Thursday, February 23, 2012

Becoming Our Own Experts

With all of the talk of late re: the role of data in education, and the importance placed on system-level or larger-scale standardized tests, talk tends to lead to trying to identify the real measures of success in schools.

Requests to standardize educational practices then, based on these results, are commonly raised by some external educational stakeholders, and are commonly argued against by internal stakeholders. Similar discussions tend to occur re: the role of data and research.

I love watching these discussions unfold in person, online via blog comments, or on twitter.

As I try to detach from the emotional beliefs I hold given I am deeply embedded in the educational system, and observe these conversations/arguments from the sideline, I am often reminded of one of my 'self-sayings'. The little voice on my shoulder often advises me: "Approach with caution those who are too certain," because I think being open to new ideas is a VERY important trait in this era of RAPID change!

For those who claim data and research should drive the educational bus, I try to understand why they hold that belief. For those who claim we need to be open to constructing our own learning and not basing our decisions on the research of others, I try to understand the foundation of their beliefs.

Ultimately, I find trying to look beneath the arguments on both sides helps me to arrive at my own conclusions more quickly. Tonight I happened across a 16 minute TED talk on the topic of experts and I thought it was extremely appropriate to education. In this talk, economist Noreena Hertz talks about why we should be cautious when it comes to taking the advice of experts. Give it a watch, and after you are done I'll reveal my position on the role of research, data, etc, in education.

Interesting, isn't it?

I think she makes a great point. We truly need to become our own experts in education, because each school and each community TRULY DOES have unique circumstances. To do that though, I think we need to provide a framework for building a base level of knowledge. We need to bridge the ideal of completely constructivist learning with the need to be accountable to a set of curricular standards expected by society. I think we need to bridge theory and practicality to attain a level of consistency for all students.

In our district, our administrators have worked for the past 3 or 4 years to identify expected instructional practices that should be evident in every classroom. Our superintendent sent a letter to every teacher reinforcing these expected practices. Providing a balanced approach to teaching literacy, and focusing on reading comprehension in every subject area, are examples of our expected practices. We also talk a lot about the most effective instructional practices identified through comprehensive meta-analysis on student achievement by Marzano and Hattie, and some are also evident in our expected practices.

I think our expected instructional practices, as well as identifying some of the core interventions we are expected to provide all students, create a platform by which we can support the growth of the experts in our classrooms and offices. Expected practices are not maximums...they are the minimums, from which continued teacher growth will occur. Looking back, I would have given up a prep block in my first few years if I had been told to focus on these specific instructional practices. It would have improved my teaching in a faster and more focused way than I experienced.

As continuous improvement happens, our experts will be more and more successful, and our ability to address unique needs at each school will continue to improve. Consequently, I hope, our reliance on external experts should increase as well. And so on. Wouldn't that be a desirable circle of improvement to set in motion?

What do you think the role of experts is in education? I'd love to know your thoughts....add a comment perhaps?


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions at GPPSD Tech Mentorship Session

On Tuesday February 21, 2012, it was again my pleasure to spend some time with our first and second year teachers and their mentors as they attended one of their four district mentorship sessions. We spent an excellent morning talking about ways that technology can (a) support their professional practice by helping with organization, etc., and (b) support student learning in their classrooms through integration into their instruction.

After discussing how tools like Evernote, Diigo, DropBox, and Outlook can help with organization, note taking, research, etc., we moved into discussion of practical ways to integrate technology into our daily instruction. We very briefly looked at the TPACK framework, where technological knowledge must overlap with pedagogical knowledge as well as content knowledge.

We also reinforced that technology is a tool, appropriate in some places and not the best tool in others. Providing students with choice, multiple means of engagement, and multiple means of representation is an important practice in our district, and technology has a role to play in helping prepare and engage students.

The bulk of our time together was spent looking at the essential 9 instructional practices identified by researcher Richard Marzano as having the most significant impact on student achievement. For those who might not be familiar with Marzano's research, and excellent summary of the tools is available HERE.

Teachers worked in small groups to identify different strategies that could be used for three of the strategies identified by Marzano as having a significant influence on student learning. The strategies we looked at today included Identifying Similarities and Differences, Note Taking and Summarizing, and Non-Linguistic Representation. The different strategies shared by teachers were OUTSTANDING! It was very affirming to see the creativity, passion, and engagement of our teachers today! A summary of the primary tools/strategies identified during the session, with links to videos or text-based introductions for each, is available on my slideshare account HERE. It is also uploaded to our district mentorship portal site HERE (note: accessible only to GPPSD staff).

At the end of the session today, protégées and mentors completed an exit slip. The FAQ (frequently asked questions) arising from those exit slips are addressed below. I hope they help. If you have additional questions, please email me!

You mentioned our GPPSD WIKI on Digital Citizenship and Internet Safety. Where can I find that again? Check it out HERE. Excellent resources and lesson plans for you to use in your class next week....for all levels! Use it. Add to it.

Where do I find the time to learn all this stuff? The best advice I can give is to approach learning about what is out there, and how to bring it in, the same way you eat an elephant. One small bite at a time. Check for local PD sessions, attend tech learning link sessions, hit up the sessions at convention, and most importantly, talk with others and learn from your colleagues! It is important, as we talked about today, so try give it some small amounts of your attention on a regular basis.

Wow. The pace of change re: Tech is something else. How on earth can we stay current? Unless you are prepared to make some big sacrifices in your personal time, this is a challenge. I highly recommend EMAIL. Subscribe to receive email updates from the following sites, and you will get the best of the best shared with you on a regular basis. If you have time to read the email, great. If not, delete it without guilt and try again when you receive the next one. They will come to you automatically.
  • FreeTech4Teachers - This is an EXCELLENT blog with many practical strategies shared on a regular basis. I recommend this site above all others to those wanting to learn more about a wide range of tools. Sign up for email updates HERE.
  • Vantage - An excellent resource sent out monthly by the 2Learn Education societ, it is focused on levels, on themes, and it always includes French resources as well. Sign up for it HERE. Sit back, and revel in the quality resources that will be sent to you forever, with nothing required on your part. :)
  • Ask a Tech Teacher - I don't receive the updates from this site, but I've heard people like it, and when I looked at it tonight I saw some decent-looking tips. Scroll down the left hand side of THIS PAGE to receive email updates.
And remember....if you don't like what you receive....unsubscribe! These three should be a good starting point though! For the more advanced among you, you might also want to look into RSS feeds and Google Reader to stay current. Google it. You know you want to....

What do we do if we don't have access to computers, labs, etc.? This is our reality. As good as we have it with respect to technology, we don't have enough. I'm not sure there is enough, until every student has a device with them all day. Focus on small and simple tools (digital cameras, a school netbook, the SMART Boards most of our rooms have) and use them as much as possible. When good enough is not possible, go for the best you can do. We will continue to advocate for increased technology spending and/or flexibility through the district budgeting process!

We did not talk about SMART Board Resources. Where can I find more of those? Google SMART resources and you will find a lot of sharing sites. One of the best I find for beginners is the SMART Exchange on the SMART Technologies website, HERE. You can search by level, by grade, etc. You might also check out my diigo links on interactive white boards (IWB) HERE, as I've saved many resources over the years.

Hey! You mentioned a cheap, effective USB document camera for under $100. Where did you find that? I ordered the Ipevo Point 2 View document camera online from I've not used it myself, as I shipped it off to a school for testing as soon as it came in, but I hear it is simple and reliable. Which in the world of tech = good news! KISS, right? Keep it simple s-----.

You talked about simple ways to create animations. What was the extra-something? I was referring to xtranormal. Here is an example, it is my introduction to our digital citizenship and internet safety wiki.

There are other great sites for helping kids create animations as well. Learn more about those sites, including Xtranormal, HERE.

We did not talk about web pages, but the topic came up. What is an easy way for kids to build pages? This is actually pretty easy for most students, and I think they will take to this quite easily. My son in grade 8 recently built a web page for an inquiry project instead of writing a paper. He built a Weebly site, and you can check it out HERE. For a description of some of the more common tools available, I'm going to give the last word to Richard Byrne, from FreeTech4Teachers HERE.

If you're still reading. Thanks. If you were at the session today, thanks. If you have any questions, drop me a line. If you have anything you'd like to add (note: I haven't even mentioned Edmodo yet) please consider leaving a comment in the comments box below!

Talk to you later.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Preparing Our Students For Their (uncertain) Future

As responsible 21st Century educators, and lifelong learners committed to staying current with educational theory, I do not believe I've met anyone who does not take our responsibility to prepare our students for the their adult life seriously.

In speaking with parents and community members over the years, I do not believe I've met anyone who does not recognize that the world has changed from when most of us were young adults and that we need to build a solid foundation of basic skills in our students as well as preparing them for the collaborative and fluid future they will face.

But, when all the rhetoric is said and done, what does all that mean?  What does it mean to say the world is different?  The Shift Happens video series started by Scott McLeod and Karl Fisch do a great job of quantifying how our society has changed over time.  If you've not seen those videos, I think you should take 15 minutes and watch them.  You're likely to be amazed by some of the statistics.

Drilling down even deeper however, and thinking about our current environment, I read an interesting statistic this morning that I believe does a great job of driving this point home as well.  According to an article in Business Week by David. J. Lynch, the United States currently manufactures 25% more goods than just 12 years ago, yet (and here is the important point), the number of workers used to create those goods remains the exact same.

As production increases, and labor rates stay the same, it is not a result of workers increasing output or hours by 25%.  Rather, automation and an increase in the use of machines and technology is the culprit.

Increased manufacturing, if this statistic is true, is not likely enough then to break an economy free from a recession, depression, or even just a major slowdown.  I expect automation is only likely to increase in the future, not decrease, bringing even fewer jobs to the market.

Instead, as author Daniel Pink suggests in his book A Whole New Mind, we need to increase the number of knowledge jobs, and prepare our students to assume those positions.  To prepare students to create and apply new knowledge, on a broad scale, will require some changes to how the education system and schools work.

To help parents and the community understand the reasoning behind these changes, it HAS TO BE our job to help sell the change.  We have to help create the vision by engaging in the conversations about education reform in our communities!  We need to create a shift in understanding so that parents value these skills and recognize the need for educational change and then we need to accept that we ourselves have to change first before we get our students to change.

That is going to be hard, I think.

As education reform progresses, I see the comments by parents in the newspaper reflecting their belief in traditional system.  It is our responsibility to engage our communities in the discussions that will help them build the understanding of what the future holds, and what being prepared for the future represents.

Project-based learning is in our future.  Problem solving, both individually and as a member of a team, at all levels must be a core skill.  Creativity is something to be valued, and therefore we must foster it in our schools.  Our future depends on it.

As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, "If you don't know where you are going, then any road will take you there."  We need to know where we are going so we can help everyone in our communities get on the right road.

I believe in where I see us/our system heading.  Do youagree that we are on the right road??