CAST’s Science Writer: A free, online tool to scaffold students’ writing of science reports

A post by Bridget Dalton

Before joining Vanderbilt University, I had the good fortune to serve as the Director of Literacy and Technology at CAST, a non-profit research and development organization dedicated  to  improving student learning and engagement through the integration of universal design for learning (Rose & Meyer, 2002), technology, and subject matter content and skills.

Today I want to feature Science Writer, a free online writing tool developed by Tracey Hall, Elizabeth Murray, and CAST colleagues.  It’s a wonderful example of how to scaffold students’ writing in relation to the demands of a particular writing genre, in this case, the science lab report, or more generally, the science report.  The tool is designed for use with middle school and high school students, but might also work for upper elementary students, depending on their skill.

screenshot of Science Writer

Screenshot of CAST’s Science Writer. http://sciencewriter.cast.org

How does Science Writer work?
Science Writer steps students through the process of writing a report with  introduction, methods, results, and conclusion sections. Students draft, revise, and edit their report, using just-in-time support from pedagogical agents who offer models and information about how to write each section. They may also access content and editing checklists to help them evaluate  their writing and make revisions. And finally, students can use the embedded text-to-speech tool to listen to their writing to see if it “sounds right” and to listen to any of the directions and instructional material, as well as accessing vocabulary definitions. Each student has their own Science Writer account and teachers are able to view students’ work and provide feedback throughout the writing process.

Screenshot showing Science Writer features

Science Writer supports students through their writing process.

Is there research support for Science Writer?
In a study funded by the US Department of Education, Hall and Murray (2009) found that students using Science Writer improved writing and science comprehension skills. A field test study is underway and results should be available soon. You can find additional information about their research at http:///www.cast.org/research/projects/tws.html.

I recommend you check out Science Writer – if it’s not the right fit for your grade level or subject matter, please share it with your favorite middle school or high school science teacher!

screenshot of Science Writer video

This brief video for students explains how the Science Writer features can help them write a more successful science report.

video link

Resources
For additional information about Science Writer: http://sciencewriter.cast.org

To learn more about universal design for learning: http://www.cast.org/udl/index.html

Rose, D. & Meyer, A. (2002). Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age. ASCD. Available free online: http://www.cast.org/library/books/tes/index.html

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The 4 R’s of Collaborative Writing: Reading, Rating, Remixing, and Revising

A new post by Jill Castek

For the past several months I’ve been working with fifth and sixth graders in two urban schools in Berkeley and Oakland, CA. The project is designed to enhance integrated literacy and science learning and to explore how iPads can be used to support student engagement, self expression, and learning.  Although I’ve been involved in using laptops extensively with students in classrooms, shifting to explore science learning through iPads has been a true learning experience.

I’ve discovered that many applications and strategies for collaboration I’ve always drawn from aren’t directly transferable to working with a small touch screen.  However, because collaboration is a vitally important part of learning,  I’m dedicating this post to  approaches for facilitating collaborative writing.

One free platform I’ve used for collaborative writing is Mixed Ink www.mixedink.com.  This educator friendly tool allows small groups or the whole class to reflect on several versions of a text written on the same topic and to weave ideas  from peers’ work into a single text that credits multiple authors.  An overview of how the Mixed Ink tool works can be seen in the short video clip below entitled Mixed Ink for Educators.

Collaborative Writing with Mixed Ink:  A 5th Grade Example

Ms. Kretschmar’s students completed a waste audit to analyze the waste their school produced. Prior to beginning the collaborative writing assignment, students discussed their experiences with the waste audit and shared ideas about how to communicate the surprising results they found to the school and community at large.  The five phases  the class engaged in as they documented and shared their experiences included:  1) writing;  2) reading; 3) rating; 4) remixing; and 5) revising.  Not only is each aspect an important part of productive collaborative writing, these steps also address the Common Core State Standards that emphasize the use of digital technologies for reading and writing as support process skills such as collaboration, listening, and speaking.

Ms. Kretschmar’s students draft their waste audit letter to the school community.

With the aim of helping the school and community become more mindful about their output of trash, Ms. Kretschmar structured a five paragraph writing assignment for her students and assigned each table group to complete one paragraph.  Once she distributed Letter4School (a set of graphic organizers to support students when drafting), she encouraged table groups to discuss ideas before writing their paragraphs as individuals. Then,  students used the graphic organizers and iPads to complete a first draft.

Next, students learned about online collaborative writing using Mixed Ink and discussed the process of peer support for adding content, revising language choices, and reorganizing their presentation of ideas.

Then, students read each other’s work (staying within their original paragraph groups).  After presenting the purpose of reading and rating, Ms. Kretschmar had students rate each other’s work using a system of stars which ranged from 1/2 star (needs more development) to five stars (very well developed).   As students read their peers’ work, they looked out for ideas  and language they could incorporate into their own piece to improve it.

Using their peers’ pieces as mentor texts, students remixed new drafts  by incorporating in elements of each others’ wording and language into their own piece (creating co-written pieces with multiple authors).  The image on the left shows how the crediting process works (with each author recognized as contributing an element to the piece).

Students then rated each of the new paragraphs again.  Mixed Ink uses a specially designed algorithm that surfaces the most complete and well-written piece based on student ratings.  This featured “featured” version can then be discussed in terms of its organization, use of language, organization, or other characteristics.

With help from the students, Ms. Kretschmar compiled the top rated five paragraphs into a completed piece that incorporated all students’ voices.    The final version can be accessed by clicking on 5thLetter2Community.  It takes advantage of the collaborative writing process in the creation of a well-organized, well-structured final product.

A full set of slides documenting  Ms. Kretschmar’s collaborative writing lessons can be viewed here.

Collaborative writing in a digitally enhanced way has several benefits.  First, it is a process that draws upon the strengths of the collective. Although one student may be stronger in critical thinking skills, another may excel in organizing or adding detail to a piece. By working in groups, students learn from each other while they complete an assigned task in ways that benefit the whole group.  In addition, students working in collaborative groups can take advantage of other group members for  peer review as they complete writing projects.  More and more workplace activities involve working in these sorts of collaborative project teams. Giving students opportunities to work collaboratively can help prepare them for the advantages and pitfalls of collaborative work on the job.  I’ve seen collaborative writing activities such as the one featured here, support students’ abilities to work together and problem solve while providing the context for content-rich conversations.

We are eager to promote an exchange of ideas on this forum.  We invite you to please add a comment to share experiences you’ve had with collaborative writing.

Open Badges in Education

A guest post from W. Ian O’Byrne, University of New Haven

We are delighted to have a guest post from W. Ian O’Byrne  this week on the intriguing topic of “Open Badges in Education”.   Ian is an Assistant Professor of Educational Technologies at the University of New Haven. He is also a PhD candidate at the University of Connecticut and formerly a Research Fellow at the New Literacies Research Lab. His research examines the literacy practices of individuals as they read, write, and communicate in online spaces. You can connect with him on Google+, or on Twitter (@wiobyrne).

Open Badges in Education

One strand of current dialogue online and in the blogosphere revolves around the subject of Open Badges and their use in education. Over the past year I have been investigating the use of Open Badges in education and their possible use in a higher education program. There are challenges and opportunities involved in bringing an Open Badge initiative into a higher education program. This blog post represents my thought process up to this point in trying to think through this decision.

The Open Badge Initiative   

The Open Badge initiative includes earning “badges” that are awarded by an agency or organization. The agency or organization could be your school, a club, or colleagues. The Open Badges represent what would be qualified as “good” work by the granting organization. As described by Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation, Open Badges “provide visual representations of 21st Century skills and achievements.” Open Badges can then be proudly displayed across the web and on social networks of your choice.

Open badges photo from haberdashery, Creative Commons

The Open Badge initiative has been a hot topic for discussion over the last year as the Mozilla Foundation, the HASTAC Initiative, and the MacArthur Foundation (along with many other brilliant people and organizations) launched a competition to develop these badges. In reviewing the Stage 2 Winners from the teacher competition, I quickly identified one of the winners of the competition that outlined a badge system that included the elements I value in digital media and learning education. The “Building Toward Mastery: Teachers and 21st Century Literacy Skills” submission from the University of Michigan, School of Information outlined a continuum in which learners build up their skills to the level of mastery of informational and digital literacy skills. The submission outlines the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that teachers will need to effectively include emerging concepts associated with 21st Century Literacy skills in inquiry based learning activities for students. What I like most about the “Building Toward Mastery” submission is the modular components of their badge system. The badge is comprised of multiple components that the teacher can build up over time, while understanding their own progress as they build toward mastery of 21st Century Literacy skills.

Open Badges: Challenges and Opportunities

As stated earlier, I have been considering the use of Open Badges and their ability to motivate, guide, and assess learning and mastery of informational and digital literacy skills. As coordinator of an Instructional Technology & Digital Media Literacy (IT-DML) program at my University, I have been thinking deeply about this concept and its relevance for our program as it starts up this summer. The IT-DML program will strive for an open source curriculum, and use free, Web 2.0 tools for all curricular materials and student work. The goal is to provide this work and output of the program free for use in classrooms all over the planet. I would potentially see the Open Badges initiative playing a role in our program. The primary consideration in including an Open Badge initiative in the IT-DML program is whether or not the students and faculty would value the badges. During the first year of the program we will survey students to understand the value they would place in Open Badges as a supplement to grades in the courses.

The concept of Open Badges and their role in education, and the IT-DML program specifically, has captured my imagination over the past year as I’ve read several blog posts unpacking the topic and potential consequences. I would suggest reading through several of these posts to gain a better understanding of the development of the Open Badges initiative. They have helped me think through these issues and gain insight into the value of badges in 21st Century learning. Insightful blog posts have come through my Google Reader feed over the past year by the following individuals: Bud HuntTony BatesMark SurmanAndrea Zellner; and Doug Belshaw.  .

As we come closer to the commencement of the IT-DML program, I’m leaning toward the involvement and granting of Open Badges as part of the IT-DML program. The rationale for this to me is very simple. I have been conducting research over the past couple of years in assessment of online reading comprehension and online content construction. One of the biggest challenges in using and assessing these literacies and skills is the complexity of online information and the fact that it is constantly changing. Additionally, in conducting research on the knowledge, skills, and dispositions students’ use in this informational space it is difficult to validly and reliably assess skill or quality. This point was hammered home to me by Dan Hickey in a 2011 session we presented at the American Education Research Association Conference in which he acted as discussant. He maintained that we were not actually assessing work, quality of work, or knowledge, skills, and dispositions in our instruments. Instead we were measuring the “residue of learning.” To me this means that the students had already come through, completed their work, and had moved on. The instruments that we had created were trying to inefficiently measure this learning by scraping up the learning that had already happened using multiple choice items, Likert scales, rubrics, or open response items. As a researcher and educator, I would like to more effectively and efficiently assess the quality of process and product of student work. For more insight into assessment of online literacies and the Open Badge initiative, please visit this post by Dan Hickey.

The final sticking point for the use of Open Badges in the IT-DML program revolves around their authenticity and value to our students. Some of the critique of the Open Badges has been that they will be viewed as online “gold stars” for student work product, or that adults don’t need this form of motivation to complete work. In my mind the goal of the Open Badges would be two-fold. The first would be a better assessment tool to help guide and inform student work process and product. The second would be a form of “abstracted replay” in which students consider their own knowledge, skills, and strategies employed and then compare them to those that would be utilized by an expert. In this regard, abstracted replay is defined as a postmortem analysis, or comparative metacognitive activity in which students reflect on strategies employed during the work process and how these relate to those employed by an expert.

Exploring Open Badges through my Personal Fitness Project

To determine how authentic and effective the use of badges can be in affecting motivation and achievement, I’ll test it out in my own life. I’m in the process of trying to get back in shape and relieve stress. As part of this process I’m using an app on my phone called Runkeeper, which tracks your running, walking, and fitness activities. I also will be using Fitocracy, a fitness social network that includes elements of gaming to motivate individuals. For more information on Fitocracy please read this excellent post from Wired Magazine. Both of these apps use real world game playing, technology, and badges to inspire individuals to progress in their fitness routine. I’ll play with these two products to see how they support and motivate me as I continue on my fitness mission. This in turn will help me understand the role that motivation and Open Badges may play in education of the 21st Century student.

Personal Learning Environments: Making Sense and Keeping it All Under Control

PERSONAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS: MAKING SENSE AND KEEPING IT ALL UNDER CONTROL

I’d like to thank our guest poster, Thomas DeVere Wolsey, for a great blog on Personal Learning Environments! Dana

Guest post by Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Meet Dionisio

What? Another digital technology I need to learn? What is a personal learning environment, anyway? To answer that, I want you to meet Dionisio.  He is one very interesting 10th-grade student, much like those you know in 10th grade, 5th grade, and many other grade levels.  There are sides to Dionisio that are not readily apparent at school most of the time.  He plays guitar and records music using a Korg synthesizer app for his iPhone® and iPad® which he then shares with others at SoundCloud. SoundCloud is his favorite sharing site for music because he can sell digital recordings of his work there, and it is always rewarding when someone buys his songs.  Sometimes he posts his work to his YouTube channel, as well.   When he posts work on SoundCloud or YouTube, he often Tweets the URL to his followers and his Facebook friends see the new link, too.

Dionisio really likes music and sharing his creations with friends, but what most people don’t know about him is his interest in the United States Civil War. His interest in the lives of soldiers far exceeds anything his state social studies standards requires.  He subscribes to many Civil War blogs using an RSS feed to keep him updated on new posts.  In his social bookmarking account on Delicious, he has bookmarked almost every website for important Civil War battlefields in order to make them easily accessible.

In addition to his interests that sometimes match school curriculum and sometimes do not, he also maintains a Diigo page and several of his teachers use Edmodo.  A few of his friends use EverNote to keep track of readings assigned by teachers, collaborate with Dionisio on class projects, and catalog information they found on their own. Some of his school presentations appear on Prezi, and some he posted on YouTube.  Many of his teachers ask him to submit work on the school’s course management system (such as Moodle or eCollege).  PowerPoint® projects he created with others in his classes are often uploaded to Box.net as they collaborate over the Internet to be ready for class.  Dionisio kept most of the tools and websites bookmarked on his laptop, and then he met a teacher who changed his thinking.

View the YouTube video on the 21st Century student to understand a little more about Dionisio and students like him.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwM4ieFOotA&feature=youtu.be

Dionisio’s Personal Learning Environment

You might wonder how Dionisio keeps track of all those online sources. At first, it wasn’t easy; Dionisio found it all a bit overwhelming.  However, one of Dionisio’s teachers recognized that literacy in the 21st century involved more than just reading paper pages and answering questions.  Much more is involved in new literacies (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro & Cammack, 2004). Organizing, synthesizing and constructing meaning from online and traditional resources are critical cognitive skills made even more important as students navigate the digital environments they choose and in which they are asked to participate.  Dionisio’s teacher suggested to him and to his classmates that one way to make sense of all the information they create and that they gather is through the online tool, Symbaloo.  With Symbaloo, Dionisio created a personal learning network with a matrix that included the blogs he followed, the websites he found useful, the classroom management systems his teachers used, and many social and collaborative networking environments.

Because Dionisio realized that some of his learning was associated with specific classes at school, some was his own learning that overlapped with school sometimes, and some was related to personal interests that rarely overlapped with school, he set up his personal learning environment to keep some elements private, some shared with his network outside of school, and some shared with his teachers and classmates.  These networks often overlapped, but Dionisio decided which elements to share and with whom.

In the YouTube video, notice how a 7th-grade student created a personal learning environment in Symbaloo  http://youtu.be/YEls3tq5wIY

Welcome to my PLE

How do Students Organize the Personal Learning Environment?

Wouldn’t it be nice to just tell students how their personal learning environments (PLE) should be organized? Include elements A, B, and C, and you’re done! But that would not be very personal, would it? Personal learning environments are organized in a way that makes sense to the person doing the organizing.  Michelle Martin (2007), an adult blogger, organized hers according to the information she gathered, the information she processed, and the actions she takes based on her learning.  Two things are worth noting in her approach: 1. She changed the tools she used to organize her PLE after awhile, and 2. She included traditional paper-based text in her PLE.

The EdTechPost wiki includes many diagrams that illustrate how personal learning environments might be constructed. On the wiki, the diagrams are organized toward orientation: tools, use/action/ people, and hybrid/action/other.  Every personal learning environment is different because each reflects the way the person who created the environment perceives and organizes their learning and the worlds it represents.  Dionisio quickly realized that Symbaloo was a great tool, but he needed multiple entry points for his PLE representing the way he organized his own learning.  He created an About.me account to provide a more public access point for his music and interests in the Civil War.  The About.me page did include links to his Symbaloo and other pages, but some were password protected, and not all his school pages were linked to his About.me page.

What are the Elements of a Personal Learning Environment?
The Learning Technologies Centre at the University of Manitoba includes several elements of a personal learning environment. These include production tools, collaboration tools, aggregation tools, and so on (for the full list, click the link).  EDUCAUSE (2009) points out that a key attribute of the personal learning network is that it is learner centered.  Attwell (2006, pdf file) further explores the learner-centered feature of the personal learning environment. He suggests that they are characteristics of life-long learners and that they are informal in nature.  Another key element is the aspect of community (e.g., Grisham & Wolsey, 2006), the idea that much of our creative and intellectual work is part of a larger group, as well.

Why do Personal Learning Environments Matter?

A characteristic of humans is that they try to make sense of the contexts of their lives. The tools they use and the purposes they establish for learning may be the defining features of learning in the coming decades.  How will you encourage your students to create and maintain personal learning environments the promote mastery of appropriate standards and foster lifelong learning as well? Dionisio relied on his teacher to help him learn to organize and make sense of the many online tools he used. Like him, many K-12 students and adults create environments that serve their own purposes that include formal and informal contexts.

At the beginning of the post, we asked what a personal learning environment is.  Simply, it is the approach that users take to individual aggregate content, organize it, and lend context to it. Content may be created by the owner of the PLE or gathered from the Internet and other sources. PLEs are informal mashups, elements of which may be shared with others in the user’s network and learning communities. Finally, educators sometimes provide a basic framework or tool that students might use to start building their own PLEs.

More to Learn:

To continue your own exploration of personal learning environments, visit http://delicious.com/stacks/view/Qeck9Y  Also, read more about the related concepts of personal learning networks (which overlap with personal learning environments), social bookmarking, and content curation.

References

Attwell, G. (2006). Personal learning environments—The future of elearning? eLearning Papers. Retrieved from http://www.elearningeuropa.info/files/media/media11561.pdf

EDUCAUSE. (2009). Seven things you should know about personal learning environments. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7049.pdf

Grisham, D. L. & Wolsey, T.D. (2006). Recentering the middle school classroom as a vibrant learning community: Students, literacy, and technology intersect. Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy, 49(8), 648-660. DOI: 10.1598/JAAL.49.8.2

Leu, D.J., Jr., Kinzer, C.K., Coiro, J., & Cammack, D.W. (2004). Toward a theory of new literacies emerging from the Internet and other information and communication technologies. In R.B. Ruddell, & N. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (5th ed., pp. 1570-1613). Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Available: http://www.readingonline.org/newliteracies/lit_index.asp?HREF=leu/

Martin, M. (2007, April 11). My personal learning envirornment [blog post]. The bamboo project. Retrieved from http://michelemartin.typepad.com/thebambooprojectblog/2007/04/my_personal_lea.html

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