Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Timing + Opportunity = Group Effort

I don’t know about you but sometimes I scan the faces of my classroom and wonder who is sitting out there. Is that kid in the front row the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, John Lennon or Aretha Franklin, Muhammad Yunus or Jessica Jackley?

This is a helpful strategy on days when students act less than appreciative of the role teachers play in their lives (which, some might argue is everyday). However, it also serves me well as I reflect upon what these students need to know? What kinds of thinking skills and strategies will help them thrive in today’s global economy? And most of all, what kinds of dreams are lying just beneath the surface of their tough exterior and what opportunities await them in the near future?

In the book Outliers -The story of success, author Malcolm Gladwell points out that “timing and opportunity” are two key factors of successful people. Gladwell tells the story of Bill Gates and Bill Joy, two Silicon Valley giants, born less than 12 months apart on opposite ends of the country. The timing was perfect for the opportunity they had as adolescents to spend thousands of hours programming what was known at the time as computers. My guess is that you know what those opportunities turned into.

When asked, ‘What do you want people to take away from Outliers?’ Gladwell responded: “My wish with Outliers is that it makes us understand how much of a group project success is. When outliers become outliers it is not just because of their own efforts. It's because of the contributions of lots of different people and lots of different circumstances— and that means that we, as a society, have more control about who succeeds—and how many of us succeed—than we think. That's an amazingly hopeful and uplifting idea.”

Here ZPS sits at the cusp of a multimillion dollar initiative that will put computers in the hands of thousands of students, our students, our children. The hope is that we as teachers, administrators, parents, and community members view this as more than just giving kids ubiquitous access and gadgets, and instead we see this as giving our kids opportunities.

No doubt this will take a monumental effort. It is no small task to integrate technology into classroom instruction. At times it seems daunting, however we must remember the opportunity for our students far outweighs the cost for us. And if we stick together and help one another along the way, we just might find a few outliers sitting in the front row.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thinking Constructively (about changing the status quo)

During Christmas Break my family and I were invited over to my parents' home for lunch with some of their friends. Unbeknownst to me, one of their friends, Mike, had spent over 40 years in education. Of those 40 plus years, he spent about 10 years in the classroom and the remainder in various leadership positions working with curriculum, instruction, and technology integration.

We "talked shop" for well over an hour, and I mostly just listened. Even though Mike had "retired three times in three different states" he was still full of passion for his profession and the changes he had worked so hard to make over the years.

Somewhere during the conversation I mentioned that I had completed an independent study on constructivism a number of years ago. Mike's face lit up.

"Did you know that constructivism has been around for over 30 years?" he asked.

"So why do you think it has taken so long to catch on despite research to support its effectiveness?" I replied.

Without hesitation Mike replied, "constructivism is a student-centered approach to learning. The teaching profession is and has been teacher-centered. That's the status quo. Changing the status quo is difficult."

I've spent the past month pondering the idea of changing the status quo.

I was first introduced to the idea of inquiry (a constructivist teaching practice) a decade ago by the Building Science Leaders program at the Regional Math and Science Center. Over the past ten years as I've experimented with moving towards a more student-centered classroom I've had many successes, and just as many failures. I know it is working well when my students are excited, engaged, and motivated to learn, to prove, to share their learning.

One of the huge challenges of inquiry-based learning I've experienced over the years is having materials available for students on-demand. I could have bought my own class set of laptops if I had a dollar for every time I've told my students "now, if you each had a computer sitting in front of you, we would ______" (read and annotate these articles online, access the data from this site, share your data in a Google Doc, compose a short reflection on your blog, etc.). The most exciting thing about our 1:1 initiative is that this will now be a reality. Students will have instant access to information, the ability to discuss their learning and questions with their peers -- locally and globally, and the ability to share the products of their learning with the world.

Do these reflections bring us any closer to changing the status quo? I don't know. However, I am hopeful that as teachers and students start to see the benefits of student-centered learning made possible by 1:1 technologies, we will be able to finally transform teaching and learning for the benefit of all. 

cross posted to my blog

Friday, February 11, 2011


I am sure everyone reading this understands the title “TV / VCR.” However, fifty years ago some people would probably be a little confused. They may have had a good idea about the TV acronym, but maybe not the VCR. Do you know what the acronym stands for? Luckily we live in the era of Google, and I am sure with just a quick search you can easily find the answer even if you’ve forgotten. In fact, here it is “TV – television, VCR - videocassette recorder.” It's simple right?

A few months ago we learned that these devices would soon be leaving our classrooms. Some questioned, why? It’s natural to be apprehensive about something we have grown to know and accept leaving our midst. Although, I do believe the new solution will be a vast improvement on our current equipment, I do also understand there will be a learning curve even for the most tech savvy individuals. This begs the question, why get rid of something that works fine? A few years ago a wiser man than I once told me, “We can never really tell where the technology world will take us; all we can do is; do our best to learn along the way so we can be ready for whatever the future holds.”

This shift of removing our TVs and VCRs is abrupt, and symbolic of the major changes coming via technological devices to our current educational world. These new devices have and will continue to affect the way we work and learn in our schools. Change is constant and sometimes abrupt, but changing none the less. This is an opportunity as life long learners to forge ahead on this journey technology has set for us. Our challenge as educators is to model those same life long learning principles that our mission statement promotes. And that same quality we ask of our students each day when they show up in our classrooms. ZPS: Learning for Life.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Our Greatest Fears

This blog post is in response to an article Shari Moore shared:

Shifting Teachers’ Thinking: Focusing on Learning First

Although the article focuses on keeping our sights on process and not the tool—the goal is learning—the message caused me to start thinking, once again, about the interaction between technology and teaching.

For starters, I am uncomfortable with the assumption that technology integration, and specifically an emphasis on tools, trumps every other teaching method. But that having been said, not trying new tools is also not an effective approach to teaching and learning.

What stands in our way? Fears.

What are we most afraid of when using technology?
1) I won’t know how to use it.
2) What happens when it breaks down or we hit a glitch we can’t figure out?

I’m going to tackle #2 in this post.

What we’re forgetting when we consider what to do when technology “breaks down” (the screen won’t turn on, the website is down, the files aren’t where we thought we saved them . . . ) is that we have been experts at teaching without the tool. We can simply revert to lessons we have been using sans technology when tech glitches remove the tech option. As teachers, we have always had a back-up plan—when the fire alarm goes off, when a student loses a tooth or throws up or we can’t find the stack of papers we just ran off after school yesterday or even this morning.

I also feel like students need to see adults problem-solving. I cringe at the flippant phrase, "teachable moment" when it is used with a wink whenever something goes awry, but even I have to admit that it fits. I predict that you will have every student’s attention for a few moments the minute something breaks down. It's what you do in that moment that counts. Every person in the room will be required to react to a tech glitch sometime.

We already have the power. We simply need to remember to seize it.

Cross posted to teCHapters (my blog).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Learning can — and must — be networked

Over the weekend, I shared the EduCon Conference's axioms with the TPIT Diigo group which included the statement: Learning can — and must — be networked.

I've often described my experiences with learning within social networks as serendipitous. I never know what will pop up on Twitter, in my Reader, in my Diigo groups, or, as it occurred today, even in Goodreads. I don't even usually consider Goodreads when I name the social networks I use. I started using it because my brother uses it and it was a fun way to keep up with his reading and to share my reading as well.

A few weeks ago my Goodreads account was followed by Paul Reynolds, the brother of Peter Reynolds (author of Ish, and other excellent books). I'm guessing he connected with my account because I had marked several of Peter's books as read (but to be honest, I don't really know). Today, Paul shared a review of The Big Picture: Education is Everyone's Business written by Dennis Littky and Samantha Grabelle.

In his review, Paul wrote:
If we move to a model that is student-at-center/teacher-at-periphery within a distributed learning community (one that, as Chris Dede states would, "enable a shift from the traditional transfer and assimilation of information to the creation, sharing and mastery of knowledge."), the teacher has TIME to take on the mentoring role. Educators would no longer have to scramble daily to be the fully-stocked "information vending machine" - rapidly dispensing knowledge to "cover" content standards/requirements - instead they could focus time and energy on knowing their learners.
While I'd love to head off on a tangent and share how I see this as one of the benefits of 1:1 and student-centered learning that we're trying to achieve, I'll practice what I preach to my students and stick to my topic.

For me, much of my learning occurs when I simply show up in one of my networks. Thankfully there are others out there who are sharing what they are learning and trying with their students. What can you do today to facilitate learning for yourself? Is there a social network that you've been curious about trying out? Give it a try and see what happens.
Cross posted to my blog