Which LMS? Choosing between Canvas, Haiku, Edmodo, et al.

Canvas has really nice feedback features. Haiku offers the most powerful way to lay out and organize your online content.

Learning Management Solutions (LMSes –  or Virtual Learning Environments,  VLEs,  if you’re in the commonwealth) are a category of software that serve a variety of functions at schools,  from simplifying content distribution and assignment collection to flipping classroom workflows to delivering instruction completely online. The International schools I’ve been at have broadly agreed that teachers should use some kind of LMS.  They diverge in two key areas,  though:

1. Whether the LMS should be centrally mandated managed by the school or whether teachers should feel free to pick and choose the platform they use
2. If the LMS is centrally managed,  which system it should be

Centrally managed LMSes offer enough advantages over individually-managed ones that schools should provide them if financially able (pricing is in the range of 8-10USD per student annually for most commercial products). This runs counter to what some ed tech leaders recommend; they see such implementations as “walled gardens” having “limited control and customizability.1Continue Reading…

Satisfice Your Ed Tech

They might be different in terms of UI, price, and ease of management, but that difference won’t show up when you’re measuring student achievement. Photo Credit: Martin uit Utrecht via Compfight cc

I used to read a lot about new gadgets –  smartphones,  in particular.  I’d pore over the latest announcement from Mobile World Congress and compare side-by-side photos of the next generation of the current device.  After careful research I’d select the best device out there.

And then I’d look out the window and realize I’d spent hours of a beautiful day in front of a screen for a device that did pretty much what my old one did.

The danger of choice is that having too much of it confuses and complicates the decision-making process. It applies to shopping for smartphones as much as it does wading through ed tech software and hardware. Every week my RSS feeds me yet more articles about “10 Apps to Use for X”  or “iPad vs. Chromebook: which one wins for students?” They tempt me,  and my teachers,  to get lost in a forest of comparisons that,  ultimately,  bring very little marginal benefit to student learning.  Using HaikuDeck over PowerPoint will not result in a measurable boost to student learning as measured against the standards in any of the classes offered at our school (although teaching principles of effective presentations would). Teachers have other, more important decisions to make to maximize their instructional effectiveness.

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Converting Standards-based Scores to Final Course Grades and GPA

You’ll have to jump through some hoops and play the game of school to get standards-based grading implemented – and that’s okay. Photo Credit: pianowow via Compfight cc

I wish I’d had standards-based learning training when I started my FIRST teaching job –  I would have been a more effective planner and assessor. Now that I work for a school that does SBG at the secondary level  I can see how the approach leads to units more closely aligned with learning outcomes and facilitates feedback that is much more descriptive,  relevant,  and practicable than what I gave as a new teacher. But I also see where the criterion referenced philosophy standards-based grading is still working within the context of the norm referenced framework of college applications –  and I’m coming to believe that these can be reconciled if you’re willing to accept the reality of the latter.

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Getting a Chinese Drivers License

Like how many other countries insist on their own idiosyncratic way of life, there are some things in China that simply must be done in a Chinese way. Driving is one of those.

Traffic in China mirrors the experience at the DMV: befuddling and slow-moving, but ultimately you arrive where you need to.

Traffic in China mirror the experience at the DMV: befuddling and slow-moving, but ultimately you arrive where you need to.

To drive legally in China, you need a Chinese drivers license; foreigners aren’t permitted to drive on their home country license, even with an International Driving Permit1 (which is actually just a translation of the home country license). Getting the license is famously difficult, chiefly because

everyone must take a written test; 90 percent is considered passing. The test consists of 100 questions drawn from a pool of nearly 1,000. The test is particularly tough for foreigners, owing to the volume of memorization and sometimes sketchy translations. 2

I got my driver’s license with motorcycle endorsement (C1E) in Guangzhou last week, and it was indeed a trial. (Some have reported on forums that Guangzhou is no longer issuing motorcycle licenses,3 but they didn’t give me hard time about that particular aspect of the process.) Passing the test wasn’t the hard part; after regular studying with the Chinese Driving Test website I was successful on my first test attempt. Dealing with the bureaucracy, on the other hand, ultimately required six trips to the main DMV office (岑村车管总所). Much of this is due to the lack of published information about the process, so learn from my experience so that yours is smoother.

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  1. Langfitt, Frank. “How I Flunked China’s Driving Test … Three Times.” NPR. NPR, 17 Jan. 2014. Web. 29 Dec. 2015.
  2. Langfitt, Frank. “Do You Have What It Takes To Get A Chinese Driver’s License?NPR. NPR, 17 Jan. 2014. Web. 29 Dec. 2015.
  3. Thread: New in Guangdong, Some License Questions.” Online forum. My China Moto. Motocyclops LLC, 15 Nov. 2013. Web. 29 Dec. 2015.

Conditions for Standards-Based Grading: Eliminating Grade Averaging

In a previous post1 I described in broad strokes the components necessary for implementing standards-based grading. One of these is the elimination of grade averaging; specifically, using the mean of all the scores in the gradebook to determine a student’s final score. At our school we’ve done this to the extent recommended by Marzano but stopped short of giving teachers full discretion to determine the final grade. For us the challenge has been deciding which system should replace mean-based averaging – or whether full discretion should be left to the teacher.

How should we measure student achievement? Certainly not using mean-based averaging - but other types are fine.

How should we measure student achievement? Certainly not using mean-based averaging – but other types are fine.

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When Reality Meets Philosophy: An Introduction to Standards Based Grading

In the roughly seven months since my last real post I’ve moved halfway around the world – literally – to China, where my partner and I now work at Nansha College Preparatory Academy. Of the many, many interesting things about this new experience is the fact that our new school uses standards-based grading (SBG) – at the secondary level. What we’ve found is that although our faculty are committed to it, it’s a challenge to make practices of SBG meet the potential promised by its philosophy.

Our school uses JumpRope to capture our standards-based grading data.
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Trouble loading images?

I just transferred to a new blog hosting provider, Edublogs (practice what you preach, after all – they are a great option for schools looking to implement system-wide blogging), and I’ve managed to break my image and file links.

I’m working on fixing them. In the meantime, if you’re having trouble with dead links or broken images that inhibit your understanding of the post, get in touch with me (Twitter is the fastest way) and I’ll do what I can.

Tools for Organizing Sources

Pinterest, Diigo and Zotero help you organize the torrent of information on the web, but each is appropriate in different contexts.

Pinterest, Diigo and Zotero help you organize the torrent of information on the web, but each is appropriate in different contexts.

Last week I was researching web design best practices for my middle school tech class’ unit on HTML and web page design. There are a ton of resources – but few that give a concise and comprehensive summary in a format appropriate for my students.  Therefore, I had to clip one or two main ideas from at least a dozen different pages. I wouldn’t have been able to keep them all straight were it not for Diigo’s ability to highlight, tag, and save online sources to the cloud. But Diigo isn’t the only tool that can help you with that: Pinterest and Zotero are at least two tools aimed at casual and academic scenarios.

It’s worth knowing all of them, hence HB270: Organize your Sources:

Even at its best, searching for information on the web can be a case of “too much of a good thing” – there are so many sources that you can’t sift through them all. At its worst, web searching can be too much of a bad thing, with sources containing one or two useful facts but much more fluff. Making the research process collaborative can make it more manageable, and in this session we reviewed three free tools available that facilitate this.