Friday, April 27, 2012

Help Get a Conversation Going!!

Finally, there are some people starting to read this blog.  Unfortunately, they tend to be those who don't need to be challenged or inspired by it.

Help spread the word, and get a conversation going around these topics.  Send the link to colleagues who need to read it.  Invite them to comment, even anonymously, and start conversations around the issues of educating 21st Century students.

If you are not "nerdy" yet, (I use that term affectionately) just enter your email to the right and hit submit, and you will get every new post delivered right to your inbox.

Whether you agree with what is written here or not, we need your voice in the conversation.  Please join us!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What's Holding You Back? Part 5

No Time

This could easily be everyone's number one concern.  My take on it probably won't be very popular, either.  Let me ask a few questions:

Do you skip teaching or using anything that you don't already know how to do or use?  
Do you believe students need to learn how to use technology for more than FaceBook, texting, and iTunes?
Do you think that students in your classes today will need technology skills in their future?  
Do you think things have changed in the workplace and economy since you were in school? 

You can see my point.  I know that balance in our lives is important, but does that mean that you don't do anything?  Isn't it better to get started than to do nothing?  

Almost every teacher I've met cares deeply about the success of their students.  They have almost always done whatever it took to prepare students the best way they knew how.  If there was something that could help, they learned it and gave it a try.  

But something about technology is different.  People don't seem to have the same willingness to learn how to use it effectively that they demonstrate for nearly everything else.  This is in spite of the fact that we are surrounded by reminders and wake-up calls to reform schools and change the way we teach.  Public school has become all but obsolete in today's world.  

Let me give you an example.  Take Mark Klassen.  He's a cinematographer.  He has a blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a Vimeo page.  So what?  These are his teachers.  He didn't learn and hone his craft in school, he learned it from others who were interested in the same things as he was. He got online and got mentors.  He got feedback, which helped him grow and learn even more.  His audience is global.  He learns from everyone.

"Sharing my work online so that other people can see it and give me feedback and advice on it has become a huge part of the way I learn…It's inspiring and motivating, and a lot more people are finding me now."  --Mark Klassen, 2011

Do you see the difference?  There isn't a teacher alive who can stand at the front of a room and deliver that kind of education through lectures, with cell phones off, with no one talking to their neighbors.  This is how the world is changing.  This is how the spread of knowledge, the availability of information, and the abundance of others with things to share are making school a place where kids power down and turn off.  

This is our wake-up call:  if we don't do something drastic, we are going to make ourselves obsolete.  Unless teachers can become stewards in this information age, we will be nothing more than overpaid babysitters.  It doesn't matter how good of a teacher you are, because you are only one person.  You don't have all the answers.  You can't do everything that the 145 contacts in Mark's Vimeo network can do.  

"My question:  At a moment when our kids have (or soon will have) ubiquitous access to the content, resources, and people they need to learn whatever they want or are required to learn…a moment when they can create and share works of meaning, beauty and importance to inspire the world…which is a more compelling story of learning for our students?"  --Will Richardson, from TIE presentation, 2012

In the end, you are a teacher, those students need you to prepare them for THEIR future, not YOUR past.  So move on, get over yourself, and dig in.  Just get started.  I know it's overwhelming, but understand you don't have to know everything, and no one else does either.  You only have to know enough to model things you will use with students.  You will learn the most along the way after you get going anyway, so quit procrastinating or hoping retirement will come sooner.  The kids need you NOW, not when you get around to it.  

Survey Comments that fit this category:
"Sometimes I feel like I don't have the time to TEST things out before hand! I spend a lot of time researching and finding new things, but time seems to run out!"
"Time to cover the "basics" as required by ACT and curriculum. There is very little time for "extra"."
"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."
"Lack of adequate professional development and time devoted for professional development (unless it is all on the learners own time)."
"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."
"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."
"Time to learn all I need to know to be able to trouble shoot problems that come up."
"-Lack of time to "weed through," view, and practice apps, etc. before using them with students
-Cost of apps
-Little glitches that take too much time to fix leaving little time for work on the activity
-It would be helpful to have more technology, apps that kept records (data, scores) on student performance. There are probably some out there but it takes time to find them."
"Not enough time to get efficient on technology!"
"Getting discouraged with roadblocks due to lack of knowledge to move ahead with an idea or project.
Other commitments that take time and energy, so at that point I'm too drained to add something else to my "to do list".
Finding the time and motivation to spend A LOT of my home time sitting at the computer trying to figure out what I know and don't know how to do.
Being afraid of having to asked for help or support.
Lack of computer time with the students. During a normal week when we have school on Thurs. afternoon my class gets 50 minutes per week with their hands on a computer."
"What holds me back at times is: 1) lack of proficiency with the technology, 2) lack of time and higher priorities that are more "pressing". I figure no parent is going to sue me because I do not use enough technology in my classroom, but they could sue me if I do not properly implement their child's IEP. That is what I mean by "more pressing priorities"
Training during the workday.
"Limited training opportunities during contractual time. Have second job to complement low teacher salary. Can not do training outside of work day."
"I believe the number one reason that keeps us from using more technology is the lack of time needed to learn about devices and programs."
""Time"---the time it takes to learn how to use it and the time to prepare the lesson or material included in the new technology"

Friday, April 20, 2012

What's Holding You Back? Part 4

Lack of Training/Expertise

Several of you listed your own lack of knowledge as the reason for not using technology with students.  There is never any reason to say you don't use the technology you have because you don't know how to use it.  Whose fault is that?  In a few cases, you even blamed me for not following up on training that you received.  In most of the comments that fit in this category, you just haven't bothered to ask.  For the record, in every single workshop I conduct, I say something along these lines:

"I don't expect you to be an expert in one hour.  I don't expect you to go back and use this stuff right away.  That's why I'm asking you all to ask me for help when you want to use these tools.  I can come help you plan, coach you in using it, or just be there for support.  I want to be in your classrooms, not here at the CO."  

Do you know how many times I've been taken up on that offer?  I can count them on one hand in the two years I've been here. If you want follow up, it's an email, phone call, or click away.  As a matter of fact, I've written the entire staff several times, telling them what I am here for and to please feel free to use my services.  I've encouraged everyone again and again to please get help with anything you need.  The last newsletter I sent was focused almost entirely on this, and yet there has only been one person to contact me after sending it.  That person doesn't even work in McPherson, and isn't a certified classroom teacher.  So, it's difficult for me to accept "I don't know how" as a reason for not using technology.  All of the evidence points instead to "I don't want to".

There is another subcategory that emerges when you read the comments related to this section.  Basically, you want more training during the school day, instead of everything being offered only after school when you have family obligations, other jobs, coaching duties, etc.  This is a legitimate concern, and I addressed it in the last edition of my newsletter.  At this time, there is a policy preventing me from taking teachers out of class for training.  That does not prevent anyone from getting help during the day, however.  You may still address many of your concerns by simply asking me to be there (lack of know-how troubleshooting, lack of ideas to implement what you know, etc.).  Plus, I can come to your collaboration meetings, PLC times, and planning periods.  There is no reason to say that you don't have time to implement technology in your planning, because that's one of the things that I can help you do.  You don't have to figure it all out yourself.  It is much faster to have someone there who can help you plan, and who will show up when you use your plans to make sure things go smoothly.  

Just to be clear, if you ever need help with any part of technology integration, that is why I'm here.  All you have to do is ask.  Don't feel like a burden.  I get excited when I get to work with teachers and students in their classrooms.  You're making my day, so don't apologize for needing help and speaking up!  Here is a short list of possible ways I can help:  
  • Teach you how to use a tool that you want to use for teaching/student projects
  • Model the use of a tool you want to use with your students
  • Team teaching
  • Continuous coaching with technology integration
  • Planning for the use of technology in your existing lessons
  • Help rewrite lessons to incorporate technology where appropriate
  • Generate ideas
  • Help in finding appropriate technology tools to solve problems
There is a lot more we can do.  Again, just don't hesitate to ask.  Everyone starts somewhere, and every step along the way is important.  

My job is to meet you where you are and take you where you want to go, step by step.  I don't care how small those steps are, and I promise that I will be so excited to be working with a teacher who wants to learn that I will never lose patience with you or make you feel silly.  After all, everyone feels like a fool when they are learning new things.  Failure leads to success, right? 

The only true failure is failing to try.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

What's Holding You Back? Part 3

Behavior Issues/Class Management Issues

There were a few comments about how using technology is a hassle because you have to monitor what students are doing.  Two points about that: 
1.  Do we stop using everything that is a potential problem?  
2.  Is modeling proper use of any tool important when teaching students, whether it be a book or the Internet?

If we are going to quit using things because kids might do something silly or stupid with it, then ban paper right now.  Kids have been wadding it up, throwing it, passing notes on it, using it to make spit wads, and it's flammable.  Oh, pencils are also out because of the sharp points and that annoying tapping that kids tend to do.  I saw a student hit someone with his binder the other day, so we had better get rid of those, too.  You get the idea.  Class management is tough.  You are tougher.  Give kids something authentic and meaningful to do, and they will goof off much less.  If kids see what they are doing as important, they don't have time to look up ways to make fart noises with their armpits.  

What can they do with the things you are teaching them that people in the "real world" do?  How can they use what you are teaching to do something that they want to do?  How will knowing this help them? Is there something they can produce that contributes to what is already available?  Here's an example:  a middle school class talking about pirates in a book they were reading started talking about piracy in another sense:  online piracy.  Recognizing a learning opportunity, the teacher let the students explore online piracy.  What they found was disappointing.  There seemed to be a lot of information, but it was in legalese and difficult for kids to understand.  Ironically, the students reasoned, most piracy was done by the very people who would find it difficult to read the information about it.  That could have been the end of the little side venture, but again recognizing an opportunity, the teacher asked the students if they could make something that explained online piracy for kids their own age better than the things they were finding online.  Le Arrgh was born:  the Digital Teen Anti-Piracy Website.  

Think about all the skills that these students used in the creation of this resource!  They researched, analysed, compared websites, sources, and the information itself, they collaborated (by placing a conference call with a bigwig record company executive for a live interview), wrote, edited, proofread, and published an entire resource for others.  

The point here is that the teacher could have stuck to the plan.  They could have just read the book, discussed the questions, given assignments, and had a test.  But they didn't.  As a result, the kids learned more, practiced skills, and therefore learned things more deeply and remembered more about the book they were reading (which, by the way, had nothing to do with online piracy).  Amazing.  

Modeling our expectations is HUGE for class management issues.  How in the world did it come to be that perhaps the most powerful invention in all of human history-the Internet-is rarely modeled for appropriate use in schools?  It is tremendously dangerous to expect kids to grow up teaching themselves how to behave online.  Where are the adults?  Teachers:  it's our job to step up and show them the way.  We live in a time when the exact same tool that can be used for infinite growth and learning could also be used by the same person to do nothing but entertain themselves into an ignorant stupor.  Which way will we show them?  If we don't choose either, and leave it up to parents and peers, are you confident in the way things will end?  

In conclusion, don't let class management issues be the reason you don't use technology with students.  If you need help, ask me to come in and help you get things going.  It may be a stretch for you to think of the ways digital tools could be used to further your class goals.  Let me help.  If management gets in the way, I'll help find solutions for that, too.  Don't be afraid to lean on me for support.  That's why I'm here.

Here are the survey comments that fit this category:
"I have attempted many times to allow students to use technology for research, but 1/3rd to sometimes a 1/2 of the students will begin using the technology for other interests other than what we are to be working on. It's just another discipline issue to deal with on top of everything else."
"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."
"It's just one more thing that I have to watch."
"I can't trust students to be responsible with it on their own, and I don't want to have to walk around and monitor what they are doing all the time."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why Aren't Teachers Interested in Learning?

I have noticed a trend in the technology workshops that I offer staff in my district:  if it's something that people feel they have to do, teachers will show up.  If it's something that they should do, the only people who sign up (with a few exceptions) are those who need the hours for recertification or for the extra pay.

Why is this?  If there is one thing that all teachers should believe in, it's modeling a desire to be a life long learner.  However, the biggest obstacle I face is what seems like a total lack of desire to do anything differently by the vast majority of teachers.  Most seem to want to be left alone until they retire-doing things the same way they did when they began teaching, the same way they were taught, and often the same way their parents were taught.

When you think about what has changed in just a generation, it's staggering.  It should be considered educational malpractice to continue preparing students for their future when we are actually preparing them for nothing more than our past.

I hear all kinds of "reasons" why attendance at trainings is so sparse.  People are busy.  I get it.  I was (and am) busy, too.  I still find time to keep up to date with the latest in 21st Century teaching and learning.  Why?  Because that's what students need.

The practices are outdated.  The vast majority of the way we spend our school day does nothing to prepare students for their futures.  Most will succeed despite their education, rather than because of it.

If you don't care about what your students need enough to continue learning, it's time you find another profession.  I don't want my kids, my future doctor, etc. to be in your class.