Don’t discard the abilities of children, Pt. 2

Just in case you were wondering what children can do unprompted using technology, here’s Violet today, all the age of two. She turned on the music, then MARIO Run, and then back to the music app. Kids can do some pretty amazing things with technologies. Think about what they can do if we just help them a little. 


Don’t discount the abilities of young children…

Nora’s first selfie video at age 3.

Picture by Nora Age 2Nora taking a picture of me at age 2.

Nora Selfie Age 2
Nora taking a selfie at age 2.

Nora Selfie to Instagram Age 1  Nora posting a selfie to her mom’s Instagram at age 1.

 My question is, if a child can do all of this before entering school, what can children do using technologies with a little help from a teacher? We need to stop underestimating the abilities of the youngest around us. They can do powerful things if we give them just a little help…

It’s not the technology, it’s what you want to do with it that matter

ipad-airWhen we think about integrating technology into our teaching, we’re thinking too much about how to use the technology and not enough about how that technology will impact our instructional decision making. What we do in our lessons is directly related to the decisions we make when using technologies. Simply put, technologies and their affordances and constraints are on equal footing with the content we’re teaching and the instructional strategies we’re using to teach that content. Therefore, if we choose to use a SMART Board, the content we teach and how we teach it are going to be impacted in some way, good or bad. How we represent information on the SMART Board is going to be different from what we’ve experienced in the past. How we teach using the SMART Board is also going to be different than it would if we didn’t use the technology. What this all means is that when we’re going to use a technology in our instruction, we need to change how we approach creating and preparing for that lesson.
Hofer and Harris (2009) explain that there are five basic instructional decision making actions made when planning learning experiences. These include:
  1. Choosing learning goals/objectives
  2. Making instructional decisions about the nature of the learning experience
  3. Selecting/Sequencing activities that make the learning experience
  4. Selecting formative and summative assessments to determine student learning progress
  5. Selecting tools and resources that will assist student learning
Looking at this five step process, which is pretty linear, it’s clear the last component we need to account for when designing the lesson is the role technologies will have. Instead, the initial focus is on what we want students to learn, which is really what we should be focused on. What is the goal of the lesson and what do we hope students will learn? That’s perhaps the most important piece to consider when planning the lesson, because if we can state that clearly and in ways that we can assess it, then half the battle is over. Then it’s a matter of deciding the look and feel of the lesson.
Here are some quick guiding questions you can ask yourself regarding the look and feel of the lesson:
  • Will the focus of instruction be on the teacher or student?
  • Will the students create something?
  • Will the student perform something?
  • What will you be doing during the lesson?
  • How will you know if students are making progress towards your learning goal/objective before the class ends?
  • How will you determine if students met your learning goal/objective?
  • If students are making or performing something, will they use digital technologies (computers, Web 2.0, iPads, etc.) or analog technologies (paper, pencils, markers, whiteboards, etc.)?
  • What resources will students needs, including material, human, and community, in order to be successful?
If you’re stumped on some of these questions or are just unsure what you want a learning experience to look like, then check out the Learning Activity Types. These are subject specific taxonomies that provide lists of instructional activities students can complete. As these activities are combined lessons are created. What’s also nice is that once you’ve selected and combined your activities, there are corresponding technology suggestions that make the final step in the planning process a little easier.
There is no single technology solution for every subject and every way of teaching, even though it would be easier if there were. Integrating technologies into our instruction is a very ill-structured problem, because we don’t always know what’s going to happen or what we need to plan for to make sure we’re going to have success. Confounding the problem often is our own perceived lack of knowledge, preparedness, and confidence we believe is needed to use technologies. Instead of hitting barrier after barrier when we try to use technologies, let’s take a different approach that’s more focused on the learning experience we want to create by first stating what we want students to learn, the what we want that experience to look like, and then look for purposeful ways technologies can be used to support learning. Doing so will likely increase your chances of using technologies in more meaningful ways that support student learning.

WCYDWT: Collaboration and Google Drive #TET200

This is a model post for my TET 200 course at The University of South Dakota.

This week we’ve been exploring Google Drive and how it can be used to support collaboration. As I think about how I’d use Google Drive in my future classroom, I’d want to ensure students were engaged in higher order thinking as they used the technology. There are a number of different ways that Google Drive can be used, but too often they replicate current activities completed on paper. Something that comes to mind are electronic worksheets, which really make me cringe. Worksheets are bad enough on paper, we don’t need to be completing them on the computer.

Rather, I’d look to the ways Google Drive could be used to engage students in analysis, evaluation, and creation based activities. These represent the upper levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and is the level of thinking students should be at throughout a large chunk of their day. Yet, Google Drive alone will not get students to higher order thinking. Instead, it’s the mechanism or the medium that will enable them to demonstrate their higher order thinking skills. This means that it’s the work they’re doing that matters most. If we ask our students to engage in low level thinking activities, then that’s what we’re going to see. So the key, at least how I see it, is to have a truly driving question that students are trying to answer that requires them to compare, contrast, explain, judge, discriminate, recommend, hypothesize, plan, design, and collaborate.

An example of what I’d love to see happen in my son’s 1st grade classroom is for him and his peers to use Google Drive to document their learning as they complete an experiment. One of my favorite things to see are young learners taking on real roles, so the role of a scientist, and then documenting their findings as they progress through an experiment. What’s nice about having the youngest of our students completing experiments and collecting data, is that they engage in an authentic experience as they make a prediction, test their prediction by collecting data, and then weigh the evidence they collect before making a decision based on data. This sounds like something only older children are able to do, but we’d be surprised at what our smallest learners can do. While they may talk about concepts in a different way and may not have as large of vocabulary to communicate their ideas, they can still engage in the same cognitive processes that scientists do everyday. I see Google Drive as being one of those tools that will enable and assist students in organizing and sharing their ideas.

Your Students Aren’t Motivated Because They’re Bored!!

Day 2 - Boring

A recurring theme this week, both at work and as I’ve perused Twitter, has been the lack of motivation students have for learning. Yet when we look at the learning experiences these unmotivated students are often relegated to sitting through, such as day after day of the same instructional technique, often one centered around the teacher, the problem isn’t motivation. It’s that they’re bored. I’d be bored too if I had to sit through the same thing day, after day, after day, after day…

Often the lack of motivation observed in the classroom is directly related to the level of engagement students have in the learning experience. If all we’re doing is repeating what the book or the teacher just said, why should we be motivated? Why should we care? I wouldn’t. So next time you think your students aren’t motivated, ask yourself, what kind of thinking are they doing and would you be motivated to learn? Would you be bored?

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Being Participatory: An Impromptu Twitter Chat

Held Her Breath And Hoped To Survive Until Daybreak

I’m generally a shy person and very much an introvert. Yet, I decided to enter a profession where I need to be outgoing all day long as I work with learners of all ages. Over time, I’ve accepted and don’t have a problem speaking up in most social settings. Most. Twitter has been one of those mediums where I’ve been less comfortable with interacting with others. I seem to have gotten more comfortable and I didn’t really notice it until tonight when I joined a Twitter chat very unexpectedly. While waiting for my daughter to finally go to sleep (she’s still awake by the way), I opened up Twitter to check things out. Most of the time I’m a lurker. I don’t get too involved, mainly because I don’t have a lot of time to contribute. But I saw a tweet in my feed with the hashtag #1to1techat and decided to check it out and was in luck that they were still actively engaging in their Twitter chat. I lurked for a couple minutes just to see what was going on and then I quickly found myself shooting out a few tweets in the last minutes of the chat.

I’m sharing my experience not because I want to out my social awkwardness, but because too often we don’t engage through social media even though we have a lot to contribute. This has happened to me and a lot of very eloquent educators I know who don’t want to engage for a number of reasons. Yet, as we lurk, we have opinions on the conversations taking place without us. We aren’t using our voice and our contributions that can help deepen everyone’s knowledge never reach the engaged, captivated audience in Twitter. I didn’t really notice, or maybe believe, this until tonight when I spent just a few minutes participating in the Twitter chat. I sent out only a few tweets, yet a number of people retweeted, replied, and favorited some of my tweets. I don’t feel like I said anything too revolutionary, but it apparently was valuable to some people, which makes me think I assisted in their learning. And that’s what makes social media powerful. It’s the interactions you have with other people. While tonight I only engaged in a small way and my knowledge and skills likely didn’t change all that much, although I do think they changed, I helped contribute to the learning of others. All because I participated and it’s entirely possible that the next time I participate I’ll get to a deeper level of interaction with my Twitter colleagues and my knowledge will in fact expand into new arenas and in different ways.

So next time you find yourself with a few minutes to spare, check out Twitter and see what’s happening. Participate. Send out some tweets in response to what others are saying. It may feel awkward. It may even be a little uncomfortable. But you get used to it and nothing makes you feel better than when someone validates something you’ve said. Because just maybe, you helped then learn something and in the process, you learned something too.

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“Boring PD”…My #ITEC14 Takeaway

boredI recently attended ITEC, which is Iowa’s big ed tech conference held every year in October. I’ve enjoyed going to ITEC over the years and always walk away with something new. This year my focus was on all sessions related to professional development, although I admit I went to a great session on how a middle school teacher in Bettendorf, IA is doing real project-based learning. In general though, I went to sessions that looked at professional development and how to make it better. At one point someone tweeted, advocating for the use of social media as a professional development experience, that if you aren’t engaging in social media then you aren’t pushing yourself as an educator. After some back and forth the issue that “Boring PD” was insufficient to meet the demands of learners and society arose.

While engaging in social media is a great professional growth experience I believe more teachers should engage in, since it helps us get outside our comfort zone, I don’t consider it all that much different than attending conferences. Instead of engaging with people in a room we engage with people across Twitter on topics we care about. While this will, to a degree, lead to change in the educator and in a more convenient and cost friendly way, our growth as a teacher is much more multi-faceted than spending a few hours a week on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Great ideas are great…as long as they are implemented. Otherwise, it’s just an idea.

This brings me back to “Boring PD.” We often waste, ignore the opportunities that are available to us for professional growth. Weekly, bi-monthly, and monthly PD shouldn’t be an experience those being served by it feel is boring. I can’t think of a better time for growth than when a group of educators are together to start talking about how we’ve implemented our curriculum, how we can make it better, and then start designing the instruction to make it better. How many times have you experienced this at your school? Your college? Your university? Only on rare occasions have I been engaged in such an experience that led to the development of new instruction for my class or practice. Why don’t we do this more?I get that there are practical issues that we have to discuss, especially in K12 education. Yet, how many of these issues that effect student learning everyday could be resolved if we created more engaging instruction where students are doing more than passively getting by in class, hoping that they won’t be called upon to contribute?

Will there likely be meetings we have to attend that we’d rather not? Yes. Can we change the structured learning opportunities for teachers so that they are more dynamic, more engaging, more productive so that student learning can improve? Yes. We just have to want it enough that we advocate for it, which means that we take the leadership to make it happen. Social media is one cog in our professional growth wheel. There are other factors that make us better teacher, some we know and some we don’t, some we control and some we don’t. Growing as a teacher is complicated, which is probably why we often are unsure of how to go about doing it better. Social media isn’t the answer in and of itself. It’s a small part of a larger system, which means that if we want to grow and see growth in our students, then we need to make professional development not boring. We need to make better use of the time that we have with other educators so that we talk about what’s working and what’s not, how we might improve it, and then create the instruction that leads to better student learning.

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