Friday, March 15, 2013

Why Should I? Part IV

This is the fourth in a series of posts titled "Why Should I?".  Each post will look at one reason why it is worth the time and effort to improve your 21st Century teaching skills. 


Remember letters?  I still like to write them, believing they are a lost art and a personal connection that seems to be missing from the ways we communicate today in short, 140 character spurts.  Not everything about technology is an improvement.  With speed and ease, we sometimes trade off other things, like the personal touch of a handwritten letter.  

The gains of technology, however, are often baffling.  Let's talk about classrooms.  When I was a kid, if my teacher wanted to seek the advice of an expert that didn't live in our community, we'd have to try and call.  We didn't have cell phones.  We didn't have phones in the classroom.  Often, we had to write a letter.  That would mean weeks to hear a reply, if we heard a reply at all.  That's a lot of time and uncertainty for a teacher whose lessons could depend on the answers.  

It's easy to see why teachers have long been stuck in the idea that they have to have all the answers, make all the decisions, and be the experts in whatever they teach as well as whatever might come up.  Relying on others was, well, unreliable.  It took too long.  It might not ever result in anything.  If it did, the opportunity to catch kids in that magical moment of interest was often lost.  

Today, we have Skype.  We have blogs.  We have wikis.  We have Google Docs/Drive.  We have instant messaging, text, and the list goes on and on and on.  There is absolutely NO reason whatsoever NOT to include experts in your classroom community.  You can reliably contact all kinds of interesting people all over the world.  It happens quite often.  Not nearly enough, but often.

Here is an example of how technology could facilitate an entire project, complete with an expert.  This photo is a screenshot taken from my Plurk page.  Plurk is what I use for my PLN, or Professional Learning Network.  I have lots of educators from around the world, tech directors, technology integration folks, and administrators on my timeline.  Often, the magic of the Internet unfolds.  Today it went something like this:  Ginger Lewman, a consultant at ESSDACK who happens to be a Problem Based Learning Godess, shared a link to a free copy of one of her recipe cards.  They are complete, multi-subject projects to serve as a springboard for just about any classroom.  This one was a challenge for students to save the residents of Pompeii.  Michael Soskil, a teacher in Pennsylvania, responded with an offer to Skype his brother in law as an expert. His brother in law happens to be an Archaeology Professor in the UK and knows a thing or two about the dig site.  

Bam!  Just like that, an opportunity for a high quality lesson that stretches students' thinking across multiple disciplines, involves them in real world problem solving and critical thinking, and even involves collaboration (just like the real world) with an expert in the field.  All I had to do was talk with some friends.  

How can we ignore the potential of things like this?  

Here is some more information for you to learn from and connect with the two great members of my PLN mentioned in this post:
Ginger Lewman:
Blog:  Edupreneur

Michael Soskil:

Why Should I? Part III

This is the third in a series of posts titled "Why Should I?".  Each post will look at one reason why it is worth the time and effort to improve your 21st Century teaching skills.  

Practicing What You Preach

What do we want for our students?  

Most of us can easily rattle off no less than ten answers to that question in just a few seconds.  Somewhere in your top ten, I would be willing to bet you would say something along the lines of "learning how to learn" or "being a life long learner", right?  

Well, then, we should put up or shut up.  

In the following paragraphs, I'm going to copy (with permission) Tim Holt's recent blog titled, I don't do technology in its entirety.  

” I don’t do technology.”
I cannot even begin to count of the number of times I have heard that phrase uttered by teachers and administrators.
“I don’t do technology.”
There are variations of the phrase as well, such as “I can’t figure this out, so I need someone to do it for me,” “It’s too complicated for me” and the most famous of all “I’m not a techie.”
All of these are used, in one form or another to avoid using technology in the classroom with students and to wash themselves of any technology-related instructional responsibility. 
It amazes me that in a profession that is all about learning, there are a vast number of people that cannot learn. They cannot practice what they preach.
“Hey kid, learn this stuff so I don’t have to.” 
Is ther any other profession that acts like that? Are there doctors that say “That is too techie for me, so I cannot learn that new surgical method?” Are there airline pilots that refuse to fly a plane if it has too many computerized instruments?
I was thinking about technophobic teachers the other day (or “Refuseniks” as I like to call them ) and I began to wonder what would a teacher do if a student used those exact same words in them, but with whatever they were teaching as the phrase? Would they put up with that? Or would they call the students insolent and then call their parents? 
“Sorry Mrs. Smith, you know, I simply am not a “mathie.”
Gee Mr. Lopez, I would love to do your science assignment, but I am just not good at science. I need someone to do it for me, if that’s okay.
I don’t do social studies. Sorry. I am just not social study-ee enough. Maybe when I find the time.
I am not a PE -ie.
I am not an Artie.
I am not a techie.
What that really means is “I am not a learner in a profession that is all about learning.”

I would like to thank Tim for allowing me to cross post his work here.  As always, I welcome discussion.  You do not have to use your name.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Why Should I? Part II

This is the second in a series of posts titled "Why Should I?".  Each post will look at one reason why it is worth the time and effort to improve your 21st Century teaching skills.  

Information Literacy

Let's pretend for a minute that every single one of us lives along the busiest street in the world.  Would you let your kids play in that street?  Would you even let them cross it without holding your hand?  

Today, there are 2.4 billion users of the Internet, the largest "street" in the world.  Every one of those users is on your block, so to speak.  Experts in the mobile device world estimate another 2 billion coming online for the first time in the next few years, with the help of Internet ready smart phones.  In spite of the massive number of people on your "block"- people that you don't know, people that you suspect are up to no good, and people who would victimize you and/or anyone you care about without a moment's pause - in spite of all this, we let kids play in the street.  

Now I want you to pause for a moment and consider your responsibility as a teacher.  Do you consider yourself responsible for teaching kids how to succeed?  Probably.  Do you extend that responsibility to teaching them how to learn after they leave school?  Most likely.  Do you believe it's important to keep them safe?  

Information Literacy, fluency, or whatever you want to call it is one of the most important things we can teach today.  As teachers, it's easy to see the connection between the Internet and the importance of showing students how to find good information, sort it out from the bad information, and use it effectively to get things done for a variety of tasks.  But we fall woefully short of our obligations when it comes to most of the things we should be teaching students about the world wide web.  

How many of you reading this can name at least 3 ways to check the validity of information on a website?  Do you know how to find out who owns the site?  Do you know how to check on the outrageous claims that seem to flood FaceBook posts and email en masse?  

When I was in school, I had to be a part of a gifted program in order to learn about the tricks advertisers use to dupe us into buying their products, the ways in which politicians twist facts to their liking and agenda (just ask Gov. Brownback), and to follow the money whenever a claim was made so that we could tell if someone had something to gain from it (Koch Brothers, anyone?).  As Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it."

I remember thinking back then, "Wow!  Why don't they teach this stuff to everyone?"  And today, I'm still wondering why we don't.  

A lot has changed since I was in school.  A lot more is at stake.  A lot more of us are at risk when we cannot read between the lines.  This is no longer something that can or should only be taught to a few.  This should be a mandatory discussion around every bit of information, regardless of the place from which it is gleaned.  

Students should be conditioned to question things.  Fact checking should be a reflex, and the tools and methods for doing so should be second nature.  

Taking things at face value today could be just as fatal as playing in the world's busiest street.  

November Learning resources for Information Literacy:  This site contains answers to the questions, and some great activities and examples.

USD 418 Draggo Links:

Monday, March 4, 2013

Let's Talk!

One of the blogs I like to follow is Dangerously Irrelevant, written by Dr. Scott McLeod.  In a recent post, he says that the answers we seek lie within us.  More specifically, he thinks that teachers and staff hold the answers to some of the most pressing "how do we?" questions related to school reform.  Here is an excerpt:

"While I’ve been sharing resources and trying to spark some ‘urgency’ to move forward faster, much of the time I’ve been asking questions. Questions like:
  • How can we get more problem-based learning into our classrooms?
  • What are some ways that we can make students’ learning experiences more global?
  • In two minutes, can you come up with five ways that you could increase student voice online?
  • How could you put your students to work to make something that benefited others?"

I'm interested in what you have to say.  What other questions might you add?  How would you answer the ones above?