Are we willing to lose a bit of control?

A few days ago Dean Shareski came out with an interesting post that got me thinking (it’s time I got back into writing something). Dean has a great sense of humour so I think the post is a little tongue in cheek – I Don’t Think I’m an EdTech Guy Anymore.

In the article, he wonders whether what he once saw as edtech is really technical anymore.

Using digital media to create and consume, expanding classrooms to connect with experts and other learners, connecting assessment to technology, effectively using mobile devices as well as exploring the growing interest in digital citizenship were all topics and areas I spent time teaching and supporting. Today those topics, while still of interest do not have the same “newness” that we associate when with think of technology.

I can agree with this. The things that he writes about as now being technology leave me a little cold. His list includes:

  • Augmented and Virtual Reality
  • 3D Printing
  • Coding (arguably coding has been around for a long time but has become a newly sought after skill/experience)
  • ESports
  • BlockChain (data security)

I remember bringing some of this technology into schools and being pretty excited about the possibilities of makerspaces and tools to start understanding how coding works. Now, while I am still (more than ever) interested and engaged in teaching and writing about education, I don’t seem to get as excited about some of this technology.

I have to ask here, what is seen as educational technology these days? In another part of the article, Dean references an ISTE article on the 9 hottest topics in Edtech. The list includes professional learning vs. professional development and student-centered learning as two of the nine.

My question is – are these really edtech trends? Am I off base or is the trend towards more individualized learning (two of the edtech trends) simply a matter of more intelligent pedagogy or must it be linked up to technology?

Earlier this week I observed a student teacher going through a lesson with some grade 9 students. The lesson did have technology – there were Youtube videos and digital media involved in the presentation. What was missing was any level of engagement with the students. The information was conveyed using a very traditional lecture style, the students were the passive receptors of the information.

We know enough about education now that this mode for delivering information is outdated. It is unnecessary and it accomplishes little. Technology doesn’t accomplish all that much if all the strings are held on to by the teacher. The same goes for professional learning. When we bring in the sage from the school board to enrich the lives of our teachers, no matter what technology they are bringing in they are missing the point.

Maybe what we need to be focusing in on is not so much the tech we have at our fingertips but the democratization of education – maybe what we need to do is lose some of the control over information and allow our teachers and students explore more and use their own tools to find out what matters.

Writing is a funny thing. I really meant to write about the importance of digital media in education and how it really is (in my opinion) revolutionizing teaching, but I guess that will have to wait.

there is a lot to write about when it comes to the use of digital media and the teaching of history – just getting started!

Whatever the edtech – AR, VR, 3D printing, coding etc, it really doesn’t matter if we do not understand the basic fact that we need to lose control. We need to let our teachers know that the sage on the stage is not a valuable way to get students excited about learning. We have to stop talking at our teachers in dreary PD sessions and we really need to model an approach that allows for inquiry and discovery in the classroom.

What I am seeing is that there is little excuse for not doing this. We now are able to bring almost anything into the classroom. I was astounded last fall when I was giving a course on teaching methods in history how much amazing primary material is now out there for students to examine. And you don’t need a classroom full of computers to actively engage your students.

We know better now. Students need to get their hands dirty and get involved in their own learning.

Why should we hold onto all the keys to the knowledge chest? Why not open it up and let our students and teachers discover what is out there? They are bound to find out more than we could imagine.

More on the treasure of digital media later. The world is unfolding in your classroom – if you are willing to lose a bit of control!

The Podcast Broadcast for October 19th – What you need to listen to this week

some of the great podcasts on VoicEd Radio every week.

I am continuing my posts on upcoming episodes of the Podcast Broadcast that Stephen Hurley and I are putting out on VoicEd Radio every week.

I think this is an important series, podcasters are coming up with great material that educators need to be aware of. When we start thinking of new ways to do PD, the material coming out every week offers a wonderful variety of learning opportunities for educators. What do you want to learn? Whose voice do you want to hear?

This week, we will be talking about This Week in Canadian EdTech with Robert Martellacci, My Bad with Jon Harper, Faith in the System by Munazzah Shirwani and the upcoming Digital Citizenship Summit taking place next week in Toronto.

Two of these podcasts have to do with community discussions – this is where new learning really happens. Even in the digital age, face to face conversations offer great new, unscripted learning opportunities.

Robert Martellacci and Stephen Hurley discuss a really interesting initiative that is coming out of Sackville called Sackville 2020. I love this initiative and I would like to hear much more about this. The discussion on the podcast explored how to develop productive partnerships involving both public and private enterprises. The Sackville 2020 initiative as described in the Sackville Tribune Post is developing something new and exciting that takes education out of its traditional silo.

The Sackville Schools 2020 vision is one which includes more outdoor learning spaces, community connections, hands-on learning, inclusive education, bright and open areas, more innovative teaching approaches and so much more. It’s a concept that would help bring more 21st-century approaches to the local education system and to ensure our children are being provided with more experiential and community-based learning opportunities.

Here is part of the discussion on how this initiative is changing how people are envisioning education and outreach into the community.

I would not have known anything about this great initiative if I hadn’t listened in on the podcast this week. This really is new learning that has a great potential to bring us together in a wider community. Could this be a way to innovate into the future of education?

At the very same time, there is a really interesting conference that will take place in Toronto next week, the Digital Citizen Summit or Digcit Summit.

The collection of speakers is impressive and the conversation will be really important. Listening to In Conversation with Stephen Hurley, I realized that the whole theme of the summit has lots to do with something we featured last week when we discussed (too briefly) the work of Jennifer Casa-Todd. I love her positive spirit and the work she is doing to help educators to see the positive side and the wonderful potential of social media in the classroom. At a time when we are getting pushback from all sorts of populist forces that want to stifle the use of social media, this is an enlivening breath of fresh air.

The podcast is a great introduction to the upcoming conference which will have a positive impact on how we use social media in education. Here one of the organizers Carlo Fusco is talking with Stephen Hurley.

The next two podcasts will take listeners in a different, but equally important direction. I really like My Bad by Jon Harper. I would argue that this short, concise podcast should be required listening for educators, especially administrators. Each episode explores a mistake (My Bad) that an educator has made and what they learned from it. It is a humbling experience and one that many educators could benefit from.

In education these days, we are all about making mistakes and learning from them. But the reality is no one likes making mistakes and very few are willing to talk about them. If more people did this we would certainly have a more humane system overall.

I looked at two of Jon’s podcasts this week, one from an administrator who reflects on how she sometimes judged her own admin harshly and the second from an elementary teacher who talks about calling out a 6-year old student in front of his peers. These conversations are difficult to listen to, but maybe this is exactly what we need to be doing. Listening to the mistakes of others and learning to become a little bit more humble is a useful practice.

Here is part of the second conversation.

Finally this week, a podcast that is new to me but one that I will continue to listen to every week. Faith in the System is a podcast by Munazzah Shirwani. In her profile, she calls herself a ‘rookie podcaster’, but she is already really good. I listened to her second episode this week, Confessions of a Sikh High School Teacher.  She talks with Amrit Kaur Dhaliwal, program coordinator for a secondary school program at Khalsa Community School in Brampton where she has been teaching for over ten years.

Over 40 minutes the conversation ranges over a number of issues involving faith and schools. It is a really different podcast and it is truly compelling. At one point Munazzah and Amrit get into a discussion about discrimination in Canada and its impact on both of them. This is really important for us to listen to, I have included an excerpt here.

Again, this is terrific stuff and there is so much that we can learn here. The conversation is frank and intelligent and it leads us into a world that is probably unfamiliar to many of us. Here is the beauty of podcasting and digital radio. Within a few minutes, we can take part in important conversations that can inform our practice.

I hope you listen to a few of these snippets. The Podcast Broadcast will air again this Saturday at 10:00 am and I hope you listen in. You never know how these conversations will turn out, but that is the beauty of live radio.

 

How to introduce a great digital program – Discovery Education

Introducing new digital programming to schools and districts is not an easy thing to do. How do you decide what is good? How much should you be spending on these programs? Why should you spend anything when you have free resources like Google?

First, just like anywhere else, there is no such thing as a free ride. Quality programming costs money. The challenge is where do you spend your limited resources.

The other big problem is a very hard one to solve. Once you have a program ready for implementation, how do you find the time and resources to train a busy staff on how best to use this new program.

I don’t think we have solved this last problem yet.

I am very interested in Discovery Education. I have used this resource for years, I have attended their principal’s conferences and have trained our staff on how to use the program in the classroom. For a time, our school was the only one in our district that had access to Discovery’s Science Techbook.

I have also done work on the Science Techbook revision that has been taking place over the past year.

So, I know this resource and I believe it has a huge amount to offer educators. The problem remains, how do you tell busy teachers and administrators about a resource that could really enhance student learning?

This has been difficult. Sadly, in my former board, they have cut back or possibly eliminated the use of this resource. They have done this for a simple reason – people were not using it.

Again, this is understandable. People are very busy and they really need to take a pause if they are going to learn about new resources and tools for learning. There are so many out there – how are they to choose?

The answer is a simple one but it takes time. Districts need to commit human resources and time to teach people how to use complex digital tools. Putting them out there and expecting something to happen just won’t work. Teachers are simply too busy.

While I am happy to talk to anyone about Discovery Education, I am not getting lots of offers to come in and teach teachers about Discovery. Maybe the best thing for now is to simply blog about Discovery Education.

So, I have set up a new blog Discovery Education In Canada and I plan to post every day on some aspect of Discovery Education and how it can work as an excellent digital resource for teaching and learning.

This is a bit of a challenge as I have to download material from the DE site so that people who are not registered with Discovery can see the material I am referring to.

I have four posts out now and I started on Saturday. No idea if this is going to spread the good news, but if you don’t try you will never know.

So, the experiment begins. I hope you take a moment to look and maybe even share a post or two.

Response to: Five Ways to Damage a Good School

There are just some posts you have to read. Last week, I came upon this post by Greg Ashman, Five ways to damage a good school. As a former school principal, I am a sucker for lines like that.

His ‘five things’ were really interesting, and if I can, I will try to comment on some of these factors because, from my experience, he makes lots of good sense.

The first one is not something that you would think would make a top five list, but it is interesting.

Focus on the furniture

I admit that this is a bit of a pet peeve, but I think Greg is on to something here.

The most efficient physical arrangement is to have individual classrooms with tables that are laid out, or at least can be laid out, in rows, yet you will struggle to find a consultant or architect who will recommend this.

It might even be politically incorrect to agree with this point, but as a principal, I got so tired of ‘experts’ telling me how terrible it was that some teachers still had their students in rows. How terrible, how lacking in creativity how 1920’s!
To me, it was important to remember that this supposed expert had not taught in a regular classroom for at least a decade.

Another consultant whose feet were a bit more firmly planted in the classroom noted that rows were important for kids. Sometimes a student needed to know that they had their own safe space in the classroom, something they would be able to count on. This makes lots of sense and as a principal, I never told any teacher how to arrange their classroom and never made any judgement on the quality of instruction based on the design of the room.

Educational orthodoxy these days seems to be firmly planted in the ‘flexible seating’ mode. Take this article in Edutopia – Flexible Seating and Student-Centered Classroom Redesign by Kayla Delzer:

Our classroom environments should be conducive to open collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. This simply cannot be done when kids are sitting in rows of desks all day.

When I returned to the classroom a few years ago, I had rows. I was able to create this flexible seating arrangement simply by asking the kids to move their desks – they were quite capable of doing this, allowing for some increase in physical activity, another benefit of going to flexible seating.

Here’s the thing. Too often, educators get caught up in the latest fad – flexible seating and the expense that comes with this is one of the newest things. In schools with limited resources (I would say most schools in Canada), the purchase of new furniture means that something else will not be bought.

I one school that I had worked in, the new administration decided to purchase flexible seating rather than provide computers for kids. How can that be seen as a good thing? In many schools, the arrival of a new principal means that new office furniture is in order – how can we justify these expenses when we still rarely see 1:1 schools in Canada? Where are our priorities?

Thank-you Greg Ashman for making such an interesting observation. Let’s try to keep our focus on empowering our students, not the latest edufad.

 

A Coding Robot in Every School

Students should have access to free education

Coding and Robotics is a necessary 21st-century skill

If everyone does a little together we can have robots in every school

from CodeMyRobot.ca

 

Here is a really interesting initiative you certainly want to consider if you are interested in bringing coding to your school. A group of educators in the Ottawa area have come up with the idea of supplying every school in Canada with a robotics kit for students and teachers. There is no cost for the kit which is incredible when you consider how much it can cost to bring coding technology into your school.

To receive your kit, all you need to do is register on the website.

This project has the potential of opening up coding and robotics to students and communities throughout the country. Coding certainly qualifies as a true 21st-Century skill and all students can benefit from learning about and creating their own programmable robot.

The next big step in this project is getting the word out. If you are interested in getting kits for your schools, simply complete the registration form and your students can begin to learn about coding and robotics. After this, the sky is the limit!

http://codemyrobot.ca/

 

 

Digital Implementation in School: How are we doing?

digital-implementation-in-schools-how-are-we-doing-google-docs-clipular

Implementation of digital content seems to be widely misunderstood.  You can’t just drop in a sophisticated digital program without a really good implementation program.  Like with everything in education, it comes down to the person.  If teachers are ill-equipped to use new programs, they will fall back on traditional teaching methods.

Implementation is a long game.  To successfully introduce a program, you need a multi-year plan for professional development and support for your teachers.  If we use the SAMR Model as a measuring stick, I think that most teachers are still at the Substitution level.  At this stage, with all the technology available, we should at least be working at Modification – ‘Tech allows for significant redesign’.  I don’t think this is happening mainly because teachers do not have sufficient time during the day to explore the tools already out there that would allow them to transform their use of technology.

In Canada, teachers spend an average of 800 hours in the classroom per year.  In contrast, Japanese teachers spend 600 hours in the classroom (Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators).  The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education suggests that teachers need at least 10 days a year be set aside for in-school teacher training supported by coaches and mentors.  In Sweden, teachers are allocated 15 days or 6% of a teacher’s total working time to professional development (How High-Achieving Countries Develop Great Teachers, August 2010).

Timely, well-supported PD might help us to move towards Modification and eventually, Redefinition.

digital-implementation-in-schools-how-are-we-doing-google-docs-clipular-1

As part of this process, it is really important your staff with excellent digital training resources. We are in the second year of a partnership with Atomic Learning.  I consider this a great investment.  You cannot ask your teachers to rely on YouTube or Google when they have questions on a variety of digital programs.  They need sources of curated material delivered by professionals who are used to working with teachers.  Atomic is not the only source for this professional learning, but for us, it’s works really well.

Discovery Education, especially in the United States and Great Britain is also providing excellent on-line and person-to-person PD.  The personal touch, in my opinion is really important.  Discovery spends a significant amount of time encouraging teachers to meet and share ideas.  They also feature innovative teachers on their blogs through the DEN- Discovery Educators Network.  The element of ‘teacher voice’ is a very important aspect of their approach to professional development.

digital-implementation-in-schools-how-are-we-doing-google-docs-clipular-2Discovery Education puts a great emphasis on connecting with other educators

Pockets of innovation certainly do exist, but to me, the implementation of digital technology has been painfully slow.  We seem to still be willing to invest in text and print resources rather than make the leap to digital texts and resources that allow for greater innovation and creativity.

The tools are certainly out there.  They do require a significant financial commitment, but we need to move in a more deliberate fashion towards the adoption of these tools at a much more meaningful level.

Implementing Digital resources at your school some points to consider.

adobe-spark-clipular

Today I learned that we will be losing two really important digital programs at our school.  This is a real blow for us as we are trying very hard to supply our teachers and students with excellent digital content to support the use of chromebooks in the classroom – all students from grades 3 to 6 have their own computer and the juniors (4-6) are expected to bring their machines home every night.

There are two important factors that seem to be influencing decisions about access to digital resources.  One is the expense, the other is implementation – not enough teachers across the school board are using these costly programs.  I would like to focus on implementation.

Implementation of digital content seems to be widely misunderstood.  You can’t just drop in a sophisticated digital program without a really good implementation program.  Like with everything in education, it comes down to the person.  If teachers are ill-equipped to use new programs, they will fall back on traditional teaching methods.

So what can we do?  Here are a few ideas.

  • Implementation is a long game – to successfully introduce a program, you need a full-year plan of PD and support for your teachers.  Some of this training has to be driven by the principal or someone else who is available to put on demonstrations and workshops during the day.
  • Webinars are good, but people are better.  We have found that while webinars are easier to arrange, teachers prefer to meet with a representative of the company producing the content.  When we have been able to arrange this, implementation has gone up dramatically.
  • Teachers need in-school time to experiment with the programs.  Last year, after the introductory workshops, all teachers were given release time to experiment with the programs.  They could choose what program they wanted to experiment with and many times they were able to contact the service provider to get just-in-time solutions to their problems.
  • Provide your staff with a good on-line PD resource.  We are in the second year of a partnership with Atomic Learning.  I consider this a great investment.  You cannot ask your teachers to rely on YouTube or Google when they have questions on a variety of digital programs.  They need a source for curated material delivered by professionals who are used to working with teachers.  Atomic is not the only source for this professional learning, but for us, its works really well.
  • People need to understand the importance of curated resources. Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers states that he rarely uses Google as a way to locate material for teachers.  This is a really important point.  If you want really good content, it has to be curated.  Discovery Education, for example, does an excellent job of bringing educational resources together in math, science and social studies.  Other tools like unroll.me and Scoop.it are wonderful ways to collect information of interest to you. You choose the content and receive (in the case of Scoop.it) suggestions from your personal learning community.  The important point is – curated resources can cost money.  You can’t sustain your school just using Google and YouTube.  You need to make sure the materials you are using with your students are excellent and have been selected by professionals – you can’t guarantee this with uncurated sites like Google.

Implementation is not easy.  It is much harder than simply buying machines for everyone in your school.  It is something that requires a great deal of thought and yes, sometimes, financial resources.

Why do we fear 1:1??

1-1

I find it very common to hear all the reasons why moving towards 1:1 in our schools will not work.

We don’t have the funds, the teachers won’t use them, I don’t understand how to use them, collaboration is better – the list can go on and on.  In my mind, these are all just excuses for not taking the creative leap to provide a computer for each student.

We work at a school in a high poverty area.  Every student from grade 3 to 6 has their own laptop.  The grade 4’s are expected to bring their machine home every day and work on various programs to supplement their in-school learning.

The prevailing wisdom seems to be BYOD (Bring your own device) which makes no sense.  While this allows schools off the hook for paying for computers, it creates an opportunity gap between rich and poor schools.  Our parents don’t have the money to buy a computer for their child. We, therefore, are obliged to find the money to invest in machines.

The main reason I am so keen on 1:1 is because the daily use of computers has really revolutionized the teaching and learning at our school.  Teachers have been open to learning new programs like Mathletics, Prodigy Math, the Discovery Education Science Techbook, Google apps and Hapara as a learning management tool.  They are getting into coding and robotics and our kids are very keen on makerspaces.

I can’t claim that all of this is because of the fact that we moved to 1:1, but it did change how we do things here.  The teacher is no longer the sole provider of information.  The teacher is a co-learner with the student.  Teachers are more apt to encourage students to find their own answers to their inquiries rather than depend on one adult.

If these are just some of the benefits we have seen over the space of our first full year as a 1:1 school, why are others so hesitant?

I have no good answer for that question, but for us there will be no going back.

 

The Innovator’s Mindset: Powerful Learning First, Technology Second

couros

What I really like about this book are the provocations that are put out there in every chapter.  In chapter 9, George Couros writes about the importance of the appropriate technology being introduced into schools, but more importantly, he writes about the mindset that needs to go along with that.

We are trying to implement 21st-century technology with management systems that sometimes seem to harken back to the 19th century.

Our management systems have not caught up to the terrific learning opportunities, assisted by technology that are out there.  Couros quotes Seymour Papert in this chapter and I have to add part of the quote in this post because it defines the bind we are in as we try to revolutionize our inflexible education structures:

So if I want to be a better learner, I’ll go find somebody who’s a good learner and with this person do some learning.  But this is the opposite of what we do in our schools.  We don’t allow the teacher to do any learning.  We don’t allow the kids to have the experience of learning with the teacher because that’s incompatible with the concept of the curriculum where what is being taught is what’s already known.

Seymour Papert, Seymour Papert: Project-based Learning,” Edutopia, November 1, 2001.

What is really needed is a change of course (pg 146) when it comes to the application of educational technology in our schools.

George quotes Tom Murray from the Alliance for Excellence in Education and an article he wrote on “10 steps Technology Directors Can Take to Stay Relevant.” Based on this article, George poses  four questions that focus on the intelligent implementation of technology:

  • What is best for kids?
  • How does it improve learning?
  • If we do ______, what is the balance of risk vs. reward?
  • Is this serving the few or the majority?

These are essential questions – how often are these questions asked when it comes to the implementation of technology?  I believe, in my experience, these questions are asked by technology departments, but too often their way is barred by system decision makers who do not have as clear a vision on how to answer these questions.

Are we really asking what is best for the learner, or are we asking what is easiest, cheapest fastest in the short-term?  Are we really exploring what is best for all learners and do we really have a comprehensive plan to come up with the intelligent implementation that involves all learners – students and teachers alike.

 

Makerspaces in a box: An opportunity to create

The first day of FETC was great.  We had a chance to really focus on  important technical innovations that are changing the nature of education.  Google applications to make a paperless classroom, experiencing a makerspace and methods of film-making in the classroom.  A full day!

The three-hour format allowed us to try out some really interesting tools for the classroom.  The makerspace workshop had me totally engaged making circuits using play doh, metal tape and fabric.  Nothing that we were using cost more than $25.00 for a simple kit that uses play doh as a connector.  Other materials cost just pennies, but I really enjoyed having the opportunity to work with these materials to make different circuits.  This is a good lesson for me – you don’t need to have the latest technological gadget to create something new.

my paper circuit – a work in progress

I quickly got caught up in making my own inventions, lighting up diodes and connectiung buzzers.  Each station had a differnt challenge for us and what we created was our own.  What freedom – to simply use your imagination and succeed at making something new.  

Each kit was labeled with its own QR code linking to a website expanding on the activities in the box.

The three-hour workshop just flew by and I thought to myself what would it have been like to learn about circuits and innovation when I was a student, free to invent what I wanted to invent. I never understood circuits drawn on a caulk board.

Although I have understood for a long time the importance of makerspaces as a way to encourage innovation and creativity, I have never taken the time to actually sit and work through some of these tasks.  So simple, but so empowering.

The paper circuit website

The Squishy Circuits site – kits cost $25.00, but you can buy the parts separately 

When I return to school, I will look for ways to incorporate some of these great ideas into our makerspaces.  No need to look for the newest robotics kit – kids can create with some of the simplest materials available.  The key element in all this is simply to let kids create, don’t wait to amass a huge pile of wires and diodes, just get a few simple kits and get started!

 eTextile project – again, very simple materials that kids could use to innovate