Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What is Holding You Back? Part 2

Doesn't Work Properly

For part two, let's look at all those frustrating things that aren't working properly.  Sometimes it can be fixed with a little planning ahead, sometimes you have people who can help, and sometimes it just needs to be fixed.  All that and more, dear reader!  

You may notice some of the comments from the survey that fit this category were also included in part 1 (and you might notice some of the same ones in later posts).  This is because many of your comments fit in several categories.  If it fit at all, I included it.  Thanks again for all the feedback!  

Sometimes, this is a valid concern.  Other times, it feels valid, but really it could have been avoided.  Let's separate those out, shall we?  

First, all of those comments about network connections, slow connections, dropped connections, etc. are valid and understandably very frustrating.  I'm happy to report that they should all soon be a thing of the past.  Larry is working hard right now to ensure the network has a beefy upgrade when you return next fall.  He's not just getting it up to speed for today, he's planning for what we might need down the road.  You should notice a big difference when you come back to school.  

On the other hand, for all of those things that you tried at home and then they didn't work at school, or you tried it in one place but it didn't work in the lab, PLAN AHEAD.  My first year teaching, my principal frowned at me when my lessons weren't on my desk for him to easily find, and told me that if I fail to plan, I must be planning to fail.  Some famous coach said that first, but it is true for us, too.  If you're going to use it with students, it's imperative that you test it on the same things they will use.  How else will you be able to anticipate problems that might come up?  Many people voiced frustration with not being able to fix things on the spot when they happen.  Testing it first, you'd have encountered those issues and worked through them, and they'd be in your plans or taken care of ahead of time.  If you plan to use the lab, test it in the lab.  If you find a site at home, make sure it works at school.  

There are a few things you can do to help yourself.  Remember the zone of proximal development?  It's that range where a learner can work slightly above their own ability before becoming frustrated.  That's where real learning takes place.  It isn't too easy or too hard.  As soon as frustration sets in, you back off or provide the help to get them where they are going.  You need to give yourself the same leeway to back off when you get frustrated.  There is no reason for you to fiddle with things for hours when there is someone in the district (me) specifically placed here to help you with things like that.  As soon as you get frustrated, let me take over.  You've got more important things to do.  I don't want frustration to get in your way while you learn to use technology any more than you want it to get in your students' way when you want them to learn your content.  So ask.  I'll help, and I'll be happy to do so!  

Another thing to remember:  you can get sites unblocked.  If you try a site at home, but it's blocked at school, just ask Larry or I to unblock it for you.  We'll give it a look and make sure it isn't something that needs to be blocked (there are a number of reasons why legit sites are still blocked) and then we'll simply remove it from the filter.  Just don't ask us to do it "before next hour".  Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency for someone else.  Again, plan ahead and all will be fine.  

I'm sorry to say that, at least for the foreseeable future, we can't do anything about BPU turning off A/C on hot days.  We can, however, keep things from overheating if they are simply turned off.  That makes them difficult to use, but it keeps them from getting damaged.  

Lastly, I'd like to address one specific comment about the districts "narrow definition of technology".  I don't know where you're getting a definition of what the district views as technology, or what you think it is that we supposedly don't, but I can guarantee that whoever made that comment hasn't talked with me about technology use in their room and what would count as "technology".  I know it's not just computer driven.  The abacus was cutting edge technology at one time.  That's not the point . How is this a roadblock?  It seemed like a shot at me personally, so I thought I'd take a moment to say "you missed".  

Here are the survey comments that fit this section:
"Little glitches that take too much time to fix leaving little time for work on the activity"
"Time is limited on using the equipment. When we have a class of more than 20 students, we are unable to use laptops, because many are not in good running order.  This leads to frustration for students and staff.  Staff is not trained in all the aspects, nor do we have the time to learn it all.  It would be great to have a tech person that could teach students."
"having a reliable internet (airport access)"
"In August when air conditioning turned off in building, per BPU request as USD 418 an interruptable customer, equipment overheats.
Difficulty in connecting and staying connected to wireless airports.
District's narrow definition of "technology". Today's technology is more than something computer driven.
Classroom computers loose connection to server.
Limited training opportunities during contractual time. Have second job to complement low teacher salary. Can not do training outside of work day."
"When technical issues occur and I cannot fix them on my own in a timely manner it takes away from instruction time.  I have concluded that it is not worth wasting my classroom learning time trying to trouble shoot technology.  If I had more training, I would like to incorporate more technology into my classroom, but at this time the pros do not outweigh the cons. "
"I find really great sites on my computer and then take the class there and the lab computers don't have the plug-in needed to run the program--this happens a lot!  Very frustrating."
"Time to learn all I need to know to be able to trouble shoot problems that come up."
"Lack of properly functioning hardware combined with large class sizes.
Some days it seems that even the newest machines seem to be hanging on by a thread.  Or they work a certain way one day and they work a different way the next.  Or half the computers are desktops and they work a certain way.  The other half of the computers are  laptops and they work a certain way.  I spend most of the time giving every direction two times.  One set of directions for the laptops and a different set of directions for the desktops. I might start an hour with 27 students and 27 machines, but end the hour with 27 students and 24 functioning machines.  You have to do so much trouble shooting that you don't spend time teaching the lesson. (In case you can't tell - I am at the middle school!)  Which of course also lets you know that some of the discrepancy can come from the user - the students can be just as fickle as the machines! :) It can be a challenge to be sure all 27 students and all 27 machines are working in harmony - but when it all comes together the computer lab can be a thing of beauty!
I am not necessarily scared of technology. I can usually pick up on new things quickly and I also don't mind the trial and error method of learning/teaching."
"There is not currently enough computers to use with the students.  When I have asked for computers, I get the old computers that are not able to connect to the newer airports and do not have the capabilities needed to run the programs I would like to use."
"Laptops to use in the classroom are older so they don't hold a charge long enough and with some of the larger classes the number of lap tops does not equal a class set."

Friday, March 16, 2012

Job Number One: Modeling Online Learning

The most important goal of every teacher today should be to successfully model how to use the Internet for learning, creating, collaborating, problem solving, and DOING rather than merely using it for entertainment.

Why?  Because the Internet is both the keeper of all things known to man as well as the keeper of all the evil distractions.  A person can learn anything online, or they could spend the rest of their life watching YouTube videos and playing Words with Friends on FaceBook.  As of right now, we aren't using technology enough in our learning environments to teach students anything about its most powerful abilities.  Most teachers, for whatever reason, refuse to embrace its use or modify their lessons to leverage its power.  They won't take the time needed to learn what is necessary to teach kids how to use what could be the most powerful human invention ever for good rather than evil.  OK, entertaining yourself into a drooling mass of meat isn't exactly evil, but it's a far cry from using the Internet to its potential.

Here is an excerpt from Stop Stealing Dreams by Seth Godin:
Just as online shopping scaled, an inexorable rise due to the efficiencies of the connections created by the net, so will the digital delivery of information permeate every nook and cranny of what we learn.

What we can't do, though, is digitize passion.  We can't force the student to want to poke around and discover new insights online.  We can't merely say, "here," and presume the students will do the hard (and scary) work of getting over the hump and conquering their fears.

We (educators) have to model that passion.  We have to be the bridge between the world of knowledge available online and the method of its delivery, since teachers' time as THE method of delivery is over.  Our desire to entertain ourselves may outweigh our desire for knowledge unless someone shows us the way to love learning digitally.

Who is going to do that?  Certainly not the teacher who finds every excuse NOT to use technology.  Definitely not the teacher who says they don't have time to learn how to leverage the Internet's capabilities in their classroom.  What's scary is that the vast majority of teachers I've met fit into those two categories, despite what they may say about the importance of using technology or how much they say they want to use it.

If you are one of the teachers who says they don't have time:  make time.  How did you have time to learn anything you know today?  Didn't it take time?  It's a matter of priority, and I don't want to wait until an entire generation of Internet users care only about their high score to decide to do something about it.

What is Holding You Back? Part 1

Education often operates in a state of contradictions.  On the one hand, we are preparing students for the future.  On the other, we are one of the most antiquated institutions in America.  We want only the best for our students, but scrutinize every program, every decision, every move with prying eyes to save a dollar.  Most of society agrees that we need to be giving students a world class education, but the community won't support outfitting them with the modern digital tools to ensure that it happens.  We have tons of evidence and research telling us that we need to change the system, yet we still shuffle kids through a system built for an age that doesn't exist anymore.  

In my job, I am often confronted with contradictions of word and deed.  I hear all the time about how far behind the K-12 system is, and how we need to be doing so much more to help students navigate their way in an increasingly digital world.  I have yet to meet a teacher who doesn't care about the future success of their students.  I very rarely talk with anyone who disagrees about technology's importance in their future success.  Yet, I find that very few teachers are willing to put forth the time or effort to learn how to leverage this powerful tool for the good of their students.  It makes me wonder:  why not?    

So, I asked everyone in USD 418 what is holding them back from using technology to teach and learn with students.  I wanted to know:  if they think it's important for students' long term success, and they want their students to be successful, why aren't they doing more to be technologically literate?  

I have made some categories that I believe the majority of the comments fit into, and will respond in general to each category.  Responses fitting that category have been copied verbatim at the end of the post.  Each post in this series will deal with another category.  Let's get this series started, then, shall we?  

Availability of Equipment
It always baffles me when we justify spending billions of dollars on war machines without so much as a blink, and then scrutinize every dollar spent educationally as "waste".  Obviously, funding is the biggest issue with the availability of equipment in the district.  The priorities for spending during years of budget cuts have gone toward keeping staff and programs, and it's hard to argue with that decision.  

We missed an opportunity here.  Before I came to McPherson, there was an initiative to bring laptops to the HS for every student.  It failed, and it failed miserably.  Ever since I arrived, I have asked questions about that initiative.  What caused it to fail?  Who was opposed to it?  Why?  What was said to rally against it?  I have often found surprising answers.  Apparently, there was quite a bit of dissent even among staff about the proposal.  Folks at other schools felt they were being slighted, even though the rest of the High School's tech budget would have gone to their schools and accounted for a large increase in equipment there as well.  There were teachers who spoke openly in opposition to the initiative, for whatever reasons they had.  

In the end, no technology initiative is going to pass a community vote if the teachers don't even want it.  Maybe you should talk with your colleagues about how much having more available technology would help you and your students.  A big part of the reason we don't have more "stuff" could be right down the hall from you.

Survey Responses in this category:

"the number of computers available to each student"

"Some students change web pages to their own interests if they think someone is not watching them.  They quickly switch back if a teacher gets in their area.  As far as using technology without students having individual laptops, I find a lack of experience and training on my part, and a lack of equipment in the room as the main obstacles in the class"

"Ability to understand how to incorporate that technology into the lessons I provide and access to the technology in my own classroom."

"Lack of computers: certain teachers/departments always seem to be hogging the computers and they are not always available when I would like to use them. At MMS, it would be helpful if each department (core areas) had a cart that could be shared among the teachers (or some kind of rotation between departments). It would also be extremely helpful if we could see a calendar of when computer carts/labs are being used so I can make arrangements and sign up for computers ahead of time while doing weekly/monthly plans."

"There is not currently enough computers to use with the students.  When I have asked for computers, I get the old computers that are not able to connect to the newer airports and do not have the capabilities needed to run the programs I would like to use."

"Either we do not have have them or we are introduced to great websites, applications, etc., but there is no follow up on how to truly work and use them."

"There are not enough teachers to cover all of our students to make a technology classes available for everyone in the building.  One to one laptops would help tremendously to give all students access.  There once was a time that notices would go out to inform us when there were ESSDACK events/workshops or other outside trainings to make sure teachers know about them without having to search for professional development in technology. Some of us need more than what is provided in just USD 418."

"What holds me back is that there is only so much time in the day for work, caring for my family, and other obligations.  Learning new technology takes time for exploration, learning, and practice.  I am wanting my students to have a full class set of computers in my room.  I do know how to use those…"

"Laptops to use in the classroom are older so they don't hold a charge long enough and with some of the larger classes the number of lap tops does not equal a class set."

"devises.  the ability to continue work with students when they go home (they don't have computers/internet at home)"

"Some times it's the lack of having it to use. Then other times it's a problem of myself not having enough knowledge to help them. I do feel that are kids are not having enough learning on the technology but we also don't have enough computer to for them to learn on."

"There is absolutely no technology in my classroom. There is not a projector, a screen, anything to use. My kids (pre-k) love when we let them do computer activities, and I know they would love to be more hands-on. We could also project online stories on a screen or Promethean board."

"Never getting a cart checked out when I have asked. Other departments are higher on the list or always seem to be using them.  Also, I don't always know what my plans will be far enough in advance to get the machines reserved.  Limited number of machines available."

"Lack of access to computers; working with preschoolers in general.  I think that at this age the focus is on other skills with just a basic introductory focus on computer skills."

"*Many things are filtered out.
*Taking the time to set up students' emails on each type of technology - it is difficult to collaborate if we do not have that set up and ready to go.
*Sometimes it is getting access to the technology (lab, individual computers, etc.)
*The training sessions available are good but need more time to actually work on setting up the project / and or ideas.  I tend to go home with ideas but have difficulty setting them up after I leave the training.
*Can the lab computers have photo/video capability?"

"The availability of the computers. The frustration of being able to connect to a signal with some computers while others are waiting to load/connect. Lack of money to adequately fund the technology for the classroom. Lack of adequate professional development and time devoted for professional development (unless it is all on the learners own time)."