Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Four ways I Increase Trust in my School

 Trust No One Arm Tattoo | by Lynn Friedman
I scoured the internet for a photo denoting trust. I found the expected images of people in suits falling backward and many versions that call to Trust No One. I know that calling to trust no one is popular, it lives up to our myth of the lone cowboy. I disagree.

I argue that schools must operate on trust. When trust is deemed broken, we get an adversarial system. Public school accessible to all cannot function without trust. Trust does not mean that no mistakes happen. It does not mean there are no legitimate concerns. Instead, it means that everyone agrees to work toward the best interest of children as the agreed upon principle. Yes, we may differ on how we think we should get there. But, once we fail to see our common goal it is almost impossible to move forward.

I see educational systems that lack this very fundamental ingredient. Teachers do not trust their students they always think that they are cheating somehow. The administration is not trusting teachers, so it creates a convoluted system of rules and regulations. We see it in technology integration. Teachers finding it hard to trust students with devices (we need a way to see what students are doing). Districts are not trusting teachers and students (you cannot have access to YouTube, teachers cannot download apps).

I can complain about the ways trust is not around me. Th truth is that I have to start with myself. Trust is hard to implement with my students and easy to demand from colleagues and supervisors. It is a function of power, I have power over my students, so it is easy to avoid trust. I have no power over colleagues and supervisors, so I ask for trust. But for trust to be real it has to go in all directions regardless of power. I see it as a process, not a destination. I have four ways I work on trust:

1. Create a community. Trust has to start with a community. When I get to know others (parents, students, colleagues), I establish the foundation for trust. It is hard for me to trust someone I do not know. It gets much easier when I know them when I know we share some goals and values. Of course, community and trust are linked in a reciprocal relationship. When a community grows so does, trust and when trust grows so does community. One way I create community in my classroom is by sharing things about myself and in turn learn about my students. I bring food when I feel we are ready for it, breaking bread does wonders to create a community, to humanize.

2. Build trust in my classroom first. I think that building community and trust must start with our immediate community- our classroom. It is the best next step because our classroom is the place we get to shape as we wish. It also is a great place to start because it is the easiest place to disregard trust. Trust is hard, and we need to challenge ourselves to trust before we ask parents, colleagues, and administrators to trust us. Creating trust in the classroom reminds me, sometimes daily, how hard it is to think positively and give the benefit of the doubt. One way I practice trust is to avoid looking through the viewership statistics my LMS collect about student behavior online. I choose to trust that my students use the materials. I know they do not all do it- but I have learned that nothing good comes from using the data for accountability. It creates a big brother community where students feel I am spying on them. I believe it would create a climate of fear and compliance. I do not mean that I am gullible and refuse to look at the facts. Instead, I find that open and honest discussion that uphold community values (e.g. learning, honesty) lead to better outcomes and to students who will strive to build their classrooms as communities of trust.

3. Foster trust. I work to prove that I can be trusted. I start with treating my students treated the way I would like to be treated. When I work with colleagues, I do my best to meet my obligations.The difficulty in enacting trust in my classroom adds to my understanding of they ways others find it hard to trust me. I know what colleagues and administrators feel like because it is the same way I feel toward my students. For me, in the university setting it rose when I was asked technical questions about the dissertation process. My response was: "we trust the committee to guide students. As a result, we do not want to create regulation and rules that replace trust".

4. Use the language of trust. I believe that we have to be explicit about it because we seem to have lost so much trust. Trust is a powerful word- in any context- use it and other words that convey your meaning. "I trust that..." I find that my students respond very positively to it, and so do my colleagues. I use is as an everyday language, not in a way that emphasizes it. Often when I emphasize it, e.g. I trust that you all did the reading today, it may have the opposite impact and be percieved as sarcasm. Talking about trust has a way to remind ourselves and others what are the costs of giving up trust.

I believe that our schools can only succeed when we trust each other: students, families, colleagues, administrators, and community members.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Reading on Devices- Three Rules

 Monday morning, I was making breakfast when my son asked: "Dad can I read?". "Sure?" I answered quizzically. "No, I mean on the iPad." Here, I have to explain that my kids are not allowed to use digital devices before school. Sarah and I learned this lesson the hard way a long time ago. I agreed that he could read on the iPad as long as he kept to the text. I continued making breakfast just looking at my boys both read on the iPad.

I turned to Oren (11) and asked, "would you rather read on the iPad or paper?"
"iPad," he said without much thought.
"Why?"
"It's an iPad," He said, and the inflection of his voice was implying that I of all people should get it.
"Are there other reasons?"
"Well, I can read like this." He pointed to the fact that his screen was white text on black background. "I like that the iPad remembers where I am." "I also like that I can get books immediately" He was using Overdrive to borrow from the school AND public library to read his favorite books. "I also like the way you swipe to turn pages, and that you can read in the dark." His voice indicated that this conversation was over.

I decided to explore further and turned to Itai (9) who was also reading on his iPad. "What do you like about reading on the iPad?"
"I like that I can get samples of books because they are pretty long. I also like that I do not have to go to the library every time I want a book because I am busy, and I cannot drive there myself." All true. He has been very frustrated since he reads quickly and we seldom get to the library more than once a week. Finally I asked, almost as an afterthought, "If you had the same book in paper or on the iPad, which would you choose?" "Paper," He answered just as quickly as his brother said "iPad." "Why?" "I like the feel of paper and the way the pages turn."

These responses seem to mirror what we see in the publishing and educational fields. For a while, the reigning opinion implied that the (paper) book is going to disappear. Now, we are not so sure as Amazon is opening a brick and mortar store. Kids and adults are reading in both modes. They appreciate the comfort and ease of digital but at the same time appreciate the feel of paper.

That led me to think about reading choices and the three rules for the classroom:

1. Have both modes of reading available. We are not done with school and classroom libraries. Instead, we need to make sure we have both formats available.

2. Capitalize on the strength of each mode. Digital provides access to large selections with no wait time. Paper frees us from the need to have power and wi-fi. The joy of walking through a full library or a bookstore are still worth experiencing.

3. Make sure all students are exposed to both modes of reading and discuss the advantages of each mode.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Why is Teaching New Literacies Important

The NAEP results came out this week. They did no show much improvement in closing the gaps. In fact, there is now growing public discussion about the ways high stakes assessments may be preventing us from minding the gap by focusing all of our attention on the artifacts of assessments that are increasingly drifting away from real world application.

As part of the discussion Don Leu the director of the New Literacies Research Lab reminded us that the gap is much bigger for new literacies (as measured by the ORCA). The impact of such gap- the new digital divide is the key reason to use technology and teach students to use it effectively. What Leu's research shows is that some students get a lot of support for these kinds of activities at home and some schools. At the same time, other students from lower SES and minority status are getting much less opportunity to develop skills such as searching effectively, sorting and synthesizing.

As a result, teaching students about technology and literacy in digital environments should be part of the core skills that all students learn. Technology is not just a tool to achieve learning in other domain. Instead, if we truly want a more level playing field all students must learn to use web-based tools for learning.

This is a moral imperative!


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Two out of Three Dentists Still Use Hand Cranked Drills...



Can you imagine this headline? Who would go to a dentist that claimed that it has worked in the past, so there is no need to change?

Two out of three of my students out student teaching or in practicum, report something along this line (actual text) "So far in this semester, I really have not seen a lot of technology used in the classroom."

The fact that in 2015 this is still a norm in many schools reminds me how big a task we still have.

Digital technology is part of our everyday lives. It should be part of the learning as well. Even if your students do not have 1:1 devices all schools have access to mobile devices of some kind that can be brought into the classroom or a lab you can go to.

If you or a colleague are still not quite there, I have a few suggestions.

Here are my top three ideas for supports you can find at your school:

1. Talk to knowledgeable peers. Most teachers who integrate technology already love sharing what they are doing and helping along. Find them and use their energy.

2. Get a preservice teacher. They are likely to take courses in tech integration so they can bring ideas and another set of hands when trying new ideas is always good.

3. Get professional development. EdCamps, Workshops, conferences and excellent grad courses are all places to learn with others about the possibilities. Short PD can motivate, but only long-term support will truly help you get going and keep moving.

Three things to do immediately:

1. Find out what resources you and your students have.

2. If you have only a few devices use them as part of stations or rotation. Do not use them as a reward! All students need to learn about and through technology.

3. Use technology for short bursts of formative assessments using Kahoots, Socrative, Google forms, or Plickers. Short activities with some planning would get both you and kids going without imposing too much on your instructional time.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

How to Talk to Parents about Tech?

Tech EDGE Parent Meeting in China Jan 2015
When we started using iPads in the Reading Center, we added a session about technology to our orientation evening. As the room filled with parents, I was sensing apprehension. It was the early days of iPads, and I was not sure how parents will react. I briefly explained why and how we were using the iPads with striving readers and writers. One father rose up to express concern. "I am not sending my daughter here to play video games; I am sending her here so she can become a better reader." He continued to explain that he thought his daughter needed something more traditional at this time.
Digital Literacy with Parents Lincoln NE 2015
Not surprisingly we hear similar concerns wherever we work with parents. As a parent to four boys, I understand the instinct to protect your children. When I visited with parents in China, we heard the same concerns. I believe that it is important to listen to parent concerns and help them weigh the benefits and risks using a concrete understanding of what we as teachers do to protect students and teach them.
Parent concerns are usually:

1. "My child is not safe online." Parents are afraid that their children will not be safe online. They are concerned with inappropriate material (photos, text, video), cyberbullying, and predators. These concerns are fed by media reports about the dangers of the internet. Most of these events are extremely rare, but we need to address parental concerns respectfully and honestly.

2. "I don't want my kids information out there." Parents are often concerned with student products, pictures, and information that is shared online. Some do not like the idea of different organizations and companies collecting information about their children. There is also the fear that information shared now can be used later to harm their children.

3. "They have enough video games at home; school is for learning." Parents often view technology as a medium for games that have minimal educational value. They often see it as a way for the teacher to avoid work. The real work of school involves seriousness and effort working on paper. This belief stems from their own school experiences as well as their experience with their children during leisure time.

4. "It is not good for them; they sit too long as it is." Years of research and public discourse on screen-time, obesity, and in some places eyesight have made parents wary of and even guilty about device use. They view digital time as too sedentary and taxing and are concerned (justly) that if their children are constantly on devices they are not moving and socializing enough.

There are a few ways to help parents think about their concerns and understand what we do to protect all of our students. Meet with parents early on to have this conversation and provide the information in a few ways. The best is still face to face meetings.

1. Explain all regulations and protections your district has in place. Most districts have a set of rules about the use of technology in place, make them known.

2. Share your Digital citizenship curriculum and highlight the importance of learning to stay safe and healthy in a world that is increasingly becoming digital. The focus on responsibility and good decision making are what parents want for their kids.

3. Talk about the benefits of using technology. It is easier to consider risks if there is a clear upside. I find that parents are always more willing to have the conversation when they realize that there are excellent learning opportunities for their children in and out of school. It is great to show parents some fantastic tools and student products.

4. Provide opportunities for parents to learn about ways they can use devices with their children to benefit learning. Opportunities can be in meetings but also through monthly app recommendations sharing websites (e.g. Commonsense Media).

Monday, October 5, 2015

Four Ways to Start Integrating Technology in your Class Tomorrow


(Almost) Thirty years ago I jumped out of an airplane. It was after about a week of practice, and I knew I wasn't ready. Our guide disagreed, "you will never be ready until you have done it". I found her logic faulty but got on the airplane. When the doors opened, I was sure I was not ready. I advanced with the rest and one by one we all jumped/ were pushed out. Six years later I was driving our car to the hospital with my wife who was experiencing contractions. "I am not sure I am ready" I tried to say. She just looked at me glaringly.

We all have to start somewhere. We all have to take a leap. Like parachuting, it is often scary and full of unknowns, but it is also exciting and exhilarating. In technology integration, it is also like labor, we cannot undo the way technology has permeated our lives.

As educators, we must all take the plunge so here are three practical ways to start:

1. Plan a short formative assessment with technology. Build a quiz, group race, or a Q & A with technology. I prefer Socrative because it allows open-ended questions and works across platforms. Start with two warm-up questions that are easy to make sure everyone understands the technology and then have about 6 -8 harder questions. You can also use websites like Quizizz or Kahoot- the advantage is the high number of shared assessments that you can search. Even if your students do not have devices, you can use a system like Plickers to get a similar result. Formative digital assessment is a short but useful jump into tech that engages students and produces quick results.

2. Have students introduce themselves or a topic using a simple presentation. You can use HaikuDeck Google slides, or even a single pic found online. Keep it short and simple 1-3 slides for each group or student.

3. Assign a digital product replacing a written one. The idea is not to add to the workload, vary it and allow students to use a tool and another way to express themselves. The key is to enhance productivity.

The idea is to add engagement without adding too much to our workload. We have to jump sometime, or someone will push us. Just start doing something.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Four Reasons to Create a Low Stakes Classroom

© Copyright wfmillar
Toward the end of class on Tuesday, one of my students asked: "we have only one grade on the grade book, is that right?". I stopped for a second, my co-teacher and I have provided individual feedback on assignments to every student and had many other meaningful opportunities to interact and respond informally. At the same time, I had to respond "yes, only one grade." She continued: "I know that you do not care about grades, but we do!"

She is right of course. After so many years of conditioning and signaling through grades, it is unfair of me to expect they will be able to accept this approach. Even more so when they have high stakes in the form of a GPA (for grad school, job search), scholarships and more.

That same evening Justin Olmanson brought up the same feature in a Q & A we both participated in. I have also seen it in many of the classrooms using Minecraft as part of instruction. It seems like we have a much easier time letting go of stakes in informal making tasks (art, shop, Minecraft) than in traditional school ones. So, I wanted to take the opportunity and clarify why I try to create a low-stakes classroom:

1. Honest dialogue. When I ask my students to teach and report about their experiences, I want them to be honest, open, and reflective. Honest dialogue is hard to do in a high-stakes environment. If a successful lesson is a high-stakes yardstick, I am pretty sure that each student would try and spin their lesson in the best possible light (maybe even bend the truth). All their efforts would be to protect themselves instead of reflect on what they learned. In a sense, they would be learning about self-preservation instead of personal growth.

2. Creating cycles of self-improvement. Feedback in a low-stakes environment allows my student to revise and improve their learning products no matter how good they are. High stakes grading shift foci from growth to outside criteria.  A great example is high achieving students who often get very high grades. Once the grades are in they see no reason to go on and improve their performance.

3. Improving performance. There is quite a bit of experimental work showing that high-stakes reduce performance in high cognitive load tasks. At the early stages of their career, my students need to focus on process and procedure as a way to get better.

4. Creativity. Creativity and expertise are closely related. I believe that when expertise level is relatively low, as is the case with students, creativity can happen when the stakes are low as well. In a low-stakes environment failed experiments are acceptable as steps towards expertise and the thrill of creating something new.

Lowering stakes does not mean lowering standards. It means that we allow learners to participate and find their way to reaching and surpassing the standards.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

What the New York Times missed about the teacher sharing economy

A story by Natasha Singer in the New York Times on Sept. 5th focused on the Teachers pay Teachers website. It is not surprising that a business reporter for the NYT would concentrate on a company making money off of sharing. A careful read shows that only a tiny fraction of the teachers on the site make a meaningful amount of money.

In this blog post by David Cutler discusses a concern that I share. What does the site say about teachers who share their work for cash instead of mentoring the next generation of teachers? What does it say about teachers who complain about one size fits all curricula and then turn around and buy lesson plans from someone that does not know anything about their students?

I would like to make a different point, though, the discussion of the sharing economy ignores the much wider phenomena of teachers sharing the products of their work WITHOUT charging anyone. Online platforms allow teachers to share in ways that were not possible before high bandwidth internet connection. For example the web-based quiz platform Kahoot! has over 3.3 million quizzes shared for no cost. Going even further, most of the quizzes on the site have a Creative Commons license that allow other teachers to change them to fit their needs and keep sharing the new results.

The US alone has over 3.5 million k12 teachers. If each one of them posted a few of their best lessons, we could have an incredible repository of lessons for every topic and grade level. Sharing could work even if we chose on the top 10% of teachers. We can monetize the creativity of teachers in a different way by sharing without charging. Sharing can lead to the creation of Open Educational Resources that would allow schools and whole states save on curriculum and use the savings to expand professional development and the reach of technology.

Another radical idea: instead of praising teachers for selling shiny apples from carts to supplement their income, maybe just maybe, we need to pay them well.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Three ways to keep innovative teachers in the classroom

My last post garnered great reactions from many corners. Some pointed out that innovative teachers
are rare while others discussed ways to keep these teachers engaged. These two reactions are not in any way contradictory. We have few, or too few, and we need to make sure they stay in classrooms long enough to have a real impact on their students, colleagues, and school.

While I have no direct research on innovative teachers (would love for one of my students present or future to pick that up!), I am using some of my own experiences, as well as the work on motivation and rationality.

1. Let them innovate. Create a space that teachers who seek to try new ideas can innovate without looking over their shoulders. One such example is the classroom structure one fourth grade teacher created in Bellevue NE. It has to be ok for some classrooms to look and be different as long as learning happens and they meet standards.

2. Challenge teachers. Innovative teachers need to be challenged. They need feedback and honest conversation about what they accomplished. Yes, we need to celebrate their creativity, but we also have to provide tough questions and room to discuss their concerns. Sometimes we celebrate our innovative teachers and miss the fact that they may be less sure of what they are doing than they let on. Moreover, innovative teachers sometimes rush from one innovation to the next without firm results. They need the challenge to do better to think about evidence for learning this challenge will keep them going and improving on existing practice. The challenge needs to be in the format of a low-stakes critical friend group.

3. Let them learn. Innovative teachers seek out professional development. Support their efforts to get the right PD by making sure they have control over their PLN. It can be more formal such as graduate degrees, and conferences or less formal in EdCamps, and Twitter.

If we want to keep innovative teachers in the classroom for a while longer (they will not and should not stay forever) we need to act and provide them space, feedback, and opportunity.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The two emotions that matter when we ask educators to integrate technology

In a recent TechEDGE meeting with teacher educators, we asked everyone to rate their excitement and apprehension about technology integration.

Wherever we go to talk about technology integration, new literacies, and 21st-century learning (overlapping ideas to be sure) we find two emotions: excitement about possibilities and apprehension about being able to keep up with it.

The first finding from all of our encounters is that all educators agree that digital technologies are becoming part of education. It is a process that will not stop nor reverse.

As for the teacher educators that joined us this August? Only 10% were indifferent. The rest 90% were split evenly between the Gung Ho group that was rearing to fearlessly charge ahead, and the more cautious Careful Enthusiasm group that were excited but also concerned.

I like the Careful Enthusiasts, with some encouragement and support they can use technology in ways that can enhance instruction immediately. These are discerning consumers of educational technology that ask hard questions of us the Gung Ho crowd making us think about what we are doing and justifying some of our decisions.

I also wonder if teachers at the edge of the Gung Ho group, the most fearless and excited are those we lose out to industry and new ventures. If so, how can we keep them in the profession innovating inside schools?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The three things I tell my sons every morning before school

It is a new school year, and my four boys are back to formal learning. Two are in college and do not need a drop-off. But most mornings I drop off Oren (11) to Middle school and Itai (9) to elementary. I try every morning to send a message and say:
Be brilliant, work hard and be a good friend.

1. Be brilliant- for me is about daring to think and create, daring to share original thoughts. I want to encourage my boys to go beyond the minimum, beyond compliance, so school becomes a place of intellectual engagement and original thinking.

2. Work hard- an effort is crucial and regardless of the subject matter we all hit frustrations. The reminder to work hard is to remind my boys that hard work is critical. It is easy to rely on "smart" and things you can do easily and then get discouraged when things are not this easy.

3. Be a good friend- friendship and social interaction are some of the most important things you learn in school. Many of these become lifelong relationships and a pattern for later relationships. Being supportive and yes, nice is critical. Being a good friend is more than having friends it is about the way you interact with everyone around you.

I don't know if my kids hear me or understand what I am saying. I am hopeful though.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Starting a new year

My students showed up to class. 
Smiling, 
energetic, 
purposeful. 
Most with bags full of stuff. Less than third had devices (other than phones) out. Ready to learn, even this generation is not digital first, most are composing on paper first. I wonder if this is a permanent difference or whether with devices early in schooling? Is it going to disappear, like cursive or shorthand? I am digital first but is there a way to enable both technologies in our classrooms? Is it wise?

A few days later they are here with devices creating, sharing and using a fantastic array of apps. They are still taking notes on paper. The variety of media is empowering. A new semester is off to a good start.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tech Transition Moments

I was traveling internationally recently. Before my flight, I was prompted to check in early online, only to find out that I needed to go through the same thing at the airport and get paper boarding cards! Finally on the plane, as we approached landing in the US we were all handed a US customs form to fill out. I filled it out as I have done many times before wondering when we will switch to a digital form. After we had landed I found my answer. Customs have already switched to digital and at the airport we used a scan of our passports to recreate the form through a digital station (we still got a paper receipt). The transition is happening all around us but at least right now it is creating duplication with paper and digital causing redundancy. It could very well be that agencies are afraid to pull the plug on paper just to find some critical flaw as did Health.gov and other digital enterprises.

Something similar happened in my son's sixth-grade orientation. Our school district is moving into 1:1 with Chromebooks starting in sixth grade. After explaining all of Chromebooks and the useful things they can do, the teachers shifted to talking about the paper planner and how crucial it was to keep it updated. Sarah, my wife, took one look at my expression and signaled me to hush. And so I did. But the thought of using a paper planner when all students have access to a digital one that is far superior seemed like an awkward transition. I figure that this transition is going to take awhile and will depend on the way teachers are using technology. My guess is when teachers use a digital calendar they will see the utility for students considerably faster. I am also aware that I am doing this from my bias as a user that is thoroughly digital; perhaps I am biased. The two questions are: 1. will students be able to use a digital calendar effectively to assist learning? And 2. Which format will be a step in developing their workplace skills? Said another way what will be the workplace expectation when they graduate college about a decade from now?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Minecraft, Art, and ADHD

I was recently asked about my experience with students with ADHD. I am always careful talking about disorders. Most of the time such discussions are framed generally but the person asking has a real person in mind, an individual I have not personally met. I find myself asking more questions than providing answers keenly aware of the great variations that are typical in attention-disorders.

As a teacher, researcher, and later as an academic I have worked with students with disabilities and attention disorders for about twenty years. In fact in many ways I myself function often in ways that are similar to those with ADHD- patterns that I seem to have picked up from my students.

When I answer questions about attention disorders we invariably end up discussing the intersection of my two worlds of expertise: education and  technology. Sometimes instead of technology it is art. It almost always goes like this. I am not sure s/he has an attention disorder because when s/he are creating art or interacting with a device, they are entirely focused for extended periods of time. With that focus, they are able to handle frustrations a bit better and persist in their chosen task.

It is not, of course, a sign that the attention deficit (with or without hyperactivity) is gone. Instead, it is the nature of the task itself. Playing Minecraft or drawing supply a rich set of feedback cues that keep attention. Trying to create while regulating the result and making the small adjustments needed to improve seems to draw those with attention problems in and flood them with enough overlapping input that satisfies the need for stimulation. It may very well be that the rich activity helps block irrelevant information that student with attention problems find hard to block when their senses are just marginally engaged (for example during lecture).

If that is true, what is our next step? Gamification may offer part of the answer, art the other. Can we engage all learners and especially those with attention problems with rich, focused overlapping inputs? I believe that rich applications like Minecraft can do it, so can pottery or playing an instrument. These environments have to be carefully thought out, though. For example teaching geometry through painting is the wrong approach because we are trying to achieve a secondary goal through a primary activity. The power of the activity is the overlapping foci. As we disperse the focus, the impact will be significantly reduced.

For such experiences to be effective we need to design immersive experiences carefully, so the focus remains, and we achieve the goals we set for ourselves.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Two ways we can use wearable in ed and 3 reasons we are far from 1:1

In recent months, I have noticed an upsurge in posts and conference sessions about wearables in the classroom. This trend follows a similar one a few years ago following the release of Google Glass. I love new technologies and try to champion their contribution to learning, BUT I do think that we are still far from being able to use wearables in the classroom effectively. I see three major points:

1. Cost. Most (if not all) wearables are still dependent on a primary device to connect them to the internet. As a result, the cost for a wearable combines the cost for a primary device (usually a smart phone) and the cost for the wearable. Since wearable costs are similar to the primary device, this essentially doubles the cost for the consumer or school system. Some school districts that I work with are starting to think about a two devices per student approach. In that scenario, most are discussing a laptop and a mobile device. A third device would be a luxury that is still far from what we can do now.

2. Real estate and attention. Screen real estate is critical in education. The capacity to show large images and text is paramount in reducing cognitive load and increasing student focus. Having a small distracting device will not add to learning.

3. Privacy. Most school-related devices are bigger and require a decision to carry them around with you at all times. Wearables, on the other hand, are designed to be on (the person) at all times. When they belong to the school, it raises serious questions about privacy.

Despite that I can see two main uses for wearables in the classroom that could make a difference.

1. As a teacher device. Teachers can use a small wearable (perhaps most notably a Google Glass type device). To manage their classroom on the go and access information during teaching, workshops and meetings. It is a stretch, would require some specialized software and would have very limited impact on education (it is a teaching not learning device).

2. Special education. A watch type device can be significant in helping students in special education learn to monitor themselves nd provide timely feedback and measurement without the need for constant supervision from teachers. This ould increase learning for special education students and reduce the load on teachers.

I think wearables are still a long way from being 1:1, but I can see targeted use coming in the next few years.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Tim Gunn, Premiere League, Grammarly, and Metacognition

Photo from www.lukeford.net
[CC BY-SA 2.5]
via Wikimedia Commons
1. As part of my summer reading, I have been reading Tim Gunn's book The Natty Professor. I have been introduced to Tim Gunn by watching Project Runway, a favorite of my significant other. In one section of the book, Gunn describes listening in on museum visits. He reflects on open-ended questions and being purposeful about presenting ideas and artists. He is essentially calling on teachers to make conscious choices about invoking ideas and creating authentic learning events that focus on things that matter not esoterics like shapes in the picture or dates in history (I am not saying they are not important I am just saying they are not the key ideas).

2. In a recent blog post by Mr Parkinson (in the UK), he suggests bringing the Premiere League into the classroom as a way of creating fun and different learning events. In the short post, he describes how teachers can create a fantasy league in a way that provides learning opportunities in reading and math. It is a way to discuss budgeting, making economic choices, and discussing statistics.

3. Grammarly is my new favorite tool for writing. Since I do a lot of writing a tool that helps correct the small and larger errors is welcome. I have found Grammarly to be incredibly useful (though not perfect) as I write. There are critical voices out there about Grammarly e.g. this post but the my point here is not really about the tool. I fell in love with Grammarly, not because it is an excellent tool to correct your writing (it does help). I fell in love because it gives clear explanations of why it marks what it presumes is less than optimal writing, allowing me to make decisions about what I want to change and what I do not. Further, over time it decreases my errors since I have learned the reasoning behind the correction and avoid common errors.
See more about Grammarly here.

All of these disparate thoughts connect to one central point. The value of using authentic learning experiences is in the kind of metacognition it can produce. Going to the museum is great, but the real benefit comes from the explicit thinking about process and observation that is scaffolded by a knowledgeable and capable teacher. Bringing a sports fantasy league (or a mock stock portfolio) into your classroom can be fun. Again, the real value comes from discussing the decisions people make and the learning from real world results. Without the metacognitive discussion, it becomes a competition for points where learners may be winning but still missing the central point. It is the same using a tool like Grammarly; it pays dividends when you read the explanation and think through writing patterns.

The bottom line is that learning always benefits the learners much more when they understand the why and how of learning leading them to more general understanding and a growing capacity to direct and own their learning.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Value of Shared Experience

My sister has been visiting with her daughter (8). All three young kids start each morning on their iPads. My sister became frustrated with extended periods of side by side playing and watching. Finally, she suggested they watch a movie together instead. I agreed, and after thinking a few minutes asked: "how is watching a movie together better than individual iPad use?" My sister said nothing apparently thinking about my question.

Later that day she said: "I watched them as they watched the movie. They laugh together, chat about the movie and have fun together." In essence, she was pointing to shared experiences that can then be a basis for communication and reminiscing. This can happen with devices as well if kids play together in a shared digital space such as Minecraft.

Curiously, this coincided with a video I watched by Dan Ariely on Big Think. In the video, Dan discusses the fact that the vacation experience has three phases, anticipation, execution, and reminiscing. All phases have emotions attached and a very different "half life". I would argue the same can be said for learning experiences (and vacations, at least good ones, are learning experiences). We create anticipation, a learning event and then opportunities for recall. We hope that the reminiscing phase is long and carries with it relevant lessons.

The shared experience becomes important across all phases. First, it heightens the anticipation. We have all seen learners getting each other excited about a coming learning experience. During the event, learners share key moments with oral comments, back channel comments, or even non-verbal comments (e.g. laughter). Finally, and maybe most importantly, learners can remind each other of the shared experience. In this way, they keep enhancing the memory trace and increase the half life of the learning event.

I would argue that the value of shared experiences is linked to the uniqueness of the learning experience itself. If students are busy practicing and gaining fluency (essentially performing at the lower range of their Zone of Proximal Development) then shared experiences are much less important and might actually get in the way. When creating we also seem to need some time without interaction with others to let our ideas grow. But, when we use meaningful and challenging learning events the value of the shared experiences increases.

Individualizing instruction to fit student personal needs must be balanced with shared learning experiences!




Saturday, August 1, 2015

The 8 Apps I use in Teaching Now

I often talk about apps (not just iOS) and at any time point I have over 400 of them on my devices. This time, however, I would like to talk about the apps thatI use when I teach.

Like everyone else teaching with technology I have a set of go to apps, the ones I trust and rely on. I also try out a few new ones every semester but only a few are added to the repertoire.

1. Google drive/ docs. I use Google for almost all student papers. It allows for easy peer and instructor feedback, resubmission and tracking. A bonus is that it maintains ownership on the work.

2. LMS Blackboard. I think that every instructir needs a source platform usually called Learning Management System. Not everything happens on it but it serves as the point of origin and repository of links dics etc. Mine is Blackboard as an institutional not a personal decision.

3. Socrative. I have tried other formative assessments apps (e.g. kahoot quizizz) but I always come back to Socrative. It is the most flexible, simple, abd device agnostic option. I use it for quizzes, back channel, polls, and exit tickets.

4. Padlet. This collaborative space for creating and sharing is a staple for group work. At times I use it as a backchannel.

5. iMovie. I create movies on the go for online and face to face classes. I usually edit very little and I find that iMovie is perfect for this kind of work.

6. YouTube. I use many movies in teaching. Almost all of them consumed outside of class time. I share my own movies (see 5) as well as those created by ithers and shared through Edutopia and other top sites.

7. Twitter. I actually do not use it enough. I use it mainly as prrofessional development and to find resources for teaching.

8. Presentation- I have almost completely stopped using power point and their clones in class. I have old ones that I provide my students for structure but use
very infrequently in class. I am agnostic and I use google slides, powerpoint, keynote and prezi almost interchangeably.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

My/Your Digital Generation

Summer, we are at the pool, relaxing. My son Asaf (19) looks around the pool eyeing many of adults on their smartphones. Not only adults but many. And yes, it did include me.

He says, "everybody complains about my generation, the way we focus on all things digital. Your generation is worse."

"You adapted every new technology quickly and thoroughly. You are the ones that afforded the first iPhones, tablets, and every little thing that comes out. You are the real YouTube generation because you had a choice, and you chose this!"

I love it when my kids have insights like this. And yes for a long time I have felt this way as well. I hear many adults calling for less use of technology in schools and at home. They reject the role technology can play at school feeling that it is just games, fun and not serious enough. They are afraid that our children will not move, not be creative. I admit that as adults, we have the obligation to protect our children even from the things we are doing/ have done. But at the same time we must remember that personal example is very influential. And so for me two questions remain as we educate the next generation:

1. If we lead by example, then we lead by showing appropriate and balanced uses of devices not lack of use. We must first look at ourselves and our practices. Do they mirror what we want our kids to learn or are we around the pool checking our smartphones?

2. We must ask ourselves what we are protecting our children/ students from? The old data about screen time is out of sync with digital realities and in many ways we still don't know much about the impact of new practices. Some like the American Academy of Pediatrics publishes concerns and limitations. They take the defensive approach if we don't know, let's not do it. This method works well for medicine, not so much for everyday well-being. The two questions that must follow are: what will kids be doing with this time? And what will they be missing if they do not have digital lives? Will they be ready to be citizens of the 21st century?

3. We must ask ourselves if when making an argument about screentime at school we are in fact making a class based argument. It may be that we are saying: "My middle class, son of a professional, student is getting enough digital exoerience and guideline at home therefore he and all other students do not need to spend time on it in school.

My son Asaf looked at me and added: "Yes, it's your generation, but it is especially you." I smiled: "I am ok with that." Later that evening, he was using three screens: A Netflix movie on the TV, a video game on his laptop, and the BBC news on his phone.

I wonder what his kids will do.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Are we herding cats or a climbing team?

I have been thinking this summer about the work we do together with teachers, wondering what metaphor we can adequately use to describe it.

Recently, I have written about the boot camp metaphor. Another metaphor I have repeatedly heard through the years is one about herding cats usually accompanied by this video. I've always been uncomfortable with this metaphor. It essentially communicated a rivalry, one person the lone cowboy/cowgirl trying to herd a group of individualistic animals that do not want to go. The herding cats metaphor must go because it does not recognize the expertise and capacity of teachers. Instead of herding we should be leading, guiding and showing the way.

In searching for a metaphor, I reached mountain climbing teams. It is a metaphor that works for me to describe what we do as educators and what we do in TechEDGE. Just to be clear, I am not a mountain climbing fanatic. In fact, I am quite wary of heights. What I've read and watched led me to a perception of what mountain climbing might be, and it is this perception that guides this post.

When I work with teachers we go on a journey together. This journey is much like climbing mountains:

Goals: Each journey has a goal, a peak. But once a team reaches the peak there are many others that suddenly look possible.

Teams: Each team has its personality. We work together to define goals and divide the tasks. We get to know each other well, creating a friendship stemming from shared experiences. We support each other since we are all tethered. There are pitfalls and many moments we just want to get off the mountain. Only when we work together, supporting and motivating each other can we make it to the top.

Leadership: I serve as a guide, I know this and other mountains more than many so I can support the climb. I sometimes lead but many other times I just sit back and let others lead, gain confidence until some of them go ahead and lead their own expeditions.

Work ethic: Climb one mountain at a time. It is arduous at times, exhilarating at others. The important lesson is to reach the goal and look down on the path you took. It makes a lot more sense than mountain hopping, where each school year you start on a new mountain before you finished climbing the last one.

Emotions: Every mountain inspires fear and excitement. Those are not mutually exclusive but instead both useful. Excitement motivates while fear keeps us from attempting things we should not. At the same time, those two must be in balance. Too much fear and we never attempt the climb, too much excitement, and we all tumble down.


It is important to remember to document the path and the achievement. Most of all it is important to celebrate once we reach the top. Not because we are done, because we have accomplished something significant.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Time to Retool the IEP?

"No, you can't do that. The IEP says that they must be tested in small groups with a teacher." The teacher who said that looked at me in frustration. "I know it would work but, the IEP is law."

Technology is changing the face of education. I am a big fan of the potential of learning in and through technology, but even those who are unhappy with the changes know that the only question left is when and how.

The hardest areas to change with the advent of technology are those that have been codified in law and as a result, generate a stream of templates directives and paperwork. Prime among codified practices is the IEP (Individualized Education Plan). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates the IEP.

Assistive technology in many formats has always been part of the possibilities of working with students with disabilities, allowing them to be part of the mainstream classroom. The guiding principle is that of the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).

The topic of LRE came up last week as we worked with teachers. As teachers explored the apps, that integrate into Chromebooks and iPads. Teachers commented on text to speech, touch interface, and speech to text feature, saying that they can see how students can now be a much more integral part of the classroom. They pointed out three main features:

1. Once we deliver differentiated through devices, teachers can differentiate the curriculum in ways that are not readily visible to all students and in a way that allow all students to remain in the classroom and participate.

2. With voice and touch interfaces, there is much less need to pull students out of the classroom as part of any assessment. All you need is a headset and potentially a quiet corner.

3. Teachers can track the progress and engagement of all students while paying particular attention to students with disabilities.

All of this will be possible only if we start studying these approaches and accommodations and move to change the content of IEPs to reflect the new classroom realities.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Boot Camp as Metaphor

I have been working with secondary teachers this week. As we were discussing technology integration, some explained that they just came from boot camp. A Google boot camp! I nodded, and we continued but in the back of my mind I was thinking: "boot camp? Why is it boot camp?"

I find it fascinating that as we get further away from the military as a nation we adopt more militaristic language to describe everyday non-military activities. Boot camp is a foundational experience for anyone that has served. It is a formative period in the life a recruit (or volunteer) that through intensive interaction, extreme activity, and a lot of yelling, to socialize you to army life. It serves to create new bonds with peers and help separate civilian life from a new and challenging reality.

The term got co-opted by exercise routines. The first few mimicked actual boot camp practices (complete with boots) but then it drifted farther and farther. So now a few intensive days or even hours of technology training are called boot camp. Really? The part of me that went through boot camp 30 years ago is rebelling. But then an idea occurs to me.

What if we recreated a boot camp for teachers in the spirit of boot camp? Technology integration boot camp. Longer than a week, intensive and transformative. Say five weeks of full immersion. Not just about technology but creation, teaming, collaboration. The idea would be to transform teachers in fundamental ways, so their practice is inherently different. For this transformation to be successful, we need to continue support for the first year of implementation. Boot camp could be a way to induct new teachers (who would love a few more weeks of pay). I believe we have at leat a partial model in the writing project that creates this kind of a transformational space with teachers.

So, Boot Camp? Only if you mean it!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Lessons from Reddit: what it means for educators

Reddit is in the news again. I was introduced to reddit by Erez, my son, a few years back. I am not a frequent user, BUT I am extremely interested in the flow of reddit and the ways it behaves. Last week, the CEO of reddit Pao resigned after a power struggle with reddit users.  What caught my attention was the fact that even the leadership at reddit did not fully understand the power of the crowd. Reddit is a company founded to create communities and built value out of the willingness of many to create and participate with no monetary gain. This is a form of crowdsourcing, and what baffles me is that the leadership of reddit did not understand how crowdsourcing in a strong community gives the users at different levels immense power. The users can and did shut down most of the popular reddit pages in protest.

Even if you've never been on reddit (and you should) there are a few lessons here for educators.

The first lesson is for us as professionals. We should create online communities and use them to wrest control away from large businesses. If you are challenged by the big curriculum companies, band with other educators and create your own materials. At that point, the large companies will be less relevant. The new teacher union is not the NEA or other 20th century organizations with hierarchical leadership. They have their place, but the web has provided us with a new way to work, influence, and act. This can be where the next professional liberation comes from.

The second lesson is that the same structures that can empower us can empower others, including parents and even students. Learning about the way these structures work can be instrumental in forging new partnerships with parents and students and avoiding conflict.

Finally, we should remember that these structures are not inherently good or evil. They have the capacity to be both and we must help our students make moral decisions about the way they interact in such communities.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Better late than never- The joys of blogging

In May, I celebrated seven years of blogging. Blogging is probably the most serious writing
commitment I have ever had. This is a great opportunity for me to reflect on why I still blog.

Many better than me have explained the virtues of blogging, so here I want to talk about what I get out of blogging.

1. Blogging is putting my thinking into words. In a regular week, many thoughts zoom about in my head and between me and other educators. Blogging forces me to choose one idea and focus on it long enough to write about it. Long ago, Jean Detlefsen taught me that art is about making choices. Blogging is too. It forces me to commit to an idea at least long enough to compose about it.

Page views of guytrainin.blogspot.com
2. Blogging gives me an audience. I write up research in professional journals and present in conferences. Blogging, however, is probably giving the widest audience. Seeing that people are reading and interacting with their comments is a pleasure that I seldom get with journal articles. Readership is joy.

3. Blogging is sowing seeds for later writing. In some ways, I write for a living. Blogging creates seeds that allow me to play with ideas and language that makes more formal writing be much easier.

4. Blogging allows me to forget. Blogging about a topic allows me to "unload" the idea onto the web. Sometimes the value is in doing just that- unloading the idea so it stops interrupting everything else. In that way, I use it like David Allen does in Getting Things Done. It's just that for me its not about tasks and things to do it is about ideas.

5. Blogging allows me to be reflective about teaching and the changes I make as I teach. My teaching has transformed in recent years and blogging had much to do with helping it along.

Should everyone blog? Why I believe that the answer is yes.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The four things I wish tech innovators would do & discuss now

ISTE is now over, the keynotes done. The trumpets have quieted down. I have to be honest, I lately leave conferences with a sense of hunger, not for more but for something else. This sense got a direction when I met with Evi this week. So here are four things I would like to hear and see:

1. Educators who are staying with an innovation for a while. Too many of us are running from one innovation to the next permanent novices in a rush to get to the next big thing. From iPads to flipped classroom to Minecraft to coding to makers space. There is great value in repeating refining and becoming an expert.

2. Patience to train everyone, not just a select few. It is connected to the first section. If you stay with the same good innovation as a school/ district then you can get most teachers to join you. If, however, you keep moving the target it makes it hard for many of the teachers to join.

3. Research- innovation is nice but how do we measure its impact? If we really believe that technology can make a real and lasting difference we must insist that innovation comes with research and evaluation.

4. Race and inequality- many even most of the presentations and innovations ignore the social challenges we face as a nation every day. It is time, that race and inequality were a part of our discussion and action.

I believe that it is time for us to move beyond the excellent work done so far- up to the next level.

Friday, July 10, 2015

iOS, Cognition, and the Ghost of Steve Jobs

Despite my best efforts, Steve Jobs' ghost does not actually come and visit me. I never met Steve Jobs nor do I know what he would think. Instead, I am writing about the mythical Steve Jobs that occupies my mind and is loosely based on a guy that used to run Apple.

I am an Apple user, I love my MacPro, iPhone, and most of all my iPad. I also think that iPads are uniquely well-tailored devices for the classroom and talk about it weekly on my webcast iPads in the Classroom from TechEDGE. I love the iPad because it is designed with the human brain in mind. That is what makes it intuitive. In essence what iPads have done  is to reduce cognitive load, allowing the user to focus her attention exclusively on the task at hand. I believe that is the genius of the device and its interphase. I believe it is also the source of the limitations put on certain features including media multi-tasking. That is, some of the things that other devices can do are not really a failing in Apple's design, instead they are a result of a deep understanding of what people need (instead of what they think they need) to be effective users.

Now, however, in an effort to catch up" with Android Apple will be offering "real" multi-tasking on the iPad screen. I think this is a clear case of yielding to people's perception that they are excellent multi-taskers just like everyone believes they are above average drivers. There is mounting research showing that in general most humans are not good multi-taskers. We underestimate the number of times we actually shift attention and pay a hefty price in accuracy and efficiency when we do (e.g here). Until now the iPads would not allow multi-tasking on the same screen (apps can run in the background though). Now with the new features we can.

Adults can make their own decisions, but when we are concerned with using devices effectively in education the need for reducing cognitive load and increasing student focus is paramount. The new feature is an example of what people think they want but really shouldn't have. My mythical Steve Jobs would not let this happen.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Creativity, Coding, and the Adolescent Mind

Matt asked me this week what I thought about the Hour of Code. I answered honestly that I simply do not think it is enough. He continued to make the point that it was a good introduction, I think I made a face.

The bottom line is that introduction is not enough. My analogy is the arts. In the arts we take students to the museum, we believe that it is important, but it does not constitute a curriculum in the arts. If we look at the analogy of the arts even further it can get even more interesting. As I read some of Austin Kleon this week some of his points resonated with me. Young children will create art without reservation when you ask them or even on their own. Wait a few years, by middle school, they will refuse to create saying something like- "I am not an artist" or "I am not creative". This reaction is not a mistake, it is a natural consequence of creating self-concept in different areas. As students mature and acquire experiences they learn what they are good at and what they are less so. Social comparisons play a big role in this development. So by the time they are in middle school most children develop a sense of what they are good at.

The point here is that if we want students to become coders or artists they need rich experiences of mastery and growth in that domain. If they will have them at the elementary years they will have a much higher chance of having a positive self-concept for art and coding leading to a higher probability they will stay engaged.

Hour of code will not create self-concepts of students as artists nor coders, only making it part of school will!


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sleepless with my Chromebook

About two months ago I ordered a Chromebook. It was mostly because many schools around the nation are making this choice including the district my kids are attending. While I had a sense of what Chromebooks are, the personal experience is always best.

I have used the Chromebook multiple times but never extensively. This (very early) morning I needed to grade assignments online and I found myself with only the Chromebook. For the first time I sat at it for an extended amount of time doing my daily work.

It worked just fine. It was a tad slow at times (with heavier graphics) but nothing that was significant enough to consider waking my family to get my mac book pro. It's a very functional machine.

In my discussions with educators and administrators they often mention they like the fact that it is a no nonsense machine. You can do basic work on it, nothing fancy but it works, connects you to the web, lets you do stuff. Students they reason will view it as a learning machine, not a toy. The iPad, on the other hand, is viewed as a toy. We hear the same thing from parents and teachers in multiple countries. That is something I hear fairly often. There is work, then there is play, confusing the two create problems and students will stop learning. Basically, for students to learn we need to remove joy.

Do we really think kids are having too much joy in school that we need to remove it?
Do we really think play is not part of learning?
Do we think that the features that make tablets attractive (not just iPads) portability, creativity, and interface interfere with learning or maybe they actually help?
Do we really think that the dichotomy of work and play is still relevant? Is it in your life?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Why I love teaching in the summer

This post is an ode to summer teaching. As I do most summers I have a full summer load. Many of the people passing me in the corridors are only too happy to remind me that it is summer and a time to take a break especially given that most of us work on a 9-month contract.

I usually reply that I have two sons going to college next year and other acceptable financial comments. The truth, however, is more complicated. I like teaching in the summer. The intensive time spent with practicing teachers and budding researchers is probably the best professional development I get all year.

Most of the students in the summer are practicing teachers who have, for a change, time to reflect and think long-term. Most of what I teach this summer is linked to research methods and inquiry, as a result graduate students are bringing their own content and questions challenging my thinking and adding connections and ideas.

I read, teach, and prep most days- the result is that my brain feels on fire, in a good way.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Five Edu Lessons from China 6 months later

It's been six months since we came back from China. I have blogged about it right after we came back, but I thought it would be good to go back and see what lessons stuck.

1. Competition can be prominent in the public sector. All the schools we visited and many we are still in contact with have a strong competitive spirit. Despite the fact that they are public they compete for a name, local and national awareness and for results. While there are private school in China, the high-value Chinese families put on education makes schools compete for being known as the best to serve their students.

2. The drive for excellence is pushing schools to try out new approaches, technologies, and ideas. Our work started with school leaders admitting that they know things need to change, but they are less sure of how to balance the old and the new. With every change, they worry that it may impact immediate indicators even when it is clear that the change is useful for long-term success. In essence, this is the same problem school administrators face in the US.

3. Teachers are empowered by leading innovative learning ideas (with and without technology). The teachers we met with were young and motivated. The work with us gave them a direction and a sense of efficacy that allowed them to act and evolve as teachers.

4. Class size increases parental pressures. Large classrooms make it close to impossible for teachers to attend to the needs of their struggling learners. As a result whenever a student is struggling parents are left to meet the extra needs.

5. Teacher Evaluation. In contrast with the US, Chinese school systems evaluate teachers based on classroom observations and not student outcomes. The fascinating thing is individual school achievement is extremely important, yet teachers are not evaluated based on it. I believe that the phenomenon has two sources (a) the understanding that individual achievement is rooted in motivation and home practices and (b) the understanding that current measurement systems are not valid enough for comparison across classrooms and schools.






Sunday, June 14, 2015

Four things we already know about PD (but need a reminder)

I just finished a week with a fantastic group of educators. Laurie Friedrich, Alison Preston and I ran our fourth iPads in the Classroom workshop. The name of the workshop is inadequate since we had users with all kinds of devices including windows machines, Macs, Chromebooks, smartphones and of course iPads.

The intensive one-week tech workshop is always fun although at the end of each we all experienced the sense of reaching capacity. It also reminds of what we know and often conveniently forget about effective professional development (PD):

1. We need significant time away from the everyday tasks to make significant changes. If you are tinkering with existing structures short workshops can be fine, but if you want a departure from normal you need to take time.

2. We need to work in teams. Shared cognition when learning something new is empowering, supportive and extends the boundaries of what can be accomplished. Even after facilitating numerous PD events (30 presentations and two classes last year) Laurie and I are still learning new things every time.

3. We all need time to practice. Showing isn't enough, everyone must participate in doing and experimenting during the PD. Showing and then sending teachers back is just not enough especially with new technologies that without support can become frustrating and with support are almost trivial.

4. We all need follow-up. That is our next step, making sure teachers have opportunities to discuss and extend what they already know.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Teacher websites are so 2010... and what to do about it

I am working with teachers this week on technology integration. I am seeing a real determination to find productive ways to integrate technology and subject matter (TPCK anyone?). Speaking yesterday during our summary I said "Websites are so 2010", as some are working on a website this may have come off wrong BUT I do stand behind my main point. Businesses have already realized it, teachers and schools are still trying to come to grips with it. Having a website is not enough. To be in contact with our students and families, we have to shift from static web pages to interacting  using social media, texting, and email to reach everyone. This way new content whether analog or digital can reach its target audience.

I can see the justified reaction: Teachers are asked to do more than ever and here is one more thing... and: We might get in trouble...

I believe that this are true concerns. On the other hand:
A good communication plan will make sure that parents and students have the most up to date information increasing the rate of homework completion, assessment success, participation in parent conferences and many more activities that require the collaboration of parents and families. Our hardest to reach families may become much more available and attentive if we use communication channels they use anyway. The potential benefits outweigh the risks and costs.

In short, I believe that the days of sending notes home on paper are numbered. For now we probably should still have them as a backup to ensure equity of access, but I am convinced that the rate of engagement would grow significantly with digital, especially, social channels. Districts (and teacher education programs) should help teachers by providing tools, training, and guidelines that would encourage contact while protecting all stakeholders.

P.S. Can we do away with paper planners for students?



Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Creativity Moments (a note)

Jeff Bernadt presented today and included a segment on creativity. Creativity is not just a message for us as teachers, it is also for our students as a conscious act. Tell them that it is part of our goal in the classroom.

The main message is that creativity can be in any domain and that it is a local concept.

How does all of this connect to technology? It doesn't have to, but my argument is that technology opens more doors and enables students to create even with lower skill levels.

I still maintain that creativity can emerge only when you have a deep understanding of a domain with lots and lots of practice. Technology can facilitate practice and learning that is guided by the learner that can use the web to increase their knowledge and apps for repeated practice.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Falling for Gadgets and Getting Up

Last week five graduate students and I traveled to Beatrice, NE to participate in the ESU5 Tech Fair.  It was a very successful day and we worked with many teachers in very short sessions. Nick Ziegler was a great host and the event went without a hitch (at least as far as I know).

At the end of the event, I was asked to draw the winners of the door prizes. Nick has arranged for an impressive set of prizes that included screens, printers, iPad, software licenses and more. I agreed to draw for all prizes except for the Interactive Whiteboard. This was the gadget that caught my eye and where I have put all of my door prize tickets.

Despite all of my efforts, I did not win. On the way back, I thought about the gadget and why I was focused on it? It is easy to fall for cool gadgets. You see them in actions or just imagine what you could do with them. It is like getting a present- that sense of getting something cool and starting it for the first time. Laurie calls it the Christmas morning effect. And seeing the gadget I can already anticipate how great I will feel when I open it.

Surrendering to my emotions I forgot to ask the most important question we need to ask about any technology in the classroom: Is it a teaching device or a learning device? In the case it was more a teaching device than a learning one. Now that gadget fever has subsided I also recall that most schools that I have worked with and adapted whiteboards were disillusioned within a year or so. It was simply not worth it and made very small if any gains in instruction. The change if any will come from well-used student devices that are scaffolded for teachers and students.


Saturday, May 30, 2015

It is about Play- Digital and otherwise

I think that most early childhood experts in the last few years have been both amazed and annoyed at the "discovery" of the importance of play to all humans but especially young ones. Play it turns out, is important, maybe paramount, in developing inquiring minds, creative minds that will be flexible enough to deal with the constantly shifting environment kids seem to be growing in. But then again, we've actually known that for a long time.

Since it is summer I have been watching my younger kids at play with friends in and out of the house in a constant movement and social realignment that seems to characterize semi-supervised activities in the summer.

As you can imagine our house has quite a few devices in it for digital creation and consumption. My kids (and their friends when they come) have access to three iPads, PlayStation, three TV's, a Wii, and a laptop computer. As I have shared in the past we do have some rules about digital use. While it is summer we still have strict start and end time, although during the day they have a lot more access to devices.

What I have observed is that kids who grew up digital are constantly shifting between digital and nondigital play activities. They start the morning watching video on YouTube and Netflix a passive waking up activity. As soon as others join in they go outside and play. Yesterday after two days of planning they created a Streetside Sandwiches stand at the corner- an enhanced lemonade stand that they put all on their own including making food items, pricing, choosing location and printing out the menu.

After 4 hours of restauranteurship and a very messy kitchen they all poured back into the house, settled on the couch and played a cooperative game of Minecraft, enhancing the elaborate world they have created together bit by bit over the last few weeks. So what is my point? Well, I have two of them.

First, kids growing up digital have porous boundaries to distinguish different kinds of play. They shift easily from one mode to the next and I do not think they consider one form privileged or more authentic than the other. I believe many adults hold the notion that the physical world is REAL and the digital one IMAGINARY. I believe that for our kids the digital world is just as real and just as imaginary as the analogue one. This is their reality.

Second, given (almost) free reign to choose digital and analogue activities kids move from one to the other based on interest, the participants and other factors. That is, with very little parental guidance they choose well and do not become digital "addicts" as we sometimes worry they might become.

So let's let them play, in and out of digital worlds.