Category: Teaching and Learning (page 1 of 13)

What Do We Expect?

Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/MvHLqa4fqM3fBBZn9

As is true in many parts of the state, country, and planet, we in central Texas are facing immense uncertainty as the new year approaches in the midst of a global pandemic. We know that we won’t be starting face-to-face school until after September 7, and that our students will have at least 3 weeks of exclusively online learning. We know that schools got a crash course in online learning in the spring as this all hit with jarring suddenness. We know that a large percentage of the online learning that occurred was intended to prevent regression, rather than to achieve significant growth. We know that our leaders in Austin and Washington won’t accept that as sufficient this year, and we will need to teach new concepts, engage kids in higher levels of learning, and face the accountability monster once again. So, we know we have to raise our level of online teaching and learning.

In the spirit of helping our schools accomplish this, I have been working to put together standards for our online teachers. Think of these as virtual “walk-throughs” for administrators and as a self-check rubric for teachers. I’m sharing it not as some complete answer from an expert, but in hopes it might help other educators as they grapple with their own standards for this new, online reality. Note that red text is only significant to us, as it reflects applications our teachers have learned or are learning this summer. I welcome any comments, questions, or feedback!

Here is the link to the document, if you wish  to not have to scroll quite so much!

Observations From a (Social) Distance

Child working on computer.

Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/oQKmWhhQ2WG8mx957

Well, hasn’t this been an interesting couple of months? Little did we know when we left for spring break that we would not be returning to our campuses and classrooms for the remainder of the year! It has certainly been a strange, bewildering time. While we miss our kids, colleagues, our schools, and our normal routines, there have been some remarkable changes happening at a breakneck pace, and some real positives may come out of this when we are all back together again. Here are a few of my own, personal thoughts and observations:

  1. Teachers and administrators and support personnel have been amazingly resilient and adaptable. The immediacy of all of this has forced change on the fly and a great deal of professional learning to happen all at once. This has been a great opportunity for the world to see the dedication, talent, creativity, and hard work of educators everywhere. Undeniably, there have been bumps and a learning curve, but obstacles continue to fall. In a time when stories in the press about schools are overwhelmingly negative, this has been like a B-12 shot for education public relations and goodwill.
  2. Digital divide by income level

    Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/rd86LsbGfH1zfDKw5

    The digital divide continues to be a real barrier for our students. We now have a much larger body of evidence that many of our kids don’t have the kinds of technologies and connectivity to make learning outside of the classroom successful or even feasible. Additionally, many parents don’t have the technology knowledge or skills to adequately support their children in their online learning. Schools are being forced to address these inequities, which should be a good thing in the long run. Some are buying student devices to implement 1:1 programs. Others, like Seguin, are purchasing wireless hotspots or are even going so far as to install community wireless towers.  Along with the devices and infrastructure, schools will need to find ways to ensure students and their families have the necessary experiences during more normal times to succeed in times of crisis.

  3. For a variety of reasons, some students are thriving in this new reality. Perhaps learning via short videos, websites, and student-selected online tools provides better opportunities for on-time reteaching. Maybe it gives them multiple styles of presentation of information, allowing them to find what best speaks to them. I think some students can better focus on learning without the distractions of the complexities of the classroom social structures. It doesn’t matter how fluently they read out loud in front of their classmates, what they wear to school, or how disruptive the classmate next to them is. They can do the essential work without the negative, extra “stuff” that goes along with being a kid. For my own son, who generally finds football the only exciting part of the school day, it has been a chance to get the “boring” stuff out of the way of the things he’d rather be doing. He misses his friends, but he manages to keep connected via a variety of online games and networks.
  4. Sad teen

    Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/mjp1vCAccF3UQYxh7

    Some students are struggling mentally and emotionally during this time of physical isolation. Schools provide more than just access to knowledge and skills. They are places where kids can connect positively to other people. They can laugh, share secrets, complain, unload their painful thoughts, get support. Sadly, teachers are often the only positive, supportive, loving adults some of our students encounter on a day-to-day basis. School administrators and counselors provide invaluable support to kids with a range of mental and emotional issues. School lunches are the only reliable meals for many students. These kids, even the ones who are often the most challenging, miss the consistency and positivity that schools provide. The social distancing situation we find ourselves in has to force schools to think about ways to creatively and effectively take care of these kids.

  5. Inexperience or misguided priorities have been an issue for some schools or districts. As I have followed the news and the Twitter-sphere, I have seen some likely well-intended but hopelessly off-base policies and practices being advocated or implemented. For instance, some schools have sent full-day, detailed schedules for students to follow while learning at home. Such schedules reflect a complete disregard for the home life realities of students and parents, many of whom are either at work or working from home. Other schools have issued edicts that students continue to wear school uniforms, or that teachers wear “professional dress” while working from home. While certainly sensible during virtual meetings by video, it is dubious that a teacher is less effective in a t-shirt and pajama pants while grading essays at the breakfast room table. Still other schools have reminded staff that lunch breaks should be limited to a half hour. These kinds of administrative decisions are likely rooted in experiences limited only to normal, physical school, and we will, hopefully, learn better how to structure the schedules and environment of online learning, as we have no guarantees that we won’t be returning here next year or in the future.
  6. Now that we are mastering the basics, the next step is empowering online learning. The past few weeks have required on the fly learning and transitioning curricula into the online learning environment. Now, we need to work on the work. How can we move beyond viewing a video and completing an electronic worksheet? How do we make learning more relevant and meaningful and engaging? Can we use this opportunity to empower students to construct their own knowledge, with teachers serving to prompt and guide? I think there is a hesitancy among some educators thus far to give students more open-ended, student-driven tasks online. However, if the learning activities online would not have been good enough for the physical classroom, should they be acceptable in the virtual setting? The reality is, students have access to more diverse, powerful tools for learning and for creating, collaborating, and sharing online than in a typical classroom. We need to structure our online courses to take advantage of these.
  7. Professional development may be changed forever. This is not to say the face-to-face workshop or conference will become a thing of the past. However, more teachers are taking part in PD through book studies or Zoom or Google Meet. Having offered these types of professional learning for years, I know I have seen countless more participants joining in now. Will this be a positive experience that affects how they choose the grow as educators in the future? I think it is a real possibility, so long as they find it worthwhile in the present. A related benefit is that a lot of educators have become much more familiar and proficient with the use of technology tools that they might not take the time to learn in normal circustances..
  8. Teacher hugging student

    Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/QgqmiuUb1vQzr8Xd6

    The heart of the educator is all about the kids. Given an unprecedented time of separation from their students, teachers have shown time and again how their love for their students is at the heart of all the work they do. Teachers genuinely miss their students (and vice versa). I have read countless stories of teachers going out of their way to express how much they miss their students. Teachers in my own neighborhood and many others put together parades, honking, waving, shouting support. They have hand written personal letters to students. Others have read bedtime stories to their students at night. They have organized Zoom meetings just to catch up on the latest news from their students. They have worked to put together virtual proms and graduations. It has been a remarkable and touching display of the deep affection of educators for their students, and that is truly encouraging to me in such difficult and challenging times.

Something else just occurred to me. There will continue to be successes and stumbles in our new, virtual existence. We will learn from this in the most effective way there is, through real-life experience. I hope that may be the biggest takeaway for educators. Just like their teachers, students benefit from authentic learning experiences. It makes learning relevant to their real lives and makes it durable. After we return to the classroom, perhaps we can work harder to create these kinds of experiences.

Best wishes for success and continued good health all of my education peers.

What IS School For?

Our Matador Innovative Teaching Academy participants are winding up their first book study, discussing What School Could Be, by Ted Dintersmith. In the discussion materials on the book’s website, I came across this video, which I promptly sent out to our innovative teachers and our district leadership. It is a fundamental question that, frankly, we don’t really hash out like we should: What is school for? Watch the video and think about it. Talk with your colleagues, your students, your stakeholders, and see how tough it is to come up with a consensus on the topic. Share your answer in the comments, if you reach a conclusion!

Traits of the Greats

Now that we’re back in school, I’ve had the chance to engage in some great conversations with some really strong teachers, observe some wonderful classes, and even do a little teaching (still a blast!). These experiences have served once again to remind me that powerful learning is not the product of thousands of dollars of laptops, or ipads, or robots, or textbooks, or online curricula, or any of this stuff. What makes a great educator and remarkable classroom so exciting and motivating, and  the learning super-sticky begins with things we can’t submit a PO for:

  • Creativity – great teachers do fantastic, engaging things that meet kids where they are and take them where they haven’t even imagined they could be. These experiences can’t come from exclusively following a textbook or a prescribed curriculum (both can be valuable resources, though).
  • Humor – the ability to smile and laugh is almost universal among great educators (my junior high math teacher excluded). Laughing is good for the soul and the mind, releasing chemicals that actually help us learn. Teachers who “don’t smile until Christmas” probably have learners who learn nada until Christmas.
  • Humility – related to the above, this sometimes involves the ability to laugh at one’s self. It definitely involves being able to admit mistakes, to embrace that we don’t have ALL of the answers, and to allow kids to know more about things than even we do sometimes.
  • Flexibility – teach in the moment and be willing to shift gears are make a radical 180-degree turn if the situation calls. If the learners aren’t responding, it is easy to blame them or their cell phones or the full moon. Be willing to scrap the plans and go in another direction as students’ responses or interests dictate.
  • Empathy – perhaps the greatest skill a master teacher has is the ability to put themself into the shoes (and mind and heart) of the student. Understanding what experiences they have had, what motivates them, what challenges them–these are fundamental to creating learning experiences that “fit” the child.
  • Grit – the teacher who never gives up, no matter the arguments for such a path, is the one who changes everything. It is about believing that kid can learn that skill or concept and going to any length to get them there.
  • Trust – amazing ideas won’t come in an environment of fear or mistrust. Students (and teachers) should be willing to try crazy ideas and, potentially, fall on their faces as a result. This mandates a teacher who won’t pounce on every mistake .
  • Love – the belief that the kid is the most important person in the room, and you will do anything to help them be happy and successful. It is protective, it is nurturing, it disciplines, it serves. It may sound cliche, but it is the thing that makes the best teachers who they are.

Here is to you, my fellow educator–thank you for all you do for all of our kids. May you have an amazing, impactful year filled with students’ wonder, marvel, surprise, and joy!

Make Your Words Visible: Lumen5

In need of a spark of creative energy, I checked out this great post by Kathleen Morris over on The Edublogger. I found a prompt that mentioned making a blog post into a video using a tool called Lumen5. This tool uses AI to create attractive videos by pairing and animating images or GIFs with pieces of text. The text can either be copied and pasted or pulled from a link. So, for example, a student could link to a blog post and create a very cool video in just a few seconds. In fact, Lumen5 lets users add a site or blog’s RSS feed to automatically create a new video whenever a new post or article is added. You can go in and pic specific design styles, change images/GIFs, choose music, etc. as needed, but it really does a pretty amazing job automatically.

Lumen5 does require membership to use, but you can currently join for free and create unlimited videos. Paid subscriptions allow for HD rendering and removes branding (in the form of a slide at the end of each show) from videos. Paid subscriptions also allow for the creation of collaborative teams, while free accounts do not.

I dug up a recent, quickie blog post and created the following in less than 15 minutes the first time I signed on:

I have to say that I really like the potential here. Like most folks, I will admit I am more likely to watch a catchy video than read a long treatise, at times. I like how this opens up both options. One tiny improvement that would be useful is the ability to embed videos in blog posts. While they can be automatically shared to multiple social media sites, I cannot find a way to embed beyond downloading a copy, uploading it to Youtube, and embedding the video from there.

Technology Doesn’t Matter (Unless…)

Last week, I was reading a blog post written last fall by Tom Murray that popped up in my Twitter feed, “No. Your 3D Printer Does Not Make You Innovative.” I enjoyed the way Tom categorized the roles these exciting tools are playing in classrooms, ranging from “bandwagon” devices (which get purchased with great fanfare and excitement, only to go on to live sad, lonely lives gathering dust in a closet .somewhere) to “MVP” devices that powerfully transform learning.  I have personally witnessed the full range of these types of implementation over the past few years. Tom’s big point was that exciting technologies such as 3D printers aren’t worth the investment if schools do not evaluate what they are doing in the classroom to ensure they are leveraging the full potential of the devices. As he states in the post, “Innovation is not about tools. It’s about people, processes, and pedagogy.” 

Taking this idea one step further, let me say that the same principle applies to all educational technology resource we decide to invest in for our classrooms. Technology resources are significant investments for schools, and they are at times purchased with inadequate focus and vision for what they will be used to accomplish. This goes for 3D printers, laptops, Chromebooks, iPads, VR/AR systems, interactive white boards, desktop computers, robot systems, document cameras, LED projectors, software tools, etc. These technologies may well have the potential to transform learning by increasing student engagement, involving students in real problem-solving, facilitating innovation and invention, building curiosity and creativity, etc. However, this is much more likely when implementation follows planning to evolve instruction and create new, powerful kinds of learning experiences. On the other hand, each has the very real possibility to go down in flames as huge wastes of precious school dollars.

How do we ensure, then, that we are getting the most from our exciting, new investments?  Here are a few questions that might be helpful for schools to consider before investing in the latest, hottest technologies:

  1. What student need or learning outcomes will be met by this technology?  Does it fit our overarching “why?”
  2. Are there existing resources or less  costly alternatives that meet the same goals as effectively?
  3. Are current classroom structures well suited to make the most of this tool–furnishings, arrangement, schedule, grouping, management, etc.?
  4. What training will teachers and students need to effectively and powerfully  use this technology?
  5. How should instructional time look when this technology is in use by students?
  6. Could students adapt the tool to new applications that go beyond the curriculum? Beyond the classroom?
  7. How will success be measured?

In summation, for me it goes back to something I heard more than a decade ago in a workshop led by Dr. Bernajean Porter. Dr. Porter proposed that the highest use of technology was “transformative”, allowing students to do and experience things otherwise not possible. If an education technology is truly an advancement in student learning, this should be obvious in what is happening in the classroom. Even the most amazing and powerful tools, however, can be significantly handicapped by a lack of planning, training, or vision. The priority for successful and impactful implementation should be planning to ensure opportunities for students to successfully use the technologies they are provided to solve problems, create, invent, design, connect, communicate, and engage in ways they could not imagine doing without them.

More Reflections on Why

Another impact of the Simon Sinek book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action is that I have been giving thought to how I could put my why into one concise, easily understood statement. While not ready to declare it as final, the following is the current incarnation:

To facilitate meaningful and engaging learning experiences that equip students to reach their dreams.

Here are a few key elements:

  1. Facilitate–my role is to provide tools, training, resources needed for learning.
  2. Meaningful–meaning is a highly personal thing, and we should look for and offer diverse learning opportunities and technologies reflective of the outside world
  3. Engaging–while digital learning tools are exciting to a large percentage of kids, they do not equal engagement by default. The focus still needs to be on powerful classroom practice that pulls learners in.
  4. Experiences–with a nod to John Dewey, learning is most effective within the context of powerful experiences. Do the technologies and strategies I promote create these?
  5. Equip…their dreams–we as educators are beholden to standards. Goals for our students are dictated from ivory towers and governments. Ultimately, however, I think most of us could see no higher level of success than if our students returned to us to tell us of big dreams we inspired and how they achieved those dreams.

Finally, another thought hit me yesterday: What would it look like if we taught our kids to articulate their whys? How might making these concrete affect how our students approach learning? Would our schools even fit their whys at all?

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