Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Is a High School diploma the equivalent of James Harrison's Kids' Participation Trophies?

You may have heard about James Harrison, the football player who took away his kids participation trophies because he wanted them to earn these trophies, rather than get them just for participating. For the purpose of this discussion, we'll set aside any thoughts about whether Mr. Harrison is a good parent, which is questionable. James Harrison and the trophies were a topic of conversation at our recent Northern State University back to school workshop featuring Bob Upgren a Northern State University graduate.

In our back to school workshop, Bob Upgren made the point that through recent years, self esteem has become so central to what we do when nurturing children and students, that we are afraid of doing anything that could reduce students' self esteem.

I have covered the idea of participation trophies in education in a previous post, but this is a chance to discuss this idea further. I have observed that in education, we are too afraid of hurting students' self esteem, we almost won't give students any correction at all. We're afraid to say, "no, you don't get it," or "you need to work harder," or even "this is not your best work." We forget that students learn more when they are corrected, not when they are passed along through even though they didn't learn the content they were supposed to.

With programs such as ICU, we have even tried to make it impossible that a student can fail. We've been pressured to pass students even when they just won't do the work or have severe discipline problems. We provide opportunity after opportunity to students to complete their work and go way beyond reason to allow them to catch up in class. What does the student learn in the process? They learn that it's okay if they don't meet deadlines, if they don't care about the work they do, and if they don't act appropriately for a professional situation. They will still get their "participation trophy."

Because we're not willing to give any correction, and because we're not willing to fail students, is an "A" grade now only as meaningful as a participation trophy? How about a high school diploma? I hope not, but I increasingly worry that this is true.

If you're concerned about this issue too, please be willing to give correction to your students. Please give a deserving student a failing grade. And here's a tip about giving feedback to students: Good research in education shows that clear feedback that focuses on student effort is much more effective than feedback that focuses on student intelligence (Dweck, 2002). We need to link outcomes and grades to effort, not intelligence. For example, instead of saying "good job, you are a smart student," say "good job, you worked hard on this assignment." Also, more specific feedback that focuses on how a student performed on a task is better than empty praise (Shute, 2008).

Let's keep a high school diploma from becoming a participation trophy.


Dweck, C. S. (2002). Messages that motivate: How praise molds students’ beliefs, motivation, and performance (in surprising ways). In Improving academic achievement: Impact of psychological factors on education (pp. 37–60). San Diego, CA, US: Academic Press.

Shute, V. J. (2008). Focus on Formative Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 78(1), 153–189. http://doi.org/10.3102/0034654307313795

Thursday, May 7, 2015

EdTech for SD Teachers Podcast - Episode 28: Universal Design for Learning

In our last podcast episode for this school year, I discuss the principles of Universal Design for Learning. Here is a nicely organized list of these principles:
  • Provide multiple means of representation
    • Provide options for perception
    • Provide options for language, mathematical expressions and symbols
    • Provide options for comprehension
  • Provide multiple means of action and expression
    • Provide options for physical action
    • Provide options for expression and communication
    • Provide options for executive functions
  • Provide multiple means of engagement 
    • Provide options for recruiting interest
    • Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence
    • Provide options for self-regulation

Friday, May 1, 2015

EdTech for SD Teachers Podcast - Episode 27: Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences

This week, Dr. Alan Neville, an expert in Multiple Intelligences, guest stars as we discuss learning styles and Multiple Intelligences. We dispel some myths surrounding these ideas and also discuss what the research says. Here are the multiple intelligences:
  • Spatial
  • Linguistic 
  • Logical-Mathmatical
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic
  • Musical
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
  • Naturalist
  • Existential
Here are some reference links from this episode:

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What is Project-Based Learning?

Project-based learning means that students create projects as part of their learning experience (Bender, 2012; Vega, 2012). As mentioned in chapter one, this type of learning fits well within constructivist and constructionist ways of thinking and is an important learning method for the Information Age. This post is an excerpt from my book, Educational Technology for Teachers.

In project-based learning, students develop a project from start to finish, making decisions on how to proceed, incorporating subject matter into the project and producing a product that represents their knowledge. This type of learning has resulted in better student attitudes toward learning and increased knowledge retention among students, along with other positive learning outcomes (Bender, 2012; Vega, 2012). Project-based learning is also linked to high 21st century skill development among students (Vega, 2012).

Educational technology and project-based learning go well together. Information technologies can help students seek out answers to project questions, and visual presentation applications can help students efficiently create products in differing formats. Project-based learning is a great way to integrate technological tools and resources into learning.

So what is it that defines project-based learning? The most important defining characteristics of project-based learning include authenticity, longer project time lengths and quality finished products that students complete.


Authenticity in project-based learning means that the projects students complete have value or relevance outside of the classroom and that the activities that students perform in order to finish a project are similar to the activities that a person may do outside of school (Herrington & Kervin, 2007). Finding an authentic project is not easy. Many teachers mistakenly suppose that learning activities like math word problems are authentic because they incorporate real-world elements. An example word problem might ask students to use their knowledge of speed and distance to determine when two trains will pass each other as they travel from neighboring cities. This type of problem is not authentic because it doesn't simulate activities that a person might actually do in real life. There is little reason to perform such a calculation in the world outside of school. In contrast, an authentic activity might involve students in using building code documents to calculate the number of exits needed in a large building as part of a building design process. This is the type of activity that might actually be completed by an architect.

Longer Project Time Lengths

Longer project time lengths means that more than just one class period is needed for students to work on projects. Projects may span several days or weeks in time length and may require many different steps or activities. Students could also use knowledge from more than just a single subject area to complete a project. It takes more than just one or two class periods to navigate the many choices, steps, subjects and activities in a project (Bender, 2012; Herrington & Kervin, 2007).

Quality Finished Products

Another important aspect of project-based learning is that students create quality finished products. These products are an excellent way to show students' knowledge of the subject areas featured in the project. Some examples of quality finished products that could be completed include:
  • A poster about how to avoid plaque and gingivitis by brushing teeth properly
  • A video that shows how to prepare and cook cholula bread
  • A recorded lesson telling how to calculate a monthly budget for food after bills have been deducted
  • A proposal document explaining the pros and cons of various purchase options for a particular business
Notice that no two of the above product examples are in the same format, but all of them include a quality finished product that students create to show their knowledge. More project-based learning ideas and the steps for a project based learning experience are included in my book, Educational Technology for Teachers. 

  • Bender, W. N. (2012). Project-based learning: differentiating instruction for the 21st century. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
  • Herrington, J., & Kervin, L. (2007). Authentic learning supported by technology: Ten suggestions and cases of integration in classrooms. Educational Media International, 44(3), 219–236. doi:10.1080/09523980701491666
  • Vega, V. (2012). Project-based learning research review. Edutopia. Retrieved January 8, 2014, from http://www.edutopia.org/pbl-research-learning-outcomes

Thursday, April 23, 2015

EdTech for SD Teachers Podcast - Episode 26: What's my Motivation for Learning?

This week, I discuss a model of intrinsic motivation and how the proper use of technology can support intrinsic motivation for learning. Here are the four main elements of the taxonomy of intrinsic motivations:

  • Control
  • Challenge 
  • Curiousity
  • Contextualization

Malone, T. W., & Lepper, M. R. (1987). Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning. In R. E. Snow & J. F. Marshall (Eds.), Aptitude, learning, and instruction (Vol. 3, pp. 223–253). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How to Make Education More Like Web 2.0 (and 3.0)

In a previous post, I discussed Web 2.0 and Learning 2.0. One way to characterize the changes that have occured in our society is by looking through the lens of the web 2.0 (and web 3.0) movement. Our society has become more:

• Content-creation oriented
• Personalized
• Connected
• Open
• Mobile

In the previous post, I asked whether education has kept up with these types of societal changes. In this post, I answer this question. This post is an excerpt from my book, Educational Technology for Teachers

The answer is that education remains behind in many of these areas even today (Mott & Wiley, 2013; Wiley, 2006). Students must meet in a classroom (tethered, not mobile) to do the learning. They are often required to work independently and quietly on individual assignments (closed, not open). Student classrooms are often closed off from and separate from other classrooms and people (isolated, not connected). Students must all learn the same subject matter at the same time and often in the same way (generic, not personalized).

Education can match Information Age trends by providing learning experiences that are open, connected, mobile, personalized and content-creation oriented. More opportunities for student communication and collaboration (connected, open) on projects (content-creation) that students find meaningful (personalization) can be provided. Students could be given some choices in what they learn, or how they go about learning (personalization). Students could also be given opportunities to connect with students from other classrooms, states and even countries using available communication technologies (connected). Teachers can find additional ways to get students to become more active participants in their own learning process (personalization). The web 2.0 (and web 3.0) values of our society in the Information Age have made it so that students expect a more student-centered learning experience.


  • Mott, J., & Wiley, D. (2013). Open for learning: The CMS and the open learning network. In Education, 15(2). Retrieved from http://ineducation.couros.ca/index.php/ineducation/article/view/53
  • Wiley, D. (2006). Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education. Panel on Innovative Teaching and Learning Strategies, Seattle, WA.
  • Thursday, April 16, 2015

    EdTech for SD Teachers Podcast - Episode 25: Advancing Technology for Learning using the SAMR Model

    This week, My students discuss four different technologies and how they might be used on the four different levels of the SAMR model.  Here are the four levels of the SAMR model:

    • Substitution
    • Augmentation
    • Modification
    • Redefinition

    Here are the four different tools: