Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Flying Closer to the Sun!


As we fly closer to the sun, we sometimes feel closer to the light, but we sometimes feel closer to the heat.

It seems to me that this year more than ever, I am becoming more and more aware of the fact that there are two sides to every situation: a positive and a negative.

Here are a few examples:

Providing more tools to teachers is increasing their ability to use technology effectively. It is also causing them more stress and making our access issues for students more apparent.

Using student response devices across our district is increasing our ability to deliver formative assessments quickly and easily. It is also leading to some headaches when students break them or lose them or teachers find the one thing they can't do.

Using Google Apps for Educators is increasing our ability to be mobile, to collaborate, to provide students with email accounts, and to create sites. It is also glitchy and causing problems when something doesn't work the way we want it to.

There are so many other examples of software and tools that do much of what we want but not all. For some, they simply focus on the positive and use it for what it is good for. Others say the experience is frustrating when they have to gear the lesson or project to the tool because the tool is limited in terms of what it can do.

In addition, we seem to be stuck between waiting to roll out new tools and ideas until everything is just so and building our parachute on the way down. On the one hand, we want everyone to have a great experience. On the other, we want to begin having the experience before we retire. We want to have answers to all the questions people might have. But, we can't possibly predict all the issues that might arise. We want to wait until the glitches are worked out, but then a new tool is discovered and we start the process over again.

So much of my time is spent providing the counterpoint to the heat seekers. "Don't forget about the light! Isn't it beautiful?" I am starting to wonder if we have just flown a bit too close and now the heat is overpowering a few of us.

I know there must be a balance here but it is an elusive balance. Miss it by even a little and you get burned... or blinded.

Think I will buy everyone some sunglasses and sunblock and go back to work.


*Images thanks to http://images.cdn.fotopedia.com/flickr-3157251517-hd.jpg and http://images.cdn.fotopedia.com/flickr-1082841401-hd.jpg

 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Assessing your 21st Century Educator-ness

I recently read Meris Stansbury's blog post on the Five Characteristics of an Effective 21st Century Educator. It got me thinking about where we are in Wayzata with regards to 21st Century-ness. After all, we are more than a decade into the 21st century. We ought to have arrived by now!

Here are the five characteristics that Stansbury discusses:

1. Anticipates the Future. I am disappointed that this one came first. I would have preferred to build up to it. I believe this is the area in which we are lacking the most. Don't get me wrong. We are changing. We are looking at best practices and brain research. Using data effectively. We are even embracing some new technologies. But are we looking forward at what the world will be like that our students will enter? Not really.

And I understand why. It is hard. Really hard. I don't know what the innovative breakthroughs of next year will look like, let alone 10 years from now. But there are trends that have been followed over the past 30 years that tell us that some changes are in store. We have to look really deeply at what we teach and whether it continues to effectively prepare students for the world they will enter.

2. Is a Lifelong Learner. I have to say for the most part, we are doing a pretty good job of this. Through our Summer Tech Institute, Academy courses, study groups, book groups, and after school classes, our teachers have more options than they know what to do with. But they also know that whenever they have availability, there are opportunities awaiting them. In addition, our Professional Learning Communities are providing ongoing time to look in depth at our teaching practices and their effectiveness.

With the speed of change and the busy-ness of our lives, it is important to find new efficient ways to be a lifelong learner. Building that personal network of people through online social networks can allow for many great ongoing learning opportunities. I find that I learn something new everyday from my colleagues on Twitter!

3. Fosters Peer Relationships. I stole a little of my own thunder above, but PLC's and personal networks are a great way to enhance peer relationships. In addition, we need to help students build these relationships. They need help learning to use their online social networks in educational ways, among themselves as well as beyond the classroom.

4. Can Teach and Assess All Levels of Learners. This has been a major focus for us in the past few years. Looking at ongoing common formative assessments, using PLC time to have data driven dialogue, responding to student needs. We have made huge strides in this area, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

5. Is Able to Discern Effective and Non-effective Technologies. It is easy to see that technology is overwhelming to keep up with. While we work hard to help teachers use the best tools for the job, there are always times when certain tools make more sense for certain classes or situations. Teachers need to constantly balance the power of learning a new tool with the filter of how does this tool help my students learn more effectively.

Sometimes those two concepts are seemingly at odds. If we only select technologies that help us meet our curriculum needs, we may not be addressing #1. Sometimes we need to give our students opportunities to explore and create in new ways.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Teaching Perseverance

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmcJZGGArRI]

There are many examples in our lives in which overcoming failure is a key element to success:

Riding a bike

Potty Training

Hitting a baseball

Tying your shoes

Reading

So why do our schools seem to increasingly be designed to minimize opportunities to learn perseverance. Too often we cover a topic and test the kids and they either get it or they don't. Units must take a certain number of days and if you don't learn within that time frame, you fail. Were you given a timeframe in which to learn to ride a bike? Tie your shoes? What if you were given an F because it took you longer to learn than your parents thought it should. Sorry. You just weren't cut out to go potty! I guess you will never tie your shoes!

The determination that this little kid shows is way more important than the skill of riding a bike. If we can develop that in all of our students, they will be far more successful in life than if we slap a grade on them that they are either good or bad at something. The reality is most of us start off not very good at most things. It is our perseverance that keeps us going back and working harder until we get it right.

Hmmm!

 

Video thanks to bonedustcloudat http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmcJZGGArRI.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

New teachers... Welcome to teaching!

I have been spending some time this week preparing a new teacher training for new staff. They will have a full week of orientation and one whole day of that will be technology training. For one day, new staff will be immersed in learning about the many tools they have at their disposal to help their students learn. From Smartboards to student response devices, MOODLE to Google Apps, Discovery education to their Schoolwires webpage, these teachers will need to hit the ground running. They will leave swimming with excitement and anxiety about all the possibilities. Some will jump right in and start using the tools, while others will have good intentions of trying them later on after they get their feet wet.

There is no question that the expectations for new teachers are very different. Yet, they still come with the same preparation. I can't believe how many teachers come to us that haven't had any real experience with these tools. I was recently asked to be a guest lecturer about technology integration at a nearby university. After asking a few questions, I quickly concluded that my 2 1/2 hour class would be the full extent of their exposure to digital literacy, blended learning, and online collaboration. How is this possible? These new teachers should be learning from the beginning about teaching for the 21st century so they can hit the ground running. Instead, we have to prepare them.

So, new teachers, welcome! As if you didn't have enough to think about... curriculum, policy, standards, assessments, nametags, etc... We are going to send you on a whirlwind ride through the many tools you will be expected to use in your classroom. Have fun! And don't forget my phone number!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The More Things Change, The More They Change!

Welcome to the new location of Digital Eyes! Like all everything in life, things change. As our blog server goes away, it was time to migrate my blog to a new place. I hope you like it and continue to come and read. I am always open to suggestions. If you have an idea about how I can improve the site, please let me know.

To kick off my new location, I thought it was appropriate to post about change. Just as we are changing our blog locations, we are also changing our district website, moving to Office 2010 and 2011, and putting student response devices in the hands of every student. This makes for a very busy summer and an even busier fall. I hear often from frustrated teachers about the rapid rate of change. It's not just technology either. Initiatives on formative assessments, data- driven decision making, cultural proficiency, professional learning teams, new curriculum also are underway.

Teachers are frustrated because it is increasingly difficult to keep up with all this change. I'm frustrated because it is difficult to implement effective change with so much change happening at once. Teachers used to say, just wait and the pendulum will swing back. When it comes to changes in technology and digital literacy, it is hard to argue that the pendulum will swing back.

*Image credit: http://www.disabledparents.net/crib.html


For me, as I look at all the change that is taking place, I try to find the linch pin, the thing that holds it all together. Of course, this is a matter of perspective. Literacy people will find literacy at the center of all learning, data wonks will find assessment and data at the center. For me, the changes brought about by technology are at the center. We can only collect and analyze data effectively if we have the technical skills to use the tools that will allow us to do so seamlessly. Using student response systems, data mining software, and online collaborative tools make it possible to collect the data quickly, easily, and accurately while also allowing us to sift through the data and communicate with others from anywhere at anytime. Without these skills, the data becomes too cumbersome and it interferes too much with our instruction.

As it pertains to literacy, technology has redefined what it means to be literate. Multimedia, hyperlinking, online content, instant searches, online collaboration all are changing how we read, what we read, whether or not we read (as opposed to listening, viewing, etc...)

If we focus on digital literacy skills and technology skills, we will empower both our teachers and students to take advantage of the tools around them to better implement the other changes we have in place.

Never before have teachers had more opportunities to learn these skills. Our 3 day Summer Tech Institute will offer 50 classes on everything from Responsible Use to Google Apps to iPods/iPads in the Classroom. With over 500 teachers signed up so far, it is a great start to our school year. In addition, we have a calendar of classes being offered multiple times and places throughout the year. Teachers can login and pick the classes they want at the times they want. Finally, we will continue to offer online classes for those who want the flexibility of logging in whenever, wherever they want.

I sincerely hope that teachers will take advantage of these opportunities and embrace the changes in education. Their students will appreciate it and their long term job security may depend upon it. But most of all, teaching with technology and teaching the skills most essential for 21st century success is fun, challenging, and exciting!

And if you don't like it. Just wait. It will change again!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Everything Works! Nothing Works!

Which side of the bed did you wake up on today?


On any given day, we wake up ready for all the information thrust at us. We must as educators make good sound decisions. The truth is that somedays, we are so overwhelmed that we say no to everything. We find reasons for them not to work. Some of the reasons are even good ones: equity, management, student distractions, high stakes testing. But none of these issues are really reason enough not to move forward if we truly believe that providing new tools or instruction are the right thing to do.

On the other hand, there are days that we wake up and it is just easier to go with the flow. Perhaps we start to believe that we are just a negative Nelly. Maybe we feel like the rest of the world is moving forward and we'd better jump on board. Whatever the reason, it is not any more useful to say yes to everything than it is to say no to everything.

So what are the criteria for deciding which ideas are winners and which are losers? The more i think about it, the more I land here:

It doesn't matter. Pick something. Commit to it. Get everyone to commit to it. Move forward.

If you are committed to a 1:1 program, commit. Make it happen. If you are committed to creating blended learning environments to encourage collaboration, then commit. If you are committed to using digital storytelling tools or mobile devices or web 2.0 tools or google apps or teaching digital literacy or online safety, commit.

The amount of time spent talking about it, questioning it, rethinking it, arguing it, pondering it, etc... is squandering valuable time that our students need. Get the kids in, get them on, get them moving forward. There are many paths to digital literacy, 21st century skills, data driven decision making, etc... It's time to move forward with something and stop waiting for the perfect thing.

I spend so much time talking to teachers, administrators, community members, etc... fielding "what if" questions, possible scenarios, possible pitfalls. Start building. 80% of our questions will figure themselves out. The other 20% we will have to deal with as they come up.

Let's make a bold step. Our kids will be the better for it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Testing - What is Tested is What is Valued

This morning, I sent my son off to school to take the MCA state tests for the first time. As a third grader, this is the first of many testing "opportunities" he will have. As we talked about it, I did my parental duty and made sure he understood the importance of them, ate a good breakfast, got plenty of sleep. He was really excited! To him, this was a chance to demonstrate his knowledge. Unfortunately, this is how he has learned to define what his knowledge is.

My concern is that even in third grade, my son understands that what is tested is what is valued. So the message to him is that basic knowledge of math and reading is what is important. While I will not argue the fact that they are important, I do feel like they have an overblown value in our schools. Here is what I mean. Look at some of the other things my son does that have equal (in my opinion) value if not greater value. Last night, he keyboarded an amazing three paragraph story. He took on a very challenging piano piece and demonstrated amazing resiliency and perseverance. He showed great leadership at soccer practice by helping the other kids learn a new skill. He looked up the answer to his daily problem on three different sites to ensure that the answer was accurate. In our recent trip to Arizona, he demonstrated his scientific reasoning on our hikes by identifying the animals we observed and organizing his nature journal.

Now there is no question that he needed math and reading skills to do these things, but I worry that he, and many other students, are reading the proverbial writing on the tests. They are seeing that these basic skills are the most important. Memorize these facts and you have reached the pinnacle of success in math. Forget that you don't understand what to do with that remainder or that you can't determine which source is most valid. Just read what is put in front of you and spew these multiplication facts and you'll be just fine.

I am honestly conflicted when I tell my son to do his best on these tests. I want to say, ignore these tests and build a model to represent how to solve this problem. Then write an explanation for how this model could be used in your entrepreneurial business. Then create a multimedia communication for your favorite hobby. Finally, demonstrate your ability to work through this complex problem. It will take a dozen tries but stick with it. Now that is a test that will show that what is tested is what is valued. Those are the skills I am looking for my son to gain in his school experience. Where is that state test?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Teaching Innovation- What does it look like?

*Image from http://www.mediaspin.com/images/superstock/head-CFL-bulb04-hgrebe-800.jpg

I have been reading How - and Why- to Teach Innovation in our Schools by Alexander Hiam. I highly recommend you read this article if you have not already done so. It really helped frame this idea of how to teach innovation in our schools.

Our technology integration curriculum includes a strand on Creativity and Innovation, and Creative Thinking. However, when teachers ask me what does that look like, I don't always feel as though I have a great answer. This article has really helped me frame my answer. I knew it was there, I just couldn't put my finger on it.

First, Hiam breaks innovation down into the Five I's: Imagination, Inquiry, Invention, Implementation, and Initiative. The fuel for imagination is defined as the "bridging between apparently diverse or unrelated ideas, skill sets, or objects." He asserts that many innovations in our lives come from combining two different concepts. Many inventors are skilled in two separate areas. For example, being skilled in science and art may lead to increased comfort with design. There are many examples where combining two or more skills would lead to improved innovations. Yet our schools are increasingly stratified. We study math during math and science during science.

Hiam asks who is doing the most questioning in classrooms. To improve inquiry, we need the students to generate more questions and then have the ability to pursue the answers. Too often our classrooms teach the content without allowing students the time or access to pursue the questions that arise from their learning. We had a discussion recently in our district about scheduling inquiry time into our day. Allow students time each day to research areas of interest to them. It didn't happen, but I am hopeful that we can continue the discussion around student based inquiry projects. I want to be clear that I mean ongoing research, not a one time project. Let's not make inquiry an event, but rather a habit. This is really the point that Hiam makes about invention. Science Fair projects are one time events, the exception. Inventive thinking needs to be integrated into all areas of learning.

As for implementation, I agree with Hiam's point that usually ideas don't work the first time around. We often have students do a project and hand it in, but we rarely ask students to go back to the drawing board. Organizations like Destination Imagination teach kids how to solve complex problems over a long period of time, much like the problems we are asked to tackle in our jobs. Yet, in schools too often, we ask students to solve problems within a short period and move on before revisiting and improving upon our thinking.

Finally, we view initiative as an innate personality trait. While it is more natural in some than others, Hiam shares some research that initiative is more prevalent in organizations that are less hierarchical. While our classrooms are centered around order and control, we stifle the initiative of our students. More regular project-based and research-based learning opportunities would also be a great way to encourage initiative in students. I often hear from teachers that they did a research project and many students ignored deadlines, lacked initiative, or performed poorly. Many use this as an excuse to do more structured assignments and fewer inquiry based projects. My contention is that some of these issues are due to the fact that these projects are one time events. With more practice and experience, students will improve on these skills.

In Hiam's article, he also talks about how many inventors do we need? He contends that we need a relatively small number, but we need more than what we are producing today. While I agree with this, I think he may be missing a key point, that these skills are valuable in the vast majority of jobs. Creative problem solving, inventive thinking, taking initiative, effective implementation of long term projects: What company would not want these skills in their workers?

In our increasingly test-focused society, I hope we don't lose sight of the most important skills our students will need for success. We need to ensure that our students graduate from us capable of taking on the complex problems our society faces in the future. That starts by addressing the Five I's.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What's in a Name?

My official job title is technology integration specialist. The implication of that title is that my job is to help teachers integrate technology into the classroom. Makes sense. A large aspect of my job is to help teachers do exactly that. I do a lot of training on how to use our district technology tools. I answer numerous questions about how to use these tools effectively in the classroom.

But... increasingly, my job is about other things. Redefining literacy, effective formative assessments, global perspectives, problem solving, and many other things that aren't solely dependent on technology.

So maybe I need a new title. Something that focuses on learning rather than on the tools. Here are a few that come to mind. I would love your input!!!

Learning Integration Specialist

Learning Constructivist

Digital Literacy Specialist

Digital Instructor

Digital Integrationist

Information and Communication Specialist

Digital Facilitator

Curriculum Integration Specialist

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Smart Libraries

I came across this video from Library Ireland Week.

Library Ireland Week

It got me thinking about today's libraries. Our school and community libraries are really in a state of transition. They want kids and adults alike to continue their love of reading yet what reading looks like is really changing. As reading becomes increasingly digital, how do libraries (or media centers, if you prefer) provide literature, research resources, and etc... in a format that people want? Do we still need brick buildings to provide them. Many libraries have robust websites for reserving books, doing research, downloading ebooks, etc..., but at what point, if ever, do we cease to need a place to go.

I know,  I can hear many people arguing that the library is also a community space and we need to bring people together. When I visit the library (Yes, I go often!), I often see tutoring, meetings, collaborating, sharing, and librarians helping people. I love the collaborative spaces that libraries provide and would hate to see this disappear. But as someone who increasingly reads electronically, what is the value of large spaces that provide books? Will these spaces transition to smaller meeting spaces that facilitate learning and research? How can we support our libraries in making this transition?

I know that my kids love going to both the school and community library. There is an excitement around being surrounded by learning. Some might argue it is about being surrounded by books. I don't know the answer, but I suspect that this is not the case. I think it is much broader than that. I think they are excited about being surrounded by information, in whatever format it takes. How great that all people, no matter what their economic background, have the opportunity to be surrounded by knowledge. That they can reach out and grab it and take it home with them.

I would love to hear from others about what libraries need to do, if anything, to help with this transition to a more digital society.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Blogging is my Scrapbook of Ideas

It's been a while since I posted to my blog. I had very good intentions to get back to it, but other things came about. So that has me wondering. How important is it to make time for blogging? We're all busy. We all have things competing or our attention and time. Where does blogging fit?

The easy answer is that it is not that important. In the course of my day, I am inundated with projects, requests for help, needs to research new tools, communications, and much more. Giving up blogging would be a nice way to shorten my to do list. On the other hand, it has led to some really significant experiences. I have had people who I respect (and some who I do not) comment on my posts, leading to great discussions about topics important to me. Without my blog, these discussions might take place but they might only take place among those who I see regularly at work. This does not necessarily lead to a broader perspective. My blog allows the conversation to grow beyond our organization.

I also find that when I blog, I take the time to reflect and research a topic that I might not otherwise spend time thinking about. It helps me formulate my thoughts, which then leads to decisions down the road. It is like a virtual sounding board where I can find out if my ideas are crazy or not.

Finally, it helps me organize my thoughts and conversations. Just today, somebody asked me about an idea that I had a long time ago. I was able to refer her to the blog post. It was like a snapshot of how I felt about that topic at that time. Otherwise, I would not have remembered my thoughts. Like a scrapbook of ideas, I can look back through time and see how I felt about a topic and how others reacted to it.

What a great tool. Now I just need to recommit to making time for it. I think I have 6 minutes next Friday...

Why do you blog? How do you make time for it?