The So We’ve Been Thinking Podcast

The So We’ve Been Thinking Podcast

I have been working on a project reviewing past writing and in doing so realized that I have not yet written here about the “So We’ve Been Thinking…” Podcast.

For the last two months Greg Kulowiec and I have been building a podcast. The ultimate aim of this passion project is to explore discussions around education, educational technology, modern literacy, innovation and work. We want to talk to everyone, teachers, students, leaders, experts, authors, agitators, and researchers.

Beyond that though, we also want to take a look at what it is like to find work and do business in the world today to determine if schools are preparing students for the world of work that they are about to enter. So I have been reaching out to former students to hear their stories and experiences in the working world. I’ve been focusing on those who have jobs in technology or education related fields, to explore the intersection of education, technology and careers in the real world.

Working on the podcast with Greg has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career in education. We have set out to learn and we want to share the story of that learning in a public way much like we did in the early days of #sschat (Social Studies Chat) on twitter.

I would be honored if you would give it a listen. The response to the work so far has been overwhelming. I was excited when our listens climbed into the hundreds and that feeling only deepens now that we have crossed over into many thousands.

I’m loving the work and the feeling that I am learning and bettering myself and I’d like  to share that with you.

Here is a link to So We’ve Been Thinking Project page where you can access “So We’ve Been Thinking through all of the major podcast services. https://www.sowevebeenthinking.com/podcast/

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The Smart Phone Generation is About to Graduate

Have you ever wondered if the work you do in the classroom has truly prepared your students for the world? I do. A lot. Especially as the pace of change in our world becomes faster and faster. Sometimes keeping up with that change can be hard, but it is important so that education is preparing students as we send them out into the world.

Students who graduate at the end of this school year (2018-2019) began school some time around 2006. The first iPhone came out that year. The iPad released in 2010 followed quickly by the Chromebook in 2011. The popularity of 1:1 programs began changing the relationships that students had with information and the way they were connected to the world outside of school.

Most of these kids have always had some level of internet access, and a good portion of them have had access to a web connected device as part of their learning. At school, a new, abundant economy of information emerged in schools, as in the rest of the world. Think of the changes that that have taken place in that time in our world and hopefully in our schools.

This year’s graduating class learned through the entire transition, and will set out into a world we could barely have imagined when they were born in 2000. Their reality is having their own devices in their pockets and within their reach at all hours of the day. . They have navigated social media as part of their daily lives and have had nearly every fact at their disposal, always.

Pause for just a moment and think about just the ways that communicating with a friend is different today. As a child I never had to request to be added as a friend and was never judged based upon the number of followers that I had. I never had to worry about maintaining all of my Snapchat streaks or who I feel comfortable adding to my Instagram spam account versus, my regular Instagram account.

Keeping all of this in mind, today France has banned devices from the majority of their schools. I’m sure that there are some who see this as a step in the right direction, but for me I just gasped, and felt sad.

The most powerful tool that a child has ever entered a classroom with… was just banned…by an entire country. How can you say that you are preparing a student for the world when you make schools places that do not resemble that world? How can that not have serious consequences. I suspect that in a year or two the French will publish data that their test scores have risen as a result. Even if that happens, this will be no less of a tragedy. This is bigger than scores.

France, you can’t roll back time and make it 2006 again. (Honestly we were way down this path even before then.) Banning phones will not protect the French institution of education, it will only serve to further erode its relevance. Banning phones will not uphold values that you feel are threatened by technology, only teaching those values in the context of technology will.

We should be preparing students for reality rather than hiding from it even when that presents difficult challenges. If these tools have become the dominant form of communication in our lives, using them effectively is going to be important in the jobs that they will one day be competing for.

For teachers, the lesson here is to reflect on if we are addressing the issues, trends and needs of our students in our classes through meaningful lessons, meaningful work and by addressing important values. Or are we trying hold back the future, like France.

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?

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/

Creating and iPads… Combining the Physical & Digital to Create Multimedia Content

Today I participated in an EdTechTeacher webinar on how classes can benefit by using iPads to combine the digital and the physical. There is a temptation to go ALL digital when devices arrive in your classroom. In reality the power of the devices is that they can capture digital and real world content together. They can capture the process of learning as well as the product and give the teacher better insight into the learning process. This webinar discusses the possibilities as well as sharing many examples of projects and tools.

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.

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.

Creating a Connected Classroom #CEM13

During October I participated in a series of Connected Educator Events. This one focused on the idea of the connected classroom and how students can benefit when learning is extended beyond the classroom walls.

5 Ways To Support Teachers Skeptical Of Technology

The following article originally appeared on Edudemic.  See the original article here.

For some, the technology rich classroom is easy to justify. Once you have made the transition and seen the benefits, it is easy to weigh them against the potential risks and worries about the problems resulting from having a room full of devices.

For these “dive right in” types, the process makes a lot of sense. Give it a try and see what happens! These are the teachers who typically make up 1:1 and BYOD pilot programs and test groups. They are also the teachers who more often than not are going to lead professional development and share what they have learned.

scared of technology

However, the teachers to whom they will be presenting may not be so easily convinced that this change will be entirely positive. There are reasons that veteran teachers SHOULD be questioning new initiatives and putting them to the “This Too Shall Pass” acid test, crunching the numbers on whether investing in technology will be time well spent. It is part of the reality of being a teacher. As a result, once training begins, there can be problems.

As more schools move to a 1:1 or BYOD format, it becomes increasingly important to support teachers – all teachers – effectively make that transition and to support them in that process. Dismissing their concerns is rarely, if ever, the best answer. Here are a few helpful ways to help reluctant teachers make the transition while showing empathy and understanding.

1. Correctly identify their concern

For many teachers the greatest fear that looming changes hold is the loss of effectiveness. Veteran teachers have worked long and hard to craft a system that gets results. Once they find what works, they are right to embrace it. It is easy to misinterpret this as being uncooperative or dismissive, but understanding their viewpoint will help you to have the conversation in a more constructive and less judgmental way. Demonstrating clearly how technology will increase effectiveness is the single greatest way to win converts and give you common ground to stand on.

2. Listen

When teachers are struggling to implement technology or any other initiative in their classroom often what they need is a chance to talk about what they want to accomplish, and have an instructor guide them to possible solutions. Offering too many options too fast, minimizing the difficulty of the transition, or dismissing their concerns outright, only makes it more stressful. We often talk about how technology helps us to meet the needs of our students. We need to be clear on how it also meets the needs of the teachers.

3. Build on what they are already doing well

Often we make the mistake of asking teachers to implement technology to improve on a lesson or unit where they feel that they are not currently being effective. Suggest that teachers implement technology into a lesson that IS effective in order to show them how it can help them to be even more so. These units are often points of passion for the teachers where they have invested time to get successful results. Here teachers will not be constructing an entirely new unit from the ground-up, but seeing instead how technology can augment previous successes. It is a more forgiving entry point from which they can operate from a position of greater comfort.

4. Help them understand that simply using technology is not the same as APPROPRIATE and MEANINGFUL use

Supporting effective technology integration means more than just mandating its use. Much like teaching people how to drive, we should not be too overly excited just because people will get behind the wheel and spin around a parking lot. That is a great starting point, but it is just that. Setting the bar higher, discussing pedagogy and framework, makes it clear that there is educational value and weakens the image of technology as a faddish gimmick. Establishing a conversation that defines meaningful and appropriate use, and allowing teachers the professional time to share their practice with each, will help the entire school to grow and build upon each other’s successes.

5. Let them know the greater “Why?”

Change for change’s sake will never be as meaningful as change that is focused on achieving a shared goal or objective. If your school can effectively align your program with your school and community goals and values, accepting it will make a lot more sense. Too often new programs seem to undercut or debase previous initiatives, causing confusion or a sense of changing direction. (Part of this can be caused by dramatic unveilings and theatrical rollouts.) For teachers, this can seem like their work – and more importantly their time – have been lost. Demonstrating how technology initiatives are another part of a step towards the established goals of your school will help these teachers move past their initial sense of reluctance. Teachers may be more likely to move forward if they view this as the next step on a continuing journey, and not a new journey altogether.

The Textbook is Dead, Long Live the Textbook! What 1:1 is doing to Traditional Classroom Resources.

Yep I said it. The days of the traditional textbook are over.  The moment I brought devices into a classroom the textbook fell from its revered place as a THE respectable source of information and was revealed for what it is, a simplified and incomplete narrative of the past.

deadend

Teachers need to accept some blame for the fact that textbooks ever had this status in the first place.  While we brought in primary resources, we necessarily relied on the textbook because of its convenience.  We overstated the accuracy, thoroughness and status of the textbook because its structure gave us comfort and a place to turn when we were absent.  We basked in the glory of being able to provide historical facts beyond the book.  This made us seem really smart. The enticing worksheets that came packaged with the text provided neat questions and a structure that was perfectly mirrored in the text.  Our students grew comfortable with this and while we all knew that it should be different, and though we often did make great lessons that spat upon the folly of the worksheet, at some point, we found our way back.

My Matrix, Red Pill moment came last year. It started with a lesson called “Fact Checking Your Text Book.” The assignment was exactly that. Use the Internet to check the facts, see what is missing, look for bias, and assign a grade to a passage from your book.  It looked like this.

I expected students to find some problems but overall I just hoped they would at least give the textbook a good deep reading.  Yet my class found our textbook, a book that to this day I think is a good textbook, to be riddled with problems.  As groups presented, our unit became a discussion of bias, perspective and viewpoint.  It was amazing.

This year, my classes equipped with iPads, I set out to create other lesson frameworks that would also generate a discussion in class and if possible get students excited about digging deep and experiencing history.

I wanted to start by letting the students look for sources on a topic and then discuss how good they thought those topics were. I had no rubric or framework so I asked students to rank them 0-5.  Students worked in groups to discuss what was a good source and what was not.  I was impressed by how they are savvier than we give them credit for.  The assignment looked like this.  The students eventually found and evaluated over 250 sources.  But they needed an anchor. When set loose they had nothing to build upon or out from.

My next framework grew out of that last assignment.  We outlined the textbook and then researched online to do “Historical First Aid.”  We included what was left out.  We gave breadth to what was simplified and we expanded on value judgments that the book made.  The Topic was Good Emperors and Bad Emperors during the Roman Empire.  We set out to give it the paddles and breathe life into it.

By this point in the year I had started to struggle with how to unify all of the varied learning that takes places when students are researching and pulling together sources that I am not entirely familiar with.  I needed to get control, or at least enough control to bring the lesson together and drive home a point.

My solution was to have each group of students work together to create a thesis statement that summed up their overall impression of the topic.  It was a serendipitous stumble into success.  Students shared the grade they had given the book and discussed the discrepancies that existed between them and the sources they had found.  Then they finished the presentation by writing their thesis statement on the board.  As the bell rang we had our 6 thesis statements and a better sense that the history of the Roman Emperors is bigger than the one page of the book could effectively contain.  It looked like this.

My next framework was “Textbook Smackdown.”  Using copies of old textbooks I put them into direct competition.  Students collaborated to summarize two versions of an event.  Then they debated which was better.  They said things like, “how could we know?” But they had already started to revert to their past research activities and were checking facts.  Choosing the winner was not always easy. The books were selective in the narrative they told and they weren’t typically “wrong.” They often just took different paths through the events.  Sometimes they chose to focus on a different part of set of events.  Other times they chose to focus on different themes.  Ranks were given but it wasn’t always easy.

Students were getting their hands dirty doing real research. They were elevating events from the 2D versions in their books to something closer to the 3D reality.  They used the textbook as a launching point.

And then it hit me like a brick to the face.  Despite my assault, the textbook was still just as much a part of my class as it used to be.  I had smashed the pedestal and knocked it to the ground and gotten in a few good shots. It pages were tattered but it was there no less.

So the textbook is dead.  Companies may try to keep it alive for a bit longer.  They can animate it and insert video, create web links and interactivity, much like they did with pictures and graphs in the late 90’s, but even that will not place it where it once was.  We simply have too much access to too many sources and too many facts.  The world has changed and we can’t go back.

But long live the textbook. In its pages lie beautiful examples of how the age of information is changing the world and I will use them to show just how much we have moved on.  In a way these activities have been therapy for my classes, a transition that demonstrates clearly that they can move on and move beyond.

If a textbook is ever elevated and put upon a pedestal in my class again, I can assure you that it will be because my students have written it themselves.

Footnote A: Further activities are planned.  One I also plan an activity to compare historical versions of events and if possible regional versions that will reveal values in what they choose and choose not to address. Another activity will have the class aggregating the information from a collection of 8 textbooks.  Oh how they do reflect the decades in which they were written. Finally this year, I want to have my students create their own textbook chapter.  If I can pull this off and they can use resources to create their own, then truly and finally, the “Age of the Textbook” will be over. 

Footnote B: My humblest apologies to any of the many textbook producers who may have read through to this point. You performed a public service and took on a difficult task.  You deserve more credit than you will likely get. It was your work after all that created in me a deep love for history. But like the whalers who’s oil lit our country’s lamps through the early years of our nation, shift (and petroleum) happens.  (Ironically, I never learned enough to make that analogy make sense from a textbook. There was no room for it.)