Friday, November 29, 2013

A Thanksgiving post on Complexity

Sometimes I need to remind myself that technology integration does not mean just using a movie or a device as a replacement. It does not mean just using a document camera or power point. In the same way I need to remind myself that arts integration is not about coloring the right shades inside the lines or making your basic five finger turkey outline.

What integration is, is a thoughtful, well planned exploration of the ways an integrated process and product represent a more complex (sometimes efficient) way to teach to the standards that all of our children need- creativity, collaboration, and a complex understanding of the world around them.

Complexity this time of year is the ability to celebrate Thanksgiving while recognizing that for Native Americans it is not a day of joy. Just like I can celebrate Israel's independence day while recognizing the Palestinian Naqba is valid.

Personally I want to give thanks to all the teachers past present and future who work everyday to make education meaningful! Keep up the good complex work!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Standards and Integration

Last week I participated in the first phase of Reading/ Language Arts standards writing organized by the Nebraska department of education organized by the very capable Tricia Parker-Siemers. Our charge was to consult with existing standards and rewrite them with an eye to the changes in our understanding of literacy. The changes we suggested (the process is long and we were merely the first stop) focused on the significant changes to the ways we understand literacy, primarily because of technology. We crafted the new standards to have an expanded notion of what counts as a text and aspects unique to online reading and writing. For example in Reading Fluency we added the notion of persistence and focus in online reading. This integrated approach seems o make sense at this point in time as a signal to teachers that they cannot separate technology integration from everyday classroom practice. The idea of "computers specials" once a week cannot help our students meet the standards necessary for them to be ready for college and work.

That being said I am also keenly aware that changing of standards is rarely correlated with a change in the ways teachers teach and even less with student achievement. So what is the hope? Why did I take two days out of my professional life to spend trying to re-craft a set of standards that may matter very little?

I believe that we can send a message and provide support for teachers that are working in the right direction. In the work on Tech EDGE Laurie and I have often invoked the multiple literacy standards as a way to justify and base our work with teachers across the state.

The danger of the integrated standards is that they can disappear into the background. When the standards were all together they had a "presence" that cannot be denied. I worry that when they are part of wider constructs (e.g. comprehension) they might only get a nominal mention and much would happen. On a second thought this is already happening in many classrooms anyway...

What I really hope is that the Nebraska State assessment will use these new standards to make better items and test environment that includes multiple literacies in wise and creative ways. Yes, I used state assessment, creative and wise in the same sentence; a man can dream, can't he?
If they follow in the footsteps of the work Don Leu and his colleagues have done we may have some interesting things in our future.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Five Wrong Paths Down Technology Integration Road

I believe we stand at the dawn of a great change in education. Technology is forcing schools to change as it does society at large. The direction of change, however, is not always clear and looking around I see plenty of examples for paths we should not be taking.

1. Buy Devices- This is an if you build it they will come argument. True new devices will push some teachers to try them out. But, it usually starts and ends with a massive investment in equipment followed by very little professional development and opportunities to experiment. Devices are great but they are just tools, teachers and students need to be shown how to use them well.

2. Teacher Devices Only- For financial and other reasons some schools see teacher devices and professional development as the end game. They champion a laptop/iPad/smartboard in for every teacher or in every classroom. These are inherently teaching devices and will increase student achievement marginally if at all- the real gains and 21st century learning will be achieved only if we put instruments in students hands.

3. Lets wait until they master basic skills- This is an old argument that has been used in many ways to stand in the way of making sure that all students learn high level thinking. In technology integration it usually means that students who have lower achievement are robbed of opportunities to explore other modalities and ideas. In this we may be limiting the futures of our most needy students. Just last week I heard a teacher say that her third graders were going to do research without computers because they have not learned how yet! It is our job to teach them and administrators jobs to make sure there is space for that.

4. The disabled device- Most teachers I meet have device/s from their district that they cannot update, download to or in one case even change the background on. In that way iPads go for a year before they are updated (making some apps useless) and prevent teacher from downloading great (mostly free) apps.  In some ways it is a curious argument. We trust teachers with the lives and well being of 20 seven-year olds but do not believe they are responsible enough to use their computer/iPad wisely. The same goes for student use. While I do not advocate allowing students full access to every device, if you do provide individual devices you must open it up, as recent examples from LAUSD show.

5. The canned curriculum- At the heart of 21st century learning is user choice motivation and creativity. In some districts, however, technology is leveraging curriculum company software to deliver a "one size fits all" curriculum. Paradoxically what started as an opportunity for teacher leadership and professional decision making is turning into a regimen of assessments, activities and monitoring that limits teacher decision making. If the curriculum companies with districts created a dashboard driven structure in which teachers can create their own sequence to a core curricular path, that would be great, but that is not what is going on on the ground. This is perhaps the most dangerous road to take as it may very well help de-professionalize the teaching profession further.

At the heart of my argument is that technology is opening new paths to leaning, adding a diversity of possible paths. Let's not use it to close down options. And if we choose to go down the road (I do not think we have a real option about that) we need to make sure that it is used by students and supported by top notch PD that helps teachers experiment and learn not follow a predetermined path.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

iPad Focus

I admit it. I have been waffling. I have been championing iPad use but have actually been using a combination of iPhone iPad and laptop. Two weeks ago I met with a potential honor student and her parents. The conversation predicitably came around to iPads. The dad asked me if I thought the iPads were the roght devices for a college students, and I answered that a mixture of devices is what I use and what I can honestly recommend at this juncture. I know that devices matter and i love my ipad but I do not want to lead people to believe that just an iPad would work out. Some application clearly do not.

Then, Last week in out iPad user group meeting Dave Brooks asserted- iPads are still primarily a consumption device. I thought about it, and I still disagree, true, I consume a lot of media on my iPad, from reading news stories to netflix. At the same time I also create video, particpate in online discussions, write in google docs and take notes. The iPad is also my primary machine for email and calendar. 
So where is all of this going? I am doing my own ipad experiment. Any thing I need to do digitally I will start with on the iPad and switch only if it does not work well on the IPad. I will make daily notes about use and see how I manage and how much I need other devices (read laptop).

This blog post was writtem on the blogger iPad app.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

My Chinese iPad Adventure

Ji Guo is a new graduate student in our program. With his help I have been able to expand our work on professional development in technology integration to China.

The first foray was adopting our YouTube videos so they can be accessible in China's YouKu. We went even further and developed a separate series of video PD on iPads designed specifically for the Chinese market.

This monday we tried something new. An online presentation for Chinese teachers who are interested in integrating iPads into their classrooms. It took us a full day to prepare and make sure the technology and content were all up to par. We had a great crowd of about 50-60 computers linked (we estimate 100 viewers) through Adobe Connect. This was a great experiment in producing a cross cultural professional development. I think that the team including Ji and Qizhen is very aware of the cultural differences and we all took special care to make the content relevant and helpful as well as culturally sensitive. The viewers were attentive, interactive and fun to work with!

As a reality check I would like to talk about 3 unexpected outcomes that can serve as a guide to working with China.
1. Less than 48 hrs after we made our powerpoint available someone was using it as their ow selling PD.
2. Our book on the Universal Learning Model is available in China in digital format illegally
3. Someone has charged $50 for the password to our presentation (that we served for free).
I find the experience educational and amusing. In some ways it is flattering.

I take a few things from it- We can have a real impact in China- there is obviously a thirst for innovation. The added value in the market cannot be a product it has to be the service- us. Finally that there is considerable monetary value to our and if anyone is profiting it might as well be us.

Here's to continuing my Chinese adventures...

Friday, November 1, 2013

The NEA Foundation and Talking Ginger- Moving National Meetings to the 21st Century

My son, now seven, had a wonderful time with the Talking Ginger app last year. The app allows him to talk at Ginger the cat and Ginger repeats his phrase with a distorted high pitched voice. It also creates short movies based on actions and phrases created by the user. A few weeks ago I took a look at my YouTube channel and was surprised to find that he had uploaded about 50 videos he created to YouTube. To my chagrin his videos had more hits than mine, but I digress.

Last week I spent two days with the NEA Foundation in DC. The convening had exceptional organization, great speakers and quality content. It was also decidedly a 20th century affair. We had paper books, paper feedback sheets, paper poster boards, our tasks and responses and reports were also text and paper heavy.

There we sat creatures of the 20th century discussing 21st century education innovation in 20th century ways. Nobody created a movie a prezi or a piece of art, music or a storybird. We discussed globalization without global connections and just one global speaker. We discussed curriculum without open source ideas. We discussed ways we use technology on paper and reported orally- not a single image, collaborative product (say or a link was shared. Groups that complained about culturally insensitive curriculum didn't share any alternative- none have realized that with the advent of the Internet and online mostly free resources there was no reason to keep sticking with curriculum companies. The 21st century gave us ways to stop complaining and start acting.

Do not misunderstand ,we all had devices, iPads, iPhones and other smart devices. It was clear that as individuals we have entered the 21st century. But as a group we collectively act in 20th century ways. As a group we are not digital immigrants- we are still on the boat dreaming of the old country pretending we are still there. How can we lead change for students that have already uploaded 50 youtube videos of Talking Ginger?

Five suggestions for a meeting:
1. Have each grantee create a short 2-3 minute video describing what they do. Suggest some styles but let creativity reign. It could be a narrated prezi or ppt or a flash documentary
2. Have a Twitter back channel and share it on a video crawl
3. Have group products created digitally
4. Make the digital curriculum choices especially Open Educational Resources (OER) a major point of discussion
5. When discussing globalization connect globally in real time into group discussions
plus a simple one:
6. All materials should be available in apps/ live websites and paper should be shared only with those who request it (greener too!)

I could go on for quite a while...