Monday, November 30, 2015

Technology without Training & Sustained Support Will NEVER Succeed

I just read this article by Eric Patnoudes entitled "Beyond the Silver Bullet: Making 1:1 Matter".  As a parent and former teacher, Eric's basically was saying that all the technology in the world and 1:1 initiatives will fail in the classroom if teachers are not provided with the training and support they need to CHANGE their practice. Professional development needs to go beyond how to use the technology and be more about how to teach with the technology in ways that are different and more appropriate for the technology. Using the same old 20th century teaching practices with new technologies is doomed to failure.

Couldn't agree more. My last post speaks to this as well - not only do we need to analyze and plan for WHAT technologies are appropriate, but we need to plan and provide continued training and support to ensure the technology purchased is being used to change teaching and support learning.

In my research regarding implementing technology effectively in the classroom, those teachers who were in fact changing their practice and using technology DIFFERENTLY and APPROPRIATELY had professional development and continued support.  Here are the things that made a difference:

  1. Curriculum & district expectations
    • Technology used actually supports standards and content taught
    • Relevance of professional development content/resources to what teachers actually teach and do in the classroom
    • Providing content-focused, ready-to-use activities/lessons that utilize the technology
    • Clear expectation from administration that using the technology was expected & supported
  2. Teaching practices
    • Professional development emphasized using technology to teach specific content 
    • Professional development provided classroom management and teaching strategies for using the technology 
    • Multiple teaching strategies were modeled in professional development (questioning, collaboration)
    • Teachers had time to collaboratively plan lessons and practice using technology with their content/classroom
  3. Sustained Professional Development 
    • Long-term support was provided
    • Training on technology as well as content-focused implementation of technology
    • Coaching, modeling, active learning all part of sustained professional development
    • Collaboration & time for practice and feedback
  4. Internal & External Factors are accounted for and controlled
    • Access to technology available. Technology integration won't work if students access to the technology is limited.
    • Teachers believe students will benefit from use of technology (so PD emphasizes relevance) and are confident in their ability to use it (so sustained PD is provided and teachers are supported in many ways)
    • Time is provided.  Time for teachers to learn and practice implementation, time for students to learn, and time for changes to take place before judgements/assessments are made
    • Classroom structures support the use of the technology. So - class size, other competing technologies and/or resources are de-emphasized, support for changing classroom teaching strategies, etc. are all considered and addressed prior to and during implementation
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into integrating technology effectively into classrooms if  changes in instructional practices and student achievement are expected. Just providing the technology and a quick how-to professional development training is NEVER enough and doomed to failure. Planning before is vital; time, support, evaluation and feedback are necessary during initial implementation; and continued reassessment and training/support of the implementation are crucial for sustained change and impact on student learning. If you can't provide all of this, then don't expect anything to change.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Purchasing Digital Resources - Things to Consider

The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) just released a paper analyzing states' policies in regards to digital materials acquisitions & implementations, along with their recommendations. You can find the report & summary here

In the report, they outline Next Steps: a) Essential Conditions for successful acquisition & implementation; b) suggestions for making the procurement process transparent and easy to navigate; c) the need for strategic short & long-term budgeting; and d) and suggestions for the states to guide schools & districts on best practices for adoption, implementation and vetting of digital resources. You can read the more detailed descriptions of these four "Next Steps" recommended by SETDA here.

While reading the report and the next steps suggestions, it reminded me of my own research about technology acquisition and implementation. I have done several blog posts directly related to technology implementation in the classroom, focused more on a district/school level, and I just wanted to summarize some of my findings. In order for digital resources to be effective in states/districts/schools, there needs to be:

  1. Research about what technologies are currently in use in the schools/classrooms and what the classroom needs are 
    • Examine classroom structures and current resources
    • Examine student data and determine what technology would support standards, classsrooms, content, curriculum goals
    • Research digital resources PRIOR to purchase to determine most appropriate ones that will support determined needs
  2. A clear plan for purchase & implementation
    • What is the budget and will the budget support acquisition 
    • What are the technology requirements - i.e. broadband, hardware, software, and will budget support these requirements
    • Plan for implementation
      • Design appropriate, relevant PD
        • Provide content-related activities
        • provide hands-on learning
        • Provide ready-to-use lessons
        • Provide long-term support & collaboration
      • Plan for continued assessment of implementation and make changes as needed
        • Set clear expectations for use 
        • Have follow-up observations of use and feedback
        • Use data for continuous evaluation
        • Provide continued collaboration & feedback
This is clearly not an exhaustive list but if you look back at my list, it all involves some key components: leadership (administrators); collaboration; planning; funding; evaluation/feedback loop; expectations for use; and TIME.  Effective acquisition and implementation of digital resources can happen and really have an impact on student learning & achievement if done right.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

#Edchat Discussion - Politics, Religions & Education

I participated in an interesting #edchat this past Tuesday, as I try to do every Tuesday at noon (Eastern time) if it fits into my schedule.  The topic for this hour long chat was:
Education should reflect culture of the country, but do politics and religion have too much influence in American education?
My immediate reaction and response was yes, religion and politics have way too much influence in  American education. Two prime examples are the current hot-button issues of The Common Core Standards and whether the word "God" should be included in the Pledge of Allegiance. Here are my personal opinions on both:

  1. "God" in schools/Pledge of Allegiance - 
    • First of all, God was not included in the original pledge, written by Francis Bellamy in 1892. "under God" was added in 1954 in response to the Communist threat of the times
    • But, regardless of when "under God" was added, this is just a political & religious ploy to get everyone up in arms over nothing. In all honesty, the pledge, with "under God" included is said in most schools to this day - I travel all over the country and have yet to be in a school where this is taken out. I am sure there are probably some, but I have yet to be in one. 
    • Whether the words are there are not, most schools (public) give the option for students to say the words. In all the schools I taught in, it was respectful to stand, but you didn't have to say the words.  Same with those moments of silence - which students could do anything they want - pray, think about the upcoming math test, worry about the football game, etc. Let's move on and get to learning!
    • Public schools should be about educating all students, regardless of their religion - its America after all, and we have a mix of everything. This continued push, mostly from the religious right/Christians, is an example of too much religion influencing public, state-run education system, and there should be a separation of church and state. 
  2. The Common Core Standards
    • If you haven't read my previous postings regarding the Common Core Standards, suffice it to say I am a big fan. The fact that there is now a huge push from many politicians, particularly those running for President, to do away with the Common Core is a clear example of too much politics influencing education
    • First - The Common Core State Standards were NOT an Obama or Federal initiative, and have nothing to do with No Child Left Behind, despite so many politicians on the right blaming the Obama and Federal Government/administration. It was a state-led initiative, with teachers and education experts and state leaders developing standards, based on research.
    • Second - The Common Core is NOT a curriculum, so it does NOT define what states, schools and teachers teach. Rather it is a set of goals demonstrate the skills and understandings students need to be successful. How these goals are taught and reached are determined by the individual school districts within each state. 
    • What I see are politicians and media stories that are full of inaccuracies about The Common Core, that are then used to fuel the fear of parents about what their students are learning, fuel the fear of teachers worried about standardized test scores and their jobs, and used to basically halt any change in the education system and bring us back to where we started - nowhere. Yes - definitely too much politics in education!
So - religion and politics are too much of an influence in our education system, in my opinion. Unfortunately - I have no answers on how to make this stop. As my examples show, politics and religion regularly influence American education and unfortunately, are part of the reason there is so little change in the educational system. We are stagnating and our students are suffering and it needs to change. I wish I knew how because the small pockets of change and innovation I do see do not seem to be enough to become systemic. If I knew what it took, I'd be a rich woman and schools would be teaching and students would be learning. In the #edchat discussion, the idea of revolution came up - Dr. Mark Weston sent me a link to his thoughts on that - great read. Like Mark, I want to revamp the whole system. Guess I will keep looking for ways to do so...if you have ideas, let me know. I've thought about becoming Secretary of Education, but then I think politics would make it impossible to really do anything, right?!! It's a catch 22.....

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

What if? A simple question to engage students.

I am often asked by teachers how do I engage my students? What questions can I ask? Questioning is a skill that many teachers struggle with, as we are often prone to ask simple yes/no questions or one-word response questions (i.e. what's the answer?).  It takes effort and practice to ask questions that help students think, analyze their thoughts, make conjectures, etc. But, as I often tell teachers, if there a few questions that you can ask that force students away from the simple responses or the yes/no answers. Questions such as Why? of Is that always true? or, my favorite's What if? or What do you wonder?

Annie Fetter, of Math Forum fame, did an incredible Ignite Talk at NCTM one year entitled "What Do You Notice or Wonder" and it really opened my eyes to the power of observation & wondering. I share it here as a here as inspiration to help you ask the questions that will invoke wonder, inquiry and thinking in students.

Additionally, Randall Munroe did a great TedTalk on the question "What If..." that explores a wonderful math/physics problem.  Again, to demonstrate the power of a simple question to help engage students in thinking.

These are both examples of how a simple question can open up the math ideas that students have and encourages them to explore to find the answers. Ask a simple question and open up the door!