Monday, November 28, 2011

To Be or Not To Be A Teacher

I am a teacher.  17 years teaching at the public schools in both middle school and high school mathematics.  I still teach, but work now on the business end of things, teaching teachers how to effectively integrate technology into mathematics instruction and trying my best to support teachers whenever I can. But...I am going to come out and say right now - if I had to go back to public school teaching, I wouldn't do it.  Nor would I encourage anyone considering this as a career to go there.

Don't get me wrong - I absolutely love teaching.  It is my passion. Yet, when I look at the constant berating that teachers get these days, the blame that is placed on them for the failure of the educational system in our country, the amount of work and time that teachers put in versus the benefits they receive...well, it's not worth it.

Are there terrible teachers out there?  You bet.  I had the 'pleasure' of working with many in my years of teaching and supervising math teachers and it is a disservice to our students that those teachers are allowed to teach. It is the system however that allows them to stay, and I think we need to be focusing on the system of education before we focus on fixing the 'teachers'. 

In all my years teaching and supervising, and we are talking 4 different schools and districts in 4 vastly different socio-economic areas, the number of phenomenal teachers far out-weighed the bad.  And the dedication, devotion, and true passion for students from the teachers I worked with was evident everywhere I went. In my current job, I travel all over the country working with teachers, and again, the passion, dedication, desire to improve their own instructional practices to help students achieve is amazing and exciting. And yet....they are discouraged because the system of education is making true teaching impossible.

We rarely see the good side of education. We only see the 'statistics', and blame the teacher for all that is wrong, not really looking at the family support students have, the resources that are available both at school and home, the number of students in a classsroom, the leadership and support of the administration, the structure of the schools, etc....all components that contribute to the failure of education.  It takes a village or a school or a district to teach a child, not just one teacher. And yet the teacher is to blame.

I am saddened by my own pessimism and not sure how to change it.  All I hear and read around me is negative in regards to teachers and education, and while I truly believe that a passionate, knowledgeable, dedicated  teacher is the best thing that can happen to a student, I am afraid that we are losing the chance for future passionate teachers. Who would want to go into a career where there are no jobs and where the jobs that are there are thankless when things go right and full of blame and criticism when things go wrong?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Technology Integration - Some Helpful Resources

I have found some helpful articles and resources in my research today that I just wanted to pass along. Those of you who are trying to find ways to help teachers integrate technology might be interested in these.

1) Collaborative Apprenticeship: A New Role for the Technology Coordinator in Teacher's Professional Development by Glazer and Page

2) A series of Ed Tech Professional Development by Judi Harris
One Size Doesn't Fit All: Customizing Educational Technology Professional Development
     Part 1: Choosing ETPD Goals
     Part 2: Choosing ETPD Models
     Part 3: Combining Goals & Models to Fit Teachers' Characteristics and Needs
     Part 4: Evaluating ETPD Designs


3) Twenty Everyday Ways to Model Technology Use from Heather Wolpert-Garwon

I will post more as I find them or as I feel they might be of use.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Time Constraints and Technology Integration

Immersed in my dissertation writing, as usual. Even on Thanksgiving, no break - write, research, write, research - does it ever end?!

But, I digress. I am focusing my writing and research today on technology professional development, which will be a short section in my literature review. It directly relates to some long-term (in terms of months) training I am about to embark on, and it just has me really questioning the value of what I am being asked to do versus what the research says I should be doing and what I know I should be doing.

In a nut shell, I know that to really integrate technology effectively, in this case, The Geometer's Sketchpad, I need to provide teachers with long-term, content-embedded training that focuses on how to teach using the software in the context of the content and work environments of the teachers. I need to ensure they have support both for the software skills as well as how to use the software to teach and help students learn math content. However, what I am being asked to do is going to hinder my ultimate goals, in large part due to the time I am being given and the expectations I am allowed to 'impose' on the teachers due to union rules.

Not going into much detail right now, as I am still trying to figure out how to make this work. But it just exemplifies I think a very typical problem I mentioned in a previous post- if we know what will make technology integration work, what do we do to ensure those principals/models/methods are followed? I had planned on doing my best, but outside forces are preventing it, so how do I combat that? Is it possible to still make research-based best practices happen? I certainly hope so.

Alright - too much thinking. Time to eat and drink. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Plagiarizing myself? Happy Thanksgiving!

Well, I just finished writing for my company blog, blog.keypress.com  and I have been researching and writing all day as well.  I am plum tuckered out so I am going to be lazy and plagiarize myself!  I made a fun video using TinkerPlots and some Turkey Data, so posting it here as well, just in case you don't have the energy to click the link above and read my other blog posting.  I tell you - this social presence takes a lot of work!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Technology Integration - Failure

I have been working on my literature review for my dissertation proposal, so reading quite a bit about online professional development and technology integration.  I have also been participating in several online discussion forums focusing on technology integration. So, this article that popped up in Twitter this morning thanks to a couple retweets from  @gcouros @meriannaNeely seemed quite appropriate to where my brain has been of late: The 10 Barriers to Technology Adoption: Technology will absolutely change K12 learning by Cathleen Norris and Elliot Soloway.

Nothing said in the article startled me or was new information - research backs up every one of their 10 barriers. So, what do I think, of the ten, are the top three? Well, in order of biggest barrier -  Barrier #9: Time, Barrier #7 - Infrastructure (Tech and Personnel) and Barrier #2: Leadership.  Don't get me wrong - all 10 are crucial for sustained implementation of technology integration to enhance instructional practice and student achievement.  But I think without these three being the strongest, no amount of the other 7 is going to work.

Why is time #1 in my opinion?  Technology integration - true integration, where it is a TOOL that enhances teaching and learning, means a change in practice and in beliefs.  Change takes time - time to learn new skills, new instructional practice, time to MAKE MISTAKES, time to test the waters, fail, and try again. Rarely are new technologies that are imposed on teachers given time to work - immediate results are expected, and if they don't happen, the technology is set aside and deemed a failure.

Infrastructure is #2 because the right technology is needed (often overlooked) and the personnel who know how to use it and support it are needed as well.  Infrastructure includes teachers and administrators collaborating and working together to figure out what the best methods for using technology are.  As teachers are taking the time to learn and try things in their classrooms and making mistakes, the personnel/support of colleagues and leaders need to support and work with them to figure out the mistakes, reflect on what might make it better and encourage them to keep trying.  Technology integration is a team effort, so along with time, infrastructure is key.

Which leads us to leadership.  Without leadership, including administrators and coaches and teacher leaders, technology integration won't happen.  If it's not okay for teachers to have the time to practice, to fail, to have students scores possibly drop (implementation dip....it exists!) and be given the opportunities to meet together, work together and support each other, then you might as well not even start the process of trying to integrate technology. 

Those are my two cents for the day.  All the other barriers are definitely obstacles, but I think if these three can be overcome, the likelihood of getting technology integration to be sustained and effective is greater.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Technology Integration - How do we make it work this time?

In my quest to be more of a professional, social presence, I have been participating in more online community discussions. I am involved in one now where the topic is on getting technology to actually be used in the classroom. It's a great conversation, but what strikes me is that all the participants know what should be done, and yet realize its not being done. It's the same situation that has been ongoing for decades...every time "technology" is deemed to be the miracles that will save education (think radio, tv).

So...if we know what will help really get technology integrated in a way that will truly help students learn achieve (think TPACK), what needs to change to really make it succeed and not repeat history? I am on a quest to figure that out....any suggestions along the way will be greatly appreciated. I know fundamentally changing how we structure learning is key.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Technology and Students - to use or not to use

I was in a meeting yesterday where one person mentioned that his daughter was so amazed that there was no internet when he was growing up. He talked about how she has so much technology - iPad, iPad touch, computer, and yet when she went to school, she wasn't allowed to use any of it. And that he had to buy an outdated graphing calculator for school since she wasn't allowed to use the tool she normally used, the iPad.

In response to that remark, there was another person in the meeting who responded that her children were not allowed any technology, especially calculators, at home. Things should be done by hand, especially math. No calculators.

It just struck me as odd - such diverse perspectives about technology (in a technology meeting mind you) and about what should or should not be allowed for students in schools and at home. My view is that we do a disservice to our students/children to not provide them with tools that could enhance their learning. I don't think they should be the only tool or source of learning...but if technology is going to provide an opportunity to be more efficient or discover deeper meaning, then it seems worthwhile. The calculator question has been on going - as a math teacher, I definitely think students need to learn without a calculator the fundamentals of number sense, adding, subtracting, multiplying, etc. but then the calculator becomes a tool to developing deeper understanding because it allows you to see patterns, get beyond the preliminary calculations to the more interesting concepts, etc. Balance...it's all about balance.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Online Learning Networks/Communities - How do you build them?

I just had a very surreal moment - searching for articles/information on online learning and communication and the ONE article I have written came up in my search. Pretty funny, as I had forgotten about it...it was a while ago....2007. It was done for one of my doctoral classes and we were encouraged to submit for publishing, and it was published in Learning & Leading with Technology (August, 2007) - Turning Lurkers into Learners Anyway, just a funny weird experience....and a reminder I need to be trying to publish more, as that is what people with doctorates are suppose to do, right? Yikes! Better get writing.

Enough of the shameless self-promotion. The reason WHY I was doing this search actually was because I was trying to gather information on how to increase my online learning community participation and exposure. I write this blog, contribute to my company's blog,post to Twitter (@vpigreenie), post on my company's and my own Facebook (though not too frequently, as my family and friends will attest) and yet I have very few followers in all locations. (Remember my Emily Dickinson posting "This is my letter to the world that never wrote to me...") So, I am really curious about what it is that gets someone noticed in the social media world where you truly do develop a following and interactive communication. What am I not doing that I should be doing?

What have I found in my search that has made a difference? Not much so far, but I have only recently begun investigating this as I have grown tired of writing to myself... Clearly, it could be that what I have to say is not interesting, but I am not willing to entertain THAT theory yet!!! It has only been a couple of months. Anyway, here are a few things I have found and have tried and the results:

1) Twitter - definitely need to do more than just post links to articles or retweet. You need to RESPOND to others tweets, make comments, retweet with a twist (meaning retweet but add your own commentary to it...RT)/. I just recently starting doing this and have increased my following by a few folks already and more importantly, have been retweeted by others and have had some comments back. Lesson here: a community of one is NOT a community. Nobody wants to 'listen' to you if you don't want to listen to them.
2) Shamelessly promote yourself where you can. So, link to your blog on Twitter, reference your Twitter on Facebook and your blogs, push your blog on your other blog. It's all about getting your name out there and links so that people at least have the urge to check it out. Hopefully they will read and stay and become a follower.
3) Shamelessly promote others and let them know that you are pushing them on your blog, Twitter, Facebook...wherever. They will come check it out and then push others to your blog and your Twitter as a way of shamelessly promoting themselves. It's that old exponential growth thing - if you tell two people, they'll tell two people, and they'll tell two people and so on and so on.
4) Start participating in online discussion forums - it gets your name out there, shows you have some insights (well...we hope), and more importantly, it's another venue where you can shamelessly promote yourself!

There are other hints and tips....I found a great article/blog the other day that someone posted but forgot to mark the link, so I will hunt it down and share next posting. But...if anyone is actually out there reading this and has some other suggestions for me, I would appreciate it. Write a comment - it would be lovely to know I am not alone! My goal is to become viral...which, if you think about it, is kind of a weird goal, who wants to be a virus? But the truly well-known bloggers and Tweeters are that - viral - everywhere and resistant!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When technology goes wrong....

Well, hosted a webinar today and technology failed.  The presenter's internet crashed...we think...so with 40 minutes left, and 60 people online, how do you pick up the pieces and move on?  Key word of the day - wing it!!  It took maybe 10-15 minutes for us to get the presenter back up, and more than half the folks stayed with us, so kudos to those wonderful people!  Myself and my coworker filled the time with information about the software, Sketchpad, some ready-to-use lessons...clearly not the topic of the webinar, but, better than just closing down.

This leads me to the classroom and teachers trying to use technology. It's going to fail sometimes and you need to have a back-up plan!  And, you need to learn to go with the flow and laugh...and try again.  Don't give up on technology because sometimes it fails and maybe your great lesson plan for the day is ruined...that's life.  And that is a lesson even students need to learn.  Don't NOT use technology because it might go wrong - you are doing a disservice to your students.

Go in with a back-up plan - be ready to do the lesson another way, or give the students a 10-15 minute 'group discussion topic' while you fix the problem....anything that says "yes, it's not working but we can move on and it's just no big deal".

For example, we pushed on through the webinar with a bit of humor once the presenter was able to rejoin and some grateful participants who stuck with us. Others are joining us for the retake tomorrow.  It all works out one way or another, so just keep that in mind when using technology in the classroom.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mandating online learning

I saw this article, "Idaho to Mandate Online Classes" the other day and am just now getting around to responding to it.  Idaho, apparently, has approved the graduation requirement that all students must take two online classes to graduate from high school.

I have to ask - why online?  They say that it is so students can develop skills in that area, which I assume means online learning.  But, I don't know that it requires students taking online classes.  Don't get me wrong - I am a huge advocate of online learning, but not necessarily online classes for all. 

Online learning is NOT the same as taking an online class. Online learning can mean many things - looking at videos, finding resources, participating in online communities, listening to podcasts....I could go on and on. I definitely think all students should be exposed to aspects of online learning when appropriate and when it enhances or extends the learning of a particular content or topic.  An online class on the other hand, is one where there is most likely a grade expectation, reading materials, projects and course requirements, required discussion forums and group work, among other things.  And this is not necessarily a good fit for all students, just as not all students learn well from lecture-only instruction or inquiry-only instruction. 

Online classes, while they are convenient, less costly, flexible, and accessible from anywhere and anytime, are not a good fit for everyone. Some students will actually not do well at all in an online class and it seems ashame to set them up for failure by requiring online classes for graduation. I would hope that Idaho, and other states considering mandating online classes, consider making it an option versus a mandate. Or, if it is a mandate, make sure that the classes are well chosen, that the teachers are WELL TRAINED in online instruction, and most importantly that students have some training with online learning and expectations before the classes begin (with an opt-out possibility).  If not, these types of mandates are doomed for failure.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thank You War Veterans

Just a short post today to thank our war veterans.  What you do for our country is immeasurable and I for one appreciate the freedoms I have because of your service and sacrifice. My father is a veteran of the Korean War and my grandfather was a veteran of World War I, earning among many medals, the purple heart. I am proud that I have family members who fought for our country and lucky that they did not sacrifice their lives in the process, as I know many do.  So, hug a vet, say thank you, and appreciate what we have as Americans because of them.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Financial Literacy - Finally Some Notice from Arne Duncan and Government

Well, I am feeling slightly vindicated now that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is agreeing with my opinion that we need to be teaching financial literacy in our schools. Could the government actually be making a connection to the current world-wide financial crisis and what is being taught (or not taught I should say) in schools? Here is a posting by Kennith Corbin entitled "Education Secretary Appeals for Financial Literacy, Planning Instruction in Schools" that sums up the comments of Mr. Duncan.

And, in case you want to 'revisit' some of my previous postings on the topic, here are some quick links to them: 1) Math Curriculum - What Should We Be Teaching 2) Financial Literacy - Bring It Back to School! and  3) Financial Literacy - Real-World Math, Really!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Online Learning Communities for Teachers - Does Twitter count?

As I mentioned in my previous post I have been working on a draft of my literature review, much of which focuses on online professional development.  Online learning communities are a big part of what I have been reading about, and, as I have been involved in many online communities myself through online courses and chat forums, it got me thinking about what exactly constitutes and online learning community.  Specifically, can Twitter be considered an online learning community?  Why Twitter you ask?  Probably because I have recently delved into Twitter myself (@vpigreenie) and am slowly learning how to navigate this social media tool.

Definition from Wikipedia:

An online learning community is a public or private destination on the Internet that addresses the learning needs of its members by facilitating peer-to-peer learning. ......... In an online learning community, people share knowledge via textual discussion (synchronous or asynchronous), audio, video, or other Internet-supported mediums. 

Twitter definitely is an online community where people are sharing knowledge - via article links, video links, blog links, or just personal feedback and comments. But does it facilitate peer-to-peer learning? I guess the answer is it depends on who you follow and who follows you and what your goals are.  I can only speak from my own personal experience, and in my own Twitter environment, I feel I am learning from others and am hopefully contributing to the learning of my followers. I try to make my own tweets be informative to my followers - sharing interesting articles, thoughts, problems, ideas, etc. related to math, teaching, education policy. And, I know I am learning from those I follow because I end up reading articles and blogs that I otherwise would not be aware of and find out information and facts that I may not have been aware of.  I feel more well informed about the state of education, as those are the folks I choose to follow on Twitter.  And, I do feel that I can express my opinions to these other folks and 'share' freely.

My consensus is yes, Twitter counts as an online learning community forum, though a specific focus makes it more so.  Something to consider if there are teachers out there trying to incorporate Twitter as a learning tool.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Research on Professional Development

I realize I haven't posted in a few days, but in the midst of my traveling I am also trying to read research on professional development for my dissertation literature review outline draft due on Monday.  It's so time consuming and a little brain-draining.

Just a quick summary of the consistent message I am getting:
1) Professional development needs to be content focused and relevant to the reality of what the teachers actually are doing in their classroom.  Seems logical, but you would be amazed at how many times in my own experience, so I assume in many teachers experiences, I attended professional development that absolutely had no connection to what I did or needed in my classroom.
2) Professional development should include collaboration with others, reflection, and active learning.  Just like students, we need to be hands-on, try it out, talk about what worked and what didn't, and relate to our own understandings.
3) Professional development should be long-term and supported by the schools leaders and the schools overall mission and goals.

There is of course a lot more, but these three components are pretty consistently stated throughout. 

Okay, back to it.  But...let me pass on an blog posting of Tom Schimmer I just read during this 'brain break' that seems connected to these components - always happy to pass on good ideas of others:  Implement That! (Part 1)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How to teach with an interactive white board

One of the most frequent questions today at NCTM in Albuquerque was "how do I get the students involved with the software (in this case Sketchpad and TinkerPlots) using the interactive whiteboard?" Which, if you think about it, almost makes no sense...isn't that the nature of an interactive whiteboard - students are interacting?  But...apparently not. My guess is many teachers continue to use the interactive whiteboard in the manner that they used the projector/screen set up - as a demo tool, with themselves as the driver and students watching.

If you want interactivity and student involvement in order to engage students in learning and discovery, then you want them to "drive".  How to do this? Here are a couple suggestions:
1) Have students go up to the whiteboard and be the driver of the software physically, either by following the directives of the teacher or the steps in the activity worksheets or from inquiry and suggestions from other students in the room.  You can rotate through students by randomly selecting students in various ways.
2) Assign students in pairs/groups to be in control of the white board - perhaps assign each pair/group a specific task to demonstrate or model or explain or a specific step in a task.
3) The teacher is the physical 'driver', but the students drive 'what' actions to take. This works great if you are working with students to 'discover' something and there is opportunity for them to make conjectures and you can try them out and see the immediate results.  An example might be using an activity like Mellow Yellow from Sketchpad, where students are connecting real-world context to rate-of change and slope and time/distance relationships. The teacher asks the questions, the students come up with stories and conjectures, tell the teacher what to move to make a graph fit the story (or change the story)....so the students control the actions and direction of the activity to test their ideas.

Just some simple ideas.  Key here - get students to 'drive' the learning, whether physically or just verbally - either way they are engaged.

NCTM Albuequerque - Stop on by

Okay, just have to report that the third time IS really a charm! The first NCTM in Atlantic City it took 6 hours to set up the booth, in St. Louis, 4 hours, and today in Albuquerque, 1 1/2. I am feeling happy. And, saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in the bar (yes, really...apparently filming a movie here), so my day is just a little strange and strangely complete.

Any of you out there who happen to be at the NCTM conference tomorrow or Friday, stop on by the booth. would love to talk technology!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How to get started with technology if you have NO training

I am off tomorrow to Albuquerque, NM for the NCTM regional math conference.  Third conference in three weeks - by now I think I have the exhibit booth set-up down to a science!

In thinking about all the teachers I have spoken with in the last couple of weeks, and anticipating the teachers I will speak with later this week, I thought I would share my suggestions to one of the most asked questions I have received: "What suggestions do you have for using the software if we don't have any money for training?" In this economy, definitely not a surprising question.  And, unfortunately, I think for a lot of educational software purchases, a very common occurrence - purchasing educational software without offering training or support.  But...all is not lost!  Here are some of my simple suggestions to at least get started with a new software and integrating into technology, even if you have no training.

1)  Go to the Help or Tutorial section of the software and find at least one or two content-related topics to study/learn/review.  Focus on one or two.  If the software does not come with this type of help, try the software's online resources.  If you still don't get that support - it may not be a smart educational purchase (my opinion, of course!)  A couple examples: Sketchpad - The Learning Center in Help; TinkerPlots - the tutorials and movies in Help; Fathom - the tutorials and movies in Help
2) Don't go it alone.  Here is where working with others, either in your department or content teams or lesson study groups would be a benefit.  As a group, spend a department meeting or planning time working together on some new skills or lesson from the software.  Just like students, we learn better together.
3) START SMALL!!! Look at your curriculum and find a lesson that would benefit from using the software - DON'T force the software into a lesson, find a lesson where the software would be a natural enhancement to the learning.  Consider using the software to review, or to 'introduce' or use it as a demo to illustrate a concept.  Try one small type of integration first.
4)  If that first attempt is successful, great - do it again!  Go slightly bigger, for example if you did a warm-up introduction, next time do it to review a concept.  But...if the first attempt was a failure, and it might be...all new things take time and practice - then find another lesson and possibly a different approach (review instead of introduce a concept for example), and TRY AGAIN.  Get support from your colleagues.

It is possible to integrate technology without 'training' - it's harder and it takes more effort. Start small and build your own skills and confidence.