Tag Archives: edtech

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.

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April 24, 2014 · 5:13 pm

The 1:1 Connected Classroom

The 4th in the EdTechTeacher series of webinars in celebration of Connected Educator Month (#CE13). These installment discusses the 1:1 connected classroom. It was great to work with Don and Carl who each have a great understanding of both the costs and rewards of going 1:1.

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October 24, 2013 · 8:33 pm

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.

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When To Put The Tech Away In Your 1:1 (or Any) Classroom

This article was originally posted on Edudemic. You can read the original post on the Edudemic site here. multitasking-mobile-devices-557x362

When we work with schools embarking on 1:1 programs, losing classroom culture often tops the list of concerns. Teachers worry about too much screen time and lack of face-to-face interaction. Between the two of us, we have taught  in 1:1 environments with students in grades 2-12. Despite the wonderful learning opportunities afforded by these devices, sometimes, the technology is best when turned off.

Turning OFF an Elementary Classroom

power-off

“1-2-3 look at me!” I (Beth) exploded to my students. And then, as if I had been a teacher at Hogwarts rather than a PS-8 school in Newport, RI, the room magically went silent. All eyes turned away from their screens and focused on me standing in the middle of the room waving my hand in the air. Suddenly, I had ripped control back from the gleaming iMacs that lined the lab. We had returned to a state of control and learning could re-commence.

We’d had enough technology, and now it was time to re-engage as a class. Clearly, the iMacs had become a deterrent to learning rather than a catalyst, so it was time to re-group. Would I recommend the above strategy to middle or high school students? Absolutely not. However, with my elementary students, it worked – for a while.

Over the years, I established different routines with different groups of students. Some came straight into the lab, sat down at the computers, and got to work. Others gathered in a circle at the front of the room to discuss the goals of the day, answer questions, or collaborate on a project. With my youngest students, we often sat in a circle, on the floor, in an area devoid of all technology at the start and finish of each class. That allowed us to see and listen to each other without the distraction of the screen.

In an elementary classroom, children bouncing out of their chairs, loud screeching noises, and then occasional slew of waving hands amongst shouts of “it isn’t working” make it obvious to put away the technology. Even while teaching in a computer lab, times existed where we needed to sit in a circle and talk about learning objectives. We also needed to sing “C is for Copy” and play the“Server Game” to apply physical attributes to virtual concepts. However, as students get older, the signs may not be as obvious.

When and Why to Add Technology

tech-savvy students

Though failing to include any technology in the modern classroom is wrong, including too much, or employing it ineffectively, can be equally problematic. Having a list of specific instances where choosing to put away classroom technology is the right choice would certainly be nice, but like most pedagogical challenges it is also unrealistic. Oftentimes, it simply isn’t that easy to know whether to put it away or not., and the skill of making that choice develops over time – a bit like a callous.

At its best, technology enhances, extends or deepens the learning taking place. At its worst, it detracts, distracts, and otherwise frustrates you and your students. When these situations cannot quickly and effectively be remedied – without sacrificing your lesson’s learning objective – put the technology down and embrace the lesson.

The trick is to never let technology erode the relationships in your classroom.  It takes awhile understand to how to effectively create the same relationships that existed in a traditional classroom.  When the teacher is talking less and the students are interacting more, the process for building community looks and feels very different.

Lessons from Going 1:1 in High School Classroom

When I (Shawn) lectured more, it was very easy to end the class knowing that the students had shared a very similar experience together. When devices were added to my classroom, I had no guarantee that would happen. As we worked more individually and in small groups, I realized that I had eroded some of the community that I had prized so highly.  This created tension in the class and left me shaken. I  learned that I had to focus and find ways to build a better community and create shared values in smaller increments of time.

Until you find that balance, take time – outside of instruction if necessary – to build your classroom community.  You can come back to blazing a new trail, as it will be more successful and rewarding to everyone if they are doing so in a trusting and supportive classroom. It is an investment with a return and certainly not wasted time.

The first weeks and months of any 1:1 pilot are difficult. Facing each new learning obstacle with a new device seems awkward, ungainly, and not part of the normal planning process. There WILL be a moment when using technology to solve a problem actually becomes the problem itself. For example, the first time that I used dropitto.me, I failed to realize the importance of a standard naming convention. As a result,  ⅓ of the students assignments were lost. Oops!

Don’t Be Afraid to “Abort Mission”

focus in technology

Even the best lesson plans – complete with clearly defined learning objectives, tested tools, and the most creative intentions – can fail miserably, and technology can certainly expedite the process. When the class activity or project begins to unravel, there is nothing wrong with shifting gears or changing directions. My (Beth’s) virtual archaeology project looked beautiful on paper, but the web sites were above my students’ reading level, and the collaborative tools crashed. After three class periods of scaffolding, re-directing, and suffering, we just moved on.

Technology is a lot like sharing a good story with your class. When it connects to the lesson and provides a solid memorable story that students can wrap their minds around, go with it.  When the story fizzles, the connection is lost – or it becomes a self-inflicted class distraction – set it aside, regroup and try to be wiser the next time.

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Beware Ye Smashing Archetypes…

I have dedicated a fair amount of my life to redefining  the experience in my classroom over the past 3 years.  I still have a lot to do but I am proud of  how far I have come.  I count the following among my successes.

-Students are far more central to class activities than they ever were.  I give them more choices and much more control not only in what we learn but how we will learn it. 

-The products that students submit are widely varied but show a deeper understanding of learning.

-We have deeper more nuanced conversations about our subject matter (history) than we ever have before. Students find messy histories that we need to make sense of, something that did not happen very often before.

-There are different voices being heard in my classes. Students who used to get A’s are contributing great things to class and students who once sat silent find ways to share in ways that weren’t possible before.

All of the above are the results of having tools that help me redefine learning, but redefining learning is not without consequences. If you are to promote the change, you should be aware of some potential consequences.

Image

Some changes can been seen as destructive to the prevailing archetypes of how learning should take place.  Intentionally or not, people can be threatened by, resistant to and dismissive of the changes. If you are closely associated with the change, they will project these feelings on you as well. Unsettling the masses wasn’t on my to do list, but in a sense the people who feel this way aren’t exactly wrong.

 What I have gained from all of this is that the best way to drive change is not to become the evangelical techie who condemns the  practices of other teachers, but to respect the effective teaching they have done and show them where technology can add to what they already do so well.  Accept that the transformation technology creates in the classroom is not imposed, but is rather a process that a teacher undergoes once they understand what is now possible. That is where the actual growth and the real change happens.

If you present technology as the end of what we know and love, it is natural to resent it. Beware condemning their past practice. It is a common  mistake.  However, if we present technology as a tool that will help teachers to more effectively accomplish the goals that they have dedicated their lives to, we have to hope they will embrace it. One thing that I am proud of is that regardless of personality, every person I work with on a given day cares deeply about helping our students.  They won’t hesitate to employ tools that make that possible.

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Navigating the First Year in a 1:1 Classroom

This week I was honored to be a Featured Speaker at The EdTechTeacher iPad Summit USA in Atlanta.  I presented a session called “Navigating the 1st Year in a 1:1 Classroom”. I have had many requests for my presentation so I will make it available here. My goal was to help teachers to envision their ideal 1:1 classroom and help them to make it a reality.  Please let me know if there is any further information I can provide you.  You can find more of the presentations from EdTechTeacher iPad Summit USA here.

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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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Voices for Introverts: A 1:1 Success

Being an introvert is not a bad thing.  Recently there is a wave of writing discussing how schools are failing to meet the needs of introverts by creating classrooms that demand that students become extroverts in order to succeed.

These are the student who will share a great idea with you privately after class when the crowd has dissipated.  These are the students who write the most amazing and insightful papers but during debates keep that insight to themselves.  I have spent my entire career trying to find ways to make them feel comfortable enough to risk sharing in my class.   In reality I have never found a way to hear from regularly.  So they sit silently, all of their talents and gifts, their thoughts and ideas, present but unheard.

from "Calvin and Hobbes" by Bill Watterson

from “Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson

Today, if I were to lose the devices (iPads) that that my students have I would mourn the loss not of the technology but of the voices that my students have gained through having them.

One student, who I will call Ellis, (pseudonym) has never once voluntarily spoken in my class.  Were this another year I would think that she had nothing to say. I would not even have pegged her as someone who is interested in politics, but because my class used a Today’s Meet room to discuss the Presidential debates I got to hear her share opinions and interact with her classmates.  With electronic communication a person has the chance to see their words in writing before they share them. They can hone their thoughts more effectively then when put on the spot in class.  And share she did, more effectively than any other student who joined the chat that night.

Unfortunately she is not in a 1:1 class.  It is hard to replicate that moment and the conditions that let her find her voice and support her convictions.

If I take a good look at my 1:1 classes I can name many students who I would call leaders. Some are extroverts but more than a few are like Ellis; intelligent and inspiring introverts who under the right conditions have something to offer to the whole class.  They raise questions about films and leave me stunned with their thoughtful advice to classmates on blogs.  I can think back to past students who could have offered similar contributions, but lacked the tools and opportunities to do so. They had voices too.

You probably know a student like Ellis. Can you give them a voice? Can you help them speak louder or let more people hear them? We should strive to raise their voices above a whisper.

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1:1 Choices Made Simple

You won’t be able to do it all.  You have limited time and therefore you will have to decide what you value.  Identify what you value most and focus your efforts there.   

Schools are going to have to choose.  It will not be easy and you better not try to rush the process.  1:1 devices are a trendy topic. Ultimately they force schools to make many hard choices.  You can read a lifetime’s worth of articles on every aspect of 1:1 but they will all eventually return you to the idea above.

 Image

The first few weeks of my 1:1 pilot were a very stressful time.  I was adding volumes of skills, daily student choice and doing iPad set up regularly.  I felt torn between the tech and the content. Daily I would drive home and feel that I had failed on some level.  My school district did not tell us “you must do this!!” and much was left to the individual teachers. (Which I believe is ultimately a good thing for a pilot to do.)

Finally reality slapped me. I realized that the curriculum can only expand so much if the time available does not expand with it.  I needed a focus.  I needed to decide what was important and make some decisions.  I looked at the critical learning standards for my course, focused on how the technology could add to their development and started to refocus.  This was how I could best focus my efforts, my time, and the technology towards the priorities of my school and my district. It is my divining rod as to what is essential and what can be cut. 

If a whole school is to succeed in going 1:1 these hard decisions will need to be framed for the teachers in advance.  Leaders will need to identify and communicate the values that should be driving teacher choices.

“We believe (X) is important for our students. Use this technology to achieve that aim.”

So find your school’s goal, your purpose, your “True North”. Make it clear to everyone. Then pursue it with all your might.

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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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