Archive for February, 2013

So, I’ve been thinking about what makes for a productive visit for colleagues looking at 1:1 learning. I have visited four different schools this year with my colleagues. Each school has 1:1 laptop program yet there was wide variety not only in the schools but in the length of time they have been teaching and learning in this environment.

My conclusion: there is no perfect visit that fits everyone. Surprise. Just like Goldilocks, I was looking for the porridge that was “just right” for each person in my group. As the person bringing my colleagues, I was more anxious than I anticipated being. I wanted the school to look good, to show its best self, to reassure my colleagues if they needed reassuring, to inspire them if they needed inspiration, and to sing with them if they just needed a choir. Not too much, right?

Tourist Alert

Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Scazon

One high school we visited was honestly a mess. They do great things at this school, and I would be thrilled to have my kids there, yet neat and tidy are not words I would use to describe it. Also, we didn’t end up seeing a lot of tech use, which was why we were there. Turned out the colleague with me didn’t need that. He valued the experience of talking to the students and other teachers. He was taking a broad view. Phew.

We also visited a school that specializes in students with learning differences. Our visit there gave my colleagues some reassurance that the laptops did not need to be out all the time, that meaningful work was happening, and that management was doable. It also gave them the idea that class size of 10 would be great. Keep dreaming, my friends!

A day long visit to a very similar school where we got to talk to lots of teachers, administrators, and tech folks gave my colleagues some perspective on the journey of change and transition. It was helpful to hear from people in a very similar school. Plus, we got to see the students in action and talk with some of them about their experience. We lucked out in terms of seeing some classes that particularly resonated with my group.

Finally, a small group went to a local high school. We were in and out quickly, which meant that it wasn’t a huge time commitment, always helpful for teachers. As we walked around, there were computers in use here and there and it just seemed to be an easy integration. Plus, we got to visit 4 different classes where technology was being used very differently. What made it so useful was that several of the uses we saw were very reasonable for my colleagues. These were uses that made sense in the classroom and which did not present an intimidating model. They were doable now! And, given the super short drive, we could go again.

In all of these examples, one of the things that was valuable was the conversation during our travel time which ranged from 8 minutes to 2 hours. Each time it gave me a chance to put into perspective some of what we had seen, explain a technical thing or two, and listen as others imagined how something they saw might translate at our school. On each visit I also go a chance to observe what grabbed each colleague’s attention so that I can personalize my support for that colleague.

So, I’m thinking about all of these visits as I think about planning more experiences like this for other colleagues. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • If it’s not a big production with presentations etc, short and sweet is good.
  • Something needs to seem doable NOW to each person in the group.
  • Acknowledgment of teacher time and choice is important for folks to hear loud and clear.
  • The travel time can be important talking time for the group.
  • There is no perfect visit.
  • I would love it if everyone got to visit somewhere.

What do you find valuable when you visit other schools?

Reflecting on a Reflection

Posted: February 18, 2013 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about how a 1:1 classroom and school should look. What should you see as you walk around? My school will be 1:1 in the middle school (6th-8th grades) next fall (2013) and then in the high school  in fall 2014. I’ve been to visit a number of schools with 1:1 programs with some of my colleagues. I’ve seen all different things in the classrooms.

City Refraction, City Reflection

Creative Commons photo by Flickr user lragerich

The other day I was talking to a parent who is working on a story for our publications. She was asking about the goal of the program. One of the things I said was that I will know we are being successful when computers are less special, maybe even kind of boring. Something like that, anyway. I explained that what I meant was that technology should be just another tool to be used or not used as the situation dictates; that technology should not be the focus of the learning, just a vehicle; that it should become less cool, more just there. Ok, I admit, not the smoothest description.

What I then described was an instance last year in 5th grade when I knew I was witnessing exactly what I just described. I had given some sort of directions for the task at hand, I don’t remember. Anyway, the students were in groups and had the option to use any tools they wanted-laptop, iPad, paper, pencil, book, whatever. One particular student was taking charge of her group; she’s a take charge girl. Some of her group wanted to rush the laptop cart, storm the iPads. Instead take-charge girl took charge and lead the group in thinking about what they needed (novel concept). They decided, ok she decided, that what they needed was not a laptop for each of them, but what they a single laptop and a single iPad, and a few books. Done. She was right. She was right because she’s a smarty-pants (in a good way) and because for her technology is not an event; it’s one tool. She knew they needed some tool (technology) and some information (some technology, some books). It will be a surprise when I say that this group accomplished their task quite well.

Anyway, the other evening I happened to be wandering about on Twitter. I saw @ChrisLehmann‘s tweet about a blog post called Ubiquitous. Just what technology should be. Here’s the last paragraph:

. . . when it is ubiquitous, it becomes a part of who we are and how we learn. That is the pathway to helping students understand the world in which they live. When it is ubiquitous, students learn how to put it away when they want to or they need to. When it is ubiquitous, it is no longer special. That is the moment when we stop worrying about integrating technology and start concerning ourselves with learning.

He pretty much sums it up.

What does ubiquitous technology mean to you?

How will you recognize it?

(Digital) Storytelling

Posted: February 13, 2013 in ETMOOC
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So, I’ve been thinking about storytelling. I’m supposed to be thinking about it a little more than I actually have been, but I’m getting there.

My grandmother's chair

My grandmother’s chair.

I personally love a good story. I have an old friend who is an excellent story-teller. She’s great with mimicking voices and accents and I could listen to her tell stories, the same stories, over and over. In my family, we have some stories that we retell at certain times of the year. I’m sure we aren’t alone in having some family gems that come up every year at holiday times. Now that we have more people in our family, (my brothers and I are all married and have kids) we tell these stories to new people who weren’t necessarily in the story. But these are part of who we are and our history as a family. They are about family members who have died, but whose characteristics or habits we may see in our children. In telling them to new family members we not only bring them to the inside of the family, we ask them to share the responsibility of keeping the stories alive. Even though my children did not know my grandparents (my daughter was not even walking when my last grandparent died) it is important to me that they know the stories that we tell about them: the time my grandfather made green pancakes, how my grandmother insisted we have Champaign on Christmas morning. I have some things that belonged to them, but without the stories that go with them, they are just things. That pink (my grandmother’s favorite color) chair really doesn’t go with our decor, but it sits at my desk, in all its pinkness, because it’s a good chair and to recover it in some other color would make it just another chair.

Anyway, I am participating in ETMOOC, a massive open online course. The topic at the moment is digital storytelling. The first part of this topic is the issue of pinning down what that means. We’ve been directed to several options for definitions. My thought is that the value and beauty of storytelling is there regardless of the format. There are some new media in which to tell, share, and comment on the story, but storytelling has not morphed into something that needs a new name.

It’s probably pretty obvious that I think storytelling is important. I also think it is powerful. Part of the reason I never could get through everything I planned in class is that stories would rear their large and distracting heads. There is nothing like a story to make a point. Plus, I think that the connecting that you do in your brain to link ideas into stories or connect one event here to another story there stretches you and makes you a different, and I would say better, thinker. So, no matter what grade or subject I teach, stories are part of that. The mixing in of the story in Maira Kalman’s And the Pursuit of Happiness is one of the things that makes it so interesting. (I still want to get that idea going. I’m working on it, in a sly and sneaky way. . .)

I hope to try out some options beyond my regular repertoire. I’ll keep you posted as I tell my stories.

Net Smart

Posted: February 11, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Screen shot 2013-02-06 at 1.35.50 PMSo, I’ve been thinking about Howard Rhiengold’s book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. There is an online book group on the ISENet Ning dedicated to this, so I decided to join. (You will notice I am behind already.) I miss my old book group and am in the market for a new one. I’d really like an in person one, but this is a good start.

I’ve read the intro and first chapter (Attention). The idea of being mindful of ones attention is worth any amount of time and effort anyone wants to spend on it, in my opinion. Because, seriously, who doesn’t think their attention is not what they would like it to be? With email on our phones, the expectation that we will reply quickly regardless of time of day, and then the potentially fun stuff all over the place, it’s no surprise many people have real withdraw symptoms if they turn that device off.

Since beginning the chapter on attention, I’ve been much more aware of my own attention or lack of it. I think there are comparisons to be made here to the food journaling for weight loss. I am pretty sure I remember seeing studies out there that supported the idea that just writing down what you eat, without trying to change, has benefit. I imagine this is about attention and mindfulness.

So, just the other morning I was at work and had too many disparate things which needed my attention. I tried my usual list making strategy for regaining some control, but really what was called for was focus. I stopped and thought deliberately about what activity would allow me to regain focus. I thought that if I could pick an activity to which I could easily or automatically give my full attention, it would be like restarting my computer. I came up with reading. It is, for me, an activity which I associate with concentration (assuming I’m reading something non-fluffy). So, I opened my book and read a few more pages of Net Smart; I was kind of thinking about it anyway. It really worked, in that my brain settled into a manageable swirl rather than the crazy one.

In thinking about my own attention levels, I notice that certain activities or ways I use technology encourage focus and certain encourage skimming, surface looking, and lack of focus. Both of these forms of interacting have their place I believe. However, each has an appropriate time and place. The metacognitive piece is the key here. It’s important for me to know how I learn. Sometimes it’s ok for me to let myself disappear down the rabbit hole of web surfing or pinterest wandering, even though I’m never getting that time back. It is serving as eye candy or brain rest when I can’t nap. At other times, it is a powerful form of procrastination that is allowing me to get in my own way. This extends way beyond technology.

For me setting serves as a very powerful cue. So, I know that as soon as I sit on the couch, even if I have work tools out, I am very likely not to work. However, if I sit at the dining room table, I am more likely to keep my attention on the task at hand. Most of this is really about procrastinating on tasks I don’t want to do. If my desire is solid, it doesn’t matter if I am on the couch. Plus, it’s so comfy there. I might allow my attention to wander periodically to take a brain break but my break will not turn into the entire evening. What I noticed is that even the little bit of attention I am giving to my own attention–naming it mostly–is effective in terms of helping me make active decisions about my technology use.

This made me think about what we are doing for our students in this regard. In 5th grade, I can honestly say that I spent time repeatedly talking about and having discussions with my students about that metacognitive bit. We talked about habits of mind, knowing our after school schedules, working in appropriate locations, and the variety of “good” answers there were to all these questions. I am never shy about sharing my own struggles to get things done on time with my students, and we had some good and honest discussions about this sort of thing. If I didn’t admit to having to work at this, I might talk at my students, but it would be just another lecture that missed the mark.

The One and Only Ivan

Posted: February 5, 2013 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about The One and Only Ivan, which recently won the Newbery Award. I read the book this fall with my personal daughter as part of the Global Read Aloud.

We were battling for the 1 library copy we had in the house. It was a great story about a fascinating character who takes charge of his life over the course of the book. And, he’s a gorilla. I am not normally a big fan of animal stories. Honestly, I would characterize this more as a survival story.

There is a great interview with Katherine Applegate, the author, here. Well worth a watch.

Congrats to The One and Only Ivan! If I were still in the classroom, I’d definitely be thinking about this as a class read.




Screen shot 2013-02-05 at 4.01.36 PMHave others read this?