What is Innovation Anyway?

I have learned so many things since becoming a school administrator 8 years ago.  One of the most important lessons that I have learned is to respect the reality that teachers are all at different places in developing their craft.  They are certainly at a different comfort level with using technology and with reaching out beyond the way we have always done things in the classroom.

Once I realized this important lesson,  I also realized that the idea of “innovation” looks different for all of us.  I was reading a blog post recently written by George Couros. He was talking about how we have this idea that innovation is something huge, and because of this, we may not feel like we can be innovative.  I have been reflecting on this idea this week.

One of the favorite parts of my job as a school administrator is that I can see a little piece of everyone’s classroom and the learning going on within,  pretty much whenever I want.  What a treat!

I feel like I see the most wonderful and often innovative things happening, but teachers do not think they are being innovative because they are “just doing what teachers do” in their minds.

Our school division puts a priority on technology and encouraging innovation and engagement.  We do not lack in bandwidth or devices.  For that, I am extremely grateful.  A few year’s ago my vice-principal and I decided we wanted to push our teachers a bit out of the comfort zone and have everyone set a goal to have a way to use technology with their students that allowed their students to be creative and make connections.  It did not have to be anything crazy, but just taking one step away from using our devices for drill and practice activities.

I was so proud of all of our teachers.  When given the chance to start from wherever they were and take a small leap, most of them really shined.

Since we did not want this to be a one and done, this year we have challenged them to take some activity or learning lesson they have done with their students before and reflect on ways to tweak it or add to it or change it to make it even better for their students through making connections or creative endeavours using technology.

Are they being innovative?  I think so!  To quote the blog post mentioned earlier in the post, “Small changes, big difference.”  I can’t wait to see what they all come up with.

Master teacher or master learner?

I pondered what direction to take my on-line PD for ECI 831.  I had already done one post a few weeks ago after watching a presentation on media literacy by Michael Wesch and was looking for a different direction.

Earlier this week I was involved in a few conversations about the new RTI, Response to Intervention model that our school division is moving to in an effort to support diverse learners.  Every school in our division will have a RTI teacher next year that is not assigned classroom time.  The whole idea behind this teacher will be to provide support to classroom teachers and students in the areas of curriculum, differentiated instruction and program planning for diverse learners.  Part of the discussion behind this movement was the type of teacher that would best fill these positions.It was brought up that these teachers should be “master” teachers.  What is a ‘master’ teacher exactly?  The first thing that popped into my mind, and I am sure many others, was someone with curriculum experience, classroom management experience and probably  a vast bag of tricks.

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Interestingly enough, I came across a blog post at the Technology Fridge related to the idea of ‘master’ teachers. It presented a slightly different view.  “You cannot be a master teacher, until you are a master learner.”  Well now, that changes things, doesn’t it? Could a ‘master’ teacher be a teacher who may not know everything, but has a desire to learn?

I am a strong believer in life long learning and I give the credit  to my father.  He is an avid reader and researcher in his own right.  I often share things with him as he does with me.  He may not understand my world, but he has a desire to know about it.

Now, could we not learn from my father and relate that to  our own classrooms, with our own students?  We may not totally understand their world, but we should have a desire to know about it and be open to it.  Should we be open to the idea that our students may have as much or more to teach us as we do to teach them?

I just finished watching a short presentation given by Anglea Maiers, at the K12 Online Conference, on the topic of passion.  I thought she added to this idea even more.  She retells a story about a very endearing little kindergarten student that was passionate about animal rights.  The point of her presentation was for educators to learn how to follow our students passions. If we use student interests, hold them to high standards and expose them to web 2.0 tools we should be able to turn interests into passions.   It is possible to learn from our students by give them opportunities to lead with their interests and turn those interests into passions.

It is difficult for educators to change the way we look at information delivery.  I think we are held back by the idea that our students might know more than we do.  Since we are so used to being the expert in the room, the idea that the student may be the expert, and we could learn from them, is unusual and sometimes even scary. According to George Siemens, “instead of controlling a classroom, a techer now influences and shapes a network.” We don’t teach subjects, we teach students.

I also watched another K12 Online Conference presentation this morning given by Paul Curtis, a high school teacher who teaches at the New Technology High School in Napa, California. His presentation was on building a culture that empowers students.  This culture is based on trust, respect and individualized learning.  He talked a lot about co-constructing rules for fair use and how we need to let go of the idea that we need to control students.  He even went so far as to put out the idea that students can learn the curriculum on their own.  We need to create a culture by empowerment and hold students to the culture of the community that they helped to create.

Will Richarson at Weblogg-ed, blogs about the same topic and he states, “More and more, though, as I look at my own kids and try to make sense what’s going to make them successful, I care less and less about a particular teacher’s content expertise and more about whether that person is a master learner, one from whom Tess or Tucker can get the skills and literacies to make sense of learning in every context, new and old. What I want are master learners, not master teachers, learners who see my kids as their apprentices for learning.”

I feel like I am jumping a bit all over the place with this post, but everything is so interrelated, it is difficult to separate.  The bottom line seems to be…we need to teach kids how to learn, and we can only do that by being learners ourselves.

Am I out, because I am old?

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I don’t know whether I am having a sensitive week or not, but I am starting to take offense to  some of the blogs  I am reading that imply because I am old, I am not tech savvy or willing to learn to be.

Now I would not describe myself as tech savvy, but technology rich…I am!  I hate to admit that I am getting close enough to retirement to start thinking about it seriously.  I am not counting down the days or even the years, but I am not in the first 1/2 of my career either.  The up side is that I can start to feel that warm sun of Mexico on my face when I look it up on my Blackberry!

We teach students all the time to not stereotype or discriminate, but when I hear myself being lumped into a stereotypical category of “sitting around waiting to retire, and not wanting to try anything new”, I get a little hot and indignant.

I don’t think that technology integration, or lack there of, has anything to do with age.  Now, I have never done any formal research and can only go from my personal experience.  When I look at my own school, for example, I see “younger” teachers that are not really doing much technology integration at all and “older” teachers that are doing it all the time. When I was looking for a classroom teacher that would be willing to join me in a blogging project, it was one of the “older” generation that jumped right on board.

I have listened to discussions about technology immigrants vs technology natives.  I can’t really say that I like the terms myself.  I guess you could call me a technology immigrant and it would not insult me.  I was raised with black and white TV and party lines for heaven’s sake. I definitely remember life before internet and I-pods.    Just because I am new to the world does not mean that I am not enthusiastic, willing to try new things, and trying to stay up to date as anyone else.

I think students would consider most of their teachers technology immigrants…we could never know as much as them, no matter what our age.  We are trying to adjust to a world that they have known all of their lives.  My daughter thinks it is weird that I have a Facebook account and for some reason refuses to put me on her friends list.

Now what does all of this tell me?

That I should just get over my indignation and not worry about it?

That I should stand up to the “younger” generation of teachers and show them what I know?

Well, I guess it should tell me…

  • that I need to keep encouraging all teachers to become technology comfortable, no matter what their age.
  • That I need to offer support to others in my profession.
  • That I need to keep trying to explore new tools and integrate those tools into my student’s lessons in a meaningful way.
  • Probably most of all…I need to share my ideas with others.

Don’t write me off because I am old.  I will be twittering and keeping up with Facebook even when I am living in my condo in Mexico!  Maybe my daughter will even agree be my friend…

Can we make learning authentic?

I seem to be talking about technology no matter where I go these days.  Last night I was lucky enough to get an invitation to the Farmer’s Appreciation Night sponsored by the Estevan Board of Commerce and Tourism.  It was an excellent roast beef supper followed by a speaker and ending with entertainment by a comedian.   I sat and listened to the presenter speak about world trends in agriculture and the rapid technological  changes happening in  the industry because of the influence of young people with digital expectations coming back to agriculture  and the necessity of the agricultural industry to keep up.  The speaker started out with giving everyone his cell phone number, so that we could text him with questions that he would answer during the presentation.  There were no laptops in the room-of course and this was the next best alternative. Among other things,  he described a system that was being developed using digital tracking  to allow consumers to trace the origin of fruits and vegetables back to the actual farm where they were produced.  The farmer then will provide information about pesticide and herbicide use in production.

So what does all of this have to do with technology in schools?

As I listened to the presentation, I was struck, once again, with the reality that  we are not doing a very good job of preparing our students for their future world.  There is not a part of their world that is not be affected by technology, and yet the education system is lagging behind and we are not meeting the needs of this generation of learners.

I am reading the book, “Grown up digital” by Don TapscottProbably many of you have read it.  It is very interesting and paint a picture of what he refers to as the “net generation”.  In the chapter dedicated to “the net generation as learners”, Mr. Tapscott says the following:

“Net Geners are not content to sit quietly and listen to a teacher lecture.  Kids who have grown up digital expect to talk back, to have a conversation.  They want a choice in their education, in terms of what they learn, when they learn it, where, and how.  They want their education to be relevant to the real world, the one they live in.  They want it to be interesting, even fun.  Educators may still think the old fashioned lecture is important, but the kids don’t, futurist Marc Prensky told me recently.  He remembers one Australian principal who put it this way: ‘The teachers are no longer the fountain of knowledge: the Internet is.'” (p. 126)

So what is holding us back?  When my professor for ECI 832, Marnie McMillan posed the following question… I had to try and consider this carefully.

How could schools implement computer-supported learning in ways that authentically transform teaching and learning?

The problem is not technology.  I think most schools have access to technology, but putting computers and internet access into schools does not mean that authentic learning is taking place.  I found an interesting blog post at coolcatteacher that was aimed at administrators, called Dear Administrator: Focus. The tone, unless I misunderstood it, was one of frustration based on lack of action by administrators  and she seemed unwilling to take any excuses.  I have to agree with her… no excuses should be accepted.  The blog post gives 8 practical and to the point, considerations for administrators of school districts/divisions and schools to use to help make technology use and learning more authentic in our schools. I would like to comment on 3 of them.

1.  Strong technical leadership– this is where the problem begins, I think.  It does not really matter whether we feel we are technologically challenged or gifted, we have a responsibility to be leaders in our schools and promote and demand authenticity in our classrooms.  I strongly believe that the administration in a school sets the tone for the school.  My experience has been that what the administrators see as a priority, becomes a priority and the attitude of the administration in a school affects the attitude within the school. I also agree with coolcat when she states, ” It is often not how the technology works as much as how people feel about how the technology works.”  Administrators, and I include myself in this, need to step up and start showing leadership in this area if we want things to change.

2.  Benefiting the student– that is what is supposed to be all about, right?  It is important for students to stay the focus at all times.  What would benefit the students in my school?  I often get frustrated by school division policies that prevent me from doing what I feel are logical things with my students that would benefit learning.  Using I-pods would be a good example of this.  We can’t use them in our school and students or teachers, for that matter,  cannot get on to WiFi with their own personal devices.  I understand the need for caution, but I hate some of the things we do out of control. Most of my students have this excellent learning tool in their pockets, but we are cut off from using it because of fear.   “Don’t let IT rule just because they are using terms you don’t know.  IT should not have complete control over the sites used on campus – that is often better decided by curriculum.” Coolcat is right… we should not be intimidated by outside forces, when it comes to deciding what is right for our students in our school.

3.  Harness the power of those you have. How true again!  We have lots of talent right around us, but we don’t often take advantage of it.  Having conversations with people, taking advantage of their talents and letting them shine in areas where they have never had the opportunity to before is paramount to change.  Setting teachers up in situations using technology in authentic ways and allowing them to be successful, breeds confidence and that confidence is shared with other teachers.

All this led me back to the National Education Technology Standards (NETS) under the adminstrator and visionary leadership.  This is the one area that I did not feel we did a very good job of in our school.   Perhaps this is where the problem starts and we need to get working on our visionary leadership.  This in turn will have an affect on teachers and students.

  • inspire and facilitate a shared vision of purposeful change
  • engage in an on-going process to develop, implement and communicate technology-infused strategic plans
  • advocate on a local and provincial level for funding to support implementation

I can get frustrated by the fact that we seem stuck where we are and can’t seem to make the jump to using all the technology we have available to us for authentic learning and teaching experiences.  I think that it is the responsibility of administrators, at all levels, to have a plan and make this happen.  When I say all administrators, I guess that also means me- I need to start advocating for my own sandbox and sharing it with others so that we can start playing together to benefit students.

Digital Booktalks-Do they motivate reluctant readers?

I spent a great deal of  today playing in the digital sandbox.  I was trying to find a music video remix appropriate to show to middle years students-I now realize that is almost an impossible task!  As I was waiting for music videos to load on my computer I took the opportunity to read an article titled, “Digital Booktalk: Digital Media for Reluctant Readers”, but Glenda Gunter and Robert Kenny.

I am always in pursuit of anything that will motivate reluctant readers, as most teachers are.  The idea presented in the article is really not a new one, as it was written in 2008, but an idea that should not  be dismissed either.  It is a good question to ask and test as to whether or not digital book talks could be a motivating tool for the reluctant reader.

I am sure that most of you are aware of the push on differentiated instruction that is going on in the province right now-in our school division the push is hard.  Don’t get me wrong…I agree with it whole heartedly, except I hate when it is touted as the magical answer to all  classroom teacher frustrations.

The previously mentioned article states, “…tying literacy to intelligence can result in a mischaracterization  of  a person’s actual abilities.  It may be more correct to recognize the fact that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.  Intelligence may be more accurately defined as having a skill in a particular medium…”.  The idea fits into differentiated instruction and finding the best way for each student to show what they know.

We might not all agree with that, but I am sure we would all agree with the need to get more involved  connecting our students to their digital worlds and start acknowledging that in our classrooms.  Maybe we are not using the correct instructional strategies to motivate our digital students toward reading and writing.  The most common thing to do when trying to improve reading levels in students is to find out what their weaknesses are and teach to them, as a learning support teacher I have followed this strategy many times.  The article got me thinking…

If we focused on students strengths, rather than their weaknesses, would we get some new insight on what would help motivate them to read?

The premise behind the digital book talk is to try to motivate children to read by having them make or watch book “trailers”  as a motivational tool to encourage reading of a particular book, just as they would see a movie trailer and be motivated to see a particular  movie.  The technology adds a hook to gain student’s attention and gives them the opportunity to participate in a curriculum outcome related activity without having to worry about their vocabulary or grammar level.  It also opens up the opportunity for collaboration and there are many places on-line where digital book talks can be published.

This is not an alternative for reading a book, but rather a motivating factor to prelude reading or conclude reading.  According to T. Hicks (2006, as quoted in the article), “It is not so much about the point that we can make a digital story; it is more to the point that we can make a story digitally.” (p.4)

I looked around for some of the information available on-line and found many different sites full of ready-made, digital booktalks such as digital booktalk.com from the University of Central Florida, as mentioned in the article  and MPL Teenspace You Tube Digital Book Reviews.

There would be never-ending tools that could be used for digital book talks, such as Microsoft’s PhotoStory and at least 50 others listed at Alan Levine’s Cogdogroo wiki.  I also liked the idea of using a podcast as a quicker, less time-consuming alternative.  In my search I did find another useful educational blog called The Edutainers posted by David Widener, on which he describes a booktalk project, but also countless other ideas and projects mainly geared at middle year’s students.  Check it out if you get a chance.

I am not sure if it will actually motivate the reluctant reader, but it  might be another interesting way to get students connected.

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…

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!