Monday, February 27, 2012

Education: "What We Want Is for People Is to Be Able to Problem Solve"

So, I spent some of this weekend catching up on "The Daily Show" episodes with Jon Stewart (thank goodness for DVR!). I finally had time to watch the Arne Duncan/Jon Stewart interview from February 16. And...have to say, not impressed. With Arne that is. Jon of course was his usual hilarious, well-versed self, trying to get a answers from someone who clearly wanted to just spout political-speak but not really provide any real solution or answers.

Here is the 7-minute clip that aired.
The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Arne Duncan Extended Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

The more interesting conversation occurred after, in the 'extended interview' not aired on TV, but available online. Here is a link that will take you to the full episode, where from 20:35-32:00 you can catch the 'rest of the story', to quote Paul Harvey:

What Jon Stewart attempted, throughout the entire interview, was to get Arne Duncan to address the concern of teachers that just as with NCLB, Race to the Top is really not improving education, but in fact it is continuing the problem of 'teaching to the test' and stifling creativity.The reason being that the infrastructure that has been put in place in order to qualify for this grant money forces the teachers and schools to teach to the test. Mr. Duncan said he agreed with this, but that RTT was trying to fix the problems of NCLB. A confusing answer I think?

My favorite part of the interview (in the extended version) was Jon Stewart's response to Arne Duncan's explanation about the Common Core State Standards, adopted by 46 of the states. 
 Mr. Duncan said "...For the first time in the history of our country, a child in Massachusetts, which is very high achieving, and a child in Mississippi, which is lower achieving, they're going to be measured by the same yard stick.  That's a big, big deal"
Jon Stewart's reply:  "But I guess the point that right? What's the yard stick and how do you design that? I guess my point is, standardized testing, we're all sort of accustomed to this idea of the SAT's, and I'm not saying there shouldn't be accountability and there shouldn't be standardized testing, but, it feels like we've lost what the goal is for education. If the goal is we want you to be college ready, that seems like a low bar. Because what we want is for people to be able to problem solve"
To which Mr. Duncan immediately piped up: "To problem solve, to be creative, for people to be able to work in a diverse group, and I think we have to work on all those skills." 
Jon Stewart: "But to do that we've handed them a worksheet and said you need to learn how to fill this out.  And everyone said, if we don't learn how to fill this out, then we won't get any money So let's take everything out of education except this worksheet and so it has had the opposite effect"
Basically, even though RTT and these standards are saying that we are going to educate students to be more creative, to be problem solvers, to work together, yet, we are going to assess in a way that actually stifles all those standards. We are going to judge you in a way that forces you to focus on the menial and basics, not the broader aspects of learning, which are creativity and problem solving. Mr. Duncan however didn't have a real response to this - just more rhetoric.

It seems that Mr. Duncan spent his time saying what people want to hear, spouting the wonders of Race to the Top without ever acknowledging the flaws and restrictions that are continuing to stymie true innovation and change in education. We never really get more than the political speak from Duncan - how money is being invested at the state, district and local level to create initiatives, how investment in teachers and teacher education is going to make a difference. I am not sure I believe any of it, maybe because I see more of what Stewart talked about than what Duncan talked about, meaning the teaching to the test, the blaming of the teachers for low scores, the disengagement of teachers and students.

It would be wonderful to believe Mr. Duncan when he says "We have to stop focusing on the absolute score, we have to look at growth and gain, how much are students improving....I'm much more interested in longer term outcomes". If this were truly part of assessing teachers and schools, then that would mean there would be a focus on taking the time to do things right - focus on understanding, not memorizing, focus on critical thinking and problem solving, not regurgitating answers...real learning, real education. It's hard not to teach to the test if the goal is test scores must go up and you must reach an arbitrary score by the end of the year.  If the goal instead is to show that your students have shown growth and gains from where they were last year, then the focus becomes the student, not the test, and isn't THAT what education is suppose to be about?!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Hybrid PD - Online Community Development Pt 3

I am in the third online unit of my hybrid/blended PD so wanted to give some feedback and updates on how things are going online.  For those of you who have been following my hybrid/blended professional development series on integrating technology into math instruction (see a listing of all posts in the series at the bottom of this blog), you will remember that we just finished our third face-to-face meeting a couple weeks ago.

My focus for this third unit (both f2f & online) is relevancy:
Lesson Three: Make the activities and learning relevant to the teachers every-day teaching practice. By providing activities that focus on learning the skills, how to integrate technology appropriately, and also cohere to the specific content and curriculum the teachers must follow, it is more likely that they will begin to change their own practice. If they can see the relevancy to their own daily experience, they are going to be more willing to implement new tools and strategies.
This current online unit is five weeks long, and while there is specific content teachers are assigned to do (watch videos, readings, and Sketchpad math activities) as they continue learning the software, learning and practicing instructional strategies, and learning specific math content and Common Core standards, there is quite a bit of personal choice involved. As in previous units, they must choose at least one lesson, using Sketchpad, to do with their students.  This means creating a lesson plan and providing feedback and student artifacts after the implementation. The difference in this unit is they can choose what lessons to implement rather than being given a specific lesson.  The lessons they choose can be specific to their classroom, their students, their content and their needs. (They find relevant lessons to their needs using Sketchpad Lessonlink, which provides ready-to-use Sketchpad lessons that they are searching for either by content, textbook, or even standard they may be currently teaching).

What I am finding so far this unit is much more excitement and a lot more sharing of activities and how the teachers are working with Sketchpad and their students.  Granted, I still have those participants who are not posting, but those that are seem to be so much more vociferous and energetic in their postings. They are really making connections to how the use of technology makes learning of mathematics engaging and more understandable for their students. Many seem to have reached a turning point, where the software is no longer the 'enemy' they are trying to fit into their teaching, but rather an amazing resource that is expanding their teaching and their students learning.  I think the biggest factor in this enthusiastic embracing of using the technology in their practice is the relevancy of lessons to what they are teaching.  They have found lessons that are making it easier for them to help their students learn what has to be taught right now.

This brings me to a question that came up in an #edchat I participated in this week on Twitter.  Jeffery Heil (@jheil65), in response to my tweet that "think this goes back to showing the direct relevancy to what they teach, how tech is a tool to support/enhance" responded "I agree, but relevant for whom? Tech might be necessary but perhaps not sufficient for student learning".  It was a great question, and if I look at what I wrote above in my Lesson Three, it might seem I am only thinking of the teacher, in terms of relevancy - their curriculum, pacing, standards, students' needs, etc.  But, Jefferey has had me thinking all week on relevancy for the students as well. I am finding, in the responses of the teachers in my online PD, they have focused on relevancy for themselves and their own teaching requirements, but also relevancy for their students as well, by providing opportunities to see, touch, and connect the mathematics to something visual or contextual.

Here are a few example comments from my online teachers which I think exemplify both teacher and student relevancy:
 "{Using the Sketchpad Activity {Graphing Quadratic Equations"} I really like the ability to easily use parameters to influence graphs. I like that there always seems to be several ways to accomplish the same task (like the use of sliders or +/- keys), as that allows us to better adapt to student strengths. I really like the self-correcting aspects of working in Sketchpad. If it is done right, it works the way it should, if not, it won't work and the troubleshooting (often where the real learning occurs) begins. I also like the ability to easily issue programming challenges to the students. This gives valuable insight into the way in which students approach mathematics."
"I like the real life application that was used in {How slope is Measured}. As I did this activity I wondered if students would explore beyond the guidelines. Would they question what it looks like if slope is the same but the coordinates are different. Would they want to explore even more possibilities for different staircases? Would they be able to transfer that knowledge over to the slope game and come up with some strategies to "stump" their partners. How slope is measured is a great activity for building understanding of the concept. This would provide students opportunities to explore and apply their understanding. Another way I might approach these two activities is to use the slope game as an explore activity, use measuring slope as a explore and summarize activity and then revisit the slope game to assess their understanding."
"I love using the lessons from lesson link. They relate so close to what I am currently teaching. I did a lesson on Rotations on paper first because I couldn't get into the computer lab until Thursday. On paper it didn't go so well. Next year, I will save the lesson to do just on Sketchpad. I am so proud of myself!"
"{Using the Sketchpad Activity "Toy Car"} Based on my students' need, I basically had to ask what units of measure would be reasonable. So I ask if is it possible to push a Hot Wheel car two feet and one seconds? I illustrated how far two feet was and count for one second, and they agreed that it was possible if you pushed it fast enough. I then went on to discuss a wind-up toy car. I asked the question, what about a wind-up toy car? What would happen if you wind-up a toy car and then let it roll, would it start off fast and then lose speed as it travels? They all agreed that it would. Based on this information we decided that the numbers on the left were seconds and the numbers on the bottom were probably feet. We then did several practices using the different rates. I believe this type of questioning relates to the Standards of Mathematical Practice because it encourages students to think about what is reasonable. Next we discussed another name for the word rate, and we came up the distance. So we decided that the rate/distance was based on time."
I have probably included too many examples, but it's so exciting and gratifying to me to see the change in these teachers perspectives about using technology to teach mathematics, I just couldn't help myself! Their obvious focus on their students, their students needs and making sure the activities they pick and the questions they ask are relevant to their students learning of math concepts simply solidifies for me the importance of relevancy. When considering new technology and really, any new strategy or innovation, that we want teachers to adopt and use to change their practice, relevancy to what they teach, how they teach, and the students they teach should be a key factor in the decisions made and the support provided.

**If you are interested in reading the Hybrid Professional Development series of posting in their entirety, here are the titles and links:

Planning for Hybrid PD - Comfort Level and Confidence First
Follow-up On Planning for Hybrid PD - Day 1 
Follow-up On Planning for Hybrid PD - Day 2
Hybrid PD - Online Community Development Pt 1 
Planning for Hybrid PD (part 2) - Develop Community and Supportive Environment 
Follow-up On Planning for Hybrid PD (Part 2) - F2F Feedback 
Hybrid PD - Online Community Development Pt. 2 
Planning for Hybrid PD (part 3) - Make it Relevant 
Follow-up On Planning for Hybrid PD (part 3) - F2F feedback

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mobile Devices In Education - "Let Them Use It" - Reflections on Michael O'hara's LWF12 Talk

UPDATE TO POST 2/19/12:  Michael O'hara's talk can be viewed at or via iTunes    Thanks Graham Brown-Martin for the updated links!)

It's been a few weeks since I attended the Learning Without Frontiers conference in Olympia, UK.  I wrote a previous reflection piece on Noam Chomsky's talk right after I returned.  I was revisiting my notes on other speakers and re-watching some of the talks at the LWF website trying to come up with my blog post for the day.  In my notes, the one that stuck out as relevant to me this week was Michael O'hara's talk about the mobile industry and education called "Learning While Mobile".  Imagine my disappointment when I went to re-watch the talk to find that it had been blocked due to potential copyright issues, apparently because of some materials mentioned in his talk.  Sigh.

I have decided to still focus on O'hara's talk, even though I can't share the video with you, because I think some of the comments he made regarding the use of mobile devices in education are important to the current debates on what should and should not be allowed in educational arenas.  O'hara's emphasis was on the pervasive use of mobile devices throughout the world, and how mobile disruption is only just beginning. He pointed out that in the next 10 years, there will be over 24 billion mobile connections throughout the world. Mobile is used to communicate and access the internet and is a tool for inclusion - distance is irrelevant in life because of the capabilities of mobile.

Mobile connects the worlds' people, and rather than banning it's use in education, we should be embracing the use of mobile devices because of their ability to be a tool for inclusion.  O'hara mentioned that today's current apps are interesting, but are missing the big trends of the devices, which is their ability to connect and teach globally, in the real world, with others. Mobile devices should be used to coach creativity and coding.  We should be letting students use it socially and be teaching across the social environment. Communication and creativity are skills students will need for the future because these are critical to business and connecting to the world and mobile devices are instrumental it helping develop those skills.

I agree with all of O'hara's comments.  I think of my own children and how connected they are through their various mobile devices to the rest of the world. From Facebook, Twitter, the Internet, to texting on their phones, my children are in constant contact with someone and to information at all times. And the things they do with this connectivity are amazingly creative and inventive because they are not limited....except at school. Which brings me to O'hara's ending question: "how do we fight the bans on mobile devices" that are pervasive in schools today?

Developing frameworks was one suggestion brought forth by him, as well as the need for all of us to continue to educate on the capabilities of mobile.  I would add myself that those of us in education or education related fields should continue to develop quality applications, relevant resources that support effective integration of mobile learning, and continue to support and inform the arguments for mobile learning.

I end with O'hara's overall message about mobile devices -"Let Them Use It!"

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Every Village Needs A Leader

I am currently overwhelmed right now because there is so much I want to say in response to many articles I have read this week (What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong About Math Education Again and Again, The 'Mathlash' to Silicon Valley's Move Into Education, U.S. Lag in Science, Math A Disaster Waiting to Happen, Seven Misconceptions About How Students Learn) as well as an #edchat twitter forum I participated in yesterday on whether the current hierarchical structure of our education system should be changed, and if so, how. Unfortunately, much of what I want to say would require me to do some research to back up my thoughts.  Honestly, I don't know that my providing evidence that pedagogy and teacher training is more important than the type of technology initiatives implemented, or STEM education is being hindered by funding, classroom size, lack of teacher support and training, or that standardized testing is a major factor in why mathematics education in this country is struggling,would make a difference. I am just another educator voicing the same experience-related opinions and facts as many others.

I have instead decided not to rant, not to politicize, not to tout research and evidence since those do not change the here and now. Instead, I am going to offer some suggestions of things that can be done RIGHT NOW to create a small dent in the current structure that is education. Clearly, starting big, at the top-level isn't the answer right now => we see how well top-down policies have worked (think NCLB). What can we as administrators, teachers, educators control? Our own small environment, one school at a time. I am only thinking of this because of a question I actually posed in the #edchat discussion yesterday related to changing educational decision making and how things are done in schools currently - "So...what is OUR solution? What can WE do? Clearly it is an issue and change takes time, so where to start?"

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Instructional Change and Integration - It Takes a Village

I just spent last week with the teachers I have been working with for the last three months on my hybrid/blended PD (my most recent post in the series was Feedback (Part 3) on Hybrid PD).  I also spent the last part of the week at the Texas Computer Education Association 2012 conference in Austin, TX, where I met with myriad of teachers from all different disciplines and talked about technology and mathematics. In both experiences, I was surrounded by teachers excited about technology, excited about using technology, and teachers who were so excited to engage and provide opportunities for their students to get their hands on learning, whether it be mathematics, science, social studies or English. But...what I also heard was frustration about their ability and access to provide those experiences to their students due to such mundane things as the software not being downloaded on the computers, or the sites they want to go to being blocked by the school firewalls.

This had me thinking back to a Twitter  #connectedpd conversation I participated in a couple weeks ago (my first such attempt at participating in a live Twitter discussion and takes some getting use to!  Everything goes so fast!).  A few responses related to getting innovations and new strategies integrated into practice from James Tiffin (@JimTiffinJr) have sort of stuck with me the last couple of weeks.  In the context of talking about standardized testing and how that often inhibits teacher's ability and freedom to change their practice and integrate new strategies or technologies, Jim pointed out the importance of administrators responsibility for cultivating that environment where teachers can learn and change.  He also asked the question "in a high stakes testing environment, who takes the first step towards connected PD - administrators or teachers?"  My initial answer/response was both.  But after this week, I think I want to amend my thoughts - I think it takes the entire village, not just those on the front-line (i.e. administrator and teachers), so to speak.

Let's take the most familiar situation  - the teachers I have been working with in the hybrid PD.  These are teachers who are definitely taking a first-step to improve their instructional practice and integrate technology.  This is completely voluntary participation in this PD and they are making the effort. The administrators (from the curriculum director to the math coaches to the principals) also took a first-step by providing the opportunity in the first palce, from providing the software, the time and location for trainings, and the extra support in the classroom.  So, after three months, where's the frustration point?  Access to the actual software in the schools for the students and access to the student websites online.

Both of these are hampered by the technology specialists not pushing the software out to the computers, the school/district firewalls blocking the site that students need to access, or even the inability for the math teachers to get permission or access to use the computer lab. We have have gun-ho teachers ready to change their practiced but stymied by miscommunication, inaccurate information about the software or the websites, and limited access in general. This is NOT an isolated case - from my own personal experience as a teacher trying to fight over computer lab access, and as an administrator trying to convince the technology coordinator that yes, in fact, the license for the software was for every school and every math teacher, and every computer lab, this lack of coordination amongst all the relevant parties is a very common occurrence and hindrance to many initiatives.

Similarly, at the TCEA conference, one tech coordinator I spoke with said "Oh, we have Sketchpad, I purchased it a couple years ago for the math department. But no one uses it because no one knows it's there and no one has trained any teachers". She made the effort to purchase something she thought would be great for math teachers to use (and it is!) as part of her responsibility to the village, but the rest of the village was never told.  In the case with the hybrid PD, the math leaders and teachers are completely in agreement that this technology will really engage students and help them teach mathematics to match the Common Core, but no one informed the technology leaders about it, and even now that they know, bureaucracy is holding up access.

This all just solidifies for me that we need to take a village approach to innovations and professional development if we want to in fact change instructional practice and improve student learning. It shouldn't just be the math  teachers and the district leaders making the decision about what software to buy to improve math, or the English teachers and social studies teachers with access to computer labs, or the tech leaders and school administrators deciding what tablet to purchase or which apps to use (just some specific examples that came up this week). Rather, everyone should have a part - it should be a collaboration among all those connected to the instructional well being of students - administrators, teachers from all disciplines, curriculum leaders/coaches, tech coordinators, parents, and students. A village approach would help eliminate much of the miscommunication and lack of information that seems to pervade initiatives and perhaps even create a cross-curricular learning environment that is so often lacking. Everyone should be involved in the choices made, the professional development required, the technology and resource support needed, and the consequences of those decisions.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Follow-up On Planning for Hybrid PD (part 3) - F2F Feedback

In my most recent post in my hybrid/blended PD series, Planning for Hybrid PD (part 3) - Make it Relevant, I was about to embark on my 3rd face-to-face meeting with the teachers. I have met with the groups and have to say, I think relevancy was definitely the thing to focus on, for two reasons.
1) After almost 3 months working together, with 2 previous face-to-face meetings and 2 online components, the teachers are feeling comfortable with each other and really willing to voice their frustrations, ask for help or ideas, and share strategies.
2) They feel much more comfortable with the software themselves and are actually thinking of how it could work with their students, so they are want lessons that fit what they teach, since that's an easier stretch as they try something new.
How did these two reasons fit into my goal for this third face-to-face meeting of making it relevant?  As I said previously
Lesson Three: Make the activities and learning relevant to the teachers every-day teaching practice.  By providing activities that focus on learning the skills, how to integrate technology appropriately, and also cohere to the specific content and curriculum the teachers must follow, it is more likely that they will begin to change their own practice.  If they can see the relevancy to their own daily experience, they are going to be more willing to implement new tools and strategies.
The first part of the meeting we spent sharing out what happened in the classrooms when teachers tried to implement some lessons in the classroom. The teachers were so open about both the good and the bad experiences, and it was gratifying to me to see the level of support for each other.  One person had problems with students getting distracted when at the computers and not focusing on the lesson, so several others offered suggestions on how to address that problem (allow software play time, have students work in pairs, do the activity as a whole class first, etc.) Several teachers stepped up to show what their students had done or said, so that was great. The most important thing that came out of this was that many of them spoke up to say they struggled with implementing a lesson because it wasn't what they were teaching, to which others offered alternate lessons they had found on Sketchpad LessonLink, or offered ways they modified the current activities to fit.

Reason 1 fits into relevancy because teachers were open enough to share what was going on, and the need for relevancy to their every day teaching experience was very apparent in what and how they shared. The teachers were not afraid to share what they were feeling and experiencing, were willing to try things, and were really wanting to continue implementing Sketchpad with their students, which was great to see and hear. At the same time, they vented their frustration about implementing activities these past two months that did not always fit what they had to teach and expressed the desire to use activities that addressed content specifically matched the curriculum/content they were teaching. This solidified for me that relevancy was a crucial issue to focus on going forward.

The rest of our face-to-face time was spent learning some new skills of the software related to upcoming activities that were chosen based on their curriculum and creating student web pages in LessonLink to help them get ready for using the software in computer labs.  A majority of time was spent using Sketchpad LessonLink to find relevant lessons specific to content they would be teaching.  The teachers were engaged, collaborating, and excited about finding lessons, and for me, the exciting part was being able to focus on specific Sketchpad skills relevant to the lessons they found.

Reason 2 fits in with my goal of relevancy because since the teachers were more comfortable with both Sketchpad and Sketchpad LessonLink, they were not bogged down with how-to's, rather they focused on what resources and lessons would help them teach math dynamically to their students. They have almost gotten past their fear of the tools themselves (there is still some uncertainty and fear of course, more to do with using it with students at this point) to focusing on how the tools can help support their instruction. Being able to find lessons and activities that directly connect to the math content they are teaching, and having the chance to try those activities out, learn the math and software skills associated with those activities, and get feedback and advice from others, has made the thought of using technology to teach math a more natural occurrence in their lesson planning.

Relevancy matters in professional development if you want change to happen.  Like anything, it is a slow process, and as I am learning from this experience, comes AFTER providing the necessary skills and tools to develop a level of confidence, and after creating a collaborative, supportive community (see my previous posts relating to this).

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Planning for Hybrid PD (Part 3) - Make it Relevant

This week is my third face-to-face set of meetings with the two groups of teachers I have been embarking with in the hybrid, or blended, professional development journey. We are focused on learning and integrating dynamic mathematics into math instruction using The Geometer's Sketchpad. We are just coming off our 2nd online unit, about to start our 3rd cycle.  This particular online unit was significantly shorter (3 weeks) compared to the first one (5 weeks), so a much quicker turn-around (my feedback on that can be found in my last online community posting).

In my first two parts of this series on blended learning, I went into each face-to-face workshop with specific lesson or goal to focus on:
From Planning for Hybrid PD (Part 1):
Lesson One: Begin a professional development experience assessing the background skills of participants.Ensure they are given the necessary tools, starting points, and resources to feel comfortable with what they are going to be doing, see the purpose behind what they will be doing, and know where and how they can get continued support. 
From Planning for Hybrid PD (Part 2):
Lesson Two: Work on building a sense of community and support among participants, where they feel comfortable sharing their struggles, their experiences, their ideas and expertise. Providing a safe environment where it is okay to try new skills and strategies and knowing it is okay to fail or struggle and that others are going though similar experiences, gives teachers confidence to try to change and improve their own practices. 
As I plan for this week's f2f, and reflect on Lesson One and Two, I think the important lesson to focus on this time around is making sure that the teachers are sensing how the skills and tools they are learning are relevant to what they specifically are teaching. After over two months of working on feeling comfortable with the tools, becoming familiar with the resources and how to access them, and really focusing on working together and supporting each other as they learn, I am sensing the need to narrow in on their individual students and classroom needs.  I have noticed in our discussion forums, several comments and reactions to the activities such as "I see how this would work great for the math content, but since I am not teaching that right now.....", or "these were great - I wish I had something similar to use for what I am teaching tomorrow..." or even "it seems like this takes a lot of time to make it fit into the topic I need, and I am not sure I have the time or that this will work for my students".

In all the research I have been doing on effective professional development, besides the importance of time and support, there is quite a bit of emphasis on relevancy and coherence to what the teachers are doing in their classroom.  If a teacher is expected to change their instructional practice, then the new strategies and tools need to be relevant to what the teachers are expected to teach.  The topics we have been focused on in the past couple of months are very specific math content that the district leaders mandated, but not all the participants are necessarily teaching those concepts at this time, which is where I am sensing some disconnect.  I believe we have reached a point where they have learned enough skills and made some great head way into how the integration of Sketchpad into math instruction is a tool that can help students explore, discover and learn mathematics, that we can start focusing on individualizing the content we use for learning.

The great thing is that I do have the tools and resources to support the teachers in trying to make this next face-to-face and online unit more relevant to the current topics they are teaching, which is not always the case for many professional development experiences.  Teachers are using Sketchpad LessonLink as part of this professional development, which is a searchable database of ready-to-use lessons for Sketchpad (these lessons are also available in separate resource modules).  My plan for this weeks upcoming face-to-face sessions is to really focus on allowing them to find activities that continue learning of Sketchpad skills, but that are specifically related to what they themselves are teaching in the classroom. After we do our debrief of the second online component and sharing out of what happened when they tried an activity in the classroom, we will spend some time learning some more software specific skills through model math activities, and then focus on relevancy.

Continuing the idea of collaboration and support, I plan to put them in pairs/small groups based on similar content focus and have each group focus on a math content they are covering in the next few weeks. Using Sketchpad LessonLink, they will find an appropriate lesson, and then, as a group, analyze that lesson and modify it to fit their students needs and skills.  We will then have share-out time, where each group will talk and demonstrate (via the Smartboard and Sketchpad) what they found, how it fits into the content they have to cover, and what they plan to do to integrate that Sketchpad lesson with their students.  This will then give us a starting point for our next online unit, where they will explore more about the related Common Core standards, work on learning the skills needed for the lesson, and work on actually implementing the lesson in their classroom and getting peer feedback.  I think by allowing them choice and focusing on content that is specifically related to their own classroom, they will hopefully start seeing the relevancy to their own practice and Sketchpad will become a more regular tool they consider when planning.

Lesson Three: Make the activities and learning relevant to the teachers every-day teaching practice.  By providing activities that focus on learning the skills, how to integrate technology appropriately, and also cohere to the specific content and curriculum the teachers must follow, it is more likely that they will begin to change their own practice.  If they can see the relevancy to their own daily experience, they are going to be more willing to implement new tools and strategies.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Technology Is Neutral" - Reflections on Noam Chomsky at LWF12

I recently attended the Learning without Frontiers conference in Olympia, UK, as I mentioned last post.  There were so many great speakers, and I took a lot of notes as I listened (love my Goodnotes app!) With so much information to digest, I realize I can't do justice to it in one post. What I thought I would do is post once or twice a week about my personal reflections connected to each speaker.  Sort of a LWF12 reflection series you might say.  I know at some point, LWF will be posting the talks in their entirety, so I can then link my reflections to the actual talks.  Thankfully, Noam Chomsky's talk is already posted.  Take some time to watch it:

There is a lot of great stuff in here, most of which I agree with, some of which I do not, but I want to focus on one point Chomsky makes - that 'technology is neutral' - we must know what we are looking for and how to use it. This resonates with me, since I am so immersed in technology education, both in my professional career, where I train teachers on how to integrate technology effectively and appropriately into math instruction, but also in my personal life, as I work on my education technology doctorate. As Chomsky points out, it is important to ask, before purchasing any technology, does that technology tool fit into the framework of what you are working with (meaning your curriculum, your standards, your school culture, your pedagogical beliefs)?

Particularly lately, technology is being portrayed as the 'thing' that is going to save education. From iPads, online learning, 'flipped' classrooms, to etextbooks, you name it, technology is everywhere and everyone wants it.  And there is some amazing technology out there that is definitely proven to help students learn and achieve.  But, what I think Chomsky is saying, and what I personally have experienced in my years as a classroom teacher, school administrator, and now a professional development provider, is that technology is only as good as the strategies used to implement it and the research done beforehand to make sure it's a good fit for it's end purpose.

Technology in itself will NOT solve any education problem, will not help students learn better or achieve more - technology is neutral until it is used in the right way. This takes training and know-how and understanding of not only how technology fits into what you are teaching but where it fits best. This means doing research before making any technology purchases, including identifying the school culture, the goals and expectations for our students and our teachers, and really researching the variety of technology options out there and which ones best support your goals. What type of training and support are teachers going to need to make sure they have the right strategies and resources to truly make the use of whatever technology is ultimately purchased engaging, relevant to the topics being used, and appropriate?

Technology can be an amazing tool for taking learning to a deeper level, but only if it is purchased with purpose and implemented with training, resources, and support. Just buying the latest and greatest technology device or software or ebook does not mean students are going to learn more and better - it's just a tool, just like a pencil.  And like a pencil, you have to learn how to hold it, sharpen it, and ultimately write with it.  You may have to erase a couple mistakes as well.