Tag: professional learning

Ready for Some Solid Food?

Image source: https://flic.kr/p/6Abr9K

Image source: https://flic.kr/p/6Abr9K

I had some great conversations in the past couple of weeks with some folks that I really respect as educators. We talked about an array of topics that gave me lots of opportunities to stretch the mind, but one that struck a particular chord with me involves the subject matter and objectives that our professional development programs aim for. Stated more directly, do we fill our conferences and school/district training with enough really powerful, high-level thinking about pedagogy and how our kids learn? Or, do will continue to churn out top 10 lists of Web 2.0 or rapid-fire run-downs of the latest apps for learning fractions?

As I reviewed proposals for my own district conference and for others I am responsible for, I saw plenty of both. There are some very insightful educators sharing some really challenging concepts and powerful strategies. There are also lots of fast, fun proposals from which to choose that are, honestly, a lot less cognitively taxing. I tend to lean heavily toward the former, as I believe we educators need to experience things that make their brains sweat (That may be an event theme in the very near future!).

However, conference planner me knows very well that is not what sells the best. No, the lists of websites, the parade of new gadgets, the endless array of apps win every time. At my own conference last week, one such session required around 20 extra chairs to be brought in. Meanwhile, a workshop on metacognition had 5 folks that I had trapped and forced to attend. Clearly, they are what the people want, and they are not without value.

So the discussion revolved around just whether or not this really was the worrisome thing I saw it as, or was it enough that they were there, learning something. Also, if it is terrible (which has not been fully established), how do you attract them to the more challenging, brain-stretching sessions? Should we never schedule the sessions that seem more fluffy, and simply force-feed the sessions on cognitive theory and connectivism to the masses in attendance (I actually spoke to a friend in a district-that-shall-not-be-named last week where they just did this very thing.). Maybe we bribe them with double door prize tickets if they attend the less sexy sessions!

Original image source: https://flic.kr/p/97yJpb

Original image source: https://flic.kr/p/97yJpb

Actually, I think the most important factor has nothing to do with the conference sessions. It happens well in advance of the PD offerings. It is the professional climate in which the teachers work. If our leaders value new ideas and encourage teachers to learn, share, and take risks, we will probably see more butts in the metacognition seats, so to speak. If we celebrate the efforts teachers make to be on the cutting edge of practice and technologies and research half as much as we celebrate high bench mark test scores, we’ll have created a climate that encourages teachers to push themselves. If, on the other hand, we value compliance, lock-step adherence to a rigid curriculum, test scores above all else, and PD attendance with the primary goal of earning a comp day, then we get standing room only in the sessions on funniest cat videos of all time.

Seguin ISD Summer Tech Conference

Just wanted to share the promotional video for this year’s event. This year’s conference is titled “Century 21.14: Tomorrow is Here,” and will be held at Seguin High School on June 10th. Registration is available through Eduphoria. We’ve got some serious talent from around the state and within the district coming to share powerful strategies and tools to help you use technology to make teaching and learning better than ever. A full schedule will be available next week. Hope to see you there, SISD staff!

1:1, Certainly

We are exploring some options for our district’s future student technologies right now. We have a significant need to increase accessibility for our students, but I’m not sure what that means, exactly. Does it involve a 1:1 program? Perhaps buying large numbers of wireless laptop/tablets and carts? Labs? iPads? Chromebooks? Laptops? Oh, my! Lots of questions in my mind right now, but I have come to a few certainties at this point, particularly after looking at quite a bit of the research on 1:1 programs. I’ve also received some great insight from colleagues trying different 1:1 programs around the state. In no particular order, my conclusions thus far:

  • Students are more than ready.Certainly, not every child is a budding, young Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. However, all students are quite ready to research, create, communicate, etc. using technology (and most are doing it without our assistance or blessing, anyway.)

    Why are some 1:1 programs more successful than others?y).

  • Teachers are, for the most part, not. Currently, most of the teachers I know either lack the technology know-how and experience, or they utilize a teacher-centered style that does not take full advantage of the capabilities of today’s tech tools. This isn’t an indictment–they are doing great things with the tools they have at their disposal. We’re just talking about a whole new set of tools, which leads to the next point…
  • Professional development is vital, essential, critical, mandatory, and supremely important. Teachers and administrators need to be trained so that they can, for starters:
    • Recognize opportunities to use technology to transform learning.
    • Identify available resources.
    • Understand methods of assessment of technology-rich products and activities.
    • Teach in a less teacher-centered, more problem- or student-centered manner.
  • Don’t rush the process. Districts who hastily rollout technologies without sufficient planning and training are committing themselves to struggling mightily for the foreseeable future and not likely to get much out of the resources. A small-scale pilot, heavy on the PD, can help head off problems before they are unmanageable.
  • Have positive, yet realistic, expectations. Technology offers students many incredible ways to improve their learning. It’s not a panacea, however, and it is not an overnight solution to what ails education. Test scores are unlikely to be directly influenced (Sorry, but read some of the research–it’s hit-and-miss here, at best.), but school climate is likely to improve, and students will have invaluable opportunities to learn and to gain needed technology related skills. The SAMR model is a great thing to keep in mind, too. It will take a few years to see the real impact happen (and only IF the necessary training and expectations have been provided). It takes real commitment to start seeing the maximum potential reached.
  • Students first. Every school’s population is unique, and so it stands to reason that there is no universal solution. It is imperative to resist keeping up with the Joneses’ shiny, new devices and instead looking for what will most benefit the kids we serve, based upon things like prior experiences, curriculum, academic needs, community expectations, etc. As I’ve said before, there is no perfect technology tool. If there was, we’d all have it, obviously.

We’re only beginning to embark upon this effort, so it remains to be seen how this will take shape here. I’m very encouraged at the conversations happening, though, even if they are in the very embryonic stages–at least conversations are happening. As anyone in a school knows, of course, there are many obstacles to an implementation such as this (e.g. infrastructure, money, staffing, money…did I mention money?), but it has to begin as a concept at some point. If it grows to more than that, I’ll do my best to share the process. Meanwhile, what are your thoughts/experiences here? Any other absolutes or experiences you might be able to pass along?

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vblibrary/8465390293

The PLN, Twitter, and You

For those who don’t wan’t to invest the full 9 minutes or so involved in listening to my latest podcast, here is my 5-step plan to growing a PLN using Twitter.

  1. Get started. Sign up and get set up to use Twitter with whatever tool you like best. That might be using the Twitter website, a mobile app (I use Echofon at this time.), or a desktop app (e.g. Tweetdeck, Echofon, Hootsuite, Janetter, etc.). Use whatever you find best suits you and enables you to read or post quickly when you have a few minutes.
  2. Learn those hashtags. Some great, general education related tags include #edchat, #education, #edtech, and #txed (particularly aimed at Texas educators).
  3. Read. Search for posts with the specific tags you’re looking for, then read a few. You’ll quickly find someone talking about something that will interest you.
  4. Respond. Talk back to them, and when you do, include their @username and the #hashtag for the conversation.
  5. Follow. Click that button and start receiving regular tweets from folks talking about the things that matter to you. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many immediately follow you back, especially if you post good questions and are willing to share.

If you will do these simple things, you will quickly have a burgeoning, online network of educators ready to engage in important conversations.

As an afterthought, a few other little tips came to mind. First, be sure to create a reasonably detailed description when you set up your account. That helps convince profile viewers that you are a professional worthy of following. Secondly, don’t “protect” your tweets. If other educators are window shopping for their own network, they need to see what types of information or questions you share in order to make an informed decision. If you’re primarily talking about teaching and learning, why would you not want someone reading it, anyway? Finally, reply. Unless you are Shaq, you will likely never have more followers than you can reasonably expect to respond to. If they’ve taken the time to address a tweet to you, it is discourteous not to respond. It’s not a conversation until more than one are talking, is it?

 

Exploring the Flipped Classroom

Unless one has managed to somehow avoid all professional conferences, publications, and conversations for the past year or so, we all have heard the buzz around the hot, new trend in classroom practice: flipped instruction. The concept first caught my eye in 2007, when I saw a news stories about Colorado educators Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, the “godfathers” of flipped classrooms. I was truly intrigued at the time and curious about what the long-term potential was for their innovative approach. Fast forward to the present, and the concept is the hottest movement afoot in the field. Several initial studies seem to validate proponents’ support of flipped learning. The current issue of Tech & Learning includes a Classroomwindow survey in which an astounding 99% of teachers who used flipped learning this year say they will use it again next year, and 88% report increased job satisfaction. 67% report higher student test scores, and 80% have seen improved student motivation. Obviously, there is enough substance here to warrant further exploration.

To this end, we offered our first courses in flipped classrooms this summer as part of our technology training offerings. These were designed as exploratory courses for our teachers, many of whom had no knowledge of the flipped classroom concept prior to attending. We employed something of a flipped professional development model at the outset–having them work in groups to look at articles, videos, and examples online, then create presentations explaining what they had learned. Their understanding of the concept was truly exciting, and there was a real, palpable buzz about the possibilities for our schools. The graphic below shows a summary of their products. Click to enlarge.

Note that they perceptively understood that flipped classrooms are about more than videos or switching classwork and homework. They are about putting greater responsibility for learning in the hands of students and equipping them with the tools to succeed. The teacher becomes the coach/mentor/guide, and students research, collaborate, create, and share what they have learned.

We spent the remainder of the class learning about technology tools to facilitate flipped classrooms, including online videos, podcasts, screencasts, etc. They were truly some of the most exciting professional development sessions I have been privileged to help facilitate.

Thanks to those brave risk-takers who participated this summer. I look forward to seeing how this benefits the kids in your classrooms this year!

Take Control of Your Professional Learning

One of the most under-utilized aspects of the evolution of today’s Internet resources within the education field is its ability to empower teachers, administrators, and parents to create highly personalized, up to date opportunities for professional learning. Time and money restrictions have reduced the opportunities for those educators in many schools and districts to take days away from the classroom to sharpen their skills or learn of the latest research. As such, we have an increasing responsibility to take matters into our own hands. Fortunately, there are countless resources available today to educators who desire to grow in their knowledge and skills. Even more fortunately, these resources can be accessed for free and in forms that save precious instructional time, being available 24/7 to anyone with an Internet-connected device. The following are just a few tools that are available to get started.

  1. Online journals. Journals are a valuable tool for professional learning, as they provide insights into what is happening in the educational research field. While many academic journals require often substantial subscription costs, the number and quality of free, online journals has grown substantially in recent years. For example, SAGE Education News offers free access to some of their most read journal articles. ASCD offers free online articles from their International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership. The Education Research Global Observatory has a great list of open access journals covering almost every aspect of education.
  2. YouTube. Far from being solely the domain of talking dogs or tragic skateboarding mishaps, YouTube has thousands of educational videos that deal with current issues in the field or provide quick opportunities to learn new skills. Educational professional development companies, such as Simple K-12 (educational technology) or Kagan Professional Development (cooperative learning) have channels where educators can get a quick professional development session and free access to training that might incur significant costs if attended in person. Countless video tutorials are available to learn any technology tool or classroom skill imaginable, as well. 
  3. Podcasts. Podcasts are a great way to take professional learning on the road. In either audio or video formats, podcasts allow educators to learn about current trends and hear from some of the best leaders in our field via mobile devices, such as smart phones or tablet computers. This type of professional development has become a favorite of mine, as I can sneak in an episode on a trip between campuses or to the grocery store. A few good examples to get started include TEDTalks Education, Moving at the Speed of Creativity, Teaching With Smartboard, and the November Learning Podcast Series. All are free and available on iTunes.
  4. Twitter. While certainly filled with mundane or simply entertaining content, Twitter remains a powerful resources for connecting to other practitioners in our field. A good way to get started is by creating an account and following educators who are recognized as excellent sources of educational information. Lists of good educators to follow are here, here, and here (Word doc–also includes some great tips). Once following, get in the mix and participate in the conversations being held and don’t hesitate to ask questions. Learn how to use hashtags (e.g. #edchat, #edtech, #edreform) to help you filter through topics to find just what you need.
  5. Free online newsletters. Numerous examples of these exist. You just find the sign up link and set your preferences, and updates are emailed to you daily, weekly, or monthly. Currently, I use SmartBrief to get updates on EdTech and ASCD. eSchool News is another I subscribe to that gives updates on issues and research in education. Tech & Learning has been a long-time resource, with blog posts, how-to articles, and more in the field of educational technology. Edudemic has articles covering a wide range of educational issues, technology, and more from kindergarten through university level.

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