Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sleepless with my Chromebook

About two months ago I ordered a Chromebook. It was mostly because many schools around the nation are making this choice including the district my kids are attending. While I had a sense of what Chromebooks are, the personal experience is always best.

I have used the Chromebook multiple times but never extensively. This (very early) morning I needed to grade assignments online and I found myself with only the Chromebook. For the first time I sat at it for an extended amount of time doing my daily work.

It worked just fine. It was a tad slow at times (with heavier graphics) but nothing that was significant enough to consider waking my family to get my mac book pro. It's a very functional machine.

In my discussions with educators and administrators they often mention they like the fact that it is a no nonsense machine. You can do basic work on it, nothing fancy but it works, connects you to the web, lets you do stuff. Students they reason will view it as a learning machine, not a toy. The iPad, on the other hand, is viewed as a toy. We hear the same thing from parents and teachers in multiple countries. That is something I hear fairly often. There is work, then there is play, confusing the two create problems and students will stop learning. Basically, for students to learn we need to remove joy.

Do we really think kids are having too much joy in school that we need to remove it?
Do we really think play is not part of learning?
Do we think that the features that make tablets attractive (not just iPads) portability, creativity, and interface interfere with learning or maybe they actually help?
Do we really think that the dichotomy of work and play is still relevant? Is it in your life?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Why I love teaching in the summer

This post is an ode to summer teaching. As I do most summers I have a full summer load. Many of the people passing me in the corridors are only too happy to remind me that it is summer and a time to take a break especially given that most of us work on a 9-month contract.

I usually reply that I have two sons going to college next year and other acceptable financial comments. The truth, however, is more complicated. I like teaching in the summer. The intensive time spent with practicing teachers and budding researchers is probably the best professional development I get all year.

Most of the students in the summer are practicing teachers who have, for a change, time to reflect and think long-term. Most of what I teach this summer is linked to research methods and inquiry, as a result graduate students are bringing their own content and questions challenging my thinking and adding connections and ideas.

I read, teach, and prep most days- the result is that my brain feels on fire, in a good way.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Five Edu Lessons from China 6 months later

It's been six months since we came back from China. I have blogged about it right after we came back, but I thought it would be good to go back and see what lessons stuck.

1. Competition can be prominent in the public sector. All the schools we visited and many we are still in contact with have a strong competitive spirit. Despite the fact that they are public they compete for a name, local and national awareness and for results. While there are private school in China, the high-value Chinese families put on education makes schools compete for being known as the best to serve their students.

2. The drive for excellence is pushing schools to try out new approaches, technologies, and ideas. Our work started with school leaders admitting that they know things need to change, but they are less sure of how to balance the old and the new. With every change, they worry that it may impact immediate indicators even when it is clear that the change is useful for long-term success. In essence, this is the same problem school administrators face in the US.

3. Teachers are empowered by leading innovative learning ideas (with and without technology). The teachers we met with were young and motivated. The work with us gave them a direction and a sense of efficacy that allowed them to act and evolve as teachers.

4. Class size increases parental pressures. Large classrooms make it close to impossible for teachers to attend to the needs of their struggling learners. As a result whenever a student is struggling parents are left to meet the extra needs.

5. Teacher Evaluation. In contrast with the US, Chinese school systems evaluate teachers based on classroom observations and not student outcomes. The fascinating thing is individual school achievement is extremely important, yet teachers are not evaluated based on it. I believe that the phenomenon has two sources (a) the understanding that individual achievement is rooted in motivation and home practices and (b) the understanding that current measurement systems are not valid enough for comparison across classrooms and schools.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Four things we already know about PD (but need a reminder)

I just finished a week with a fantastic group of educators. Laurie Friedrich, Alison Preston and I ran our fourth iPads in the Classroom workshop. The name of the workshop is inadequate since we had users with all kinds of devices including windows machines, Macs, Chromebooks, smartphones and of course iPads.

The intensive one-week tech workshop is always fun although at the end of each we all experienced the sense of reaching capacity. It also reminds of what we know and often conveniently forget about effective professional development (PD):

1. We need significant time away from the everyday tasks to make significant changes. If you are tinkering with existing structures short workshops can be fine, but if you want a departure from normal you need to take time.

2. We need to work in teams. Shared cognition when learning something new is empowering, supportive and extends the boundaries of what can be accomplished. Even after facilitating numerous PD events (30 presentations and two classes last year) Laurie and I are still learning new things every time.

3. We all need time to practice. Showing isn't enough, everyone must participate in doing and experimenting during the PD. Showing and then sending teachers back is just not enough especially with new technologies that without support can become frustrating and with support are almost trivial.

4. We all need follow-up. That is our next step, making sure teachers have opportunities to discuss and extend what they already know.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Teacher websites are so 2010... and what to do about it

I am working with teachers this week on technology integration. I am seeing a real determination to find productive ways to integrate technology and subject matter (TPCK anyone?). Speaking yesterday during our summary I said "Websites are so 2010", as some are working on a website this may have come off wrong BUT I do stand behind my main point. Businesses have already realized it, teachers and schools are still trying to come to grips with it. Having a website is not enough. To be in contact with our students and families, we have to shift from static web pages to interacting  using social media, texting, and email to reach everyone. This way new content whether analog or digital can reach its target audience.

I can see the justified reaction: Teachers are asked to do more than ever and here is one more thing... and: We might get in trouble...

I believe that this are true concerns. On the other hand:
A good communication plan will make sure that parents and students have the most up to date information increasing the rate of homework completion, assessment success, participation in parent conferences and many more activities that require the collaboration of parents and families. Our hardest to reach families may become much more available and attentive if we use communication channels they use anyway. The potential benefits outweigh the risks and costs.

In short, I believe that the days of sending notes home on paper are numbered. For now we probably should still have them as a backup to ensure equity of access, but I am convinced that the rate of engagement would grow significantly with digital, especially, social channels. Districts (and teacher education programs) should help teachers by providing tools, training, and guidelines that would encourage contact while protecting all stakeholders.

P.S. Can we do away with paper planners for students?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Creativity Moments (a note)

Jeff Bernadt presented today and included a segment on creativity. Creativity is not just a message for us as teachers, it is also for our students as a conscious act. Tell them that it is part of our goal in the classroom.

The main message is that creativity can be in any domain and that it is a local concept.

How does all of this connect to technology? It doesn't have to, but my argument is that technology opens more doors and enables students to create even with lower skill levels.

I still maintain that creativity can emerge only when you have a deep understanding of a domain with lots and lots of practice. Technology can facilitate practice and learning that is guided by the learner that can use the web to increase their knowledge and apps for repeated practice.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Falling for Gadgets and Getting Up

Last week five graduate students and I traveled to Beatrice, NE to participate in the ESU5 Tech Fair.  It was a very successful day and we worked with many teachers in very short sessions. Nick Ziegler was a great host and the event went without a hitch (at least as far as I know).

At the end of the event, I was asked to draw the winners of the door prizes. Nick has arranged for an impressive set of prizes that included screens, printers, iPad, software licenses and more. I agreed to draw for all prizes except for the Interactive Whiteboard. This was the gadget that caught my eye and where I have put all of my door prize tickets.

Despite all of my efforts, I did not win. On the way back, I thought about the gadget and why I was focused on it? It is easy to fall for cool gadgets. You see them in actions or just imagine what you could do with them. It is like getting a present- that sense of getting something cool and starting it for the first time. Laurie calls it the Christmas morning effect. And seeing the gadget I can already anticipate how great I will feel when I open it.

Surrendering to my emotions I forgot to ask the most important question we need to ask about any technology in the classroom: Is it a teaching device or a learning device? In the case it was more a teaching device than a learning one. Now that gadget fever has subsided I also recall that most schools that I have worked with and adapted whiteboards were disillusioned within a year or so. It was simply not worth it and made very small if any gains in instruction. The change if any will come from well-used student devices that are scaffolded for teachers and students.