Thursday, September 29, 2011

1st Month in Surprises

Students and staff have undergone changes in education like never seen before in Zeeland,  Thanks to the generous support of many citizens in the community, our schools have the ability to become an educational model for the entire nation.  It has been a tremendous challenge for many teachers to rethink their traditional delivery method.  But one that my colleagues and I have embraced. 

How do I know this to be true?  I certainly can't physically stop in and see teachers doing their jobs all day.  But I can tell from conversations that now take place before school, at lunch time, during plan hours, and after school between staff members.  There is a renewed sense of collaboration between teachers to share lesson ideas, problem solve technical questions, and explore new possibilities.  Even listening to and watching students create projects, take notes, and give instant feedback through in-class polls is exciting to see from an educators stand point. 

Zeeland's IPad initiative has great promise to raise the bar educationally in many ways.  But there have been hidden bonuses that I never really thought about when the bond issue passed.  Students are much more patient than I can ever remember.  As with any technology, there are instances when glitches occur and things don't quite work the way you hoped.  My students have been wonderful with learning patience and understanding that some things are beyond our control and we just adjust the best we can.  I have also witnessed many acts of student kindness towards their classmates.  Students are very willing to help each other with technical issues like getting reconnected to the WiFi and how to best use Apps like PDF Notes for Free.  Seeing students willingly help out their classmates that might be less tech savvy and could fall behind in class demonstrates some of the finest qualities of human kindness and selflessness. 

It is hard to put a price on developing these qualities and they certainly don't get measured on standardized assessments.  But they are priceless in my view and make each day just a little but better.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Remember When

I remember when I was first given an e-mail address for school. That was in 1994, my second year of teaching. I was the “computer teacher” at that time and was able to take advantage of all the “new” technology toys for our district including a Web Cam, Zip Drive, Palm Pilot, and the amazing Laser Printer. Today, every student is assigned an e-mail address, a majority of kids have their own cell phone, the Internet is the very first place kids go for answers, and kids find new friends through FaceBook. Times have certainly changed.

The children we teach will be living with new world norms that were not in place when I was a child. Tony Wagner, in his book The Global Achievement Gap writes, “our world has changed in three significant ways, and methods of teaching and learning must adapt to these changes” (Wagner 2008). Wagner explains that students need to develop new skills to survive in our global economy. This includes the ability to think critically, work in teams, adapt, communicate, analyze information, and to be curious and imaginative. Wagner also writes that “using new information to solve new problems matters more than recalling old information” (Wagner 2008). Students need to be able to apply what they have learned to new situations, rather than recite knowledge from memory. The third significant adaption that Wagner explains is that children are motivated in new ways as compared to previous generations. “Young people today are curious multi-taskers who hunger for immediate gratification and connectedness” (Wagner 2008).

With our 1-1 iPad initiative we have jumped into the Instructional Technology ocean head first. What I have clearly seen in just the few short weeks is that our initiative is much more about Instruction than it is about Technology. Each student will have a highly effective device that can serve as a tool for many applications, but the real learning that will take place will happen due to the changes that happen in instruction. As noted above, the three adaptations that educators need to implement to meet the needs of today’s student all involve new instructional methods. These new methods will surely utilize the iPad as well as other technological devices, but meeting the needs of today’s youth will be more about methodology than gadgets.

The wave of change is happening in Zeeland. Risk taking is now a rampant activity. The excitement is directly related to our teacher’s risk with new instructional methods that are utilizing technology. Some teachers are “flipping” their classes, where the lecture and note taking happen at home and the classroom becomes a collaborative learning workshop. Inquiry based learning is taking shape, where it’s more important to ask the correct question than to know the correct answer. Project Based Learning is being utilized by several teachers, where many learning objectives are accomplished through a student developed project. iPads are seen throughout all of these instructional methods as a tool for both the teacher and the student, but the learning is directly tied to the new methods of instruction. As you can see, it is truly an exciting time in Zeeland Schools.

Wagner, R. (2008). The Global Achievement Gap. Basic Books, New York, NY.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Quincy Teachers Use the iPad to Deliver Concise Usable Info to Parents

Quincy Elementary teachers are using their new iPads to help parents reinforce math concepts at home.  Pete Goers had this to say about using the new device.  "We aren't going for production value as much as concise usable information.  When we began to think about how to use the technology, showing math strategies to parents and kids in a "rewindable" format was a natural choice.  Now that we've gotten started, we're coming up with new ideas every day.  They won't all work, and we've got a lot of learning to do, but it's exciting to have so many options for engaging students and communicating with parents.  The ipad makes it too easy not to do."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Making the jump to digital.

One week at it and the fog in the classroom is starting to clear. It feels like I have been a completely gang tackled by a bunch of hardware, software, and webware thugs. My desk is a mess with lose papers, software disks, ipads (students and teachers), styli, pens, pencils, cords, chargers... it is evident that I am in a struggle with a digital/analogue identity crisis.

Where are these files? Are they printed? Do they need to be printed?
Can students access this file just using the iPad? Can they edit this file?
Can they organize their iPad so that they know where to find these files?
How do I receive these files back from students with their annotations?
How do I grade digital student artifacts? Do I really want 150 emails today?
Does doing this analogue make better sense for the sake of best practice?

These are just a few of the questions that I find myself asking as I slowly morph from analogue to digital. In an attempt to move to the digital world and connect our learners in a virtual classroom my classes are meeting and communicating on Edmodo- ahhh yes! math class is no longer 58 minutes. In addition, I have built a wiki for just my geometry classes. Biting off more than I can chew is a habit of mine and I don't want to start another project that I don't wife wouldn't be happy even if it isn't going on the living room wall.

Edmodo is a social network specifically geared for education. It is not as "academic" as Moodle and not as sexy as could almost be seen as an offspring of the two. Some where down inside of me I am scared that students will reject this attempt to meet them in their own world and see through the "trick"of getting them to learn in a place they already are. But I am quite passionate about engaging students on their turf, showing them that they are learning where ever they are and that together we as a community we construct meaning and knowledge about life.

So I feel compelled to push this method of learning...for now. The smallest glimpses of this thing working have been making me giddy... Students will post a question as plain as "what is the homework?" Another student will respond...sometimes with a snide remark like "click on the calendar link above". I smile and say to myself 'look they really do care about one another.' But in reality they are helping, they are directing, they are answering the questions, they are taking ownership...and I am removing myself from the position of sole authority.

Today I posted the links to the first set of Showme tutorials geometry students created for our first quiz review. Student created work, created to help students work... ummm I think this could be good. Check out this students first attempt:

Friday, September 2, 2011

Students as Contributors

Last fall, the following tweet grabbed my attention:

As ZPS educators return to classrooms this fall, we have new responsibilities and new opportunities to use technology alongside our students to collaborate, communicate, and create.  For many this is a welcome challenge, but for others there may be a feeling of "how can I add this to my day?"  I'd like to suggest, why not allow your students to assist you with the technology and give them a meaningful role in your classroom?

Alan November has written and spoken on this topic at great length over the past few years and has summarized his thoughts in an article entitled Students as Contributors: The Digital Learning Farm.  In the article he begins by describing the time when we lived in a predominantly agricultural society and children had important roles to fill on farms.  Then, as industrialization began, children began to take on a more "passive role" in society.  He writes:
We have come full circle as globalization quickly becomes the norm, and it may now be essential for our students to compete with peers from around the world. Today, we can restore the dignity and integrity of the child as a contributor. Across the country, pioneering teachers are providing students with new roles that have students making contributions to their learning communities. We have powerful, easy-to-use tools such as screencasting and podcasting that give students opportunities to contribute content to the class. At the same time we can also provide them with rigorous and more motivating assignments and better prepare them to become more productive in our new global economy. It’s an exciting time.
Alan continues by describing six different roles that students can take on in a classroom, roles that challenge students to take ownership and contribute to the learning environment.  In a given week, he suggests giving students roles such as class scribe, tutorial designer, or researcher, to name just three.  Stemming from the article, Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano has created a PDF containing visual representations of these six roles, if you'd prefer another way of visualizing the roles (she also wrote a post on recommended screencasting apps for the iPad).  Finally, you may want to check out this thirteen minute video of Alan explaining his thoughts surrounding the idea of students as contributors.

As students return to our classrooms next week, I hope we can all use technology to allow our students to make meaningful contributions to our learning communities.