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.