This Post Does NOT Offer 225 Essential Tips For Education Bloggers

Why overwhelming, Spin Magazine-style lists aren’t very helpful.

I see a lot of blog posts for educators that aren’t very helpful to educators. You know the ones: 20 Best Productivity Tools for Teachers and Top 10 Photo Editing Apps for Education and 100 Apps Every Educator Must Know About.

These articles can inspire. They can provide some direction for the tech savvy educator who already knows what she wants. But in general, they lack the depth needed to make a difference because when it comes down to it, photo editing apps are like spouses: most people only need 1 (or 2 or 3…but 10 is excessive for just about everyone in modern society).

Consider how we respond when asked for a restaurant recommendation. (Spoiler: We certainly don’t direct people to a list of 20 Steak Houses in the Metro Area Where You Should Order Fried Chicken.) When we recommend a restaurant, we provide details about the type of food, quality of service, convenience of location, ambiance, cleanliness, pricing and value. Most importantly, we share our personal experiences, suggesting specific menu items and even ideal occasions.

This level of detail is crucial if the goal of recommending edtech tools is to help teachers. I don’t know any teachers who have time to check out a random list of Top 50 Chrome Apps From the First Half of 2015, especially if it is not differentiated by content area or grade level. What teachers DO value and WILL make time for is one really great and practical suggestion that is accompanied by specific ideas and examples from real classrooms. We’re talking about suggesting ideal lessons in which to incorporate the tech tools, offering links to download PDFs of rubrics and embedding videos exemplars of how implementation can look. At the very least, annotating the list with tidbits like: “I can see Middle School Science teachers using this in order to…” can be helpful. (Richard Byrne and Matt Gomez are great models at doing this.)

Connecting the dots for teachers will not hamper their creativity in taking the ideas and reappropriating them to meet the needs of their own students. Teachers are hungry for valuable EdTech resources and will appreciate the time-saving effort and authentic resources that actually help with implementing the right resources in meaningful ways.

Beating Back Boring Biographies

Hack a common assignment to make it more powerful and meaningful for learners.

I doubt that I’m alone in often being frustrated by the differences between my students’ ideas of a biography and my own. It seems that for many of our students, “writing” a biography simply entails searching for the person on wikipedia, highlighting all of the text, copying and pasting it into a document.

The plagiarism is a huge concern here but I’m honestly more bothered by how boring the students’ work turns out to be.

One of the solutions that I came up with is to ditch the biography and instead offer students the ability to be an Investigador Privado (Private Investigator). The role of a P.I. is different than that of a Biographer. For my class, students were tasked with addressing three questions:

  • Who hired you?
  • Why did they hire you?
  • How will you convince them that they got their money’s worth?

An Example

One student decided that she was investigating singer Enrique Iglesias on behalf of a private Catholic school that wanted to vet Enrique to make sure he would be a suitable speaker for their graduation ceremony. She took screen shots of his social media posts, copied song lyrics, provided pictures from tabloids and links to some of his more racy music videos. Ultimately, she suggested to the school that he would not be a wise choice for them.

Like with a traditional, boring biography, most of the content the student supplied was copied from the internet. But the commonality ended there as she then took on the higher level thinking tasks of processing what she had found.

She had to curate her information in a way that would suit her report for her client. She had to analyze and synthesize information. She was forced to engage with the texts and actually think about what it all meant. Despite doing a whole punch of copying and pasting from the internet, did she learn more about Enrique than she would have if she’d done a biography? You bet she did!

Most of all, she had fun. She was engaged. She even put a coffee stain on the manilla folder in which she submitted her report because, in her mind, the private investigator was of the noir variety and would be prone to doing that.

Can you see Investigador Privado being a positive alternative for you and your students? What awesome activities do you have to beat back the boring biographies?