The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Day: January 16, 2010

OPML file for the 2009 Edublog awards

A few weeks ago the final results of the 2009 Edublog awards were announced.  I looked around for an OPML file, which is basically a way to import and export RSS feeds from your feed reader.  Long story short, much searching, no file found.

So I took the page that Edublogs published with all of the nominations, wrote a script in PHP to parse the page and find the links to the individually nominated blogs, and then extracted the RSS feed for each page.  Finally I used an online service to generate the OPML file, since I didn’t want to manually add each feed.  I tested the import in Google reader, and over 340 blog feeds were successfully added.  Pretty cool.  During the process a few blogs were lost, and I removed the Twitter feeds.

Anyway, here is the OPML file (I’ll get a better version up soon, the last one had a few wikis and Ning activity feeds, not as useful), which you can download and import into your reader.  I recommend not attempting to actually follow ALL of these blogs, but you could spend an afternoon and filter the list to what you actually find useful.  Caution: You will end up with THOUSANDS of unread posts so be prepared for some sifting afterwards.  I’m currently in the middle of going through each of my subscriptions and scanning the blog posts to make sure they are interesting/useful.  I’ve noticed a fair number of feeds of Wikis, which to me is pretty useless if you aren’t involved in creating the wiki.  Stay tuned, and I’ll export my final OPML file and share it here.

Perhaps someone could export definitions for each of the categories of blogs created by Edublogs?

Update: The trimmed version of the OPML file, suitable for an ed tech junkie with an interest in Math or Science education. Just save it to your computer, then import it into your feed reader.  Be warned, I follow A LOT of blogs.

An overview of Google reader

Here is a brief overview of Google reader.  If you aren’t sure what a reader is, or what it is for, you should really watch this Common Craft on RSS in plain English first.

Link:  
 

Screen-shot:

 

Summary:
Google Reader is an application which lets you pull information to you rather than searching for information on the web.  Blogs, newspaper, even Twitter, publish links called feeds which you can use to subscribe to their services and they will push information to you.


Purpose: 
This application is a way of reading information online using syndication.  It’s much like having online newspapers delivered to you, rather than searching for the newspapers in the shop.

How this can be used for professional networking:  
First you search for blogs written by teachers.  One easy source is to go to http://edublogawards.com/ and subscribe to all of the nominees of the blogs.

How this can be used in the classroom
:
Students can also search for and find blogs and other feeds to follow.  On a regular basis they will be pushed information.  As well, students can subscribe to each other’s blogs and have a single place to read all of the comments and posts from their peers. A classroom could have subscriptions to a number of sources, and you could share the posts with the class as a current events section or something similar.

Advantages of this application

It’s easy to use, it has a number of straight forward features, such as the useful ‘recommendations’ which are other feeds that Google thinks you should subscribe to, based on what you have already found.  It is also nice because it has a single sign on with other Google applications, and finally, there are nice applications for mobile browsers, so you can get your feeds on the go. Finally, Google reader also works when you are offline using Google Gears, which means that you can download your feeds when you have a connection and then read them when you are offline.

Disadvantages of this application
:
This application has no serious disadvantages that I can think of, except that finding the subscriptions in the first place can be a tricky.  I find the interface fairly easy to use, but I could imagine it could be a bit daunting for someone who is just getting started.

Similar tools: (if applicable) 

 
 

 

The value of homework

So I was at a dinner party last night, and was the only high school teacher in a room of university students and academics.  It was quite an enjoyable night, and I got to reconnect with a bunch of old friends.

Of course as a teacher, eventually the subject of what I do for a living comes up.  It’s pretty clear that everyone has an opinion of good and bad teaching. I made the declaration at one point that I no longer assign typical math homework.

Actually it’s true, I haven’t assigned a problem set from the textbook this entire school year.  This is a conscious decision, not me just being forgetful and a real reason behind based on research.  I do assign other types of homework occasionally.

I read something in the summer that changed my perspective on homework.  It was about the value of feedback when learning. I don’t remember the exact title of the article, it was in my course readings.  In any case, what the authors of the study discovered is that the length of time between when you make a mistake and when you get feedback on that mistake makes a huge difference in whether or not you remember either the correct material or the incorrect material.  

If you make a mistake and get feedback within a few minutes, chances are pretty good you’ll remember the feedback rather than the mistake.  As time goes on, the probability you remember the mistake instead of the feedback increases.  If it takes more than a day or so to get feedback on your mistake, chances are pretty good you’ll make the mistake again and forget the corrective feedback you received.

The implications of this in assigning student homework is pretty easy to see.  If I assign to be done Monday night, and some of my diligent but struggling learners do the homework that night, then I see the students on Wednesday, chances are pretty good that there’s very little I can do to correct the misunderstandings of the students for that assignment.

So I’ve stopped assigning homework which doesn’t give immediate feedback.  I’ve discovered dozens of websites which offer free online quizzes which are marked immediately and display the correct answer for the students.  Assistment.org is especially good, it gives hints on how to solve the problem as they go wrong and keeps track of how many hints each student makes.

There are other types of homework you can assign.  Anything which forces the students into a state of active engagement with their material is good.  This could mean internet research and summarization, gathering curriculum resources, creation of online tutorials, extended project based work, etc…  The analogy here is, what types of things do you do as preparation for school?  These types of tasks are also appropriate for the students to do.

Do what your students want to do

So something I’ve noticed recently is that my classes have been going really smoothly.  Actually, every class now I have nearly no classroom management problems and every students is engaged for nearly the entire class on their work.  I don’t think I’m doing anything tricky, I’m just doing what the students want to do.

Imagine this box represents all of the possible learning activities you could do in a classroom.

Rectangle

Now imagine that you draw a circle inside the box to represent all of the activities your students want to do.  Note: Diagram not to scale.

Rectangle with one circle

Now we draw a circle which represents the portion of the possible educational activities you want to do and which are relevant for the topic area you are facilitating or teaching.

Rectangle with overlapping circles

All you do is choose a learning activity for class which occurs in the intersection of the two circles shown in red.  In my experience this includes any activity in which all of the following three criterion is met:

  1. The students get to create something or interact with the material more deeply.
  2. The students see the point of the activity.
  3. The students are engaged at a higher level on the pyramid of learning.

Some examples of activities which qualify include, but are not limited to:

  • Students tutoring each other
  • Creating video tutorials or podcast tutorials
  • Projects based on the real world applications of what you are teaching
  • Student led interviews with professionals in the field
  • Student generated quizzes, worksheets, tests, etc…
  • and more….

What I’ve also noticed over time is that the intersection gets a bit larger as the students see a trend: they are doing fun, relevant and engaging activities all the time.  They will tend to more willing to do other activities because they spend most of the time in your class engaged, so they will jump in and focus on activities which they may have otherwise enjoyed less in a non-interactive class.