Category Archives: technology

Playing Catch Up

I have been a bit behind the eight-ball since the start of school. There is no way around it – there is lots to do between troubleshooting network troubles (or in our case dealing with a network outage), databases to update, getting teachers ready to print grades and comments, the list is endless. But as I was finding myself with a little time in between projects, I began to clean up my browser window. I am one of those users who has a gillion different tabs open with the hope of going back to read each of the websites that I was referred to by Twitter, or listsservs, or Facebook, or email. In my little bit of time I began going through those tabs and bookmarking the sites, or reading and deleting the sites, to get my browser down to a neat and tidy 10 open tabs.

I came across a few that I didn’t know what to do with. I wanted to share them, but I didn’t feel the need to book mark them, so I thought I’d share them here, on my blog, which has been woefully under used lately.

The first site is this – Ten Things Teachers Should Unlearn – this is a post that I came across right at the end of summer and I thought a good reminder of assumptions that many teachers come to class with:

10 things I think teachers should unlearn…

1. Teachers know all the answers.

2. Teachers have to be in control of the class.

3. Teachers are responsible for the learning.

4.  Students are obliged to respect teachers.

5.  Learning can be measured by a letter or a number.

6.  Teachers should plan activities and then assessments.

7. Learners need to sit quietly and listen.

8. Technology integration is optional.

9.  Worksheets support learning.

10.  Homework is an essential part of learning.

I think most teachers know these things, but I think that when school becomes crazy and busy we often forget the fundamentals and we rely on old habits and may resort back to some of these things.  It’s an important list to keep in mind (or maybe inside your gradebook, if you still have one).

 

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“It is incredibly empowering”

This morning, this blog article by Gary Hamel of the WSJ, “The Facebook Generation vs. the Fortune 500“, caught my attention.  Even though he wrote this list in with a focus on the management of companies in the coming years, one could easily adapt this list for education. Laura Blankenship had the same thought and posted her take on Hamel’s list in the context of education.  It’s a good list, I’ve pasted in below.  Item #8 is one that is rattling around my head this morning: 8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it. As far as teachers go, I think they are not necessarily hoarders but if they aren’t connected to other teachers online, they haven’t seen and experieinced the power of sharing content and ideas – it’s fast, it’s easy, and it works.  Read this great post by one pre-service teacher who experienced sharing through her blogging and twitter – here’s a great quote:

I have never learned so much in my entire life until taking this class, and it was through sharing. Just like teaching, learning needs to be wide open and full of networking. Instead of handing in that assignment to one teacher, I am handing it in to the world and saying, “Take a look at me and what I think”. It is incredibly empowering when you think about it.

In addition to encouraging our teachers and students to share, schools, specifically independent schools, need to become more transparent to parents, faculty, and the community.  In the past, schools have tried to limit parent contact with teachers and administrators to certain times and certain avenues of “appropriate” communication.  (It took our school a long time to agree to post faculty email addresses on the school website).  Reasons for these limitations were to prevent the “helicopter parenting” syndrome, to help the students become self-advocates, and to prevent parents from questioning the ways and means of the school.  These are valid reasons but limiting communication and sharing is not the only way to achieve these goals.  If schools provide parents with more information and ask for more input, they become more transparent and provide parents less opportunity to question because the answers are all there.  Schools should provide more forums for parents to share and connect (this will help build and sustain the school community); they should have a informative website that is easy to navigate; and they should provide curriculum descriptions and assignments so parents can keep up with what their kids are doing at school.   The communciation needs to be “wide open” and I think schools will find that “it is incredible empowering”.

Here’s Laura Blankenship’s list and comments – see which ones resonate for you:

1. All ideas compete on an equal footing.

Instructors should value what students bring to the class and try to create an environment where the teacher isn’t the only expert in the room.  Both student and teacher bring value to the class on equal footing.  I try to point out when someone posts something interesting on our class blog that I didn’t know about or has an idea that didn’t occur to me in order to encourage the idea that student ideas are as important as mine.

2. Contribution counts for more than credentials.

The teacher at the front of the room obviously has more credentials than the students in the class, but teachers can work to encourage contribution from the students so that that is what’s valued in the class.  This is similar to #1 above, but  can be harder to overcome since students often look at credentials as a way of authenticating that the teacher’s contribution is more important.

3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed.

Again, because of the received dynamic of the teacher as the expert, this is a hard one to aspire to, but it is true that certain students seem to rise to the top of in-class or online discussion.   The thing to watch out for is that the ones who don’t get an opportunity to contribute.  I think in a classroom, one actually wants to eliminate hierarchies as much as possible.

4. Leaders serve rather than preside.

Approaching teaching as something your doing for the students rather than as some kind of power mongering (I’ve seen this very rarely anyway) can really make your classroom a thriving place for your students.  Offer articles for papers, offer to meet to discuss ideas, and come to the classroom expecting to learn something rather than teaching something.  There’s a balance to be struck, of course, in that you have a limited amount of time, but being generous with what time you do have can go a long way.

5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned.

I actually try to do this in most of my classes.  I don’t give topics for papers and sometimes give rather vague directives about page length, about image inclusion, etc.  I simply ask that it be argumentative and lean toward the academic rather than the casual.  This is very difficult for most students.  They’re used to doing what they’re told.  While assignments are generally necessary, giving students as much freedom within those assignments can help them learn how to choose tasks for themselves.

6. Groups are self-defining and -organizing.

Anyone who teaches has watched groups of students form–those who sit together every class, who comment on each other’s posts or in-class comments.  One can capitalize on this by assigning those students to group projects.  I’ve heard feedback from my students about our small groups that they like to choose their groups.  Sometimes it may be necessary to organize groups for a particular kind of experience, but consider at least trying to let groups form on their own.

7. Resources get attracted, not allocated.

In a classroom, this probably doesn’t apply, but in the larger context of an institution, it would be nice if resource allocation were open to an extent that allows people to gravitate toward interesting ideas.  Instead, there’s still a top-down allocation process.

8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it.

In the classroom, I always try to be as open as possible and I encourage my students to be as well.  That’s why we blog in public.  I think it’s important for students to see each other’s work and ideas.  At the institutional level, it would certainly be good to have that kind of sharing of information.  Technology could help with this process, but most institutions I know of haven’t yet gotten to the point of being able or willing to share information across the institution.

9. Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed.

I’ve done this in many classes, posted potential readings and assignments and let students choose.  I’ve also allowed them to change the direction of the course by voting on it.

10. Users can veto most policy decisions.

I’ve done this in class too.  It’s great when the students feel some ownership over the class.

11. Intrinsic rewards matter most.

This is a value I try to impart, but it’s very hard since many students are used to external rewards such as grades.  I, myself, like external rewards, but those can be very simple and usually I receive the greatest external rewards for projects that have had an instrinsic value for me.  I don’t have grades on individual assignments and I have students evaluate themselves, mostly focusing on what they learned from the class.

12. Hackers are heroes.

I celebrate the student who presents a contrary view–as long as they do so without hurting someone.  Class and blog discussions are most interesting when someone says, “I disagree and here’s why.”

Social networking is…a good thing

A MacArthur funded study was just released regarding the activities kids are involved in online.  It’s an interesting read for all educators and parents.  They conclude that the “hanging out”, “messing around”, and “geeking out” that kids do online helps students gain media literacies and skills they will need to fully participate in the 21st Century society.  Here’s a quote from the summary of the report:

New media allow for a degree of freedom and autonomy for youth that is less apparent in a classroom setting. Youth respect one another’s authority online, and they are often more motivated to learn from peers than from adults. Their efforts are also largely self-directed, and the outcome emerges through exploration, in contrast to classroom learning that is oriented by set, predefined goals.

In the conclusion, the report goes on to say, that schools (and parents) should not see social networking as a waste of time:

Rather than seeing socializing and play as hostile to learning, educational programs could be positioned to step in and support moments when youth are motivated to move from friendship-driven to more interest-driven forms of new media use.

Another point made in the conclusion is that kids find learning from their peers highly motivating:

Peer-based learning is characterized by a context of reciprocity, where participants feel they can both produce and evaluate knowledge and culture. Whether it is comments on MySpace or on a fan fiction forum, participants both contribute their own content and comment on the content of others. More expert participants provide models and leadership but do not have authority over fellow participants.

And finally, the report concludes with this (among other) question:

what would it mean to think of education as a process of guiding kids’ participation in public life more generally, a public life that includes social, recreational, and civic engagement?

You can access the summary “white paper” or the entire report here.

Blog Revival

The months since my last post have quickly gotten away from me.  A crazy summer combined with the usual frantic pace of the fall has driven me out of the blog habit – both reading and (especially) writing.  Today I’d like to start back up.  I’d like to bring my blog back as a source of information for the faculty and staff in my school for new tools, old tools, and many “how-to’s”.

dabbleboard_logoI thought I’d start by introducing this online whiteboard tool could be a valuable tool to many of my teachers.  Dabbleboard brings the whiteboard to your computer – when used with a projector in the classroom, it can do many of the things an interactive whiteboard can do.  The best feature I think is the ability to save work or templates for use in multiple classes or just in finishing up work from the day before.  Visit Dabbleboard, sign-up for an account and begin to play.

A few tidbits

I haven’t had a lot of time to write these days.  School is winding down and end-of-year details are winding up: budgets, purchasing, NCLB applications, and many, many events.  I wanted to share a few things that I’ve read and watched lately:

The first, in following with the end-of-year theme, is the commencement speech by Barbara Kingsolver.  I’m a big fan of hers.  I really enjoy the humor she injects in to her writing (and this speech) as well as the content she writes about.  If you haven’t read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle yet, I highly recommend it.  Here’s a quote (from the more serious side of her speech):

In the last 30 years our material wealth has increased in this country, but our self-described happiness has steadily declined. Elsewhere, the people who consider themselves very happy are not in the very poorest nations, as you might guess, nor in the very richest. The winners are Mexico, Ireland, Puerto Rico, the kinds of places we identify with extended family, noisy villages, a lot of dancing. The happiest people are the ones with the most community.

The second piece is a video called “Learning to Change” by the Digital Arts group at the Pearson Foundation for CoSN.  It’s another video that you should show to  teachers and stakeholders in your schools.  Take a look:

Powerpoint and beyond

I enjoy reading and watching Dan Meyer’s blog.  He is a truly innovative teacher and I am constantly sending his material to our math department.  Yesterday, he posted a recent presentation to teachers about Powerpoint and how to use it successfully.  Throughout the presentation he also mentions a number of lessons from his class – a great demonstration on how visual cues can capture the attention of all.  Click here for the Quicktime version.

Art on the brain

A few weeks ago we devoted a professional development day to the performing arts. It was a great day with a mix of a keynote (Ellen Winner, professor at Boston College), mini workshops, and a panel of alumni and professionals. The day was designed to raise awareness about making more room for art in the academic day. I came into the day with thoughts that we should be integrating more art into the traditional curriculum but I left with thoughts on how the traditional curriculum (english, math, science, history, language) should take some lessons from the way we teach art. In general, art classes focus more or depth rather than breadth; reflection and collaboration are routine; and effort and risk-taking are central to assessment. I would like to see more of these attributes in other classes.

Speaking of art, there is a great conference in April put on by the Maine Dept of Ed. It’s called “Arts, Innovation, and Creativity.” There are loads of workshop offerings; here’s a quote from the conference write-up:

Workshop sessions will include:

  • over 30 hands-on creative and imaginative professional develop opportunities;
  • interdisciplinary connections between the arts and creative thinking in other Maine Learning Results content areas utilizing technology;
  • innovative instruction, curriculum and assessment;
  • a link between at least one arts discipline (music, dance, theater or visual art) and at least one other content area from the MLR’s (Career and Education Development, English Language Arts, Health Education and Physical Education, Mathematics, Science and Technology, Social Studies, World Languages);
  • unique learning opportunities for educators utilizing technology to impact teaching and learning for all students.

Check the website for details on the workshops. And best of all, you get to spend 2 days in beautiful Rockport, Maine and the cost of the conference is only $45!