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.

My #ITEC13 Reflection

After two days of waking early and making the trek to Des Moines from Waterloo, I find myself on #ITEC13 +1 having trouble sleeping in to my normal 6am and instead thinking about everything I learned over the last two days…at 4am mind you… So, rather than have an isolated reflection while futilely trying to go back to sleep, I might as well get up and share my thoughts, my ideas with anyone who may be interested, which brings me to my first major takeaway: As educators, we find ourselves constantly taking resources and ideas from the internet, but when was the last time we contributed?

Jeff Utecht was the keynote on day two and I’ve been a big fan of his for a few years now. So having the chance to hear him speak in person was amazing. There were a number of things that he brought up, but perhaps one of the most compelling was the need for educators to contribute to the larger community. How are we giving back to others who we don’t directly interact with? Certainly we give back in our classroom, schools, and local communities, but what about the larger community? How are we contributing to the advancement of the profession? More and more I find myself thinking about non-positional leadership and how we are advocating, leading, and working with others to advance meaningful change. Hearing Jeff talk about sharing with the larger community only served to reinforce this concept that each of us are leaders and do have opportunities to lead within our profession and beyond the classroom. For me, I’ve seemed to fallen off the larger community radar a little over the last year. Things get busy, I have small children and I have a pretty full schedule. Yet, given all of that, I still feel this nagging feeling that I’m not contributing enough. I’m not posting enough about what I’m doing or enough about some of the ridiculous ideas that I have that I want to start putting legs on. This wasn’t a major theme Jeff had, but it was an important theme, and has given me pause for reflection, as I hope it will do for each of you.

Sticking with Jeff a little longer, there were two other things that really stuck out for me. The first was the idea of a moonshot idea. As Jeff described it, a moonshot idea is an idea that seeks to change something that appears almost impossible. However, we strive to make that moonshot idea happen because we are bothered by it. We want it to happen and refuse to let it pass us by. The name moonshot comes from when JFK said we would put a man on the moon. No one knew how to do it, but we were going to do it anyway. There was a drive, a passion for making it happen. For me, moonshot ideas are what keep me going, keep me asking questions, and make me challenge those around me. Things bother me. Some more than others, but being bothered is what has kept me feeling like I can make change happen. Probably the biggest thing that bothers me is ineffective use of technologies in the classroom that is then highlighted as increasing achievement, learning, (insert term here) when in fact nothing has really changed. Scott McLeod had a session on this called Gratuitous Use of Technology (or something to that effect). While I missed the session, that really sums up what bothers me. It may be a far cry in comparison to putting a man on the moon, but nevertheless, it still matters, it’s still important, and it really bothers me.

The other thing that really stood out from Jeff’s keynote was the video of the young man doing a Rube Goldberg, at what appeared to be his house. This child, I think he was in fourth grade, but can’t really remember, creates this impressive Rube Goldberg machine and he makes a prediction about how many times his machine is going to succeed and how many times it will fail. I think it was a two to 14 ratio. As the video continues, it starts showing the trials. The first three are a bust and then on the fourth a success. What happens next is the best thing. This kid literally flips out. He is so excited that it worked on the fourth time when he predicted that if would fail “umpteen” times. I immediately thought, when was the last time we were this excited and willing to fail “umpteen” times? The mantra seems to be if we can’t do it it right the first time, we better not even try. I’d say this was a common theme I ran into throughout the conference. It’s okay to make mistakes, but what we do next is what matters. What’s worse is that we appear to be sending this signal to our students via standardized tests with all the focus on getting the right scores and the high stakes nature of the tests. Nothing in life, at least in my life, is as high stakes as those tests are for students and schools. They aren’t realistic and the emphasis we place on them as a nation, state, and local community truly bothers me. This certainly is a moonshot idea and it’s almost embarrassing that it is.

Other highlights from my conference experience:

  • Teaching students how to search is truly critical. We don’t live in a world where we can organize everything into nice little units. Our knowledge is too large, complex, and changes way to fast to keep up. Being able to sift is going to be much more important that sorting. I actually started this with my son last night. We started searching for orange juice and he loved it! (Henry’s four BTW)
  • Our knowledge has a half life of 18 months. This is interesting for me since the work I did for my doctorate in my first couple semesters is going to be outdated by the time I write my dissertation. Let’s not even go to textbooks…
  • Some key things when it comes to searching on Google: find the ads, the more links to a website means Google thinks it’s an authority, use the search tools to refine results, site: and filetype: are very useful for getting the resources you want, reading level is also helpful, and it is possible to search for dated materials, such as newspapers from the Korean War era (type Korean War, limit results to 1950-1955, and click on the news link in Google).
  • It’s easy to make info grams. Some resources: infogr.am, easel.ly, and piktochart.
  • Never underestimate the power of Twitter. The majority of my resources, including those from the previous bullet, came from Twitter. One person was at ITEC, but the other was in Oklahoma. Not to mention all the things I would have missed that were captured by others via the back channel #ITEC13
  • Speaking of Twitter, it still has a spam issue. I hadn’t really noticed it for a long time, but during the conference it was certainly present in the hashtag. But I did learn that you can filter your results. For me I used #ITEC13 -hidelink (Hidelink was what was spamming everyone). Thanks to @jamiefath for that one!
  • Kids are important and are missed when they are gone. But do we let them know that? My guess is not enough.
  • We are social creatures, yet school is typically the place where we can’t interact either with those literally sitting next to us or those in the larger community. If we want students to be engaged, let’s give them something to be engaged in.
  • There are a number of apps in iOS 7 that use location and notification services that really don’t need to. All that does is suck my battery life down and shares more than I really want. Check it out in settings and take back control!
  • There were three 8th graders at the conference (perhaps more, but I only saw three). It seems like more and more young people are showing up at conferences and I love it. Young people have a voice and they should let it be heard. As I was working on this post I saw Ian Coon tweet out something that appears to be a student bill of rights (I don’t think that’s what it’s called, but something generally like that) about what they want from their school and their educational experience. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to later today when I get to work. I don’t know if K12 students have to pay for ITEC, but they shouldn’t. These are the people we need to invite in, because above all, their voice counts, yet they are the most underrepresented group in education. We should be inviting them in so we can learn from them.
  • I met a number of people I follow on Twitter. Always a fun experience. I also had the chance to meet up with some people I hadn’t seen in a few years, even since high school.
  • Looking for more? Check out #ITEC13 and http://www.jeffutecht.com/itec

Finally, perhaps the best part of the conference were the conversations I had with my colleagues on the way to and from the conference. We were able to talk about more things in the two hour drive there and back than any number of meetings would have accomplished. This is on top of the interactions we had during the conference. For me, I was able to get a ton of feedback on my dissertation topic and some new directions to keep my work moving forward.

So all in all, I had a great conference experience. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to stay for all the afternoon sessions. Time is a scarce resource, but even with my mostly limited ITEC experience, I still feel I’ve been rejuvenated and am ready to keep on being bothered.