Posts Tagged ‘discovery’

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by Matt Peoples: http://flickr.com/photos/leftymgp/7828909452

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by Matt Peoples: http://flickr.com/photos/leftymgp/7828909452

So, I’ve been thinking about victories–small and large.

My school is in the process of transitioning to a 1:1 learning environment. Our middle school went 1:1 this past fall, upper school (high school) will be 1:1 next fall. One of the things I am responsible for is preparing our faculty and students for this transition. Really, faculty members are responsible for themselves, but I’m responsible for helping them help themselves. As you might imagine this is not all hearts and rainbows. However, I have a success story to share. It is not my success; it’s another teacher’s success. I am so excited for her.

She sent me this email:  . . . that was my first use of the computer that changed the experience for the classes!

So, here’s what happened. She tried something and her classroom was instantly transformed.

HA! No. That’s not how transformation happens, silly. Think again.

She has been testing out some new strategies and tools for a awhile. She has wanted to try things, and sometimes I have had to say, “No you don’t need another tool here. You need to think about your classroom goals first.” We have spent a lot of time talking about classroom teaching about writing, about whether google docs will make students better writers. (Spoiler alert-it won’t.) We talked about my class too, which has been really helpful for me.

It was mid-March when I got this email. This conversation has been going on since last school year. This year she really committed to making some changes from the beginning of the year. She has taken charge of her own professional learning–summer work, meeting with me, trying things. Most importantly, she has kept at it. Initially, we were talking substitution, maybe augmentation on the SAMR model *(See below for more info.) And, that was fine. Totally fine. Using technology is not always wow-y. Wow-y is possible, but it takes time to get there. A lot of time it’s not even possible to imagine wow-y at first.

If you look at the SAMR model, transformation is the wow-y level. Transformation consists of both the modification and redefinition levels. Modification is defined as tech allows for significant task redesign. Redefinition is defined as tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.

So, if we go back to my colleague, she didn’t get to start above the line in the transformation zone. No one does. She had to start down there at substitution and augmentation. Looking back, she may even think she had to spend more time that she would have liked wading through those levels. I would say that part of what wading around does is provide time to get used to each step. There isn’t a set amount of time you have to spend at each level before moving on. It’s all personal. So, the more you engage in that thinking, the more you have those conversations and begin to be willing to look at your discipline differently, the sooner it is that you will get to transformation. You can’t get there by hopping on the train and waiting for the stop to be announced. Just like our students, we must work for it.

I think there are a lot of ways in which we aren’t that different from our students. Who doesn’t like a victory?

 

* The SAMR model is a framework developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura that helps teachers evaluate technology use. There are four levels of technology integration. First is substation, then augmentation. These are both in the enhancement group. Next are modification and redefinition. These two constitute the transformation level. Check out Kathy Schrock’s website for more info and a good image.

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?

transistor

A transistor, one of Bell Lab's inventions

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about the article in The New York Times from February 23rd: “True Innovation“. Jon Gertner is the author of a forthcoming book about Bell Labs called The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation and this was a kind of preview. There was plenty of detail about Bell Labs that was new to me, all well and good. What I thought was most thought-provoking was to think of how the characteristics of Bell Labs that Gertner identifies as success generators might or might not be present in schools.

Gertner contends that  Bell scientists “worked on the incremental improvements necessary for a complex national communications network while simultaneously thinking far ahead toward the more revolutionary inventions imaginable.” This idea of combining incremental change and visionary thinking is what struck me. I think this is what schools should do. They should work continually to improve what they do (tweaking this and that) while at the same time be working towards that revolutionary (re-)invention. Gertner states that Mr. Kelly, who ran the lab for many years, believed it was necessary to have “a ‘critical mass’ of talented people to foster a busy exchange of ideas.” If schools can attract and retain talented teachers, they should be all set in this department. A little more respect for the teaching profession would help here, yes? Anyway, what professional doesn’t want to work with a team of talented colleagues? I know some people don’t want to work with a team, talented or not. But, let’s just say you are working with others, not too many people would say, yes give me the duds. So it seems obvious. However, I think that what is not obvious is that you want bunch of talented folks in the same place. It’s not overkill. It means that they will have peers and be able to have that exchange of ideas that is so important for real innovation. This is a place people will want to be! Excited and interested teachers will attract and produce excited and interested students. There’s our critical mass.

According to Gertner, Kelly also set up the building to encourage, if not force, people to come into contact with each other regularly. On top of that, he gave researchers freedom and time. Just let that sink in a little. Employees have a physical space set up to allow and encourage them to run into each other, they have the freedom to follow paths they think will be valuable, and the time to do so. Sound good so far?

There are lots of other interesting details in the article. It’s worth reading the whole thing, in my opinion. What I noticed was the powerful combination of purposeful design of space and culture in the service of understanding. That is certainly what I want to be going on in my classroom. I want to set up a physical space that allows for easy and frequent interaction by students. I want to give my students more freedom to follow their interests, trust them to be serious (serious for 10 year olds) about it, and time to get lost in what they find. And, I want that for myself as a professional. I want to run into all different colleagues regularly, not just the ones whose classrooms are next door to mine. Once I run into them, I want to be able to sit down somewhere and talk, not necessarily in a room filled with laminator fumes on a cast away sofa. I want to have the freedom to do new things and spend time, lots of time, working on how to do what I do best. Some, even many, of these things I already have, but as my students will tell you, I’m not really about half-way. I want the whole thing. I want it for me and for my students.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Vincent Connor)

So, I’ve been thinking about conversations I do or don’t have with my students. Two events got me thinking about this.

First, I was at school a few Saturdays ago for an open house event. This year there were a number of 5th graders there too. They were adding a student perspective, which I thought went well. Anyway, I had a 5th grader in my room as we waited for the tour groups to come by. We had quite a bit of time to chat. This student is not in my section and so I don’t teach her directly. Well, we had such a nice conversation. It began with movies, turned to books, then desserts, and finally candy. There was a little horseback riding talk in there too. How great to get a chance to know this students.

Second, my daughter had a friend over last Friday for a sleep over. (It was almost just an over as there was very little sleeping. I personally believe that no one needs to be playing with LEGO at 5 am, but that’s just me.) Anyway, my daughter and her friend are in 3rd grade and are both pretty good readers, meaning that they are reading some of the things that I read with my fifth graders or that I read to keep up with the fifth graders, though I am sure with a different level of sophistication. We had a lovely conversation over spaghetti about the books we have read recently. We each had some to suggest to someone else. We compared Harry Potter to Percy Jackson. (FYI, the girls thought Percy Jackson was a better series, due to Harry Potter’s frustrating perfection! My daughter and I are recommending Project Mulberry. I also suggested Cosmic.) Everyone was excited and enthusiastic.

Last Conversation Piece

cc flickr photo by Cliff1066

These two events got me thinking about the conversations I could have with my students. I would love to be able to have such intimate conversations with them. We began this process of getting to know each other with our 5E Identity day and students are blogging about topics of their choosing, but after the two conversations I just described I am reminded it’s time to pick up the conversation. Of course, there would have to be many more topics of discussion as not everyone wants to talk about books. I’m fine with that. As I think about my students, I suspect I would need to brush up on some sports stats, a bit about Mars, construction practices, swimming, and geology for a start. I’m ready for yoga, skiing, horseback riding, eggs, art, dessert, books, and general sports.

Now, how to make it happen? I am really committed to this. Thinking about how to work the schedule, I’ve always got the option of small lunch gatherings in the room. Hmmm. The wheels are turning, the smoke is coming out of my ears. I’ll keep you posted.

Any ideas on logistics are more than welcome.

So, I’ve been thinking about how my students organize information. We have practiced a couple of ways to gather information and then manipulated it this way and that. We have worked on this both formally and informally. So, I was interested to see what groups of students would do with this assignment:

Note: I had already directly presented (I know, I know, but sometimes we have to get in a little background quickly) some basic information about Ancient Egyptian dynasties and kingdoms.

During their group times, each student had to do some if not all of the reading and then bring notes to the group. I got to watch. I love watching my students really do stuff. It gives me insights into what strategies they are using, what they can take in from the text without me, how they can work together, who leads well, who leads aggressively, who follows well, and who doesn’t follow at all. These are pictures of what different groups did with their information:

This group started with post-its on a table

Then they moved to a wall to reorganize.

This group radiated ideas out from the center.

I especially like getting to see how each person deals with information and attempts to organize it. I know already that I have some straight-line-flow-chart thinkers. Everything is linear and connected at right angles for them. Then there are the categorizers who group, but don’t necessarily worry about the order of the details. And, there are always the web-makers who have trouble putting anything in only 1 category because the see all those connections.

I find it infinitely fascinating to watch so many different minds at work. While I watch (and advise, I’m not trying to torture folks), I get a peek inside those heads, even if the window is a little cloudy.

So, I’ve been thinking about how my students learn things–things that I’ve been trying to teach them, repeatedly.

The other day we were doing some writing connected to our “This I Believe” study. (See here and here for more details.) As usual, we had talked about the assignment. Students had worked on a planning sheet. I had read and commented on each plan. And, I had made a few additional comments and specified my directions, again.

And so we began. People were writing. I was writing. (My essay is called “I Believe in Lists”, FYI) It was pretty quiet for a group of 10 and 11 year olds. At some point I mentioned that this was best set of planning sheet I had seen this year. Then all of a sudden, a student says, “You know this really easy to write. I feel like I can just write. It’s much easier when you have a good plan.”

And another says, “I have so much to write. I’m not even using all my ideas on my plan because I’m thinking of new ones.”

Agreement all around.

Now, I am fairly confident that I have said something to this effect at least 100 times so far this year. But, it wasn’t until my students “discovered” it for themselves that it registered.

Ok, I can accept that. In fact, I can celebrate that.