Saturday, June 30, 2012

One Skill for Teachers

This week I promised my students that I will do as I asked them. Come-up with something I have not done before. True to my promise and to my own thinking about use flipped classrooms I came up with a within class activity focused on making a short instructional video. I presented some options using the iPad including using the front facing camera, the ShowMe app and a few other great options. The assignment was simple. Think of the most important strategy you taught your student this summer, design a short video reminder of it and shoot it in one take (two at the most). No editing, low expectations.

The response was stunned silence followed by "do we really have to?'s". I was a bit surprised, almost every teacher in the group said "I do  not like my voice". I get a similar reaction when I ask everyone to draw. Every student hesitates, apologizes and does her best to find a way to avoid the task. Making movies was along the same lines.

Part of it is the fear of the complete product that will be there to be judged without our ability to mediate. The other part is the fact that we fail to meet our expectations to be Bogart or Knightly. It took me a while to adjust to viewing myself on the techedge01 videos for iPad in the classroom. It was jarring at first but after a short time I got over myself and moved on. I have come to realize that I am not and will not be Bogart. I can tell you that I am too stiff, wordy and academic but I am getting better.

Video in my eyes is too good a tool to avoid using for instruction, especially when we need to individualize instruction for students at very different levels. My students reaction opened my eyes to this barrier of discomfort about performance. Maybe we all need to dabble in performance arts to let go? or just get used to making videos for instruction.

My conclusions force everyone in teacher education programs to make short videos enough to desensitize them. This way when they teach the option to supplement, support or even flip using videos will be just a few simple steps.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Revisiting iPads in the Reading Center

I am spending another summer in our Reading Center. Graduate and undergraduate students are working with a wonderful group of striving readers and writers trying to get a leg up on the next schools year. This is the first summer that we are incorporating our own set of iPad 2 (last year we did iPad 1).

We are trying to study this year, how, exactly the iPads are being used. Anecdotal data collection already shows four patterns.
1. iPads for teacher use- teachers are using the iPads to record student work for assessment, track their own interaction, store lesson plans, and record student assessment and teaching notes.
2. iPad games as a reward/brain break- 60 sec of angry birds can motivate students for quite a while. While this is useful we are trying to steer everyone to focus on games and apps that have literacy related educational value.
3. iPad for student use in Reading/writing apps- using specific apps to practice a skill or strategy (e.g. using iCardsort for word sorts).
4. Co-use: Finally students and tutors use the iPad together to get more information about content. They are using, Google search for pictures to illustrate the meanings of new words etc.

As I am trying to negotiate a tablet policy in our program. One of the administrators asked me if it has to be an iPad. My answer is both no and yes. I have no special allegiance to Apple, Steve Jobs is not my personal savior, and I am writing this blog on my Dell (last in a long line of laptops). I think tablets are the present (not the future- they are here) and are making a daily impact on education as well as every other aspect of life in the US. So the NO boils down to: I am open to other options since I believe that it not not really based on a specific device but a concept.

At the same time I cannot with a straight face say there is any other serious option outside the iPad and its iOS ecosystem. For example when looking at the web traffic on our own website about 20% was on mobile devices last month. Out of that 20% over 95% were from iOS devices. Clearly our mobile clientele has voted as have most k12 schools entering the tablet era.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Creativity, Literacy and Gaming: An Anecdote about Little Big Planet

My six years old son has been asking me to help him spell lately. "Dad" he shouts from the general vicinity of the TV "how do you spell test? Oh I got it". After a few questions I was curious so I came to see what he was doing (the yelling back and forth was getting less fun). I see Itai perched on the couch in front of the tv manipulating characters and obstacles as he is creating a level in the game LittleBigPlanet. He was integrating writing, his knowledge of games, and design decisions to create a game level. As I was expressing my wonderment about his creativity Asaf who is 16 turned to me and said. "He has been doing it for months!". "I knew he playing" I said "but has he published them online?" "Yes", was the answer, "he made about a hundred, but he can publish only 20".

My thought is something like this: while we argue about how much technology and how should be part of our children's educational experience they are actually moving ahead. But only if we give them great tools to work with: Lego, iPads, LittleBigPlanet, all commercial ideas yet all outstanding educational tools. With some guidance children of this generation can become the most imaginative generation the world has ever seen- combining powerful tools, experimenting and social dimensions. Piaget talked about the child as a scientist learning about the physical world about her. Now after the physical world they can start exploring virtual worlds of possibilities- expanding the potential for development.
This somehow made me hopeful.
Trailer About LittleBigPlanet Publishing

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Teachers goin' Mobile

I am spending a good portion of my waking hours at the KDS Reading Center this summer. Class starts with introducing iPads. My students last year have never used an iPad. This year I have about 20% that have personal iPads. Now we provide everyone with an iPad for use during tutoring while some educational systems are buying devices in bulk, teachers are buying individual devices and changing their own classroom circumstance from the bottom up.
At first the potential expenditure considering teacher salaries took me a back a bit. But then I reflected that teachers have always supplemented what districts and schools provide with things they bought on their own. This is just a single larger purchase, on the other hand unlike a glue stick it is not just for the classroom.
A single teacher owned device in the classroom is not a solution for technology integration, but it is a start. If supported with some casual professional development it can become the foundation to wider, successful mobile adoption when student devices become reality. As with other technologies, small scale use will produce local expertise that can be leveraged when wider implementation of mobile happens at the school.
Of course schools can help along by purchasing a few devices for teachers...

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Creative Teaching, Personal Growth, and the Brain Drain

Take one: One of our presenters in the Tech EDGE conference (coming next week for the third time) told me when we had a few  minutes that she was tired of how slowly her district was transforming. She felt that after 5+ years at the forefront of technology implementation she wanted to move to better and bigger things.
Take two: At the NETA conference last spring I came face to face with a sobering reality. Here was a crowd eager to learn, eager to grow and be creative in teaching. We heard exceptional speaker, learned new applications and had way too much coffee together. But conversations around the tables and the professional reality of many of the presenters (and I suspect participants as well) was in transition. Many were working at the district level, ESU (Educational Service Units), some even for technology companies.

The question is whether education or more specifically teaching is experiencing a "brain drain". Is it possible that  teachers leaving the profession after 5-20 years experience because they cannot be creative and innovative in large bureaucratic systems? The data I have is anecdotal (there is a dissertation in this I am sure) but still intriguing. It is possible that creative and innovative teachers seek out more education, professional development and new ideas. I have long held the belief that there is a point in a teacher's career that she feels that there must be something else out there beyond the district. That when teachers seek out professional development, graduate degrees and new projects. The irony is that the new knowledge and innovative ideas can be exactly the thing that starts distancing them from the classroom until they cannot see themselves going on and start looking for alternatives. When the opportunity is there they get a doctoral degree, become teacher educators, or perhaps go work for Apple.

Why now? I think that there are structural reasons in public education that may be encouraging the "brain drain". On the one hand the increased pressure on teachers to "perform" on high stakes standardized measures constrain curriculum and creativity leaving little to no room for experimentation. This is contrasted by the fast paced changes in technology and society. The difference in rate of change is staggering. Finally, it is more socially acceptable and often necessary to change careers at least once in adulthood.

While I understand the urge to make personal changes I wonder if the state of public education might be progressively hurt by this phenomenon. Are the best minds running in the other direction? It could be that this is "The new normal" for education. The challenge is not just having a younger less experienced teaching force, it is that a good portion of the veteran work force are exactly those who are less likely to innovate and lead positive change. Now, to be totally honest, I am not in the classroom anymore either. I made the same move. How, I wonder, can we create schools that will allow teachers like that to stay, grow, and innovate without leaving the profession? Should this even be a goal?