and abilities. May be interesting as Ebola is in the news and is being watched. Download this from the app store here.

    Chemio-Chemio is a great reference for chemistry students. Until I stumbled across this, I used "The Elements" which is good, but extremely expensive. Although Chemio doesn't have shiny rotating 3d pictures of elements, it does has many of the same features such as periodic table information, solubility, molar calculator, and atomic model with orbitals. On a quasi-related note, "little alchemy" is a free web-based game with dubious chemistry laws, but it is the most fun young learners will have when learning about how many elements they can make!

    Skeptical Science- Skeptical Science is great for debunking the the opinions of people that decry global warming as a myth. The app helps users navigate the arguments against global warming and find factual rebuttals to arguments such as "Antarctic ice is growing" and "The warmest year on record happened long ago". Since 9 of the last 10 years have been the warmest on record, and 97% of climate scientists agree that it is happening despite what the fossil fuel industry says, this seems to still be a political hot-potato.

    Related Posts
    Top Math Apps for the Ipad