“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.

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/22646823@N08/3070394453/


A Short Hiatus

Mind the Gap

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I hadn’t thought about it until late last night as I was getting ready for bed and noticed that I couldn’t remember when I blogged last. So I checked this morning and my last post was back in May, which is a bit too long in my opinion. So what have I been doing since then? Well, probably the biggest thing, which consequently is why I haven’t been blogging, is that I’ve been working on my dissertation. In January I started getting serious about figuring out what exactly I wanted to do and about April I started putting the pieces together. I’m not overly surprised that I haven’t blogged much, since most of my time over the summer was spent writing and getting ready to do my study. Although I’m not done with my dissertation and likely won’t be early next spring, I thought while I have a little bit of time between now and December that I’d start blogging again.

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/66206547@N00/8466829513/

Apollo 13 Follow Up

Silver Franklin Mint Apollo 13 (reverse) 1970

Yesterday I tried the Apollo 13 activity in my Ed Tech and Design course. It didn’t go exactly as planned, but this was extra so it wasn’t really my priority. After reviewing the expectations and deadlines for all the final projects for the course, only two students had everything done and we able to participate. So Anna and Kelli were my guinea pigs. With only one group doing this I’m not able to see how they applied their knowledge and skills differently, which would have been interesting, but I was able to glean some insights from their final product.

Setting the Stage:

I first wanted to know if they knew anything about Apollo 13 either the movie or real life and neither were super familiar with it so after quickly and briefly reviewing what happened to set the context, we watched this short clip to set the stage for what they had to do. Then I gave them the task.

The Task:

  • Teach me how to use social media with children using PowerPoint
  • You have the rest of this class period to get it done (About 40 minutes)
  • Caveat: It has to be standalone once it starts

The Result:

After they had their task, I sent them on their way and didn’t talk to them until the end of class. You can view their final product here. (Shared with their permission)

My Thoughts:

What I liked about this activity separate from how I implemented it was that it allows the learner to have control of what they cover and how they cover it. For example, I wanted them to teach about using social media, yet I didn’t define what that meant. They came up with Twitter and using it in a 3rd grade context. Specifically to their project, I liked how they took a process approach to using Twitter. I also liked how they used other websites in their instruction. Rather than creating a lot of different slides to explain how to sign up for Twitter, they send the viewer to other resources to get that information. I also liked the cybercitizenry aspect to their product. There were numerous references to how to stay safe, what information to keep private, and how it will be used.

What I wished we could have done is have multiple groups try this. I’m interested how students would take different directions with the task. I do have one more day so perhaps I’ll give this a try tomorrow, but I’m still trying to decide. I also wish we could have had a discussion around what they came up with. I’d have the students in the class try to determine what Anna and Kelli were trying to do.

As I conclude my reflection, what I like about this project is that it’s simple and so is the product. Sure it could have been more complicated, but it didn’t need to be and given the time constraints it couldn’t be. As I think about the knowledge and skills teachers, especially new ones, need when it comes to the use of educational technologies, having the skill to generate products like these are critical to making larger, more impactful projects happen. Perhaps the goal of something like this is to be a self-paced resource for students to use as they connect with people from around the world to discuss and improve the lives of others in their local communities. This isn’t the main event, but it’s helpful getting there.


Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

#UNIETD Post 4: Apollo 13 Problem

I came across an article written by Punya Mishra and Matt Koehler about first day activities called Apollo 13 activities. The idea behind these activities is that on the first day rather than reviewing the syllabus, policies, etc., students are actually engaged in course content and begin to experience how the course will be taught. I’m super intrigued by these types of projects, because they are pretty short and get at finding multiple solutions to problems we face.

Although it’s not the end of the semester, I’m going to give this a try in my Educational Technology and Design course. This is our last week of the course and I have a small group of students who have completed everything for the course. So what I’m going to do with them while everyone else finishes up their final assignments, is to have them complete an Apollo 13 activity of my own. I didn’t get super creative with this one, but I wanted to be somewhat safe in my first attempt. So here’s the plan:

We’ll begin by watching this video:

Then in small groups of 2-3 students will do the following task:

  • Teach me how to use social media with children using PowerPoint
  • You have the rest of this class period to get it done
  • Caveat: It has to be standalone once it starts

I had thought about doing something a little more innovative than PowerPoint, but my goal isn’t teaching them an innovative technology. I’m more interested that they experience problem-based learning, especially within a somewhat time restrained environment. I also didn’t want the technology to be a barrier and with PowerPoint I felt that would be a nice medium for keeping the process simple, yet allowing for multiple paths. We really do have limited time in class to do this, because we meet today and Friday and I’m not grading this so it can’t be homework, nor should it be in my opinion. And following the guidance of Mishra and Koehler, I wanted to avoid junky presentations so students will have to make this a standalone product once it starts. I’m not sure how this will go, but I have high hopes. I’ll be sure to share some samples.

To learn more about the activities, read the linked article above.

#UNIETD Post 3: The Power of Authenticity

Today I was observing preservice teachers at a local elementary school and all of them were creating digital stories with small groups of elementary students. As I was wandering around taking field notes, one group caught my attention, so I followed along. This group of students were trying to find elementary students and teachers to interview about pit bulls and what they thought about them. As they moved about the school talking with students and teachers, one teacher they approached explained that he wouldn’t be a very good person to interview, because he doesn’t really know much about dogs. He suggested talking with someone who might be more reliable and turned it back to the students to figure out who to call. This is where it got fun.

While the students were working, their preservice teacher was doing a great job of letting them have the freedom to take charge of the project. She had given up control to her elementary students. I was curious, though, how this was going to go now that the elementary school teacher had thrown the elementary students for a loop. What happened next is exactly what I hoped. The students with minimal direction from their preservice teacher, started talking as a group about how they could find a reliable source. One suggested calling a veterinarian or the human society. One student pulled out a chrome book and another used the preserve teacher’s iPad to start looking up emails, but then a student took it to the next level and advocated for a position. She thought it would be best to call and talk with someone. This took some convincing, both with the other students and with the preservice teacher. The preservice teacher was more concerned with how they would capture the conversation, while the students were more unsure about what to say.

The students again took charge, came up with a way to capture the conversation on the iPad using a voice recording app and they came up with the questions. A few minutes later they were on the phone talking with a representative from the local humane society. The excitement, and anxiousness, of the preservice teacher and her students was great. There was no guarantee it would work, but they all went with it and it went perfectly. I’m excited to see the final product from this group as they head into the next week and a half.

This gets at a deeper issue though. How often are we pushing back on our students to figure out their own problems and to use real, authentic, reliable sources? I know I try my best, but as a colleague of mine would say of herself, I’m a helper. I like to help people figure things out. This is a reminder of how I need to continue to take a step back and let students take control of their learning. I’m not helping by helping, because I’m not going to be there once they leave my classroom and become the teacher in the school. This applies to my work with experienced educators too. I can’t be everywhere, so I need to make sure I set up my learners to be able to make those decisions by themselves. That’s the only way we’re going to see change. Just like Dori says to Marlin, “It’s time to let go.”

#UNIETD Post 2: Learning Experiences with a Purpose

Metro Candy Bar

This past Friday UNI hosted the ITEC Student Technology Fair for eastern Iowa. I was a judge at the fair and is something I enjoy doing each year as it gives me a chance to see how elementary and secondary students are learning. In the past there have been some great projects, but this year many of the projects seemed to be at a different level. So while I have gained some insight into the work students are doing, I’m also getting a better picture of the type of learning experiences their teachers are creating for them.

What stood out for me was the purposive nature of the projects. One project from Metro High School in Cedar Rapids created a business where they created a mold for chocolate bars, which they sell with proceeds being reinvested back into other programs in the school, such as their robotics team. There was also a young man from Olewein who is creating 3D models of oil platforms for a company based in Arizona. He’s already employed by the company and he’s still in high school. Needless to say he’s smarter than I am. There was also a middle school student from Waterloo who has created an Amber Alert style GPS button parents can sew into their kids clothing. The idea is that if the child is abducted he/she can push the button and a message with the GPS coordinates will go to the parents so they can be found. When I asked him how he came up with the idea he explained that he was friends with a local child who was abducted and murdered this past year. Another stand out was a project by a fourth grader where she built a skyscraper inside and out using Minecraft. She even had a water filtration system for a garden area inside the building.

So when I look at what these children are doing, they are engaged in projects with a purpose. Whether it’s a fundraiser for their school, working with a real corporation, trying to keep children safe, or simply following their interests and creating amazing designs, these kids are creating with a purpose. One of the comments I have heard from those attending and others I have shared my experience with is that they couldn’t do something like this. They explain they don’t know where they’d even start.

My reaction has been that while these are amazing projects, they are all within the grasp of all teachers. What makes them see out of reach is the difference between what they are doing and what we currently do. It’s hard to see a clear path in doing something like this if we don’t step outside our current paradigm. As I consider how I would approach something like this, what I feel would be key are a couple considerations:

  • What is the essential question I want students to engage in? What is the task or problem they are trying to solve?
  • How much freedom am I giving my students to pursue their interests? Am I giving my students a choice? Am I letting my students take ownership of their learning? Am I getting out of the way?

There’s certainly a lot more to this than these two points, but if we can’t do these two things, then we aren’t going to unleash our students’ inner creativity that our education system has been crushing since elementary school.

#UNIETD Post 1: What would Dewey do?

Dewey (1976) said:

…to satisfy an impulse or interest means to work it out, and working it out involves running up against obstacles, becoming acquainted with materials, exercising ingenuity, patience, persistence, alertness, it of necessity involves discipline, -ordering of power-and supplies knowledge (p. 25).

I’ve started reading Dewey a bit more lately as I begin writing my dissertation and I’m struck by how clear he is and, yet, how muddied improving our educational practices have become since Dewey’s time. Sticking to what I know, I immediately reflect to the professional development experiences surrounding new technologies that teachers everywhere are subjected to, some times on a monthly basis. The idea that no single technological innovation exists for all teachers (Mishra & Koehler, 2006) highlights the almost cruel nature and certainly squandered learning time for teachers when they attend such professional development sessions. So as I reflect and make sense of what I’m reading, I ask: What would Dewey do? How would Dewey approach professional development for teachers surrounding what in fact are critical issues facing not just our society with regards to being competent problem solvers, critical thinkers, collaborators, etc., all at the intersection of content, pedagogy, and technology.

The quote above, to me, provides some clarity. While Dewey was talking about children, I feel at heart we all are children only as we get older we conform more to society and the responsibilities that go with being an adult, an employee, a teacher, a parent. Why can’t we explore the topics, the needs, the desires that our teachers have? That’s what Dewey is saying we should do and when we do, it’s going to be a little bumpy and that’s okay. The bumps provide openings for weaving in subject-matter  knowledge and skills, which is the concern we all have as educators. How will the students learn the content if we don’t teach them? They key is to indulge students in their interests and use that to wrap in the content they are supposed to learn.

So as we approach professional development for teachers, we should listen and think about what Dewey would do. Let’s listen to the teachers and see what they’re interested in or what problems they are experiencing in the classroom. Then start working with them so they can create educational technology solutions at the intersection of content, pedagogy, and technologies.