Tuesday, May 14, 2013

10 Expectations Students Have of Schools

I'd love for you to watch this video, and then leave a comment with your opinions.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

PA1.F.6: Letting Them Fly

Do you have any idea what PA1.F.6 is?  Even when I tell you that it is a specific part of the district teacher evaluation form, you probably still have no idea what it evaluates.  

One of the biggest mysteries in education in my opinion is how we have managed to remain stagnant for so long in a rapidly changing world.  Do you know of any other major institution that is still talking about moving into this century after more than 13 years of it have passed?  Schools pretty much do things the same way they have since the days before the information revolution, and we are in the business of information.  Think about that for a moment. 

If humans suddenly had the ability to fly, would you still buy expensive airline tickets, wait in lines at the airport, check your baggage and hope that it arrives at the same place and time as you do, get bumped and cancelled and transferred, all before sitting uncomfortably close to a stranger with a bad cough and hope you don't have to use a bathroom the size of a mop closet?  Of course not.  

Essentially, that's what we do every day in classrooms. We act as if this new power doesn't exist.  Before the Internet was so ubiquitous, your access to knowledge consisted of what you could find at the library, who you could talk to, and how good of a source they might be.  If you couldn't find a person or a book with the answers you needed, you were out of luck.  

Today, nearly everyone in our schools has access to almost every piece of human knowledge.  And what do we do with that power in places of learning?  In the very places where information, learning, and knowledge are most revered, we ask everyone to shut off their access to the entire world of knowledge that is nearly instantly available at their fingertips.  

In these places where we prepare students for the world, we pretend it hasn't changed.  

In the places where we prepare students for the future, we continue doing what we did in our pasts.  

PA1.F.6 says:  "Integrates technology to maximize learning opportunities."  What does that even mean?  A digital worksheet?  Using a board that works with a pen?  Using a projector?  

It is buried dead last among a list of six criteria for the sixth section of "Productive Teaching Techniques".  Also in section F are providing remedial and enriched activities for various learners, differentiating instruction, implementing IEPs (which is required by law anyway), organizing students into groups, and effective pacing.  Only one score is given for this extremely wide swath of essential teacher behaviors.  One score.  For all of that.  

What gets measured gets improved.  I'm not sure we are really measuring what matters.  How is it possible for an administrator to properly evaluate a teacher on those 6 criteria with one single score?  Each is important enough for its own section on the form.  

By burying such an important part of what it takes to be a lifelong learner in an evaluation, we diminish its importance.  We bury the information itself away from our students.  We tie their hands before asking them to jump into the ocean and swim for themselves.  We are sending them into a maze blindfolded.  We are crippling them.  

It's time to stop crippling students with our own lack of technology use. It's time to give them wings.  It's time to let them use their ability to fly.  

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Be A User, NOT An Integrator

I was reading a blog by an aspiring teacher and ESSDACK intern, Taylor Tracy, about the end of technology integration.  His view is that integration will soon give way to technology innovation.  I'd like to piggy back on that idea, and say that we need to stop being integrators in favor of being users of technology.

The best way to be good at technology integration is to stop thinking about it as technology integration. What do I mean?  Let me ask you a question:  do you intentionally plan for the use of paper in your classrooms?  When do you use paper?  When do you use pencils or pens?  Exactly.  You use them when you need them.

That is exactly where we should be with technology by now.  Instead of planning for its use, you just plan for what you want students to know and how you're going to get them there.  The tools that lend themselves to the work of the day are the tools that get used.

So how do we get to that point of using technology as ubiquitously as we would other, more familiar tools like pens and paper?  Simple:  use them yourself.

You aren't going to begin to naturally see the usefulness of certain technology tools if you don't use them yourself on a regular basis to do...whatever.  If you want to be at the point where you can easily plug the best tool into the equation with the job needing to be done, you're going to have to be familiar with a variety of tools.  You'll need to know how they are used, their strengths and weaknesses, and how you would use them for different purposes.  Just knowing what is possible and available is a huge first step.  How could you know to let students use a tool if you don't even know it exists?

Technology is changing all the time.  It doesn't matter how far behind you might be.  The important thing is to jump in right now.  After all, if you're behind, that just means something better has come along and replaced what you didn't use last year.  It's like buying a car a couple of years after the first model comes out, so that the bugs are worked out.

The best part is that you can often get ideas from students.  You have to be willing to ask, and to let them choose tools that will meet your criteria for the learning part of things.  They might not always make the best choices, but that's why we're here-to help guide them when they are growing and learning.  Wouldn't it be great if we graduated students who were all resourceful at choosing effective tools to do just about anything they need to do?  What a marketable skill!

It couldn't be easier.  All you have to do is find a tool that you want to use for something, anything, that you need to do anyway.  Find a tool that helps you do it better, faster, or more completely.  Once you learn how to use that tool, it will be easier to learn the next one.  And the next.  And the next.  You get the idea.

Here is an example:  you know someone who is graduating.  You want to make them a slideshow.  You look online for some simple slideshow tools.  You find one, learn to upload your pictures and add music, add a few transitions, and you're done.  You learn to share the link to the slideshow with the graduate, send it to them, and now you know all kinds of things that will translate when you learn another tool later on.  Uploading files?  No problem.  Sharing links?  Get outta the way, you got this.

The next time a student has a bunch of images that they want to present in some way, your mind might just snap back to that tool you used, and you can give the student an option to use something similar.  That's what we're talking about:  students having the ability to use the correct tool for the correct job at the correct time.

That's not integration of technology, it's having a classroom with modern resources available for student use.