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!

Excited or scared to death?

I do a lot of thinking every day about technology integration in the classroom.  I am not a PAA teacher or an IT teacher, but I have taken on the unexpected role, as part of my administrative position, to promote and encourage technology in my school.  I took on the role because it is a passion of mine, but the weird part is…I struggle with technology just as much as any one else-probably more than some.  I have already written of some of  my frustrations with memorization, rote learning and many of the other things we like to hang on to in the classrooms, while ignoring the technological opportunities at our finger tips.  I wanted to reflect on some of the other aspects of technology our professor Marnie McMillan wanted us to think about this week in ECI 832 as we play around in the sandbox.

Sometimes I get so overwhelmed with excitement when I discover the possibilities that are available to us and to our students that I have trouble sleeping at night.  At the same time, these discoveries can be frightening and make me want to curl into a fetal position under my desk and hope that they will go away.

As I was reading how our technological world helps us respond in an emergency situation, I was in awe.  It was almost a paradox (I think), how worldwide technology was used to bring aid and comfort in many ways to the country of Haiti.  A country too poor to build and maintain the infrastructure necessary for a lot of the technology that was used.  It is almost too much to wrap my head around, as I read about twitter and Skype feeds used to find relatives, Google’s Facebook finder and social networking technologies used to raise millions of dollars for victims.  The first images to reach the rest of the world were sent from cell phones.  At the risk of sounding like my grandparents…I can’t keep up with all of the changes.  I remember when we only had black and white television and did not have a telephone in our home and had to use the neighbor’s phone.  Okay…there were phones… we just didn’t have one.

Our family recently had a tragic loss, when my husband’s young cousin was killed in an avalanche in BC while snowmobiling.  The news of the accident spread faster than we could even imagin.  Within 24 hours someone had set up a memorial Facebook page for Chad and there were hundreds of stories about his life and messages of comfort for his family.  I am sure that it was a huge comfort  to his parents and brother, and how fantastic it was for all of those people who posted to be able to have a way to express the grief that they were feeling.

What a better way for a politician to get their message out and get votes than to give people a social networking opportunity and in doing so they give people a voice.  That is the best thing about  social networking is that everyone has a voice.  Everyone who wants to, can be heard.

Even though the constant changes in our technological world sometimes scare me, to our students, they are part of their lives.  Last fall I started a blogging project with the grades 4/5 students in my school.  They were so excited and motivated to be writing on- line.  It was a bit of a struggle when we first started.  They didn’t know what to write about and they didn’t always want to take the time to  think about their writing and what they wanted to say before they posted.  I was up early the other morning reading some of their posts.  I was so impressed by their progress- they have improved on their writing, they are writing more, they are linking and tagging and inserting pictures and trying to make interesting , conversation provoking comments on each others posts.  The thing that has impressed me the most about these kids though… is their confidence with the medium which they are working .  They do not share my fears or my self doubts.  They see the automatic possibilities and do not wait for me to show them the next step.  They reach out and try to figure it out on their own.  They only need me to help them once in a while which  is as it should be.

I am excited to spend some time now playing in the sand, because I think that I am starting to understand what web 2.0 is and what that should mean to my students.  It is not about having the technology available… it is all about learning to use the technology to connect, discover, think and build.

I wonder what I will discover next?

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…

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?

What are my current coordinates?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/27550931@N03/2569927379/

In my ECI 832 course we were asked to pin point our current coordinates on our technology compass.  It is difficult, but important, to face exactly where we are when it comes to technology.  It can be impossible to move forward if we do not know where we are starting and  this can cause us to spin around in the same place.  If there is one thing that I am learning about technology integration, it would have to be that the journey is slow for some.

When looking at the LoTi, Levels of Teacher Innovation Framework  by Dr. Chris Moersch, I seem to be hovering between level 3-infusion and level 4a-mechanical integration.  Now what does that really mean for me?

I feel like I am very focused on higher level thinking for my students and getting them engaged in learning.  Partly due to the new curriculum which is based upon student centered learning and partly due to my basic belief in the necessity for change and the enthusiasm to make that happen.

At the same time, I still don’t think that students are recognizing or perceiving that their learning is authentic in a lot of cases.  They still believe that they are just doing assignments and not really making connections to their lives or taking responsibility for their own learning.  My students are using digital resources and tools to carry out teacher directed tasks that  require higher level thinking, but these tasks are rarely driven by or generated by students.  Hopefully we are slowly moving toward integration of technology, but at this point we are not there yet.

I chose to look at the adminstration side of NETS-National Education Technology Standards to see where I stood as an administrator.  Right now I feel like I can have the most positive influence on my staff in my administrative role as opposed to my learning support role ,although the two do work closely together.

So how am I really doing?

I do not feel like I am doing  badly overall.  I would probably give myself a B- on a technology report card.  Trust me, there is always room for improvement.  My highest grade would be in excellence in professional practice.  I try not to just talk about technology, but actually get down and get involved with what I believe.  I think I try to stay on top of what is happening in technology and pass that on to my staff in a collaborative way.  Right now a group of a group of teachers in my school, including myself,  are participating in a TIP(Technology Integration Project). I put in a proposal to use FLIP video cameras and digital still cameras for assessment purposes in math. I am also blogging with groups of students and helping classroom teachers  with class blogs. I have some of my learning support students blogging and accessing internet resources as they work on their social skills and planning toward their futures. I try to act as a support system by getting involved in technology integration at the classroom level.

I think there is still room for improvement; personally, at the school level and at the division level.  We are not AT the stage where there is effective practice across the curriculum and although I encourage instructional innovation focused on continuous improvement, I do not feel like we have reached the point where we can ensure that this innovation is happening.  I am not even sure I know when that point might be.

In some cases, things seem to be out of our hands.  We do not always have control over who we are hiring to fill teaching positions ,so this makes it difficult to always recruit staff who are highly competent with technology.  We  do try to establish and maintain partnerships to support systemic improvement, but we are not always in control of all parts of the system.  Our division is going through a lot of growth, and the lack of trust that still exists, in some cases,  can work against systemic change .  I think that our school division does an excellent job of trying to maintain an up to date and solid infrastructure, but some division policies dealing with technology do not always promote it or make it easy to use.

It seems like every conversation that I am in lately leads me back to the same question…

How do we move on from here?

At least I have my baseline now and know where  I am already doing well and where I still need to improve.