“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/

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WE aren’t very good at using technology in the curriculum

WE aren’t very good at using technology in the curriculum. WE just aren’t. And if you were wondering who WE are, that would be you and I, primary, secondary, and higher education. WE just haven’t figured it out yet. AND the way we approach “solving” the “problem” is simply misguided, because instead of approaching a curricular problem from the perspective of the curriculum, WE have decided that the best approach would be to invest in everything…but the curriculum. There are likely many out there that will say, “We invest heavily in the curriculum. Just look at (enter investment here)!” Most schools would say this. Which wouldn’t? The problem, though, is that WE don’t change the curriculum in any real way. Sure we may Skype with other schools across the nation or even give each student an iPad or laptop, but really, how much has the enacted and thus the experienced curriculum changed? I mean really changed?

I think we all know the answer, even if we don’t want to admit it. This is usually the point when I’d say there are pockets of hope here and there, but I’m not going to and that’s because everyone thinks they are that glimmer of light in the despair of our education system. Well your not, and I’m certainly not. This is because for every rockstar teacher who has changed for the better and is making a difference, there are exponentially more teachers who haven’t change, who view the SYSTEM with skepticism and suspect new innovations and ideas even more. YOU have them, I have them, WE ALL have them and in nearly all cases WE don’t do anything about them. They simply are overlooked. Passed over. Never to be seen or heard from again…except by the poor souls who have to have them as a teacher, and they can’t do anything. They have NO power and WE have ALL the power. WE don’t listen to them, even though our sole purpose is them.

While I can’t specifically address the needs of students anywhere, I can help address the needs of our society, which in my context are K12 schools. I work with people who want to be teachers. That’s why they come to UNI. So here’s what I am going to do. First, I’m going to make an explicit effort to determine the needs of our students. What do they need in order to learn and what can I do to help? Second, what does society need from us in order to prepare better students? This has many layers and one I’m going to tackle is what are schools doing that new teachers need to be ready for day one? Finally, I’m going to help faculty at UNI begin to change their curriculum so that they can meet the needs of learners and society. Maybe then we can start to have forward progress, real progress instead of this facade we have all come to recognize as progress, as change.

So that’s what I’m going to do…what are YOU going to do?

Do we want our curriculum to become “Institutionalized”?

I read something a few minutes ago that said something to the effect that when we begin using a new curriculum, teachers want to get to the point where they have institutionalized the process, so that it becomes a routine. My question is, do we really want to get to the point where our curriculum becomes institutionalized? Doesn’t that admit that we want to routinize the what and how of our courses so that nothing unexpected happens?

After reading and spending some time thinking about it, this is at the root of many of our struggles in education and making “change” (whatever that is by the way) happen. We want routine. We want the expected. It’s comfortable, reassuring. But it’s also damaging considering how quickly the world is changing. Content continues to expand at a more rapid rate everyday. Students are more diverse and thus have differing needs. And society in general is demanding different knowledge and skills, most of which we haven’t, as an education system, been able address adequately.

We need the unexpected, even though it’s messy and chaotic. That’s how the world works. Nothing of any real value comes in nice little packages.

The Digital Curriculum

I attended another round of sessions today and most of them were things that I need to know, like networking and wireless routers, and the such.  However, I did go to a couple sessions that many of you would have found interesting.  One of them was on the Digital Curriculum.  I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this breakout session since the three sentence paragraph describing the session was a bit vague, but nonetheless I attended and am glad I did.  This session was a very inspiring session that elicited the need for change in the way we are teaching our students.

This session started out by describing a classroom using some pictures the presenter had found and he asked us to guess the year.  As the pictures went across the screen I thought to myself, “well these look like some of the classrooms we have here in Cherokee.”  The kids in the pictures were wearing uniforms so I couldn’t tell what year it might be by their clothes.  As we came to the last slide I just assumed these pictures were taken just recently.  Then came the next slide.  The pictures were taken in 1978.  There was almost a gasp from many of the people in the room.

His point was that we are living in a highly digital and highly connected world, but our classrooms and the way we teach do not reflect this reality.  As the presentation went on over the next hour I listened to the presenter describe what the Digital Curriculum is and how it can be used.  The session I wandered into was making the case for going one to one with laptops for all students.

The presenter quickly explained that the digital curriculum is not something you can take off a shelf and use in your classroom and it isn’t a pedagogical learning theory and it also isn’t a technology tool we can use in the classroom either.  The digital curriculum is a conceptual framework for structuring schools.  One of the main problems with schools that go one to one is that the stakeholders can’t see how the increased technology will transform what they teach rather than only making minor changes to what they teach.

The digital curriculum helps ensure there is a prevailing digital component to every important component of teaching and learning in school.  Digital technology is the major feature but it is not the focus.  Rather the focus is on creating the ultimate enriching environment for learning.

I have attached the narrative the presenter gave us at ITEC.  I think this is where we are going to end up in the coming years as digital components begin to be crucial to our lives.  If you have any questions, or want to talk more about this let me know.

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