A seemingly simple question – Follow-up

Neither Todd Seal nor Dan Meyer agree with my assertion that teachers should be able to identify at least 10 good web sites for their classes. Todd says:

I’m typically looking for lesson plan ideas, handouts, and audio/video resources. What I’m finding are half-baked thoughts, poorly articulated assessment, and soft lessons that only barely cover the material I want to cover.

Todd and Dan are both reflective, innovative educators, so I’ll take them at their word and say that perhaps I overestimated the quality, if not quantity, of the online resources available to K-12 teachers. If so, this paucity of high quality online resources for educators is pretty sad given the longevity and history of the Internet as well as the ability of any educator to now easily have an online presence [Dan, yes, I’d include blogs and other teacher expressive channels in that general category of ‘web sites’].

I’m not really concerned about teachers like Todd and Dan that at least have looked around the Web and made the pedagogical decision that most of what’s out there is crap. I’m concerned about the ones that haven’t even looked.

Todd challenged me to come up with 10 good sites for one of my educational leadership courses. I’ll have to chew on that a bit. There aren’t as many folks creating resources for administrators as for teachers, but I think I can do it…

18 Responses to “A seemingly simple question – Follow-up”

  1. Looks to me that despite their excellence as educators, Todd and Dan don’t know how to use the Internet.

    There’s tons of great stuff out there. But if you are really looking for “lesson plans and handouts”, well that’s just kinda lame. What did you think you’d find?

    Explore. Use Web 2.0 to make your own stuff. Don’t write off the whole Internet based on your own less-than-stellar search abilities.

  2. Shelly, Colette Cassinelli wrote this thirty-five minutes ago:

    “Does anyone have a ‘fun’ lesson involving Colonial America?”


    Please show us what the Internet offers. Don’t shy from the specifics of how you’d structure the lesson.

  3. Last summer, I was a member of a curriculum committee charged with writing a Social Studies unit for fourth grade that covered the “New Jersey” indicators on state standards. Basically create the “This is my state” unit, primarily using websites as resources. Although the state of New Jersey has a good website about the state for students, it did not cover all of the indicators in the state standards and was written in language slightly above a 4th grade level. We looked deeper for more resources and used other sites (also not written for 4th graders). After (only) two days of work we had a project that covered every state standard. After weeks of researching their own state, I feel my fourth graders still do not know the basics about the Garden State.
    If a simple, grade level appropriate booklet published by a Social Studies company covers the content, shouldn’t we spend time with students using online tools to apply the knowledge, rather than reinventing the wheel by creating our own 4th Grade NJ content website?
    Thanks for the great post. It’s helping me reevaluate how I use my technology and time.

  4. “10 good websites” is an impossible question because it’s so undefined. Later on, you said, “resources” — but those are hardly equivalent.

    Sure, there is a lot of crap out there, especially if you are thinking of pre-chewed lesson plan warehouse sites. That’s a different question than finding great resources for the classroom AND knowing what to do with them.

    I’d expect that a great educational leadership class would combine informal stuff like clips from “The Apprentice” or “The Office”, with law, history, and theory. Maybe you can find all of that online, maybe not, but that’s hardly the point.

    You would obviously want to come to class armed with the obvious sites with important legal facts and similar resources, but that’s very different from expecting to find something pre-made that you could point a class to and walk away. Same goes for K-12.

  5. Hi Dan and Colette,

    Here’s a quick idea on teaching something on Colonial America… I only had five minutes before getting to a meeting so it’s just an idea…

    This could be modified for any social studies class grades 5 – 12.

    Fact vs. Fiction: Colonial America Goes to the Movies!

    objective: Students will understand how history can be distorted. [The underlying pedagogical idea here is that students will learn the content regarding the settlement of Jamestown not as an ends in itself, but rather as a means of understanding the concept of the ‘distortion of history’].

    essential questions: 1) Who ‘owns’ history? 2) What does it mean to be ‘objective’? Is there such a thing as ‘objective’ history? 3) Is it okay to ‘make up’ history?

    In class: Students would take a tour through the Jamestown Flash Exhibit http://www.history.com/classroom/jamestownstory/
    ; notes should be taken. Then, the teacher will present clips from the DVD of Disney’s ‘Pocohontas’ film.


    Part One:
    You are Captain John Smith’s best friend. You have been transported to the future and have just seen Disney’s ‘Pocohontas’ film. You are outraged by what you see and decide to start a blog explaining why you are so angry. Please create a blog on Blogger from the point-of-view of Smith’s best friend. (Remember to set the security settings like we’ve done in the past — I’ll be checking!) Make a list of five things the film gets wrong. Then, complete five blog posts — one detailing each ‘wrong’. Your posts must be multi-sensory — i.e. use pictures of then and now from WikiMedia and maps from Google Earth screen captures, and each post must contain a well argued text offering a clear and valid argument.

    Part Two:
    Now you are going to be a representative from Disney. Choose a partner and add each other as blog readers to each others’ blogs. Now, go through each of the five blog posts your partner has presented and try to make an argument from Disney’s point-of-view as to why they made the changes to history that they did. Submit your arguments as comments to each post (for a total of five comments).

    As a whole class, we will be looking at each of your blogs and will discuss the following essential questions: 1) Who ‘owns’ history? 2) What does it mean to be ‘objective’? Is there such a thing as ‘objective’ history? 3) Is it okay to ‘make up’ history?

    [I would then post on my blog a selection of famous quotes about history… maybe five or so]. In preparation for our class discussion, I would like each of you to choose the quote that best represents your view of what history is. Post on your blog. [Pedagogical — This technique is going to help me organize a debate during our dicussion because we’re going to sit in different areas based on what quote we chose.]

    For your online bibliography:
    Here are a few more quality sites for research and for classroom extension:
    Nova http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/pocahontas/silverman.html
    Scientific American Frontiers http://www.pbs.org/saf/1203/segments/1203-1.htm

    That’s just an idea. I realize that it’s only two sites and a couple of Web 2.0 apps, but it’s just a single discussion, so no need to overload the kids. I’d do this lesson over four 45 minute periods (three if it’s a particularly fast class). Give the kids a strong introduction, allow them plenty of time to work on their own, and then devote the entire last day to discussion.

    Happy to give ideas anytime. I’m a high school teacher, so I won’t even pretend to say that this would or wouldn’t be appropriate for fourth grade, but I’m sure you could tweak it. I actually keep a daily blog full of both practical ideas as well as thoughts about education and technology in general. Check it out at: http://www.teachpaperless.com


  6. Good lesson plan, Shelley, despite which I’m still unenthused about online resources for teachers. You’ve mentioned cable in the classroom partners and wikimedia here, both of which are good, but their quality doesn’t compare to how well you curated them, arranging them in a sensible order and structuring a compelling question around them. This is where, I think, Scott overestimates the web.

    I can tell a teacher to search YouTube or CiC or Discovery Educators or Google for colonial resources but the heavy lifting, that curation, still remains and the web does exceptionally little to lighten that load.

  7. Dan,

    But that’s the point. The Internet is raw resource. It’s up to the classroom teacher to use that stuff to teach an objective.

    I think that if a teacher isn’t doing that ‘curating’, then they really aren’t doing their job.

  8. I’m certain that Scott agrees with you here, Shelley. In the same way that cashiers must use an electronic register, so should teachers adopt capital-T Technology, right?

    But neither the extent to which the Internet is teaching’s cash register nor the extent to which teachers are OBLIGATED to chase after a wooly set of closed-sourced, DRMed, disaggregated resources under lousy taxonomy and even lousier folksonomy across patchy Internet access, sneaking those resources past their district filtering firewalls on 128MB USB sticks (keeping mind that these skills are thoroughly untaught in teacher prep schools) is nowhere near as clear to me as it is to the two of you.

    And I write this as a teacher who curates and creates his own classroom media. But I don’t pretend for a second that the Internet is anything but teaching’s wild west in 2009. And just because I’M willing to venture from the cities to the hills in search of gold doesn’t mean I’m going to blithely shame 3,000,000 teachers for waiting for a few paved roads.

  9. Dan, I’m actually with both you and Shelly on this. I’m accepting your and Todd’s claim at face value that there’s not enough Internet gold out there for you and that you have to do a lot of prospecting/curating to get what you need. I also agree with Shelly, however, that the curating function is exactly what teachers need to be doing. Instead, I see a lot of teachers that expect some of the Internet’s wealth of resources (no matter how dispersed) to be handed to them on a platter (which, apparently, is not occurring as often (or well) as I thought) OR, more likely, they’re not even thinking about the availability of online resources for their courses. The intent of my original post was to highlight the fact that many (most?) teachers haven’t even TRIED to do this kind of critical legwork that you describe. And in this day and age of the Web, I don’t think that’s professional practice.

    As I think about the big picture, what’s the solution to this? Content experts serving as aggregators and disseminators (e.g., through blogs and/or wikis)? Some of that’s happening already, of course. Can the Web ever be truly indexed like we used to do for print (e.g., card catalogs, Dewey Decimal)? No, I don’t think so. And, yet, this aggregation/weeding/curating function is still needed for some. So I think we’re going to have to do it ourselves (like some of us already have). We just need more of us doing so…

  10. While I agree with Todd and Dan on this one (I can come up with a list of Ten Best Lessons I Took from the Internet, but they’re all on different websites) there are sites I can consistently return to for content-related material (Mathworld is consistently good when I need a precise definition of a math term, for example).

    In other words, I don’t believe we do have to curate, because there are non-teacher related things where I don’t have to think about it. Why should quality lesson planning be any different?

  11. On the issue of curating by teachers this is, I think, the crux of the issue for me. I’m concerned that because the last 10 years in elementary have emphasized scripted text, and I’ve noticed some folks coming out of programs unable to design their instructional units without a text at the center of it. I’m not concerned with whether they can do this with online resources, but rather can they do it at all. I think we can all agree this is a problem.

  12. Scott,

    In order for 3,000,000 American teachers to adopt ANYthing en masse, it’ll have to be either a) really good, b) really cheap, or c) really easy. I mean, it has to knock at least ONE of those out of the bleachers, into the next zipcode. More than one would make a stronger case.

    I think you have this idea that, to all content areas, the Internet is all three of those things, which, off the fruit of this post and the last (three websites and a Pocahontas DVD) just isn’t so. My experience bears that out also.

    A small fraction of those 3,000,000 teachers have come back from those Internet hills with gold, looking haggard from the extra hours they put in beating these disparate resources into some kind of instructional shape. Some teachers have come back with Wordle and Animoto and other low-grade Internet pyrite, convinced they have gold, which, to a skilled teacher, looks like fever.

    You’re throwing a guilt trip at the door of those millions of teachers for not picking up axe and pan and rushing out the door also and I just don’t think the case is as compelling as you think it is. The early pioneers need to pave a few roads, set up a waterworks, etc.

  13. I agree with Dan (you know things are bad when that happens 🙂 – there are far too many unfinished resources out there for teachers to sit down with a list and say “I’m going to make a curriculum out of these 10 sites”.

    I know there are teachers in my building who are still using the same typewritten notes they started with back in the 80s (I’ve seen the output tray of the photocopier). I’m not saying that should stop those of us who are motivated from going out there and finding what we need to effectively translate concepts for students, but to expect the same of everyone else is only going to lead to frustration.

  14. There are teachers out there who expect to go to the bookstore, the file drawer, or the Internet and pull out “lessons” like a rabbit out of a hat. And there are people who use this as proof that the Internet is necessary because you can find these thing in seconds rather than minutes. This is not a significant difference, and I don’t find it odd that some teachers are therefore less than enthusiastic about “technology.”

    There is no question that certain things are easier to find on the Internet, and I think there is also no question that the more authentic you make a task for students, the more skill it requires from a teacher.

    You can turn the clock back 50 years and look at the difference between a teacher finding a primary source like a slave diary and figuring out how to use it in class vs a teacher passing out a ditto with a connect the dots activity about the Civil War.

    And today, you can easily find both on the Internet. So what. I’m less interested with what the Internet has to do with this difference than what makes these teachers so different.

  15. IMO, the real statement behind all this is “You HAVE to involve technology/the Internet in order to teach today’s student/prepare them for the future etc. etc.”

    There are aspects of that ring true to me and others that feel very false. We also seem to always highlight a fundamentally bad teacher when addressing one that doesn’t use the Internet or whatever (15 year old photocopies).

    Would a teacher who gets students to care, think and be involved in whatever subject but ignores technology still be a good teacher? I think so. Are the possible technological applications of these core thought processes so different that the student couldn’t adapt them to whatever tool is at hand? I don’t think so.

    I’d much rather have both but I’ll take a student with the mental processes in place far ahead of one who’s good at tech but can’t think (and we’ve seen over and over that tech≠good teaching).

    That’s a bit off the original conversation thread but . . .

  16. The literacy tools of our day, today, include the web, netbooks, cell phones, cameras and recorders, etc. We are responsible for teaching students how to be literate.

    Web sites are primarily content vessels. A lack of content material is not my problem in the classroom today, therefore, web sites don’t solve very many problems for me as a teacher (interactive sites with teacher assessment and recording tools are increasing, thankfully.)

    Things like Moodle, however, do solve lots of problems by providing management, assessment, student creation and collaboration, parent and tutor involvement, and a place to put links to web sites to boot.

    The other big elephant in the room is student access to the tools – they need to be able to use them when it’s convenient for them, not when their teacher can schedule a lab or a cart.

  17. I used the basic concept of “10 great websites” last week in a presentation to educators who were relatively new at gathering information from the web. The concept made tying the participants’ various areas of interest to using the web pretty easy. I added blogs and RSS feeds to the mix, though. Thanks for the idea!

  18. When I was an education student, one of the assignments we were given was to go and find a lesson plan on the internet. The entire purpose of the assignment was to get us to realise that the platter was not there and that we would need to do our own curating (I like that term!). I’m surprised as I thought everybody knew that. Silly me.

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