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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.) 

 

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Filed under #edtech, 1:1, pedagogy

3 Dangerous 1:1 Myths

1.  Digital Natives=Digital Students: “They have grown up with technology and it’s like second nature to them.”   

It is true that students use a lot of technology. Many teachers assume that this means that students will instantly feel comfortable using technology in the classroom.  While it may be true of some, it is wrong to assume that it will be an easy transition.  Today’s students use technology for some very specific things; games, social media, video chats, reading about their interests, possibly making movies. Once you start talking about curating information and synthesizing meaning from multiple sources, they will initially look at you blankly.  They will come around but you are going to need to support them and help them get past the immediate difficulty. You will need to know what you want and how to help them get there.  Otherwise the natives will be restless.

true and false

2.  Immediate Engagement- “Students with devices will suddenly, magically connect with the content!”

Technology is not a panacea. Students see most technology as a social or recreational tool. We are doing nothing less than re-tasking their use towards an educational purpose.  Once classes have made the transition teachers will have the ability to bring learning to a higher level and find deeper meaning. But before that can happen, you will have a lot of work to do.  How will you help them to redefine the purpose of their device? How can you help socialize appropriate behavior? How can you get them to see the excitement and learning potential? Because until you do, you have armed them with a powerful learning tool that also just so happens to be a powerful distraction tool.  Teachers are going to have to help them connect with the material just as much as they ever did before. You better have a plan.

3.  Time: “Going 1:1 will save time in the classroom” and/or “Going 1:1 will consume time that I can’t afford to lose.”

Really both of these are right and wrong in that going 1:1 will force you to totally reevaluate where you spend your time.  You will have to review each activity and each lesson to see how it is affected by the new “Economy of Information” in your classes. What you do will change and so will how you do it. In this regard going 1:1 will upset you because it will shatter your time budget.  Nearing the end of my first 1:1 semester I see that I am starting from square one.  In some places I have gained time. In others I have lost it.  In reality what has happened is I have redistributed time based upon a new set of classroom values.  I have divorced myself from the timeline that is in essence based upon a textbook and retooled it based upon my districts learning objectives and the needs and interests of my students.

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5 Common 1:1 Teacher Mistakes

Putting Tech Before Content– New tech is exciting.  Students (and teachers) will be focused on the new devices.  It is easy to get sidetracked by the excitement. I spent so much time trying to front load all of the setup, sign up and procedure that I lost something essential to my class.  While they were fired up about technology, I had not gotten the students excited about history. Keep your focus on your content.  It is your content that defines your class and it is your content that will drive the way you use your device, not the other way around.

Too Much Too Fast– It is hard for students to get comfortable with a new piece of technology unless they have time.  Requiring too many new tech competencies to quickly upsets students.  They need time to build upon past skills and integrate them with new ones.  I buried my students in accounts and passwords.  I set up everything I thought I would be using for the year within the first week. It was too much for many students. Focus on fewer more important skills and Scaffold early assignments to build to more complex ones.  Think big picture.mistake

Lack of Tech Focus- There will be times where a new technology is AMAZING and perfect to generate more learning and deeper understanding. But there will be times where it is nothing more than a shiny distraction.  I am constantly asking myself “Why use this? What is the benefit? What is the loss?”  Choose your essential technology carefully. Choose things that support your lesson goals and allow productivity.You can’t do everything and be distracted by every new technology you learn.

 No Recovery TimeStudents have grasped a new skill and they need time to absorb it, apply it, and use it effectively.  When lessons go well and students succeeded I can be too quick to move on the next big idea.  I quickly learned that I needed to provide some recovery time for students to get proficient before I could focus on the next tech competency.  Stop, and allow them to understand before you present new technology. Beyond just taking it slow (see above) I learned that sometimes you have to take a break. Don’t over complicate this though.  Sometimes knowing the right time to proceed is as simple as asking.  Trust your students in this process.

Limiting Students to What the Teacher KnowsWhen given a choice students are going to choose tools that they are comfortable with and that allow them to express what they know. You may not have the slightest knowledge of them or how they work. It is impossible to be proficient at every web tool, app and program available. I have poured myself into learning as many as I can. There are many where I would consider myself an expert but that in no way means that they are the best resource for every student.  Don’t be afraid to let students use technology beyond your knowledge base and understanding.  Accept that you are student too. Learn.

See the previous article in the series here.

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A Call for More Blogging

When I first became active on Twitter I would have put the odds that I would ever Blog solidly at Zero.  I had no desire to put work out there for criticism, nor did I feel that it was my place to share what I was doing in the classroom as if it was a standard to be achieved.  I simply wanted no part.Fast forward a few years and now I find blogging to be a powerful part on my own professional development. The thought process in organizing a post and the thinking that goes into sharing it helps me to organize future lessons and review others that I have taught.  Sometimes when I am teaching a lesson that I wouldn’t share, I ask myself “why not?” and then try to make it so.  It tends to elevate my work.

Similarly, I have really grown from reading about what others have done in their classes.  I have found inspiration in blogs that I would have laughed at before.  I teach high school, but it is amazing what you can learn from the blogs of elementary teachers.  I teach in the US but I find the blogs of teachers around the world help me to teach viewpoints and opinions without my own patriotic bias. I teach Social Studies but have improved the integration of writing and technology by finding people who have streamlined procedures in their classroom that worked for me.

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So I would like to make this plea for the teachers out there who have hesitated to do so to start a blog.  Share to your level of comfort. Post what inspires you.  Don’t feel obligated to post daily or even weekly.  Your growth can help others to do the same.

The following are two google docs that will help you follow others. Feel free to add to them and find others to follow.  I look forward to hearing your voices.

Education Blog Master List
The #SSchat Blog List

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