Archive for November, 2014

So, I’ve been thinking about digital portfolios for years. In my last two years teaching 5th grade, my students each had a wiki with a page for each major subject, and I tried to build in time to reflect on work after each unit or so. Great, but it was a project that stayed in my grade.

Fast forward a few years. In my new administrative position, I’ve been talking to anyone who will listen mentioning digital portfolios here and there, and the idea has gotten some traction. Over the summer I went to a  two-day workshop by the EdTechTeacher group in Cambridge devoted to digital portfolios with a multi-division team from my school. There were 6 of us in total, teaching 4th-12th grades. What a gift to have the support and time to do this as a group!

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by Official U.S. Navy Imagery:

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by Official U.S. Navy Imagery: My team did not do anything like this, but we are still an impressive group.

I went with some fairly strong ideas as to what I believed we should do for our school. I felt, and continue to feel, that our version of this portfolio will be more about self-reflection (a la the portfolio assessment of old) and student voice than a showcase for very polished work. (When the expectation is that this work is “ready for publication” I think there is a strong temptation for the work to be overly corrected or edited by teachers.) My vision stresses authentic student commentary on progress and areas for improvement. My vision was a little fuzzy on some of the details of what platform to use, how to make this work at various age levels, and how to get more people on board. That’s where the workshop came in handy.

Attending the workshop with my school group meant that we were our own think tank. We all heard the same information. We all talked about how this new learning would and could help us understand more deeply the possibilities and the rational behind our portfolio project. Each of us thought about what this might look like in his or her own classroom, subject area, grade level. This kind of dedicated time to think, talk, eat, talk about other stuff, come back and have at it again the next day is what going to workshops allows teachers to do. The value of that time and the extra space never ceases to amaze me.

The workshop also gave me new ideas about formats for reflection. It does concern me that we are creating another way/time/place that will prioritize written expression. We’ve got plenty of those in school already. Learning about some quick ways to incorporate audio into reflection was a good reminder that the bigger goal is communication of ideas and does not necessitate writing. This was a big take away for many members of the group. However the biggest take away in terms of moving this idea forward was creating a group who has bought into the idea, has some extra information, and can speak up for our project.

Win, win, win.


Red Pants Team

Posted: November 19, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

So, I’ve been thinking about my tech coaching team.

We are a new team. This is only the third year that the team has consisted of tech coaches rather than computer teachers. So, I’m considering that year our beginning. Plus, that was the year I joined the group.

Anyway, our group started with me being both new to the group and a new leader, one of the other two members being new as well, and with a very large and imposing task (1:1 preparation). We had to come together quickly because we had shared work to do. Sometimes it seemed like our little team was always playing away games, somewhat hostile spectators, a lot of regrouping, a lot of going back to the drawing board. It was a “character building” season. (I personally hate that expression, but you get the idea.)

And then, part way through that first year, there was a shift. We started feeling like maybe we were the home team after all. We won a few games. We found a grove. The next year, we had to start our work again in some ways, but we were a comfortable team.

Trial by fire is either effective at forging a group or blowing them apart. The fire made us a group and we had a good thing going.

After two years, one of the team members went on to another school. We are new, again. We are trying to become a team, but are not in such pressure filled situation, which is nice. I was thinking about how our team spirit and connection was coming the other day. Then, we all arrived to our meeting and I tweeted this:

I know it’s hardly a sign from above, but I thought it couldn’t be bad.

So, I will now refer to us as the red pants team. We have our uniform, we are building our shared identity, and we plan to win some games.

What is Radical?

Posted: November 16, 2014 in Uncategorized
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creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by Lawrence Whittemore:

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by Lawrence Whittemore:

So, I’ve been thinking about what I do and if it’s radical enough. Can I get on the revolutionary bus? Do I need to get on that bus?

This is not a new topic of reflection for me; here’s a little history. I went to a co-ed school, (k-12) was taught science by women, and never doubted that science, or math, or art were comfortable places for women, even though I knew they might not be a place with a lot of women. I didn’t understand all the conversation about girls not feeling good being in science. I loved science, thought I might be a scientist (not a doctor). The fact that I might not be doing the standard girl thing was sort of appealing. I’d never felt very traditional. Then I went to a college that used to be all men and figured out what people had been talking about. All that talk about female role models made sense. I saw women in science classes, all of whom seemed to want to be doctors, but not too many women teaching hard science. This might have something to do with why my thesis was about the treatment of women in a more male space (in Tibetan Buddhism, but still women).

Ultimately, I found my way to education. It was not where I expected to land. I had always seen myself, imagined myself, doing something much more revolutionary, more radical, for a woman. I mean here I was teaching, and teaching in the elementary grades. How much more stereotypical could I be, I wondered. But, the thing is, I liked it. I liked all that energy and conversation in the classroom. And, I know there are students for whom some of the ideas we discussed in class were pretty revolutionary. I opened some eyes, at least temporarily.

Reflecting on this made me realize that my initial ideas were more tied to my minority or majority status in a particular job rather than the particular ideas or actions I might take within that profession. Kind of a limiting way to think about it, but it still made me feel more traditional than I was comfortable feeling. However, maybe I found a way to be revolutionary in the seemingly traditional. I can be the stealth revolutionary, just quietly, or not so quietly, doing my own purple hair thing, molding a small army of revolutionaries in a suburban classroom.

When it comes down to it, I am just not that radical, no matter what my thesis advisor said about me (the words radical, feminist, culture-destroyer may have been uttered). I wouldn’t mind if I were, but it’s not really fair to true revolutionaries to put me in that category; I would seriously water down the group.

Having now made my way to the ed tech part of education, I am back into that less traditional arena, admittedly within a larger traditional context. Is this my happy medium?


creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Gwenaël Piaser:

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Gwenaël Piaser:

So, I’ve been reading and thinking about professional learning.

One of the things I did for my own learning last year was to take a Coursera course: E-Learning and Digital Cultures from the University of Edinburgh. (Link to next version) I’ve done other online courses and participated in this and that, but it’s been a while since I took a course that was this theoretical.

Not only was the course well-organized and filled with excellent resources, it was a good reminder that although there are many ideas about technology out there, there are theories and philosophies that help organize those ideas into groups and schools of thought. These philosophies and schools of thought have names, leaders, and followers. Even if some of the followers don’t know who they’re following, it’s good for me to put a lot of the commentary I am subjected to hear into a larger context.

This class was another way for me to step back and see the big picture. It’s easy to get caught up in the nitty-gritty of what accounts need to be made, who is having trouble with her audio-visual set up, and what will we do about computers and exams. However my job as Director of Educational Technology means that I need to be thinking about the bigger vision of technology use at school. How do we as a school want to view technology?  To which philosophy do we subscribe? What constitutes safe, ethical, and effective (Will Richardson‘s trifecta) technology use at our school? Are we as adults and administrators modeling this?

Since this digital culture is a new setting, it really comes down to how are we dealing with it. “Adapting to this new context of change, variability and uncertainty is the biggest challenge we are now facing—as educators and as people.”   (Marc Prensky “From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom“) And yet Grant Lichtman makes the point in his new book #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education:

Change at most schools is not hard; it is uncomfortable. Sometimes it might be very uncomfortable for some people. It can be messy, complicated, and tiresome. Uncomfortable means making some tough decisions. But using the excuse that we can’t change schools because “it is hard?”–well, we need to get some perspective on the difference between hard and uncomfortable. (xii).

So whether we frame this as adapting to a new environment (a la Marc Prensky) or uncomfortable change (a la Grant Lichtman), how do we as individuals react? Do arrive ready to do battle with a powerful foe or do we come to a table to engage in conversation with a potential partner?

The more I think about it the more I think there is another theory is in play here. Carol Dweck’s work on Mindset seems very relevant. In education we think about this idea of the fixed or growth mindset in terms of students, when it comes to change in education, and technology related change in particular, the mindset of the teachers is the critical factor. Do we as teachers see ourselves as good teachers because of what we know and what we have always done in the classroom (fixed mindset)? Or, do we see ourselves as good teachers because of what we continue to learn and what we can add to our skill set (growth mindset)?

Is the future friend or foe?

I vote for friend. How will/am I preparing to meet this future friend? What am I doing to advance my own professional learning?

I think I am going to sign up for that Coursera course again. It’s starting soon. I think a second time around will help the material stick. Plus, I’m almost finished Grant Lichtman’s book and am going to get a chance to hear him speak soon. And, I’m thinking and reading a lot about assessment (read this book) and how to connect to self-reflection and digital portfolios (a favorite topic of mine) for a complete assessment package.

That should do it for me for a while. What are other people doing to prepare to meet the future and is s/he a friend or foe?