Monday, January 23, 2012

Blinded and befuddled by technology?

Should we have more technology in schools?  Ask the grade 3 students I interviewed recently and they would unreservedly agree.  They’ve had iPads in their school for the last six weeks and tell me that math, for example, is much better with the iPads than “normal” math.  What’s normal? I asked.  They stared at me for a moment, stumped.  Boring, one girl said.  It’s just paper and pencils. There’s no colour, another girl stated emphatically.

Grade 3 students watch their interview.
I was reminded of a story a colleague told me.  Her grandson was visiting and they were watching TV together – it was an old black and white TV, but their family didn’t watch often and it served their purposes.  The little boy, after learning that the TV wasn’t broken, that is was just different, settled in to try to watch.  Finally he burst out, but I can’t see the TV.

I wonder if our children, raised in constant colour, motion, and sound are increasingly blind in still, black and white, monologue-driven spaces.  Or passive places.  The grade 7s I spoke to today told me - Having technology in the classroom is better because we don’t have to listen to one person.  We really don’t listen anyway.  With the iPads, there is the whole world to teach us and we get to work and learn together in small groups so we learn even more.

Should we be worried about this new blindness?  Riley, a grade 12 blogger, is.  She fears that we are forgetting how to communicate.  She writes, “instead of using the skill to communicate face-to-face, technology has developed countless methods such as text messaging, email, and social networking to avoid vulnerability or confrontation.”  Her classmate Deanna is worried, too:
Even now, as I try to express my ideas into this internet realm, I’ve browsed Facebook, Tumblr, and taken lengthy texting breaks before even completing my first paragraph. It seems as though our lack of attention is taking a toll on many things…. How are we meant to have an insightful and inspiring conversation with a friend over tea while someone else could be on Facebook at that exact moment changing their relationship status to “Single”? It’s impossible, it just cannot be done.
Should we be worried?  I'm more inclined to see another bright spot.  Listening to children, I’m less worried today than yesterday.  We need to rethink education but that’s not new.  The one size we’re used to has never fit all and those it doesn’t fit are objecting now.  But if we pay attention to students (and ask them to read complex literature and thought-provoking articles and ponder these big ideas in public), they’ll keep reminding us of what’s important.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bright Spot: 100% Participation at 0 Cost.

'There's no use trying,' said Alice; 'one can't believe impossible things.'
'I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen.
'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day.
Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
                                                                                                     Lewis Carroll

I have been arguing for some time, that unless we relentlessly think together in our schools, sharing ideas, collaborating, improvising, opening our classrooms, asking the same questions, working on cross-fertilization across the schools and up and down the system, the best we can do is have pockets of unsustainable excellence. And no matter how good we are in pockets, the child will not be served.  Because none of us has all the answers.  No matter how brilliant we are.  The diversity we serve demands diverse answers.  The only chance is for us to work together system-wide - not doing the same thing, but asking the same questions. 100% of the people on eacb staff. 100% of the people at the district level. 100% of the teachers. 100% of the principals.100% of the support staff.

And we have to do it at 0 cost.  There is no money.  Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  As George Washington said, “We are out of money.  Now it is time to think.”

Last year I posed this question to our Project Success teams (each of them receives a small grant to work collaboratively on an inquiry):  How can we use the time we have this year to grow time for 100% participation in teaching and learning together at 0 cost? After the meeting, one of the attendees chastised me.  There is no such thing as 100% participation, he said.  It’s discouraging to speak in those terms.

He might be right.  I have lately tried to focus more on reminding people of the small steps that we can take in the direction of our big ideas.  But Kathleen left that meeting a year ago and set to work to set up a professional learning community in her school.  This week she set me this note:  “Our PLC is running smoothly now!! We have divided the teaching staff into 3 teams. Each week, one team of 5 to 6 people is responsible for supervising the students as they read with older student buddies and reading tutors in their classrooms. The other two teams are free to meet as a large group, or as small collaborative teams (as they feel the need) for a period of 30 minutes during the school day. We alternate PLC meeting days to accommodate all of the part time teachers, and in this way, we have 100% participation in our PLC activities at zero cost!”

Perhaps we just need more practice believing impossible things!  After all impossible things happen every day.

via @tkonynenbelt

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bright Spots: Snow Day Meeting Goes Digital

In 2005 (2005!) Marc Prensky wrote about the process of technology adoption as typically a four-step process:
Doing old things in old ways
Doing old things in new ways
Doing new things in new ways.

When a new technology appears, Prensky noted seven years ago, “our first instinct is always to continue doing things within the technology the way we've always done it.”  Seven years later, we are still struggling to get past dabbling or doing old things in old ways.  Witness our extolling the virtues of the “flipped classroom,” which merely flips two old things done in old ways – lectures become homework. As Ira Socal argues, it’s “the same classroom, just re-arranged”.

But it’s hard to figure out how to do new things with these new tools when we are still comfortable with our old ways.  Jared Cohen is a Google Ideas director thinking about how we can harness what he calls “connection technologies” (the term social media, he argues, is too limiting) to address global challenges.  He argues that new things happen in places where necessity inspires innovation. Witness, he says, the Arab Spring.

The hardest part of doing new things is that you cannot imagine them.  Today, a bright spot for me was doing an old thing – a meeting - on Google+.  It was necessitated by snow – it seemed dangerously ridiculous to drive when we could meet online.  What was marvelous, as we navigated the new space, figuring out the glitches, finding the features – is beginning, at the edge of our imaginations, to consider the ways we could use this tool that we were using in an old way. But using it was a start. Using it with imaginative, passionate, thoughtful colleagues was even better.  I’m betting that right now they are already thinking about how we can have book clubs with students across the district or peer edit sessions between schools or connect students meaningfully with community mentors or…..

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bright Spot: Blogging Educators

A moment ago, an email arrived to approve a post for a collaborative blog we’ve set up for a technology project we have under way.  The post took my breath away – just the honesty of it, the thoughtfulness, the hard work of it – to reflect after a long day, to learn in front of the world (or at least a few colleagues) – so that together we can all learn from and build upon those experiences.

Chris Kennedy argues that BC is leading Canada (and perhaps the world) in the professional use of social media in K-12 education. He gives a list of seven reasons to explain it.  I’m not sure about the first six (although they make sound sense), but I’m absolutely certain of the last:  “We have an amazingly dedicated profession:  Even in challenging times, it is stunning to see the number of teachers, school administrators and other educators spending time in their evenings and weekends to reflect and share through their blogs, Twitter and other venues.”

Monday, January 16, 2012

Blue Monday Bright Spot

We all tend to focus on problems rather than strengths.  Very few of us spend time analyzing what we are doing well, so we can do more of it.  Instead we stare at our faults, our warts, our bad habits and weaknesses and try to fix them.  But Chip and Dan Heath in their book, Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard, note that especially in times of change (and surely there is no dispute that we are in the midst of profound change) there are problems everywhere, so focusing on them becomes a recipe for inaction.  Instead, we need to use our power of analysis to figure out what’s going well with an eye to doing more of it in the future.

We have a lot of Bright Spots in our schools, even on the most depressing day of the year, even when our plans come apart (for a million reasons) and our failures and disappointments loom large in our eyes.  As Senior Alternative teacher Ray Andrews said, the question about what’s going well was “a reminder that there have indeed been bright spots. For example, I have two students who are likely to achieve early graduation (Dogwoods, of course).”  According to extensive research, “An individual’s educational attainment is one of the most important determinants of their life chances in terms of employment, income, health status, housing and many other amenities,” so the opportunities opened to two students whose risks for dropping out were very high is a sun-glasses-on-it’s-so-bright  spot.  (See Cost of Dropping Out.)  Next: let’s ask the
students what worked and why they beat the odds.  And then – let’s do more of it!

Watch Dan Heath share how to find a bright spot.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

7 Ways to Learn and Use Technology Even When You Have Very Little Technology or Technology Knowledge

A collaboratively created list.

Project Success Gathering
1.  Curate the Web
Organize your links for students using some of the online tools that make it easy for you and easy for kids.
Jog the Web
Live Binders (Steve Anderson’s binders are a great resources for educators wanted to use technology)
The best thing about these tools is that our links, bundles, “jogs,” and binders can be shared.  Working alone, curating the web is overwhelming – working together, we can each do less better!

2.  Create a Container
Where will you put your collections so they are easy to access?  Wikis are a very easy to create, easy to use, and easy to maintain space – and the best part – designed for collaboration.  Try either pbworks or wikispaces. What makes Wikipedia viable is that it is built and maintained by hundreds of thousands of people.  On our own, a wiki just adds one more thing; when we work together with our colleagues, we can each contribute our strengths and get help where - and when - we need it most.

3.  Keep Deep and Meaningful Learning in Mind
Technology only amplifies the work we do.  Just as we wouldn't tell students to “write a story” and expect quality results, we can’t tell students to “create a PowerPoint” without explicit instructions.  It isn’t enough to show students merely how to add and delete images, for example; more important, they need instruction, for a start, on what makes a good image and how we credit images.  (And let’s put our lessons and the resources for them on a wiki to share, so each of us doesn’t have to reinvent!)

4.  “I Can” Attitude
So often we begin with “I can’t.”  There is a lot we CAN do.  And one of the hardest things to know that we can do:  we can make mistakes, flounder, look like a novice (because we are) and learn out loud with our students.

5.  Support Each Other
We really, really need to find ways to work together, to team teach, to touch bases regularly, to remind each other to take baby steps (and cheer each one!), and to accept - embrace - that learning will be mucky and slow.

6.  Get Students to Teach
Teaching is still the best way to learn deeply.  Students are both familiar with technology and comfortable in that environment: let them teach each other (peer teaching, buddy teaching, partner learning) – and best of all, let them teach us.

7.  Waste Time!  
Leave time for “timewasting.”  Explore. Play. Discover. Tinker. Laugh.  And best of all, waste time together.