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.

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Expressive Arts Project-Based Learning Project

Map of Project Steps

 

I working again this semester with a faculty member at UNI that teaches an Expressive Arts Integration teacher education course and thought I’d share the project map I’ve created the more or less maps out everything we’re doing.

To give a little context to what we’re doing and what we’ve done in the past, this is a project where small groups of UNI teacher candidates are paired up with small groups of elementary students. The UNI students teach a series of lessons to the elementary students using one of the following art themes: drama, music, visual arts, and dance and movement. This is a project that the professor has done for a number of years, but since the closing of Price Lab School, I’ve been involved in making this project happen from a distance.

While this semester is logistically a little different, what happens is that the UNI students learn about using the arts to teach content in meaningful ways, by preparing lessons for when they travel to the school to teach to their small group. These lessons are done collaboratively, both planning and teaching. In the meantime, commercials are recorded and posted online for the students in the schools to watch. I think both the UNI and elementary students enjoy the videos, especially when the students respond, either in their letters or by creating a commercial of their own and sending it to UNI. We also do some low tech handwritten letters to the students to help them get to know each other more. I am actually a big fan of handwritten letters since it seems everything else is so digitized. It’s always fun to get real mail!

Finally, after the students go out to the school and teach their lessons, they create some kind of documentation artifact, such as a book, poster, etc. that documents their day and the learning that took place. The elementary students are then each provided a copy of the documentation as a form of capstone to the experience.

What I like about this project is that it is a real project. Everything that’s done in this course centers around preparing for this experience. I also like amount of autonomy and student choice that the UNI students have in creating their lessons. There are some requirements, but overall, they have a lot of choice in what they teach and how they do it.  Like all good projects, it takes a lot of time and planning, but it’s worth it, because it’s real.

It’s about the technology, pedagogy, and content

A few weeks ago I was talking with a group of colleagues and the topic of how we integrate technology came up. One of them said that it’s all about the pedagogy, not the technology. The point he was trying to make was that we don’t want to base the decisions we make only on the availability of technology. For example, we shouldn’t say “I have this iPad, I should use it to teach Math!” This is a very technocentric approach to technology integration, because we aren’t consider what we teach and how we teach it (content and pedagogy).

However, making the claim that it’s all about the pedagogy is similarly misguided, because it assumes that the ways in which we teach will encapsulate the use of technology (let’s just leave effectiveness out of the discussion for now). We all know this isn’t true and to prove it isn’t true we just need to walk down the hallways of our school, whether it’s elementary, middle, high or post-secondary. There are a number of teachers who don’t use technology and have success. So we have an inherent issue when we say that it’s all about the pedagogy, because as a number of teachers have shown, only considering pedagogy simply ignores the use of technology. Pedagogical knowledge is technology neutral and is concerned with issues surrounding classroom management, assessment, instructional strategies, etc.

If we want to effectively integrate technology into the teaching and learning process, then it really is about the technology, but it’s also about the pedagogy and content too. Integrating technology is not an isolated technology event. Rather it is the complex interactions between three types of knowledge: technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge. It’s not enough to have each type of knowledge in isolation from the others. Each has to be considered in relation to the other two, because only when we consider how a technology effects what we teach by how it can be represented and understood through the use of the technology, as well as how the way we teach that content changes due to the use of the technology, will we be able to truly integrate technology in purposeful ways.

My purpose isn’t to nitpick what one of my colleagues said. Rather, it’s to point out that we can’t continue to think about developing knowledge in isolated ways. We can’t learn how to technically use an iPad and then be expected to integrate it into our teaching. It doesn’t work that way. But we also can’t just focus on pedagogy development either, because that doesn’t guarantee the effective use of technology. If anything, it would guarantee the effective use of a management, assessment, or other instructional technique. So if we really want to integrate technology in an effective way that has implications for learning, then we need create opportunities where we are developing knowledge about a particular technology, but only insofar as it relates to how to teach a piece of content in a particular way.

This is the only way we are going to have forward progress with the effective use of technology in the learning process. As you begin to plan for professional development this next school year, reconsider your technocentric sessions. Find ways to create opportunities for your teachers to develop knowledge surrounding not only technology, pedagogy, and content in isolation, but also with how each of these interact with the other. Then you’ll be on the right track and will have the potential, not the guarantee but the potential, for successful technology integration. Remember, this is the first step, not the last. There’s a lot more to do and no truly clear way of getting there.

 

Making Distance Collaboration Work

Video Conference with CALWe hear often today that we need to be collaborating with others outside of our classrooms. It isn’t enough that we only talk within our own schools and districts. We should be talking with other educators and students outside of our schools, but what does that really mean? Until recently I really didn’t know what it meant, even though I believed we should be engaging in those kinds of activities. So I thought I’d briefly describe my recent experiences facilitating collaboration between UNI students and CAL elementary students.

What we are doing here at UNI is connecting with rural schools and one of them is the CAL school district. One of our courses takes all of the UNI students out to CAL towards the end of the semester for a full day of the arts. Leading up to that culminating event are a number of smaller events and one of them is a video conference between CAL and UNI. We are doing that today in fact and my biggest take away is ensuring that we make every moment a learning experience, both for the CAL students, but also the UNI students.

For CAL students, they are excited to learn more about who the UNI students are: What’s your favorite color, do you have any pets, what’s your favorite thing to do outside? These are just a few among a host of questions the CAL students have had. For the UNI student, their learning surrounds becoming a teacher. What questions should we ask? What do we do if they don’t say anything? How do you relate to students on their grade level? What do I do if I freeze up and don’t know what to say? These are just a few of the things we talked about here at UNI between groups.

As I look at the learning that’s taking place for students at both ends, I can see truly see the value of collaboration, especially with those outside the school. Which brings me to my point. If we are really going to take advantage of collaboration and not simply collaborate in name only, we really need to be deliberate about what the students are learning when they collaborate. It isn’t enough to open Skype, the Polycom, or Google Hangout. There has to be substance to what the students are doing. It sounds so simple, but even today it took us a minute to really discover where we needed to target our learning for the day.

What I’m trying to say then is that collaboration is only as good as you make it…so make it good. It truly makes a difference.

Take Aways from Class

Tapping a Pencil
The semester is in full swing and this has been my first week back in the Ed.D. program.  Here are some take aways I came up with while sitting in class.

  • Students come to school (K12/College) expecting to be engaged, however, when they come to school they aren’t engaged, at least not in the way they want to be engaged. It’s no wonder students drift off to Facebook, Twitter, texting, or even sleep. Sitting in lecture/discussion is not engaging and as the size of the class increases, motivation and accountability to be engaged decreases.
  • Just because students stray from lecture/discussion does not mean they have short attention spans. Rather they have better things to do than participate. How engaged would you be if someone talked to you for an hour or more and didn’t interact with you in any way. Saying they have short attention spans and that technology is to blame is a copout for the traditional teacher. See how attentive they are when you engage with them in meaningful ways, perhaps using technology. You might be surprised.

Image Credit: http://flic.kr/p/5y2Uqm

Involvement

What does it mean to be student centered? Can we still consider a lesson student centered if the learner isn’t involved in the planning process? At what level does the learner become involved? These are some questions I’ve been reflecting about for the last day or so. The more I think about learner involvement and student centered instruction, I begin to feel like there is a continuum. On one end we have high student involvement throughout all aspects of the lesson, from planning through lesson evaluation. On the other end, we have low involvement throughout the entire lesson.

Traditionally, I’ve thought that student instruction was somewhere in the middle of these two points. Probably more towards the high involvement than then low, but not all the way to the extreme points. As a rule of thumb, I never go all in to one extreme over the other, but I’m wondering how student centered a lesson really is when the learner isn’t interested in the content being learned?

I understand the fact that the more relevant a lesson is to the learner, the more engaged and committed he or she will be to the learning process. But is that enough? What if the learner sees no value in the content or sees value, but wants to be more involved in the selection and design of the lesson? As I reflect on how I’ve taught in the past, rarely have I considered the value learners place on the content they are engaged with (I’m not going to say learning because I’m not sure they really are learning the content if there is a philosophical barrier between what I’m selling and what they’re buying). The content is important to me, but maybe not to everyone else.

I’d make the argument that if faculty (and probably students too) don’t believe in the content or how it is being disseminated, then minimal learning can take place. I don’t feel it’s enough to be student centered in the way that the learner is actively engaged, or even to the extent that the lesson is hyper relevant to the learner. I think there is another factor involved that is preventing a number of new ideas from being implemented. And I think that factor is full disclosure involvement from content selection, through design, and implementation.

I wonder how many of us that provide learning opportunities for faculty (as well as students) do this on a regular basis? I know I don’t…perhaps it’s time that I start.

Leadership Day 2012: Don’t Adopt Technology on a Whim!

My message for this year’s leadership day is going to be simple: Stop making decisions to adopt technology on a whim! You are damaging your school every time you decide to adopt a new technology initiative, because your faculty, staff, and students cannot be expected to change every time you attend a conference and come back with the latest flyer from the vendor hall. Gather a team that represents all stakeholders in the school and work together to create a vision that has student needs at heart.*  Once you have that vision, bring every resource the school has into making it happen, including technology.

I may seem a little harsh, but I have become frustrated with both administrators and teachers, who lack the common vision for where they need to be and how they are going to get there. When this happens, numerous initiatives are started and the disconnect is so great that it is difficult from an organizational standpoint to support everything everyone is doing. The cliché, a mile wide and an inch deep, is very reflective of where many schools find themselves. Everyone has their vision for what needs to happen, but since many of these visions compete against each other, no one can do them well, not to mention enact meaningful change.

If you find yourself in any leadership position, I urge you to stop and take a step back. Gather key stakeholders that represent your school community and take a deep breath and consider where you want to go. What’s important? What skills do your students need to leave with as they enter college or the workforce? What is the light at the end of the tunnel that each student needs to reach when they leave? Define what that is, and then begin talking about how you can get there. How will you use every resource the school can leverage, including technology resources and funding, to make that vision happen? Most important, how are you going to  build capacity within those around you? Figure out what it is that you need do and do it extremely well. This isn’t going to be easy, but it has to be done.

I want to conclude by saying that once you have made your plans and it comes time for implementation, be sure to encourage a culture where change is embraced. Any meaningful change you implement is likely going to be different from what has been done in the past. Teachers are going to need support and lots of it. If a major technology initiative is being implemented to support the vision, be sure to support a culture where teachers and administrators are willing to work with each other and willing to fail together. Perfection isn’t achieved on the first run, so be willing to re-invent your plans, your techniques, and most important, yourself. The road is going to be bumpy and mistakes are going to be made. Lead by example and take risks that could end in failure,  learning from your mistakes. Be willing to move on to find the right solution.  And above all, be true to your vision and stick it out. Don’t let the static of vendor halls and technological novelties interfere with your vision. Don’t adopt a technological innovation on a whim.

 

*Yes I know schools have these teams, but I often question their effectiveness. How much is what these teams accomplish for show and how much is for real change? Is the culture present within these teams to allow for failure without blame? Is this team really helping your school move forward? If not, maybe it’s time for a change? Certainly not all schools are like this, but I’m sure too many are.