Friday, September 20, 2013

Real-World Learning - It's Really NOT That Hard

I just read this article in Forbes by Emily Canal entitled "Zombies Infiltrate Classrooms to Bring STEM Back to Life" about how The National Academy of Science and Texas Instruments  have created a new program that provides STEM lessons through the lens of zombies, superheroes, space and forensics called STEM Behind Hollywood. Wow - I wish I were back in the classroom cause I would be all over this!  What a great way to get students really excited about learning. Kids are into movies, particularly with those focused on zombies, scifi and superheroes, and here's a way to connect that interest to learning about math, science and, win, win!

Similar to my post last week about real-world curriculum and technology connections, the message here is real-world learning is important and needed in classrooms. It's not that hard to find amazing resources out there that help make learning topics such as math and science engaging, exciting, relevant and WAY better than a boring old worksheet. Obviously, math tech nerd that I am, I tend to focus on amazing real-world math resources such as Mathalicious and YummyMath, to name just a couple.  These sites provide content that is of interest to students because it involves the world around them and therefore the learning takes place in context, making it more memorable, relevant and motivating to learn.

My point - if we can learn the same concepts in a more engaging way that helps students remember it and, more importantly, WANT to learn it - i.e. REAL-WORLD connections, why are so many not doing so? If your excuse is it's too much work to find real-world connections - guess what - it's really NOT!  Look around - there is a plethora of real-world resources out there that can help you spark interest.  Maybe it's as close as the TV or the movies.

(Speaking of TV, for those math teachers out there, if you have not watched the series Numb3rs, that's a great resource. The series is over now, but you can watch the whole 8 seasons on Netflix.  I admit...I am addicted.  I am on Season 4 and still not tired of the math and science involved. And I have actually made a real-world connection of my own as a result of the math on the series.  Reading a research paper yesterday on online professional development, they talked about using social networking theory to analyze teachers online status, and I actually knew exactly what that was because of an episode from Numb3rs!  Hence my obsession lately with real-world learning. I just checked and the activities and math/science alignments are still available for this series for those of you interested - found this nice blog post from Tom DeRosa called "We STILL Use Math Everyday" that provides how to find the lessons and the alignment.)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Curriculum and Technology - Some Examples

I am back from a 2+ month of self-imposed social media hiatus. I will say it was a rather refreshing experience in that I was free from the personal pressure I put on myself to stay "present" on the web and not constantly feel a need to read, tweet, and write, something every day. But, on the other hand, I also feel a little out of the loop and that perhaps I lost a few followers because of this lack of presence. It was however a much needed break and gave me some perspective. It also allowed me to focus on the chaos in my life such as selling a house, buying a house, getting two kids off to college, driving across the country to my new home and next adventure. I am here, I am back and I am hopefully going to have some things to say.

In honor of the start of school for so many teachers and students, I thought I would share some interesting curriculum's from three companies I have either had the privilege to work with over the past few month or who I am just exploring myself. Each is using technology in a different way to get teachers and students access to hands-on, quality, real-world learning. I know there are many teachers, schools, and districts out there looking for relevant curriculum to support their students real understanding, so I wanted to share these in case they might spark some interest. I have provided the links to their websites where you can get a lot more information.

EEI Curriculum
If you are a California elementary, social studies or science teacher, you want to check out this Education and Environmental Initiative Curriculum. First of all, its FREE - you can download the whole curriculum via the web. Second of all, it's a complete K-12 multidisciplinary environmental curriculum that has hands-on learning, amazing maps and visuals, and helps students connect their own personal environment to what they are learning. While it is geared to the California Standards, if you are an educator from another state, you could take these amazing units and adapt them to your own standards or supplement what you are currently doing, as the visuals and real-world applications are beautiful and relevant. The content on water, energy, resource conservation, and climate change are relevant no matter what state you are from. The technology aspect here is that you can access the curriculum and resources via the web - check out the units here. Starting in October they are also going to start offering free webinars for educators to help support them in using the units. Look for the EEI Live! series to start soon.

Globaloria - from World Wide Workshop
 I was lucky enough to actual go through some of the teacher training for this curriculum.  Globaloria is a curriculum that can be used as a supplement to many content area courses or as a stand-alone curriculum (such as computer science, technology). Students learn coding in a gaming environment where they learn specific, real-world content, and use social media and web-based tools to learn, research and communicate. The end result is students create a video game to demonstrate their learning. It's amazing - engaging, multidisciplinary, and it fosters science, math, technology standards as well as helps students become collaborators and problem solvers. The links I have provided will give you a much better picture of what this curriculum does - be sure to watch the video.  I had three days of training and was able to code a very simple Hidden Object Game that taught some fraction skills - the possibilities with students are endless!

Conceptua Math
I am just starting to explore this amazing curriculum - naturally, being a math teacher and one who believes that learning math should be hands-on, visual, and engaging, I am always trying to find great math resources, especially math technology resources.  This is a complete online curriculum, currently just for grades 3-5, but expanding more every year to include K-8 curriculum.  They started with an amazing curriculum focused on fractions for grades 3-6 - definitely check that out! What I love about this curriculum is that it's all there - the hands-on, the visual, the real-world - digital learning that really is learning. Lessons, differentiation, personal learning, assessments and data-driven decision making that helps match teaching and learning. If you are looking for math curriculum that is going to support your technology initiatives or Common Core initiatives, I would definitely check it out.

Hopefully these three will provide some insight to some of you out there and resources for those of you looking for quality curriculum.  I will continue to post things I find in future writings.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Power of Five Minutes - Learning from Others QUICKLY!

I have been quite remiss of late in posting on the blog.  Always an excuse - but let's just say, life is insane these days. Quitting job, care giving to parents, moving (so selling and buying a house), graduation, dissertation - yikes.  Making myself stressed just writing it down. So, I have decided to make it a little easy on myself and do a series on some of the fabulous Ignite talks that I have been privy to as part of my previous position with Key Curriculum.

If you have never heard of, seen or been a part of an Ignite event, they are pretty amazing.  Participants have 20 PowerPoint slides that auto advance every 15 seconds, giving them a total of five minutes to get their point across quickly, using both words and visuals.  You wouldn't think five minutes would be able to provide much insight, but you would be wrong - it is amazing what you can learn and say in five minutes.  I have often thought this approach would be a great one to use with students for reports - because it forces conciseness and conviction.

This idea of sharing with others fosters thinking, collaboration, and debate - a great way to learn from others and get new ideas. I find watching the videos of Ignite talks inspiring and great ways to start a collaborative exchange.  I have used many of these video clips in workshops and online courses as a way to get conversations going and am always amazed at the ideas and sharing that come from someone's five minute talk.

With that in mind, I thought I would share a few of these each day, perhaps along a theme, and spark some thoughts and ideas.  Today's theme is collaboration - what can we do to get teachers and educators collaborating and sharing ideas?  Blogging is one way, tweeting another, Facebook, edmodo's, conferences.  So, I have pulled a couple Ignites I think provide some inspiration to get the conversation going.

Max Ray - NCSM 2013 Ignite - "Tweet Me Maybe?"

Jennifer N. Morris - NCSM 2013 Ignite - "Get Out of The Box"

Hope you enjoyed these.  My next blog we will focus on some Common Core Ignites.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Longer School Days - Is That REALLY the Solution?

I just read yet another article about the push to lengthen the school day in order to improve student achievement entitled Learning Takes Time: Growing Movement Seeks to Expand the Length of the School Day by Celia Baker. The last paragraph of the article I think highlights the advantage of this idea:
"More time and money won't help if they are not well-spent, Gabrieli cautioned. The National Center on Time & Learning report suggests that additional time be used for more engaged interaction in academic classes; broader curricula; enrichment activities that boost school engagement; and more time for teacher collaboration and professional development".
 As with anything in education (think technology), if it's done right and planned out and designed to address specific needs, it will have an impact.  If it's done for the sake of being done with no real plan or purpose, it is NOT going to be effective. Adding hours to the school day so that students can do more drill-and-kill worksheets or practice more test-taking strategies is not the intent or purpose, but is what I fear will happen, as I have experienced this very thing personally.  An extra hour added to the school day, which divided up between the classes added about 8 minutes to each class.  Whoopee!!  The thought process was: "we can get in 10 more problems or, we now have more time to start on homework, or we have 8 more minutes of lecture" - that's how it worked.  It was NOT a benefit to students or teachers - rather it simply provided more time to do more of the same. If you are going to provide more time, then do something DIFFERENT.

I look at my poor daughter, who has three weeks left of classes before she graduates from high school. State testing is over, so apparently all the teachers have decided that there is nothing left to teach (exception to the rule -Forensics and English), since it was all crammed in before the state tests. The school added time to the schedule this year - all classes are 10 minutes longer so thankfully there was lots of extra time to practice test taking....and practice, and practice, and practice. So what do we do with the days and hours that stretch ahead in these next three weeks? Apparently nothing.  Here is my daughters day from Friday:

  1. First bell - watched a movie "Surfs Up" (in government).
  2. Second bell - played games on her phone as rest of class slept (and obviously took a picture as well!)
  3. 3rd bell - played games on her phone.  Oh...and planned her AP calculus project - i.e. making a cake decorated with a math symbol.  Yes....that is the project.
  4. 4th bell - thank goodness, early release (being a senior and now that her basketball season is ended).
Three more weeks of this. I would LOVE to not have her go and basically waste 5 1/2 hours of her day, however if she doesn't go, she fails for attendance. (Despite having no work to do, straight A's and literally doing nothing educationally productive). Calling and complaining and asking the teachers to do something results in worksheets of problems and review...worksheets...drill-and-kill. is a case where there is time.  Lots of time. Time that  is completely pointless.  I know this happens everywhere, and not just in my daughters school. Why isn't anyone doing something that is engaging, challenging, dare I say it, FUN, where students take the learning from the year and apply it?  Wouldn't that be a better way to use our time? I myself had the same end-of-year time issues - but I loved it.  I used the time to do applications of what we had learned all year in math - i.e. let's determine what's the strongest bridge design is (shapes, force, etc.), using toothpicks, and have a contest for creating the strongest bridge. Or let's create an animated transformational geometry project using Sketchpad and programming. Fun, collaborative, creative and not sleeping or watching irrelevant movies.

I firmly believe in adding time to the school day IF it is going to create a different, engaging, creative and productive learning experience.  But if all time is going to do is allow a school or school system to brag that they have extra time in their day, but all teachers do is more worksheets, more test prep, or watch a movie, then what's the point?  I am against it. If we want students to learn more and be engaged in school, time is not the answer unless that time is filled with true educational value. Think and plan - if it's not going to change what's happening, if it's not going to add value or different options, then it's not worth the time.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Personal Change - A New Beginning

Four months since my last posting, which again, points to the turmoil and conflict in my life of late. In my last post I talked about change and three things to consider, since I was in the midst of some major changes in my own life.  To recap:
  1. Change is emotional.
  2. Resistance/reluctance to change is multidimensional
  3. Some changes may not be for everyone
I am here to say that I have just about finished my first week of 'unemployment' because I decided to take change by the balls and do something drastic - quit my job. I gave it the old college try - 9 months of trying to adjust to the emotional and cultural changes of going from a small, education, technology driven company who's culture and approach to education I truly believed in and felt empowered by, to a large, educational corporate company, where I did not have this same sense of belief in the mission and felt at best, marginalized and insignificant.  What I learned is I am NOT a corporate girl. I want to be in the trenches, I want to be with teachers and schools, hands-on, making a difference one classroom, one teacher, one district at a time.  I crave the personal approach.

So.  I quit.

I have suffered all three of my points mentioned above - the change from what I had been doing, with a company and philosophy I believed in was incredibly emotional for me and I admit it...I couldn't get past that.  Emotion drives what I do and I want to be able to approach my work with teachers and schools with emotion and passion - I want to believe in what I do. My resistance or reluctance to assimilate into my new position, one that was 'handed to me' rather than one I chose, was because I felt like I was giving up the best parts of myself and what I do - being out with teachers, interacting with the educational community on a personal level, embracing and supporting teachers and schools. And finally - I just needed to face the fact that this change, working for a large corporation, was not a good fit for me. Perhaps it's a power thing - I was blessed these last few years to be in a position in a company that allowed me to grow, make decisions, create the vision for what and where things were going.  That disappeared. Perhaps it's a belief thing - again, I worked in a place where I believed everyone wanted to help teachers improve and where our products and resources were truly the best out there.  I no longer had that belief.

Now I am on a journey to the ultimate change - changing my whole career. Granted, a large part of my decision was the looming deadline to finish my doctorate degree - May 2014.  Drop dead date or start over.  (Yikes...that is NOT an option). Quitting my full-time job is allowing me the time to devote to doing my research and writing, something I have not had the luxury of doing since I started this endeavor (hence the two extensions). It is also a chance to forge my own path - create my own next steps.

I want to continue to support my passion of helping teachers, in particular help them integrate technology into classroom instruction, but really, to support innovative and different ways of structuring learning. I am hoping that I can work with schools and districts to support their changing efforts around technology, math, instructional practices.  I would LOVE to be involved in helping schools change how they do things - from classroom structures to curriculum to instructional strategies.  I am a big believer in blended learning, technology, problem-based learning - giving students the power to learn on their own and construct their own meanings and helping teachers support that type of learning.  Ideally, I would love to be a part of changing education - how schools and teachers support learning.

So, who knows...this change could be the start of something wonderful!  I have high hopes. If you have a job...let me know!!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Change Will Do You Good....But It Isn't Easy

I cannot believe how long it's been since I last posted. A clear sign that my life has been in a little bit of  turmoil these last few months.  But, hopefully, as the dust is settling, things will get back on a regular routine and I will not feel so completely overwhelmed.

Why am I overwhelmed you ask? Change. Change in so many aspects of my life - my family, my career, my dissertation. All of it happening at once, which is probably why there is this sense of overload. Which brings me to my inspiration today.

I have written about change before related to education - how teachers need support, time, etc. for change, such as Implementation Dip: It's Not Just Test Scores, It's Any Change and Instructional Change and Integration: It Takes A Village. What I wanted to focus on today is perhaps more of a justification for the time, support, understanding required of leaders as teachers (or anyone) are faced with so many challenges and changes to what, why, and how they are expected to teach. Being personally entrenched in numerous, difficult changes that all hit me at once, I feel I have a new perspective that I might not have considered before and which might provide some insight on how to continue to support teachers in change from a more emotional and personal perspective.

I am not going to get into specifics about all the changes that have occurred and that continue to occur. I will focus on one in particular that I am having the most struggle with, which is my job. I worked for the past five years for an amazing company - one I loved, with people I loved. It was a job I embraced every day with passion because I truly believed in what I did and what the company stood for.  That all changed when my company was acquired by a much larger company, and for the past five months there has been constant change. People are gone, a different company culture and structure now rules my life, the things I loved to do and the autonomy I once had have changed and continue to evolve and morph. I am struggling with letting go of my past and embracing a culture I don't feel as connected to.

Point number one: CHANGE IS EMOTIONAL - change is hard NOT because we don't want to change (often assumed of teachers who resist change), but because there is often a lot of emotion behind the change. I want to embrace my new job, I want to learn new roles and new skills, however...I LOVED what I did and I still want to do that - and it's emotionally wrenching to have that taken away or altered. In a sense, I am in mourning for what is gone and nostalgic about how perfect it was (which it wasn't). I admit to having a serious road I hope to overcome, but it will definitely take time, support, and understanding from my new bosses and those I work with, as well as commitment on my part to persevere.  So leaders - remember that about your teachers too - it may be an emotional reason vs. fear of new or different resources/strategies.

Another thing I have noticed with this change is that I am working with products/philosophy/culture that I am unfamiliar with and even, dare I say it, may disagree with or have a preconceived attitude about. This makes it difficult to change and do something new - I am fighting my beliefs, right or wrong, so not only am I learning new things/skills, I have to change my beliefs about those things/skills. A slow process where I need to gather more information, more understanding before I truly embrace or accept these changes.

Point number two: RESISTANCE/RELUCTANCE TO CHANGE IS MULTIDIMENSIONAL - It's easy to tell someone that if they learn a new skill or strategy, that things will be fine or be better. But learning that new skill/strategy or knowledge might not be the true road block - it could be that they don't understand the relevancy to what they do, or they have preconceived notions or beliefs that cause resistance, or they are missing some necessary background experience/knowledge.What matters here is again, time to learn, but more importantly, dissemination of background, relevance, and connection to what they do and how these new or different skills/resources/strategies will make things better. Without a reason, a purpose, a connection, learning the how-to won't ever change the internal beliefs and therefore never change behavior in a lasting, effective way.

My final thought, and I think it is something many folks face when confronted with change, is that some of the changes I may be asked to make or required to undertake may NOT be ones I agree with or that fit what I want to do. I may have to make a difficult choice - stay and assimilate or move on to something else. Change forces reevaluation of what you truly believe about what you do, your values, your interests, and your direction. And that's a good thing in the end. Change may in fact lead to change.

Point number three: SOME CHANGES MAY NOT BE FOR EVERYONE - it's hard to accept, but not everyone can, will, or needs to change, whether that be a skill/strategy/knowledge base.  What is important is to understand that, try to provide all the time, information, and support to push change along, but in the end, accept that some folks are not going to change and be prepared to deal with it. Whether this means encouraging them to find another place that fits their needs and interests, providing alternatives or simply accepting status quo, forcing those who are not ready, willing or able to change does NOT lead to success.

Change is inevitable. Every change is not for everyone, and it's not as simple as learning a new skill, strategy or structure. A change will do you good...but, it isn't easy.