Sunday, January 31, 2016

Culture Trumps Strategy ... so how to change Culture?

I've been attending +Educon at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia the past two days. This conference brings teachers from across North America who share a vision of what schools can be. I attended a talk entitled, " Culture Trumps Strategy, Every Time".

The easy part is recognizing schools need to change. The hard part is convincing people to give up familiar routines and practices. How do we enhance the positive elements of a school culture to encourage risk-taking?

Matt Frahm and Anneke Radin Snaith from Naples Central School Disctrict led a workshop on this challenging topic.

Their point is the world is dramatically changing. But what will school look like?
In other words, what will the world look like when our Kindergarteners graduate from college and will schools change to match it?

We can't be all things to all people. So be clear about what you stand for argues Matthew Frahm, Superintendent of Naples School District. How do you create clarity in order to avoid "random acts of improvement"?

As I write this, I sit in a roomful of 50+ teachers who embrace learning 2.0, or 21st century education. All want change; most feel frustrated. But the group can't really decide how to break through the barriers stopping change.

Some feel we need to impose it upon people. Others feel it needs to be community driven. What do you think? I simplify this debate. But ultimately, don't leaders need to lead? 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Fear of Change

The Luddites were early 19th-century English textile workers (or self-employed
weavers who feared the end of their trade) who protested against newly developed labor-economizing technologies by destroying the mills and factories that were displacing them.

These Luddites "protested" by destroying the machines and factories that disrupted a centuries-old craftsman tradition. These craftsmen had guilds, apprenticeships and a way of life that dated back to the high Middle Ages. What they labored at for years perfecting stopped mattering as soon as the factory was built. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for these Luddites.

Today, luddite is used to describe a person opposed to new technologyAs an ed tech specialist, I work with more than a few tech-Luddites. Folks are right to point out that important things honed over generations are at risk of being irrelevant and thus folks embrace them all the harder. I'm willing to concede that things that worked well will be lost.

I get more than a few emails from faculty that point out technology's flaws. It might be an article about how some Silicon Valley CEOs send their kids to tech free schools, or perhaps an article on how cursive penmanship wires our brains in a way more conducive to learning. There are thousands of such articles. (I wonder if the authors of such articles first write them out in in cursive. And I also can't help but noticing that they use technology (google+, email) to broadcast the message to a wide audience. Irony?)

But again, these folks actually have my sympathy. Some good things will be lost. What is crucial going forward is thinking about how technology can let us do things we never did before; not in a willy-nilly way, but in a thoughtful, serious way.

What is essential to hold on to? What is essential to add? Here's what ISTE feels what students should be able to do. It seems a good starting point.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Embedding Tech in a World Religion Project

Recently, I created a project that checked a lot of important boxes for me. I'd like to share it. But first, some context.

For starters, "digital natives" are a myth. I've heard it said that a person considers anything created after they are born to be technology. There is a certain truth to that. For kids, internet has been around longer than they've been alive. They consider its use natural.  I've also heard children born in this millennium are digital natives and that they intuitively know how to use technology. This is less true. Some kids love technology and they immerse themselves in it. These "super-users", however, are the exception. Most kids use tech more passively. I wanted to create an assignment that naturally incorporated technology into my school's traditional history curriculum. (I don't use "traditional" as a pejorative. I simply describe it as it is.)

Still in my first year as a technology integration specialist, I spend a good bit of time looking to see who is "doing" technology well. One school doing it well is +New Tech High School in Coppell, TX. Inspired by a science assignment from this school, I built a history assignment which required tech use to promote tech literacy. This was central to the assignment.

I also hoped to give students real choice (see my recent blog post). So I originally built the project to have 5 assignments with students choosing two of them. Within our department, we reduced the assignment to giving three choices and having students choose one.

This project serves as a culminating project for a months' long study of major world religions. It is not atypical for teens to dismiss religion. The teen years are a time when many question the beliefs with which they were raised. As we present these world religions, we present their religious texts, histories, and beliefs.  Yet, when religion is explained ONLY by its origins, beliefs, and customs one can simply view religion to be just that, a collection of goofy beliefs and strange practices. Beliefs and practices by themselves do not capture what millions and even billions of religious people get from their religion. Religion is a lived experience, an "inside job". This article helped shaped my thinking as I created this assignment.  I hoped the project would help students look within to see how religion and belief manifest themselves in their own lives. I also hoped that students would draw on some of the other belief systems they have been exposed to as they considered what they themselves believe.

Several years ago, PBS revived a series from the 1950's called This I Believe. Many began to post their own This I Believe podcasts to PBS' site. I thought this to be a great tool to foster the look within that I so wanted the students to do.

Finally, I wanted the audience for the project to be greater than just me. I had students update their blogs or build new and better ones (blogger, googlesites, and bulbapp) so that their projects could be posted in them. I will also encourage students to submit their podcasts to This I Believe.

Here is the assignment in its final iteration.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Tech Tip- Google Add-ons and Extensions

Extensions are Chrome browser based. Extensions are small programs that add useful functionality to the browser. I have too many. I can't even see all of them in my menu bar. (Note to self: delete the ones you thought would be cool but don't use.) But some I find quite essential and use them regularly. They make my teaching job easier and my classroom more dynamic.

My favorite is The QR Code Extension. By simply clicking on it, I make a qr code of the current page I am viewing. 

Other favorites I click often are an add on for flipboard, a tag cloud generator, and the save to google drive add on.

Explore the vast array of extensions As you can see, everyone seems to have their own list of favorites

Within the google apps for school, add ons are small programs that add functionality to my use sheets, docs and forms. I use grammar check add-ons for docs and add on I've found most useful is the sitemaestro add on in sheets. I used this today to send out personalized google sites to 62 students. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Student Choice

Learner Agency

One can wind me up and provoke me with a few prompts and I can go on for a long time. One such "rant" is about teaching responsibility. If we really wanted to teach responsibility wouldn't we sometimes give students choice if they need extra math practice or not? Instead of telling a student, "Answer 1-31 odd." Maybe we could say, "Try 3 or 4 problems, make sure to try harder ones and if you understand how to do it, stop." Which better teaches responsibility for learning? The first instruction or the second? How would you, my reader, prefer to be treated? Giving a student some choice promotes responsibility.

Let me tell you about Kevin, one of my advisees. He's an upperclassman. Kevin is so excited about school. He likes some of his classes; others do not excite him. He's intellectually very bright and does very well while putting forth only a middling effort. What excites him? Where does he put his effort and energy? In his clubs. Kevin does two moot courts, debate, model UN, and another half dozen clubs. Kevin spends hours upon hours a week preparing for club meetings and going to club meetings.

Why is he so excited about what "doesn't count"?  Competition excites him, yes. The ability to take a leadership role likely does as well. I'd argue that what really excites him is the fact that he chooses these clubs and that he has a real voice in determining what the group is going to do.

My school's teachers aren't authoritarian in style or personality. But the 19th century school model that we have inherited is. Students are asked to complete the same tasks in the same time frames and have very little say in what they will do next.

In this one size fits all approach, we threaten the students with poor grades and reward them with high grades to motivate them to do the work. Yet, Kevin works far less on his schoolwork on which he is graded than he does on his club work in which he is interested.

I taught for 22 years without giving grades. This is my 25th year teaching. I have to grade students this year because I teach High School. "It counts", I'm told.  (I'll spare you my grades rant.)  I can tell you with certainty that my 9th grade students who I grade work no harder than my 8th grade students who I didn't grade. Grades don't seem to be the tool to generate student's excitement. A professor of mine argued that students want to learn until they go to school and we start grading them!  hat tip +Russ Walsh .

One anecdote doesn't prove a point. But I've seen many Kevins in my years teaching. Here's one other story. My school started a STEM club about 6 years ago and the club leapt to national prominence. People asked one of the teachers who founded it, "Why not make it a class?" I remember my colleague's answer clearly, "That would kill it."

The system far too big to overthrow. Still, we can make significant changes within the system and it starts with giving students real choice. Give them choices in what they might wish to study in greater detail. Let them decide if they want to write a paper, take a test, or make some sort of project demonstrating learning. Gasp, let them choose some of the books they get to read.

Schools are schools and business is business. We never should conflate the two. I don't even like the terms "homework" or "schoolwork" because that mindset makes LEARNING tedious. Yet, giving students choice better prepares them for what businesses say they want. Here's a 2015 Bloomberg survey of the top companies in the country. It looks like what Kevin gets out of his clubs is at least as important as what he learns in his classes.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Getting Certified- Google Certification Level 1

My friends in my wilder youth sometimes told me I was crazy, yes downright certifiable! Now I have a badge to prove it!

I took and passed Google Level 1 Certification. The test comes in two parts. There are 20 multiple choice questions followed by 15 scenarios, each of which is broken down into 2-6 steps. I found the multiple choice questions tricky. For instance, one question asked what aesthetic additions could one make to google slides and asked the test taker to check two of the five possible answers. If I recall, my choices were:

  1. insert a google form
  2. insert a youtube video
  3. change transitions
  4. add sound effects
  5. change the background colors.
One would think the first two answers are the obvious ways to spice up a presentation. However, I was hung up on the word "aesthetic" and changed my answers several times. Is YouTube an aesthetic choice? Why such wording? Google only tells you if you passed the test, so I still don't know if I got the answer right or not. This happened to me a couple of times in the 20 question multiple choice segment.

I really like the scenarios. They test if you can use the tools. The questions aren't about the tools, one simply has to show mastery in using GAFE (Google Apps for Education) and show how a teacher would use it to enrich teaching.

Of course, it got me thinking about the tests we ask kids to take. Do we ask them to remember facts or do we ask them to demonstrate skills? As a test taker, I certainly appreciated being asked to show what I can do instead of trying to parse the meaning of multiple choice questions.

In case you're interested in going for the certification, here's a few more things you need to know:
  1. It may take a day between registering for the test and having the test arrive (via an email prompt)
  2. It costs $10
  3. Upon receiving the test, you'll have a week to actually take the test.
  4. You'll be on camera the whole time. Make sure your device has a camera. 
  5. You'll have three hours to complete the test. Once you start, you're on the clock. One can't pause it and come back later to finish.
It took me almost the full three hours to take the test. I finished with 11 minutes remaining. I got bogged down in one of the scenarios which was about making citations in google. I know how to do it, it really was a simple question, but I first used google's research tool to make the citation, afterwards I realized it was asking me to use the insert footnote feature. Anyhow, I couldn't delete the citation. So, eventually I went into revision history and started all over. This one scenario likely took 15 minutes to complete. 

The test lets you check your answers when finished. I checked about half of my answers, but with 4 minutes left I was fried enough to just submit the test.

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