No More Excuses

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/fotologic/410355440/

Our school staff has reason to be grateful when it comes to available technology in our school and to our access to bandwidth. Our school division does put both as a priority for student learning. Even though we have many devices and we have the bandwidth to provide us access, a lot of what we were seeing in our classrooms was based on consumption of programs already available rather than creating new content or collaboration with others.  Many were trying all kinds of new things, but we still had some that were using the laptops and I-pads for consumption only.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I feel like consumption is an important and acceptable part of our day, but I also feel like without stretching to creation and collaboration we were missing out and so are our students.  So since we have also been blessed with very capable, strong teachers who are willing to try new things, it seemed like a good time to move forward.

At the beginning of the last school year, we required all of our teachers to set a professional goal based on using technology for creative or collaborative endeavors.  It was so fun and rewarding to see what everyone chose to do and to watch it all play out for our students.  We shared our progress at staff meetings and helped each other along the way.  We did not want this to be a one and done kind of idea, so this year we had all of our teachers set another goal that was the logical next step from where they left off.

One thing I have learned over my time as a school principal is an importance of accepting people where they are and helping them move along the growth continuum.  As adult learners, just like our students in the classroom, we do not all start at the same place or grow at the same rate.  I have also learned that change takes time and it does not happen overnight.

In my own growth and experience gained through being a classroom teacher, I am starting to realize what my students are capable of,  if they are given choices, chances to make mistakes without repercussion, and opportunities to demonstrate their learning in many ways.  They show me time after time what they can do when I just step back and let them.

When we limit our students with close control of what they read, what they learn, how they learn and how they demonstrate their learning, we may be comfortable, but we are also limiting their chances for growth.  I have just started reading the book, The Wild Card, by Hope and Wade King and was struck by the idea that excuse making can become a habit. “Every less than ideal factor can become another reason why your students aren’t achieving more-and why you can’t do anything to change that.”  I am sure I have used many excuses for not changing my comfortable pedagogy throughout my career and some of the ones I hear most often as a principal and colleague are:

  • I do not have enough time.
  • I do not feel like I can “teach” that to my students.
  • My students are too young and can’t possibly do that.
  • I have been doing it this way for years and it has been working.
  • I do not have parent support.
  • I do not have support from my administrator
  • I want to do that, but…

All of these may be true at some point, but if we never force the first step, the journey never starts.  The challenge of being a teacher is a big one.  It is a very difficult and very rewarding job. We will not change everything tomorrow, but perhaps a good first step would be to say, “No more excuses.”

 

January 2015 #pdale Teacher Twitter Challenge

 

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http://www.business2community.com/

As many of you know when I was taking my master’s degree I learned so many things that changed my entire philosophy of education.  Learning from people like Alec Couros and Dean Shareski opened my ideas to many ideas that I had never even thought of before.  My first experience in an open education course scared me to death.  Being online with 200+ people from all over the world was an idea I had never even considered before.  It was through taking courses that I learned about web tools such as blogs, wiki spaces and many others.  It was also through these courses that I realized the importance of being a connected educator.

I was shocked once again, 2 years ago when we agreed to send Devin, Kimberley and Nicole to Philadelphia to attend the Educon Conference.  When they returned and taught us how to use twitter, I had no idea how something so simple would, once again, change my entire view of professional development.

People who say things such as…

“Why would I care what people are having for dinner?” or  “Why do I care when people are doing their laundry?”

…have no idea the opportunities for individualized learning that twitter and other social media sites make possible.

I know that everyone learns in their own way and learning through twitter might not be for everyone, but I also feel so strongly about the importance of making connections.  Connections open doors to other classrooms, to other methodologies, to opportunities to learn about things we have never heard of and connections also give us the opportunity to share what we are doing with others so they may learn from us.

https://betheloveoflife.wordpress.com/
https://betheloveoflife.wordpress.com/

I also believe strongly about telling our own positive story.  The things we are doing every day are too important to leave to chance.  We need to be in charge of spreading our story to our parents and community in our way.

Connections do not have to be made through twitter, but that is where we are going to start.

I thought it would be a fun idea to jump in and do a challenge in January so we could learn together in a similar manner to the blogging we did together a few years ago.

I hope you will use this opportunity to reach out of your comfort zone.  For some of you the reach will be longer than others.  You will not be alone!  We are all in this together.

 

The January 2015 #pdale Teacher Twitter Challenge!

http://www.powtoon.com/show/gbmGizJhTQo/mission-possible

The following is a video of Alec Couros talking about twitter in education:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqSCR3HU4eg

 

Some links that might be useful:

List of recommended people to follow sorted by their role in education.

List of classrooms around the world that tweet.

Weekly twitter chat days and times.

Great twitter classroom connections.

Twitter for Teachers

Establishing a twitter routine in the classroom

Participating in a twitter chat

Please remember you are not alone!  I can’t wait to see the things we can learn!

 

Being Connected No Longer an Option

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http://wspucla.wordpress.com/category/you-have-the-power-choosing-courage-in-a-culture-of-fear/

Most people who know me know that I am passionate about engaging students with technology. Not technology for the sake of using it, but rather technology because we can and because we should and because and when it just makes sense.  My view on educational pedagogy totally changed a few years ago when I took my Masters Degree and was exposed to the ideas of people such as Alec Couros and Dean Shareski.  My first exposure was scary and I felt way out of my element, but the idea that we could connect, communicate and grow as a global community made me very excited about my future as an educator.

My journey of growth and “connectedness” has been going forward since then, slowly but surely, and of course not without road blocks and frustrations.  The outcome of my perseverance, despite the frustrations, is what keeps me moving in a steady direction towards what I know is right for students.

All too often I am still hearing things like “I don’t really like technology” or “I can’t do that, because I am just too old to change”, or “I don’t have time” or “I am not really interested.” When I am hearing these things I have to wonder if the option is even there for teachers to feel this way.  When we think about the digitally orientated world our students are living in, participating with and contributing to, can we really choose to ignore that world and the opportunity for our students to write and share with a larger audience?

I have had a few experiences in my classroom connecting my students with other learners on Skype in the Classroom, having my students working on projects with other classrooms, sharing the interesting things I find and learn from my PLN and using blogs, wiki spaces and other web tools.   I am not saying I am any kind of expert, quite the opposite in fact, but what I have learned from what I have been able to do so far is that I need to do it more.

In a recent post I was reading by Justin Tarte, Life of An Educator, “Who decides when it is no longer optional?”, he was asking some of the same questions I have to wonder about…

 When is the choice of reaching out to educators from around the globe to collaborate no longer an option?
 
When is truly differentiating classroom instruction and meetings kids where they are no longer an option?
When is taking ownership of your own professional learning and growth not a duty and responsibility of the district, but an expectation of the individual?

About a year ago I got brave enough to start actively participating in twitter.  Previously I had sort of lurked around the outside edges wanting to jump in.  I can remember my nervousness when I made my first tweet, wondering if I had anything to say worth listening to. My first tweet was a response to a question my grade 4 class had put on twitter asking about favorite novels.  It is nice to have teachers that are leading the way and helping me on my journey.

 

 

 Once I bridged the gap between being a lurker to a participator, I have never looked back.  It is the best professional development opportunity that I have had in my teaching career.  The things that make it the best for me is being real-time, tailored to my interests and the fact that I can grow and learn in my profession from wherever I want and whenever I want and can follow whoever I want.

 

I came across an article titled Connectedness: The New Standard, by Eric Sheniger, which he had posted on twitter yesterday.  In the article Sheniger writes about the ease of connecting because we have so many tools available to us that allow us easy access. He feels “Connectedness is no longer an option, but rather a standard and a professional obligation.” The power of being connected is hard to ignore. He encourages teachers and leaders to take advantage of the power of sharing.

 

I have to admit that when I am passionate about something, I don’t let anything get in my way and I have to really work on keeping myself in check so I don’t blast people over with my desire for them to join in my passions.  You can probably ask any of the teachers in my school and they can easily tell you what my passions are and what I desire education to look like.   I have learned to pull back a little and I have realized that everyone follows a different path toward the desired destination.

 

I just finished reading Kathy Cassidy’s book, Connected From the Start, for the second time.  When I read her descriptions of the learning in her classroom and the connections her young students are able to make it validates for me what we need to be doing. She describes her grade one students writing on the classroom blog and recognizes that this is the world her primary students are growing up in and will be working and living in as adults.  She feels she is not only helping them grow as writers, but they are learning how to write in public and safely create their online presence.

 

“Whether you are working with five-year olds or fifteen year olds, the student want to know that what they are learning has value.  Sharing learning online often produces affirmation of value-not just day by day but over time as a student’s digital portfolio grown and becomes public evidence of his or her advancing knowledge and skills.”  

 

 We can no longer ignore real world connections and opportunities for our students to be sharing with real audiences.

 

What an exciting time it is to teach and learn.  So many opportunities to connect and learn from each other and to make real word changes.  When are these things no longer an option?

Bold or Old?

 

This week I am preparing for a job interview and have spent a lot of time in the last few weeks reflecting on my school, my staff and the things that have been accomplished in the short time I have been in the building.  I am not saying that I have accomplished these things, because that is definitely not the case.  These things have been accomplished by a team of very dedicated and forward thinking people.  Wow am I ever lucky!

I spent part of my Easter break doing some web surfing and reading and trying to reconnect with my passion for technology in education.  There really is nothing that I like to focus on more than that.  I was reading some posts on Will Richardson’s site and I came across an older post of his about bold schools and old schools.  It got me thinking about what we are trying to create here.  When I reflect back to the progress we have made in the past few years I am certain that what we have here is a bold school.  He lists 9 qualities shared by what he is terming “a bold school”.  The qualities range from learning centered to provocative.  Check out the post for the complete list.

Looking back over the three years that I have been lucky enough to be working in this school with this staff we have made much progress on becoming a bold school.  We have slowly but surely embraced technology and different teaching methods that are more authentic to the learners we are working with today.  We have survived a lot of change and struggled to make sense of new curricular outcomes and new assessment strategies.  We have stepped up and committed to action research projects that have helped us move toward embracing technology use in our classrooms in many forms and we have tried to step back and turn more of the learning happening in our classrooms over to the students.

Our next goal is to move toward project based learning, which seems the next logical step in our progression.  We are looking at our curricular outcomes and where the commonalities might lie, but right now we have many questions…

  •   How can we timetable to accommodate project based learning?
  •   How can we support each other on our continued journey from familiar to unfamiliar territory?
  •   How can we prepare and engage our students to meet the needs of the changing world they are a huge part of?
  • How can we engage our reluctant students?

Any suggestions as to how to keep moving on our journey from old to bold? 

 We are definitely bold baby and we are not going back!

Technology and theory-am I stuck?

My first thoughts on this topic were… “I am a constructivist of course.”  Most of my learning beliefs are based on the constructivist theory.  Learning is  making connections to what we already know.  I learned this in some of the first teaching training courses that I took… start by finding out what they know and build from there… set a learning context for them before you start…expand on their prior knowledge, etc.

I strongly believe that we need to connect before they are willing to buy in.  They need  to see a reason  to learn something… connect it to something they already know, so they can build on that and create their own meaning.

As I was thinking about learning theories this week and how they relate to what I know and think, I realized I am a constructivist by heart, but at the same time it is difficult, or maybe even impossible, not to acknowledge the influence other theories have on me  as well.

As a learning support teacher I am very interested in brain research and am constantly reworking and reorganizing my ideas about learning, so that I might help my teachers differentiate for students  requiring unique learning opportunities.  There is a big movement in our school division towards differentiated instruction and it is being presented as the answer to everything .  It is not a new theory, just a new name given to something that teachers do in their classrooms every day.

Our new Saskatchewan curriculum supports the idea of student centered, constructivist learning, but does not steer far from the behaviorist theory with its organizational structure of  outcomes, broken into smaller components that are measurable and standardized.  The question and struggle for teachers is how to organize student driven learning, but still make sure outcomes are met.  How do we give students opportunities to go off in their own directions, building on things they already know and moving toward what they want to learn, and  be in control of learning outcomes at the same time?

I spent most of my teaching career teaching in a small rural school in southwest Manitoba. When I moved to Estevan I really had my eyes opened to the real world and the reality that students were dealing with many other things in their lives besides the curriculum outcomes that I was trying to get them to meet.  I spend a great deal of my time dealing with students that are having learning difficulties partly  because they have other things going on in their lives.  There is often an underlying factor that can cause children to have difficulty learning or behaving in an acceptable manner.  I do not think we can ignore Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in our daily quest for student learning.  Sometimes it may not matter what things we are doing to engage them or what learning theories we are using in our classrooms…if their basic needs are not met…they are not going to learn.

So, how can I connect this all to technology? I think about technology use in the classroom so much, it seems to me that I should have it all figured out. I feel as though I am stuck between my theory and practice.   Why am I still struggling with how we use technology?  During  my school day Friday, I observed the grade 4 class working on an internet scavenger hunt while learning about electricity.  I spent 45 minutes blogging with the grades 4/5 students, helping them communicate their ideas, tag and make links.  Later in the day, I went into the grades 5/6 classroom to watch a student  presentation using Smart Board technology and the grade 8 teacher showed me some video her students had taken while they were explaining their math learning,  using the Flip Video cameras we bought to use in a project called, “Flipping Over Math”.

As I reflected on my day and the technology use I observed, I still can’t help but wonder how many of these activities were student driven and how many were teacher driven.  This is where I still struggle.  I looked back to my reflection using the LoTi framework to see that I originally thought most of our digital resources and tools used by students in our school were used to carry out teacher directed tasks.  So I guess I need help figuring this all out and making that step into practicing what I believe and preach.

How do I help teachers in my school, including myself to move beyond this point, where we are allowing our students to use technology tools, but we are directing how, when, where and what, instead of teaching them to ask good questions and look to various types of technologies for use in answering those questions?

This whole idea takes me back to one of the first activities we did in ECI  832, when we were asked to read the article, “The Song Remains the Same: Looking Back to the Future of Educational Technology”, by Punya Mishra, Matthew J. Koehler and Kristen Kereluik.  If we keep thinking about change, but not doing anything about it and in some cases resisiting, the song will remain the same. In the article it states,  “…the power and potential of educational technology much be acknowledged to reside within educators and not within objects.”  It is not good enough to bring the tools in to the classroom , it is to teach them to understand the power of the tools.

I decided to check out,  “Teach Paperless” by Shelly Blake-Plock, and in her post about 21 century learning, she said…   That’s not to say that technology should dictate content, but rather that the method of delivering the content should be of the connected variety. I think what both of these authors is trying to say  is we sometimes get the order of things mixed up.  It is not good enough to have computers and wireless hook-up in the classroom, if we do not understand the power of using it for content delivery.  We need to connect out students to the right tools so they can answer their questions and be learning the necessary content while they are doing it.  That is the key for me- as an educator I need to take chances and be willing to learn along with my students.

So where do I go from here?  Again, as I reflect on my day Friday- it was a busy, but good day.  To be able to witness as much technology use going on around me as I did was wonderful. I have to be proud of the teachers in my school and be content that  we are making progress into  helping our students not be satisfied with memorizing information but have the desire and confidence to question  and learn.  In think we are starting to get unstuck…

Are we powering up?

On Saturday I decided to work on ECI 832, but block 4 was not posted yet.  It all worked out,  because I took the opportunity to start my on-line professional development.  One of my favorite things to is surf the web and stop wherever something catches my eye.  I rarely get time to do this, as I am sure many of you can relate to.  I ended up at the K-12 Online Conference 2009 site waiting for a video to load,  and was led to a presentation by Michael Wesch titled, “A Portal to Media Literacy”, that he presented at the University of Manitoba in 2008.  It is about an hour long, but it was well worth the time I spent.  I am very familiar with Michael Wesch’s work and am a bit of a groupie of his.  He said that his classes at Kansas State University are always full and can be hard to get in to, and I am not at all surprised.

One of the topics that I visit often in my thoughts and rants is our seeming,  inability to embrace technology use and welcome it into our classrooms.  I have stated before that I think most teachers have the desire to do so, but many do not feel like they have the time, support or expertise to do so.  As Mr. Wesch described the typical classroom at the Kansas State University, that was set up to house 200+ students, all seated in rows with the professor feeding them lectures from the front, I couldn’t help but think about many of our public school classrooms today.  Were they so different?  Of course, thankfully, we do not have 200+ students in front of us at one time, but, often, they are seated in desks, placed in rows and we are delivering a message to them in our traditional fashion.  We may use computers to word process and research an assigned topic and we may even use a projector and Smart Board in our classroom to help us deliver our intended message.  Our students have learned to accept that we are the authority on many topics and it is their job to trust our authority and travel along to whatever destination we have pre-planned into their travel documents.

I have heard Mr. Wesch speak of moving our students from just having knowledge-memorizing, knowing and recalling – to the point where they are knowledge-able– which would include such things such as sorting, analyzing, sharing, discussing, critiquing and creating with knowledge.

I have also been involved in many conversations about today’s students… they want to be entertained, they play too many video games, they spend hours on face book and texting, they can’t concentrate, they are not motivated to learn, etc., etc., etc.  All of these things are probably true, but they do not give us an excuse as educators to stay inside our classroom boxes and ignore our responsibility to help them find things that are real and relevant  to them.  Many students struggle to make any connections between their real lives and what they are learning in the classroom.  Now, I know we were saying the same thing when we were in school…”when am I ever going to use this in the real world?”  It is our job to help students find things that are real and relevant to them.  We need to give them reasons to turn off their technologies and focus on their learning.  Do you think that we may be afraid to let some of the technologies in, because we know that we can’t compete with them without changing what we are doing and how we are doing it?

Mr. Wesch has a post called,” The vision of students today (and what teachers must do)”, at the Encyclopedia Britannica Blog Site. He was prompted to make huge changes in his classroom delivery, after doing a project with his students that culminated in a short video that most of you are probably familiar with called, “A vision of students today”. He feels that texting, web-surfing and ipods are new versions of passing notes in class.  Having them in the classroom will not prevent students from being distracted by them.  “Welcome technologies not as distractions, but as powerful learning technologies.”
When I started my masters program, I had the idea, rightfully or not, that the course work would not be relevant to what I was doing on a daily basis.  I thought that the reason I was taking my masters degree was to move me forward in my career and perhaps open up jobs in the future.  I have been pleasantly shocked and surprised by the level of relevance of all the courses I have taken so far.  It struck me, as I was listening to Mr. Wesch speak, that I have learned so much from my course work  because it was relevant to my daily life, but most of all, because I was sent out to explore and discover things on my own.  The questions and answers are not given to me- I need to ask my own questions and work at finding my own answers, so I am able to be in charge of my own learning, for the most part.

Isn’t that the difference between aquiring information and learning?

Mr. Wesch described three ways to create significance for our students:

1.  Provide relevance and context for learning- provide the big picture.

2.  Create a learning environment that values and leverages the learners themselves-give personal meaning.

3.  Do both in a way that realizes/leverages existing media environment in the same way our students do.

“We don’t have to tear the walls down, we just need to stop pretending the walls separate us from the world.”

There are many teachers who already do a fantastic job of looking beyond the walls, for the rest of us-let’s take a chance on powering up, I think we might be pleasantly surprised by what we discover…

My Tuesday Night Tour

I have already expressed my unease with my experience in Second Life.  The past two weeks have been a bit stressful and it seemed that no matter what I tried, I was always one step, okay, more like 20 steps, behind the rest of the class.  Considering my luck lately, it did not surprise me, yesterday at an in service session, when I went to my thaw space to open the  file I needed and my thaw space was empty… that is how it has been lately.

My Tuesday night tour in Second Life did not get off to a good start when I could not get my microphone working.  It would seem like my Second Life is a bit like my first sometimes.  Thankfully my professor in ECI 832,  Marnie McMillan, or in this case, Sunan Skytower, is extremely patient and encouraging.  She finally hooked me up with Garnett Gleim, G 3 Garfield,  and he helped me solve the rest of my technical problems.  I should mention that he is a very patient and helpful person as well.

Once I was able to communicate, I decided to try to make the best of the experience and we did see some very cool things.  I was lost  a few times and was teleported to the next destination.  It seemed funny to me, that I would get that same sense of panic, when lost in my digital world, that I would if I was lost in my real world in an unfamiliar place.  Maybe, even more so, because I was so far out of my comfort zone.

I think that one of the reasons that I struggled with Second Life, was because I am not a video game player at all.  As a matter of fact, I would never choose to play a video game.  I even have trouble managing  motion  in video games.  I had difficulty moving around, which would improve with practice, and I was not comfortable, unless I managed to stay with the group, which was not very often.

It is interesting to reflect on my difficulties, which were laughable, but frustrating.  I can relate to the “just for fun” video called “Second Life”  that Marnie posted in the ECI 832 Wiki space. It was funny, but  that  was my character, Reeve, running into things, awkwardly turning around and getting stuck behind objects.

The positive aspects of my Tuesday night tour were the things I did see, when I managed to get to my destinations or was teleported there. Wow!  My favorite place was the Globe Theatre.  I am a huge fan of Shakespeare and I taught high school English for a several years before moving to Saskatchewan.  I would have loved to take my students to the Globe Theatre when we were studying our Shakespeare units.  It sure would have added engagement and interest.

I think  the most interesting and useful part of the digital world, for me, would  be the ability to experience destinations around the world .  I would not even begin to think that I was capable of creating destinations, but I look forward to the never-ending field trips  my students and I can take  without ever having to leave the computer lab!

Do I have room for a second life?

I think that I just finished one of the most technologically frustrating weeks ever.  I thought that some of the things that I was asked to do last semester in ECI 831 were out of my element, but my introduction to Second Life was not a smooth one.  The one satisfying thing I learned was, perseverance pays off.  I finally did figure out where I was going wrong and was able to finally get my second life going.  It probably didn’t help to see my son jump right into the program and he was looking for buried treasure under the ocean, before I had my character developed.  Oh, the confidence of youth!  How foolish it is to not tap into that natural instinct and ease that our students have with technology.

I decided that I better try to improve my attitude and try to make some educational connections with Second Life. What was is that my professor for ECI 832, Marnie McMillan, was seeing, that I was not embracing? I was surprised to find myself warming up to the idea.  Was  I feeling a sense of excitement creeping in as I saw what was happening with virtual reality?

I was surprised by some of the projects that I came across and could not believe some of the things that students were doing.  I realized after watching the , “The Social Virtual World’s Tour”, at the Puritan’s Guide to Second Life, that my children have experimented with virtual reality for years… I just didn’t make the connection until now.  My daughters, who are now in high school, used to spend hours on the Neopets site, when they were little girls, feeding and caring for their digital pets and buying and selling digital merchandise.  Now my nieces and other little people  do the same things at Webkinz.

I really liked some of the projects that I came across that students had done on social issues and cultures, such as ones described at the SLED Blog-K-20 Education Using the Second Life World, and closer to home at Regina Public Schools, Examining Social Issues.   What a neat and engaging  way to learn about social studies and show learning.  I could see a lot of potential for visiting and exploring places that are not right at our finger tips which could open up our learning world even more.

I just helped my grade 8 tutorial students study for a social studies test on the cultures unit.  When I was watching the following YouTube video posted by Regina Public School, describing their Grade 8 Cultures Project, I was really blown away by the amount of engaged learning that must have gone into that project.

I wondered, as I was searching around, if there was not an interesting application of virtual reality that could be used as a learning support teacher.  I spend quite a bit of time working with children of all ages on social skills, reading visual cues, etc. I was talking to one of my social skills candidates about virtual reality last week and there was obvious interest in that area.  Any suggestions about how this technology could be incorporated into my learning support world?

So once again, I am brought back to my familiar question…

How can I encourage teachers in my school to get involved with some of this technology that is readily available?

I already know that exposure and support are key, and in this case, I would not be much help to them, we would need major technology support.  With the right idea and the right approach, I think the school division tech staff could be talked into allowing a project to take place.

As always safety is an issue.  Exploration in the SL world and Teen SL would obviously require proper use and supervision, as the use of most social networking does.  I really liked the example of “why we need rules” illustrated in a post at skoolaborate.com in a post called “Why we need rules? Lord of the Flies Island.” The teacher describes a situation where a student wonders why there are rules that prevent them from building wherever they want in their virtual setting.  He found that limiting, and did not understand the reason for the rule.   The writer explains that previously, they had problems with students messing around with the projects being developed by other students.  He decided to open up a place, called “Lord of the Flies Island”, where students could build wherever they wanted.  The student  soon discovered that the new environment did not work so well and could see why the rule was in place.  What a good opportunity for teaching and discovering!

Embrace the virtual reality world?–I have not reached that point yet.  Can I see the educational possibilities and applications?-Absolutely!  Right now, though, I  have to be satisfied with my first life, because I am still not sure I have room for a second one.

Can we rewrite the educational song?

When I finished reading,  The Song Remains the Same: Looking Back to the Future of Educational Technology by Punya Mishra, Matthew J Koehler, Kristen Kereluik. TechTrends. Washington: Sep/Oct 2009. Vol. 53, Iss. 5; p. 48, for an assignment for my ECI 832 class, I couldn’t help but think  this was a conversation we have all been in many times before.  Why are we making little progress with technology infusion in some of our classrooms and schools?  Why do some teachers seem reluctant to use the fantastic tools and resources that are so readily available to us?

It really reminded me of Karl Fisch’s post at  The Fishbowl called ,”What if?” He provides a link to a google video by the same name that is worth taking a look at.

Although the article presented a concern that has been discussed for a while, it gave me a new direction of thinking as to the reason why.  “the power and potential of educational technology must be acknowledged to reside within educators and not within objects.” (p.52)  I couldn’t help but think that our focus my be in the wrong place.

We have this same discussion often in our school division related to new curriculum.  I have heard frustrations voiced many times as to how teachers continue to start their planning with classroom activities, rather than “unpacking” the learning outcomes and starting there.  It is impossible to see the journey, when we start from the end and work backwards.  What do we want these children to be able to do when the journey ends, rather than… here are some things to work on and hopefully while you are doing that we will stumble on some learning.

The last conversation I with my principal, on Friday, happened to be about the lack of technology use in our classrooms and why that might be.  She thinks it is a good idea when I take these courses, but it does add an extra element to her day when I am constantly wanting to share my thoughts and infuse my ideas.  The one thing we said was that our teachers are separating the parts of the whole learning experience,  rather than looking at it as a whole.  What I mean by that is, we look at curricular outcomes separate from indicators, separate from technology, separate from classroom management etc., rather than seeing that they should all work together in the classroom experience and not be seen as separate entities.

I feel this relates to the statement in the article, “…educational technologies exist in the interplay between pedagogical knowledge, content knowledge, and technology knowledge.”  Maybe this is part of our struggle…as long as things exist as separate parts, it is impossible for us to move toward an interplay of the whole learning experience.

The article describes 3 possible reasons for our lack of change. The first one being “using new technologies…requires specific knowledge of how the technology can be used for pedagogical purposes.”   I feel most teachers see the basic benefits to embracing educational technologies and may also have an underlying desire to be integrating them into the daily learning experiences in their classrooms.  I don’t think any teacher can deny the fact that our students today are technologically inclined and comfortable in their world.  In my school division and certainly within my school the problem does not lie with technologies being unavailable to teachers. For some, the idea of technologies changing so fast is overwhelming and creates a sense of defeat before integration even gets started.  The idea of learning so many new things is discouraging.

The second reason given in the article states, “the use of new technology often faces resistance from educators who believe that they perhaps do more harm than good.” The thing that immediately came to mind was the “dreaded” cell phone that I discussed in my last post.  It seems to me that we can get so caught up in all the things that students could possibly do wrong, that we forget or refuse to see the benefits.  I have previously stated my frustration about our need to police students, rather than create opportunities for learning.  If you do a search at YouTube, under cell phone use in the classroom, you will come up with countless parodies made by students showing teachers freaking out over cell phone use. The phone is only one example, but it illustrates how our fear can be our worst enemy.

The third reason does not really have anything to do with technology. “Teachers need knowledge of pedagogy-knowledge of how to teach-in order to accomplish these kind of activities.” So does that mean that our problem does not lie with the technologies surrounding us, but rather our insecurities with our basic pedagogy?

I was reading a post written by Brian Gatin yesterday and he mentioned the need for universities to change the expectations for teacher training.  The authors of the article also mention the need for pre-service teachers to not just see technology as a tool, but rather be empowered to experiment and create as they develop their own pedagogy.  We tend to think  younger teachers will be naturally good at technology infusion. While it may be fair to jump to the conclusion that these young teachers are comfortable using technology, is it also fair to take for granted that they will understand the interplay between content, pedagogy and technology?

This is where team work should come into play.  We need to learn to share and collaborate.  The article mentions, “once a project has been developed, other teachers can replicate it in their own classrooms.”  That is as it should be, especially when we have all the collaboration and sharing tools available to us.  I don’t think teachers are natural sharers, we can be hoarders. We need to stop trying to reinvent things in our own little worlds.  Let’s use the confidence level with technology that our students and younger colleagues have and combine that with the confidence  in pedagogy and content that comes from experience.

In seeing the interplay between pedagogy, technology and content can we help each other rewrite the educational song? I sure hope so!

Is It Really That Simple?

While trying to decide what blog(s) I was wanting to follow this term in ECI 832, I came across a post on the “Cool Cat Teacher” blog on making a case for cell phone use in class. This caught my attention immediately, because I am always expressing my wish for students to have access to cell phones and I-pods in the classroom.  School division and school policies prevent this from happening right now, and I am not expected that to change any time soon.

My first thought was… wait a minute… maybe if I was able to start giving other teachers in my school and school division some concrete ideas as to how they might use these tools in their classroom, then maybe… just maybe…more teachers would start to make requests and eventually we would be able to chip away at the policy mountain.

I believe that it is basic fear that keeps us from allowing the “evil” cell phone in our classrooms.  How would we ever control what they are doing?  How could we ever keep their attention?  How can we prevent them from texting when they should be listening?

The same goes for the i-pod.  What could they possibly do with the i-pod in the classroom besides plug in and tune me out?  Don’t get me wrong… I was one of these fearful teachers not so many years ago.  When cell phone use first started to become popular and we were not sure what to do about it, I was all over making policies with specific and controlling consequences for being caught with your cell phone.  I’ve come a long way baby!

Fear of giving up control can keep teachers from opening up to new and very exciting possibilities.

In her post Vicki Davis gives 10 reasons why we should use cell phones in school, many of them great reasons to use in conversations with school division policy makers.  What school division does not like an idea that could actually save them money and solve some IT problems as well?  She also has some suggestions as to how to “deal” with cell phones in the classroom.

The second reason I think we are reluctant just to give up our fight is because it opens up supervision and education issues that we are unsure of.  How can we make sure they are on task and doing what they are supposed to be doing?   So, does it come back to giving up control?

My search led me to blog site, “Technology for Teachers” by Sean Martinson.  He said … the cell phone (iPods, MP3 players, etc.) are simply the latest tools that we as educators are failing to embrace, failing to see the educational implications for their uses, and are thus failing to educate our students in the ethical uses of these tools for life long learning.  If we are going to ban said items… we are banning them because we as educators are failing to educate our students in the proper uses of these tools.” Sean give many great sources to check out in his post.

I listened to a conversation related to this issue in my school last week.  The French Club is raising money to attend the Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg, Manitoba. One of the fundraising ideas they came up with was to have a cell phone or i-pod day and everyone who chooses to bring one has to pay $1.  Reaction from the staff was mixed.  I said, “Yes!”, perhaps we could get them to do something educational at the same time?? Unfortunately, most of the reactions were based on comments such as:”do we get to set our own rules as to when they can use them?” or “won’t they be fooling around with them instead of learning?”

I hated the fact that it was seen as a policing issue rather than an opportunity.  I have some work to do and educating teachers is how I think it needs to be done.  I could slide in ideas and they wouldn’t even know what I was up to. Please give my any ideas that you may have.

Some other excellent sources I came across, that  you may want to check out are:

http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/1422669

http://cellphonesinlearning.wikispaces.com/

I was watching my 11 year old son doing his homework the other night.  He was working on an assignment that went along with a story they were reading in ELA.  He needed to figure out what some of the vocabulary words meant.  I was just going to open my mouth to tell him to get a dictionary out of the office, but before I could, he picked up his i-pod and was at dictionary.com.

It really is that simple, isn’t it?