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!

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.

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.

Is playing games a waste of time?

It seems like every week I get fixated on some topic and it seems to pop up everywhere.  This week it was games.  It started on Tuesday when our staff was having a math lunch.  We try and meet once every month or two and watch some of the Math Makes Sense Video series and have math related discussions.  This week our discussion centered around the role of games in math and the games that were available at the back of the Math Makes Sense Pro Guide.  Teachers would like to use them, see value in using them, but were lacking the time to make them.  We came up with a couple of possible solutions for that problem…but my thinking stayed with the topic of games.

In our division our filtering system tags anything to do with games and gaming and blocks it from our use.  I have been frustrated by this the odd time when I am trying to find a quick little game that might add to the program of one of my learning support students.  There is always the constant debate about whether playing games at school is valuable use of time.  I guess it depends on how you define game playing and what skills you think children can get out of playing games.

I was reading a paper on digital learning and media this week published by Henry Jenkins, the director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and others.  It is called, “Confronting Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century”.  The paper described what they thought were the 11 skills one needed to have to participate within the new media culture, a “participatory culture”, they called it.  It was aimed at education and gave many valuable ideas about projects and activities that fit with each skill area.  One of the core media literacy skills discussed was play.

I really never thought of play being a media literacy skill.  It has long been proven that play is important for children and it helps them figure out their bodies, worlds, social systems, etc.  My idea of  play seems to start with playing house or playing cars, not really playing video games.  Can children learn valuable skills from playing video games?

One of the reasons that children learn from play is because games set them up  to take risks and role play in situations that do not have real life consequences.  They can take chances and still turn around and fix their mistakes or they have the option to start over.  I think one could still argue whether that was good or bad.  Could this teach children to ignore real life consequences? What happens when there is no starting over?

I am not a fan of video games, mainly because I am not very good at them and sometimes I cannot tolerate the movement within the game due  to motion sickness. I have trouble watching my son play when he wants to show me something he thinks is sweet.   I do observe lots of gaming going on in my household though… from afar.   The author of this paper would argue, “Games follow something akin to the scientific process.  Player are asked to make their own discoveries and then apply what they learn to new contexts.  No sooner does a player enter a game than he or she begins by identifying core conditions and looking for problems that must be addressed.” If this is the case, then maybe video games do play a valuable role.

According to Don Tapscott ,in his book, “Grown-up digital”, I am slugging through right now,  ” A recent nationwide survey of 2500 U.S. business professionals  searched for differences between those who grew up playing video games and those who did not.  Professionals who grew up playing video games were more serious about achievement, more loyal to their company and their coworkers, more flexible and persistent problem-solvers, and more willing to take on the risks that make sense…net geners have a desire to win collaboratively…” (p. 171)  Once again, it would seem that these would be worthwhile skills for children to learn.

He goes on to say, “To be a guild master in a game like World of  Warcraft, you need to be able to create a vision, find recruits and give them a platform on which to learn, and orchestrate the groups strategy.  To me [Don Tapscott], it sounds a lot like the skills a corporate executive needs, doesn’t it?” To me it sounded a lot like what a teacher must do every day.  We need to create a plan as to what learning outcomes we are targeting, get the students involved, decide what strategies we are going to use and pull it all together.  These sound like skills that could be related to a number of different situations. Come to think of it…perhaps I should of played more video games!

Well, if you look at it like that, it does seem that game playing in school might be valuable.  Now, I am not saying we should plug them in and let them play video games all day, even though some of them would be pretty keen on that.  I just wonder if we are losing some of the value  to be gained from finding a place for games in education such as  the engagement factor, the need for  collaboration and the thinking involved in some gaming situations.  As a learning support teacher, I can’t argue the engagement level of my students goes up when I say we are going to grab a laptop and add to our learning by playing a little game.  Even drill and practice games can be valuable and engaging to students.

The funny thing is… that was not the last thing about games that came my way this week.  When visiting an interesting blog site called PrincipalsPage. Very funny writer!  I linked to a video on the importance of play for adults.  Now I know that I am jumbling together a bunch of  different, unrelated ideas about play. I have jumped  from childhood play, to math games ,to video games and adult play, but I guess my point is…play is important-and should not automatically be dismissed as a waste of time or a dangerous activity .  Even video games in some format can play a role in the school day.

Of course I see the importance of all kinds of play, in school and out.  Just like everything else in school, it has to be done with purpose and reason.

Catch you on the playing field!

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.

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?