Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Does Using Technology Lead to Better Teaching and Learning?
There has been great discussion among educators regarding how to effectively measure technology integration in the classroom. Teachers, eager to please tech-enthused administrators, might put together a "Kahoot" to quiz students or create a daily agenda in Google Docs that contain links to the various exercises, readings and tasks students will be asked to complete for the day. Students appear engaged as they spend more screen time with their digital devices during the school day. Certainly, it seems that the use of technology can increase student engagement. And if students are engaged, it means I'm teaching better and my students are learning more, right? 

Most of the time, we focus on “student engagement” as the end goal of technology integration. The use of digital tools – even at a superficial or substitution level – can appear to engage students a bit more than traditional “paper and pencil” methods. A teacher sees more students paying attention during Kahoot, and considers it to be evidence of effective use. There is nothing wrong with using "Kahoot" or Google slides in the classroom. But if engagement is how we define “better teaching and learning”, then for many (most?) teachers, a Kahoot or a Google Slide presentation with narration or music might be considered “better teaching and learning”, especially if that engagement initially leads to slightly better ‘test’ results. But is using technology to engage students really “better teaching and learning”? I don’t believe it is

Fullan, Langworthy, and Barber 2014
We need to better define and model the potential capability of educational technology to extend learning beyond the classroom. Our end goal should be to equip and empower students to apply their learning to authentic, real-world challenges. We need to provide examples and models of what deeper learning competencies look like in action. We need to emphasize that engagement or the novelty of using a digital tool is not the end, but a means to both establishing and pursuing a sense of inquiry, awe, creativity, and wonder in learning. Furthermore, when we demonstrate to students how technology integration can be the means through which their learning can be connected to their own passions and interests, we can make learning relevant and meaningful to them. We need to find ways to demonstrate the power of digital tools to extend collaboration and community to access and leverage student learning to empower them to make a substantial, positive impact within their own communities. If we can do this, then we know we are moving into considerable evidence of  better teaching and learning.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Changing My Mission Statement

By George Couros
   I have made a very important shift regarding the mission statement of my role as Principal of Educational Technology and Innovation in the Tuscarora School District. This change comes as a result of the continuous, ongoing learning and re-learning that is required of an educator seeking to best meet the needs of our students in a dynamic, STEAM-saturated economy in which we now live. 
   As we continuously evaluate how educational technology and digital resources can deepen and broaden student understanding, an important shift must take place in our instructional thinking and delivery. This shift places a far greater emphasis on what our students are doing as opposed to what the teacher is doing in the classroom. Furthermore, my previous emphasis on increasing student engagement through technology integration – though important – is no longer adequate to convey the skills and literacies students must possess moving forward into their lives as productive citizens and employees in our current and future economy. Therefore, the old mission statement which read as follows: 

"To amplify and transform effective instructional practices in order to promote student engagement leading to increased student achievement" 

will be changed to more accurately reflect the necessary shift in thinking about instruction and student outcomes to the following:

“Amplifying and transforming effective instructional practices to engage, equip and empower students to take ownership of their learning.”

   The reasons for this shift require more explanation than you care to know, and in fact, you might not care at all that this statement has been changed. But you should, because it reflects a very important distinction between merely “engaging” students with educational technology and actually “equipping” and “empowering” them. It also places a greater emphasis on what students do as a result of your technology-infused instruction as opposed to what a teacher might be doing with technology alone.
   Student empowerment is sometimes at odds with teachers who merely desire compliance and control when designing lessons. Compliance and control should not be the sole objective of 13 years of schooling. We are truly successful when we have equipped and empowered students with the tools they need to pursue their passions and interests, learn on their own, and make meaningful contributions to their communities and societies at large.

   This is my mission and my goal. 

       More to come. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Letting Students Take the Lead in Learning

   Tech coaches and integrators often say it’s ok to “let the kids take the lead” when accessing digital tools. Often, our kids may discover (or already know) a very clever way to incorporate technology in ways we haven’t thought of as classroom teachers. Too often, we believe we have to master certain tools before handing them over to kids instead of viewing collective exploration time as learning time. This fear we maintain might keep students from taking the initiative. As a result, they are conditioned to becoming both passive and spoon-fed. When we are more focused on compliance, we can lose sight of curiosity, inquiry, and relevant learning. We can stifle initiative and motivation.
   In real life, compliance is only a fraction of the equation (click here for a short but powerful video on this point). As adults, we know if we want to learn how to do something, we have to take the initiative. We have to take risks. We experiment, try things, fail, and try again. We access Google, Youtube, Pinterest, Facebook, or we collaborate with others to get help and construct knowledge until we attain the mastery we seek. We think outside the box and know that learning is not limited to a compartmentalized 42 minute period. How often do our classrooms mirror that real world process? 
    Last week, I ran into a neat example when I observed a young lady using the popular social app media app “Snapchat” to superimpose the face of her student model over the clay bust she was sculpting. By using a Snapchat filter, her sculpting will be far more accurate. Many adults either don’t know what Snapchat is or tend to be critical of it as a “teen app” where kids are up to “no good”. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not the specific tool that transforms a classroom; it’s how we (or our students) use it. Most of us might not even know how to use Snapchat. But the young lady didn’t need us to know. This is the kind of “innovative mindset” we should seek from our students.
   I am hopeful we will continue to support opportunities for students to develop these kinds of skills K-12. It is imperative we consider innovative and transformative opportunities for students, making schools places of curiosity, passion, and inquiry beyond merely “passing the test”.
   Let your kids lead sometimes. You might be surprised by what they discover and learn – and teach us all in the process!
   Do you have any examples of your students taking the lead with technology in your class? Feel free to leave a comment below!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Monday, February 29, 2016

Device Distraction Killing Your 1:1? Here Are Some Tips

   Six years into our 1:World initiative, I'm still finding obstacles presented to me as reasons why technology in the classroom should be limited or even abandoned. Access to powerful learning tools, the ability to tap into world-class resources, and learning via collaboration across the globe are made possible by student laptops. But, as some educators will claim, this tool is powerful only if students are using it for its intended purpose. In many cases, some report, students are not. Despite the best intentions of the classroom teacher to create an engaging lesson with links to outside resources, a hyperdoc with self-selected choices, or the inclusion of multimedia to enhance the subject matter, students - especially those who are highly distractible to begin with - are found clicking tabs and surfing every conceivable website but the ones they are "supposed" to be learning from at any given moment in class. The result? The teacher abandons the development of tech-integrated lessons and resorts to traditional instruction, often becoming the "sage on the stage" and guiding student responses on activity sheets or in notebooks. And so because a few students find the technology to be distracting, we deny the rest of our students the opportunity to develop the skills requisite for success in the 21st century global workplace.
   First, I empathize with classroom teachers. A lack of professional development, time to curate the best digital tools, and opportunities to be innovative and take risks with students are severely restricted by the standardized testing numbers game. The pressure on teachers is enormous, and this means if a strategy or technique (or a laptop) doesn't work perfectly the first time, it may quickly be abandoned for more traditional means of instruction (and coaching books, and drill and kill worksheets, and daily direct instruction aka "spoon-feeding"). I get that. But I also get that if those traditional methods were so effective, why isn't every child advanced or proficient in the subject matter by now? We often resort to what we always did because it is far more comfortable to us as teachers; thus, we abandon the need to reflect on why certain technology-embedded lessons failed and simply blame the device and distractibility to justify a return to our own comfort zones. As George Couros expands upon in his incredible book, The Innovator's Mindset, "we often resist change not because it doesn't work but because it forces us into the inconvenience of having to think differently about what we have always done and the ways in which we have always done things." Granted: students can be distracted while on their devices and this can lead to teacher frustration. But before one would totally abandon the initiative to incorporate a powerful learning tool into the classroom, here are some ideas worth reflection:

  • Reflect on the task you asked students to perform - a digital version of a worksheet is still a worksheet, no matter how many links are offered or how many images and colors are placed on it. While paper and pencil do have their place in the classroom, if students are being asked to produce only what they would normally produce on a printed paper, then perhaps we need to re-assess the task. What are we asking students to produce?
  • If the activity is engaging, challenging, there is an authentic audience and prescribed time limits, students will be more likely to stay on task According to  this article by Tom Daccord, the best classroom management tool is a good lesson. First, high expectations for what students are expected to create must be established. We must differentiate the term "create" from "respond" here. When we ask students to create, we are asking them to take what they are learning to produce something new and different. When we ask students to respond, we are only asking them to demonstrate a transfer of knowledge for that moment. Assignments can also build towards sharing with an authentic audience. If students felt there was value to their work outside of the classroom or the school, there is a likelihood of developing a greater investment of effort. Not every assignment can be presented at a conference; however, the use of social media to highlight and share student work on a daily basis can be a powerful tool for connecting to a larger audience. 
  • Use grouping to create accountability -  Sometimes we overlook the value of collaboration when working on classroom activities. If you have several students who are distracted easily, place them in groups with higher performing students, and allow those students to gently hold the others accountable. What's even better, though, is to place those distractible students in effective group structures and make them accountable for leading the group through the assignment. Again, prescribe expectations for what will be produced, and provide clear time limits. The distracted student might be more inclined to remain on task when given the responsibility to lead others through the activity. 
  • A technological device is not a cure for bad habits - the novelty stage of technology in the classroom has worn off. Hoping that somehow student access to world class resources and powerful digital tools would turn the most reluctant learner into a raging genius is silly. Likewise, thinking that technology would make a teacher's life "easier" is just as ridiculous. Students and teachers both need explicit instruction regarding how to use digital tools to augment teaching and learning. Furthermore, the use of technology in the classroom must begin with pedagogical questions, such as "what is the purpose of this task? Why is technology the best means for producing the results I am expecting from this task? The same elements that make a lesson so terrific that students are begging to have more time to work on it are the same elements that need to be incorporated into lesson planning with technology. But there is also another side to this: if students are not spending time on task, what are they clicking? 
      • Are they chatting/messaging? Why not incorporate more collaborative strategies into your lessons? 
      • Are they streaming videos? Why not talk about the elements that make a video interesting to them, then ask them to use what they are learning to create a similar product for an authentic audience to review? 
      • Do the websites they visit contain elements that are personally important to them, and can those elements be woven into your lessons? 
      • Are they streaming music? Why not use digital tools to create and record a composition that reflects on class material? 
      • Are they gaming? There are tons of resources available for creating gaming elements within a class to make it more engaging. Additionally, there may be simulations, role-playing, and other immersive apps available that align with the content you are teaching. 
  • Increase opportunities for student feedback - Teachers as well as students know when a speaker is presenting static material without any regard for his or her audience (just go to any faculty meeting and watch how teachers surf email or "click other websites" if they are not engaged or the material is static). Purposely planning for ongoing student feedback through backchannels like TodaysMeet, Google Docs, or Padlet (hey, even Twitter works!) can provide students a purpose for remaining attentive. Calling on those students and actually responding to the feedback as it occurs helps students feel part of a dynamic process, not just receivers of a static presentation. Once they sense they do not need to be held accountable for input, it is distraction time!  
No particular pedagogy can end all distractions. Other elements can cause students to be off-task, ranging from the social, emotional, to the biological. But as educators, we should reflect upon the above considerations before reverting back to our comfort zones of "the way we used to do" education.  Not only does that attitude stifle our kids' ability to use technology to acquire the necessary skills to function in the 21st century world, but it also denies our students role models of innovative and creative thinking in the classroom. As George Couros states in his book, "The Innovator's Mindset", in a world that constantly changes, if our focus is to 
only maintain what's already been done, we are 
bound to become worse".


Couros, George: "The Innovator's Mindset

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

10 11 Ways Moodle Supports Teaching and Learning

   The tremendous, unparalleled access to information and digital technologies makes it imperative that today's educators understand how this access has reshaped the way both teachers and students learn as well as the way we all access and process information. Additionally, an abundance of research demonstrates how students learn best and how digital technologies can be used to access information to promote both rich, dynamic, interactive learning environments as well as deeper levels of understanding and student engagement. Effective integration takes place when the use of digital resources and tools is guided by sound pedagogical decisions made by the teacher, resulting in gains in student engagement and achievement. 
   So what does this mean to the classroom teacher? How does a learning management system like Moodle fit into classroom instruction, especially if it seems an imposition on traditional methods that "have worked" in the past? While not all inclusive, the following is a list offering the advantages of an LMS like Moodle:

1. Organization of Digital Resources: The tremendous abundance of world class online resources requires a means for teachers to organize and align those resources to the curriculum. Moodle enables teachers to organize resources to meet the needs of students as they progress along the learning continuum. Furthermore, its flexibility and adaptability ensures the teacher can make adjustments on the fly. Furthermore, Moodle gives teachers greater control over a wider variety of instructional presentations and activities without having to rely on a single resource or textbook. 

2. Scalability: Moodle provides teachers with opportunities to scale learning paths specific to the needs of individual students. From activities constructed to remediate to those designed to accelerate, Moodle can used to provide learning opportunities ranging from supplementary materials for an entire class to deeply immersive, targeted activities designed for specific groups or individuals in mind. 

3.  Pacing and Choice: Moodle allows teachers to create options for students, engaging them through self-selected activities that give students a sense of control and investment in the content. Furthermore, students can pursue activities at their own pace, reviewing or revisiting assignments and activities they have yet to master or accelerating through concepts or skills they already know.

4. Collaboration: There is ample research demonstrating that students learn best when provided with opportunities to work together, give and receive immediate feedback, serve as both teachers and learners at the same time, contribute to the classroom, interact with the teacher, exercise his or her voice, and participate in learning activities. Moodle creates a highly interactive environment to allow collaboration to occur both inside and outside the classroom. Furthermore, an LMS like Moodle allows for teacher collaboration, combining the best practices from more than one instructor and allowing for co-teaching and assessment as well. 

5. Ongoing Assessment: Effective learning takes place when teachers are constantly monitoring student progress by way of both formal and informal assessments. The use of ongoing progress monitoring and formative assessments assures teachers can access data to continuously inform the direction and progress of instruction. The tracking and reporting features of an LMS like Moodle provide teachers with an abundance of data to make informed decisions about the direction of student learning. 

6. Maximizing the Effective Use of Classroom Time: By using Moodle to provide learning opportunities both during and outside of classroom time, teachers can gain more time to specifically observe and work with students in small groups or individually during class time. Students can remain engaged and immersed while the teacher guides learning and thinking during the learning process instead of relying upon a summative assessment days or weeks later to determine if students have grasped the concepts or skills.

7. Flexibility: Using an LMS in the classroom can be like having a virtual teaching assistant. A teacher has options for presenting content and for measuring the transfer of knowledge in a number of different ways. While a content management system is often considered useful for learning outside of class time, it can actually offer multiple paths to learning concepts and skills in addition to direct instruction and face-to-face activities simultaneously. Extension activities, independent learning opportunities, immersive simulations and rich, multimedia experiences can all be used to present the curriculum in ways all students learn best. 

8. Constructivist Approach: Research provides evidence that far greater learning takes place when students are actively engaged in  constructing knowledge ("creating" or "doing") rather than passively listening, viewing, reading, or memorizing. Moodle provides the teacher with the ability to create immersive, interactive learning environments promoting student inquiry and engagement. 

9. An LMS is Student Centered, Not Teacher Centered:  Moodle provides opportunities for students to learn both independently and inter-dependently. In a traditional classroom, the teacher may lead the entire class via lecture or share media while students are passively engaged; in an LMS, students are actively engaged in activities created by the teacher while the teacher monitors progress, offers assistance, and makes observations of actual student thinking as they work to solve challenges or construct understanding. 

10. Framework for Digital Literacy and Citizenship: The proliferation of digital technology requires educators to model the effective use of that technology to provide access to appropriate information. The use of an LMS provides structure and guidance for examining valid and reliable sources of learning content while preparing students to appropriately use digital tools for learning beyond school.

11. Providing World Class Examples of Content and Skills: Alan November asks 6 key questions to differentiate the use of technology as truly innovative versus merely "using" devices as a substitute for what can be accomplished via traditional means. One way Moodle can support more rigorous student expectations is by serving as a collection point for world class models, demonstrations, and examples of exactly what it is we want our students to accomplish. When students are struggling to be creative, find ideas, or develop a thought, often it helps to provide models and demonstrations of exactly what we as teachers expect. With access to the global playing field, we can find and organize the very best examples of student work, problem-solving, thinking, and products for our students to consider as they tackle the challenges presented to them in the classroom. 


Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Death of 1:1 in My District

The Death of 1:1 in My District

It can be an instructional technology coordinator's worst nightmare: failing to adequately convey a vision for technology to a school board faced with difficult financial decisions. In my nightmare, the board votes to discontinue the 1:1 and I wake up in a cold sweat, fearing the worst for our students as we face losing the gains we have made over the past decade. 

But it was just a nightmare.

 The reality is actually a cause for celebration (sorry for the dramatic hook)!

Indeed, our board discussed ending the 1:1, but we were discussing a philosophical shift in how we view the initiative, not ending the resources given to our teachers and students. Instead, we will be replacing the nomenclature with the far more appropriate label: ONE TO WORLD.  Taking cues from Alan November's session at ISTE 2015, we viewed the name change as being far more accurate in conveying the purpose behind the provision of devices for every student:

1. We believe that calling our initiative a "one to one" emphasizes the device. In this instance, a 1:1 could refer to a textbook, a pencil, or a three-ring binder. Calling our initiative a "one to one" places the focus on device distribution as the ultimate end game of the initiative, and that is simply not the case.

2. Calling our initiative "One to World" emphasizes the function, purpose, and potential of our initiative. It's not the device that's important; it's about the opportunities, the audience, the resources, and the accessibility available to all. It emphasizes the scope of the initiative we are providing for our teachers and students. 

3. The change in label emphasizes what we are seeking to prepare our students for by providing technology for integration with teaching and learning. Not only are we able to access global resources, but also we are able to provide opportunities for global review, feedback, and assessment of that work. 

4. Referring to our initiative as "One to World" requires reflection by educators on how to craft instruction that takes into consideration the power of technology to transform assignments and activities. By leveraging the potential to consider how assignments look when incorporating global resources, we can have more productive discussions and training that focus on pedagogy and rigor as opposed to measuring success simply by that fact that students are "using a device or an app" during school. 

To read about the inspiration for considering this change, check out Alan November's article here!