Posts Tagged ‘experiment’

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 student engagement and empowerment. A few weeks ago I wrote about technology’s ability to add sparkle and perhaps encourage students to lean in to a topic. My original post was about engaging students partly because it began from some frustration with technology resistors. In particular I was thinking about folks who resisting tech integration on the grounds that technology adds fun and fun is bad.

I had some conversations with others, via the comments and Twitter, that are the basis for this post. In a comment of my previous post, Philip Cummings (@Philip_Cummings) made the very good point that engaging isn’t always enough.

I worry that too often we take stuff that just isn’t engaging to kids and try to infuse it with technology in order to engage them. For example, grammar drills aren’t going to become magically engaging just because you ask kids to do them on an iPad. Engaging learning is purposeful, meaningful, and timely to the learner. It connects with their passions and interests; the learners must think it matters (and not just for the test on Friday). My school is 1:1 with tons of technology-infused into lessons, but students still aren’t always engaged. The shiny might help for a little while, but I think it wears off fast.

I totally agree with Philip as I said in my reply to him. I was making a case, though perhaps not very effectively, for including technology as one of the ways teachers try to encourage students to lean in to a topic–as a hook to real purposeful learning not as a flashy cover for boring rote stuff.

Then on Twitter I had a conversation with Christina Brennan (@christybrenn) The key word in that conversation was empowering.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 11.22.16 PM

I think both of them were talking about the much bigger and more significant step of empowering students with technology. Again, I totally agree. (I was back there being frustrated about who was taking the very first step.) My big picture goals for students’ technology use include empowerment. Faculty believing that technology might help to engage students in meaningful work is a start and only a start. Setting a goal of using technology to empower students is much more impressive, important, forward-thinking, and interesting. And, let’s face it, maybe terrifying.

So, I started with the less threatening engaging. But is it less threatening a reasonable early step or is it a side step that doesn’t really get us on the path to empowerment?

So, I’ve been thinking about resistance, in particular resistance to integrating technology into class. Honestly, I think about this frequently. There’s the fear thing, the time thing, the kids-will-know-more-than-I-do thing. Another “thing” I’ve been tossing around in my head is the technology-is-fun-and-we-are-doing-serious-work thing.

CC photo by Paul Farning

CC photo by Paul Farning

I think there’s something about the trifecta of high level courses, high performing schools, and high-powered students that lends itself to all of us taking ourselves a little too seriously in the classroom. To be clear, I am very serious about education. By that I mean that I believe with my entire being in the power of learning and the transformative potential of students doing excellent work. I believe that students should work hard at school; it should push them intellectually; they should wrestle with ideas; feedback on work should be constructive, honest, and supportive. I think that all students should create work in many forms and actively reflect on their learning. I do not advocate “cute idea teaching” where projects that have no educational value but look great on the walls are the norm. And, in the same breath without contradiction, I am also all for a little sparkle. I want all students to lean in to whatever class they are in. Sometimes that pure form of a subject, however bright and shiny it appears to the teacher who specializes in it, does not look that way to the students. Sure we can take the attitude that “this is good for them,” like vegetables. However, putting our subject matter in the category of things students don’t like is probably not productive. Mixing in a little secret spice to (insert your favorite subject here) goes a long way in terms of adding appeal without watering down. If we can make what we know is good and worthy and valuable a little more appealing to the unconvinced would that be wrong?

In a recent blog post John Chubb, President of NAIS (National Association of Independent School) wrote about student engagement. He titled his post “Measuring what Matters: Student Engagement.” So, I’m thinking he’s all for student engagement just from that title alone. He references Ferris Bueller Day Off “Bueller, Bueller. . .” If that doesn’t make any teacher want to weep, I don’t know what will.

When I advocate using technology in class to increase engagement, I am never suggesting turning class into recess (see my point about “cute idea teaching” above). But, in some circles fun and even engaging has become a bad word, a word that means easy, not rigorous. Fun and engaging do not mean those things; I double checked. Helping students find a less intimidating and more engaging way into the material or discussion is not making the class too easy. It is meeting students where they are and moving them forward. If by sprinkling a little sparkly technology dust onto what we are doing I can get my students to lean in a little bit more, put forth some more effort, discover this topic is more interesting than they suspected, push them to think, super. I am not above a bait and switch.

So many teachers I know are great performers in class.  They will dramatize, use funny pictures, joke, anything they can to get help their students see the subject matter in a more possitive light. Why should that stop at technology? Technology is one more tool (actually many, many tools some of which will disappear just when you have fallen in love with them) to add to your bag of tricks. And, let’s face it creating the next generation of (insert your particular discipline here) scholars is not going to happen without students enjoying the subject matter and the work.

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)

It’s worth a shot

Posted: November 8, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about Seth Godin. I haven’t been thinking about him personally, but his ideas and writing.

I have read several of his books (Tribes, Linchpin,Poke the Box) and read his blog sometimes. Someone mentioned a recent post of his on Twitter and once I read one, I started scrolling back and read a few more, including one announcing a 3 day workshop he is having. I read the post, followed the link, and applied. We’ll see what happens.

One of the things that I appreciated about his explanation of the event was the value he put on being face to face with people, even if they had already read his books and were familiar with many of his ideas. I am finding this to be true in some ways as well. For example even though I participate in a many virtual communities and think Twitter is super fantastic for teachers, I have really valued attending conference recently. I have attended a number of unconferences or edcamps as well as EduCon and ISTE. Sometimes I get to meet people with whom I have interacted digitally and sometimes I meet new people, but in both cases those interaction, in real-time, were really worthwhile.

Bulls-eye
So, I don’t honestly expect to be chosen for this 3 day event. It’s not aimed at educators, and I would need a significant break on the cost, but I can’t win if I don’t play.

(photo by Incase used under creative commons license)

So, I’ve been thinking about experimenting in class. I announced last Friday that we were going to try an experiment.

Test tubes and other recipients in chemistry labOne student said, “Experiments never work out.” He’s a solid kid, not just trying to be the class clown at all.

I replied, “Getting iPads was an experiment. . .”

He was quiet for a second, “Oh, that’s true.  Never mind. I like experiments.”

And we were off.

A little background: my division (lower school in a prek-12 school) is going Mac. Teachers all got new MacBook Pros a few weeks ago. We will be getting a number of laptop carts with MacBooks for next year. One cart arrived the other day. So, of course, I was eager to give those computers a test run. It just so happened that we were at the end of an assignment that fit perfectly.

We have been reading Tuck Everlasting. (I wrote about it the other day.) One of the things I asked students to do was collect examples of great figurative language and descriptive writing—not hard in this book. So students have been collecting examples, sharing them on our blog, and commenting about why they like the passages they chose. This was all practice for a final recording of each student reading his or her favorite passage and commenting about it.

I figured we would use Garage Band (there are some Macs in the music room) and then share the files to iTunes and from there to our eportfolios. We have iPads and have the Castor app, but have not been able to send podcasts for some reason. I think it may have to do with our network at school. Anyway, I learned that I could make a recording with Quicktime and upload directly to our wikis. Since these recordings will be short, we don’t really need all the Garage Band extras.

Then, I was talking to @TeacherDebra and she suggested adding an image to the recordings. That way there is something to look at while you listen to the podcast. Super idea. This is why I like to talk to other teachers about what I am doing. I like to take their ideas. (For great resources on web tools check out Debra’s wiki here.)

So, I asked students to find an online image that they felt went with their passage.

Here comes the experiment.

We got out the Macs, first use in class. In small groups, I showed students how to use Quicktime, selecting new screencast, and then built-in microphone. It’s not as if everyone saved their first try, but it worked with a minimum of fuss. I don’t think anyone had used this application before, although I have many Mac users in my class. But, there continues to be just one of me so I could only help some students. As students figured out various steps, I assigned them as experts for others.

In less than 40 minutes, everyone found an image, leaned how to use Quicktime, made a recording (or several until they liked what they had), and saved. The vast majority also uploaded the file (.mov) to the language arts page of their digital portfolios.

Then, I did a little happy dance. It was a good experiment.

(Photo by Horia Varlan used under Creative Commons license.)