Get Out of Your Own Way

Looking back on 25 years of classroom teaching, I can say that the greatest changes that I made to my classroom practice began in 2006, when I had a principal that pulled me aside and told me that I should really push the limits and rethink my classroom. What she actually told me was, “Some teachers I feel need me to guide them to change. I think I can help you best by getting out of your way.”  I had a green light, blank check, clearance from the tower.

But in retrospect, at this point where I had the institutional barriers to change removed, I built my own.

I was teaching full inclusion Special Ed US history in a room where ⅓ of the students had IEP, ED, BD plans. I had confidently volunteered to teach the class, saying that I knew exactly what I would do. Which was a combination of wishful thinking and bravado. My cooperating SPED teacher (who was amazing) and I were eager to try new things and started of the year by rethinking homework, due dates and tests. We implemented test retakes and test corrections. I read books, talked to my principal regularly and had a clear vision of what I wanted to do.

But in every instance, I created obstacles and limits on these changes that prevented my classroom from moving forward.

I limited who could do test corrections and how often any one person could do them. (If these processes are learning, why would I limit their chances to continue to learn?)

I was flexible on turning in work, but I limited how often I was flexible and I still imposed harsh penalties for timeliness. (If I identify a hard working student, capable of learning but who needs more time to do so, why would I make time a key continuing factor in their grades?)

I changed classroom activities to be more student centered, but I still maintained dominion over what those activities were. In the back of my head, my current mantra “Choose the destination, not the path” was forming but I was still creating narrow, singular paths to the learning objective. (So long as they arrive at the objective, how concerned am I really about the path that gets them there?)

In hindsight I think there were many reasons for holding back. I was certainly concerned about other teachers. It was my first year at a brand new school.

I was very aware of how parents saw what I was doing, and concerned about helping them to understand and see value in what I was doing. I felt an uneasiness each time we used cell phones in class, secretly set up a wifi network, or threw away the textbook.

Now I see that these were excuses that I made, because there we little to no actual instances where any of these fears were made real.

If I could go back in time and give myself one piece of advice knowing what I know today, it would be “Get out of your own way.” I knew what I wanted, I was on the right path, yet I kept building roadblocks. Often, (but certainly not always) institutional roadblocks were perceived, but disappeared as my resolve to change grew stronger. What really held me back was me and my perception of how big of a leap I could take.

What are the changes that you believe you need to make? How are you limiting your own ability to achieve them? What personal roadblocks could you remove today?

Get out of your own way.

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Building Your Classroom Campfire

Choosing the tools that you use in a classroom is an important part of building the environment you hope to create. Just as teachers arrange desks and invest time in bulletin boards to create physical spaces, tech tools contribute to the digital space of a classroom.

My first principal once told me that you can learn a lot about a teacher just by looking at their classroom. I took that to heart and always tried to build a space that served my mission. I remember looking back on the wonder that was my 5th grade teacher. I can’t remember everything that I learned that year, but I loved walking into that room.

I think we can learn a lot about a teacher from the digital spaces that they create.

So I have been thinking…are we as careful about the way we are constructing our digital classroom? Do we vet the choices that we are making about digital learning spaces as heavily as we do those of our physical spaces, not just in terms of what they accomplish in terms of tasks but also in terms of them as a space that students inhabit? Are we concerned if they are warm and welcoming places as much as we are when students walk into our physical classes on day one?

Some time ago I started thinking of the classroom as a campfire. The campfire is a place where after a long day, people come together, get to know each other, celebrate and share experiences. Campfires draw people in and value sharing. Then, invariably they lead people to stare into the fire and reflect. I won’t belabor the analogy here, but there is a lot about seeing the classroom as a campfire that works. (Though I am temp

ted to point out that I have never been to a campfire gathering built on a lecture format.)

Another facet of the “Classroom Campfire” is “What kind of fire do you need to accomplish your task.” Smores, cookout or bonfire, large group or small, you need to plan a fire that serves your mission. Choose wisely and build the right campfire. Tools are no different.

Classroom tools are not neutral, they complete a task but they also have a feel and make statements about what is important. Some LMS tools are sterile and cold while completing a task

well and making it easier for teachers to organize and distribute work. Some web tools are fun, but limit a classes ability to share reflect and return to the work later on. Some tools are powerful but are hard to get familiar (high cost of admission but the show is great.) None of these things are necessarily a problem, if you are constructing a digital classroom space thoughtfully keeping in mind the sum total effect that these tools have on the kids.

Are your students operating in a digital classroom space that is as carefully constructed as the physical space that you create for them? Are you proud of the digital space that you have created?

San Diego Innovation Summit Keynote

While I have not been good about posting to this blog in the last year, I have still stayed very busy traveling and presenting.  Last week I delivered a keynote at the San Diego Innovation Summit titled “Behind the Science of Innovation: 
Bringing About Significant Positive Change.”  Co presenting with Beth Holland, our goal was to look at the actual science and research behind innovative teaching.  We look at what the research says and what the implications are for teachers in the age of information.

 

Teaching the Humanities with Technology

Today I participated in a webinar about integrating technology in Humanities classrooms. One of the reasons I like to participate in these events is that it forces me to evaluate myself and my practice and allows me to collect many new ideas. If you notice towards the end, while the others are talking I start writing ideas down. Look for future posts that share black out poetry and common craft videos. I’m also really excited to look into Vocabla (http://vocabla.com/ ) and Inkle Writer (http://www.inklestudios.com/inklewriter/) .

If you are interested I will be presenting on Creating a Culture of Writing at the EdTechTeacher Summit in July and I will leading variety of workshops  throughout June.

Teachers’ Most Powerful Role? Adding Context

This article originally appeared on Mindshift/KQED.

“And it’s here, in these seemingly disjointed moments, that the expertise of the teacher is crucial to uniting the class’s learning. Teachers need to create the dynamic that transforms individual moments into a broader experience where the class benefits from the complete range of learning that has taken place.” 

http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/04/teachers-most-powerful-role-adding-context/

Teaching in the New (Abundant) Economy of Information

Excerpt: In the past, teachers gave life to learning for generations of students — no different than today. But they were operating in an environment of scarcity that would make today’s teachers cringe (and they do, every time the Internet is down for more than just a short while). As the information available and our ability to access it increases, this new economy of information is transforming the practice of teaching and the roles of both teacher and student.

Creating an effective 1:1 program is not so simple as distributing devices. schools will need to make the devices part of their school culture, socialize their students for appropriate use and commit themselves to working with teachers to redefine effective teaching practice. This post reflects on the how the role of the teacher is effected by the abundance of information in their classroom.

While I can’t republish the Mind/Shift article here in its entirety, here is a link to the full article.

 

Why It’s Time To Change How Students Cite Their Work

This article was originally posted on Edudemic on February 20th, 2014.  See the original post here.

When students write a paper, it goes without saying that they must cite the sources that they use in creating it. For generations, students have created note cards to document and organize these resources and/or submitted a bibliography page with their finished work.

In the modern classroom, student research and creation has taken on a new look. Before, when students created a poster, and then separately handed in a bibliography page to the teacher, justice was done and fair credit was given for the ideas used.

However, as widespread sharing of these projects becomes more common, and the internet allows students to reach an audience far beyond the school or classroom, we need to re-evaluate this procedure and address our responsibility to share these sources – not just with the teacher or school, but with all who might consume the project.

Without readily available sources to review, the audience cannot truly evaluate the validity of the project. They are left with what might be a beautiful and elegant project (the product) without knowing the sources used to construct it (the process).

Sharing sources with an audience is how we can focus on the PROCESS of creation rather than seeing only the PRODUCT.

Sharing Sources of Student Work

1. Include citations for individual pieces of information within the products themselves. This method has the advantage of sharing the sources with those who are consuming the project. For a classroom, this further engages the class in evaluating the sources that are used and allows them to ask “is that a valid source?” or “does that source have a perspective or a bias?”

2. Have students create a traditional bibliography page in Google Drive and include a link to it on their project. This will increase the likelihood that students will explore sources and evaluate projects at a deeper level. The same could be done with Evernote or a shared document in Dropbox.

3. For traditional paper projects, science fair projects, posters, mobiles or other display work, have the students provide a shortened URL to let others find and explore their works cited as they view the product. This will also work for electronic work such as PrezisGlogstersPoppletsGoogle Presentations or online videos. Shortnened URLs can be created at tinyurl.com or by using chrome extensions such as goo.gl URL shortener.

3. In place of a Tiny URL, use a QR code to link viewers to works cited. QR codes can be created for free using QR Kaywa or QRCode Monkey. QR codes are an image file that can be easily added to online projects, and are equally effective when added to the end of videos.

In our information-rich world, accessing information is a daily activity, making it essential to credit the sources being used. This is no less true in elementary school, high school or college. The “Culture of Creation” that emerges in connected classrooms makes this even more important, and putting it at the forefront of creation will allow for a healthy and necessary evaluation of how classwork is created and the ideas used to do so.

Creativity and Learning with iPads (Devices)

I participated in this webinar yesterday on the topic of Creativity. it was great to chat with outstanding Aussie educator Paul Hamilton. My only regret is that I was not able to chat more with the amazing Kiwi educator Richard Wells. Both are innovators and blazing new trails for effective use of iPads in the classroom.

This topic of creativity has begun to consume more and more of my thinking. Though transitioning to a 1:1 classroom is what began the process, I see  that while the devices are wonderful mediums for expressing creativity, the classroom procedures and policies that go along with them do just as much to encourage students to create.

Though the title refers to iPads this video would be no less helpful to those with other devices. The conversation trended to creativity in general and how to encourage and foster it.

5 Demands Placed on Students in a 1:1

1. Manage the Technology: In addition to learning and completing assignments students have an array or responsibilities simply in managing the device.  The device needs to be charged, apps and programs need to be updated so that they continue to function correctly. At first students and perhaps parents may scoff at the idea that these tasks are part of learning. It can be hard to keep them accountable for them, but just as important as it is to have paper, a pen, a PE uniform or safety goggles, having a functioning device is key to being “ready to learn.”

2.  Make Learning Choices:  The volume of data being evaluated and sifted through and the freedom for students to construct ideas with their own information make 1:1 powerful. One roadblock to this is the “Tell Me What To Do?” mindset that many students have. This is not something reserved to struggling or resistant students.  Many of the best and the brightest students are not used to having choices and being held accountable for making them.  At first many students will get stuck when they get to a fork in the road.  Teachers need to help students get past the fear of deciding. Making clear goals for lessons and having a set of class values to guide those decisions will help. For choosing sources my classes have developed a series standards for what is best. Is the source reputable? Do you know who the author is? Can we identify potential biases in the writing? Does the source list its sources so that we can evaluate them?  The same types of procedures are necessary for choosing the format for their products as well. How does the platform enhance or support the ideas that you are trying to convey? With help and time, students learning to not only embrace, but be excited by the choices and possibilities.  They are more comfortable with bigger decisions about how they will learn.

3.  Problem Solve Together:  There is a big difference between working together and problem solving together.  My 1:1 classroom has taking problem solving to a completely different level.  Often we invent assignments together as a class.  As a result the students have to create a plan for completing them. It is common to have a problem that leads to debates and sometimes even disagreements.  Working through these common roadblocks is a ubiquitous part of my classes today.  More and more I am able to stand back and let them work it out.

4.  Protect Their Data:  There are few things worse than watching a student who has worked hard lose all of that work, effort and time due to a technology glitch.  Several students this year lost 12 weeks of work, all of which could have been saved with a few simple steps. Blaming the device is often a natural reaction. The reality is that we have to assume that the technology will fail us and take steps to protect our data.  If the work that we are doing is valid, authentic and important it is going to hurt, and hurt badly to lose it.  Tools like Dropbox, Evernote and Drive make protecting work easy.  Other apps and programs take a bit more time and effort.  That time and effort is time well spent.

5.  Teach the Teacher: Independent student work means that I am often listening to students explain how they came to a conclusion, solved a problem or worked through a technology issue.  Listening is a bigger part of the 1:1 teachers day than it used to be. It can take a while before students see the value in these explanations.  Many students still see school simplistically: Get assignment, complete assignment, turn in assignment.  Eventually classes begin to enjoy hearing how people did their work.  this is especially true when we are sharing projects.  Selfishly this change makes class more exciting for me too.  I constantly learn new tricks and tips to share in the future.  Here is an example of a Venn diagram assignment that became a lesson for me on stop animation.  I’ve been excited to try it ever since it was turned in.

Defining Paperless 2.0

this article originally appeared on Edudemic. Read the original post here.

images“I’ve gone paperless!”

The transition to the 1:1 classroom regularly goes hand in hand with a call for teachers to go paperless.  The idea is a popular one for schools (and businesses) who can realize quick savings from reduced paper costs and offset the cost of the new devices. It can also be popular with teachers for a variety of conveniences when distributing and collecting materials.  But what about learning? Is moving to paperless a step forward or a high tech way of doing exactly what we have always done albeit electronically?

 

Defining Paperless 1.0

In the initial stages of a 1:1, teachers begin to convert already existing materials into electronic copies. Copies become PDF’s or Google Docs. In most cases, these materials do not differ from what they were on paper. These digital resources are easier to share, and when used with an LMS system or an understanding of Google Docs, can be easy to collect. This simple substitution can initially be a comfort to teachers and students. It connects them to patterns that they recognize and can build an understanding of devices in a context that is familiar: “Pass out materials, collect when completed.”  Once comfortable, many teachers move on to replicate other past products; the electronic poster, a dynamic graphic organizer, interactive timelines. While these electronic, often web-based tools can be more dynamic than their paper predecessors, and can be more exciting for students, do they represent a real shift in learning? Where should schools be headed next?

 

Clear Steps Forward

Even within this simple replication, there are clear advantages to Paperless 1.0. Students can submit work to teachers AND still possess that work. That dual possession can be powerful and allow for a faster exchange of feedback.  Communication is more immediate, and in many cases, students can be receiving real-time  feedback during the PROCESS of creation rather than just on the PRODUCT of creation. Feedback can evolve into a deeper continual process rather than a momentary one.  It can be more personal and directed towards specific individual needs.

 

Defining Paperless 2.0

Yet, in order for educational technology to transcend its past patterns, paperless work will need to expand beyond the confines of an 8 ½ x11 mindset not just the 8 ½  x 11 page.  Electronic posters will have to be move beyond being an e-poster stored in the cloud. A key part of moving beyond these limits is for teachers to move beyond the constructs that have defined assignments. While it is hard to look and see the path forward clearly, we can look back and examine past constructs that have been replaced as well as where the classrooms of today came from.  Educational technology has come a long way.  Imagine if we were to conduct our classes today, but were limited only to the technology of the past.

  • Imagine the classroom where slate tablets were the peak of technology? How did students go back and reflect on their previous learning? How did they write beyond the few lines they could fit on the few small inches of slate?
  • Imagine a modern science class without the benefit of microscopes and accurate tools for measurement? How would this affect the ability of students to see and interact with real scientific situations.  Could we imagine going back to that?
  • Imagine  a classroom or school that is not connected to the internet and how the economy of  information in that class affects students compared to those who are not connected.

Perhaps defining what Paperless 2.0 is, requires us to imagine what future teachers might say as they look back on our classrooms. “Wow, imagine if all the learning and work had to find its way to paper, our students would be missing out on so much.” The size of an idea need not be limited by the amount of paper available to contain it.

As technology allows us to remove the physical restraints on our classroom products, we – as educators – should be working to remove our conceptual limits and free ourselves and our students to explore what is possible.