Sunday, October 20, 2013

What has changed, what is the same?

Going back to college after 34 years is a revelation. Not so much because I have not been learning since I left, but because what I am doing in my class has an immediate and relevant relationship to what I am doing in my work. It is exciting and enriching to think about what I am doing, and why I am doing it, instead of just going to class and completing the assignments. Reflecting on what underlies what I do gives me the opportunity to adjust thoughtfully; not just react. During this class, I even thought for a bit that college belonged after gaining life experience, but that is not exactly right. I think more, that advanced education should accompany work. As a pre-service teacher, taking advanced classes in education goes into the “this may apply someday” file instead of the “I can work on this tomorrow” file. When we rehearse and elaborate on our new learning (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011a) it becomes deeply embedded and more easily retrieved. Thinking of ways to incorporate new knowledge into our work means that we have to figure out how it fits, we have to think about it and either assimilate it or accommodate our world outlook to fit it in (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011c).

Reflecting on my theory of learning during the first week of this class was really reflecting on my practice of teaching. Looking at what I did in the classroom over my teaching career and trying to decide what theory those actions embodied was an interesting exercise. I decided then, that my teaching style did not represent any one theory, but many if not all that we studied during the course of this class. I still believe that to be true. The difference has come in my understanding of the theories that explain what happens when I use particular strategies. This knowledge has given me a way to reflect on what I want students to do, and how to go about setting the stage so that can happen. I have assimilated the new information and now have access to it so that I can retrieve it and use it. Because I understand more about what happens in our brains when we work together to make things (Kim, 2001), I will be likely to guide teachers into designing lessons that result in an artifact, be that a concept map, a PowerPoint with vocabulary pictures, or a video. Knowing now how powerful it is to have students talk to each other while learning, to have them work together to solve a problem, or to have to come to an agreement about an assignment (Palmer, Peters & Streetman, 2003) I will suggest to teachers that they use more social learning in their lessons. I will encourage teachers to be sure that the students are actively involved in all lessons, if possible, all the time (Pittler, Hubbel & Kuhn, 2012).

I have already started to change the way I work with teachers. I am trying to convince them to let students use the technology tools they have available in the classroom most of the time. I want them to know that they should, as Dr. Marzono said, “give the technology to the kids, let the kids be responsible for their learning” (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011b). I have started thoughtfully incorporating teaching strategies when planning lessons with teachers and talking about the strategies I am using, as well as where I learned about them. I have shared informational websites with teachers about Marzano’s Nine Instructional Strategies and plan to continue disseminating material I believe will not only inform the teaching staff, but will support their students’ success.

Two products I will promote with teachers are podcasts in the school for the blind and video production in the school for the deaf. These will allow students to use technology in many forms to make products that can support their learning, show what they have learned, and share their knowledge with the wider community. They are both ways for learners to work together to create something; they both are complex enough to be interesting but simple enough for even beginners to be successful. Kindergartners and 12th graders can be engaged and excited
about what they are doing, and students can become more expert as they get older so eventually they can work independently with minimal teacher support.

Most students who are blind or have low-vision learn and prefer to learn through sound. Using podcasts, listening to them and producing them, will give students the opportunity to share themselves and will open them to the world beyond the school. Using podcasting as a tool for students to share information, give reports and produce a collaborative product will require them to plan, produce and edit. This will require deep thinking about the topic and conversations about how they will complete it. It will give them many opportunities to work together and for elaborative rehearsals of new knowledge(Laureate Education, Inc., 2011c). I will share accessible tools such as Audacity or WavePad for recording and editing sound. Students who use screen readers can access all of the functions of both programs and with guides available online such as this one for Audacity, they can become independent podcast producers. Listening to podcasts using iTunes , Accessible Podcatcher or Juice Receiver will allow students to connect to the wider world. There is a community of podcast producers who are blind or who have low-vision who share information about accessible technology and ideas for coping with the world. There are also many who produce podcasts on subjects that interest them. Having access to such podcasts and seeing the possibilities could expand students’ view of what they can do.

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing commonly depend on and prefer information presented visually. Using video of any sort is a great way to satisfy that preference. Video can also take many forms, but all forms are best when pre-planning is thorough. Using tools such as Storyboard Pro from Atomic Learning  to help plan the project (whether with student actors, whiteboard animation, or clay animation) and Microsoft MovieMaker to edit will allow students to complete videos with little additional cost for software, an important consideration.  This type of project gives students many opportunities to deepen their understanding, for elaborative rehearsal, for working collaboratively, for discussion about what they are doing and for to coming to agreement about what they want to produce. This is an opportunity for students to construct something they can share, to actively build their knowledge, and to investigate and create (Han & Battacharya, 2001). Learning through doing, sharing with an authentic audience and working together all make learning more active, and learners will create new ideas in the process (2001).

Because I am now working with teachers instead of students, my focus has changed. I see many teachers who feel incredibly stressed by documentation requirements, requirements for data collection, high stakes standardized testing, requirements to complete curriculum and the need for students to make acceptable progress each year. I see teachers who feel that no matter what they do it will not be good enough and they will not meet the goals set for them. I want to share Marzano’s Nine Strategies. I want to show the power of these strategies to teachers and give them tools to use to better meet the needs of students, and possibly reduce their stress because they have strategies that work and make the effort they expend more effective in supporting student achievement. I will share websites and titles of books, but what I think will be most effective is to incorporate these strategies when co-planning and co-teaching lessons. If that can demonstrate to teachers how a single strategy works, it can be an introduction to them. It can be a teaching strategy they add to their repertoire because they see it works. In my experience, teachers are too often given a book or a curriculum guide and required to use it with little support. Seldom are teachers asked what they need, or what kind of professional development would be useful. By introducing these strategies within lessons, I hope to bring them a useful tool instead of a new requirement.

In one of the discussion postings a while ago (I can’t find it now) someone mentioned a website, FuelEd. I was curious and decided to look at it, and reading through it saw that the idea comes from Louis Cozolino’s book, The Social Neuroscience of Education (Cozolino, 2013). One of the statements on the website really struck me:

The current system is also a bad fit for committed teachers who don’t find teaching to tests a meaningful human endeavor. People become teachers because they desire to be of service and, like everyone else, need to feel they are achieving some success. Instead, they find themselves in a system where, more often than not, decisions are made to support the survival of the organization instead of the needs of the students. Is it any wonder that teachers leave the profession, or even worse, burn out and stay in the classroom? (FuelEd, n.d., para. 4)

I have felt this, but have not been able to articulate it so clearly. I have purchased the book and begun to read it. I believe that it will be an excellent resource, and one that will be valuable to teachers, particularly new teachers. Giving these teachers a lens to see what they are doing, and giving them the tools to shape how they are doing it could sustain their excitement, enjoyment, and enthusiasm for teaching, and as a result could positively affect students they work with. So my second long term goal is to find ways to support teachers and help them find the joy again.

Using the tools I have read about and the resources I have learned about during this class in my current job will give me the power to work with teachers in a way that makes a significant impact. If I can continue to find and share resources, support teachers’ growth in integrating successful strategies and share ways to strengthen their connections to others I will feel that I have had a share in changing a small portion of the educational system. It is obvious to me that there has to be change, what is not so obvious is how to significantly affect that change as a single individual. Focusing on the teachers I am working with, within my circle of influence means that I have a chance to make a difference.

As Mother Teresa said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you” (Rao, N. A., n.d.).


Cozolino, L. (2013). The Social Neuroscience of Education: Optimizing Attachments & Learning in the Classroom. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

FuelEd: Research Foundations, quoting Louis Cozolinso. (n.d.) Retrieved from

Han, S., and Bhattacharya, K. (2001). Constructionism, Learning by Design, and Project Based Learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Kim, B. (2001). Social Constructivism.. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011a). Program seven: Constructionist and constructivist learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011b). Program thirteen: Technology: Instructional tool vs. learning tool [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011c). Program two: Brain research and learning [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Palmer, G., Peters, R., & Streetman, R. (2003). Cooperative learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. R., & Kuhn, M. (2012). Using technology with classroom instruction that works (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Rao, N. A.,  Mother Theresa [sic] Sayings: The Work, (n.d). Retrieved from:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Talk (and make) and Learn

Social learning, we all do it all the time. I belong to a quilt guild. I have often attended classes about quilting with others in the guild. Let me tell you, we are not silent. We talk about what we are doing, what we are confused about and often quite loudly about what we finally understand. This is social learning, and in particular social constructionism. One of the statements made by Michael Orey in his discussion of social learning theories is that as a Math teacher he understood much better what he was teaching after he taught it (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011). I remember vividly teaching eighth grade students about number systems other than base ten and having an epiphany. I finally understood clearly what one-zero means in base two , and it was so obvious. I learned because I talked about it. I had to think about it so I could talk about it; elaborative learning right there in the classroom. Unfortunately at the time, the students were not allowed to talk to each other about what the understood, or try to figure out together what new concepts meant. 

Cooperative learning strategies not only allow students to talk about what they are learning, they require students to talk and work together. Strategies that group students for longer projects so they can develop trusting relationships are powerful ways to learn and can increase student achievement. Students ideally will become accountable to each other and will be held accountable individually. They will work long enough together that they will develop a "sink or swim together" (positive interdependence) attitude (Pittler, Hubbel & Kuhn, 2012) and so succeed together. Giving assignments that require more than one person to complete, that are complex enough to need multiple roles and multiple days to finish all provide the students the opportunity to learn and produce cooperatively so they can succeed in the work world once they are finished with school (Pittler, Hubbel & Kuhn). 

The social aspect of Edmodo, which allows students to communicate outside of school hours about assignments or work, supports social learning. Blogging when it becomes a conversation rather than a journal and is truly interactive, can be a social learning tool. Polleverywhere can also be used as a social learning tool when the questions are open ended rather than multiple choice or true false. If used in a classroom setting where students can see real time what their classmates are saying it can allow introverted students the time they need to process before sharing. It also can lead to discussions where students ask questions, agree or disagree and tell why. A class discussion can be a social learning strategy, as long as it requires students to think deeply about the topic under discussion. These discussion can take place in person, or online using technology such as VoiceThread and an evocative picture or topic. If we can get students to connect to each other and develop serious learning communities, and can provide rich educational environments that encourage deep learning, then our schools will again be the finest in the world.

I created a sample VoiceThread that I could use with a class to introduce a project. I used American Sign Language (ASL) to make my comments, as well as written English. This would support student comprehension of the task as well as provide practice in reading English. The first two slides are meant to get the students thinking about the problem before the problem itself is introduced. I would require students to make comments, either in written English or ASL on the first two slides, and if they wanted to on the last slide. If you want to see the VoiceThread you can click here


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011a). Program eight: Social learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Pitler, H., Hubbell, Kuhn, M. (2012). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. 2nd edition Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Make and Learn

Constructionism is just what it sounds like…making something and learning through the making. While I was still teaching there were sometimes projects that were incorporated into the curriculum, and then the projects were shared. We made topographical maps from salt clay to learn about land forms, we wrote books based on field trip experiences and we cooked. All of these ended with artifacts that we shared with parents, other classes and each other. However, most of the time the projects had very clear guidelines and requirements which constricted the flow of learning and guided it in a very specific direction with very specific goals in mind. This week’s readings showed me that to exploit the power of making, teachers must be able to stand back more, and allow students more freedom to explore, reflect, revise and share. The guidance has to be subtle; more like making sure the baby does not fall into the lake than making sure the baby stays on the concrete path. There is so much more to be learned by touching the trees, walking on the grass, picking up the stones and crunching the leaves than by walking carefully in the middle of the sidewalk. As a teacher, I tended to be sure we got where we were going, even if I had to grab the learners’ hands and drag them quickly with me to the goal.

Switching to a more learner-centered classroom practice would be hard, but I think, worth the effort. Allowing students more control over how and what and when they learn would give them the opportunity to develop skills they cannot when the are being led. Walking with a three year old anywhere can be frustrating if the point is to get there fast. Walking with a three year old and noticing what they discover, and listening to the questions they ask can be not only enlightening, but delightful. Giving students the tools to create their own learning can be delightful and enlightening as well, as long as the teacher can provide a clear goal and guidance along the way.(Han & Bhattacharya, 2001) Using technology as a part of the learner-centered classroom, giving students tools to create their learning makes sense for the world our students are living in. Technology opens doors for students, giving them tools that expand not only their access to information, but also breaking down the walls of the classroom and inviting the whole world in as part of the learning space. 

Giving students a problem to solve or a project to create, can certainly fall under the umbrella of constructionism. In order to solve the problem, one that is important to the students and is an authentic task, they have to do all sorts of learning. They need to reflect on the problem from their experience and previous learning and with guidance move from problem to solution. (Laureate Education, Inc, 2011) Along the way they have the opportunity to work together, ask questions, find answers, reflect on their paths, and revise their thoughts. They will undoubtedly have conflicting ideas about where to go and how to get there, but can arrive at an answer through discussion and collaboration and with teacher guidance.

In this week's readings, students were given spreadsheets with data and asked to produce hypotheses about what the data might mean, then asked to use the data to prove or disprove their hypotheses. (Pitler, Hubbell & Kuhn, 2012)  In order to come up with logical and supportable hypotheses, they have to think deeply and critically about the data. This undoubtedly created excellent opportunities for learning and based on Papert's statement that "Learners don't get ideas; they create ideas." this activity can also fall under the contructionist umbrella. (Han & Bhattacharya, 2001). These students are not creating an artifact, but though the problem they are asked to solve may be a limited one, they are coming up with a solution. The authors of  our text also suggest using software that supports brainstorming and using graphic organizers to allow students to put their thoughts into a scaffold to help them come up with hypotheses. This is needed because looking at data and coming up with hypotheses is a high level cognitive task. (Pitler, Hubbell & Kuhn). These technology tools which support student learning and expand their ability to hold and process information are constructionist tools in this case. Students are creating webs of information to help them organize their thoughts so that they can find answers to their questions.

To construct learning, students need tools, and technology provides tools of all sorts that are useful for many skill levels. The tools are many and varied and can be tailored to particular needs. When students have access to many technology tools, they can more easily build from their experience and create ideas that will lead them on to new learning. 


Han, S., and Bhattacharya, K. (2001). Constructionism, Learning by Design, and Project Based Learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program seven: Constructionist and constructivist learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. R., & Kuhn, M. (2012). Using technology with classroom instruction that works (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tools to Expand the Mind

This weeks readings were much more comprehensible for me, and felt much more comfortable in my mind. Last week focusing on behaviorism I had a terrible time trying to pull from my experience and see how it either fell into the behaviorism camp, or was opposed to it. I spent so much time trying wrap my head around the whole thing that I didn't spend much time looking at what I do through that particular lens. This week I am much more comfortable. I'm not sure if the reason is that I feel more at ease using the strategies from the cognitive learning theory, or I am just more familiar with them. Regardless, this week has been much more comfortable for me.

For my own learning I have been using strategies that fall in line with the cognitive learning theory for years. I am a verbal learner and write summaries of new information. I rarely organize the summaries on paper but leave them as lists and organize as I write. I use all kinds of highlighting, color-coding, and note taking strategies that I have developed or modified to help me hang on to information. I have, however never really been able to pass these strategies on to students and have realized that being explicit, and teaching students how to use tools to extend the power of their minds so they can learn and recall information is an important part of teaching. Teaching learners how to learn is a crucial step in helping students develop into life-long learners and using the strategies discussed this week is a great way to start.

A suggested strategy was to use mind-tools such as spreadsheets for processing data or concept-mapping tools to process information. (Laureate Education, Inc, 2011) A quote from the teacher who was talking about using a spreadsheet with students was that doing the calculations by hand was possible, but it didn't add to the students mathematical understanding. (Laureate Education, Inc) That line had a powerful impact on my understanding of using cognitive-tools. I finally had a grasp of the power of the tool. Though the students were using it to do something they could have done themselves, it wasn't just that it was faster to use the spreadsheet, but that using it freed up "mind space" for more creative thinking. This is certainly using an application as a cognitive tool to distribute cognition; adding the power of the human mind to the power of the computer and letting the human mind do what the computer can not, be creative.

Information processing falls within the cognitive learning theory. It states that learning starts with sensory information. If you attend to the information it moves into short term memory and there are limits to the amount of information you can process in short term memory. Using mind-tools can extend those limits greatly. As a teacher I can provide tools like graphic organizers to help students capture information, and in more than one sensory register (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011). Using questions I can help students process information deeply thus allowing it to move from short-term to long term memory. Moving to long-term memory requires active participation of the learner and Pitler, Hubbell and Kuhn's suggestions would help accomplish that. They suggest using cues, questions and organizers as well as summarizing and note taking (2012). All of these strategies help the learner process information, allow the learner to elaborate by making connections to previous learning and using combination notes specifically allow learners to include pictographs or other graphics in their notes.(2012)  This facilitates making connections to more than just the verbal center of the brain, thus making it easier to retrieve.

I need to be more conscious of my teaching strategies so that I can explicitly and clearly teach skills to support student learning. I have used some of these tools in the past, but have never been focused on the power of the tool,  I have focused instead on the result of using the tool. Working with students who have gaps in their English language skills, it is doubly important to give them tools that extend their power to learn. These can amplify their efforts and give them greater results with the same amount of energy expended. Giving them episodic memories through virtual field trips (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011)  providing the structure of graphic organizers or scaffolds for note taking and summarizing necessary to process new concepts, (Pittler, Hubbell & Kuhn, 2012) allowing them to add multiple sensory inputs will all present an enriched classroom experience so that they can take full advantage of the time they have to learn.


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program five: Cognitive learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. R., & Kuhn, M. (2012). Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works--2nd ed. Alexandria: ASCD.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Behaviorism and Teaching Strategies

The theory of behaviorism states that we can look at people’s actions and work on modifying behaviors by ignoring them so they are extinguished, punishing them so they happen less frequently or rewarding them so they happen more frequently. While reading through and cataloging the strategies suggested in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works I found that some strategies fit into this theory and some did not. Some of the technology suggested to support the strategies correlates well, and some did not.

A strategy that was suggested to support student achievement was to show students the relationship between effort expended and achievement using data collection, spreadsheets, charts and graphs. In my mind this fits into the theory. The authors suggest that once students have been given explicit guidance about what it means to expend effort they will be able to keep track of their effort and achievement. (Pitler, Hubbel & Kuhn, 2012 ) They can observe their behavior and using the reward of achievement can increase the action (effort) that brings about the reward (achievement). The technology suggested, spreadsheet software that has the capability to produce charts and graphs, correlates very well with this strategy and supports it.

Providing recognition for specific behaviors also fits the behaviorist theory. In fact, it is almost purely a behaviorist strategy. The teacher defines a desired behavior and rewards it through recognition or reward. Using technology to supply the reward in the form of badges, or feedback points as in ClassDojo is an excellent correlation. Providing reward in the form of recognition for exemplary products is not purely a behaviorist action. The actions or behaviors used to create the product are what should be rewarded. However, rewarding excellence can increase the possibility that excellence will occur again. For students who don’t achieve, rewarding behaviors that can lead to excellence will be more effective. The technology suggested to support this strategy: web showcases, blog polls, online picture galleries, tools that allow communication via audio or video to provide recognition correlate fairly well.

The next chapter talks about homework and practice. The only part of the homework portion that fit into the behaviorist theory in my mind was providing feedback for homework completed and using drill and practice software or websites to extend learning beyond the classroom. Feedback could be construed as a reward or punishment (depending on the feedback) and would then have the possibility of changing behavior. However, I think the only behavior it might be able to change is whether homework is completed or turned in or not. Using drill and practice software or websites can fit into this theory because generally desired behaviors (those that lead to correct answers) are rewarded and undesirable behaviors (those that lead to incorrect answers) are not, so they should decrease.

Using Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) software is one of the technologies to support practice. There are most certainly aspects of the behaviorist theory that are included in CAI software, in the immediate feedback and rewarding correct behaviors to increase their frequency. Most of the other strategies suggested for practice fall into other theories of learning. Based on these readings, it is obvious that there it a time and a place for using strategies that fit into behaviorism. However it is also clear that there are many successful strategies that do not.


Pitler, H., Hubbel, E. R., & Kuhn, M. (2012). Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works. Alexandria: ASCD

Thursday, September 5, 2013


I've started my second course in my graduate certificate program. It is called Bridging Learning Theory, Instruction and Technology. We've only just started to look at learning theories but I think it's going to be a good class. I've always been fascinated by how the brain works. I've read a number of books, The Brain that Changes Itself is one of my favorites. It talks about neuroplasticity and tells stories that show how truly amazing the brain is. One of the stories is around phantom pain from amputated limbs. The story really had an impact because the son of a friend stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost both legs above the knee. As part of his recuperation and dealing with the immense phantom pain he had, the hospital used the precise treatment explained in the book. It was not only fascinating because there was a story that played out in my life, but also because it worked for Daniel.

After doing the first week's readings I have a bit more understanding about memories and how they are encoded in the brain. The idea that connections are made is not new, but understanding that the connections are between specific neurons and somehow that allows me to remember phone numbers, or the name of street is totally amazing. How can it be that when one neuron sends a signal to the next, and neurotransmitters are released that I can recall what a pomegranate is, or how to figure out the area of a circle? It's like this cartoon...

I find it amazing and fascinating.

Theories of learning are based on observed results, but also on PET scans and MRIs. They try to explain what happens when someone learns. We have more of an idea, but there are still a lot of things we don't know. But though it can help to know (or think we know) how someone learns, teachers have been teaching, and students learning for millennia without current learning theory. Pat Wolfe states that the problem with teaching from intuition is that it is difficult to pass on the knowledge gained through experience. I think it can be difficult, but not impossible. It just means that the experienced teacher has to think about what they do. I've done some recent reading about what makes good teachers, and came across this article. The quote I love the most, that resonates with me is this one:
Good teaching isn't about technique...but about people who have some sort of connective capacity, who connect themselves to their students, their students to each other, and everyone to the subject being studied.
Teachers who have relationships with students have more success as teachers, and their students have more success as well. I think it is crucial to use tools and techniques that engage students, but all of the tools and all of the techniques and most up to date technology can't make as big of an impact if the students don't have a relationship with the teacher. In the end, teaching is about relationships, and so is learning.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I Believe PBL is the Answer

I just completed a class at Walden University titled Understanding the Impact of Technology on Education, Work, and Society. The biggest impact taking the class had on me as an educator was that it deepened my conviction that students need to be invested in their education. How that happens is immaterial, but it must happen for the time spent in schools to be worthwhile and education to have a positive  effect on student lives and their futures. In the United States a focus of change has become integrating more technology into the school day and building activities around solving problems. Both of these changes have the chance to positively affect graduates' opportunities for high interest, high paying jobs, staying competitive in a global economy, and becoming self-reliant, life-long learners.

I have been in education for thirty-four years and have seen many changes, most of them in the way society perceives schools and their success in doing the job society wants done. Over the years more and more responsibility has been put on schools as the solution to societal problems, and less and less respect has been given to those working in the field of education. More of the decisions about what should happen in the classroom are being made by non-educators. The education system has become a political football, tossed around and used as a tool to win an election or beat the other guy. Educators have to take back the initiative and do what is best for students. They cannot ignore the political realities of teaching in a public education system, but they have to act such that the time and energy students spend in the classroom gives them a harvest of success. Teachers have to use the power inherent in classroom situations and apply it to enhancing students' success when their years of school are finished.

The  true power I see in technology is the way it can focus students' attention and get them invested in activities in the classroom. Like all power it can be misused and wasted. It takes careful consideration and concentration to figure the best way to use the power offered by technology. It takes will on the part of the teacher to see the power and apply it at the fulcrum point so it can have the most affect with the least amount of effort. I believe that fulcrum is project based learning (PBL). It isn't easy, but I believe it is worth every moment spent on planning and implementation.  One of the statements that has stuck with me since I've been doing reading about PBL is that the problems posed to students should be ones that students are interested in, not ones that teachers are interested in. I think the best way to find those sorts of problems is to ask students. I know it might be difficult for elementary aged students to invent problems they want to solve, but with guidance and lessons that give the student skills, they can figure out what they want to figure out.

The process is not easy, nor it is simple. Making sure all of the crucial standards are being included in solving the problems proposed, that students will be able to handle the mechanics of standardized tests and that administration, parents and school boards will be willing to trust the process are all hurdles that must be overcome. The teacher has to be committed to the process because it will take work in ways that may be new, especially for teachers who have been in the classroom for a number of years.  One of the advantages of using PBL over choosing and implementing yet another curriculum is that the teacher is in the classroom with the students, he is in a relationship with the students and can see in the moment what needs to be changed, what needs to be emphasized and what should be ignored. Personal  relationship is crucial to all educational endeavors, but can become bogged down in teaching page 23 and doing practice sheets 15 and 16 on Tuesday. PBL requires a much more fluid approach to planning and requires student self-monitoring for success to happen, and the teacher's relationship with the students as support and guide is crucial to this process. Success creates a domino effect of one skill leading to another and when the problem is solved and the answer presented to others, the students will have practiced crucial skills without making the focus of the project those particular skills.

I am lucky in that the newest strategic plan has stated that each teacher will incorporate at least two PBL units during the year. Teachers have an extrinsic motivation to learn about and carry out projects, so even if there is some resistance, they have a reason to work with me and I can work to guide them so they have success and see the benefit for using projects. If, in the next couple of years, I can get at least one teacher in each school at each grade level to embrace PBL, I will feel that I have made a positive change in the practice in the classroom. I know from my experience in the classroom that if there is an enthusiastic teacher who has tried something new with great results, that enthusiasm may spread. So only reaching a few teachers will actually reach many more. If the results are as I predict, then the students who experience projects with passionate teachers will show growth in many more areas than just those targeted in the objectives of the project. Success breeds success, so I will concentrate and work hardest with those teachers who are most willing to give PBL a try.

To make PBL a success, I also have to continue learning about it and understanding its complexities so I can translate those for classroom teachers. I have to find resources that will be easily adapted for students who are deaf or blind, for students who have multiple disabilities, and for those who may have become used to and expectant of failure in school. Sometimes working only with special education students, educators can become focused on the differences between the students they teach and students in regular education. They can start doubting that the students they teach can benefit from the same sorts of activities students in general education benefit from. They see how much our students have to overcome and can start to believe it is too much to expect that they will succeed in the same way. I will have the task to show that PBL can and will work with our students; that resources meant for teachers in regular education classes can be adapted and differentiated so that they can succeed with our students.  I found an article about the efficacy of PBL with special needs students and the authors state at one point the PBL  "… is experiential, involves cooperative learning, and occurs within a meaningful authentic context.". They believe because of these characteristics it will be highly successful with special needs students, and I agree. If I can focus teachers attention on these aspects of PBL, I believe I can encourage them to use it, and use it successfully. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Podcast- Digital Natives Access to and Use of Computers

I produced a podcast as part of my class at WaldenU. The idea was to come up with an age appropriate survey, interview three kids, record them as they are being interviewed and then put clips of their responses into the podcast. Unfortunately, I was only able to reach them by phone, so ended up writing out their answers as I questioned them and then recording the podcast myself. Below is my podcast with my reactions to the information I got from the students. It could be valuable to ask students what they think, and what they know and not assume what they know. The parents of the students I interviewed are very comfortable with computers, how to use them, search, facebook, word process. None of them are technophobic, but they also are not "geeks" who love computers and play with them in all sorts of ways. Listen and see what you think.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills-Site Review

The P-21 website is one that I will visit in the future. It has given me resources that will help me work with teachers to develop activities to build student's skills. The common core toolkit shows how 21st century skills are already embedded in the Common Core, and where there are areas that need to have more focus on 21st century skills.  Being able to address the common core, and work on 21st century skills simultaneously gives teachers the chance to enrich their lessons and provide student's the opportunity to practice on many levels. The kit also show examples of what it looks like to align teaching with the common core and the 21st century skills listed. I find examples most useful for understanding how to infuse these skills into lessons, and will use this resource when I am working with teachers. The videos which show sample lessons will also be helpful to show teachers how small changes in their lessons can model and require the use of 21st century skills. The skills maps and literacy maps are excellent for getting a better idea of what these skills look liken when addressed in a classroom. These help me get a handle on what I need to do, how I need to guide teachers in writing lessons and developing activities that support learning the new skills.

The website provides resources for professional development, which will be most useful for my coaching next year. The most important will be to use 21st century tools which I will use while coaching and supporting and encouraging collaboration among staff members. If teachers are using the tools and experiencing how the enrich their own learning, they will not only learn how to use the tools but be more likely to use them in their classrooms. I will also work on supporting teachers "in their role of facilitators or learning" through my coaching. Moving from the teacher in front of the class lecturing to a facilitator or learning may be difficult for some teachers, but if they can experience the benefit of it and see student involvement increase I believe they will be willing to work at changing teaching strategies.

As I was watching some of the videos of sample lessons I saw some that made me wonder if they were really excellent examples. One was a kindergarten math lesson about story problems. The 21st century tools used were a document camera and a interactive white board. I don't think this was the best lesson to show as an exemplar of teaching and infusing 21st century skills. I believe that the resources on the site should be outstanding examples of what it means to teach and include 21st century skills. This particular video (and another I watched of a kindergarten math lesson) could lead teachers to believe that simply using technology makes the lesson 21st century rich. I would want to see more student activities and outcomes that require students to develop skills, even at the kindergarten level.

The implications of the information on this site for teaching in my school is that no matter what the content, these skills can and should be taught. They don't have to be the focus of the lesson, but using the right types of activities and asking for particular types of products from students will require that students use 21st century skills. During lesson planning, looking to see what the objectives of the lesson are, then simply adding (to the teachers awareness) 21st century skills can and should enrich them and give students the chance to practice and become proficient in these areas. They will need them to compete in the world of work they will move into after school no matter what work they choose to do.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Using Collaborative Tools

Here's the thing. You have to have collaborators in order to have collaboration. The implication in the readings I have done recently is that if you put something out on the web, someone will respond. If we are going to use the read-write-web with our students we have to let them know that there is no guarantee that someone will respond to your writing. There is no way to predict if what you write, or publish, or ask questions about on the web will be responded to.

In the classroom we certify there will be a response if we require it of other students, but we can't promise that once the students are on their own someone will. If we can show the intrinsic value of thinking and wondering and putting those thoughts and wonderings down in writing; that the process has to be enough, then our students won't be discouraged if no one responds at first. If students have an unrealistic expectation about how their writing will be received they will stop doing it. They won't want to continue without the payback. I think part of the teaching about the process is to let them know there may not be anyone (at least at first) who will respond to their questions or comment on their writing.

I don't mean we should discourage them from posting, but let them know that there has to be a reason to write other than to gain an audience. Without putting something out, you will certainly not make connections. We should also teach that one of the responsibilities of being part of a community is to give, to participate. So part of being part of the world community online is to make comments where appropriate.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Blogging for Professional Development

One of my tasks this year is to work closely with teachers and co-plan and co-teach lessons that include technology. This process is meant to move teachers who believe that using technology during lessons is just one more thing they have to do, to becoming aware that their lessons might be made more effective with technology. I want to be sure that they can see it is not about the technology, but about the students and the learning objectives they are working on. The process is also meant to support teachers who want to use technology but don't feel comfortable with it, or just don't feel they have the expertise to  use in front of students, and give those who enjoy using technology the support they might want to try new things.

Blogging can be a way to share what is happening in individual classrooms, as well as see progress through the year and how the use of technology changes what is happening in classrooms across campus. I think the format I will use is to first do a post about a particular technology, giving ideas of how it can be used, directions for specific uses, how teachers in other schools have used it and perhaps a description of the plan to use it in a specific classroom. A second post in the series could be written by the teacher I am working with, or if they are reluctant, I could ask questions and give a summary of their feelings about the technology and what they hope it will do for their lesson before they have taught it. I want to include pictures from the classroom, quotes from the teachers and links to our training videos that other teachers could access if they want.

The third post in the series could include pictures, videos, quotes, and reactions that are gathered during the lesson, or immediately after the lesson during a reflection time. I will take photos and videos showing the teacher and students interacting with the technology, take notes about what I saw happening in the lesson and ask for reflection about the lesson after it is finished. This would allow other teachers to see what can be done, and how students react to the use of the technology. This series of posts can later be used as a resource for others to see what can be done in our school, with our technology and with our students. Because we have only deaf/hard of hearing students or blind/visually impaired students, seeing an idea that is used with general education students is not always helpful. Seeing an example of the technology we have on campus being used successfully could encourage teachers on staff to try using it as well. I would hope that given the opportunity to interact with a blog teachers will become comfortable with them and persuade them to blog in their classrooms.

This blog could also lead to connections with other teachers who are working with deaf or blind students. It could provide a means of connecting over distances and become a place to share ideas, questions, or challenges that are particular to working with this population of students.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Doing and its side-effects

David Thornburg makes the statement that technology in education can allow us to "do things differently or do different things." I started thinking about that and it was remarkably difficult to actually come up with different things that technology allows me to do. I seem to be bound up when it comes to figuring out what can happen in classroom that belongs in a classroom and that can be accomplished. Perhaps 35 years as a part of system leads to unconscious expectations and pulling them out requires deep digging.

Doing different things, leads to different outcomes. Trying to do different things and also have students pass standardized tests seems difficult if not impossible. Unfortunately results of standardized tests matter, especially when funding relies directly on results. The school I work in is a state entity, and our budget goes to the legislature every year. The committee looks at results of evaluations, not at students. They don't decide to sign the funding bill because students are excited to be in school, or because teachers are genuinely engaged in finding new ways to "do" education.

In my early years, I worked in a manufacturing plant making adding machines. I worked in final inspection. Each unit was first "burned-in". Because we were working with electronic parts that could fail if they got too hot, the finished adding machines were first put into what was essentially an oven. They were heated, and once cooled were put through a set of manual tests to see if they could still complete all of their required functions. Any that failed were removed from the line and either parts were replaced or they were taken apart and parts were salvaged and reused in other machines. When working in a manufacturing plant, finding the most efficient way to make and test your product and make the best use of the resources (human and physical) makes sense. Products produced today, should meet the same standards and perform the same functions as those made last week, or next month. Consumers come to trust a product that they know is reliable and will work the way they expect every time.

Children are not adding machines. They are not cars to be recalled, nor can parts be removed and salvaged to be used in another child when the tested unit doesn't pass final inspection. This year's class of students cannot be expected to have the same number and quality of units that pass final inspection. Unfortunately, our system of evaluation essentially puts them through burn-in and then a final inspection. Not only do we do this at the end of units, semesters and school years, but also at "critical junctures" for standardized state testing. 

The onset of the industrial revolution and inception of the assembly line led to students in schools becoming products. We expect them to pass final inspection, but we also expect that this year's class and all the classes that come after (if treated to the same process) will have the same number of certified units at the end of the year. In fact we now expect that each year will have more units that pass final inspection until 100% are acceptable at the end of the process. We are to not only produce certified units, but identical certified units. Education cannot be in the business of producing successful, productive citizens.  Educations should “teach children how to use their minds -- how to think and learn -- so that as adults they will be able and disposed to acquire whatever new knowledge and skills they may need".

To do this we must not only do different things, but do things differently. We can no longer reform the system, we must revolutionize it. We are working in a culture that has moved beyond relying on certified experts in a field to a collaborative system that relies on the wisdom of the crowd. We have to help students work in this new system and give them the tools to “acquire whatever knowledge and skills they may need” and I would add knowledge and skills they may want.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Understanding the Impact of Technology on Education, Work, and Society

Not a very original title, but it gives an idea of the story all the same. I have decided ( follow Jesus...came right into my head when I typed those words, hah!) that I want to make a change to what I do and how I do it at work. I guess working on a change of this scope is as much of a metanoia as deciding to follow Jesus, so maybe it is apt. I have been working under the title of "Educational Technology Coordinator" for a number of years, but I don't know how much I have affected change in the classroom, hence this course.

Looking for a blog to comment on took much longer than I wanted it to. I followed a strange path and finally ended up looking at David Warlick's 2¢ Worth and found a blog post that moved me enough that I wanted to comment. The post is titled Is School 2.0 the Wrong Conversation. In it he suggests that we should be looking at the students we want to graduate from our schools and design schools that inspire those students. He says:

Perhaps, rather than trying to define the classroom and the school of the 21st century, we should be imagining and describing the student/learner of this post-industrial and change-fueled time.
  • What will they talk about after school?
  • How will they act after school?
  • What will homework become to them?
  • What products will they bring home or into their communities?
  • In what ways might their personal passions be manifestly tied to their school?
  • How might they excite their parents, neighbors and greater communities?
If we can answer these questions, recognizing that we don't all need to come to the same answers, then we can design the schools that inspire those students.
When I read this it made me stop. I have been in education for almost 35 years, and have seen all sorts of changes, usually in response to "bad reports". The students weren't making enough progress, they weren't scoring well on the standardized tests, the reading levels hadn't improved enough, the math scores were bad and so on. I don't believe there was ever a change to the books used or the curriculum chosen because students didn't talk about what they did in school that day when they left. We didn't change the math books because it wasn't meeting the needs of students who had  passion for math. We changed the books, the methods, the curriculum because the products coming out of school did not meet the standards set and pass final inspection.

While searching for a blog I felt moved to comment on I found a reference to "Makers". I'm guessing I'm late on the scene of this particular term because I saw references to it from 2011.  I don't have and haven't had a television in my house since 1993. I am not up to date on some of the most current trends, but as I have told many people over the years, I have much more time to do. From the website, The Maker Education Initiative, the mission of the site is to:

"...create more opportunities for young people to make, and, by making, build confidence, foster creativity, and spark interest in science, technology, engineering, math, the arts--and learning as a whole.

very cool cat tree!
I hadn't heard that term before, but after reading about it and what it means I found I am a maker, as are most of my siblings. I have five brothers and a sister. We all in one way or another are makers. I have a couple of brothers who are woodworkers, as is my sister in a smaller way. Three of my brothers are engineers. We are all self-proclaimed geeks when it comes to computers. I make quilts and have through the years made all sorts of other "girly" stuff. With my husband I have built a walk-in closet and replaced all the flooring in the house. I made a very cool cat tree without directions. This legacy of making comes from my father who had to make. He had 7 kids to support and my sister informed me a couple of years ago that we were poor (I hadn't realized that). He changed his own oil, (not very often I must confess), built, with some help from the kids, a carport and renovated the garage into an additional bedroom along with a zillion other projects. Some of my favorite memories of him are going to the hardware store to get one thing or another. I still enjoy hardware stores and have a difficult time not picking up this or that because I might be able to use it somewhere is some project.

The maker movement is, I believe, a need for people to show that they can DO, they can produce and not just consume. My husband works with teens and has said that many lose their way because they don't have a purpose. Perhaps becoming makers gives us a purpose. It gives us a way to show ourselves and the world that we can do. We spend much of our time, in school and at work, doing what must be done, but not doing that which moves us. We can't wait to be done so that we can get out and follow our passions. If we can answer the questions posed by David Warlick and change what school looks like, perhaps we can have students who can't wait to get to school to follow their passions.