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!