The Parts (What & Why) of WebQuests

The Key Aspects of WebQuests… Described & Illustrated

One way to understand what something is is to look at its “parts.” It helps even more if there’s a discussion of what the “parts” are supposed to do and why.  WebQuests are just the same – and it also helps to see examples. That’s what the following video does.

Web site and articles referred to in the video are listed below.

Links to WebQuests and Articles

Who is Tom and Why is he chattering on about WebQuests?

Hi all,

As part of the Quick and Dirty WebQuest PL series on Youtube Playlist, I thought a few (a very few 😉 ) people might be interested in a bit of background about my role and perspective on developing WebQuests. So here’s a backgrounder video followed by links to the WebQuests and articles referred to in the video.

Please subscribe if you’re interested in WebQuests and let me know through the comments section what you’re interested in and I’ll address this aspects.

 

Links to WebQuests and Articles

 

 

New Black History Activities

My First WebQuest in Ages!

Part of how I get to spend my time these days is to create new learning activities. Recently I’ve been able to dip back into my love of Robert Frost and poetry in general. My long-standing interest in equality for Black Americans was nudged by Black History Month in the US.  When I began creating WebQuests, some of my first ones were inspired by this important commemoration. I decided to take a look at what was available on the Web – my starting place is to get excited by the resources I find. What I found were some outstanding short videos on important issues, and, fortunately, interactive maps on each of the topics. This allowed for the creation of the Past IS Present WebQuest.

The Past IS Present WebQuest

After creatively searching the Web, I came up with the following six issues that touched on enough to form a fairly complete experience for students. The issues are:

  • Redlining (long-term housing discrimination)
  • Racial Violence (lynching and hate groups)
  • Confederate Symbols
  • Gerrymandering (and voter suppression)
  • Economic Disadvantage
  • Mass Incarceration

Using my usual WebQuest approach, I begin with one video engage students and help create a little cognitive dissonance. That, “Huh?” experience that slightly disrupts their schema is what’s needed to build to the new “Ah-Ha!” insight and deeper understanding.  This is followed by floating some essential questions and encouraging students to Mindmap their current knowledge.  To make sure everyone’s got a solid base of shared understanding, years back I added the “Background for Everyone” phase to Bernie Dodge’s original template.  This is what I’ve come to call a Knowledge Hunt and isn’t impressive by itself because it can descend into a copy/paste experience for students.  Never-the-less, I have made this Background activity freely available, perhaps to entice engaging in the next steps.

Video Introductions and Issue-based Experts

Once all students have a shared background and a Mindmap that illustrates the current schema of their knowledge, the real fun begins. Using Google slides, one short and compelling video for each of the six issues is given to individual (or pairs) of students in a group.  After the video, students are given a few additional links and prompted to record new information in a basic 5Ws & H grid.  Armed with this, amazingly researchers, non-profits and concerned citizens have posted really engaging interactive maps that allow students to find local instances of the issue. This helps bring home the point – Black history and its injustices in the US are not only distant in time, but often occurring today and often in our own communities.  Detailed step-by-step instructions are provided for each map so students can encounter the most compelling data and insights.  To give shape to these insights, learners are guided with scaffolds to shape their opinions into a solid thesis statement or argument.

The Group Process and Transformation of Information into Understanding

Those who know me are aware that a small percentage of what are referred to as WebQuests actually fit the bill. Previous research reviewing almost 2,000 self-named WebQuests revealed that only about 16% actually met the main criteria. To put it at its most simple: it’s impossible for students to copy and paste their way to completing a WebQuest.  Because the questions are open-ended and the tasks such that they require problem-solving, the focus is one having students transform the acquired information into a new understanding.  That’s right, we found that 84% of what are referred to as WebQuests merely ask students to copy and past what they find on Web sites.  Obviously, my new Past IS Present WebQuest goes the full distance with scaffolds to help students transform information meaning.  It ends with suggestions for ways that students can contribute their learning to the real world such as:

But Wait… You can do rich learning in a shorter timeframe…

Because I know that many teachers don’t have the time to engage students in a real WebQuest, but want to use some of the Web’s rich media for more real and relevant learning, I’ve packaged up just the Introductory Videos on the Six Issues in a Awareness and Mindmapping activity. This way, people can get exposure to the issues and get students thinking.  This is a great way to move beyond knowledge acquisition and, perhaps eventually, into a full WebQuest.  With all the interest in PBL (Problem-based Learning) again these days, a WebQuest is a handy way to get the most from teacher time and student learning.

 

A Note on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I’ve decided to spend the year uploading activities to TpT after decades of putting work online for free.  In some ways I’m both comfortable and uncomfortable with charging for learning activities.  Given that I still provide lots for free and have been developing quite detailed and scaffolded activities for TpT, I’m curious to see how things are received.

 

 

Designing a New 3Rs Thanksgiving Activity

Introductory Video

As the air grows crisper and most schools in the US anticipate an upcoming holiday, I thought it was a perfect opportunity for a “real, rich and relevant” twist on traditional Thanksgiving lesson plans. This post will share my design process for curriculum development, on the chance it helps some young teachers.

Whenever I design a lesson or activity, I like to see what can be part of the “learning mix.” Obviously the upcoming holiday becomes one part. But by high school, teenagers have been through all the usual Thanksgiving inspired activities, prompting them to count their blessings. This is worthy, but I think something a little different is needed to hook students who can sometimes be justifiably jaded and skeptical. So isn’t it interesting that just as we in the US focus on a holiday about “unity,” the impeachment hearings and all our political and cultural divisions loudly buzz in the background! Great! This creates the “cognitive dissonance” that can lead to student insights and “ah-ha’s!” So there’s a “Big Tick” for “Real.” Now we need “Rich” and “Relevant.”

My biggest motivation is creating those sparks in the minds of learners. A second is the inspiration I receive from what can be found on the Web. These gifts never fail to provide something that can make student learning richer than we can with our traditional resources. Since first exploring the Web in 1994, I’ve never been let down, especially if I look using my adult, big-picture mind and lived experiences to search from a slightly skewed perspective. I encourage you to use the Web for what you can’t get from your traditional resources.

So here was my thought process: a bit of searching turned up all the historical challenges to our Thanksgiving Mythology, and that was interesting, but giving the divisive nature of our times, I wasn’t so interested in getting students to argue and persuade, reflecting seemed a much more fruitful cognitive pursuit. So how to feed this reflection? This is what lead to gathering links on the benefits of gratitude. Choosing an affective element like gratitude clearly brings in our last of the New 3Rs: relevance. Thus we have all the ingredients: a real topic, rich resources and a relevant task for students to engage in: reflection on some aspect of how giving thanks can play out for themselves in these divisive times.

Now with the Real, Rich and Relevant pieces in place, the last step was to figure out the actual learning activity. Experience has taught me that all but the most capable and sophisticated high school writers can use a bit of help to not only engage in the cognitive process of reflection, but to also shape those ideas into an essay. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring back the Insight Reflector, one of the original Web-and-Flow activity formats.

Welcome to: “Giving Thanks in Divisive Times, 2019” a new interactive reflective writing activity I’ve just created and posted as a free download. The “Insight Reflector” is a scaffolded writing activity that prompts students to explore related Web sites and to engage in reflective thinking and writing. Here’s a brief walk-though of the activity.

Credits:

Another New Chapter

Happy Birthday to…

Me.

This month I celebrated a birthday, one of the “Big Ones,” and it prompted a fair bit of reflection. After becoming a teacher almost 35 years ago, I’ve enjoyed an interesting and rewarding career in education. For the past 5 years, I’ve worked with two software companies helping schools with curriculum mapping, data analytics and writing. These have been great experiences and align with lots of the software design I’ve done as a consultant since leaving the classroom.

At this stage of my career and life, I want to pursue a new chapter where I can take advantage of everything I’ve learned and have developed some expertise in. A few things are in the works and the exact path should be clearer soon, but for now I want to dig back into some of my favorite lessons and contribute some learning activities. I’ll post everything here, but if you’re keen and not already subscribed, you can join the Updates Newsletter to get special access.

In closing, I spent the month of August in Tucson, Arizona with my sister and her family. After three and a half years being knocked around by Chemo treatments for ovarian cancer, my amazing sister headed to her next adventure. She’s on my mind as take these next steps myself.

A Big Change for Tom

What a glorious new beginning!

Back in 2014 I wrote a similar post at a time of transition. Today opens a new chapter in the unfolding story of how a high school English teacher from California morphs into a Web-based educator and contributor to the next era of education.  To re-cap, earlier parts of the journey included a fellowship at San Diego State University where we developed the WebQuest model, then a move to Australia and time as a Web developer and Ed Tech consultant with plenty of writing, software design and keynoting…  until I “got my first real job” since teaching when I joined Hobsons in 2014.  Although I explored positions in school leadership and returning to consulting, it was clear that the exact job didn’t matter so long as I was:

  • using all my skills
  • working on a great team
  • making a difference in education

Things clicked when I met the leadership team at Hobsons Edumate:

From Edumate …

For the past 2 + years I’ve really loved working with the great team at Hobsons’ Edumate.  As much as I’ve enjoyed this shift from the sometimes lonely life of an independent consultant, that fact that the Edumate suite also includes modules for attendance, enrolment, finance, and calendaring means that my passion for improving teaching and learning must be balanced with the overall needs of Edumate’s clients. I got and fully supported this. Those times I was able to harness the development team to work on the curriculum aspects of the software, I felt as though I was contributing – yet while other development needs rightly took precedence, I sometimes felt I wasn’t having the impact I hoped for. Recently the name “Literatu” began popping up with both current and prospective schools, so we decided to meet up…

To Literatu!

What I saw so impressed me that my curiosity was piqued and before long we’d kicked around ideas and found that my obsession with richer teaching and learning matched nicely with the powerful analytical insights provided within a very slick and user-friendly platform.  However, more than the software, I was very impressed with the Literatu leadership – Mark Stanley and Lidija Loridon. They definitely understand assessment, analytics, user interface and what schools need to turn data into insights.  Because this is only the first day on the job, of course there is a lot I don’t know (yet look forward to learning — which is a big part of the excitement!).  In the coming months (and years) I will share more about the power of this technology to humanise teaching and learning as I dig into it and we evolve it.  In particular I am (delightfully) tasked with helping schools and their teachers get early wins analysing their data and then build a plan where they nurture a culture of continuous improvement informed by their own unique goals and processes coupled with powerful data analytics. Look for more posts, Webinars and professional learning and consulting to support this journey into the future.  

Latest “Look to Learns”

One of the more popular things I do is post “Look to Learn” activities. These are a combination of Thinking Routines with rich media.  The main idea of Thinking Routines is:

… it’s not enough for students to learn “critical thinking strategies,” but research from the Visible Thinking group at Harvard’s Project Zero has found that students also need to develop the disposition to engage in such a process. One approach is to promote a culture of questioning and thinking in the daily life of the classroom.

What I like to do is apply these great Thinking Routines to rich media stimulus.  I do this using a Tumblr Web site.  Below is a screengrab of the latest posts.  Enjoy! And let me know how students like them!

L2L_April-May2017

Thesis Builder / ElectraGuide’s New Home

Interestingly, the most hit site I’ve created is something I made in 1995.  The Thesis Builder & Online Outliner is a simple javascript tool that helps novice writers create a reasonable persuasive thesis statement and matching outline.

Unfortunately, I loaded it onto very expensive hosting years back and the overage charges generated by the Thesis Builder cost between $25-60 / month.  For a free service, this has gotten too expensive. Rather than pull the site down, I’ve relocated it to cheaper hosting and posted this message on the site.

If you are a user of The Thesis Builder, please update your links as the forwarding message will only be up till the end of February (enough to get the new school semester started).

Here’s the message:

thesis_builder_message

Opening Presentation – Differentiation Conference

learning-differentiation-768x325

A prestigious group of educators are convening at the Intercontinental Hotel in Sydney’s CBD on the 16th and 17th of this month to share strategies for improving learning achievement through differentiation.

I have the pleasure of presenting the opening presentation on day 1.  I will begin with a personal narrative illustrated with differentiated designs I’ve been involved with and then present a case of what’s needed in education circa 2016.  This post includes links and resources that I’ll refer to during the talk captured in this blurb:

Design for the Big Win: Differentiation and Beyond

Traditional models of schooling come up short when viewed through the lenses of current technologies and pedagogies. Rather than rely on habit or following trends, leading educators can choose to design a better way based on their values and personal skillsets. This presentation highlights how we can use more effective and rewarding models to design the schools we really want.

Links, Examples and Resources

Tom’s Models

 

Readings & Pedagogies

Scaffolded Learning Software

Cool Tools

Integrating 5 Great Pedagogies

I recently did a Webinar on this topic.  Which is a bit absurd, really, because each deserves not only its own Webinar, but a full course to do justice to the ideas, models and research. But the point of the Webinar was to stimulate thinking in a couple areas:

  1. to see that a shift toward Intrinsic Motivation IS possible and robustly supported by rich pedagogies, and
  2. these pedagogies, when used in harmony, actually create synergies that maximise their benefits.

So the purpose of this post is to provide links to resources that people can pursue to learn more about each of the pedagogies.  As the graphic below suggests, there are LOTS more than 5 great pedagogies and many more than are shown here.  My goal was to choose a reasonable number and play with how they can be integrated.  You can access a recording of the Webinar if you are interested.

pedagogies

Self Determination Theory – Intrinsic Motivation

Positive Psychology – Personal Meaning, Flow & Grit

Web sites & Resources

Books

Understanding by Design™ – Deep Learning

Using backward design, does your school have a continuum of rich performance tasks that validate the vision and prompt interdisciplinary demonstrations of students’ understandings that require their transfer to new contexts?

Web sites & Resources

Books

Cultures of Thinking – Thinking Routines

Web sites & Resources

Books

SOLE – Self-Organised Learning Environments

Websites & Resources

Videos

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