Globally Connecting Learners through Project Based Learning

Published on Getting Smart, November 15, 2017

In honor of International Education Week, we’re bringing you a series of blogs that celebrate the benefits of global competencies, international education and cultural exchanges. Stay tuned for more like this throughout the week!

Project-Based​ Learning​ (PBL)​ offers tremendous benefits for students to become engaged in more authentic and purposeful learning. Providing opportunities in which students have choices in what to explore, where to seek information, and ultimately how to share their learning, will lead to higher student engagement and more meaningful learning experiences. By giving students the chance to be curious in exploring a concept which is of personal interest, or working together to tackle a problem or engage in some challenge-based learning, we foster more student-driven classrooms and promote curiosity in learning.

As educators, we need to strive to open up opportunities for students to broaden their perspectives, to engage in collaboration with their peers, and more importantly, to become globally connected learners. PBL is a way to connect our students globally and it also addresses the 4 C’s: critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. Opportunities like this, in which students can become more independent and have choices for where their search leads them will amplify the learning potential of all students in the classroom as well as for the new connections made.

Entering my second year of project-based learning I wanted to take it to another level with my Spanish classes, after attending and presenting at EdmodoCon. I was  amazed at the power of technology to unite educators from around the world and I wanted to do more in my classroom. Learning from such diverse perspectives, and fascinated by the ability to communicate with my new colleagues, at any time from around the world further solidified my belief that this was something that must be done in my classroom. I wanted my students to have as many diverse, authentic opportunities to explore the world as they could.

Setting up a process to connect students with the world can take some time to plan as you must decide what is the best method and structure to use, but getting the connections started is really quite simple. There are many different learning communities available depending on what is used for a classroom website. I use Edmodo, but there are also professional learning communities available through ISTE or Google+. Getting started simply takes posting a message in the community and awaiting responses from other educators interested in making new connections.

Here is the process I followed to get started with my class:

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 9.48.24 PM.png1. Shared the idea: I told students the idea for making global connections and the “why” behind this newexperience. While doing PBL, it is essential to have the students connect with real-world experiences in authentic ways. Once I explained to my students how I had planned to do this, I then posted a message in a few of the Edmodo communities. In my message, I explained what my students would be doing, the types of topics they would be learning about and how we could collaborate.

2. Collected responses: I received several responses to my message and replied to each to gather more details about the age group of the students, the location of the classroom and options for connecting our classes.

3. Created groups on Edmodo: Once several educators were interested, I created a separate group on Edmodo and shared the join code with my students as well as the students from the other classrooms. Edmodo provides a safe place to interact to not only help students become globally connected and share their perspective, but is also an opportunity to learn and connect with other educators.

4. Got started: We started by simply making introductions and then the students started to ask questions related to their project-based learning and essential questions. The students were amazed and excited about how quickly responses were received and how willing the other students were to share information, provide resources and interact with one another. It has been tremendous to see how much the students have learned in such a short amount of time. This type of learning could not occur without technology, it provides authentic and personalized learning because the students are connecting globally and broadening their perspectives in a more engaging and personalized way.

5. Expanded the project: In order to take it even further, once the conversations and connections had been established, we wanted to interact through audio and video. Due to the difference in time zones and schedules, we needed to find a more convenient way to interact. Flipgrid presented the perfect solution for setting up an online space for students to introduce themselves, show their schools, and have some fun interacting in a moderated and safe environment. It was very exciting to receive the notifications that a new Flipgrid response had been posted, and watching it immediately in class was fantastic for the students. Students can learn by looking at pictures, reading books and watching videos but to be able to interact in this way and this quickly is truly an amazing experience. The best part was when the students were finally able to see the students they had been interacting with. We also used Padlet as another virtual space to interact through photos and conversations.

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Being an educator does not mean that you are an expert. We are constantly learning and should be seeking new ways to bring knowledge and different learning experiences into our classrooms. In just a few short weeks of working with these global connections and setting aside the time to open up and increase the learning potential for my students, I have learned so much. For the four teachers in our group, this is the first time that any of us are doing anything like this and we are learning and growing together. We are enjoying the experience with our students and the best part for me, is learning more about my own students through their interactions online and I believe that the students are learning more about themselves as well.

Preparing Students for Future Work: What is the Gig Economy?

Published on Getting Smart, February 3, 2018

The “gig economy” is fairly new to me, I was unaware of the terminology until recently. When I first heard “gig economy”, I could not figure out what it referred to, at least in the sense of both words used together. Separately, I can easily define “gig” and “economy.” The gig economy gets its name because each job or work assignment is similar to an individual “gig”. The gig economy was formerly known as the ‘sharing economy’, with one of the most popular examples being Airbnb. I recall first hearing “Airbnb” two years ago and not having a clue about what it meant then. I only knew that I had several friends who arranged travel as part of Airbnb.

So how does the gig economy work?

It is employment that is a temporary task, for example, delivery couriers, Uber (another term I did not understand when I first heard it three years ago), or Lyft, to name a few. A prior post in Getting Smart included some statistics related to the average income from providing these types of services. The numbers are fascinating. In 2015, 54 million people worked as freelancers earning an estimate of 17% more per hour than full-time employees. It is projected that 60% of companies plan to hire more freelancers rather than full-time employees in the future. In 2016, 35% of workers were freelancers and estimates are that by 2020, this number will increase to 43% in the United States. So it leads me to wonder: What will the number rise to in another 10 years, by the year 2030? In a quick estimate, perhaps it will rise to approximately 63% if following the previous increase as a trend.

Looking ahead, the students currently in kindergarten will be the graduating class of 2030. It seems a long way off, but we need to prepare them for their future, and if the future does involve less traditional educational paths and more “gig” jobs and freelancing, how do we start preparing them now? It is important to consider these statistics and trends when preparing your lessons each day, and it has led me to think about how I am instructing students in my class.

As a foreign language teacher, students often ask why they should learn a foreign language, or say that they won’t need a foreign language in their future. There are many benefits in learning a foreign language, but I think the gig economy presents a perfect example of how it could be of even greater benefit to students in the future. Having foreign language knowledge is a skill that can come in handy and benefit students later on in life. Some common examples that come to mind are sellers on sites like Etsy or even someone who works as an online tutor or an editor. These do not have to be full-time positions, but can be in addition to a more permanent job, and done as extra work on the side. It’s about having options available. And to best prepare students for the future of work in a gig economy, we need to give them options.

Prepping for the future

How do we prepare students for a future of freelance work or to become entrepreneurs? By offering more opportunities for them to explore and create, through opportunities to not only explore the types of jobs available but also job shadow to learn firsthand, the qualifications and skills that may be necessary.

So if this is the trend that will be coming in the future, then will schools continue to encourage students to seek a college degree, or an extended learning program or formal training? Or do students need to simply master a skill or have time to explore an interest they have, to become more marketable? Do schools have the responsibility to create different courses through which students can learn about a variety of professional options and afford time for students to explore on their own or by connecting with professionals in their community?

Many schools have started to offer more courses based on emerging trends, such as entrepreneurship, webpage design, sports and entertainment management, and other similar courses to help students develop skills necessary to create their own job opportunities. At my school, Patsy Kvortek, one of our business teachers, recognized a need for courses which would help students to develop some of these skills. She thought “we should provide students with opportunities to learn in more authentic ways that would prepare them for future success.” To do this, a few years ago she created a course in “Entrepreneurship” and  “Sports and Entertainment Management” in which students develop a wide variety of skills focused on project management, event planning and learning everything there is to know about being an entrepreneur. In her classes, students take on different roles, learn to collaborate and be part of a team that is entirely responsible for planning, organizing and executing large-scale school and community events. Some of the roles include: Project Manager, Committee Chairs, Social Media and Advertising. Students rotate through these roles so they develop the skills necessary to be successful in any of these areas in the future.

Through this course, students have developed skills to prepare them for many career options as well as better understand how to start a small business or plan major events. They also develop critical skills of communication, collaboration, problem-solving and as an added benefit, SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) skills as well. Observing the students involved in these courses has always impressed me, and seeing them come up with new products and start their own business, has shown the value behind providing these opportunities. These electives grew in popularity over the years because of the truly authentic and relevant learning experiences they provided.

Degree or no degree?

What difference does having a degree make? There are a lot of statistics that point to alternate forms of furthering one’s education, which do not involve the traditional undergraduate degree. There is more of an emphasis on building skills in diverse areas, to be flexible and explore alternate training options. There is a growing trend of students “crafting their own career” and not being dependent on an employer to do this, but rather create a professional path based more on personal interest. Several former students, ones whom I thought would pursue a college degree, instead opted to venture into unique areas of business. They have been successful and it is even more rewarding knowing they are doing what they love and control their schedules. Some of these entrepreneurial ventures include: a dog daycare, photo booth rentals, personal shopping service, resume writing, jewelry making, party planning and photography. These students chose these paths because they were able to pursue personal interests through electives, and develop skills and knowledge to get their business started. There will continue to be a demand for these services and these entrepreneurs will be in control of when, where and how often they provide these services in a gig economy.

The preparation that all students need

What are the skills that all students should develop regardless of what the future holds in terms of education? We need to help students learn how to communicate, to collaborate, to problem-solve and to find out what they are passionate about. There should be opportunities for students to engage in more real-world experiences, where they can assess needs in their community and brainstorm ways to offer services that will be beneficial for others. Project-based learning is a great way to help prepare students for working with others and to have more of an authentic and meaningful learning experience.

The Buck Institute of Education is working to develop a High-Quality Project Based Learning framework (to be published in March), with six criteria that students should experience through PBL. One of these six is “project management”. The focus of this is more on how to support students with goal setting, time management and self-assessment. These skills will prove beneficial regardless of what the future “job” may be for students.

When we support students in setting goals, learning to self-assess, engaging in more independent work and developing time management skills, we help them to develop the skills that they will need to be successful in the future regardless of what they ultimately decide to do. Whether they pursue full-time employment or explore options in a “gig economy”, they will be ready to face any challenges that arise in a constantly changing workplace.

Artificial Intelligence: Implications for the Future of Education

Published originally on Getting Smart, January 8, 2018

 

Have you noticed more discussion recently about Artificial Intelligence or AI? When first hearing “Artificial Intelligence” is there an image that pops into your mind? Is it something that you can easily define? Perhaps your understanding/reference point is something you’ve seen in the movies. For myself, being an 80s child, my initial frame of reference is Star Wars, I immediately think of R2D2 or C3PO. My mind then wanders to thoughts of “I, Robot” starring Will Smith, in which the robots developed the capacity to think like humans, to feel and to take action on their own. And more currently, I think of the Alexa, Echo, Siri and others that have gained popularity, even more so recently. But what is the true meaning of AI and how do we see it in daily life?

The concept of “Artificial intelligence” can be hard to understand/grasp, especially when trying to think about how it can be applied to education as well as many other sectors of society. In December 2015, the Getting Smart #AskAboutAI research began and over these two years, they have identified over 100 applications of AI to life in areas such as recreation, transportation, education, healthcare and gaming to name just a few. The campaign focused on AI in regard to three objectives: employment, ethics and education. How can AI be beneficial for different industries, what are some of the uses, what are the benefits and risks associated with it, and of greater personal interest, what are the possibilities for AI in education.

According to Getting Smart’s “Ask About AI” report, the notion behind AI is that machines can exhibit human intelligence. The concept of “machine learning” started in 1956 and is when algorithms are used to interpret data and take some action or to complete a task. As a foreign language teacher, I became aware of machine learning years ago, in the form of language translators. AI, at its base, is computer code that displays some form of intelligence, learning, and problem solving in what has been referred to as a “super intelligence.” It is the development of computers that can complete tasks which normally require “human intelligence” however it learns on its own and continues to improve on past iterations. AI becomes smarter, knowledge grows, and it expands the realm of possibilities for society. Machine learning is actually a subset of artificial intelligence. It is said that all Machine Learning is AI, but not all AI is Machine Learning.

Everyday uses of Machine Learning and AI that you may not be aware of.

In my quest to learn more about AI and its implications for the future of learning, I needed to first understand how we were already using AI and perhaps, not even realizing it. I asked colleagues for their thoughts on AI and many were as unsure as I about how it is being used currently. Here are 5 common uses:

  1. Communication: Spam filters, powered by AI, streamline the amount of spam appearing in your inbox. As email senders (real or automated) become more careful with selecting words which have not been flagged previously, the filters need to adapt and continue to learn based on words that the user also flags. There is an added component of ML in this, in that through the algorithms already in place by the email provider, additional filters are then created.  Google takes it even further by continuously learning the types of email messages which are marked as “important”.
  2. Travel: If you have taken a ride using Uber or Lyft, you have experienced ML (Machine Learning), which is used to predict rider demand and to calculate ETA( Estimated Time of Arrival). The airline industry uses AI, since autopilot qualifies as AI, where it is estimated that “human steered” flight time is only seven minutes of actual flight length.
  3. Social networking: When we use Facebook to share photos, the artificial intelligence is able to detect faces in the image and suggest a name to tag the person. Facebook has continued to add new features as part of its AI Initiative, to generate a more personalized and interactive user experience. Some social media sites, such as Twitter, generate lists of accounts to follow, chats to join, and news feeds of interest based on an analysis of user input and data. Even Google with its “cards” can provide a variety of personal recommendations based on your search history.
  4. Online Shopping: One that comes to mind quickly is Amazon, and how it suggests items you may be interested in, as a result of your prior searches and order history. Systems are in place to protect consumers against fraud, with alerts being sent almost simultaneously to an attempted transaction that is not recognized as a “typical” purchase or located in a non-home base location. All of this done through AI, which is used for identifying fraudulent transactions.
  5. Education: Teachers and students have a wide range of tools available, ranging from Google Searches, in which alternate search terms are instantly suggested, citation generators, plagiarism checkers, and even Siri has become a popular tool for searches. An astounding amount of information generated instantly, far more advanced from thirty years ago and society’s reliance on card catalogs, calculators and books.

But what does AI mean for today’s classrooms?

Looking at these common uses in everyday life makes it easier to think about some ways that Artificial Intelligence can transform classrooms. Where will we see the biggest benefits? I think that it is important to take a look at your own classroom and consider: What are some of the tasks that are typically done? How are you and the students spending your class time? What are some ways that you could get some of that time back by using AI? Time to dream big!

Thinking about my own classroom, some of the most time-consuming tasks are conferencing and finding time to work with each student, creating and reviewing assessments, locating appropriate supplemental activities to differentiate for students, offering more engaging and immersive learning experiences. AI can address each of these areas, increasing the time available to spend doing more interactive lessons, having students lead, having more time to focus on relationships in the classroom and truly providing students with a world full of opportunities, personalized to their needs and instantly available.

So how can AI help?

  1. Communication:  Students and teachers will be able to communicate instantly with one another as well as to connect with other forms of AI around the world. Students instantly paired with peers, helping each student to expand their own personal learning networks, with personalized and more authentic connections that will meet the students’ interests and needs at any given moment. Think of the benefits for being able to converse with AI or a virtual peer, which has been located based on an assessment of student needs and error analyses. Build foreign language skills, talk to someone about school, family, life in a country being studied, possibilities are endless for language learning.
  2. Differentiation: With the availability of AI,  students and teachers will be able to connect with resources they need exactly when they need them. The entire internet of resources accessible within seconds, deliverable to each student saving valuable time for more interaction between teacher and student, and students and students. Through AI, students can have access to one to one tutors, creating more authentic learning experiences by pairing students with an expert or a virtual peer to learn with. Think of the benefits if each student could have instant access to a tutor wherever and whenever they needed one.
  3. Personalization: What better way to offer more personalized learning opportunities for students than to have AI be able to analyze student responses, determine areas of need and interest, and find resources or create new questions to help students to greater understanding of the content. What about the potential for informing the classroom teacher, and working together to create new learning opportunities for students, but in a faster way, that relates directly to the student needs and offers authentic and timely feedback.
  4. Exploration: With the rise of augmented and virtual reality, and the benefits of bringing these into the classroom for students to have a more immersive learning experience and to see places and explore things that otherwise they would not, AI can be a tremendous benefit for this. Through AI, resources could be found instantly based on student responses, or for the entire classroom to experience. Capabilities such as these are not something that will be limited by the time and place of the classroom setting. AI could show students want they want to explore, find ways to bring the content to life instantly.
  5. Assessments: AI could help teachers to assess students and streamline the grading process, with the added benefit of being able to quickly take the data, provide an analysis for teachers, so that time can be saved for more classroom interactions. It can help with student achievement, making sure that each student has the opportunity to learn and grow, benefitting from the faster responses through AI.

Considerations for the future.

Even though there has been concern expressed for what AI could mean for education: would AI lead to the replacement of teachers? Would the use of AI in the classroom have any negative impacts on student learning? There could not be a replacement of teachers because AI cannot help students to build SEL skills and learn from human interactions, vital components of relationships in the classroom. So in the end, what could AI do? Here are 10 roles for AI that can be used in education.

AI can quickly interpret a student’s needs and design an appropriate assessment. It can show students mastery, repeat lessons as needed and quickly design a personalized learning plan for each student. AI could provide teachers with a virtual teaching assistant, (something that was done in 2015 without students even knowing), which then frees time for the teacher to move around the room and facilitate learning. But more than just teachers and students, it can be a way to support parents by involving them in the learning environment of students and providing them with the information they need to help their students be successful when they’re not in the classroom. The future likely holds a lot of possibilities for AI and teachers can take the opportunity to be informed of the possibilities and being open to discussions with students.