Tag: change (page 2 of 3)

Innovativeness and Creativity Inspired by Cardboard?

cardboard challenge 1I’ve often stolen a page from Sir Ken Robinson by asking a group of educators whether or not they considered themselves to be creative people. The responses have always been overwhelmingly negative. I’ve then asked them to answer the same question, but to do so while imagining that they were there kindergarten selves. This always elicits a laugh and an vast majority who responds in the positive. Somewhere along the line, we stop seeing ourselves as creative beings. There are probably numerous reasons for this, but the way we school our students is without a doubt a key contributor. Somewhere in the sea of the school routine, the drills, the worksheets, the test-focused, inane curriculum, we forget how to imagine, to create, and to invent.

cardboard challenge 2Yesterday, I had the pleasure of leading a group of teachers in a “maker” workshop at TCEA’s annual convention. The workshop only had time for a couple of activities, unfortunately. Participating educators used cardboard to create chairs and MakeyMakeys to create video game controllers. This was the first time I’ve done a cardboard challenge with a group of teachers. They worked in groups with the instruction to build a chair, which would be judged based upon aesthetics (art/design), strength (physics/engineering), and comfort (engineering/design).

cardboard challenge 5As I circulated among groups, observing their interactions and work, I felt a sense of pride and excitement that no other presentation or professional development I had previously designed had ever given me. It was truly as if that creative, innovative kindergartener was reborn. Groups created chair designs completely unique to one another. They planned, built, tested, analyzed, and revised. They engaged in genuine critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving. All of this through the use of cardboard, tape, and a few other, low-tech tools (such as MakeDo, a set of really cool tools for building with cardboard).

cardboard challenge 3In the educational technology world, it is very easy to become enamored with flash and style. As a certified gadget junky, I know this all too well. It is commonplace to become infatuated with the newest tools and to want our classrooms to be outfitted with a magnificent array of interactive whiteboards, tablets, laptops, student response systems, digital projectors, document cameras, and on and on. However, these are all nothing more than tools, and like any tools, they are only as useful as the skills brought to their application. If we have only learned how to use a hammer and apply that to a screwdriver, the screwdriver is useless.

imageIn education, if we are going to continue to use our tools in the same ways we used the tools that came before, they become a colossal waste of time, resources, and money. We have to learn new ways of teaching, not just the latest, shiny things. When we create opportunities for students to build, create, innovate, and invent, we open up incredible possibilities for our technology resources to foster the 21st century skills we give so much lip service to. In fact, as the cardboard chairs demonstrate, we can even do this without the latest gadgets. Technologies simply up the possibilities of our students imagining and creating the truly revolutionary.

So, how do we do this in the classroom? Here are a few steps I would suggest:

  1. Begin with a great (open-ended) question. Even better, begin with a great question that comes from our students. Great questions as things like: How? What if? Is it possible? It is perfectly appropriate and okay to use the curriculum to inspire your questions–objective statements can be great question starters. 
  2. Since our system expects grades, assess students based upon clear, simple criteria. Whenever possible, let students establish the criteria and participate in the assessment.
  3. Turn off the traditional teacher mode and try to get into the role of advisor and mentor. Focus on the process students are going through and ensuring that they have what they need to answer the question or design the solution. This is one place technologies can play a big role.
  4. Teach students how to respond to failure and mistakes. Students need to know how to analyze their efforts, regroup, change plans, and try again. Don’t accept failure, but expect and embrace productive failure.
  5. Don’t look for standardized responses. Imagination, creativity, and innovation lead to endless possible solutions. Be prepared and embrace this, and expect the unexpected.

Finally, we need to be patient (but not too patient) with ourselves. Chances are that you, as did I, grew up in a school world that focused upon the passing of knowledge from the teacher or textbook to students’ minds. As a result, this is what we know, and this is what we do. Changing our habits will take practice, skill, and time. It’s a change that must be made, however, even in the face of an incessant, seemingly overwhelming call for standardization of everything. Our kids are not “standardized”. We as educators have spent too much time and effort on completely impotent “reforms” and initiatives that are, at their core, just doing the same, ineffective things more frequently, more loudly, with new buzzwords, and with more conviction. This isn’t change or reform or anything worthwhile. Anyone who honestly and critically looks at the results of the past decade and a half of school reform mandates and efforts can come to no other conclusion. Quite the opposite, the results have demonstrated that a complete re-imagining of what we are doing is going to be the only way to truly revolutionize education. Look for opportunities for students to ask questions, solve problems, create, invent, collaborate. Create learning spaces that are filled with tools and resources that encourage inquiry, experimentation, and exploration. Start small, if needed, but dream big. Just like I experienced yesterday, I believe it will leave you and your students feeling amazed and inspired at what can transpire.


What’s Taking Us So Long?

The pace of educational change is frustrating.

The pace of educational change is frustrating.

Dean Shareski, an educator friend whose ideas I highly respect, recently shared a post  on his blog entitled “Why Teachers Aren’t Making ‘The Shifts'”. His post was in response to an earlier post by Will Richardson, one of my earliest ed-tech influences, entitled “My Summer of Confusion“. The two posts both address the issue of a lack of change in most classrooms, despite increasing resources and evidence supporting such changes. Why do so many teachers attend conferences, read articles, or hear in the teachers lounge about amazing, innovative practices, yet fail to implement any significant changes in their own practices? Here are a causes of this inertia that I took from each blog post.


  • Many teachers and administrators lack a clear vision of what teaching and learning, particularly with technology, should be.
  • Educators lack the technology experiences needed to take those tools and skills and put them to work.
  • Educators don’t do enough to stay abreast of the “latest research, technologies, and news that impact learning.”
  • Resistance to change as a by-product of defending the old system against corporate reform efforts–a bunker mentality.


  • Lack of autonomy.
  • Demands on educators’ time are just too great.
  • Inadequate or misguided teacher training–teachers are told by “experts” who have done the legwork what to teach and how. They need time to work through what that means in their own classes.
  • Some (a small percentage) teachers are just more prone to change like this than others, for a variety of reasons.

So much to discuss there, but I’ll just touch on a couple and add a little to the discussion. The vision, experiences, and research are intertwined. As Dean touched on so well, they are also time-consuming. I am fortunate to have a job that encourages me to do all of these things. I do a great deal of the vision building on my own time, reading blogs, tech sites, magazines, and engaging in professional conversations outside of school hours. But I don’t sleep enough, either, so it’s probably taking years off of my life. Seriously, Not everyone can or wants to devote significant portions of their own time to grow professionally. Families, recreation, and other demands do matter greatly. I believe, therefore, it is critical to build in much more time for professional learning, planning, collaboration, and vision building during the school day. The US falls behind most other high-performing countries in the amount of time devoted to growing its teaching pros. In the highly respected educational system in Finland, teachers devote less than 600 hours per year to actual teaching, versus 1,600 for US teachers. Much more time is devoted to research, professional collaboration, mentoring, etc. Singapore provides 100 hours  of PD each year, plus 20 hours/week for co-planning, observing other teachers teaching, etc. Here in the US, we talk about longer school days and years and rarely discuss the role of time for learning and collaboration as a route to improvement.

Inquiry learning works for adults, too!

Inquiry learning works for adults, too!

Dean’s reflections on the typical nature and quality of his professional development sessions are important. Think about what we know about the ways kids (people) learn best: inquiry, problem solving, and discovery. This is precisely the opposite of most technology PD, at least most that I’ve delivered over the last 11 years. I, the expert, have done my extensive legwork, developed my vision, and attempted to impart it to the willing masses. Interestingly, however, some of my favorite professional development sessions have been the few where I’ve asked questions, guided teachers to the resources and tools they needed to answer the questions in their own way, then sat back and watched professionals get after it. I have, admittedly, not conducted research into how the “stickiness” of these sessions compared to more traditional ones. I did read the very positive post-session surveys, however, and I suspect that the sessions probably produced greater levels of change than my standard fare.

I would add but one thing to Dean’s and Will’s fantastic assessments: administrator influence. Administrators have an enormously powerful influence over how teachers do what they do. First of all, administrators in schools where teachers are making exciting changes encourage teachers to take well-educated risks. If you’ve researched it, can reasonably demonstrate that it should have positive effects, then do it. It doesn’t matter that it hasn’t been done in their schools before–change and risk are welcome (and even exciting). Administrators who feel the need to have their hands in every move made by their employees or to enforce a one-size-fits all, misguided philosophy of teaching and learning, will likely never see innovation in their classrooms. Additionally, and I’ve said it before, administrators who are using technologies in powerful ways in their own lives and work will encourage others to do so. Administrators I have seen who fit this description show up with the new Galaxy or iPhone the day after release, are rarely seen without a smartphone or iPad in hand, tend to mix it up with how they share information (YouTube channels/videos, streaming, Prezi instead of a PowerPoint, shared Google Docs, etc.), and they actually attend technology-focused professional development sessions.

This is a vital discussion. Clearly, there is a disconnect between what we know is possible and what we know is happening, and it shows glacially-slow signs of changing. I don’t purport to have the answers down, just a few insights from a long time in the business of trying to foster change. What are your thoughts? What IS taking us so long? What do we need to do differently, or possibly throw out entirely?

Image credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/52748818@N07/4995276801;

Embracing Changes for a New Year

changeA change in leadership is always an interesting experience. It’s also a great opportunity for self-assessment and adjusting your direction and focus. This is very descriptive of this year in Birdville, as we have a new superintendent and several other members of the leadership team (or, more accurately, the “cabinet”). As expected, our new leaders are examining every program that is in place in the district, evaluating its merits, costs, needs, and direction. We are utilizing the opportunity to refine our methods in the Instructional Technology team, something that’s probably overdue. We’ve dwindled from 12 strong down to 7, moved from our technology department to curriculum, and worked with several different administrators in the past 9+ years.

As a result of our reorganization, I will be working primarily with elementary schools this year (5 of them, to be exact). I’ll also support our district’s librarians and fine arts teachers, train and support webmasters, and continue to try and keep up with the emerging technologies, especially Web 2.0 varieties. I’m very excited about the year. I have an elementary background originally, spending my first six years in the business in elementary classrooms. It will be exciting getting expanded opportunities to work with younger students and our fantastic elementary teachers. As for the librarians and fine arts folks, I absolutely look forward to working with the “keepers” of information and creativity–I can’t imagine a more perfect group to work with.

Finally, I’ll also be working closely with elementary math and science curriculum specialists. My role will be evolving, but it is certain to include serving as a go-to resource for science and math teachers who wish to integrate technology into their classroom practice. I’ll also be working to add these types of resources and lesson plans to our district curriculum documents.

All in all, I’m anticipating a challenging but rewarding year and a great opportunity to  work with an expanded team of educators.


Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/broken_simulacra/103802259/

Web 2.0 in BISD: An Amazing Impact

Schools are popular targets of those who wish to find a scapegoat for every societal ill from a sour economy to the pitiful season the Dallas Cowboys put us through this year. I believe we are part of the problem, because we don’t do enough to shout about our successes from every rooftop in every community. While I don’t pretend all schools are equally successful, neither are they equal failures. The budget crisis looming for Texas and for its schools, in particular, has heightened my own awareness of the need to become self-promoters. I intend to devote more time than ever before in sharing the ways that our schools are using technology to engage students like never before and to give them opportunities to learn in a real way, infused with 21st century tools and skills. Our communities and leaders need to see how amazing things are happening, not just the negative, isolated events that make our newscasts.

In the spirit of this resolution, I wanted to share some of the ways that Web 2.0 technologies have had a powerful impact on our students, teachers, and schools in Birdville. It has been just 4 short years since I had the opportunity to share my vision for Web 2.0 with our district’s leadership team. It has exceeded my expectations in many ways, and is the most gratifying thing I’ve been a part of as an instructional technology specialist. It has not only made learning more relevant and engaging. It has also thrust our district into the national spotlight, as we have been cited for our progressive stance toward use of the vast Internet resources available. We have been assembling a slide show that highlights how tools such as YouTube, Glogster, Google Docs, Xtranormal, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, wikis, podcasts, Skype, and many more are being put to powerful use in the district. The show is embedded below, or is alternately viewable here. More examples will be added in the coming weeks. I hope they might provide some inspiration for teachers looking for ways to use the technologies in the curriculum.

I Don’t Want No Satisfaction

A new school year has begun for many of us. I returned this past Monday. Like everyone else in the education field, we’re training, organizing, planning, and anticipating the arrival of a new season of opportunity, a new chance to have an impact on a new group of students. When I was a classroom teacher, I used to reflect on this opportunity/responsibility periodically, especially at this time of year or times when I needed a bit of a kick in the pants. It’s a valuable exercise for me, because it can be way too easy for me to lose track of what is most important under the avalanche of the vast responsibilities that go with working as a teacher. It’s not any different in my current role, either. We’ve made a ton of changes, including completely switching departments, reducing personnel, and changing school assignments, to name just a few. Quite a bit of what my co-workers and I do won’t necessarily be what I’ve done in the past. Because of this, I can’t put a really firm finger on all of the specific tasks I’ll be undertaking this year. However, the ultimate goal is the same: to equip students to succeed in school and beyond.

There are many resources that outline the types of knowledge and skills students are expected to acquire by the time they walk out our school doors for the final time (TEKS, NETS, and the Framework for 21st Century Learning are a few examples.). Numerous educational experts, futurists, policy makers, and others add to these goals and are fond of stating that although many of the skills/knowledge students will need cannot even be specified yet, very specific, 21st century skills are critical. Lesson plans, free resources, and tools are available like never before to get us there, thanks largely to the Internet and the climate of sharing it has spawned. Never before have teachers and students had access to a greater wealth of resources that enable them to develop the skills they need and do revolutionary things not possible even a decade ago.

Despite these facts, however, we still trudge along in many schools and classrooms, performing the same rituals and tasks of a time that has long passed. Certainly, much blame can

Satisfied, or stagnant?

Satisfied, or stagnant?

be laid at the feet of a high-stakes testing environment which stubbornly refuses to move forward. Teachers fear reprimand, even the loss of their positions when test scores don’t pass muster. However, there is ample evidence that the tired, old methods of getting kids to successfully perform on tests (drill-and-practice, repetition, isolating skills, etc.) are not the only or best means of accomplishing this, and that these ages-old practices are neither engaging our students or keeping them in school, and that they are leaving our kids very ill-equipped.

So why then, in the face of such information, does the status quo remain so entrenched? This is a complicated question with no single answer. However, I would propose that a major contributor is teacher satisfaction. Certainly, it is important that teachers love what they do and have a passion for teaching and for their students. A recent MetLife survey shows teacher job satisfaction at its highest rate, some 62%. Salaries have improved, teachers feel more respected than in the past few decades, and most are convinced that the quality of the staffs around them are outstanding. However, might this satisfaction also manifest itself in a negative way? Is it possible that many happy teachers are not just satisfied, but complacent? Education historian Diane Ravitch stated, “The greatest obstacle to those who hope to reform American education is complacency.” I’m certainly not advocating that we make the educational workplace more hostile, but do we need to make it more uncomfortable? Shouldn’t a radically evolving society expect our schools to follow suit? It can definitely be argued that this isn’t always the case, so maybe what is needed is for us as educators to expect and demand this change. Might our students benefit from greater degrees of dissatisfaction among our ranks? Satisfaction has left us with a real void between what we’re emphasizing and what students really will need to succeed in life.

The question then becomes, how do those of us in positions of leadership and influence breed this dissatisfaction? I have several suggestions. We start by shifting the conversation from our schools’ AYP to the development of the skills students will need to truly thrive. As a part of this conversation, we need to develop and utilize assessments that measure these skills. The fact is, standardized tests and the traditional, paper-and-pencil assignments in our classroom do not come remotely close to accomplishing this task. We also must create a climate that recognizes and highlights real innovation and gives status to those teachers and schools that are accomplishing more than just high test scores. In my own district’s convocation to begin each school year, schools receiving the state’s highest rankings are recognized, yet we are told that such achievements are only a small part of what we need to be accomplishing. If this is true, then why not put the spotlight on the science teacher whose students found an innovative solution to a critical community issue, or on the health teacher who promotes creativity in students’ projects to promote a healthy lifestyle? Real importance should be placed on this type of teaching and learning when the time for teacher appraisals rolls around, as well. Teachers also will need innovative and forward-thinking professional learning opportunities. In Birdville this year, campuses have been tasked with crafting their own plans, and each must include an emphasis on 21st century skills. Teachers must understand precisely what creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, etc. mean and how they can promote these qualities within their classrooms. There must exist opportunities to work collaboratively in this learning and to see what such teaching looks like in action. We need buy-in from parents and the community, as well. Parents, at times, are suspicious of classrooms that don’t resemble the schools of their childhoods. Opportunities should be provided for them to discuss the goals of schools and to be exposed to studies highlighting the critical need for change. If businesses are as unhappy with our products as we are told, they need to become very active partners in re-shaping classroom goals and practice. Involving local companies can provide a relevant, real-world context to change efforts.

As I stated, there are some questions about the role of the Instructional Technology staff in Birdville this year, and we are going through an evolutionary process. However, we know



that we are tasked with helping teachers more effectively equip their clientele for successful and happy lives away from our halls. So it might be that our first and biggest role is to be agents of dissatisfaction, leaders who illuminate the disparity that often exists between what is needed and what is classroom/campus reality. If we are successful, our roles can evolve into that of innovators, facilitators, and mentors, because teachers and schools will demand to be equipped for change, and we know how technology advocates embrace change. This is truly exciting to consider, as anyone involved in education knows that nothing is more satisfying than working with a group of learners whose dissatisfaction has made them eager and hungry to learn and grow, and these are the learners who will leave the lessons and put the learning into action, and real growth and change become possible.

Best wishes to everyone involved in education as the new year begins. May it be truly dissatisfying!

Image sources: stagnant pond, yawn

Live Blogging from ISTE: Change from the Radical Center of Education

Presentation by Doug Johnson

Click Here

Why Not?

Awhile back I wrote on the “professional malpractice” of failing to move teaching and learning into the 21st century.excuses I realize there are many reasons (excuses) for failing to do so, such as inadequate resources, improper or insufficient training, restrictive administrative policies, etc. Jeff Utecht recently wrote a nice, short post on what is likely the most commonly heard excuse, “I don’t have time.” He takes something of a Heidi Hayes Jacobs “no excuses” kind of slant (which I really like). I acknowledge it’s a bit of a lazy blog post here, but, given the lack of posts by yours truly recently, anything is noteworthy. Besides, the discussion Jeff has started is worth having. If you get the chance, stop by his site and read the post and comments, then join in with your own contributions. You may disagree vehemently, but any good debate has to have two sides, doesn’t it?

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