Thursday, July 30, 2015

Creating an Environment That Discourages Plagiarism

Image Credit: Shelley Shott, Intel Free Press / CC BY 2.0
Why do students plagiarize? Most of the time it's probably due to two reasons: they don't know how to properly cite their sources or they don't know what to write.

In my English Language Arts class, my students are constantly writing. It may be blog posts, essays, or speeches. In previous years I've never had access to Turnitin to check for plagiarism, and even though my district has decided to subscribe to this service next semester, I don't plan to change my approach to teaching writing. This is because I prefer to be proactive, rather than reactive. So how do I know that my students are truly the authors of the work they call their own?

First, my students start and complete most of their writing in class. When given time to write, there is less inclination to cheat.

Second, I scaffold them throughout the writing process. If it's an essay, we brainstorm the ideas in class, and we crowdsource the evidence they need to support their opinions. I have students post their thesis statements on Schoology's discussion platform or using the "Create Question" feature in Google Classroom. Then, my students agree or disagree (respectfully, of course) by either supporting or refuting the posted thesis statement with evidence from the text. This natural dialogue helps them practice their arguments before they even start to plan the essay.

Third, my students brainstorm their essay on a mindmap. As they work, I confer with each one of them and discuss where they are going with their ideas. We use Google Slides or an essay planner on Google Docs to map out their essay. Though I could simply insert comments, I prefer to talk to them face-to-face. They appreciate the personalized attention, and I always get an appreciative "thank you" at the end of our conversations. If I run out of time in class, then I will resort to written comments.

Next, students write their essays on a Google Doc, using the information from their mindmaps or essay planner. As they write, I set up opportunities for students to give each other feedback. I instruct them on which specific criteria to focus on and how to give each other formative feedback. As they work on this, I also monitor their essays, jumping in as necessary to provide even more feedback.

After this process, students revise their essays based on comments they've received. When this draft is finished, I give them a self-assessment to complete. Then, they have the opportunity to revise their essay once more before turning it in. For each step of their writing process, I provide scaffolds and feedback for their writing.

After all the planning, drafting, and conferring in class, there is no need to plagiarize. From this point on, it'll take more work for students to look for someone else's work to copy.

If we equip our students with the skills they need, give them the time to write, provide them with our guidance, and cultivate the support of their peers, there is less incentive to plagiarize. However, I didn't take this approach to teaching writing because of plagiarism. I use this method because I believe in scaffolding and giving my students the tools they need to succeed. The decline of plagiarism was just a byproduct of this approach to writing instruction.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Are You Teaching Your Students to be Unintentional Plagiarists?

"Gasp" by Halimae / CC BY 3.0

Sometimes plagiarism is intentional. Sometimes it's not. But neither are acceptable. 

During the year, my students spend a good deal of time learning to cite evidence and identifying their sources when writing essays or research-based speeches. However, do students apply this practice when creating other types of content? Do they understand that when they reuse someone else's creations (images, videos, etc.) without permission that they may be plagiarizing and violating copyright laws? Do teachers know this?

How does this apply to nontraditional forms of classroom writing? All of my students have their own blogs, and some enjoy writing posts about their favorite athletes or a game they just watched. They often incorporate facts they read from other sources, but they fail to identify where they found this information. This is when my students forget the concept of plagiarism. Perhaps this is because they don't associate blogging with academic writing since blogging isn't commonly taught in schools. However, this is still not okay.

Some educators are guilty of the same mistake. I know I used to be. When we are looking to spice up our lessons, we may search for ideas on the Internet. Sometimes we come across a great idea and a lesson is born. But how many are actually acknowledging that their lessons originated from someone else's hard work? Sure, ideas are not copyright protected, and we're not breaking any laws. (Unless we are lifting words and content from someone else's work and reusing that for our own needs without the consent of the creator. Then, yes, that is illegal.) 

We need to remember that plagiarism is the act of appropriating another person's idea without credit attribution regardless of the purpose behind our actions. This may not always fall under the jurisdiction of the law, but it does under the court of ethics.

In my "9 C's of Digital Literacy," I pointed out that we should be teaching about character when teaching digital literacy. I believe that we should be encouraging our students to be advocates of ethical practices even if not legally required.

So now I make it a point to include either of the following sentences on my assignments if the situation applies: "This lesson was inspired by _____" or "This lesson idea originated from ______" with a link to this person's work.

If we want to teach our students to do the right thing, shouldn't we be modeling these behaviors as well? It takes so little effort to acknowledge another person for his or her hard work. Isn't it time we started? Sometimes the best lessons are the ones we don't explicitly teach, and many times those are the ones that leave the biggest impact on our students.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

5 Things We Have to Stop Pretending

"Heiwa Elementary School" by ajari / CC BY 2.0
What should we stop pretending is good in education?

I was first asked this question by +Nancy Minicozzi when she wrote her "5 Things We Have to Stop Pretending." In her blog post, she challenged me and four other educators to come up with our own five things to change in education. Then, after publishing our post, we must pass the challenge to five other educators.

So how can we #MakeSchoolDifferent? Here are five beliefs I think we should change:
  1. Our digital natives are digitally proficient.
  2. Multiple choice tests and quizzes are effective assessment tools.
  3. A quiet audience is a captivated audience.
  4. We should teach our content areas in isolation and not recognize the importance of cross-curricular connections.
  5. To create an academically rigorous class, teachers need to assign more work, more tests, and more homework.
Below is the elaboration on my five points.
  1. Our digital natives are very adept at using technology for social networking and gaming, but we need to give them opportunities to expand on their skills by letting them practice what I perceive to be the "9 C's of Digital Literacy."
  2. In the real world, we don't take multiple choice tests to demonstrate our skills. We are asked to create products and provide services, neither of which has any resemblance to the summative assessments most students are asked to complete in schools.
  3. Just because students look like they are listening during a lecture, it doesn't mean they are actually learning. Instead, give students the opportunity to practice, explore, and showcase their understanding of a lesson with collaborative work, hands-on learning, and eportfolios. Talk less and have students do more. 
  4. The world is interconnected in so many ways. It's time we showed students the connections.
  5. Learning doesn't have to be hard for it to be valid. Great teachers scaffold their students so that students can successfully meet their learning goals. Excellent educators make difficult-to-learn concepts easy to understand.
Now I pass the challenge to five of my good friends: +Liz Castillo+JR Ginex-Orinion+Jeanne Reed+Lisa Nowakowski, and +Jo-Ann Fox. I look forward to hearing from them and others who come across our blogs. Please use the hashtag #MakeSchoolDifferent to continue the conversation.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Don't Plagiarize! Just Cite It!

Image by Alice Chen / CC BY 4.0
It's so easy to avoid plagiarize, and yet many students, and even adults, don't realize this. By definition, plagiarism means to take information (words, concepts, creations, etc.) from another person and present it as your own.  You can easily avoid plagiarism by simply citing the source of the information.

Here's a great video created by EasyBib that explains how to cite work so that you don't become a plagiarist. Please share this with your students so that they can be role models for others.

In-text Citations from EasyBib on Vimeo.

Also check out this great resource to learn more about this topic.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Do You Really Have the Right to Use That?

"Copyright Symbol" by Mike Seyfang / CC BY 2.0
Most students, and even educators, don’t think twice about copying and redistributing content created by other individuals, not realizing that they may be in violation of copyright laws. As of March 1, 1989 all creations (text, images, videos, etc.), automatically receive this protection even if the creator never formally files for copyright status.

In this post, I’ve put together a quick guide to help educators better understand this concept and to help them teach students the need to respect the work of others.

Quick Guide to Copyright, Fair Use & Public Domain

  • Only expressions of ideas are copyright protected. (However, appropriating someone else's idea without credit attribution is plagiarism.)
  • As of March 1, 1989, all work is copyright protected the moment it is created.
  • Copyright registration is not required to copyright a creator’s work. (It is, however, helpful in ligation cases to establish proof of copyright.)

What fair use usually allows (however, there are exceptions)
  • Criticism and comments
  • News reporting
  • Research and scholarship
  • Nonprofit educational uses
  • Parody
  • Noncommercial uses

Does it qualify under Fair Use?
It depends on how you use the work. Each case is unique, and there is no guarantee that the courts will rule in your favor. These are the questions usually considered in a court of law when determining fair use.
  • Is this an entirely new creation?
  • What is the purpose of using this work?
  • Will you be competing with the creator of the original work?
  • How much of the original work are you using? (You can only reproduce a small portion of the work.)
  • What quality and essence of the original work are you using? (There is no magic percentage that protects you under Fair Use. If it is the “heart and soul” of the work, even reproducing a tiny fraction of the work could be considered a violation of copyright laws.)

How to Determine If a Work Is in the Public Domain (United States Only)
The table below is created from information published by Stanford University Libraries’ “Welcome to the Public Domain.”
In the Public Domain
Work published before 1923
Work published between 1923 and 1963
Work has copyright status for the first 28 year, but has to be renewed to retain copyright status
Work published between 1993 and February 28, 1989
If the work has no copyright notice and “the law has not made an exception for its omission, then the work is the public domain.”
Work created by the government


This guide cannot be substituted for legal advice and should not be construed as such. The information contained herein is based on the works cited above.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Trip on the Wild Side: From the Rainforest to the Desert

“Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.”

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

According to USGS, the earth’s surface is 71% water. What many students don’t know is that this doesn’t translate into an unlimited supply of drinking water, especially considering that 97% of it is ocean water.

Near Hoh River by Wsiegmund /
CC BY 2.5 
With all lifeforms dependent on water for survival, it’s important that our students understand the role of water and how it affects our present and our future. Bring this lesson to life for your students by joining Kari Vigerstol, senior hydrologist on +The Nature Conservancy's Global Water team, and science teacher Tyler DeWitt as they first visit Seattle’s unique watershed before zipping over to the Verde River, a vital water source for Arizona’s dry desert. During this live broadcast, one classroom will be chosen to participate live using Google Hangouts on Air.

Don't miss this great learning opportunity for your students! Event details are listed below:

“Wild Biomes: From America’s Rainforest to America’s Desert”
April 8, 2015 at 12 pm ET.
Register here for this unique event.

Classes that can watch the field trip live on The Nature Conservancy’s Google+ Channel or they can watch it as a live stream on YouTube at this link. Classes can also watch an archived copy or other Nature Works Everywhere productions by visiting The Nature Conservancy’s YouTube channel.

After watching the virtual field trip, students can continue the learning by using these fantastic supplemental materials:

This virtual field trip is the second in a series of future broadcasts that will examine the interconnectedness of people and nature. This program is designed for students in the third through eighth grade.

Through this program, students will gain a greater awareness and appreciation of the following key concepts:

  • Biomes (temperate rainforest, desert)
  • Water quality
  • Water quantity
  • Pacific Northwest
  • Urban watershed
  • Arizona desert
  • Verde River
  • Geography
  • Rainfall
  • How water affects people and how people affect water
  • Where does your water come from?

The Nature Conservancy is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to preserving the beauty of our natural world. That is why they created +Nature Works Everywhere “to help students learn the science behind how nature works for us -- and how we can help keep it running strong.”

The partnership between us and nature has never been as important as it is now. Do your students understand where we belong in this fragile relationship? Let’s bring this lesson to life for them and help them become our future changemakers!

This blog post is sponsored by We Are Teachers.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The 9 C's of Digital Literacy

Today, at my keynote for the California League of Schools Annual Conference North, I will be discussing what I perceive to be the 9 C's of Digital Literacy and how to integrate these skills in a Common Core classroom.

We all know that our digital natives are very at ease with technology. In fact, they’re in love with it, but does that automatically make them digital proficient?

When I originally pondered this question, I began to realize that the 5 C's often discussed in education today - communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and citizenship - needed to be expanded to include these other areas as well: curation, copyright, character and connectedness. I believe that these digital literacy skills are essential for success in today's modern world. It’s more important than ever for educators to teach students how to become digitally literate so that they will be successful in their lives and careers.

To share the "9 C's of Digital Literacy" on Twitter, click here. To download a PDF copy, click here.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Beyond the Textbook: Virtual Field Trips for Science & Social Studies

"WP 35, SDr9776" by Stefan Dressler / CC BY-SA 2.5 
Have you ever wanted to take your students on a field trip around the world? What if they could visit the deserts and grasslands of Africa for free? Would you jump at the opportunity? On February 5, 2015 at 12pm Eastern Time, this opportunity will become a reality for your students.

Join +The Nature Conservancy's Charles Oluchina and science teacher Tyler DeWitt as they host this wonderful learning opportunity for students using Google’s Hangouts on Air. This 40 minute live broadcast, "Take a Virtual Field Trip to the Deserts and Grasslands of Africa," will transport your students to Burkina Faso to learn how one African farmer solved the challenges of desertifcation before heading to Kenya to learn the benefits of ecotourism and how grasslands are vital to the sustainability of the earth. Then, teachers will be able to extend the learning for their students through a first peek at +PBS LearningMedia's fabulous online collection of videos, interactive games, and lesson plans from the new PBS series EARTH A New Wild.

To sign up for this unique event, register at the Nature Works Everywhere website by clicking here.

Classes can watch the live virtual field trip or the archived copy by visiting The Nature Conservancy’s YouTube channel. This virtual field trip is the first in a series of future broadcasts that will examine the interconnectedness of people and nature. This program is designed for students in the third through eighth grades.

Through this program, students will gain a greater awareness and appreciation of the following key concepts:

  • Working with nature so nature works with us
  • People and Conservation
  • Desertification
  • Smart Development
  • Ecotourism
  • Habitat
  • Grasslands
  • Reforestation
  • Land preservation

+Nature Works Everywhere also have fabulous lesson resources for science, geography, and social studies classes. Some examples of what you can find on the Nature Works Everywhere website are listed below:

The Nature Conservancy is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to preserving the beauty of our natural world. That is why they created Nature Works Everywhere “to help students learn the science behind how nature works for us -- and how we can help keep it running strong.”

The partnership between us and nature has never been as important as it is now. Do your students understand where we belong in this fragile relationship? Let’s bring this lesson to life for them and help them become our future changemakers!

This blog post is sponsored by We Are Teachers.