Monday, March 27, 2017

The Value of Googleable Questions?

In 2006 my oldest daughter was in 4th grade and part of the curriculum was called "Daily Oral Geography." This is a well known geography curriculum that consists of weekly worksheets to teach geography. I remember buying Jessica this huge Atlas that was a bound book. We still have it because it was so nice. She could look up all sorts of maps to answer her questions. We spent a little extra for it but decided with another child 3 years younger, it would be worth it.

I remember one night Jessica was working on her D.O.G. (Daily Oral Geography) as homework and she came downstairs and asked "Mom, it asks what the 5 oceans of the world are but I see more than 5, can you help me?" I looked at the atlas and saw what she was talking about. At that point in her school life, she didn't have easy accessibility to technology. She didn't own a smartphone or iPad because they were not yet invented. We had a family computer but it wasn't seen as a place to go to help with homework.

I remember googling "5 oceans of the world" and one of the first hits was the actual worksheet she was doing all filled in by a teacher. I said "wow!" and Jessica looked over my shoulder and said, "YES!" to which I replied, "You can't just copy the answers." And she didn't. She worked hard to get her answers every week. It was a moment to teach good digital citizenship at my house but it also led me to start thinking deeper about what we ask of students. I didn't expect to find the actual worksheet on the internet and I'm sure her teacher didn't either. There is no blame in this statement, just a fact...I saw the world changing.

This was 2006, 11 years ago. Educational technology was not even a strong game at that point. Out of curiosity I just now googled the same question and in 1.75 seconds I had 1,340,000 results with the first hit being them listed in bold with bullets. What does this mean to education?

I find myself seeing this from several different angles:

  • Students becoming positive Digital Citizens. If you are a user of technology, you are a digital citizen- a participant of a community with rules and expectations that are constantly evolving. With educational technology comes faster access to information and opinions. In 2006 the ease to get to "facts" using technology was just the tip of the iceberg. Now that educators are seeing the value of students having authentic audiences, we are suggesting to students to create an online presence of their learning. No longer is it just facts that can be googled but also opinions of other students across the world. With the mapping of curriculum (which prevents gaps for students if they leave one district for another) being somewhat the same from district to district the ability to find answers to the assignments placed before students becomes easier and easier. More than ever before it is important for us to set well explained boundaries and expectations for our students. When is it ok to use technology for learning and when is it not? Teaching students the value of the process of learning, not just the end results on a worksheet for a grade is important because when I google "write my paper" I have 212,000,000 hits in .42 seconds. To think our students are not doing things like this is naive at best. Spending time in each class setting digital citizen expectations is crucial to helping students navigate and choose to be students of integrity.
  • Teachers asking intentional questions. More than ever before I think it is imperative that we look at education differently. Access to information is at the fingertips of our students (even in elementary school). When do we, as educators, ask easily Googleable questions? When do we allow technology to answer those questions for our students? How does homework fit into the easy accessibility of answers in today's world? What information is now "worth" memorizing? Who decides what required facts to purge in this day of easy accessibility? How do we make sure students are truly answering from their knowledge bank and not their ability to ask Google good questions? What's the value of worksheets in a world where you can find the answers and fill in the blanks in about 3 minutes? How do we make sure students are learning how to use tools beyond technology? When are shortcuts ok? When are they not? If Google can answer a question, is it a worthy question to be asking our students in preschool? elementary? middle? high? advanced?
  • School Culture changing to adopt more critical thinking goals. Does technology mean we should be rethinking the way we teach? In the past, the teacher was the giver of all knowledge. Now students are both learning and creating in their own way, on their own time. Does this mean we need to be looking beyond the practical and pushing students to critically think about that easily accessible information? Is this why project based learning, cross-curricular integrated units, genius hour, and personalized learning is becoming significantly more popular? Is this why schools are trying to shift away from grades-based learning to competency-based learning? Is there a better way for students to prove their understanding not just their compliance to educational norms?
I'll be honest, even as an instructional technologist, I find the possibilities for education in the future mind boggling. I want to make sure we are being student centered as we adopt and adapt education. I don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water but I also want to know we aren't accepting antiquated ways of doing things "because we've always done it this way." And so I ask the question again..."what is the value of Googleable questions?" and "What new expectations should we be placing on students?"

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Taking Personalized Learning Personal

When I think about personalized learning I see two faces- my own girls. One daughter is a junior in college and the other is a senior in high school. They will both be graduates at the school I have been an educator at for the last 13 years. All through their k-12 educational experience they struggled with math. On and off (more on than off) I hired tutors to help them to feel more confident in the math classes they took. With tutors in their life studying for exams became less tearful. I couldn’t help but ask myself “how is the current system of math instruction not working for my girls and other students like them?” “Why do my girls not understand concepts in class?” When I think of personalized learning, I see my girls and what it could have done for them to make them feel like more confident learners.

As an instructional technologist for my school system I am constantly looking for innovative ways to enhance learning and help teachers become more effective. An opportunity was placed before me that has caused me to become a champion for personalized learning like never before. Three schools across the United States were coming together to look for ways to lower the cost of education through a blended learning math prototype. I was asked to be a part of this pilot as technology support. Our school, in Chattanooga, Tennessee would be a trailblazer.

It started simply with a below average 5th grade math class. The teacher felt overwhelmed by their lack of progress. We turned it into a blended learning station rotation class with the use of technology to fill gaps. The increase in test scores were phenomenal but what stuck with me was the confidence building I saw. I wanted to baby step into blended learning- this is what transpired:

In 2015 those three schools came together to prototype blended learning math using the model of a lead teacher and paraprofessionals in the classroom. Each school looked at it a bit differently due to individuality of the schools. For Chattanooga Christian School, our teachers started off in a blended learning station rotation model with modality stations such as teacher instructed, hands on, technology instruction, gaming, inquiry based.
Screen Shot 2016-11-18 at 3.41.07 PM.pngOur teachers created icons to help students navigate the day for movement in the classroom. They also used a LMS for instructions. It didn’t take long for the educators in the classroom to see they had students that could move forward and some that needed additional time. They decided to allow for personalized learning to take place with some constraints as far as pacing. Those moving ahead were often given opportunities to go deeper and those lagging behind were given calendar dates to get things done by.  It wasn’t an easy year. At the end of the year the lead teacher looked at me and said, “I’ve been teaching for 17 years and I never saw the cracks that my students were falling through. Please don’t make me go back to teaching traditionally again.” It still gives me goosebumps. Especially considering I thought she might quit on me at any moment during the school year! Here are testimonials from 2 students:

In the 2016-2017 school year we are in year two of the prototype with two school systems still involved and 40 students in the classrooms with one lead teacher and 2 para-professionals. The educators in the room have found a rhythm and other math teachers are questioning positively “what’s happening in that room and how can I be a part of it?” I believe in personalized learning and think that maybe some students might become confident math learners because of the trailblazing these amazing teachers are doing at our school. I believe the culture of being grade driven students is changing to competency driven in this pilot. I believe these students have been given a glimpse at being in charge of their path of learning and seeing it for the process it is. I'm interested to see where the future takes us.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

How do I know what Contemporary tool will become a Classic?

  1. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Coca-Cola, Rolls-Royce, Gone With The Wind, The Beatles, MonaLisa, Piaget, Socrates, hamburgers, and phonics- all considered "Classics" by some. Enduring products, ideas, legends even under the scrutiny, dislike, and judgment of others. 
    According to Merriam Webster the definition of classic means "serving as a standard of excellence: of recognized value, traditional, enduring, historically memorable, etc." but what makes a classic? That's the rub. How do we know what will be useful and worthy of keeping for the future?
    As an instructional technologist I am often asked what's the best tool for doing certain things which often leads to "why do we have to embrace so many different tools? Why isn't there something that can do everything we need it to do?" We are in a time where there are many different software options to perform different primary functions. As my coworker, Cathy Smith said, "there is always a degree of overlap which requires an understanding of strength and weaknesses of each product. How a teacher chooses to incorporate the tools into their instructional practice is of course a matter for each of us as professional educators to determine and would be impacted by our specific discipline." At FETC this year Tom Murray said "the technology our students are using today will be the worst technology they will ever use." Meaning that capabilities will become faster, more intuitive, more useful. I think the same can be said of the tools we use that work on a technology platform. 
    So the bottom line is, in a technology world that is exponentially changing faster than it ever has before, how do I know what will be a classic? Which companies and platforms will adapt to best meet needs? Which platforms will be replaced due to better companies coming on board? What needs that we currently have in education will actually become obsolete?And with these questions, is it possible for me to say "this is the best platform for our school's future?" and be able to feel confident that I mean that for 5 years or even 10 years? I submit I definitely can't say 10 years and that is so different to what the culture of education has been up until this point. What does the role of contemporary tools have on an educational culture that embraces classical? How do we embrace change and need for change without being able to make promises that you might have to rewrite and re-enter your lessons, ideas and curriculum in mass amounts a few years out. Is that a terrible expectation? 
    As I dig, ask questions, pilot, and evaluate technology platforms in a typical debits/credits t-account in my head, I struggle with being part of decisions that might fall flat. Being labeled as someone that made a bad suggestion for the masses based on current information that quickly becomes outdated concerns me. What if I suggest a choice that makes us a Blockbuster in a Netflix world? I find myself worrying about how to best support the scope and sequence of curriculum at our school with instructional technology. I worry about remaining relevant in a quickly changing environment. I know what it feels like to try to make something "fit" that just doesn't fit. I see the value of the tried and true. While I love to have opportunities to trial cutting edge technology, I know the risks it brings to the table. I pray that I can be balanced in my desires and that I will be useful to my school because I strive to stay well informed. What educational technology names will be considered "classics" one day? I do not know. And dare I say, I wonder if it is going to matter?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Finding Your School's Meaningful Language

Lately, our school has been revamping, rewriting and rethinking our student/parent handbook. This has led to some really great conversations that have shown the need to open the door for even more conversations...which I feel is always a good thing. The more voices, both horizontally and vertically within, and best practice viewpoints outside your district, the better the chance to get to a place where all can either "agree on" or "agree to disagree and strategize for the common good." I'm thankful for this period of uncomfortableness and for pushback. I'm thankful to be heard and to be in community to listen to other viewpoints.

During this time of decisions within our technology department I am also dealing with a dog in a halo cone due to surgery (innovation that is a disruption to reach a future goal) and a book that is helping me sift through my thoughts on analog behaviors (our desire as a human race to use all our senses and experience realness). Lump that with having the opportunity to hear Heidi Hayes Jacobs speak at Covenant College last week on the essential question of "How can we prepare our learners for their future?" and my mind is working 90 mph at any given moment with the feeling of conflicting ideas surging through me looking for resolution. I'll be honest, I love it.

One of the things I don't do well as an instructional technologist is assuring others that I am not trying to radically change every classroom in the world. I am just so passionate about what I learn about and the future possibilities I see that I come across sometimes as being a techno-fanatic. I can guarantee you that if you don't work hand in hand with me, you probably have thought that, and as much as I have tried to temper that opinion over the last few years, I do get excited when I see tools evolve that can make a difference in education. Right now I am ΓΌber excited about two things:

  • Next generation chromebooks with touchscreen and the ability to run android apps.
  • Paper or paper-like options for computer input that is becoming reasonably cost efficient. 
Forgive me, I digress into a potential future blog post but I share that to say, that's how my mind works. You tell me things you want to do and I am looking towards the future of what that will one day look like. I look for streamlining of tasks, blending of current good pedagogy with contemporary technology tools, and creating a culture of future readiness for our students in a world where the job they may work in does not currently exist. I do get passionate about that, sometimes to a fault.  And that is where Heidi Hayes Jacobs put into words what I sometimes fail to communicate when I am talking with teachers. She has a cut the chase type behavior that makes me envious. She very succinctly shared that pedagogy falls into 3 categories: Antiquated, Classical, and Contemporary.
I love the wording of this. Much to my chagrin, this is what I've been trying to say but I often fill the void with too many words or with too strong of words regarding contemporary. There are things that are outdated or unneeded that we need to cut in our classrooms, there are things that are enduring/essential or well done in our classroom that do not need to be done away with, and there are things that are being created or learned that we need to create in the spaces of our classrooms. Three distinct categories of pedagogy that allow us to sort, filter, and critically look at options, opportunities, growth, AND stability. 

Words matter. As we discussed these 3 words this week, we realized that defining words are important for a sense of cohesiveness. Classical doesn't mean "classical education practices" in this case. We can't allow educational buzzwords to derail us from having a growth mindset. It is my desire to become better at defining words I use and asking others about their words. Assumptions cause us to posture around each other with no moving forward. Creating a culture of safety both horizontally and vertically in a district allows people to feel comfortable to share their views, concerns, and goals. It also allows us all to get to a place where we realize that all disciplines bring value to the conversation of how to best teach students. Feeling valued doesn't mean always getting our way but that you are respected for what you bring to the table. 

As we move forward to both define what our goals are for a graduating student from our school system, we must also realize that expectations from each curricular discipline looks different due to standards, best practice, and prior experiences. Finding meaningful language helps define the culture, expectations, and future of both the educator and student subcultures within a district. Finding how to mold that language based on input from a variety within the constituency creates common vision and buy-in to best answer that essential question Heidi Hayes Jacobs started with:  "How can we prepare our learners for their future?"